We Live In A Cave


Michael Edwards

Part I - John

Chapter 1.  Child's Prayer


My little bones,

Don't want to burst,

My little hands:

They can't dig

No grave;

My little feet:

They can't climb

To heaven;

My little ears,

Don't want to hear;

My little eyes,

Don't want to see.

Dear God...please save me.



Oh God, dear God,

I am little:

Please save me.

I built no bombs..."

Tears of heartfelt sadness wandered past those words.  Mrs. Aral Johnson carefully set down her magazine.  Her mouth stirred with a tremor, so faintly but so rhythmically as to appear she was still reciting; perhaps her poem's words had gathered as a lining along her lips, perhaps in silence she was adding more words to the poem, perhaps she felt it incomplete in some way - even some vital way - and while she could think of no words as she thought of no idea to give it completeness she let her mouth go along at random in some vain hope that motion could produce the sounds she longed for: motion, without direction or guidance, called to the task of making sublime what was only sentimental.  A profound thought, carefully held to the level of a child's understanding: Mrs. Aral Johnson looked to her mouth as the source of her expression.  But no words came forth to work upon her mind; her poem remained as it was, as printed.

Her hand rested upon the magazine, her fingers once in a while stroked at the slick lovely cover, leaving invisible prints where bright gray and a very pale blue met against slices of beige and black.  A woman in blue set against a cloudy sky smiled thoughtfully at Mrs. Aral Johnson; one dimensional, the smile.

"Women's" was printed in pale letters across the top of the magazine.  Below, in smaller lettering, "The leading journal for women."  It sold very well, "Women's"; it was well planned, organized with subtlety, its articles calculated to interest most women.  Recipes flowed in and out among the more serious material, thoughtfully spaced to provide a pause here and there; tips on serving and house-cleaning and any number of other womanly pursuits made regular appearances, as did beauty hints.  And poems.

It was the crowning glory of Mrs. Aral Johnson's life, as a person and certainly as a woman, to have had - to have actually had - one of her own poems published in "Women's" magazine.  The October issue.  One of the big quarterlies, bigger than the regular monthly issues: the autumn issue, October's, with nearly double the features, double the pages, double the recipes, so many more hints.  But as always, only one poem.  That was the magazine's policy: one poem to an issue; the very best of all those submitted to go in October's issue.  Too many poems would weaken their impact; conversely, there must be some poems.  Art was beautiful, it held to a very high place in people's minds and hearts.  Women were no exception.  So a lovely poem every issue, the loveliest of all for October's.

A glob lay at Mrs. Aral Johnson's fingertip.  A few of her tears had landed on the magazine's cover, just by her finger.  At first it sparkled, like a prism accentuating the magazine's colors; then it lost what luster there is in tears, that fresh glow of the unexpected tear, the rare tear summoned forth most often unintentionally, pulled out as much from the soul as the eyes.  Now it was just a glob of wetness, crinkling the paper into an ugly water smear.  Mrs. Johnson's finger brushed gently into the wet, smearing a print onto the bright gray sky.

She smiled.

"They're above and below," she mused.

"Who" asked the little child to whom she had been reciting.

"Oh, no one really, dearest.  They're not really people, but I feel a sense of their existence.  I call them The Elemental Spirits.  I feel their presence most especially in the autumn."

"I don't want them, mommy.  They'll come and squeeze me to death.  They'll hug me and hug me so much I'll just split my body all out everywhere.  Don't let them come, please."

"Oh darling, darling: you needn't be afraid, they won't hurt you.  They can't hurt anyone.  They're just there as a reminder."

"It's alright if they hurt Susie or Billy, isn't it?  They can hurt them, 'cause they don't count anyway, do they?"

"But darling, you mustn't wish ill of your little brother and sister."

"But they don't count, mommy.  It isn't wrong if the spirits squeeze them all out."

"Karl, you have to understand it isn't their fault if they were less gifted than you.  I'm still their mother too, and I still love them.  Just as I loved my little boys that died."

"I'm glad they died!"

"Oh Karl...Karl darling, don't ever say that!"  Mrs. Johnson was amazed at her son's self-control.  She was upset at what he said, naturally; but very proud of his composure.  There was no malice in his eyes, he had merely expressed his sentiment, no more, no less.  A very superior child, she thought to herself: open, very straightforward and honest, yet with an almost gentle demeanor.  How proud a mother!

"But they may have grown to be better than me, then you would have loved them more.  Why take the chance?"

Mrs. Johnson smiled.  "What mischief hides in those little black eyes?  Those little lovely black eyes."  So she mused aloud, feigning a chastisement of her little boy.

"Are you warm, dear?" she asked after a moment had passed.  She had been gazing abstractly at her son, she had forgotten momentarily his actual presence.  Her mind was in a veil, contemplating her son's mind, while it too was veiled, the veils together too dense, too concealing for her mind to penetrate.  Her son was a mystery; but then so was her own assessment of him.

"Is it wrong to be glad they're dead?" Karl Junior asked his mother, his eyes lighted with a plea for reassurance.

Mrs. Johnson felt funny with her reply.  "A little child can never really be wrong," she answered.  The light faded from her son's eyes; it was impossible to define its leaving, whether it was the security of being reassured, or the disappointment with the manner of reassurance.

I like this room, she thought to herself.  It's warm, and safe.  And blue, is my gentle little boy's color.  He belongs in this sort of room.  Nice blue sheets on his bed, to wrap around his little self.  Nice dark blue blanket.  Pretty little lions and panthers on his pajamas.  Oh my precious, precious son!

She ran her hand softly through his curly dark hair, letting her fingers play a while with the lustrous soft curls.  She glanced about the room; there was but one incongruity: a big gnarled tree just outside the window.  In spring or summer it went well enough, its leaves covered its twisted branches; even in autumn it was pleasant.  But in winter: too foreboding.  And it was nearer to winter.  She made a mental note to pull down the shade over the window, so the tree would no longer be there to threaten her little boy with its gnarled branches.

"Mommy," asked little Karl.

"Yes, dearest?"

"When they drop all the bombs on everyone: will they fall on me too? or just drop down on everyone else?  Or -" the little boy shuddered a bit, in a way as strange as the sudden deepness of his eyes.  "Or - will they only drop down on me, and no one else?  Because I hope they drop on everyone else instead.  I don't want them to drop on me.  I don't want them to squeeze me.  Is...is that wrong: to want that?"

Mrs. Johnson was made to smile by her son's openness.  "No, dearest, oh no," she replied gently, "it isn't wrong to be afraid.  And when we're afraid, we can't help what we wish for, or sometimes even what we do.  It couldn't be wrong: or else the whole world is wrong.  And how could that be?"

Karl Junior shrugged his shoulders and smiled up at his mother, up into her large dark eyes, so filled with love.  "Good night, mommy," he said, his tone warm like that of a loving son, yet also firm, like that of a young lord dismissing a servant.  A bright, affectionate young lord, imperially laid out for sleep.

"Good night darling," his mother answered, bending over to kiss him on the forehead, then ever so lightly on the tip of his nose, even if he had had the sniffles all day.

"I'll say a prayer that your cold gets better," Mrs. Johnson whispered.

"And that the bombs don't come tonight?" Karl Junior called to his mother.  "Or the spirits," he said in a lower tone of voice.

"Or the spirits," she echoed.  "But you'll understand that when you get bigger, darling.  For now all you need to know is they won't hurt you.  You'll know all the rest when you get bigger."

The boy attempted a smile, but it was almost a questioning smile, while in his eyes there flickered a frightened  look, as if saying "how - how will I know?"

The light went out, and the boy's mother left the room with October's "Women's" in her hand.  Karl Junior was asleep within a moment.  The shade was still up, Mrs. Johnson had failed to pull it.  A pale eerie sort of bluish light peered in at the sleeping child, and a branch of shadow fell from the tree outside across the boy's bed, twitching, as the wind outside made it twitch, as the boy slept.

Mrs. Aral Johnson paused a moment outside her son's room, listening if he were stirring or had gone to sleep.  That way she was satisfied he was alright; safe, warm, secure: alright.  She walked on down the hall to where her other children were preparing for sleep, the twins, Susie and Billy.

They were two years younger than their brother Karl Junior; but they had not fallen asleep yet.  They awaited their mother, to come tuck them in, kiss them good night: just that she be with them awhile was their satisfaction, their assurance of a peaceful sleep. 

They were adorable children, no trouble at all to their mother.  And they were good-natured, and patiently understanding - for they did understand that their older brother was, and must be, their mother's favorite.  There was no questioning of it in their minds, it was the order of things; Karl had been first born, the first born child was the favorite: this was the tradition, it was nothing to question, but simply to accept.  It made little difference to these gentle children whether they were best loved: for they were loved, and cared for, and a joy to both their mother and father.  There was nothing more they need consider.

"Not asleep yet?" Mrs. Johnson feigned surprise, for the amusement of her precious twins.  A very stern look, as if she were about to reprimand them, covered her face; except her eyes were filled with the smiles and laughter of enchantment only children can elicit, and only the beloved of children can truly experience.

They giggled, attempting as an afterthought to now close their eyes and feign sleep; but their mother would not be fooled: for their sweet souls would she not be fooled.  It would break their hearts if ever she failed to persuade them out of their game, if ever she were fooled by their mischief into leaving without a kiss being deposited upon their night's sleep.

She bent down to ever so lightly tickle the little chins of her darlings, which caused them, as it always did, to break out in laughter; even so, they still kept their eyes shut.

"Well, my heavens," Mrs. Johnson mused in amazement, "they're fast asleep yet sensitive to being tickled.  Why, I wouldn't be surprised if they even talked in their sleep.  I can almost hear them telling me good night."

"Good night," two little squeaky voices piped up in perfect synchronization.

Then Mrs. Johnson bent over and kissed each one on the forehead.  "Good night, my precious angels," she whispered in reply.  Then she tucked them in good, and smoothed out the blanket that lay over them.  Tomorrow night you rascals get a bath, she said to herself; you won't trick me again with your coming down with a cold routine.  She nearly laughed, thinking how they had managed to fool her once more even though she knew in the back of her mind it was only a ruse to keep from taking a bath.  Still, little Karl had been playing so nicely in the tub, and she hated to hurry him along; so it worked out well enough to be tricked.  But tomorrow, she reiterated: you rascals get a bath tomorrow.

She stood a moment looking down at her twins.  Billy, and Susie, she said their names to herself.  I know it's difficult for you, angels, knowing you will always be in your brother's shadow.  I didn't mean it to happen that way, I meant you no harm.  It's just he was born first.  He must be given first chance.  It's kind of a tradition; I'm not sure a very good one, but it's there, there's nothing anyone can do about it: as he was born first, so must he be given first chance.  They're both laws, in their own way; both of equal importance...in their own way.

They were asleep, her children.  All three were fast asleep, the twins here in their room, Karl Junior in his room.  As were her other children, in their own way.  The two oldest, who died at birth.  They too had been twins, identical twin boys.  They too were asleep.  And now Karl was her first born, with all the entitlement to that honor.  It was a law, of sorts.  Nothing like the primogeniture which had held sway for so long over the social order; merely a tradition, no more really than a way of choosing one's favorite child. 

They were lovely children, all three.  Susie and Billy, little brown haired things, with big brown eyes; and Karl, with curly black hair and small brilliant black eyes.  All three equal, in their father's eyes, while in their mother's one stood a little prouder, a little more favored.  A very big order for a little boy.

Mrs. Johnson's first babies had died; they were twins.  Two little boys, perfect in every way, but stillborn.  Something about a genetic defect.  It could affect all her babies, or none of them, but the odds were in favor of the defect, against her babies.  Her doctor had advised against even her second pregnancy; her baby, Karl Junior, had been lucky, the odds had passed over, had allowed his birth.  Then at her third pregnancy the doctor had warned her sternly: she was toying with fate, there was no telling what might happen.  But once more she was lucky, her babies - the twins Susie and Billy - had survived.  Even so, her doctor was not certain whether perhaps her genes had not simply taken another direction; the twins might be affected in more subtle ways, they required constant observation for signs of physical deterioration.  They frequently caught colds, the colds were nearly always severe.  The doctor worried about their safety.  And he had absolutely forbidden Mrs. Johnson from having any more children.

Aral Johnson was a lovely woman, of a rounded delicate face and figure.  She was of the type one thinks of as being ageless; her face would never give away her actual age.  There were no lines anywhere on the clear smooth skin, no spots or blemishes to grow blotchy in old age, no open pores on her nose or along her cheeks, no pouches under her eyes.  No one would know she was thirty-five; no one knew when she was eighteen, and just married; nor would anyone know when she reached sixty-five.

It saddened her to think she could not be a mother again, not if she followed her doctor's advice.  As she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, fixing her hair nicely and applying a touch of eye shadow to look good for her husband, it troubled her that here was the face of a murderess who kills her own children so subtly that every trace was removed from existence while her own body hid her crime from even her doctor.  And even the three who had escaped death could at any time be visited by it.  And there was nothing she could do.

She went downstairs, to her husband, her children's father, to spend some time with him in his study, where he almost always was in the evening.  She knocked lightly then opened the door.  The room was dim except for a desk lamp.  Dr. Karl Johnson sat at his desk facing a window, his back turned to his wife's entry.

"Karl, why do you leave those drapes open like that?" Mrs. Johnson asked as she walked across to close them.

"What dear?" Dr. Johnson replied abstractly.

"It's nothing.  I didn't mean to interrupt."

"It's no interruption.  You have at least as much right to my time as they do," he pointed to the papers spread before him  "Come," he motioned for her to sit on his lap.

"You sure I'm not getting too heavy?" she teased.

"No, dear.  Never."  She leaned against him, her head on his shoulder.  "Comfortable?" he asked.

"Can you stop them?" Aral Johnson asked her husband. 

"Honey, you worry too much about it.  It isn't as threatening as some people make it out to be. Just don't think about it so much."

"But if...if it happens...I can't help thinking about it.  And about our children.  I can't bear the thought of my precious children being...being...I can't even say it.  It's too horrible to even speak of."

"Then let's don't speak of it.  Aral, please believe me: the danger of nuclear bombs being dropped here - or anywhere - is only minimal."

"But everyone says -"

"I don't care what everyone says.  They're wrong.  They only listen to scare stories.  Now I know it can be averted.  And with this new project...  Well, anyway, I know I can talk reason to them."

"Them.  To 'them.'  Oh Karl, I hate 'them' - I hate all the 'thems' there have ever been.  Why has there always had to be an 'us' and a 'them,' why can't there just be one world, one people, one government, one way of life, one society, one set of values and traditions and beliefs?  Oh why, Karl?  It's so senseless, when we're all the same people.  Just with different names, that's all."

"Why ask questions there's no answer to?  Don't you see, Aral, all we can do is live out our lives and try to keep the world together as long as we can.  You ask why - but why do any two men ever fight?  Why do two men fight over the same woman?  Why do men continue to hurt animals when they're no longer needed for food?  Why do they still butcher minks and chinchillas for fur when it's no longer needed for clothing?  Why any of it?  Why do men refuse to give up their traditions when those traditions no longer enhance their lives...if they ever did.  Why?"

"But Karl, don/t you understand -"

"No, that's enough.  Let's not talk any more of it, at least not now.  This is our time together.  Especially since..."

"Since we've been forbidden to have more babies?"

"I've learned to live with it.  It's that simple."

Nothing more was said for awhile.  Aral Johnson could not help looking at the drapes, which even though she had closed them still let in too much of the outside world.  And the outside world let in the bombs.

"You know you don't really believe you'll stop them," she said at last.

"They can be stopped.  They can be held back."

"But Jorge said they couldn't."

Dr. Johnson looked uneasily at his wife.  He said nothing for a moment; he was thinking thoughts of his own, thoughts not related to his wife.

"It isn't the bombs that worry me half so much as Jorge.  He's dangerous.  He loves power too dearly.  Power is a negative, unlike love, or justice, or freedom.  Try to think of too much justice, or too much love, or too much freedom -"

"Freedom is license," Aral Johnson interrupted.

"Power is license, my dearest, not freedom.  Bakon understands all that.  He loves power as another man loves his own life.  He's dangerous, and he frightens me.  It's just such things as this bomb scare that his kind fixes on as a lever to tip the legitimate authority of government over to its underbelly," Dr. Johnson mused abstractly.  "Power's underneath.  It's always there, just barely held down by the laws which define and limit authority.  It takes all that we can do to keep it held down.  But the answer's here," he pointed to the papers he had been working on when his wife came to him.

"With the proper system we need never fear our enemies' bombs.  This is the foundation.  Of course Bakon says it won't work.  But he's not a scientist, he's an educator.  It will work, Aral.  We will one day have the deterrent we need to disarm our enemies' weapons the instant they're fired.  It's that simple.  But he's blocking me every step of the way.  Because it doesn't just short circuit weapons; it short circuits Bakon's ambition.  His power lust."        

Chapter 2.  A Visit From An Old Woman

There was a knock at the door.  At first Mrs. Aral Johnson did not hear it.  Then, either the knock became louder or else her mind had loosened itself from its reverie; she finally became aware of the sound, although it still took her a moment to identify its source.  Then it hit her where the knock had originated: someone was at the front door. 

"I'll get it," she told her husband.

"Get what?" he asked.

"The front door.  Someone's knocking.  I'll see who it is."

The rapping had ceased already; she half expected the visitor to have left when she opened the front door.  She had forgotten to turn on the porch light, so even though the moon was bright her visitor was hidden in darkness.

"Who is it?" she asked awkwardly, embarrassed to have to ask someone only a few feet away for their identity.

At first there was no reply.  The visitor simply came a step closer.  It frightened her, this movement without a word spoken.  She started to put her hand out as though to block entry into her home; then she recognized the visitor.  She took hold of the visitor's hand.

"Miss Oldham," she apologized, "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting so long out here.  There's such a chill in the air -"

"Oh, I rather like the cold," interrupted the visitor.  "It feels quite nice, do you know what I mean my dear?"

"No, I don't," Mrs. Johnson replied.

"You will when you get older," observed the lady.

"But I should think the older one gets, the less one likes the cold.  I mean, the chill air: it gets right into your bones."

"My bones?  Oh, perhaps a little.  But you know, when you get older, sometimes a bit of discomfort is all you have to remind you you can still feel anything at all.  Pleasure is for the young, pain for the old.  The young have their snowball fights and their sleigh rides, the old their arthritis and rheumatism.  It's all what side of the fence you're on.  That's what middle age is you know: a fence.  My late cousin, Arthur Timeson - perhaps you've heard the name?"

Mrs. Johnson nodded that she had not.

"Well, he was a philosopher - oh, not a good one; actually, rather second rate.  But he wrote a very beautiful description of old age.  Remind me sometime to bring you his article.  But anyway, I like the cold.  Traditionally, winter is the season for the old, you know.  In fact, I walked here from my home."

"But that's a mile or more!"

"Oh yes, quite.  But I don't care for the modern conveyances.  I would prefer a horse drawn carriage.  But the laws prohibit them.  Of course I obey the law; one must.  But when they fail to allow for the old values, and the old ways...which we were used to...which we grew up under: well, one can only have contempt for such laws.  But listen to me ramble, will you now?  I know it's quite late; but is your husband still up?"

"He's working late in his study."

"Ah, well in that case perhaps I shall come in.  Oh, just listen to me, will you: practically inviting myself in.  And I'm sure you'd just as soon I got myself on out of here."  This last was said with ever so delicate an interrogative.

"Oh no, please, please do come in, Miss Oldham," replied Mrs. Johnson.  "And I'm so sorry to keep you standing here in the doorway like this.  Please have a seat," Mrs. Johnson offered as she escorted her guest into the living room. 

"Thank you, dear, so much."

"Can I get you anything?" 

"A brandy would be wonderful," replied Miss Oldham as she seated herself on a brocade covered settee.  "Just a small one now," she added as she set down her small gray handbag beside her.  Then she carefully arranged the folds of her long gray skirt and loosened the clasp of her grayish jacket.  She did not remove the jacket, she simply opened it a little.  She wore gloves, of an evening style.  Her hair was pulled back into a bun; it too was grayish, but with quite a lovely sheen to it, and a softness not unlike the luster of a young girl's hair.  She was altogether a strikingly attractive woman of sixty-five; her face was blessed with beautifully perfect features and with a clear skin nearly free of wrinkles.  And her eyes had a sparkle to them; they were a magnificent green, and as fully under her control as the tightly bunned hair of her head.

"Thank you so much dear," Miss Lucetta Oldham said as she took the brandy.  "I've never lost my taste for brandy," she explained after taking a sip.  "It is the only truly aristocratic beverage left, you know.  One has to be born to it.  Now you take your fine wines and champagnes: they've become so commonplace, everyone has them.  And the liqueurs: they too are no more than fads nowadays,.  But brandy was never popular with the masses, and it has nothing really to recommend it to the faddists, nor the young people.  You simply have to have a taste for it.  Of course, one can only hope it will always remain so.  But at times I get so discouraged, my dear.  I look around me and I see everything growing so vulgar, so cheap.  And everything so slipshod.  Especially our values.  The masses seem to dictate everything now.  I think to myself how sad it is, for it's not so much their fault they can't appreciate the things of substance, the old ways, the true quality of living.  Why, just go through any city: you can count on one hand the old buildings.  Everything's new.  There was a quaintness in the old buildings, and a warmth.  And people looked up to you then.  They respected quality in people just as in their homes and their cities.  And in their values.  Something's missing from our modern world, my dear, and I should very much like to have it back.  It's always been the goal of my life...and it always shall be.  If I could just snap my fingers and make it all go back to the way it was," Miss Oldham's voice trailed off, as she sat reflecting on the old ways.  There was a quiet, sorrowful aspect to her face.  There was also a bitterness in her eyes.  She raised her hand to snap her fingers.  If only I could, the look in her eyes echoed.

"What have you there, my dear?" Miss Oldham pointed to the magazine Mrs. Johnson has set on the coffee table.

"This?" answered Mrs. Johnson.

"Yes, that.  I take it to be some sort of journal."

Aral Johnson nodded.  "A magazine.  Perhaps you're familiar with it: 'Women's' magazine.  "October's issue" she added.

"Oh let me see it dear," Miss Oldham replied.  "Normally I have nothing to do with trash; but this particular journal - magazine, that is - seems to have a very special appear for you.  So let me just make a little exception to my rule."  Miss Oldham smiled so graciously that her hostess's brief stab of hurt was absorbed in its radiance.

"Why, my dear," Miss Oldham went on in the most nearly delighted tone, as her eyes scanned the page of contents, her gaze swooping down like a graceful hawk to extract every last bit of meaning from the letters and words.  "My dear, dear sweet Aral: your modesty so well becomes you.  Let me just turn back a ways - ah, here we are: page eighty-seven.  And how lovely.  'Child's Prayer, by Mrs. Aral Johnson.'" She read on in silence then looked up. 

"This is a lovely poem," she complimented her hostess.  "You're a very good woman, Aral.  I'm honored by our friendship."

"Thank you so much," responded Mrs. Johnson graciously.  "I respect your judgment, Miss Oldham."

But even as she was being thanked, Miss Oldham's entire manner changed.  She had put away sweetness to once again become shrewd and business-like.

"And so true - the sentiment," Miss Oldham reflected.  "Don't you agree?  What indeed have the little ones to do with the building of bombs?  Why, as if they even knew such things existed.  And yet: it is they who will be the victims of those bombs, you know  It isn't right, Aral.  As you obviously know.  It's our duty as their protectors to secure a world where they can know safety.  I'm not sure we can do that though - but we can at least secure a place of safety within this world."

Here Miss Oldham paused once more to sip brandy, finishing the glassful and handing the glass to her hostess.

"Do you care for more?" inquired Mrs. Johnson, to which inquiry Miss Oldham simply shook her head.

"We don't have adequate bomb shelters, you know," she reported with great solemnity.  "It seems we're more concerned with creating the forces for destruction than with safeguarding ourselves against their unleashing.  It's very sad, my dear.  We're so afraid of admitting the danger, aren't we?  And yet, there is so much we might do."  Miss Oldham smiled in reflection.  "Why only yesterday I thought how perfect an old mine somewhere would be as a site.  Just think: there's no digging, it's already there; it has a fresh water supply; it's larger than anything man made.  It's complete in every way.  And there's a wealth to be found there besides!"

"But I thought the mine had run dry."

"Fools!  How can they know?  Run dry!  As if it couldn't be worked for a thousand years more!  They're fools, my dear: absolute fools!"

"I'm sorry," was all Aral Johnson could think to say.  She wished she could think of more, but she was too upset.  And a little frightened by the fierceness of her guest's outburst; especially the contrast between Miss Oldham's shrieks and the calmness of her manner frightened Mrs. Johnson.  I wonder if she's insane? Aral found herself thinking, but was horrified at thinking so.  But soon enough she was reassured by one of her guest's delightful smiles.

"Oh, it's I who should apologize, my dear.  I've upset you, please forgive me, my dear.  But even I have my wounds.  And it seems they're opened with such ease.  It's very painful to me, Aral, to think of so great a resource sitting idly, as though just left waiting to die, when it could be put to such magnificent use.  Oh, my dearest, it's a treasure!  But just because it's been worked they suppose it to be worked out.  They assume there's nothing more there, so they just leave it sit, and watch while the mold grows on the walls, and the cracks and lines become crevices: while nature just eats it all away, and tears at it, and does its disposition of idleness.  They can bear to watch while it slowly dies, and all the while its precious treasure sits dormant, waiting to be extracted from behind its walls.  They are fools, my dear: very great fools, to let such a treasure go to waste.  You know, it's so much a part of my life.  All my dreams and all my ambitions were built around that mine.  And when they closed the mine...."  Here Miss Oldham left off.  She held out her glass, indicating she had changed her mind and would like some more brandy.

"You know how valuable it is," she observed abstractly as her hostess freshened her drink.

"You mean...your dreams?" Mrs. Johnson inquired rather timidly, feeling certain she had mis-interpreted the remark.

Miss Oldham smiled.  "That too," she said in a tone to put her hostess at ease again.  "But what I meant was the platinum, my dear.  The platinum that lies buried at the bottom of the earth - well, not the earth, of course, though I thought it might give an effect to my sentiment.  Not actually the bottom of the mine either; but in the wall, and with veins running throughout the mine.  I delight once in a while in being poetic.  Of course I'm not of a poetic nature.  I'm more businesslike, you might say.  Practical, you know.  Still, I do every now and again take a fancy to a finer sort of expression of one's ideas.  I once knew a poet.  Not a great poet, but a poet nevertheless.  He worked in the mine.  It's funny, my dear, what young people will do.  Do you know I made him choose between my mine and his poetry: oh I didn't offer him my hand in marriage, of course: nothing so idyllic as that.  I couldn't very well marry below my station.  But I offered him...let's just say, my hand outside of marriage.  I'm ashamed of myself now for doing it.  It was beneath me.  I ought never have made such a demand.  But it seems to go against my nature to do otherwise.  Well, it doesn't matter now, since he chose his poetry anyway.  I was glad when he failed.  I know that's awful of me, but I was young, and the young are so full of venom,  Of course, we still contain the mechanisms necessary to its manufacture; but it takes so much longer, so much greater an injustice or a slight to make one vindictive.  At least I find it to be so.  But I don't find it pleasurable, my dear; it's simply necessary once in a while.  All sweetness and no spite - well," Miss Oldham smiled ironically, "there ought to be a cliché for it, oughtn't there?"  Her tone seemed to say to her hostess that doubtless if there were such a cliché, she'd know of it.

Mrs. Johnson smiled in return and nodded in the affirmative.  "I don't really mind clichés," she said, mostly to herself.

"I'm afraid I do mind them," observed Miss Oldham, likewise mostly to herself.

Mrs. Johnson had not really heard her guest's remark, but was nevertheless in a frame of mind to wish to explain her statement.  "You see," she pointed out, "they tell us something about ourselves, but in a familiar way, one we can readily grasp and without too much fear.  There's a friendliness to them.  I know we pay a price for that.  We're thought stupid and shallow.  Maybe I am," she added after a moment's pause.  "But I'm uncomfortable with what I'm unfamiliar with - I think more than even out of fear of death or suffering that's why I fear the bombs so.  I've never...I've never known what it's like...I've never seen it.  Maybe if I'd been raised where there were bombs falling, maybe I would have grown familiar with it.  But I like a cliché better than I do a bomb, and I don't care if that makes me stupid and shallow."

"What do you like best of all in life?" inquired Miss Oldham.

"My children," was the reply.

"But I mean of ideas: what one idea do you prefer over all the others?"

Aral Johnson thought for a moment.  She was at first puzzled over the question, then distraught as she came to realize how few ideas she ever cared to expose herself to.  "Would," she began awkwardly, almost sure she was inaccurate, "would tradition be considered an idea?"

Miss Oldham pondered this matter for some moments, while Aral Johnson kept her eyes fixed almost hypnotically upon the old woman's face, just as if she were watching for some sign that her comment had been given a favorable assessment - as if it were absolutely crucial that she determine before the actual pronouncement what it would be.  Almost as if she wished a brief time to prepare herself.  But all to no avail, as nothing whatsoever could be read in that woman's face.

"Well, my dear," Miss Oldham said at length, "I think in the long run it does qualify as an idea."  Here Aral Johnson's face lit up like that of a child given a passing grade in school.  "Of course," Miss Oldham went on to elaborate, "it is not of the generic group of conceptions we normally call ideas  But, given the form of a definite structure - as for example if one states that tradition is and ought to be the highest moral imperative of a society, which of course is beyond question: in such a case, the concept of tradition can then be said to qualify as an idea.  However, my dear, just between you and me, this is all hogwash!  As if one had any need to actually prove that tradition is the hallmark of civilization!  The fact speaks for itself.  But, occasionally, one is asked to express this truth in purely logical terms.  Analytical, or something like that.  It's really quite monotonous, but we must humor the thinkers on occasion, mustn't we?  Though it does get to be a bore now and again.  By the way, my dear, I spoke with Professor Bakon the other day," Miss Oldham said by way of changing the subject of conversation.

"Oh," Mrs. Johnson replied.  The subject was depressing to her, especially as she knew it would involve the impending nuclear holocaust which she and Miss Oldham and Professor Bakon all three believed inevitable.  Still she wasn't sure, looking at Miss Oldham's calm composure, that that lady had it in her really to fear anything.  So what it was if not fear that motivated her was a mystery to Aral Johnson, and a little frightening.  And still more so with Professor Bakon, whose motives seemed always to elude most everyone - except Karl, she thought with a touch of pride.

"I would surmise, my dear," noted Miss Oldham after a brief inventory of her hostess's face, "that you've no wish to speak of Professor Bakon - am I correct?"

"I don't really want to talk about him, no, you're absolutely right.  I don't care for the man.  Neither does my husband."

"Ah, how is your husband?  I would so like to say hello to him.  You know, I often think of poor Cynthia.  She did so love your husband.  She was my cousin's child, you know."

"Yes, I know," answered Mrs. Johnson a bit curtly.  "But I don't know why everyone blames me."

"I don't, my dear.  Karl Johnson simply loved you more.  It isn't your fault or his poor Cynthia couldn't accept it.  Well, it's just what you'd expect from a society that's grown so soft.  It's pills for this, and pills for that, and always instant gratification, and never any frustration of anyone's wishes.  It goes against nature, my dear, all these frills and pills and all this business about equality and human rights and happiness and God knows what all else!  It's perfectly simple that some people were meant to have and others not to have, just as some nations were blessed with riches, others cursed with poverty.  It's fate that determines who is better, and who is not.  But, you know, in spite of all, I still place flowers on poor Cynthia's grave once a year - on her anniversary.  On the day she was to have been married.  I have the flowers arranged in a bridal bouquet.  Oh I know it strikes you as morbid, but I remember little Cynthia so well.  I spent so much time with that child.  I even let her call me Aunt Lucy - and I've never permitted another living soul such intimacy.  I would almost say I loved her, except I don't think I have it in me to love.  Somehow that ingredient has been left out of my make up.  I have regretted that lack on occasion; but in the main I've found it more a credit than otherwise.  One is free to look objectively at things when there is no overpowering affection involved in one's perspective - or in the line of one's perspective, I should say.  But never mind.  I think perhaps I'm speaking of things you fear even more than you do Professor Bakon and his bombs.  Oh, but I forget: you don't with to speak of that either.  But I wonder if perhaps your husband might care to.  That is, if I might be so bold as to disturb him.  That is he I saw in the study, I take it."

Aral Johnson nodded that it was.

"He seemed so diligent at his work, I hate to even consider asking you to bother him.  But it seems old ladies like myself have a premium on that particular kind of rudeness.  Would you be so kind, my dear, as to disturb him for my sake?  I had rather thought he might finish up whatever it is he's doing while we chatted.  But it looks as though he's determined to work straight through the night.  Now I've loved our chat, but I must be going soon: and I did so want to speak just a word to him before I go.  So may I impose upon you, just this once, my dear?"

Aral Johnson felt a little uneasy.  She knew her husband would prefer not being interrupted, yet she felt it would be rude to Miss Oldham to refuse her request.  She really regretted this entire situation; she couldn't help viewing it as one more unhappy circumstance forcing her to choose where there existed no clear choice.  It seemed to her she had always been subject to this most distasteful kind of decision making.  However, she conceded to her guest's wishes and went to the study to fetch her husband, a very dry "Excuse me just a moment" her only acknowledgement.

Miss Oldham took this opportunity to get up a moment and walk about the room, not to view anything in particular in the Johnson's living room but simply to stretch a bit.  Actually she found the room rather unattractive.  She disliked beige, as being too mousy, too unobtrusive a color scheme - and as that color predominated here, she took no delight in the room.  Neither did she care for the subdued little vases and pictures gathered about the room, or the pretty little plants.  To her even accessories must have a grandeur - and nine-tenths of that grandeur consisted of a quality best described as traditional.  Miss Oldham saw value only in whatever was time-honored; antiques and heirlooms were most prized, their value, relative to one another, dependent upon their material worth, which in turn was dependent upon their standing in society's eyes.  Not merely that they were old, but that they were from an exact period of time most highly regarded.  Any piece from any age of any monarch was vastly superior to all else; items born of democracy, no matter how great the craftsmanship were decidedly inferior.  And thus it was.

Mrs. Johnson's bric-a-brac was all of an inferior mold.  Besides being of yeoman stock, they were soft, gentle little pieces, wholly unimpressive, chosen for their quieting effect: they were little whispers of things, much as Aral Johnson herself was.  They did not announce their existence; rather they sat waiting to be perceived: they were not obvious.  Much like an elusive principle of human conduct.  It is only too obvious that some persons are richly endowed, others meagerly endowed; it is less apparent who is possessed of a good soul and who is niggardly or perverse in spirit.  But such things were not to be found within Miss Oldham's house.  Her bric-a-brac was sterling, impeccable, grand by design and by general pronouncement; and she herself was noble and richly gifted - therefore, of course, good of spirit.  Society knew this; it appeared so, therefore it was so.

Mrs. Johnson returned, to say her husband would join them in a moment.  She saw her guest looking, she assumed with interest, at her living room and its furnishings.  Her face brightened up.

"Karl will be out in a moment," she announced.  "You know," she went on to explain, "it took me a great deal of time to find just the right pieces I wanted for this room.  You wouldn't believe: I looked everywhere till I was satisfied I'd found just what I wanted.  Of course," she felt compelled to undercut her enthusiasm - just in case, the thought raced through her mind, "of course I realize it can't compare to the lovely pieces you have in your home."  To this last statement Miss Oldham replied nothing, but merely smiled, as if accepting her hostess's evaluation - but more than merely accepting, underscoring that evaluation, almost with a touch of scorn.

"Still I like them," Mrs. Johnson rejoined somewhat haughtily.  "They make me think of unborn children - no, even more, children who will never be, the issue of unfertilized eggs.  That's what I think of when I see them.  They're almost like ghosts.  Elemental spirits," Mrs. Johnson mused almost in a whisper.

"What did you say, my dear?" inquired Miss Oldham.

"Nothing," Mrs. Johnson nodded her head as she spoke.

Just then Dr. Karl Johnson opened the study door to admit himself into his wife's and Miss Oldham's company.

"Good evening, Miss Oldham," he addressed the old woman very formally, leaving her to wonder if the formality was owing to her station in life or to Dr. Johnson's dislike of her.  She assumed it was a little of each.

She bowed in return to his formality.  "Good evening," she echoed.  "It's so nice of you to see me, especially when you must have so much work to get done.  So I'll try to be as kind as you and take up no more of your time than I absolutely must."

Here she crossed over once more to the sofa and seated herself where she had been sitting.  Dr. Johnson took the chair in which his wife had been seated, while Mrs. Johnson merely stood across the room from them, at first watching her vases and her furnishings, almost sulking, then turning toward her husband and Miss Oldham, becoming more involved in their conversation.

"As I was telling your lovely wife," Miss Oldham went right to her subject of concern, without wasting a moment on amenities or small talk, not even mentioning the weather, since she cared about as much for the weather as for Aral Johnson's bric-a-brac.  "I was speaking to Professor Bakon the other day.  About my mine, that is.  He seems rather responsive.  He has some notion of a bomb shelter, which of course I will agree to on condition, that is to say on the resumption of full scale mining operations.  I'm perfectly willing to share what's mine with everyone; but I am after all a practical woman, and I know there has to be give and take.  So I will have to have my demands met.  Which brings me here.  I must secure your approval before we can go ahead with the plan.  Now as I said, Professor Bakon has tentatively given his approval.  And, of course, as to Chesapeake, you know perfectly well he's an old friend of the family - indeed, an old beau as well...that is, before I took a fancy to poetry" - here she winked knowingly at Aral Johnson, who had come closer to better follow what was being said - "so needless to say, I have his approval.  And now, I need yours."

Miss Oldham purposely ended her spiel on a pleading note, as though invoking some kind of unwritten law that one must never refuse an open plea, particularly from an older person - as though to do so were to commit some unspeakable breach of good manners.

"Miss Oldham," Dr. Johnson said as tastefully as he could, "what I can best say here is to please let me think it over.  This is a matter I feel very strongly against," Dr. Johnson stressed the word "against," "so I think I owe it to you to give it some thought.  I don't wish to base my judgment on my feelings alone.  I don't believe in that kind of snap judgment.  Particularly since it seems to fall to me to actually consider the matter in detail.  Naturally McDermitt would go along with you: his only loyalty is to those who apply pressure on him.  And Bakon - well, it's very well known what his views are.  He wants the added impetus of fear to better insure his power.  Power is to him as politics is to McDermitt: he simply can't work without it.  So someone has to give it some thought.  And it falls to me to do so.  Someone has to consider the larger view.  The view, if you will, from reality - or, more exactly, how the plan conforms to the nature of reality.  That view.  And as far as I'm concerned that's the final consideration."

"Judge and jury," Miss Oldham noted, rather contemptuously.

"If you want to think of it that way, then yes," answered Dr. Johnson.  "There must be principles.  And there must be some authority, somewhere, to arbitrate according to those principles."

"Yes, yes of course, I realize all that.  But it's hogwash, and you know it as well as I.  There is only one criterion: we must do whatever has to be done; and there's only one standard: to preserve our way of life, to uphold our values.  That is, to insure the survival of our traditional ways of doing things.  Now it doesn't take logic or principle or any sort of arbitration to see that.  But maybe you don't realize how important the Oldham and Timeson mine has always been.  It was always a rallying point for our community: it can still be.  It can help bring us all together once more.  We must preserve our society.  And if you'll indulge me a moment, if you'll permit an old woman to express her fancy, I submit to you that my mine is in its own way the very foundation upon which our society is built.  And it must be re-opened!  We must not give the masses to think we've abandoned our past.  It would bring ruin upon us all."  Miss Lucetta Oldham's eyes were ablaze with pride, her head was raised high, as in salute to a conquering hero, her mouth was set firm and unyieldingly.  She was absolutely convinced of the grandness and of the moral righteousness of her position.  And there was nothing anywhere on earth to dissuade her.

"I don't wish to insult your fervor, Miss Oldham," said Dr. Johnson gravely, "but on my desk, in my office, lies a series of paper: a geological report."

"They're fools!" blurted out Miss Oldham before Dr. Johnson could so much as hint at the report's contents.  "They're fools!  They don't know!  They don't know where to look, they're ditch diggers - no more than ditch diggers with pieces of a university's sanction to make their statements more credible!  How could such lowly creatures know platinum from limestone!  Why it's absurd to even consider it!  And I refuse to consider it.  There's a wealth of untapped platinum still inside that mine - there always was!  An unlimited supply.  Everyone knew it: my father, my grandfather, my uncles - they all knew it!  And I know it.  So I suggest you destroy that ridiculous ditch diggers' report before you become irreversibly corrupted and blinded by it to the truth.  And I suggest you consider your decision very carefully, because my dear sir you would do immeasurable damage to our society if you let foolhardiness dictate to your judgment.  We have a lovely, lovely way of life: don't destroy it, Doctor Johnson, I implore you.  And now I must be going."

Miss Oldham rose from her seat.  "Good night, sir," she said with great dignity as he bowed then walked to the door.

"Good night, Miss Oldham," Dr. Johnson replied.

"And Aral, my dear," Miss Oldham turned in Mrs. Johnson's direction, "I've enjoyed our talk ever so much."  She paused a moment as a look of surprise flowed from a sudden thought to envelop her countenance.  She really did enjoy her talk with Mrs. Aral Johnson, and the thought made her realize something: even I can get lonely, she mused.  "I must be getting old indeed," she half whispered.  "The cold night air," she explained, gesturing past the doorway to the black void of stillness there before her.

"Won't you let us drive you home?" offered her hostess again.

"No.  I don't care for automobiles - remember?  I prefer the walk.  But you're very gracious to concern yourself with an old woman."  She looked about the room once again.  Deplorable! she speculated in her mind.  "I place my blessing upon this lovely house and everyone in it," she announced, only half teasingly.  "Good night now."

With this she was gone, in no time at all so nearly blended into the night as to appear a ghost prowling the streets.

The door was shut behind her; the night was shut out.  Aral Johnson felt comfortable again.  "Coming to bed, dear?"

"I think so," h replied.

Just then a child moaned deeply in its sleep.  Aral Johnson's heart began to pound wildly.  Then she sighed of relief, and her heart slowed down to normal.  It was not Karl Jr. who moaned, but one of her other children.  She hastened upstairs to the room where Billy and Susie lay asleep.  To be with her child a moment, to make sure all was as it should be.  And to breathe a secret little sigh that thank God it was not her beloved Karl Jr.  Thank God.

Chapter 3.  The Great And The Small

Miss Oldham's walk home went unnoticed from above, where in the rooftop apartment of the Majestic Towers a late evening cocktail party was just beginning, guests from a diplomatic affair were being ushered in, a lovely table set with little sandwiches and pastries was spread out.  Silver plates embossed with an emblem, much like a coat of arms, contained the servings; and there was an assortment of silverware, each piece engraved with the same coat of arms pattern as the dishes.  A number of servants milled about, carrying tray fulls of crystal goblets and glasses, each piece of crystal ware ablaze with the reflected light of its respective beverage, some golden, others catching specks of a jeweled red, still others subdued by pale colorless drinks, others a kind of brass from the way the sparkling lights of the chandeliers were deflected through the heavy hues of whiskeys.  Now it was suddenly all a blur of motion, all these divine colors and sparkles, as the guests came pouring in, the servants going among them to dispense their refreshments.  The servants were of course without much color of their own, their uniform jackets white, their skins mostly black - so their beverages stood out all the more against them as backdrops: the drinks were what was important, not the men who served them.

"A lovely idea," one gentleman said, "combining different beverages on a single tray.  Now if I care to choose a whiskey I don't have to track down a boy who's carrying the whiskeys: I simply have one boy come to me, and voilá he's got everything!"  The good gentleman laughed heartily at his observation, giving a start sidewise to make sure the servant standing nearest him had reacted appropriately to his remark.  With this he reached to take a champagne from the tray.  "Lovely idea," he reiterated.

"Each one is an idea of its own, you might say," someone else observed.

"Each one of what?" inquired a third.

"Each of these drinks, of course," was the reply.

"But how so?"

"I don't know exactly how so - I just know they strike me that way, that's all.  Well, alright," he added in a moment, hoping to explain his position, which struck even himself as a bit foolish, "look at it this way: each one of these drinks - and by the way, I'll have a martini, thank you - each one is a variation on a single theme.  Mark that each is related to all the others by that common denominator.  They all have a common goal, and that's to serve the interests of society.  Therein lies their value and their very reason for being."  Here he held up a finger while sipping his martini, then resumed his explanation.

"Not simply that someone could make them - that's not justification enough for their being allowed to be invented.  But that they serve the interests of society.  And observe that to us, as we stand here, they're more important than the human beings who made them, or those boys who serve them for that matter.  And so it is with ideas - just so.  The truth or falsehood of the proposition is meaningless, as is ultimately whoever extracted said idea from the collective conscience - or from wherever ideas come.  Only its value to society has any value.  That's all that counts, brother; that's all that counts.,  The rest -" here he paused to give a little wave of his hand, as if dismissing the subject, "- well why even talk of it?  Social value: there you have the entire of human endeavor in a nutshell.  If it has no value to society, then it ought not to be.  That's the way it's always been, and it ever shall be."

"What of intrinsic value?" a lady asked.

"But it's the same thing, my dear.  Social value is no more and no less than a reflection of the intrinsic value of a thing.  If it has no social value, that indicates it couldn't have had any value at all, intrinsically or otherwise.  And conversely, if it does have intrinsic worth, then it will inevitably become endowed with a worth to society.  But never mind individual value at all, it has no meaning.  Oh we can love the individual, and work for his well being - but all the same, never mind him, for he has no meaning, therefore the things that are of value to him alone have no value at all.  One may deplore the situation if one were a mind to; but one has no choice about accepting it."

"I've always entertained a value for the individual," someone observed.

"Indeed, they can be very entertaining," someone else quipped.  "But there are subjects far more serious," he added more thoughtfully.

"Yes, I quite agree," spoke a middle-aged lady, of the type considered matronly.  "In an age of such potential peril, when at any moment, at anyone's whim it almost seems, we may be blown off the face of the earth - in such an age as this I hardly think it constructive to dwell on such comparatively insignificant matters as personal liberty or any of that entire range that comes under its auspices.  Creative self-expression, freedom to speak one's mind openly, or even the right to hold an opinion privately which goes against the national interest: these things have to be set aside for another time, we have too many more pressing things to consider now.  Perhaps in a more leisurely age, when we're not so perilously threatened - yes, yes I can see then a return to a more normal way of life.  But for now it's a dream, and we cannot afford the luxury of indulgence in such dreams.  Our very survival is at stake here; once it's secured, if it ever is, then we can always go back to the old ways."

"But really," someone interrupted, "are they the old ways?  I rather think the contrary.  These times now are the old ways, coming back again at last.  Freedom was an experiment - a most noble one, to be sure; but nothing beyond that.  It was tried, and it was seen we didn't need it at all, we get along quite well without it.  After all we are civilized, we don't engage in medieval brutalities.  Someone disagrees, you simply ignore them.  And in a crisis that's all that's needed.  Simple ignorance -"

Here the speaker paused, ostensibly to take a drink from one of the servants passing nearby like an asteroid in and out among the great planets; though actually the speaker was embarrassed at having put himself semantically into a somewhat ridiculous position: that of glorifying ignorance.  "What I meant, of course, was ignorance of the person and of his ideas -"  He paused again, this explanation sounding if anything more ridiculous than his original statement.  "Well, ideas should be ignored when they contradict those traditionally held," he finally managed to smooth over his position with an appeal to tradition.

"To me society is like a religion," observed a young woman with a far away, almost autistic kind of look in her eyes.  "It's the ceremony and the ritual which I love.  And really, the traditions we speak of: aren't they really nothing more nor less than the ceremonies and the prescribed litanies of a very tightly structured church?  And herein we substitute the national interest for God.  And it is like God, you know.  It's our salvation, and the justification for our existence.  I find it deeply moving.  When I walk into a public building, or even down a street, it's like going into a pew of a church.  I feel almost as if I should genuflect.  Or say a prayer.  No man can love God who doesn't love his country first.  And any man who would question the dictates of his government would as well question the very word of God.  Such men should be pitied, not tortured.  But if they were tortured perhaps they would see it; perhaps they would find humility in their hearts with which to replace the arrogance - the horrible arrogance - of their minds."  Tears began to stream down this young woman's face.  She began moving among the crowd, occasionally stopping to converse or simply to stare into someone's face.  Yet she seemed not to see a thing.

"I don't know, I just don't know.  It seems so frightening somehow."  A young man was speaking to an older man, the young man's face was gentle but with more of a look of weakness than of kindness.  "I know the answer's to trust others to handle it.  I know the doctor's say they can cure me if they just keep at it.  But I'm so afraid.  And sometimes the pain is so overpowering.  They say hardly anyone ever dies of this anymore.  But all the same I feel that I will.  I know I have to work at it too, and I try; but you know, sometimes when I'm all alone, in bed, I shut my eyes and make believe I'm buried, that my bed's my coffin, and all around me is the ground.  When I tell people this, they always think how awful, you must be so frightened, it must be horrible to experience the grave like that.  But they never understand.  It doesn't frighten me, nor is it horrible.  I relish it.  It's the only genuine comfort I'm able to experience.  It relaxes me completely.  I feel saved, not lost, when I think of myself lying in my grave.  I feel protected.  And deep down, in my gut, I know that all I want is to die.  I want to die so badly.  And this disease can do that for me.  It can put me in the grave.  It's funny how it works though.  It's as if my body's own defenses are working to destroy my life.  It's like my body's gone crazy, and stockpiled too great an arsenal of weapons.  And now they've turned against me; they're all aimed at me.  And it takes all the skill of medical science to save me, from my own defenses.  You know, I wonder sometimes my body doesn't just explode, like a chain-reaction - a nuclear explosion, you know?"

The old man nodded, but more nearly in the manner of confirming a thought of his own than of agreeing with the young man's statement.  "However," he observed after a rather awkward pause, in which the young man felt vaguely threatened.  He said nothing more for another moment, but held up one finger, as if to indicate a chastisement was in order here, though he did not shake his finger; still the gesture was fully implied in his holding it up.

"I'd feel a great deal more comfortable," he finally said, in a very slow, almost grating monotone, "if you wouldn't whine so much about your condition.  It betrays a weakness.  A man should be tough about such things."

"But I can't help it," the young man tried to excuse his behavior with an apology.  "I don't mean to whine, but it isn't fair."

"Why not?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"I didn't understand anything you said - but you told me anyway."

The young man pouted, but not so greatly as to be offensive.  "It's simple," he tried to explain, but his voice had gotten so low he could barely be heard.  "You see, I didn't live my life right.  That is, up to now.  I did it all wrong.  I let myself grow weak...and unmanly.  Only I was going to change - I was going to use the rest of my life to make up for my life up to now.  I wanted another chance.  Then this.  And I just couldn't take it.  I'm not strong, I'm not a fighter - but I was going to try to be.  But..I haven't the strength to fight this disease.  Let alone to build up my ego.  It isn't fair," he stated with great dignity, "I won't be allowed to make amends.  If only I'd had more time."

The old man shook his head wearily: I've heard it all before, his gesture said.

"I would have done different," the young man protested, but without much conviction.  "I know it's right I should die and the stronger should live.  And everyone agrees - so then why do they always hate me when I say I want to die?  If it's right for it to happen, why is it wrong for me to want it to happen?  You can't answer that, can you?  You can hate me, but you can't answer my question, can you?"

"No, I can't.  But then neither do I have to."

"I just have to live with it, you mean."

The old man nodded.  "Something like that," he said.  Then apparently he felt this was the time for a more detailed explanation.  "It's the way things are," he began.  "It was decided - at some point in time, let's say - that some men were stronger than others: inherently so, I mean.  Of stronger character.  And such men don't whine.  And questions," he added rather pointedly, "are irrelevant.  So no one feels compelled to answer."

"But these strong men: did it ever occur to you they're strong because that's how they're seen?  That they're regarded that way, and treated that way, and so they naturally become that way.  Not that they are strong, but that they're allowed to be!  Because they're seen that way!"

"In either case I see no difference.  They are strong, and you're not."

"But they weren't hamstrung, they were helped along the way!"

"Yes, that may be - but what of it?  Society is far wiser than any one man.  It sees what it's looking for in a man - and it rewards him.  Or it doesn't see it in a man, and he's penalized.  This is all part of the dynamics of life.  You can see it in the animal world, you can see it in the human world."

"But it isn't right," the young man vainly asserted, half convinced in his utter defeat that yet it was right.  Logically it was right, objectively it was right, certainly in the eyes of the world and of God it was right.  The weak did not count: the oldest tradition in the book.  Survival of the fittest; only the fittest.

"While I think of it," the old man remembered to add, partly in the manner of the after thought it seemed to be, partly in the manner of delivering the final blow, "I found your comparison of your illness to a nuclear holocaust somewhat tasteless, not to mention inaccurate.  It rather smacks of self-importance, it seems to me, to compare your body to all of society, the micro-organisms of your disease to exploding bombs.  And, I might add, I found it rather trite.  Now if you'll excuse me," his voice did not deign to complete the closing response, it simply settled back into his throat.  He had caught sight of the door opening, and of a man making an entrance; and like nearly everyone else there this evening he pointed himself in the direction of the door and made his move.

The host had arrived.  The party itself had been going on for a couple hours, but somehow the mere anticipation of the host's arrival had covered for him; it was like his own ghost standing in for him.  And he couldn't have had a better substitute.

He bowed a little, in greeting and in apology for his lateness; he offered no comment, preferring to explain to each group of his guests separately as the party wore on how he came to be so late.

The gentleman had to be at least six foot six inches in height.  He was of a style of body one would call slender - not skinny or gaunt, but slender: imperially slim.  One saw in him immediately the twin elements of charm and grace; he came under the general heading of suave, though the word seemed somehow insufficient for categorizing him.  Regal, princely - these words did far better toward pinpointing the kind of air he conveyed.  And diplomatic - not as a style of dealing with people, but as an image, to conjure great affairs of state, banquets, coronations, parade reviews: the supreme diplomat.  All of this was one man; all the trappings were upon him, like a medal of honor about his neck.

The gentleman was in his late fifties - early sixties.  He had silver gray hair, shaped to perfection to fit his head.  And sparkling blue eyes.  And a very slender mustache set as firmly over his upper lip as were his upper and lower lips set against one another.  His every feature was patrician, most especially the great sweep of his forehead and brow.  It was altogether fitting that this gentleman be one of the three rulers of an entire nation, the greatest nation on the face of this earth.

As the guests pressed closer to their host, one of them pushed his way past the others and headed straight for him, creating a small moment of panic among the crowd, just a very small moment, barely a ripple across the changing of one second into another.  Before the ripple had even settled, the young man was already out the door.  It was the dying young man, and for the briefest of seconds everyone took him to be a crazed assassin.  Then there was the realization that in this young man there could be no danger to others; his face said as much, his very person - something about him - said it: he couldn't hurt a fly.  And there was in this realization an element of contempt for the young man: for he couldn't - not wouldn't - but couldn't hurt a fly.  A weakling, was the automatic assessment.  No assassin, he; only a weakling.

He had whispered something, practically in his host's ear, as he passed.  No one else heard it.  "We're our parents' prisoners," he declared in almost total silence, as though imparting a wisdom too rare, too precious for any but one alone to share.  As if baring his soul.  Then he was gone.

The gentleman turned hastily and opened the door, calling to the retreating young man.  "That's true of us all, not just the unfortunate," he cried out, as if he too were releasing his deepest secret.  "We are what the past wishes us to be," he said in a lower tone of voice, the young man now standing still some yards away.  "I'm as much a prisoner as you," he explained.  "I was raised to be all the things our society admires in a man.  I had no part in it, I simply chose to do and be all the things I was supposed to do and be.  It was my choice.  But not my will.  That had been surrendered at birth, with the very first suckle at my mother's breast.  We're all owned.  Not just those who society scorns.  So don't be disheartened.  There's nothing you or I or anyone can do.  Our faculties may perceive independently of other persons, but our minds integrate according to very rigidly set patterns - set by others than ourselves.  Kierston: don't be disheartened, young man.  We all suffer the same humiliation.  The only degree is in our discomfort."

The young man nodded slightly, but it was still uncertain from the vague dreamy look in his eyes whether he had understood, or if he had even heard.  He turned, and left.

The gentleman too turned, paused a moment, then went back inside his penthouse suite to attend to his party.

"Bakon's boy," one of the guests noted, as if in that observation lay some mighty clue to some crucial principle of the human condition; and yet, at the same time, as if it were merely a confirmation of something which explained everything away by the simple naming of proper names and the relationships they bestow.

"Anybody's boy," the elegant host corrected his guest.  "He's a loser, anything he touched would turn sour for him.  Don't blame his upbringing; Bakon, whatever you may think of him, is a gentle loving father to his sons.  But poor Kierston's whole nature just begs the boy to be crushed.  Anyone could have fathered him, the results would have been the same.  This is awful to say but it's right he should die young.  He won't be alive a year from now - no treatment ever devised by man could save him.  He was born to be tormented.  There's really no more to be said of it - and so let's say no more of it," the host changed his whole manner, smiling gracefully down upon his guests, for reassurance.

The McDermitts were one of the wealthiest, most prominent families in the entire country.  Diplomatic society, in particular, began and ended with their name and their presence.  Without them, statesmanship was left in the hands of mere career professionals, or of parvenus, or still worse of just plain pikers.  But with them, all was class and first rate, honor and a tradition of excellence going back several generations.  And through their careful selection and breeding had come the epitome of princely statesmen, Chesapeake McDermitt, as surely as his expertise had come from his background of fine schooling and highly skilled training.  He was the last of his line, but even so its crowning achievement.  He had no offspring, he was sterile; his breed was soon to be extinct.  And adoption was absolutely out of the question: one could be a McDermitt only by having been born so; no one lesser could be trusted to carry on the name.  They might teach a child to act like a McDermitt, but it had to be in his soul or it simply wasn't there, this true quality of excellence, this hallmark which the name McDermitt bestowed.

"What are the chances - just some plain talk, okay?" a grave looking man inquired of Mr. McDermitt.

McDermitt tendered one of his characteristically diplomatic smiles, part of irony, part of condescension, part of pure flabbergasted incredulity.  "The odds never change, you know that," he replied carelessly; then added, a bit more cautiously, "it's bad, I won't deny it.  Not hopeless, of course, but extremely grave.  Even so, my friend," he brightened up a little and put his arm around his guest's shoulders, leading him somewhat away from the center of things - for he knew from the man's tone that he would be difficult to mollify - "even so, I can tell you right here and now we're making tremendous progress.  Oh, it's slow to be sure, but at this juncture any progress at all is of tremendous significance.  So rest assured: you're in the best possible hands; just believe that, and with all of us working together we'll make it.  Don't ever doubt that my friend: we'll make it, alright."

The man looked him squarely in the face.  "Save the malarkey, okay?  Just tell me: how close to a nuclear war are we?"

"I can't answer that," McDermitt said in the manner of making a candid, off-the-cuff sort of reply.  "It could come, yes, if all our negotiations break down.  I won't insult you by saying otherwise.  But yet it doesn't have to come - and I feel in my bones it won't.  You know, that plutonium is a bitter sort of pill for anyone to take - and frankly I don't know why you people seem to believe they wouldn't mind it as we would.  They have just as much to lose; don't ever lose sight of that.  Their country is as essential to their survival as ours is to us.  Never mind that we're a little freer, have a little more say so in the running of our country - when you get down to it, it's all one: they want to live, even as slaves of their state, as badly as we do, as free men.  Or relatively free, anyway.  And that's our trump card, my friend.  And we fail to recognize its presence; though it may be up our sleeves, it is still there.  To be sure, it is."

The man simply shook his head; he would not be reassured.  "You know in your heart," he argued, "the world has never yet been rational.  People have always dealt with one another with deceit and with treachery.  They've always felt they could get away with it.  And I see nothing to indicate anyone's going to be different this time."

"The stakes," McDermitt chanted, as if in ceremonial ritual, "the stakes are so high now.  That's our assurance."

"If you'll stop and think, though, the stakes have always been high.  Destruction always followed combat.  Always.  It's only a more complete destruction.  But the same principle: people simply refuse to see the consequences.  Nothing's new, at all.  They never choose to see the consequences."

"But look at the consequences we're talking about," Mr. McDermitt spread his arms wide to indicate the expansiveness.

"It's as much the medium anyway.  Don't you think they could see more clearly what might happen if they saw each other's armies come barreling down out of the hills than just if they saw a tiny pin-prick of a bomb being dropped at sixty thousand feet?  People only see what's right in front of their eyes.  They can't see what hasn't happened yet - so to them it can't happen.  It's just as it's always been, no more, no less.  So your odds, McDermitt, are just about worth as much as a lasso around a locomotive.  So as far as I'm concerned what Jorge Bakon's been saying privately makes a hell of a lot more sense than all the malarkey you diplomats put together can come up with!  And I'm thinking more seriously about it every day, too."

"I personally don't care to live underground," McDermitt said with a certain distaste, very much like contempt.  Then he smiled, as if to thereby indicate an end to the present conversation.  "This is a party," he reminded his guest.  "Never mind these are diplomats," he explained, "they're still here to have a pleasant evening - to get away from the everyday hum-drum.  That reminds me: I have some young ladies coming in a bit later.  Guaranteed to take your mind off this business of bombs and their attendant scares.  So just mingle, have a good time, and stick around," he winked then turned to see to his other guests.

"How's everything?" he asked one in passing.  "Good," he replied in response to something another said.  "How true," he interrupted a small discussion as he brushed by the group.  "Oh I hadn't thought that far ahead," he explained to someone's observation.  "She's fine - recovering beautifully from her surgery," he responded to a query about his wife's health.

And altogether, in just such a manner, McDermitt made the complete rounds, giving a little of himself to each and every guest at his party.  He was like a beam of light filtered through a prism, little sparkles of his charm ricocheting here and there with such precise randomness to insure touching a little on everyone in the room, no one really feeling the full force of his magnetism - which, like the beam of light, in its undiffracted brilliance was almost too overpowering, too brilliant.  But like the light too, there was plenty and plenty to go around, a perpetual luster from a single source: diffraction was the key to it all here.

"I'll never understand you people," a gentleman with a heavy accent spoke at just the right instant to pull Mr. McDermitt from his circulation about the room into this smaller orbit.  McDermitt said nothing, but listened very attentively as the man explained his statement.

"You have an opportunity here," the foreigner pointed out, "such as few of your countrymen have ever had.  You, Bakon and Johnson have real power almost in your grasp.  This has never happened before in your country - and may never again unless you act wisely.  And quickly, let me add.  But yet you hold back - what is it you're afraid of?  Surely - surely - it can't be so intangible a thing as your people's tradition of freedom.  I mean, this is preposterous.  You have no freedom in fact, yet you go on refraining from putting that fact in action.  It wants practical expression, my dear sir.  The twentieth century is dead - the nineteenth long ago rotted.  The twenty-first century cannot tolerate such an insult.  The past must be allowed to end.  You cannot taint the present indefinitely with it.  Freedom was an interesting step - we could debate all evening if it was actually, as some maintained, a step forward, or merely a digression, a ridiculous tangent.  But at any rate, it's over, this experiment.  Still, your people here hold on to it.  They refuse to let go.  Nowhere else - nowhere else in the world do you find this obsession, this...this...fetish of your people.  The world has simply passed you by.  Your country is an anachronism, still in the grip of inebriation.  The world is much changed, my friend.  Much changed.  There is no sane, rational reason to allow people to conduct their own affairs.  We're not obligated to them, we who rule.  We owe them nothing.  The very idea that we're obliged to protect their rights, or to insure their livelihood, or to promote their well-being - the very idea is offensive.  We rule, they serve.  This is how it is.  This is natural law; you can see it in any living species: there is a ruling class, and there are all the rest.  And not, I might add, without precedent - even in your own country's history.  There has always been a tacit division of the classes.  I simply recommend that you make this official.  That's all."

"Recommend we make it official," mused Chesapeake McDermitt, "and that's all?  That's quite more than 'all,' I should think.  This nation has prospered as none other has ever: it prospered in freedom, my dear sir.  It prospered because we were free.  There was never any cogent argument for the doctrine of coincidence.  It was the freedom of our people which created the conditions requisite to prosperity.  And if we give that up - if we abandon freedom, after it's served us so well - then we'll cease to prosper.  And as for what appears a cessation of freedom: it isn't.  We live in a volatile world, we've had to adopt extreme, even potentially dangerous methods and attitudes in order to deal effectively with the dangers that abound in the world today.  Our age is to the twentieth century as the Renaissance is to the Middle Ages.  Their problems and fears have become our threats and the reality of our nightmares.  The world is on the brink of total destruction - all our lives hang by the thinnest of threads.  Namely, our ability to deal immediately and effectively with each crisis as it arises.  We've had no choice in the matter but to abandon our constitutional form of government.  It was simply too cumbersome, too unwieldy.  It held us back too long from taking the very immediate, and the sometimes very drastic steps we've had to take.  We had to adopt the form and the trappings of dictatorship.  We had no choice about that.  We could not otherwise have dealt with the world situation.  But we tried to keep the old structures - and obviously that's precisely what the rest of the world has failed to grasp.  It is no accident we chose the system of triumvirate authority - nor were we naively impressed with the ancient Romans and their government under Julius Caesar.  We chose that system for one reason only: to prevent a collapse into absolute rule.  We mean to reinstate our constitution - and with it all the freedoms attendant to it - just as soon as the world is stabilized.  If it ever again is.  And granting equal power to three separate men is our best insurance against totalitarian rule.  That's why we chose it.  We have the mobility we need, since we are not responsible to the people as such, but only to ourselves; yet we have sufficient safeguards to prevent the actual enslavement of our people.  It is a perfect system...perfect, that is, for our present needs.  It's the nearest thing to our old system too...along the lines of a dictatorship that is.  You can see the...oh, how shall I call it? - the, ah, the lineage, let's call it: the lineage from our republican system.  Where there were three branches, we have three figures of authority.  We counterbalance one another very much the same as our three branches of government used to do.  Of course I consider myself the carryover of the executive branch; though others might disagree.  And I rather think of Bakon as the judicial - though I must confess the role doesn't quite fit him.  And Johnson, then, is our legislature.  Oh it's just a fancy of mine," McDermitt added somewhat awkwardly, noting his guest's growing contempt with his little speech.  "Just a fancy," he echoed in nearly a mumble.

"The whole thing is a childish fantasy," McDermitt's guest said.  "Or was it 'fancy' you called it?"

"Either one will do, sir," replied McDermitt rather somberly, suddenly offended by the foreigner's condescension, and greatly embarrassed at having so plainly shown that he was offended.  "Once freedom was something important," he went on to try one last time to make his point; "now it's only a tradition, and only so with us.  I realize the rest of the world has long since abandoned even the customary lip-service.  But it remains...on our lips," McDermitt shrugged as if to admit this were all the argument he had in its favor.  "Traditions do not die easily with us," he said almost as an afterthought, then he bowed and walked away from the foreigner.

But was it merely a tradition? something inside him seemed to want to ask.  How can you tell though? something else mused in cowardly reply; once a thing is in the past, how can you ever know if it's a living principle, upon which ultimately the survival of the human race depends, or simply an attitude, a ritual: grown in old age to a tradition?  How can you know?  Look at the world crumbling - maybe that's how you know!  Why should freedom or its lack so affect the world though?  Why should people care about the world when it is not theirs but always someone else's - what possible stake could they have in it then?  Do they need a stake in the world?  Do they need a stake in their own lives?

Sometimes I can hardly stand to see the sun come up, McDermitt thought to himself as he jointed another group of guests, then another, and so on until each of the persons he had greeted in turn upon his arrival had been conversed with at some length, in turn.  And therewith did the evening wear on; the young ladies McDermitt had commissioned had arrived, and conducted themselves to everyone's best interest and the assurance of the maximum of entertainment, then they left, the guests gradually left, the party contracted gradually into an emptiness, as if withdrawn into an autistic frame, the lone figure of Chesapeake McDermitt like the blank staring eyes characteristic of the condition.  

It was four-thirty in the morning, too early for the first rays of sunlight, too late for a walk through the city's streets or for a late night drink at one of the taverns nearby.  McDermitt felt trapped in the timelessness of the hour; he felt cruelly victimized by the respite in the human timetable, when there was no activity, nothing to call daytime, nothing left of the nighttime.  He felt as compressed into the concept of infinity, of an eternal endless time as his party seemed into the vacuous emptiness of its aftermath.

"Mr. Carens," he called softly to a middle-aged man bent over a table, "you don't have to do that now, if you'd rather wait till tomorrow evening.  I won't have company all day.  There's no rush."

The man turned from his work and smiled kindly.  "If it's all the same I'd as soon have it over with now," he replied gently.

"Whatever you wish," said McDermitt.  He then resumed his silent vigil for the return of time, of the human scheduling of things superceding of universal timetables where only eons counted, not hours and minutes.  McDermitt sighed very deeply.

"Beg pardon, sir?" inquired Mr. Carens, the janitor.

"Nothing," McDermitt nodded softly, then was silent again for a time as the janitor continued his work.  "How long till sunrise do you think?" he asked abstractly as if seeking in the answer the reassurance that he had not slipped somehow outside the flow of time to dwell with the infinite.

"A couple hours," Mr. Carens answered.  "Does it trouble you waiting?" he asked.

"No, not the wait.  All we do really is wait.  But the having to wait; that bothers me."

"And the bigness...of everything?" Mr. Carens gestured as he spoke, to indicate the universe.

"Yes.  Tell me: does it trouble you, ever?"

"No," Carens replied.  "I feel that it all has nothing to do with me, really.  Why care if the universe goes on for billions and billions of light years?  Why care?  It doesn't change the nature of my own existence one iota.  Let it do as it will.  It doesn't want my sanction - nor I its, for that matter."  Mr. Carens smiled graciously.  "I leave it be, and it leaves me be," he explained.

"Can it ever?" questioned McDermitt in an anxious tone of voice.  "Leave you be, that is."

"If you mean can it alter the course of my life, then yes, I suppose it can.  But it can't change the fact of my existence, not for all its expanse.  It can obliterate me - as it will all of us eventually - but all of it together hasn't the power to change in the least the truth of the statement 'I exist.'  So I'd say we're about evenly match, the universe and me.  I can't alter the fact of its existence either."

"But wouldn't you like to try if you could?"

"No," Mr. Carens replied with great dignity, "I'm content with it as it is."

"But then on a more mundane level: wouldn't you like to alter your own station in life?  To better yourself?"

Mr. Carens thought for a moment.  "If I were possessed of, well, of the qualities you posses, for example, then yes, I would.  But not having such possessions, I would first have to change the whole universe to get them.  From the beginning of time something was carried down through the ages which finally manifested itself in men like yourself, but not in men like myself. Ii suppose men like me inherited other qualities, which better suit us to serve than be served.  At least, in a world which obsessively divides its inhabitants into these two categories.  So to change places with you I'd have to go back to the very beginning.  And even then, I wouldn't know what I was dealing with.  So I best just remain content.  Do what I can; try to develop my own qualities as best I can.  And I guess that's about the size of it."

"I guess I envy you," McDermitt reflected.  "I could never be content.  I always want more and better than I have at any given moment.  My life is filled with stopovers but no stops.  I just keep going, always going."

"But you know - and forgive my saying it - but how do you know you're really going always on, from fear of inertia, and not because you're discontent with the way of life you've chosen?  Who says a man has to achieve everything that's humanly possible in his lifetime?  Who says a man can't turn his back on achievement?  Who says he can't live for his own peace of mind and the hell with success?  Why does it always have to be one or the other, success or failure?  Why am I a failure - who has the right to call me a failure?  Who?  When the universe, that's going to be here for all time, doesn't give a damn - then what right has anyone living, whose lifespan is no more than a fly speck on a clock, to point the finger of accusation?  Tell me that, Mr. McDermitt: what right?  What on earth right?"

McDermitt could only shrug.  You know they say it, the expression on his face said; and you know they always will.  But how would anyone know by what right they say it?

The two men were silent for a long while, as Carens finished up his cleaning, McDermitt sat blankly, half staring out the window.

Suddenly a light appeared, in the dimness of the room almost blindingly, like an explosion.  The sun was about to rise.

There was a look of terror on McDermitt's face.  He had nearly dozed off, the light took him by surprise, and in the instant, half of reality half of fantasy, he had mistaken the morning sun for a nuclear explosion.

"It's here," he had mumbled in a stuporous whisper.  He had been too frightened to cry out.

"Going to be a beautiful day," observed Mr. Carens.

"Yeah," answered McDermitt rather stupidly, "beautifuler - I mean, that is more beautiful - than otherwise."        

Chapter 4.  The Receptacle

If the day broke too slowly for Chespeake McDermitt, if he impatiently awaited it sitting alone in his penthouse, then the janitor German Carens saw it come far too quickly; his impatience was with the speed of its arrival, and the haste with which it would have itself greeted.

Mr. Carens had left McDermitt's penthouse and gotten home before dawn.  He went straight to bed, for the precious two or three hours sleep he would get.  His trade was other than domestic service, but he took the work whenever he could get it, the extra income being the occasion for extra work.  He wished to set aside as much money as he could for his little daughter; she and her future were everything to him.  His wife had run off and left him to care alone for the child; perhaps otherwise he would not have been so fearful for his girl's future.  But as it was he lived a quiet fear each day of leaving the child unprovided for should he die or become invalid; it was like a race with him, against time and fate both together.  His single driving ambition was for his little girl's security; beyond this, little mattered to him.

The context in which he slept his two or three hours was his continued ability to work: not because he was tired did he relish his sleep so mightily, but because his little girl's future depended upon his income, which in turn depended upon his state of health.  He felt it is duty to preserve his health as best he could, in order to prolong his working capacity.  To sleep was to do what little he could in that direction; to miss sleep was to make oneself tempting and rife for fate to pluck.  That was his entire thought on the subject.

At eight-fifteen his alarm went off, or just barely went off since he awoke and reached to quiet the alarm at the very instant it began to ring.  He yawned once, very big; he felt as though he had ingested a mouthful of light from the stream pouring in his window.  For an instant his mouth felt chalky, hot.  Then he smiled, wondering how he came to suppose sunlight, if given in food, would be hot or chalky to the taste.  Then he was out of bed, and in very little time ready for work - just in time to see his little girl off to school.  He kissed her and waved good-bye, then was gone.

The building where Mr. Carens worked was very large.  Not a day went by that he failed to take note of that fact, though his reaction did not remain constant.  Some days he was impressed, even awed by its great mass; at other times he felt nearly overwhelmed as it appeared to loom like some giant creature over his frail form; and still again there were days he hardly noticed its presence.  It all depended on how he felt about his own size, the bigness or smallness of his station in life, the power or impotence of his own soul.

Today he barely noticed the place.  He was apprehensive; the source of his concern dwarfed this giant edifice.  Accordingly, it was not really there for him.

The high walls surrounding the building and its two vast lots, one of grass, as meadows, and of blacktop, for the parking of trucks and automobiles; the great gate he must drive through to get inside, with its twin towers on either side and its electrified doors swung open; the upward sweep of the building itself, a solid sheet of cement stretching eight stories into the air, unbroken except by the two pillars of cement reaching the same distance; the side of the building, with the only opening anywhere along the entire length and breadth: like a small mountain it set, with a single mouth opening to a vast cave - none of this was recorded in Mr. German Carens' consciousness.  He might as well have been standing on an empty plain in the middle of a great desert for all the stimulation this place provided him today.

Even once inside he simply began going about his routine, taking no more notice of the enchantment herein than of the awesomeness without.

Technology lived here; it was unseen in itself but like a magical wizard felt and known by its magnificent works, as if here given form and made into a living entity.  A breathtaking aura dwelt somehow about this place - as it should about an arrangement gathering, as did this interior, an entire system of thinking and believing into one point of space that it might be given a reality in physical aspect where before was only the invisibility of an idea.  A concrete expression of a profound idea: this is what was here.  A body, the soul of which was the great technological principles extracted as a pure essence from the collected knowledge of mankind down through the ages.  There lay here nothing superfluous, no philosophy, no morality, no artistry: nothing to deter the great work being done here...nor anything to temper it.  Here was pure knowledge, bereft of the thinking process, of logic, of application, of usefulness.  Raw seething knowledge, as an end in itself, as the final reaction in a chain of reactions, this interior like the summit of a nuclear explosion, the ultimate expression of the principles from which it had acquired its strength.  Technology, without direction, without purpose save its own being - technology was given here a home, a final resting place.

There was a sense of continual motion here; not that of the people who worked here and scurried about like rodents in a maze of underground tunnels and chambers, but rather a kind of pulsating beat, as if the walls were breathing in and out like arteries the flow of air within this building the equivalent of blood flowing through a body, the central core of this place like a heart pumping life into the being.  And yet the parallel here was not quite exact, for here, unlike in the body, the concern seemed not with keeping the organism alive but with constantly feeding the pumping mechanism, the heart that lay in awesome storage several floors below ground like a despot growing ever fatter and ever more diseased, all the effort of his subjects going to feeding his gluttonous appetite.

More like a brain than a heart was this central core of the system, even if it did seem to make the whole place pulsate, even if it was in turn, through the constant feeding of energy into itself, the source of energy for all else within its sphere.  A closed circuit full of perpetual motion, a self-generating and self-sustaining entity, the thought and labor of those who worked here the fuel and the food needed to keep it going.  A ghoulish cannibal of sorts, ultimately feeding on human prey: a god given homage in the form of human sacrifice.  An idea - that man's institutions (for this was an institution, the center of a great military-industrial continuum) were of greater worth than man himself - given the perfect form, that of a system closed around human beings like an amoeba ingesting particles of food.

All our traditions went into it, all the notions which were built into our society.  They were all here, as nuclear fuel for the feeding of this insatiable beast.  But no philosophy, no morality, no artistry, no logic: none of the principles upon which our society was founded.  They were not here; nothing tempered the great appetite here to be fed, nothing guided or held in balance the great energy herein created.  It was free to do as it saw fit.  It was built, for our tradition was to build; but it was left without direction, for principles were no longer sanctioned as valid or as imperative.  No restraint was allowed into these great chambers; power alone was here, free of the shackles of philosophy, or of thought.  The tyranny of power here fashioned into eight stories above ground and eight stories below ground of matter.

Roughly it was spiral in design, the interior of this building.  There was a hole in the center extending the entire height and depth of the place, leading to a huge power cell of nuclear conversion.  Every wall was a maze of wiring and tubing and dials and levers and meters and an endless array of technological gadgets.  Every inch of vertical space was given over to science.  Only the floor space was allotted human contact; and only that begrudgingly, so that the building could be overseen in its every facet.  People were here to serve, and only for that reason were they allowed breathing space.

Everyone here wore white, as if to contain the contamination humans might bring with them.  Everyone entered through a single door, on the sixth level, at the south facade.  Behind the maze of computers set into this south wall was the only space given to humanity.  An elevator led from the building's entrance at ground level up to the sixth floor; here, tucked away behind the computers and reaching three floors to the summit was space for offices and conference rooms and broom closets and locker rooms and lavatories and even a cafeteria for the workers and a restaurant lounge for executives and visiting dignitaries.  Altogether an immense space, easily the size of a small factory, and the only portion of the building with a normal, respectable mien; but even so, only a fraction of the total space.

The building covered almost fifty acres of ground space; it was the largest structure ever built by man.  Its total interior space ran into the millions of square feet.  Its cost had had to be calculated in the billions of dollars, some said as high as two hundred billion, though the exact figure was known only to a handful of men.  It was not considered anyone's business outside the ruling elite, so no one was ever told - let alone the general public, whose only business was to pay the taxes necessary for the enterprise.  And as they had a fine tradition stretching far back into the dusts of history of paying taxes and supporting the programs of their leaders, they gladly and willingly and even eagerly did their duty.  Even if the principle governing such a relationship between the people and their government had gotten lost along the way somewhere.

The principle of government accountability had become functionally obsolete, spoken again and again but never reaching beyond the power of speech to assume a reality beyond that of a tradition.  People paid taxes, they served in armies when and as needed, they obeyed laws, they stood by their leaders, they did their duty.  But the principle behind their actions was dead; only its outer shell - tradition - remained.  A way of life cut off from the act of living.

Fifty full acres: that's how much it took to give it all form.

And eight stories high, plus eight below ground.  Of the purest white cement.  No soot covered these walls, neither inside nor out; no cracks were visible anywhere to suggest the great pressures here generated; no befoulment of any sort was tolerated within the system.  It was pure and whole, nothing superfluous existed, nor a gram less than the job demanded.  The production of nuclear fuels, and as concomitant the various devices needed to complete the circuit.  It was a laboratory, and it was a power plant; it was a factory, and an arsenal.  Everything requisite to the annihilation of mankind was either here outright or at least tied in to this facility in some fashion.  Everyone here was part of that great team that may one day be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice...to destroy this earth, lest it fall to the enemy....

Mr. German Carens pushed a broom here.  He looked almost smothered by his clean white uniform and cap, as if sucked up into a cloud, his every movement appearing as part of a struggle to wrest himself from its grip.  He kept the floors on the sixth story clean, free of dust and debris.  He was one of many such, each assigned his own area, each sentenced in effect to spend the remainder of his life, until retirement, on one story of this facility.  The sixth floor was nicknamed The Captain's Quarters by the workers - so named because of the executive suites and so on built into the wall.  All the floors were nicknamed, all of them for some reason bearing names derived from sailors and ships.  Underground, one floor was called The Brig; highest above ground was The Mast; at ground level was The Plank - and so on, sixteen in all.

Mr. Carens workered The Captain's Quarters.  The epitome, as it were: the best, cleanest, safest, most prestigious spot on earth to push a broom.  For while the others, as it was jokingly remarked, merely swept up the dusts and shavings of the machinery, German Carens swept along the thoughts and formulas of the minds which created the machines.  He was the cat's meow of maintenance engineering...so it was often remarked.  He always smiled, too, when it was said: he took whatever pride he could in his lowly work.  But in his heart was a smile inverted.  Not that in essence he was any more bitter than content; simply that there had to be both, and he knew it.  Pushing a broom, a wistful secretive look on his thoughtful face, he knew it.  It had to be both, one reflected the other...the bitterness of his station reflected in his outward satisfaction.  Whisper in his ear why must this be so, and he would simply say it is so, amen.  To be content with nothing one must do a lot of resigning.

Mr. Carens and his broom pushed not only the left over thoughts of other men, it gathered as well the soft down that fell as from the underbelly of men's thinking.  Born, in a manner of speaking, from the great ideas that ricocheted like a ping-pong ball throughout the sixth floor were those soft quiet little whisperings, gossip and rumor; and both abounded here, on the sixth floor.  It almost seemed the computers did it; of course they didn't, but somehow or another not one bit of hearsay could ever really be matched with any particular human voice, or traced back to any one particular of interest or of influence.  So it just seemed too conspicuous, too convenient for any but the computers to have started the rumors and gossip settling about this place: conspicuous because any piece of talk could conceivably have come from anywhere, therefore nowhere; and convenient because so much damage was done to human credibility - and it has long been suspected that machines conspire against their creators, and no conspiracy ever quite succeeded without the victim first being discredited.

But then no one really cared where a piece of gossip originated; only that once implanted in one brain it be related to another was all anyone cared about.  Except possibly, and ironically, for Mr. Carens, who did attempt to trace every bit of talk he passed out.  He could never quite seem to discern sources, so he always felt badly about spreading tales.  But he felt important spreading them, being the crucial link in the grapevine - the go-between taking from the sixth floor to all the rest of the building all the latest stories.  It was a weakness he acknowledged, if shamefacedly; but it was an essential element of his satisfaction with his lot in life.

A noise suddenly sprang into the space where Mr. Carens was working; it seemed to have come from the air itself, there being no clear point of direction.  None of the walls seemed involved, nor the ceiling or floor; just the air itself.  At first Mr. Carens felt a stab of panic: he thought it was an alert, or perhaps not an alert but a real attack, or if not an attack then a disaster here inside.  Then, before he could act, his mind slipped from panic back into calm as he realized the noise was not the alarm but the lunch whistle.  He looked at his watch; it was twelve thirty.  Reassuring.

He sat his broom against the wall and moved on past the computers, down the corridor and into the wall, the opening in the wall which led to the sixth floor offices and workers' area.  The great elevators were buzzing, men were approaching from every floor to congregate on the sixth, for lunch.

The custodian of the sixth floor was usually first in line at the cafeteria, though not always, as he took time to wash up before lunch whereas many of the others did not.  Today, though, he was first, being in fact served and just seated at his table when the first of the other workers arrived.

He had braised liver and onions, mashed potatoes and peas.  He didn't particularly care for liver, but he knew it was good for his health, and what was good for his health was good for his little girl's future.  So he ate liver at least once a week.

"It's a crime," one of Mr. Carens' fellow workers said in irritation as he sat down.  It was one of the men from the third floor.

"What's that?" Carens asked a bit cautiously, ever aware that with the kind of system of government he lived under anything could conceivably turn up criminal some day - and given enough time everything would eventually.

"One hour for lunch," the third floor worker replied.  "Oh it's okay for you, you're right here.  But the rest of us, hell by the time we get up here we've already lost damn near fifteen minutes.  Then another ten or fifteen to get back.  So, what, that gives us barely half an hour!  You think that's fair, do you?"

Carens merely shrugged: it was never wise to speak out too loudly against even so trivial an aspect of the social scheme, so one couldn't be too careful.

The man shook his head wearily.  "I know, I know," he admitted, "I got a big mouth, and the night's got a thousand...what the hell is it the night has a thousand of?  Oh yeah: eyes, that's right.  Not ears, like I thought.  Well, this place's got a thousand ears, though.  Oh yeah, Cardinal Newman, that's who it was."

"I beg your pardon?" Carens inquired.

"The poem - about the thousand eyes: Cardinal Newman's the guy that wrote it.  I think that's his name."

"I don't know, I, I was never a Catholic."

"Ah, you missed a lot Carens.  It's a beautiful religion alright.  The ceremony, that's what I like...the ceremony.  The traditional ceremonies anyway; they changed a lot of it back when I was a kid.  Hey I used to be an altar boy!  That was right before they changed from the Latin.  To me it was never the same.  All the beauty went out of it, you know?"

"But they were still worshipping the same God," Mr. Carens noted thoughtfully.

"Maybe so," the man replied, "but you know how I always looked at it?"


"Of course you gotta understand I was just a kid - although come to think of it I don't know if I've changed my mind all that much.  Anyway, I always thought God wouldn't understand what the priests were saying if it wasn't in Latin.  I mean, you gotta assume there was a reason why God had them put it in Latin.  I guess it was a language that pleased Him - you know, like a universal language or something.  So when they did away with it, they maybe lost contact with God.  You see?"

"But look at it this way," Mr. Carens pointed out, "God knows all languages.  You can pray in Swahili, and He'll still hear."

"No, but see you don't understand: these weren't prayers I'm talking about, they were special rituals, set up by men who really knew what God wanted from mankind.  I mean these early men knew God, the way we never will.  I don't know how, but we just have to accept it on faith.  They understood.  And we're playing around with fate to go changing everything around."

"Yeah, like our government," interrupted another man who had joined Mr. Carens at his table and had been listening to the conversation.  This man was from the eighth floor.  Several others had also joined the group at Mr. Carens' table, silent in courtesy as they sat down to lunch.  All tolled, every floor of the building was represented here at Mr. Carens' table - each man a representative in a manner of speaking of his respective area of work, a delegate sent to carry away whatever latest gossip there might be.

No one said a word in response to the eighth floor worker's statement concerning the government.  Everyone was afraid he might say a little too much and end up under suspicion of sedition.

"I said, like our government," the man obstinately persisted.

"We heard you the first time," another man replied, somewhat testily.

"Alright alright alright alright alright," the man relented, "I won't say anything.  Just all of us pretend nothing's changed, nothing's wrong.  Pretend we still have our constitution standing between us and our rulers.  Or else pretend it was just all a matter of tradition anyway, like our friend here's litany in Latin.  Oh hell, forget what I said.  I know it's nothing we can do.  I'm just in a bad mood, that's all.  My kid says he wants to go into the diplomatic corps.  It just bugged me, that's all.  I'm scared for him.  Hell, what if he gets stuck over there, and what if the war does come?  What then?  Hell, they'll cut him up into a thousand pieces!  Well everyone knows they're barbarians, they'd torture him till - God I don't even like to think about it!  But you know if they do it to their own people they're sure as hell not going to have a sudden change of heart when it comes to some poor dumb kid we send over!  Only my kid's not dumb.  He's got a brilliant mind.  He's a good kid.  A real good kid.  I guess that's why I'm so scared for him.  If they don't get hold of him first and rip his body to shreds, then we'll get to him eventually and tear all his scruples out of him, and all his ideals.  Either way he'll be dead."

"Hey, come on, don't think of these things.  It's going to get better, as soon as the crisis is over - you'll see."  This was said by a man from the very basement of the building, the last to arrive for lunch.

"The crisis over - as soon as it's over?  What the hell you talking about?  It's been going on for twenty-five years and it hasn't eased up yet!  Over?  Ha!  It'll be over only when we've all been bombed off the face of this earth, that's when it'll be over!"

"You don't know your ass..." one man blurted out, then another said something else, and another, and so on until momentarily everyone at the table was yelling and arguing and trying to make his point - all at the same time, to where no one could be heard or could make any sense whatever out of what anyone was saying, till eventually one man among them with a louder voice and perhaps a bit more responsibility finally managed to get them all quieted down.

"Okay now," the man said as the noise subsided, "let's just forget it.  We can yell all day and still there's nothing we can do about it.  We'll either be bombed or we won't.  So why argue?  We don't have any say in our government, we gave that up for the expediency of the moment - for the sake of the 'crisis.'  So let's just forget it and hope our leaders know how to get us out of this mess."

Everyone more or less assented to this course, though not without some grumbling under their breath.  But at any rate the table was quiet again, and there was still some few minutes remaining in which to pursue the business at hand.

"Well, Mr. Carens: what's the latest news?"

"Yeah, give it to us hot off the presses."

"Well gentlemen," Mr. Carens sat back in his seat and took a smooth long puff on his pipe, "it's been a very quiet day - and that has me worried," he added after releasing the smoke from mouth.  "It's never this quiet around here.  You all know I'd have - God knows, I'd have five or six things by now to pass along to you.  But nothing today.  No gentlemen, something stinks here today.  And I can't quite put my finger on it."

"You mean the dark before the dawn?" someone thought necessary to interject.

"Well that could be too," Mr. Carens replied with just the faintest twist of sarcasm at being interrupted.  "But something's going on, that's for sure."

"Like what?" someone asked.

"Well, for instance, they've been trying like mad to get hold of Dr. Johnson all day long."

"He's not here?"

"No, it seems he's at a meeting, if I understand correctly, at the National Security Board.  You know it has to be something damned serious to interrupt him there.  But from what I understand they finally did get in touch with him; and just before I was leaving for lunch I heard one of the secretaries say he was on his way here then.  So I figure he's probably here by now - and therefore, gentlemen, I suggest we meet after work in the locker room, at which time I expect to have news big enough to keep this place buzzing for the next month at least!"

Just then the whistle blew.  Lunch was over.

"Well, back to my sarcophagus," a man from the ground floor quipped, to which everyone responded with a laughter both jovial and yet sardonic, as if while, yes, a nice joke had been made, still there was an uncertainty about it, almost like a terror.

"One never jokes of the dead," a very grave looking man observed with a mysterious wink of an eye.  To which no one responded in any manner.

"I don't get it though: why the ground floor?" asked a third man.

"The sarcophagus, you mean?"


"Well, that's where it was.  I mean, in the real pyramid that's where it was.  It wasn't way below ground, like everyone thinks, but just about in the middle of the thing.  That's where they buried the Pharaohs."

"So that wouldn't put him on the ground floor, but about the third or so - right?"

"Okay, okay," the ground floor worker relented, "the third floor it is.  Kind of spoils my joke though.  Hey Bill," the man called, "I wish you'd made the joke, being it's your territory."  The man chuckled a bit, though everyone else had little heart for maintaining the buoyancy of the idiom.  Still, he chuckled alone.

"Hey look, I don't like this pyramid business anyway - I never did," pleaded Bill, the third floor workers.  "So let's just drop it - okay?"

"Okay, okay.  I'm not the one dubbed this place The Pyramid you know.  Hey, come to think of it who did?"

"Now who the hell else do you think would have?"

"Oh yeah.  Sure.  The one and only: his royal majestic high holy imperial highness himself.  Old Caesar Augustus himself reincarnated in full life - or better still, how about old Cheops?"

"Shut up, you jackass!" cautioned Bill.  "Christ man, Bakon's probably got those computers of his programmed to listen to every word that's said in this dung heap" - Bill caught his words in mid-air, his very tongue seemed almost to have leapt out to attempt the feat, but even so there was no telling if they'd lingered long enough to be heard; so poor Bill shut up altogether and left the sixth floor to return to his own land.

So had everyone else finally gone, leaving only German Carens to absorb the excitement, the mounting tension being generated here on the sixth floor.  All was panic; it was like a natural disaster in format: having begun quietly it grew and grew in momentum until it seemed almost to burst open and drown everything and everyone in anxiety.  Had he not known better, German Carens would have fled for his life; but it only appeared as though the entire facility would explode and all be killed - it was only the excitement that suggested such imminent disaster.  For the truth of the matter, as Carens had discerned earlier that morning, was that Dr. Karl Johnson was desperately needed for something or other, Carens could not make out what it was exactly, though it seemed an item of the gravest national security.  So all that afternoon Mr. Carens stayed as near to the offices as he could, almost as though huddled up against the source of panic, for safety.

He stayed right by the computers, on the other side of which lay the offices.  He noted as he swept that even the computers seemed to have gotten caught up in the excitement; they seemed to have become suddenly charged with an unprecedented energy, all manner of activity slipped in and out of their cells, printouts and excess papers seemed to pour like sweat from their interiors.  It was as if they acted out their masters' fears and anxieties - as if they had a life in them, as if a powerful affinity existed between them and their programmers, and as if that life in them sensed and thereby their natures reflected the panic omnipresent here on the sixth floor.

Mr. German Carens, feeling very stupid, patted one of the computers gently: somehow he wondered if perhaps this might calm them a little.  When nothing happened he shook his head in irony.  "I didn't think it would do anything," he reminded himself.  But you never know, he added as silently as his thoughts would permit.

At last, about three o'clock that afternoon, Dr. Karl Johnson finally arrived at the facility, going immediately to his office after having been informed by the guards at the entrance of the urgency of his presence upstairs.

"Thank God," one of the directors of the facility barely murmured, a look in his eye as nearly of defeat as the tone of his voice was of exhaustion.  Another director simply shut his eyes altogether a moment, in the manner of accompaniment to a deep if silent sigh.

"We have tried," the man with his eyes shut nearly moaned, his eyes peeping gradually from their show of relief, even a little farther open with each intonation, "oh God, dear Lord, we have tried...and tried...and tried!  Karl: where the hell have you been?"

Before Dr. Johnson could even spread his lips to test his voice the first director began again.  "Karl, this could be the end," he half bellowed, or at least as a civilized sophisticated sort of man bellows, which was really but barely a quarter octave above his normal speech.  Then a third man appeared, who God knows where he'd been standing, for he almost seemed to have come from the computered recesses just beyond as though materialized out of the chance combination of a computer card and the panic all about this place.  And this man put a screech to work upon his voice, with the most ominous results.  "They have the system," he announced, half screamingly, half in the stylized eloquence of a preacher man.  "They have it," he echoed his own words, with slight variation.

"You're sure?" was all Dr. Johnson said.  All three men nodded together.

"So we're equal once more," he mused.  "Now they too can attack without warning.  Gentlemen: it was a long time ago they declared the human race insane.  I guess I'm the last man to accept it.  Well, be it all as it may.  We have to go them one better...then they in turn us...then our turn again....  If only our lives and our freedoms didn't depend on it!"

"What the hell's the point Karl?  Why bother?  It might be better just to let it all end.  Aren't we as good as buried anyway - when our whole lives consists of going from one frame of incumbent, inevitable annihilation to the next?  Must we build your counter-system?  You know in a year's time it'll be obsolete."

Johnson nodded with some distaste.  "I know it will," he replied.  "But I keep thinking...someday there might just by pure chance be a generation of leaders able to achieve the great peace we've always sought.  Probably won't - but what choice have we?"

"Maybe Bakon's right after all," someone observed, as if gently prodding Dr. Johnson for an evaluation.

"To go crawl in a hole, you mean?  To just hide from it all?  You think it's that easy to escape the nuclear holocaust?  Just go away somewhere, and it won't follow?  You think that's the solution?  Well don't forget something: we carry our nuclear weapons with us wherever we go.  They're not made here, not really: they're made in our heads.  They're made along with the ideas that some men are to be controlled by others, like some sort of by-product of a chemical reaction.  Like sludge.  That's all they are - the sludge filtered from all the combinations of all the ideas that have ever enslaved or sought to enslave mankind.  Never mind if they're used to defend freedom or to destroy it: it's from the raw ooze of tyranny that they're shaped.  It's always the tyrant who shapes such weapons, even if they were forged by freemen to hold his evil in check: the tyrant is the Master of Arms to the world.  He's the first cause of all weapons of war.  His ideas gave birth to the necessity for weapons, be it the necessity for him of enslavement or the necessity of mankind to resist.  It makes no difference, the premise never changes.  The ugly, monstrous truth of this world is that evil directs our every moment, even if only indirectly.  It is upon the tyrant's ideas that our society is built, his wish to enslave is the foundation of all social institutions: of the evil ones fashioned at his command and for his purpose, or of the benevolent ones fashioned as safeguards against his designs.  Either way, it's his initiative.  We can only follow his lead, whether we try to counter his moves or copy them.  Yet Professor Bakon would have us run away from all this!  I'm afraid it's anything but away from it we'd be heading.  But when men are desperate...."

Johnson shook his head, at first in weariness, then as he considered his position a moment there became something of self reprimand in his gesture.  "But this is not the time for a lecture," he said as a strange little smile curved his upper lip.  His eyes were gathered into a viewing of something from his past as he spoke.  "I wish I were a teacher again, sometimes.  It was pleasant just to talk of great deeds - much more so I sometimes feel than actually having to do them.  But even for a man with so much power time won't give up its spoils.  What it's won it won't release.  The only thing in this universe I can do now is prepare a counter-system.  Even bigger and better weapons of war.  It makes you wonder, though.  I was almost a philosopher once.  So be it," he concluded his reverie with this.  His next words were clear, the crispness of an order, the precision of action toning his voice.  "Tell Smith to have everything I need set up downstairs by four o'clock.  We'll conduct the tests I explained to him.  I want no interruptions whatsoever.  I'll be in my office till four.  Thank you gentlemen."

"So be it," echoed one of Johnson's assistants after the door to the Doctor's office had been safely shut.  "The man's an ass," the assistant went on to add, his disrespect all the more smutty for its furtiveness.  "He's like a preacher - as if we can't think for ourselves!  As if we need him to give us a play by play account of the world's events!"

The others did not agree, nor visibly disagree: they were peers of this man, not of Johnson, they were Johnson's subordinates; their camaraderie short-circuited their sense of propriety.  One always sides with his own kind: the very first rule, nearly impossible even for good men to challenge.

"If you think he's so pompous and yourselves so sophisticated," muttered the handyman German Carens to himself when Johnson's assistants had gone, "then tell me why the world's in the state it's in!  If he's so boorish lecturing everyone, then why is it they never learn from their mistakes until someone does explain it all to them?  Can you tell me that?" Carens insisted of his imaginary companion.  He finally calmed down a bit to round out his thoughts in silent observation, letting his voice and its insistence sink into the stream of grievances which he, like perhaps every man, has against his species.

It's bad taste, he mused, or so they say it is for a man to state the obvious.  But why is it only when he's saying it they see it as obvious?  Why if it's so apparent hasn't it already been acted upon?  They always stop short of expressing that part.  No, for me I'd rather listen and see how it all sounds.  Though what good is it now?  It's all over.  They've got the system too.  They can attack us anytime they damn well please.  And no doubt they will, too!

"No doubt," they all agreed - all the workers, for they well knew by day's end everything that had happened, right down to Dr. Karl Johnson being called an ass.

"So this is what the end of the world is like," quipped one man only half in jest, a kind of disappointment encasing his humor like a poor setting for a precious gem.

"And I opted for Ice," quipped another, with little more enthusiasm.

"But what are we going to do?" asked Bill from the third floor.  "I mean," he tried to explain, almost as if to dilute the seriousness of his statement, "I mean, there has to be some way out of this.  But what is it?"

"Mr Carens?" somebody asked, his proximity to the source of information looked upon as a kind of wisdom.  After all, he was the sixth floor man; if anyone had an idea surely he did.

"Well," he replied, "we all know there's no safety here, above ground."

"Bakon's Cave, you mean," pronounced Bill.

Carens nodded.

"I think I'd rather be dead."

"Oh I can't say, Bill," mused Carens.  "Sometimes I think everything would be the same no matter where we all were.  I know we think we couldn't live without the prettiness all around us.  The sunrise.  The raindrops.  All the open places, all the sky...the freedom.  But I can't help thinking we'd scarcely notice their loss.  That's honestly what I think.  How do men live their whole lives in prisons, or dungeons, or with what we would consider insurmountable handicaps.  Or with guilty minds.  Or without love.  I can't help thinking of Bakon's poor sons: how do they keep on?  Both shackled, in their own ways: how do they manage to survive?  I guess if they can we can.  When you have no choice, you can be a god.  You do what you have to do, gentlemen.  I can't occupy more than six feet, give or take, of space no matter how hard I try or how free I might feel I am: so is it all that significant that it be under open skies?"

"I don't think I'd want to find out," retorted Bill.

"But when the time comes, Bill, you'll see how quickly you adapt.  It's in our bones."

"Yeah maybe...but I don't think it's in our souls."

German Carens shook his head sadly.  "That may be just where it is," he admitted in observation.  "And I guess that's the hold a man like Bakon's got over us all.  He knows.  He's looked into all our souls.  And he knows what's there.  And..."  A chill went up German Carens' spine as he paraphrased the scriptures, "...and he goes to prepare a place for us...."

Chapter 5.  My Name Is Johnny Green

It had grown much darker now - not that it had to, it made very little difference as regards the event.  It was not like it was in the old days here, so little of the harried activity, the almost panicky activity, remained.  Quiet and an almost serene atmosphere had come to have settled here.  The place was still used, still populated with scientists and laboratory assistants and clean-up men; but nowhere the vast staff that once worked here.  Everything had calmed down over the years, as if a kind of sanity had overtaken the land, perhaps the whole earth; as if in coming so near to annihilation mankind had at long last shaken itself free of its stuperous obsession with the various madnesses it had toyed with and tried on from time to time like some great scarlet mantle.  Though perhaps it was only a lull, before some final and terrible assault on the fragile threads that had been found along mankind's trail through the ages, found and woven into a vague sort of peace, a kind of poor man's sanity.  There was no way of telling; everything had haphazardly balanced - anything could unbalance it all again.  Mankind does not adapt too well to the rational, the logical, the sensible; the dynamics of social interaction seems designed to repel these values, while attracting instead the irrational, the senseless, the illogical: all the distortions of reality, all so much closer at hand at any given moment, so much easier to attach oneself to, so much less demanding, so much more malleable and so much more potent in the hands of tyrants and their followers.  Those who would order the lives of others and compel their own views upon mankind have no use for the higher attributes of existence; their values are to be found decomposing beneath the rubble of falsehood and bigotry...all the distortions of reality, reflections of evil, of tyranny - evil and tyranny in their turn but reflections of hatred and of inhumanity.

"How long can mankind do without cruelty?" the young man wondered aloud as he walked the corridor.  How long before they're once more tired of peace and of the well-being of one another?  How much longer till they begin again to listen as the demagogues among them speak?  To be human is to know it's bound to happen again.  Unless one could somehow find the cause of it all.  But what if the cause is biological, what if it has to do with our being a species of animal rather than with who we are?  What if it lies within, this cause - but not in our minds, in our genes?  What then?

"It's still better to know," the young man answered his question aloud.  "Even if the truth damns rather than ennobles: it's still better to know.  Even if in knowing we doom ourselves...it's still better to know."

But how debilitating, he thought, stopping momentarily as though it were the thought itself blocking his motion.  What kind of incentive is there to go on, if no matter what we do the result will always be the same - if we'll always stand on the brink of self-destruction?  And what kind of world is it when everything that's done is for the ultimate end of weeding out the population?  If war and destruction are our only means of insuring the survival of our species - then of what value is survival?  If our only purpose in living, in being born, is to guarantee the perpetuation of the elements which nature employs in order to destroy us - if without our existence there would be no need of the wars and the famines which hold us in reign: if nature allows us our lives only that we might be sacrificed to its laws of species preservation, then why allow a single child to be born at all?  Would it not be better - and far nobler - to preserve our self-respect as humans for our brief period of existence than to preserve our species for the sake of nature's whimsy?  Are we more beholden to nature than to ourselves?  And if our lives are not our own to live, if we're born as chattel to some natural law, then why live?  Why go on if some biological drive for self-destruction is our only purpose, our only reason and justification for existing?  Why take another single step if not for our own sakes?  And why breed, solely that at nature's whim some of our offspring may live, other perish, the ones that survive in turn breeding so that some more may live while yet others perish?  Are we no more than fish or frogs?  And if not, and as we have the minds to think, and the sensibilities to be indignant, and the capacity of self-directed action to set our own course - then why not break free, why not rebel against this impersonal robot we call nature?  And if our only means of rebellion is in total annihilation of our selves, then why not do it?  If our only way of robbing nature of its selective destruction of the human race is through total destruction - then why not?  Isn't it better?  At least we die with honor, in protest of the inhumane conditions under which we're forced to attempt to humanize this world.  At least we would have that much.  We'd be destroyed by our hand - as we always have been - but at least for our own purpose, and consciously, rather than for nature's end through the secret manipulation of our consciousness by our subconscious.  We'd die as humans...as we were never able to live.

The young man smiled with a great bitterness gripping at his soul and spilling out of his mouth as irony.  Of course, he reminded himself silently, people don't come as a rule in human form; most of them are no more concerned with humanity than with nature.  Their only concern is with their own immediate survival, and nothing beyond that.  Why they live is no more an issue with them than whether they will be living a day from now.  They have no thought of issues at all, let alone of truths behind the issues or principles with which to get at these truths or still less with rules of personal conduct to enable these truths to be brought to fruition through human action.  It's outside the province of their minds, they say; theirs is but to obey the dictums handed them by their peers, never to question their peers or to seek truths for themselves.  Theirs is but to do or die; and in doing, they die.  Action without thought can lead nowhere but to destruction.  Yet it is their highest principle; the actions they're enjoined to take were prescribed, the thinking was already done by someone, they need not trouble their minds further...they need only fill the prescription through their actions.  These actions were done before, and they've always worked before - they tell themselves.  Never mind that they have always brought the world ultimately to the brink of destruction; never mind that: they always worked at the moment.  And that is where most of mankind lives out its bleak existence, at that sorriest, shabbiest, most fleeting of time frames: at the moment.  It's always later that they perish for having cut a single moment of the present off from past and future; but at that moment - at that pin-prick of time - they had chosen to make their stand and to define the totality not only of their own lives but of all the universe and all eternity as well.  And by and for and with that definition clutched in their hands do they lie down and perish at the first confrontation with nature.  And with nature's hand-maidens, the tyrants with their armies and their weapons of war.

The men and women of the immediate moment, the young man clearly saw, all lay down in droves to die...as drones.  And the rest of us are slain too, because it is nature's law too that the great weight of the mass of humanity when it falls must of necessity pull down the lesser weight of that portion - that horribly slight portion - which chooses to consider time before now, truth before opinion, principle before proclamation, purpose before manipulation...life before survival, humanity before biology, humans before their species.  Those who choose to fulfill the promise of living entities...to be just that: living entities.  Not drones.

No, he shook his head, most people are too busy dying for no reason at all to bother dying for a purpose.  Too preoccupied with living from moment to moment to care whose sake they live for.  Too flattered at being members of the human race to consider being humans.  They have no time for it.  A moment is too short a span of time to live a life.  They have barely time to survive or to preserve their species, in a moment; no time at all to live.

Ahead was a door, half lighted, half in darkness.  It led to a conference room.  It was rarely used these days.  The lights from the corridor threw an incomplete light against the door, hence only part was lighted.  It was an ordinary looking door, wooden, dark, with very fine grain running almost perfectly at the vertical.  Only the door handle was outstanding, and even that only in the design, the material being quite common brass.  But imprinted upon the door knob was an emblem, a seal of state, colorless, the imprint simply the brass of the knob pushed in to form the design.  In a sense it had a meaning, but in the main it was only an embellishment, something that looked nice, that looked important.  The primary focus was a three-headed eagle, a symbol of triumvirate.  There was a laurel wreath, there was an eye, there was a torch.  And appropriate words, like a motto.  All of it somehow seeming out of place, as if even out of its proper time sequence - like something from a science fiction work, having slipped through a time warp and having never found the route back to its own world.  Something left behind, perhaps, as its creators departed in haste - or vanished altogether.

It's so hard, the young man thought, to fashion our ideas out of reality.  They rarely have the flavor we sought to give them.  We have in mind a golden seal, and we find only brass will hold our design.  And we rarely question the design, rarely go back and try another idea: we settle for what's available.  We conclude the gold to be at fault, not our idea.  The gold is too soft, just as diamond would have been too hard.  The one too malleable, crumbling under the pressure; the other inviolate, splitting apart rather than conforming its contours to the design.  Nature's best cannot conform without being destroyed as a result.  The very gentlest, the very strongest, both are too unique, too true to themselves and to their own individual natures to be dominated.  And we cherish them both for their eccentricities, but generally ignore them on their own terms, or never know their wonders.

So as a rule we celebrate the virtues of brass instead.  But even that can only accept our designs; it cannot make them work where they're unworkable.  Nothing can.  Not even the most powerful weapon of war, or the most fearsome army.  What cannot work will not work, no matter what.  No idea taken out of the context of reality can find expression in any kind of design that can ever work.  It merely sits idle what once dictated to the universe.

"Maybe it isn't nature at all to blame," he said aloud.  "Maybe that which we ascribe to nature is really our own ideas of nature.  Maybe nature has no absolute formula for us - maybe it only seems to us it does, because we have never devised a formula of our own that works.  Maybe it is up to us after all.  Maybe nature really has given us the freedom to select our own way of life, our own values, our own order.  But how does one ever know?  How does one know?"

But think how it would be - think what an incentive - if we didn't have to perish, if it were not nature's law which weeds out the population, if there were no inner drive to control the human race in order to preserve its capacity to perpetuate itself.  Just suppose that life is the purpose of birth - life, and not the preservation of the species.  Suppose the wars and the weapons and the torture chambers and the armies and tyrants are not the loyal servants of nature, the instruments of its grand design.  What if it were these things which do not belong?  What if life does belong, and what if freedom, and the well being of individuals belong?  Oh God if only!

But how does one know?  What does one look at to know?  What kind of thing would answer?  Where would it be?  Maybe everywhere.  What if this world itself were the answer?  What if the very fact that wars and tyrants do lead to destruction is the proof they're wrong?  Maybe one need only look around him...at the world, as it sits - as I suppose it's always done - and waits to perish.  Maybe that's the only answer we have - or need.  Just the sight of mankind awaiting its own inevitable destruction...and the knowledge that the only inevitability is in the minds of humans born of their equation of nature with destruction.  They believe that nature must necessarily destroy them all.  They accept this sacrificial role...they believe their species to be primary in nature's hierarchy, themselves mere inconsequentials, merely appendages, of no significance.  So they await...to see who among them is fittest for survival...to see whose line will carry on, whose must perish from this earth.

He took a sheet of paper from his breast pocket.  He unfolded it, the creases of its having been quartered in folds standing out like a cross through its center.  It was a piece of writing paper, a plain white sheet, as used for a letter.  On the face of it were the markings of a handwriting, the young man's writing.  He smoothed it out, using the door before him as a support; then he posted it on the door, with a thumbtack, much as one might post an advertisement to a bulletin board.  He smiled at it: at the letter, and at the events of his having positioned it as he did.

The letter told, very simply, in a few paragraphs, who he was, this young man.  And if it failed to tell everything there could possibly be told about him, by way both of identification and behavior - if it did leave a gap in his existence to be surmised, then implicit were its instructions on surmising.  What it told of him suggested what had been left unspecified.  It was like an outline, succinct in brevity, the filling out of its statements the story of his life in detail.

"My name is Johnny Green," it began.  "I am a young man.  Of eighteen.  In a way I live in two worlds: one that's real, one that only might be real.  It's difficult to explain just what I mean, as I'm not sure myself.  This world around me is the world I know: the real world.  Yet I know there's another somewhere - where else could they have gone?  Surely the earth didn't just swallow them up.  But I don't know where to look for that world.

"There were too many of them just to have vanished.  No, they had to go somewhere.  It all reminds me of an expression I remember from my childhood.  Something about 'elemental spirits.'  I don't remember exactly what they were supposed to be, except that they were a kind of unseen force, perhaps directing the activities of those of us who were real and visible.  Or perhaps not directing anyone, I can't recall exactly.  But it was a popular notion, kind of a blend of philosophy and science fiction.  Maybe they were like angels - only, no, it seemed they were waiting, in a way angels wouldn't, as if for a chance to find a place to enter into the real world.  Sort of like aliens in a time warp.  And a little like demons, set to possess anyone who happened to wander into the right set of circumstances.

"And a little like prototypes.  Of us.  As if we were designed using them as the model, or the standard - the template.  Anyway, that seems to fit somehow.  It's as if those people who disappeared became like the elemental spirits - became as one with their prototypes.  Or as if they were carried off by them.

"But it's just an analogy, of course.  I don't mean there are any such things as these elemental spirits.  I mean only that there's a point of similarity between that old notion and the people who've left.  Almost as if the one is the literal expression of the other.

"I walk out alone of an evening and try to imagine where they might have gone.

"And where she might have gone."                                                

Chapter 6.  The Highest Level

The guard nodded respectfully as he reached for the door knob, his hand covering the imprinted design almost as though shielding it from the gaze of the several gentlemen waiting admittance to the room, these gentlemen being perhaps uninitiated into some secret clique only the members in good standing of which might look upon the symbols imprinted upon this knob.  Magical symbols, gorgon-like and secret, standing guard over the goings and comings of human lives within, the realm of which they were symbolic.  A three-headed eagle, there like Cerberus at the gates of Hades; a laurel wreath, for the conquering hero a halo, for all others a crown of thorns; an eye, as though Polyphemus peered from behind the door; a torch, incendiary guardian of inertia; and in words the motto of state, in an alien language, as though a hand from mankind's past had stole from the grave to establish the course which a nation is to travel.  Magical, wondrous symbols, their meaning ascribed them by the society which devised and used them; their meaning distorted by the moment currently laying claim to the eternal throne of time which humans call the present.

Symbols of life, symbols of death: have it as you will.  Now they're shielded from the uninitiated by the hand of a guard in full uniform.  These gentlemen may enter, both this and the several other guards posted here have so decreed; but they may not partake of the system emblazoned upon the handle which alone admits them to the room.

They nod respectfully to the guard in turn as they go past him, past the plain oaken door, and enter the threshold of this the highest meeting place in all the land, the Conference Room of an old masonry building once used for the making of laws, now virtually bereft of activity save for the rare occasions when it is deemed absolutely essential for the most important members of society to meet together, as now they have been summoned to do.

The great domed building has stood idle for nearly half a century, its functions suspended, its body of members disbanded, its powers streamlined and distilled in concentration into the hands of three persons, the triumvirate, who alone in effect may any longer - out of all society - behold in full the great symbols in slumbering guard just outside the door, their powers, these symbols, distilled as were those of the authority once contained in his building: and as the distillation and concentration of representative authority into the hands of three men produces tyranny, so do the powers of freedom's symbols when similarly transmuted become the symbols of force and repression.  Try as you will, you cannot alter that course.

At the mouth of Hades there stands a pyramid.  And at its very pit there elevated to its highest level sits Satan.

"Do you remember that limerick?"


"That limerick?"

"No - which limerick?"

"Never mind."

"No, what was it?"

"It seems pointless now, but if you insist: 'There was a young lady named Bell, Who chose her freedom to sell, And thought it exceedingly swell, But when she stumbled and fell, And looked for someone to tell, She found herself locked up in hell."

"What made you think of that?"

"This place perhaps, I don't know.  Don't you find just a touch of prophecy in it?"

"Prophetic?  No, I can't say I really see that."

"No?  The world on the brink of nuclear annihilation - and you see no parallel between the young lady in hell and ourselves?"

"In effect, yes."

These were but two of the many delegates to this convention.  And all of them were busy turning intellectual, artistic, comedic conversation into small talk.  "We're not a nation of intellectuals," a delegate remarked to his companion just after passing through the doorway.  "We only play at it.  There's no fire in our souls.  We're spectators glimpsing existence.  The joy's gone out of discovery.  We know so much; but we simply don't care anymore.  The universe fails to impress us any more."

"It's because we're afraid," another delegate observed. 

"Afraid?  Of the bombs?"

"Not of the bombs.  Of all this," the delegate gestured to the conference room, "and of all it represents."

Few spoke above a whisper when they felt the need to comment in even a slightly negative way on their government; and few spoke about their government at all, as if even wanting to freeze the contents of their mind into a hard fog out of which no thought, let along a feeling, could seep.  But should a word slip by the barrier, the eyes and faces of their associates served as a safety valve keeping it bottled up.

"We all protect one another," one of the delegates observed.  "And whisper a lot, just in case." 

Soon all the lesser spaces allotted delegates had been filled.  Small talk died down.  The meeting awaited the occupation of but three seats, those of honor, of the very highest plateau within reach.  Three seats, at the head of the table, raised above the others not on a physical plane, but on a spiritual plane.

At last the great door to the chamber opened for a final time.  It seemed to pause there, the door, notwithstanding the guard who opened it: it seemed to have opened and remained open by itself, as though a magic word or phrase articulated by someone attuned to magic and magical spells had effected its opening.  They're here: the thought ran round the table as if each delegate passed it along telepathically.  They're here.

An emptiness accompanied the two men who now entered the chamber, the emptiness of a place unfilled, its vacancy like an evil spirit's having slipped along with the two men into the room, as the sense of the unexpected absence impressed itself far more fervently upon the sensibilities of those gathered here than an actual presence would have.  There were only two where there should be three: and that turn of events was the evil spirit which seemed to have entered.

The guard closed the door, while the two men crossed to the conference table, situating themselves at two of the three chairs placed at the head of the table.  One of the men was quite tall, slender, white haired, the very essence of a dignitary.  The other was slighter of stature, heavier, a good deal younger than his companion, his hair black and a little wavy, his appearance more that of a scientist.

Both men nodded to the ones here assembled.  Then they were seated, Dr. Karl Johnson and Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt, one on the left, the other on the right, the remaining seat, in the center, left vacant.

"Professor Bakon was unable to attend," announced Mr. McDermitt.  "So," he went on to say, "I give up my customary seat."  He gestured to the middle, the vacant chair.  "It would be awkward for Doctor Johnson and myself to seat each other side by side, so if you've no objection I'll take the good Professor's seat."

"Perhaps," he resumed, "I should have my colleague explain Professor Bakon's absence.  But as spokesman for our government I feel it my duty to tell you myself that Professor Bakon has simply refused to attend.  So the middle chair is vacant."  A strange look came over McDermitt's face, the ugly question "is it?" having shot across his mind.  "As you know, we're faced with a very grave situation - perhaps the gravest in our nation's history.  And...." McDermitt's voice trailed off, his head turning, as if to find the voice, in his colleague's direction, his movement hinting for Dr. Johnson to take it from here.

"And we're here," Dr. Johnson took the cue to speak, "to determine how this situation came about.  And one step more: we're here to assess the blame for its having happened.  Only I'm not speaking of the kind of blame that seeks a scapegoat to complete its circuitry.  We want no scapegoats - scapegoats won't save us now.  We want a culprit, not a scapegoat.  We have evidence suggesting a deliberate leak of vital information to our adversaries on this planet.  And to save mincing words, that evidence leads - or I should say those traces of evidence, for there appears an interlocking network of such evidence, all taken together leading - to one spot.  And that spot, if you will, is here represented today by an empty chair.  This chair, Professor Bakon's chair.  Only he's not here.  But we are.  And what we're here for is to assess the situation, to evaluate the evidence - and to judge, in absentia as it turns out, the third member of our triumvirate.  And that's it, pure and simple."

The people here felt as though an echo had homed in upon them; they knew there was not really an echo, they knew they didn't really hear the words "to judge" reverberating throughout this room - but they'd have sworn just the same that there was a kind of echo here, and fully audible to them.  They were frightened, these people here: their leadership was in jeopardy, and without knowing why they were frightened by it.

"It's the basis of our society as we know it today," Mr. McDermitt observed, completely out off context, although he seemed to have voiced everyone's feelings, for there was a greater calm than a moment before.  "Karl: we must preserve the triumvirate at all costs!" McDermitt pleaded.  "All our traditions, Karl, everything - think what we'd be doing, think what untold scourges we might be unleashing on our society!  Think for a minute Karl: isn't there another way out?"  McDermitt had not meant to say any of this - he had agreed to have the matter decided impartially to let the decision flow from the evidence; but it seemed so oppressive a weight to bear, he just couldn't bring himself to accept it without trying to keep it from happening.

Dr. Johnson shook his head.  He refused to be swayed from what he perceived as the only possible course to take; he refused to grant McDermitt - or any of the others here - the sweet ointment of evasion.  No, he shook his head in answer...no, we cannot turn back now.

"Since when," he said calmly, "do the traditions of society determine a man's guilt or innocence in a court of law?  Only the facts are warranted - we issued no warrants to society that its traditions appear in witness here before us.  We want only the facts here.  All of you, listen to me.  A very serious breech of national security has occurred - and of national trust as it implicates one of your leaders.  In short, we are dealing with no less than a matter of treason.  I'm sorry if it upsets you to be called upon to sit in judgment like this; I'm sorry if you've had the misfortune to be asked to decide the fate of our nation - but neither of these circumstances justifies evading the acts of which Professor Bakon is charged, or refusing to pass judgment.  Besides, one can't refuse judgment; one merely accrues it to oneself or to some innocent third party if he attempts to remove it from its proper place and time.  Professor Bakon has allowed military secrets to slip into the hands of our adversaries.  As I mentioned, there was a complex network established to conceal his activities; but the complexity he devised serves all the greater to entangle himself.  He alone links together all these interlocking pieces.  He alone is ultimately responsible for the position we find ourselves in with regards to our adversaries.  All the evidence which I'll present to you attests to his guilt.  So you'll have to decide, like it or not, whether to exonerate him or to adjudge him unfit to retain his office.  I ask for the latter, but I leave it wholly to you to decide.  May God help us, but this is as close to a free nation as we're likely ever to see again.  So as you fairly represent the greater body of people, I must let you alone decide.  I cannot take it upon myself - not without opening the door completely to tyranny.  We're close enough as it is to it.  We dare not move closer."                                    

"But there must be some other way," McDermitt insisted, seeming to have voiced the sentiments of most of the people here, a kind of faint stirring throughout the room, like a rustle of emotions, of approval, having manifested itself following his statement.  In effect he had become their spokesman, the protagonist of their perspective.  He was afraid, as were they: a strong mutual bond between them.

"What other way?" Johnson demanded to know.

"If we just watch him more closely, entrust him with less data of a vital nature."

"So?  what would that accomplish - he'd still have the power he now has.  He'd still wield that power - or do you imagine he'd willingly relinquish it if we apprise him of the danger involved in passing information to the other side?  Do you believe he'd cooperate?"

McDermitt felt very foolish as he murmured "He might" in reply.  He felt very tense, and very confused; he fancied himself above holding illusions - yet here they all were, these illusions, being dashed up against some hard glob of reality that, he felt, had no place in the scheme of things.

"I worked hard, Karl," he explained; "and all of you here know it as well.  I spent my days and nights putting this all together - you remember how it was, how it had all fallen apart somehow.  And I built this system, and made it work!  And now you ask me to see it destroyed?  Ruined?  The remnant - Karl: the remnant!  This is all we have left of our system of government, this triumvirate!  It's all that's left of the three branch system - the most perfect system, Karl, the freest, the most democratic.  And now you ask me to end it?  It needs three to work!  Otherwise checks and balances is a joke - it needs three!  You've said it yourself, Karl.  It needs three."

"Of course I've said it.  But I was never speaking of what we have now.  The three branches of government, yes; but not three men with virtual dictatorial powers.  Good God, the number's not magic, it won't endow anything that happens to fit its measurement with the meaning or the application of what originally fit the quantity.  It's just a number.  We could have three armored tanks patrolling our streets, or three warring gangs dividing up the spoils, or three of anything - so what, that doesn't mean they're in turn an executive, a legislature and a judiciary, or that they function as such, or even that they represent the three!  It's only a number, gentlemen, no more than that.  But if you think otherwise, and if you'll pardon my bluntness, then unzip your trousers and trade two buttons and a needle for what's already there.  It may well accommodate the mathematics involved; but please, gentlemen, don't worry what to name your firstborn.  Because you cannot make nature conform to your fantasies.  You can no more obtain seed from buttons than you can freedom from tyrants.  We are tyrants, the three of us.  Repression is simply a matter of degree.  And in a sense McDermitt and I serve to check Professor Bakon's power lust - but it's only a matter of time, given the climate of tyranny, however benevolent, we've established, till the most ruthless of the three overpowers the other two.  It's only a matter of time, gentlemen.  And that time diminishes proportionately with every impropriety we overlook.  And treason is still an impropriety, even for a despot."

"But you're wrong," McDermitt asserted feebly, the tone of his voice more consonant with the words I hope you're wrong - the very words, in fact, he wished he could have said.  None of this felt right to him, none of it.  He didn't feel right himself, either.  He felt somehow betrayed, by reality he supposed; and he felt crushed by the overpowering burden of his betrayal.  He'd never been strong, his line was so pure, so in-bred - his genetic line and also the line of his station.  He'd been bred an aristocrat, reared a leader.  That was his station.  He had never had to adapt to the realities of his existence; they had been so malleable always, till now.  His standing in life had always been just a step in front of him; obstacles, if not removed altogether, were ameliorated each step of the way.  His was the way of a gentleman.  Gentlemanliness had been destroyed in this room, destroyed not by those who would abandon protocol and charm from their land but by those who had institutionalized these entities in order to set them immutably above all else within the land.  The gentleman's code, overextended, burst apart and trailed like a whiff of smoke into the ether, all the traditions locked within spilling out like a shower of meteors upon society...upon Chesapeake McDermitt, gentleman's gentleman.

Dr. Johnson nodded.  "I'm not wrong," he replied solemnly.  "Professor Bakon must go.  Or else his power lust will destroy us all.  There's no room for compromise.  He must be removed from office, he must be permitted never again to hold any position of authority.  It's the only way.  Give him just an iota of power and he'll parlay it into tyranny.  It's his nature.  Given his lust for power, coupled with his superior intellect, his genius for organization - given this, there's no stopping him so long as even a breath full of power pours from his lips.  Take away his power, and we can control his activities.  But allow him to keep his power and he'll devastate his nation."

"Like a beast, I suppose you mean?" quipped McDermitt, only faintly attempting sarcasm.  "The Leviathan?  One man alone?  The great beast?  Satan?  Surely, then, we live in hell, sir!  Karl, Karl: don't you see, you're making an epic of all this!  It's reached spectacular proportions here - what in God's name makes you think we can accept a position so extreme?  We're civilized men, Karl.  We are still civilized...aren't we?"

"That isn't the issue.  It's our survival we're talking about here."

"Precisely - and we need the protection afforded us by the triumvirate!  Nothing less will do.  It's our only hope of salvation.  It can keep us together as a people through these difficult times.  Then, when this is all past, we can re-establish our old institutions, re-instate our democratic heritage, revive old liberties.  We can be re-born.  And be just like we were again."

"We can never be just like we were.  All we can do is survive - and hope that in another eon or two freedom, as our people once knew it, can find its proper climate once more.  But that's not our affair.  We lost it: accept that fact, it's lost to us now.  We'll never find it again.  Our little charade at freedom is all we'll ever have - until it too fades from our institutions.  Yes, we're still civilized.  We still discuss philosophy, and attend to the arts, and we still build roads and bridges, and still educate our young.  But civilized?  All these things the most horrid barbarians do also.  Where they draw the line is in politics.  All men are chattel to them, none are free, save the tyrants.  But as you say we are still civilized.  Just barely, but still, yes.  Until one among us declares the rest to be his personal property - the property of the state, or of the Divine, whatever terminology he particularly fancies.  One among us...one who is absent just now.  But never, never is he unmindful of our existence.  He must be removed from his office.  No alternative is left to us.  And very little time in which to act.  So we must act. Now.  We haven't time to consider what our future might be once we've taken this action: it would be nice for once to act with reflection, nice to avoid decisions based solely on crises - but this is a crisis, and we have no time to reflect.  Right now we're at a military disadvantage, our adversaries could conceivably overpower us - but that isn't the crisis, it's only a side effect, and one we can deal with.  And are dealing with.  We've gone ahead with a new weapons system.  When it's completed we can counter any move made against us.  We're not likely to be attacked just because we're temporarily disadvantaged; our adversaries are not a bunch of overconfident school boys, they have a sense of reality just as we do.  They're not likely to attack without provocation.  And the simple fact that our ideologies differ is not in itself sufficient provocation.  But if we had hesitated on this new system, given a period of time, it's safe to say we would eventually have been overrun.  But what good will the system be if before its completed the plans are leaked abroad?"

There was a murmur within the room, as most of the people here expressed in whisper to one another their difficulty believing Dr. Johnson's hint of espionage.  None actually spoke aloud, but all taken together their voice was heard, their sentiments noted.

"I have the documents here," Johnson told them, "already establishing Bakon's guilt.  There's not the slightest doubt that he leaked data on our missiles.  What makes you think he wouldn't do it again?"

"But why would he do it at all?" McDermitt pleaded. 

"To undermine our strength."

"So our enemies could take over?  It's absurd!"

"So he could take over."  Johnson paused to savor the irony before expressing it.  "Yes, very much so our 'enemy' could take over," he exclaimed.

"But they'd never let him. - not if they could get it!"

"Don't sell him short.  Outsmarting the rest of us was the only real test; outsmarting fellow tyrants is no problem, not for a man like Bakon.  No, you can be assured he has some master plan.  And the only way to stop him is to remove his base of operations: the powers of his office must be taken from him.  There is no alternative."

"Perhaps - just as a thought now - perhaps we could strip him of his authority yet let him preserve his station."

"What end would that serve?"

"We'd thereby preserve the deeper significance of the system of government we've established.  Karl, there's no getting around it: it must have three.  We can't - and we won't - accept less.  And you'll find that while logic may well be on your side, a show of hands would render these people here on my side.  And we won't have the triumvirate broken up entirely.  If you care to put it to a vote, fine; otherwise take my word on it.  We'll go along with stripping Bakon of his authority - but no more than this.  We cannot, and will not remove him from his office altogether.  I'm sorry, Karl, accept it as your only possible compromise - for it is your only possible compromise.  There is no other alternative to your request.  And we did choose to leave this matter to majority rule - remember?"

"You're making a mistake - he must be removed completely from office!"

"But he won't be.  All in favor of retaining Professor Bakon in his position so signify.  And all in favor of stripping him of his authority, for a time anyway -"

"For a time?  Still more compromise even before you've formulated the resolution?"

"I'm sorry, Karl.  Our traditions must be preserved.  All in favor, so signify."

Everyone so signified.

Chapter 7.  The Idea

"I live here, Karl," spoke a large man with a dome-shaped forehead which, curiously, jutted out somewhat at the brow, as if a combination had been effected between the intellectual and the purely physical, the roundness at the crown denoting brilliance while the rough angular brow suggested brutality of a sort.  The hairline was receding, the hair a sweep of coarse sandy waves, slightly graying, carefully groomed close to the scalp, a few curls escaping upward while most seemed vigorously controlled.  He wore eyeglasses, framed in a dark material quite becoming to his features.  His eyes were a pale blue-gray, keenly accented by an inner gleam.  His nose, rather bulbous at the tip.  His mouth appeared much less firm in structure and shape than in behavior, its line curved rather than straight, the lips quite full and sensuous.  He gestured to the room as he spoke, his huge hands underscoring in animation the sense of his statement highlighted in intonation upon the word "here."  I live here, was what he said.

A deeply hued burgundy drape entirely covered the wall behind him.  So solemn, Dr. Karl Johnson thought to himself.  Religious: in a way religious.  For they shall inherit, Dr. Johnson said in his mind, shaking his head no ever so lightly at that thought.

"Jorge, what do you mean you live here?" Johnson asked.

"I mean what I say," Professor Jorge Bakon replied carelessly, light-heartedly.  "No man has ever lived, Karl, who loves life as I love it.  I was eminently created for life.  As no one else has ever been.  Nor ever will be.  Every faculty, every function of living, every breath I breathe is without the hint of exception a profound joy to me.  I have never been ill a day in my life, nor do I intend ever to be. Everything I am, everything I have is above reproach.  If any other man's existence is even half as important as my own, Karl, I've never known it.  I've never, never known it."

"So to you it's not important - but to them it is!"

"It's not even worthy of comment, Karl.  What do I care?  I have everything.  I feel nothing but contempt for those who have less."

"What on earth are you made of, Jorge?  Surely more than stone!  How can you be so blind?  Every man is a living thing, each entitled  to be regarded as such.  Why won't you see it?  Or is it that you can't?"

Professor Bakon smiled gracefully.  "Karl, I'm too busy for small talk just now.  Perhaps we could get together over cocktails some evening.  Cocktails and chit-chat, Karl.  A pleasant enough diversion, I suppose.  But for now I have far too many projects, I have no time for inconsequentials."

"The lives of human beings?  Inconsequential?  A diversion?  God help us, Jorge, if we hadn't come to our senses!"

"Less," Professor Bakon mused.


"I said 'less.'"

"Less what?"

"I was simply evaluating the matter, Karl: it's even less than inconsequential.  Not even a worthwhile diversion.  The existence of other humans, that is."  Bakon, paused, stared a second or two at Dr. Johnson.  "You're uncomfortable," Bakon noted.  "See what I mean?  Even you, anything but a weak man - even you become unnerved when I stare at you."  He continued to stare, the longer he did the greater Johnson's disappointment with himself.  Still, he was determined to hold his own, he refused to turn away.

Finally Professor Bakon lowered his gaze an inch or two.  "What did you mean about coming to your senses?" he inquired.

Purpose took hold of Dr. Johnson's gaze, timidity was cast aside: he was no longer matching his ego against Professor Bakon's - a contest heavily weighted in the latter's favor.  Now he was representing the will of his people, and still more he was here in the stead of his sense of justice and his loyalty to the principles of liberty.  Now the balance was in his favor; no ego of a tyrant held dominion over this his latest entrant in contest with Professor Bakon.  He looked Bakon squarely in the eyes, his confidence supreme, his mastery of the situation unchallengeable.

"We've voted to strip you of all your authority," Johnson stated matter-of-factly to his adversary.

"We, Karl?  Who is 'we?'"

"The National Council.  You remember?  The meeting you declined to attend.  We voted away your power."

"This raises serious questions, Karl.  I hope you realize that."

"Such as?" replied Dr. Johnson, more out of courtesy than an actual interest.

"The preliminary question, Karl, is how on earth you propose to enforce it.  We share power, the three of us.  Which means we're of equal rank.  Which is to say that my power is neither yours nor anyone's to remove."

"Except the Council."

"I know of no such exception.  Their function is purely ceremonial."

"There function is real," Johnson insisted.

"Ceremonial," echoed Professor Bakon.  "No more than that, Karl.  Their existence is but a bone tossed out to the populace.  We allow the Council.  We are in no way beholden to them.  Least of all myself.  If you wish to abide by something they might happen to say, you're free to do so.  But as for me, Karl, I choose not to have mice running about on my horse's back."

"Mice? Horse's back?  A children's story, to explain a complex system of political structure?"

"If you see only a children's story then you belong in one.  There's infinitely more there, Karl.  And yet that very aspect of it you jeer at is of perhaps the greatest value of all.  It expresses the ideal of all childhood.  The ultimate utopia, Karl.  Childhood fantasy made real.  Dreams come true.  Never belittle the imagination.  For without it, there's only the past, Karl."

"I'm not here to discuss illusions, or fantasy worlds, or mirrored images.  I'm here to discuss -"

"Traditions, Karl," interrupted Bakon.  "We're speaking of traditions, that is to say of foundations.  Upon which we build.  The past, which is always with us.  Just like our names - in fact, it's a part of our names.  For every 'I' there's an equal and definite 'we' standing just behind a little ways.  It's there, Karl, you may take my word on that.  We did not bear ourselves, we were born.  Our minds and souls too were born out of others.  We are not each one of us unique.  We're not separate but equal, Karl: for we're not separate at all.  Even were we equal, we'd still slip into slavery eventually, because of our homogeneity.  We are a unit, Karl.  The rest is a very tired old joke played at our expense."

"The sanctity of each individual is a joke?  You can believe this and still think of yourself as human?"

"And all the more human for it.  We are one, like it or not, Karl.  We are pieces of a part first; perhaps only, but at least first.  Our traditions, our rules - and it is our traditions, not our laws, which really rule us: these are the mortar, society the wall."

"And we the bricks," contemptuously crossed the desk which separated the two men, audible sounds, of words, laced with vibrations of disgust.

"And we the bricks," the casual alter ego of the concept, words in audible repose delivered as by a teacher at a lecture.

"Traditions our chains then?" inquired Dr. Johnson.

"Only when we call them so," was Professor Bakon's reply.  "Purely it depends upon one's perspective."

"And on one's sense of independence."

"No, Karl.  Upon one's nonsense of independence.  Utter and complete nonsense.  Just as Chesapeake McDermitt's version of essentially the same creed I espouse is nonsense.  He holds tradition as our highest value, as I do.  But he believes there's an awe to the word.  He fancies it takes a certain set of traditions, where in fact any will do - they need be neither constant nor even sensible.  And he misinterprets the ends for which these traditions he so greatly relishes are the means.  As for me I relish no traditions as such, only the concept of imposing them upon a people.  Nor is the end as he imagines.  Not freedom - not even slavery.  Not even the preservation of the status quo: not this last per se.  But for the sake of order.  It's so abominably simple, which is why only a genius can see it.  Everyone else is too busy looking at the complexities in which the problem is encased to bother noticing the simplicity of it all.  To maintain order.  If freedom works - as it generally doesn't - then fine; if slavery works - as it too doesn't - then even better.  But the best is a dynamic continuum between the two.  We simply switch and alter our traditions according to which phase predominates, but always keeping plenty in reserve for the inevitable other phase.  It's rare, Karl, when we do actually strike a perfect balance.  Very rare, Karl.  But we have a chance at it.  In our own lifetimes, Karl, you and I: we have a chance at it."

"Meaning, I suppose, a little more slavery will do it?"

"Of what value are terms anyway?  Very little, Karl, when they misrepresent a desired state.  It's not slavery I care about, it's that balance, that perfect condition.  So if to attain it we must give up something we now enjoy - some of our freedom, in this case - then what is that in comparison to what we'll be gaining?  And who knows, Karl, it may hold this time.  The balance may be so perfect that what we achieve in our lifetimes may remain for the rest of time.  Think of that, Karl - before you come to your senses too irreversibly.  Give it some thought, then come back and see me."

Professor Bakon's eyes seemed once again to have taken control of the situation; they seemed to have subdued even the purpose with which Karl Johnson had gained momentary ascendancy  But appearance held no more substance than the sum letters of the word.  Dr. Johnson nodded.  Even though he had to turn his eyes away for a moment, still he nodded.

"It's already been given thought," he replied.  "There's nothing further to consider.  This balance you speak of - it's an illusion.  You cannot balance freedom with slavery, just as you cannot temper health with sickness, and achieve some sort of dynamic continuum.  Sickness, untreated, destroys health.  So does slavery destroy freedom.  So do traditions destroy laws, when the one is made to serve and merely reflect the other.  Of course traditions can be changed to accommodate the immediate moment - so can laws.  But principles cannot.  All laws and all traditions derive from principles.  Just laws and valid traditions from principles based on truth, injustice and prejudice from false principles.  And truth and falsehood derive from the competent observation of reality.  There's no balance between what is true and what is not.  Each being lives its own life.  No juggling of reality, no existential acrobatic can change that fact so much as a whit.  You can't live someone else's life, nor they yours.  You cannot get inside of another person to take on the functions of their organs.  You can be neither heart nor soul of another man.  Nor he of you.  So how can you possibly assume the right to control and to legislate for that life?  Or to deprive him of freedoms which no one gave to him in the first place?  His very nature as a living being so endowed him, not you.  Nor anyone.  Nor everyone together.  I ask no one's permission to breathe.  I can accept no one's authority to establish the terms and conditions by which I may breathe.  No, there's nothing further to think over.  You propose to reduce us to the state of slavery.  And you ask for our permission to do it.  Well, we don't grant it."

"I have always dealt with a world insufficient to understanding the lessons of philosophy," Professor Bakon mused contemptuously.  "I don't know why I expected any change now.  Wisdom has forever eluded mankind.  I suppose it always shall.  You speak of freedom, Karl, as though it had meaning.  And just what is that freedom?  Is it the freedom to exist?"

"Yes," replied Dr. Johnson.

"Forever?  To live forever, Karl?"

"No, not forever."

"Then the concept contradicts itself.  The freedom is already wrest of significance before it can ever be realized.  And what other freedoms, Karl?  That to work in one's own service?"

"Yes, that more than any other."

"What of children, Karl?  You work for your children?"

"Of course."

"Then that freedom too has lost claim to being absolute.  So if nature can force you to work for others - and indeed society as well, for we do demand a parent support his offspring - then society can demand as well that you work for others not of your own creation or choosing.  So what else do we have, Karl?  The pursuit of happiness?  This?"


"But conversely we have the right and obligation, so deemed by nature, to pursue misery and wretchedness, do we not?"

"If we so choose," replied Johnson.

"Or if we pursue a false course, which inevitably leads to misery.  So that freedom too is contradicted.  We do not have to pursue happiness.  Nature allows otherwise.  And society may accordingly demand otherwise.  Besides, how many men can truly tell misery from happiness?  How many miserable wretches insist upon calling themselves happy, upon calling their state of depravity bliss, upon covering their blindness with cosmetics and holding themselves beautiful?  How many, Karl?  Wouldn't you say most?"

"No, not most.  Some.  But not most."

"But then, what is a right?  What is depravity, what is wretchedness?  Are all these things not wholly subjective?  And is it not entirely the state of one's conditioning which determines how we will view any given attribute or phenomenon?  And is it not society which conditions; traditions the standards by which it conditions?  Is it not so, Karl?  Think about it, Karl.  You'll find it is so.  You cannot in fact find anything but that."

"You're determined to dissuade me, aren't you?"

"From what?"

"From removing your authority."

"Of course not."

"Then why the attempt to change the subject?"

"Not to change it, simply to indicate the many facets we're dealing with.  Society isn't as simple as a council making a decision and someone carrying it out.  There's an infinity of interplay among all factions, among all points of a given concept.  It isn't one-two-and-three, Karl.  There's so much more."

"You mean, there's all you've said.  The theories, the idea of the thing.  But as a practical matter, there's only this one-two-three of it.  We've decided; we'll act.  Period."

"I've already said what you propose is impossible.  Look at it this way, Karl: as a practical matter, as you say, consider the actual enforcement of your decision.  How do you go about it?  How do you strip me of my authority?  How, Karl?  I'm here.  How do you get me out of here?  Short of murdering me, that is."

"We don't.  It isn't needed to move you anywhere.  Stay right where you are.  The world will move - without you."

Professor Jorge Bakon swelled with laughter.  His whole body shook as a deep throaty roar spread its vibrations throughout him.  His head was thrown back in joyous contempt.  His eyes sparkled from an excess of moisture.  His hands came together in front of him as though in applause.  For some time he laughed, seeming to prolong his laughter intentionally, the intent following logically from observation of his visitor, Dr. Karl Johnson, visibly unnerved by the spectacle.

"Without me?" Bakon finally managed to blurt out in rapturous amusement.  "The world move, without me?"  And he began all over again laughing, unsettling his visitor more and more with each haughty peel.

"If I'd had my way," Johnson nearly screamed at him in a voice trembling with rage, "you'd have been arrested for treason!"  Then he was again silent, suddenly tightened up as in response to a blow.  The trembling in his voice had in silence slid back into his bloodstream to manifest itself as a shaking in his whole body, every part of him teetering back and forth on the verge of actual convulsion.  He sat like this for some time, staring hard at Bakon and at the smirk on Bakon's face, until he'd finally brought himself under conscious control.  His appearance, however, did not return at once to the calm reflective refinement with which he had entered this place; for several moments he wore a look of rebellion, of a youthful arrogance, the aspect of a boy standing up to an older man, standing up to a figure of authority, knowing he had gone too far and faced punishment - afraid, yet proud of his action in spite of his fear.  A young rebel, challenging authority, beaten back but not broken.  An angry rebel, suddenly docile, both aspects meeting for an instant before calm balanced the two.

"So," observed Professor Bakon quite pointedly, his eyes in that instant confirming having seen Karl Johnson naked in great depth.  "So you would arrest me for treason," he noted, ignoring everything else.

Johnson nodded.

"For treason," Bakon reiterated.  "The term doesn't set well with me.  I find such a term so grossly inappropriate that I fail to comprehend its relevance here.  Treason?  But what does it have to do with me?  I have no thought to betray my country.  Surely you don't imagine I wish it turned over to some foreign power!  Not my country.  Not the country I intend to rule.  I have no intention of sharing power with anyone, let alone someone unacquainted with my ideas and my plans.  It's absurd, Karl.  It's just absurd.  What on earth kind of wild fancy inspired such a notion in you anyway?"

"You know perfectly well it's not a fancy.  You know the basis of it - better than any of us.  But I'm not here to discuss that.  You and I both know it.  The details are entirely superfluous.  All that matters is that we've voted to remove your authority.  I recommended your removal from office completely, but no one agreed on that.  Only on stripping you of your authority.  And if you wish to know how that, as a practical matter, can be done, it's quite simple: you'll no longer have access to state secrets, particularly those involving the security of this nation.  Nor will you be permitted to participate in any decisions.  Neither will your word be honored by any government official, particularly military.  Everyone will be instructed to disregard your orders.  No one - no one - will obey you any longer.  Not in divulging military secrets, not even in setting standards of conduct for government employees.  The entire sphere of your authority shall be forfeited.  Not one military secret shall pass through your hands.  Not one code of ethics shall emanate from your office.  Nothing you say or do will be permitted to affect the course of this nation.  Or to divert it to your own ends.  As a practical matter, that is."

"Of course: as a practical matter.  Always.  But is it practical?  Doesn't it all rather presuppose the prior absence of authority?"

"I don't follow you."

"But that's just the point, my dear Karl: others do.  I have known power, I have built up a following - a constituency, it would have been called in the old days; but as we have no elections per se, the concept has no relevance.  But the concept of leadership still does.  And you forget:: I am a leader, by my nature I am.  And as most men are followers by their given natures, it derives that I have a following.  The group loyalty to its leader.  It isn't something you can vote out of existence.  It's more mystical than that, and while more subtle yet more binding.  It isn't entirely rational, this relationship, so it isn't easily dissolved by rational means.  You have so much to learn, Karl.  So much.  Of course, you could conceivably ferret out all my followers, divest them of their authority as you have me, thus leaving me powerless to retrieve my rightful position -the position you and your Council have treacherously taken from me.  But - again as a practical matter - it warrants the most intensive scrutiny to discover just who are my followers.  One never knows how one impresses others - you know this.  So one can never know how many are swayed to his way of thinking, or to what degree."

"Nor how few perhaps?"

"So it's few rather than many?  That's highly doubtful, but possible, I suppose.  But you have to consider that while others are merely human, I am a man.  They simply are - whereas I do.  And action - the ability to act, together with the incentive to do so - will always render mere being helpless before its magnetism.  Helpless, and in awe.  So not few my friend: not few but many."

"But in a time of peril," said Johnson, "compromising national security may drive even the staunchest supporters away.  Do you know a man named Jeffries?"

Bakon nodded that he did know the man.

"He was discovered carrying documents he had no business having.  He's one of your men."

"And McDermitt's," Bakon pointed out.

"And mine for that that matter, but yours principally.  Now only the three of us had access to those particular documents.  And only you were named by Jeffries as having supplied him with them.  They were being transmitted to a foreign source.  The same source to which we traced the military plans that were taken.  Which in turn were both traced forward, from the source to a certain foreign capital, and backward, from that source to Mr. Jeffries.  And to you.  It seems redundant to label it espionage, doesn't it?  Especially when it's more nearly treason."

"And what possible motive could I have for such an activity?"

"You mean until it all backfired?  Isn't it obvious?  To create the very state of peril we now face.  Or I should say faced - in the past tense - inasmuch as our counter system will be operable by the time this certain foreign capital senses our vulnerability.  One of your pitfalls, I would say: failing to have Jeffries inform his source as to the state of our defenses.  Oh not one as you saw it, since you had no idea your plan would backfire.  But since it did backfire - well, I'm sure you'd rather this country destroyed than taken from your grasp.  You assumed this was your chance to grab all the power, didn't you?  You assumed our people in panic would clamor for a strong leader to deal with the emergency.  You assumed you'd then step in, brush McDermitt and myself aside - and whatever other remnants of democracy still remain.  Then you'd go ahead with the counter system - as we did anyway, even without you.  Then declare yourself savior to this nation.  And tyrant, both.  Or else try all over again if we had managed to save ourselves before you could act; at any rate always relying on your position of authority as cornerstone to any future plans.  After all, there would always be military plans to pass to our adversaries; your access to them would always be insured; there's been no let-up in the arms buildup in a hundred years, there's no reason to assume there ever will be: there'll always be the conditions from which peril can at the sudden shift of the power balance result.  And you'd always be there to step in and take over this country as part and parcel - and payment - of its salvation.  That is, according to your scenario.  But now you have no power.  No more leaks.  No shift in the balance.  No state of panic.  Just a continuation of the tension we've always known."

"What makes you think there need be a shift of balance to imperil us?  They may decide to attack us anyway.  In which case we'd still need a strong leader."

"And risk defeat?  No, unless they outweigh us we're in no danger of nuclear attack.  And they'll no longer have your power lust as an ally."

"Thanks to Mr. Jeffries," Bakon feigned to complete the thought entailed in Dr. Johnson's statement.

"Thanks to him.  And to Mr. Green."

"Ah, of course," Bakon mused absently.  "Thaddeus Green.  Yes, a very good man.  One of 'my own' as you express it.  Loyal, I would have thought."

"Quite loyal," Johnson nodded.

"Then what is his connection?"

"Purely inadvertent.  I assure you he meant you no harm.  In fact just the opposite: he assumed Jeffries had turned on you.  It seems you were too busy to see him, seeing how he was merely an underling.  Jeffries' man I believe, wasn't he?  The chain of your command forbade direct access to you by underlings.  Yet Green was concerned; he had no more idea than we did at first what Jeffries was doing with those documents.  But you were too busy, so he came to me.  And I wasn't too busy.  Otherwise we'd never have known.  So the pitfall as it turns out was of your own making.  It's ironic, isn't it: if you had only looked upon people as having individual worth then you'd perhaps by now have made yourself their tyrant.  Don't you agree?  At least to the irony?"

Bakon said nothing at first, but simply gazed blankly, a smile of sorts reposing at his lips.  Then in a while he did speak, acknowledging Johnson's observation first with a nod, then with words.

"True," was all he said till he had reflected a bit more.  "But you misperceive both myself and my intentions," he added, not really anticipating acceptance of his words.

"I think not," replied Dr. Johnson.  "I think rather it's you who misperceives everyone else."


"You expected our panic to paralyze us, didn't you?  And then you'd move in -"

"For the kill?" Professor Bakon feigned to complete the statement, though without emphasis.

"It's as good an explanation as any.  And another irony of it lies in that perception: if your assessment of human beings were accurate - if they were no more than frightened bewildered creatures unable to order their own lives - if they were, then they'd now be in your grasp.  But the fact that we acted, that we didn't allow our panic to blind us to reality or render us helpless before it - that fact proved you wrong about us.  We weren't easy prey.  Not like you imagined."

"The world has not yet come to an end, Karl," observed Professor Bakon with just a hint of threat in his voice.

Dr. Johnson nodded.  "There'll always be opportunities for men to make themselves tyrants over their peers.  But not for you.  Your moment has passed.  Passed on to some other."

"Some child in swaddling clothes perhaps?  And in a manger?  His swaddling the mantel fallen from my shoulders?  Perhaps, Karl.  Perhaps even you own young son - or mine, my Andrew.  You all think I don't love him for his imperfection.  But how little you know.  How could I fail to love him, Karl?  He's mine.  How can I fail to love what's mine?  Or to attain it, Karl.  For just as my son is mine - as both sons are: the one dying and the one imperfect - just as they are both mine, so is this mantel my own.  Karl, I will not let it pass from me.  I was not set above other men simply that I should be their equal.  I am greater than they.  It is I who should rule, not they, not some majority.  Not even some representative, or representatives, or some triumvirate.  Not any of these, but I that should rule, Karl.  It's my prerogative, and my right as superior to them all that they should be my subjects, I their ruler.  Peers?  My peers, Karl?  There are none such in existence.  Perhaps there have been, but only a few.  The great names, yes, I hold them as peers.  Some of them, others not.  Plato: the greatest of them all.  Kant.  Men like Galileo, DaVinci: they too are peers.  All of them, however, with the exception - the flaw if you will - in their characters that seemed to have held in check their desire for power.  I fail to understand it, why they didn't seek power.  Why they left it to fools, to the Caesars, the Napoleons, the Hitlers: why the world was placed in the hands of fools and lunatics, when it rightfully belonged only to the few great who have walked this earth.  Why, Karl?  What mad twist of fate?  Why?"

"Don't you really know, Jorge?  You've lived this long and haven't seen it?  When it's so simple?  Power, Jorge, only attracts fools and lunatics.  It's so far beneath a truly great man that he simply cannot see it, therefore he sees no significance in it."

"But Plato wrote of it, Kant wrote of it1'

"As one would write of the dissection of an insect, no more.  An insect, Jorge: power is but an oversized bug.  Given a big enough swatter, we'd rid ourselves once and for all of the nuisance.  The menace.  A big enough swatter, Jorge: that's all it wants to do the job."

A little sunlight breached the dark curtains behind where Professor Bakon sat very still; just a kind of film, like a haze, not a beam of light, but a formless, lusterless little flicker.  Some was lost to the room's expanse, some of it stuck around the Professor and his desk - not that it haloed him, only that it stuck to him, like a film of luminescence.  The hour was close to sunset, else no light could have made such a breach of Professor Bakon's curtains.  

It was a lovely day outside; Dr. Johnson found himself considering the sunset, how it must look right at this hour, and on so lovely a day; and he found himself impatient to be done with this interview, impatient to get out of here while there was still sunlight - while there's still time, he came close to thinking, the thought prompting a chill somewhere within him.  

He had forgotten already about insects; even so something in that unformed phrase suggested some aspect of his metaphor, just beneath his conscious level of awareness, and while it did not frighten him, still it disturbed him without his actually realizing it.  Certainly he felt no sense of being cornered, nor did the image of an insect descend before his eyes upon the man who sat staring at him.  Yet he was uncomfortable in this man's presence.  At the heart of it all - as at the heart of his estimation of Bakon - he knew that the man, while many things, was not one particular thing, and that was  the core of it: an absence.  He was not a braggart.  Everything he said, he meant.  He truly believed himself superiorally endowed.  And the terrible uneasiness in Karl Johnson was born of his knowledge that Bakon was superiorally endowed, that it was not a delusion but an observation of his own self that made Bakon behold himself that way.  Bakon was capable of doing almost anything he wished to do.  It chilled Dr. Johnson to have to admit it, it chilled him all the way through his soul.  So he tried to think instead of the lovely sunset, and of the sticky little light that had climbed past the Professor's curtain to cling to his shoulder.

"A bit of a poet, eh Karl?" Profession Bakon finally spoke.  "Insects, power, swatters: all nice and neat.  Almost as much of a poet as your lovely wife.  How is she, Karl?"

"She's fine, thank you."

"We must all get together some time.  And my Andrew always talks of your son Karl Junior.  It seems he's quite devoted to your boy.  Yet it seems your boy chides him, for his slowness.  You see Karl?  I do accept reality.  My son will never equal yours.  If it were true of me as it is of him, I'd as willingly accept that as I accept my own superiority.  Untrue to reality?  Not in your life, Karl...not me.  Whatever else you may think of me, be reminded along with it that truth is my highest value.  I hold nothing higher."

"But when it suits you to be untruthful?"

"When it suits me to lie, I lie.  Methods and truths are not nor need they be congruous.  Believe the truth, yes; but say whatever the situation warrants.  You can always realign everything at a later date.  Such is the nature of existence.  So long as you don't delude yourself, Karl."

"And you don't?"

"No, I don't."

"Not even about the insignificance of other people?"

"Least of all that, Karl.  They are insignificant, they make themselves so.  I have nothing to do with it.  I merely mine it, that's all.  They know nothing, they care to know nothing.  That isn't my doing.  If I simply propose to harness their mediocrity, and if I see a way of doing it - then why shouldn't I?  There's no value in mediocrity; a hundred million individuals replete each with his own isolated insignificance: singly that adds up to nothing, but if I can turn that very lack of substance into a thing to serve my purpose, if by combining it all into a composite from which something serviceable can be synthesized - then I will have given mediocrity a good name, in a manner of speaking.  I will have made it respectable.  I will have brought forth new life from that compost heap.  Rejoice, Karl.  It would be like Christ rising from the dead."

"With you the lifeblood," Dr. Johnson observed with a wry twist to the voice.

"A bit fanciful, you are right there.  But I do mean to do something with this world.  Out of chaos, Karl.  Out of chaos...something will come.  Mark my words, Karl.  The world will note my having passed through it.  I will have left my print upon it.  But I'm forgetting: I have no authority left, you took it all."

With his eyes he laughed, a great hearty laugh.  Dr. Johnson would have been embarrassed had he felt himself the object of it.  But he felt it was the world, not himself, at whom Bakon was laughing.  Without any explanation he too broke out in laughter.  As if in his laugh was the message "you win."  And the awesome fear: "you're going to win anyway."  It wants only the correct form, that idea of yours.  That's all it's ever needed.                    

Chapter 8.  Intelligent Laughter Muted

It was as if the sun stood motionless on a string fastened to some point in the sky directly overhead but never moving; as if this great ball of light were but an instrument suspended for somebody's entertainment.  It was like a sun, but it was hard to say that it was a sun.  A great plain lay beneath it, spread out correctly, proportionately suited in every aspect to the events about to transpire.  A valley snuggled enticingly between two gentle slopes, while at either end lightly wooded meadows gave entrance.  Just beyond the south entrance stood a village, a very small village with rustic homes and buildings, and with cow pastures and gardens couched behind it.  It looked happy and peaceful, this village; and grateful for the abundance and the benevolence of this lovely piece of the earth.  It had a solemn air about it too, as though it sensed an imperfection of sorts, an impermanence in its station.  As if, while believing in the preponderance of goodness, it knew however that terrible things could happen.  Little people arranged themselves - or were arranged - about the village, each one in a given posture, each according to his lot within the village.

Something stirred across the valley, at the north entrance, where a great forest covered from full view whatever might be present there.  Again something moved, then again another something: one could almost see a great hand proceeding with some grand design all about this valley, the stirring at the north end only the beginning as motion complimented the intelligence here at work upon some plan yet to be carried out.

Now another great hand moved, at the other end, but with far less stealth, the people and cows of the village this hand's medium of expressing its plan in motion.  They almost seemed to dance, even the cows, all about the village and its precious grounds.  Children leapt into the air as if their little forms had been given the same freedom of flight their spirits by nature enjoyed.  Old men and women whirled themselves hither and yon in merriment, enjoyment it appeared their only source of steadying themselves against tumbling to the ground.  Young couples in their turn reeled to the strains of some inner pleasance from somewhere, and young children's fathers and mothers hopped and skipped to the same lively little spirit's rhythm.  All was as in a child's make believe world, where goodness and light reigned supreme over all else, and where no one thought a solitary thought that was not born of joy and tranquility, and where everyone lived to a hundred years old, and where no one's mother ever died, and no one's brother was ever known in sickness.  Health and merriment: the goodness and light of the world in metamorphosis within the human community.  And praises to God for all the joy.

But yet it still stirred, this thing at the other end of the valley.  Something wasn't right: why the stealth?  What had need of such maneuvering here?  What had to hide to go about its business - what was it?  Why in God's name need anything hide here? Not if it meant well, this whatever it was lurking deep in the forest across the valley from dancing joyful villagers, as the great sun on a string still shone at noonday.

One by one little soldiers peaked from behind trees, gathering all together silently, one by one, at the forest's edge, in stealth and in readiness.  Then a rumbling, trembling of the ground crept from the forest all the way across the valley floor to where the villagers danced - to where the villagers now ceased their dancing in wonder at what this rumble was all about.  At once, as if springing like a lion out of the forest, a great cannon was moved into place within the valley.  A volley of cannonade followed seconds afterward, then a sudden mad rush of the little soldiers into and across the valley toward the peaceful little village helplessly awaiting its destiny.  And all the while, above this sorrow, a plane circled the valley, a great airplane, on a horizontal footing, it seemed, with the sun: yet bigger, more ominous, this plane, the kind of plane that carried within its belly a great bomb which, if delivered from the belly, would spring upon the village like a horrible beast the cost of its birth the destruction of humanity.

The people of the village could only hope to run, to hide as best they could.  They were not an army, peace was their life, they were no match against the invasion of war upon their lives.  So they scattered, these innocent villagers, each going whatever way he could, the old - and as always the cows - left behind to their fate.

The army pillaged; with its cannon and with its soldiers.  All men and women were cut down, cows were slaughtered; and in this and other ways no family was left untouched.

A little boy saw it all - from a hill he saw it all.  He saw his village destroyed, saw his parents and their neighbors driven out, saw his grandparents murdered, his little calf slaughtered.  And he was all alone on that hill, wandering up and down, careful to avoid being spied by the army below in the valley or by the airplane still circling above with its deadly blast inside its belly awaiting the proper hour of birth.  And as he wandered he despaired mightily of his loss, he pined and burned in his body for his parents once again to hold him and comfort him.  "Hold me in your arms daddy and mommy," the child might well have been saying, except that he said nothing as he wandered beneath the noonday sun above him suspended on a string on the same horizon with a great beast.

He thought about the sadness, and he thought about the loss, this little boy.  He thought of the other little children who, like himself, had lost every trace of their lives to the invasion.  He almost gave up, but he didn't.  He was lost, this child, but not abandoned; so he kept going.

Somehow he managed to defeat the entire army.  It had been his resolve, under the noonday sun, to do so; and under that same noonday sun he carried out his resolve, step by step, until the army was forced to retreat.  He captured the cannon; captured the plane with threats of cannon fire, sent it away under the same threat; then at long last drove the invading army out of his people's village and out of the valley, and back into the deep forest at the north end.

Then he began to call back his people to their homes.  One by one he sought them all out, this little hero, and one by one returned them to their homes.  One by one, until at last, at long long last - at glorious last - this mighty little hero found them, his daddy and mommy.  And held himself in their arms, and danced all about in joy and in the renewal of their lives.

And they all danced - by God all of them, they danced, as they have never danced before - as none have ever danced!  For joy: for joy and for God and for themselves they danced their ancient holy sacred dance of joy and of salvation.  Their solemn heroic dance of gratitude and of life.  Of life, they danced, oh God how they danced!  For they lived, oh God they lived - they lived...they still, still lived.  Oh God, oh dear God they lived...and they danced, they all danced: their lives they danced, at their end of the great valley of earth they danced, and lived, and all hugged round a mighty wondrous hero of a little child who had saved them all and had driven away the invasion back into the deep forest on the other side of the valley - on the other side of the earth: all the way on the other side of the earth!  God in heaven - oh dear God in heaven....

They were all pieces here, being maneuvered by hand, by a child's hand, in a child's game.  A fantasy, all spread out before the child on the floor.  It favors reality, this fantasy; they're similar.  Not identical, reality and this child's game, but of a similarity.  Of course in a child's game loveliness and bravery must always win - else how can the child take so much as a single step?  It must be so for a child: life must be full of wonder and heroism, reality concomitant of marvelous victory, jubilant a world saved from doom, gracious and loving a people given reprieve from death.  This must all occur in the child's eye, for he doesn't see literal reality nearly so much so as he sees his own imagination; and it's this - above all else this most precious of his gifts - which requires the wholesome cleanliness of a rational, just, loving world to assume its healthful development.  The child will have to learn to understand the breach between what is ideal and what exists at the moment - for the ideal stands fast even as the moment withers and passes; but for him to accept a temporal eternity is to diminish the scope of his imagination, to dwarf his own ambitions and ultimately to stunt his mind.  His games must therefore pronounce good always the victor, evil the loser: otherwise what possible meaning can there be in the concept of victory?  There is only victory or defeat - the victory of good or its defeat.  Evil carries no significance: it does nothing to enrich mankind, therefore its disposition is of no consequence.  Good alone matters; the rest is carrion.

Young Andrew Bakon reached up to the sun on a string, clicked a tiny switch just behind the globe, and thereby extinguished in a flash the billions of years of evolution there represented in miniature replica.  He picked up the little boy of his drama, the little hero, and held him in his palm.  He smiled, a pleased smile, but his mouth was somewhat crooked, the corner of one side higher, if only slightly, then the other.  His eyes too were bright and happy, but with a kind of stare, as if he were not fully seeing what was before him but rather still the scene of his child's fantasy.

He was a slender, pleasant looking boy, but not handsome.  He had blondish hair, rather dark blonde, and hazel eyes which leaned heavily toward gray, and somewhat large ears.  He appeared a rather strange child; not in any way sinister looking, but different from the general image of a seven year old boy.  There was a quality about him which defied description, something sensed rather than actually perceived, something known without knowing how or why it was known.  That quality was an incredible gentleness, an almost overpowering kindness and goodness which seemed to fill the whole room, wherever he happened to be, an almost divine presence which elicited a sense of deep peace and security in his company.  He was saintly, because he was so innocently unaware of his own virtues.  He was a retarded child; it was doubtful he would ever be truly aware.

He set aside his toys.  He released from his grip the little toy child he had been holding, then softly placed it among the other toys, placing them all - villagers, soldiers, cows, all of them - together in a cardboard shoe box, all the characters of his drama reposing peacefully together in gentle confinement.  His play time was over; it was time for his father to return home, time for him to be loved.  He combed his hair so as to look presentable; somewhere in his mind - in one of the parts deficient, inaccessible to a truly logical process: a part where only literal reason functioned - somehow he fancied himself disheveled because of the great battle and excitement of his toy drama, just as if he too had gotten caught up in the melee and now needed a bit of grooming.

"Toys" he pronounced, then repeated the word several more times, feeling for the sense contained in the sound; of course he knew the word well, and its meaning, but nevertheless there was a wonderment about the word's sound, something if not quite magical then certainly inspiring.  It was a friendly word: its meaning was friendly, its sound friendly.  He liked the word.  In truth he liked most words.  If not the meaning then the sound of them - something at any rate, so as not to find fault.  His favorites were "little boy" - which to him was one word - and 'daddy" and "big brother" - again, one word, not two.  He knew words were important, he understood that instinctively.  And he knew words could manage to hurt people; but in this regard he figured the fault lay not so much in the word itself, or even in the manner of its usage, but rather in people's failure to see something of value in a given word, in a given context.  If the sound would be pretty, he reasoned, then that's what people should consider. 

I like everything in the world, he thought to himself.  Then he would have to remind himself that he did not know what that meant, liking everything in the world.  Then he would find himself wishing he knew; when I get bigger I'll know, he at first consoled himself, but yet something within him hinted that no, he would not know, not even when he got bigger - that part of him would always remain little, and that it was this part, whatever and wherever it was, which could alone in growth provide solutions and answers to his questions, and which would endow him with knowing and with understanding.  It all puzzled him, saddened him a little; but no matter what else it did it could not defeat his gentle curious spirit.  That had been bestowed upon him full grown at birth, and was his for life.

"What a fine little boy I have here," spoke Professor Jorge Bakon through the most benevolent smile.  And the little boy Andrew beamed right back up at him.  Then before either could blink an eye the child was being born aloft in his father's strong arms, carried about the living room as if an airplane soaring through the sky, and making little engine propeller noises with his pursed lips.

"Coming in for a landing," Andrew's father announced in deep sonorous tones which seemed to wrap all around the boy and make his little body tingle, upon which announcement the child was hurled carefully onto the couch where his little propeller sounds slowly drew to a stop.  Professor Bakon, at this point, took his comb from his pocket and set to scrubbing it up and down and all across his son's back: wiping it down good, this airplane, getting it all ready for the big flight tomorrow, same time, same skies over the living room rug.  "Preparing flight number 702, take off time 7:02 p.m. Thursday, tomorrow, October 12th," Professor Bakon announced in the same deep voice, after which he began the inspection to insure the craft's air-worthiness: looking into his son's mouth, looking behind his ears, at the tip of his nose, just below the chin - and just in general everywhere, just as one would expect for an important pre-flight inspection - all while the aircraft giggled and snorted with delight, squirming because it was ticklish but loving every second of it.

"What a hell of a flight, captain," the Professor reported, now personifying his son as captain of the aircraft, no longer the aircraft itself, as if to make a smoother transition from the neuter to the human gender.

"Aye-aye," little Andrew reported back, "hell of a flight."

"Daddy," the child asked after a moment's reflection.

"Yes, son," responded Professor Bakon.

"Daddy, was I really a plane?"

"Did you feel like one?"

"In a way."

"Then for that brief instant you were."

"Were you ever an airplane daddy?  Even for a briefest instant?"

The Professor shook his head, a little sadly perhaps.  "No," he answered.


"Well, you see, my own daddy didn't believe you could be an airplane.  And so I believed it."

"But you don't now," Andrew pointed out.

"No, I don't now.  You see, I had to grow up to discover what you already know.  I had to get all grown up, Andy, before I could understand.  What's wrong?" he asked, noting a sudden uneasiness in his son.

"Me, I won't grow up," Andrew replied.

"Of course you will."

"Not everywhere," the boy said.

"Andy, you'll grow up as well as you can - just like all of us.  We each have so much growing we can do, and no more.  Don't object if you have less growing in you than others.  Just be whatever you can."

"But how can I be anything if I won't ever grow like everyone else?  And like Karl."

Professor Bakon chose to ignore the reference to Dr. Johnson's son.  He looked out the window, though it was nearly dark - as if that were the way one ignored things at hand, by focusing on the outside.  "You'll be what you have in you to be, Andy," he said in reply, then added, as if to cut off the subject, "I can't say any more than that, son.  I simply don't have the power to see the future."

"And I don't have the power even to know what the future is," replied Andrew in a half-echo.

"You speak so well," the boy's father noted with pride, but without hope.

"But he speaks so well, Jim," Bakon had explained to the doctor he'd taken his son to for examination.  The boy had been five years old then, he had just started school.  He had proven himself a very slow learner.  "How could he have learned to speak so well if he's...retarded?" asked Bakon, the key word of his question sticking like glue to his mouth, his mouth reluctant to let it get out.

"No one's said anything about retardation," the doctor admonished Professor Bakon.

"Well, you've as good as said it," Bakon insisted.

"Not at all Jorge - you just weren't listening well or you'd have heard what I actually said and not only what you feared I was going to say.  But please don't misunderstand me the other way either.  It could be a form of retardation, yes: I'd be remiss to say otherwise.  But it could as well be simply a learning disorder - something like dyslexia, which in fact is precisely what I have in mind to examine your son for."

"Which do you think it is," asked Bakon, "the learning disorder, or the other?"

"Well, based on the child's development up to this point, I tend to go with the dyslexia.  It's the most likely explanation.  I doubt seriously that your boy is retarded, Jorge.  For a child to speak as well as he does, the odds of his being retarded are one in a million.  It could happen, though.  A mild, highly localized damage within the brain - yes, it is possible.  But unlikely."

"Daddy," little Andrew had said when all the tests and examination were over, "you know I must not be too dumb - you know why?"

"Why's that?"

"Because I answered almost everything.  Except the real hard ones.  Like they asked me about a triangle, and which side was bigger - and they were all bigger to me.  And they had some words, and what they meant.  Only they were words you'd never said to me.  So I didn't know how to read them.  But most of the answers I knew.  'Cause most of the questions were things you've already explained to me.  It was an easy test daddy.  I liked it."

"I'm sorry," the doctor confided to Professor Bakon.  "It's...it's not what we thought.  No simple learning disability would account for it - would cover so wide a range of dysfunctions.  I'm sorry, Jorge.  Your boy is retarded.  There's really very little we can do for him.  He has an intelligence, yet it's blunted.  You know?  He can grasp a given quantity of data, but then nothing beyond that seems to register.  It's as if there are only so many cells in his brain in which to store information.  True, there are only so many in anyone, but with Andy there seems to be a very limited amount.  I don't see any possible way of correcting the deficiency, Jorge.  You and your son will simply have to learn to live with it.  That's not much to offer, I know.  But it's all I have for you.  I'm sorry, Jorge.  Truly sorry."

It seemed to Jorge Bakon little beyond yesterday his dreams for this boy were of a substance, that they held the promise of completion in reality, the promise, and the potential.  "My boy is brilliant," he would say - not to anyone in particular did he say it: he didn't care who else knew or heard.  Only that he knew mattered.  "Kierston doesn't have what it takes, he'll never be a man," Bakon had often spoken of his older son, "but little Andy - oh, my God, there's a child alright.  Whatever I fail to achieve in my time, he'll complete after me.  Together - two generations of us - we'll rule this entire world.  Nothing and no one can stop us.  What is, is; and because so, what must follow will be.  My line is secure.  My dynasty.  A hundred - five hundred - years from now they'll look back to me.  What I've started, in my lifetime, will go on till - till God knows when.  My standards and my values will prevail, endure as tomorrow's traditions.  What's done generations from now will be done solely through my initiative.  I will have programmed society.  Through its traditions I'll own it, for all time.  The inception is mine, the formulations, the standards, the values, the protocol.  All mine.  Through you, Andy: it'll all pass from me through you down into the mists where in space the future lies in wait...for its turn at existence, the sole chance to be for an exalted instant the present, the here and now.  For they all wait, Andy - every moment that has the potential to be - each in contest with each other, all scrambling and clamoring for their second of glory.  Because, you see, there is nothing out there where there's no life, so it means nothing that they exist out there, these bits and pieces of existence.  Just as surely as meaningless chunks of mater float aimlessly in space, so do these fragments of infinity crouch down between epochs awaiting an occasion to leap full blown to the forefront of time, eternity's vanguard spilling a trail into the infinite for all the past to follow, setting guideposts for all the future.  Awaiting a simple nod from existence: the earth's transit through their terrain, this nod.  And through you, son, will my ideas be that which they serve, to which they'll cling for meaning, and which they'll carry off to God.  A brilliant, brilliant child you are my son.  A link attaching me to the eternal.  My immortality is at your disposal.  Little Andrew Bakon.  My immortality."

"Andy, I love you more than anyone or anything else on this earth," Professor Bakon pronounced in softly elegant tones, sincerity and forcefulness almost divine in sweet combination.  The boy beamed up at his father as hand in hand they walked from the doctor's office home, all the father's dreams for his son shattered by the awesome truth told him.  In place of dreams, as if lurking behind all along, hidden by them but present and constant was something just discovered by Professor Bakon; discovered with particular relish.  He loved his son - almost to the point of worship he loved little Andrew; and it had nothing whatever to do with his dreams for the boy: it was the boy and  not the dreams which he adored.  The boy, not the dreams.

"Daddy?" little Andrew asked somewhat nervously.

"Yes, what is it, son?"

"Why is my brother dying?  I love him daddy.  Why is he dying?"

No one should look upon the face of an angel, so Jorge Bakon turned discretely from his son: that was his impression, so pure and loving was the expression on Andrew's face.  Not to look at an angel, for who among men had a heart pure enough?

"It was meant to be," replied Bakon to his son.

"I was meant to be dumb - wasn't I?" the boy stated as a kind of rhetorical question, not that he understood or ever would understand such a concept, but that was the style of his statement.

Bakon made no reply.  At first he'd taken the boy's words as being sarcastic, then realized the absurdity of such a notion.  He hadn't wanted to answer a sarcastic comment; he couldn't answer the boy's sincerity without hurting his feelings.  Instead he spoke of his other son, of that son's fate."

"Kierston was never a strong child," he explained half-heartedly, careful to hide his disappointment with Andrew's older brother.  "He barely survived his own birth.  And he was such a sensitive child, but in a sad kind of way.  It was like he always knew he wouldn't live long.  He never developed a zest for living.  He's spent his life dying, Andy."

"Is that why you hate him?" Andrew asked his father, that question also rhetorical.  Then he looked up at his father and whispered "you won't be with him when he dies."

"I suppose it's better that I don't," Bakon mused aloud, barely aware of his own voice.  "There was something alien about us with one another.  He never took to me.  Maybe he sensed my reserve toward him.  I can't say what it was though.  I felt as if he were a ward, placed under my guardianship.  No doubt he felt it too.  He was a very quiet child, with little grace or charm, and even less depth of character.  I think though in recent years he's been trying to make something of himself.  It saddened me to watch him: I could see so clearly he'd never do it.  What's required is sternness, forcefulness: the toughness that makes a man.  Kierston never had it.  There's nothing but a mediocre second place for ones like him.  He was lacking in traditional values.  He might have made an artist, I don't know, or some sort of visionary.  Though even that takes a certain drive.  But the top rank?  Never.  Business, politics?  No, never.  It just wasn't in him, son.  Society would never have needed him.  Or philosophy - there's a noble enough field.  A field of ideas, not too frivolous as art or social studies.  But philosophy without politics - without the power to enforce them: it's of no use to us, Andy.  It's of no use whatsoever."                    

Bakon reflected a moment then smiled.  "'An idea whose time has come' they say.  I say baloney: the only ideas whose time ever comes are those which have the weight of raw power behind them.  Brute force, if you will.  Political power.  Believe me, son, society incorporates nothing into its traditions which hasn't the strength to wedge itself in, to find a place and move in, to take root and grow until eventually it unseats other ideas, other values, forcing itself upon society.  That's how things happen.  Everything else is a fairy tale world, at best a kind of looking glass realm, vague, unformed, vanishing quickly as it all appeared, ideas spilling down around your feet even as you stand formulating them.  'You should see them come 'round of a Saturday - for to collect their wages, you know'": that's what Mr. Humpty Dumpty had to say on the subject...and so do I say it, true not merely of words but infinitely more so of ideas.  Put them to work, be their master, control their every aspect, every phase of their progression through society.  That's what I call a good day's work, son."

Again Professor Bakon reflected, but did not smile.  "Your brother Kierston, he's never worked a day in his life.  Not by my standards he hasn't.  I'm afraid he's no son of mine.  Though I've never said it till now.  I love him, through force of habit, and I care for his well being because he's weak and helpless.  I would never have chosen him for a son, but neither would I reject him.  How could I without rejecting fate?  I've held him, fed him, loved him.  As I would any other stray brought by fate into my home.  But he's no son of mine.  Except that I'd have killed any man who'd ever have cursed or damned him.  My loyalty is absolute.  But so are my standards, and your brother falls short of the mark.  I have a fear almost of watching him die.  I can't explain it.  I felt contempt for him in life almost.  Now as he approaches death I feel fear.  As if - God knows I don't know why - as if in death he's found a way to defeat existence itself.  As if it's he who's the final victor in his struggle with life.  And there's so great a power there, it frightens me.  To think that this frail helpless young man has in him so great a power that in a single breath he can eradicate everything that's happened to him.  I find it unacceptable.  God knows I can't say why.  God knows..."

He went alone, Andrew Bakon, to his brother's room.  He knew that the time was at hand for his brother's deliverance from suffering and humiliation; not that he went in whereas otherwise he would not have - he went to see his brother every evening - but that he knew this would be the last visit.  No one had said so to him: who was there more sensitive to the rhythms and the cycles of nature to so apprise him?  No doctor could identify the final evening of Kierston Bakon's existence; certainly no psychic could, no prophet, no magician, no practitioner of the occult sciences: their works, all of them, were quackery by comparison, to this boy's keen sensitivity to those around him.  He loved so well that nature could keep no secrets from him; he loved the object of his love for itself, not because it was precious to him: the objectivity of absolute purity, a kind of X-Ray vision into the recesses of time and space.  He sensed in his beloved brother where dying had completed its course; no more dying was possible, only death.

The room was dark, the air heavy and pungent, the atmosphere stale, almost of mold: a sick room, well known as is any such place to humanity, very little different from any other.  A thick dark curtain draped the small window, no light admitted.  A single lamp burned, a small glare to everything in the room.,  A bucket lay beside the bed, clean white sheets covered the bed.

Kierston weighed scarcely eighty pounds.  His features were drawn, sunken, withered and aged as one would expect, so untidy was death, leaving him no more flesh than dignity.  Most of his hair had fallen out, a few oily blondish patches remained though, as of better to mock his once youthful human appearance.  His eyes were dark: no one on this earth could have said what color, just that they were dark.  Around his lips and nostrils was the residue of dried blood.  A caricature of a human - a perverted caricature, done in absolute tastelessness and callousness.  Done, though, by nature, to one of its less favored creatures: not executed by man, this caricature, but by nature.

The little boy was not repelled by the cadaverous form lying before him.  How could he be: it was his brother Kierston, was it not?

As if sensing the boy's thought, the dying young man at first nodded in the negative; but then he must have thought about it, he must have seen some final twist of irony in his own wasted self, for he recanted, affirmed that yes, this was indeed he.  A tear of sorts crept slowly from the corner of one eye, a brackish thing this tear, like a drop of brine.

"You came to say goodbye, Andy?" the young man questioned his little brother.  The boy nodded.

"You and I both knew it was time," he added.  Again the boy nodded.

"You have to carry on by yourself, the great Bakon tradition.  Which I couldn't."  He paused for awhile.

"Does it hurt to speak?" Andrew asked.

"It hurts to have to," was the reply.  "It hurts to know," he barely whispered, a look almost of horror in his eyes.

"To know what?" little Andrew asked in innocence.

A troubled grin curled the dying young man's upper lip.

"To know what?" Andrew repeated his question.

"I lived absolutely for nothing," Kierston muttered, the agony of each syllable as unendurable as if spikes slid down his throat as every syllable came forth.  "Not one shred of meaning in my life.  I did nothing.  I accomplished nothing.  I experienced nothing.  It took all my strength trying to be strong, I had no energy left to be anything.  Not even weak.  I was weak, and wasted my life looking for a way out.  There was no way out.  To society some are weak, others strong: it sees them that way, it'll always see them that way.  It will not accept a change in our characters; otherwise it might have to change its perception of us.  And all existence conspires to resist such a change.  All the eons of mankind, and all the traditions built upon traditions built upon traditions stand against such an intrusion.  We will not be seen in any other way than society wishes to see us.  I was as weak in their eyes when I finished as when I began.  And all my effort went for nothing save my own destruction.  At my own hands and at theirs.  I was pale and I was scared of other people.  I was uneasy.  My lot was that of a weakling.  I tried to break free.  Now I'm pale, and scared of other people. And still uneasy.  And still a weakling.  I don't see how no one ever caught on how it was with me: I wanted to live, just like anyone.  I don't understand how they never caught on."

He grew by stages more silent, until there was nothing left of him.  It would have taken a computer to say exactly what moment was his last.  That it was somewhere beyond nine o'clock that evening was all that the silence would allow, as if he were to be cheated even of a clearly defined time of death.  Yet on the other hand, as if it were he who cheated for a last time: cheated the world of grasping his passing just as in life he had cheated it of his identity.  For when a man's only identity is an evaluation, he remains forever anonymous to the rest of mankind.  Kierston Bakon was a weakling in the world's eyes.  Weakness is but a characteristic; and no living thing is built of a single characteristic.  If it knows nothing more of a man than that, then it never saw him or heard of him.  He escaped its attention entirely.  He's sentenced to anonymity, the world condemned to ignorance.

Each separate man counts for something.

Andrew covered his brother's face with the sheet, as he'd seen done to others in movies.  This meant the person was dead.  It was eleven o'clock when this was accomplished.  It was very late, for a little boy to be up - especially on a school night.

Chapter 9.  In The Land Of The Blind...

There was plenty of reason for school beginning at eight fifteen in the morning: plenty of reason.  For one thing, it had always begun at that hour.  The children seemed not to mind, the hour seemed amply compatible with their little internal schedules - their biological clocks and rhythms, and so on.  They functioned as well at that hour as at any other; their little lives were awesomely pliable: this was their great credit.  Whatever was dictated they eagerly accepted and strove with an enthusiasm far in excess of anything within the adult community to obey.  They were children, they were there for the taking, their fine young minds and bodies readily molded to specification.  They were joyous little creatures, no problem to anyone, not when a few simple rules were applied.

Food and drink, play-time, plenty of rest and love, sufficient stimulation in their activities, entertainment in their studies, diversion in their personal lives: a little order went a long way.  With children.

But lest they forget the intent of it all, let them arise at seven, be at school in attendance by eight fifteen.  They were, after all, tomorrow's men and women: they were today's immortality, the crucial link to the eternal, without the precise training of whom there was little assurance of continuity between past, present and future.  Through them, the precious little tykes, passed all society's hopes and values and standards, all its traditions.  Right through them, like a laser beam through a force field.  Clear on through to tomorrow.  A beautiful, beautiful thing, like a shooting star: enough reason for any child to be on his way to school at eight in the morning.

Andrew Bakon always met his best friend Karl in front of the school steps just about fifteen minutes before classes commenced.  If he were late, as he was today, he nearly flew down the streets to make his rendezvous - as he did today.  He relished his moments with Karl Johnson Jr. second only to those spent with his father.

How strange that just a day ago it was third - his moments with Karl third; behind his father and brother.  Now Karl was second, Kierston the brother was dead.  And now the little Carens girl Marsha had moved into the vacant third spot.

Would life ever be peopled with anything but numbers, little Andrew found himself wondering as he sat on the school steps waiting for his friend.  Karl was late, it appeared, even though he didn't have to walk, he lived far enough from school to be bussed of a morning.  In the evening too, Andrew assumed; but as he didn't wait for Karl then, being in too great a hurry to get home to his father, he really couldn't swear a bus took his friend home.  It brought him though...

So how could he be late? Andrew wondered.  And look: there was his bus, number twenty-one, pulling away.  So Karl wasn't late, he'd just gone on in already, that was all.  He hadn't waited, a rejected Andrew concluded as he arose to go up the steps and inside.  I always wait, he reminded himself; but if I'm even a minute late he never waits for me.  "Oh well, some people are waiters, and some are not," the little naive retarded boy muttered self-consolingly.

They were in different classes, of course, he and Karl.  After all, Karl was not retarded while he was.  The same school accommodated them, but each according to his own level.  It wasn't fair to the bright kids that the slower ones should hamper their progress, nor fair to expect the slower children to keep pace with the bright ones.  For that matter it wasn't fair to be retarded.  But that was not Karl's fault, so he shouldn't have to pay for it.  Apparently it was Andrew's fault, since he was the one singled out for payment.  One did not like to share a body's flaws, only his gifts.  How everyone doted over the bright kids!  It was lovely to see.

"Good morning class," a Miss Iverson said.  "Good morning, Miss Iverson," the whole class responded in unison, as it always did.  There was a synchronization among these slow children, an amazing sense of inner rhythm, togetherness.  Anybody could see they were attuned to one another's own cycles and rhythms; they were just meant for each other.

"Arithmetic is a formulation of numbers into combinations," Miss Iverson went right in to explain.  The children were wide-eyed in attention.  They loved to learn - to try and learn.  Most could never hope to grasp the concepts being taught, at least that was what they were taught to believe.  But try all the same, though, they were instructed: try so hard you almost burst.  Even though you'll never comprehend.  It seemed cruel, but it wasn't: only because they made it otherwise, these absolutely trusting children.  They enjoyed every minute of it...they felt like students...like the other children.  So the cruelty of it was neutralized.

"Andrew, you should be able to figure this one out," the teacher observed with a warm encouraging smile.  "Now how many numbers will I get if I put three numbers in this hand," she said holding up fingers appropriately as she spoke, "and one number in this hand?"

"Four," was Andrew's immediate reply, a satisfied smile on his face.

"Very good, Andrew.  Now see, class, it isn't so hard, is it?  It just takes a little thought and lots of practice.  Now tell me this, Andrew, why do these three and this one make four?" Miss Iverson went on to inquire.

Andrew shook his head.

"You don't know?" Miss Iverson asked.

"No, ma'am," Andrew replied.

"Don't feel bad, Andrew, no one really knows.  At least no one can put it into words.  We can see that three and one are four, but we can't explain why this is so.  And I only asked it to make a point very clear.  No matter how much we know there's always something we do not, and perhaps can not, know.  But if we try very very hard to learn what we have the power to learn, we need not feel ashamed of all we don't know and can't learn.  So as long as you children try as hard as you can - try so hard you feel like you're nearly going to burst - then you'll be proud of yourselves."

"I bursted," one little child observed.

"You did, Amos?" questioned the teacher.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Tell us about it."

"I tried so hard one day to write my own two names, my Amos and my Handy, that my finger bursted open at the seams, and see -" little Amos Handy held up one hand, "- here's where the blood was, here on this one little finger -"

"That's your middle finger," Miss Iverson corrected the boy.

"In the middle of the finger," the boy corrected himself as best he could. "And mommy called it a blister.  But it was a burst and mommy was wrong.  Can I tell her that she was wrong?"

"Oh no," replied Miss Iverson with a grin.


"We must never correct our parents, or people in authority," she explained as best she could.

It seemed sensible to the little retarded boy, so he promptly sat back down, pleased to have learned a new bit of knowledge.  I'd like to write it down, he thought, his lips moving silently in synchronization with his thoughts.  But I can't write, so I won't.  But I might tomorrow; I might wake up and all at once start writing.  And he laughed aloud, Amos Handy, at picturing himself writing.

"I call my name John Hancock," another child spoke up.

"Why do you do that, Betsy?" asked Miss Iverson.

"That's what names are called," the little girl explained.

"Do you know who John Hancock actually was?"

"Yes," Betsy answered.

"Then who was he?"

"He was a man."

"Anything else?"


"What else?"

"It was him what -"

"Who, you mean,"" the teacher corrected.  "It was him who..."

"Yes, who I mean.  It was him who gave everybody their names."

"But how did he do that?"

"He wrote them all down on a piece of paper.  And he gave it to God.  And God passes them around until he finds a baby that fits each name.  That's why I'm Betsy."

"What do you think Betsy means?" Miss Iverson inquired.

The girl shook her head.  "Who do you think Betsy means, you mean," she corrected her teacher.

Miss Iverson chose to pass up this distinction: partly because she felt it too early in the child's education to comprehend the distinction between similar words, and partly because she was eager to discover what the girl imagined her own name to mean.  "Yes, who do you think Betsy means?" she corrected herself.

"It means Japanese beetle," the little girl responded.

"Why do you think that?"

"I don't know,' little Betsy replied studiously.

"Does anyone know?" the teacher inquired.

No one seemed to know.

"What does crotch mean?" some other child asked.

Miss Iverson was at a loss for an answer.  She was just ever so slightly embarrassed for an instant, recovering long enough to ask the class in general if they knew.  No one knew at first, until finally it occurred to one little boy.

"Oh that's where your pants come together here in the middle," he shouted out, jumping up from his seat to demonstrate the place in his trousers where he perceived the crotch to be.  "Unless you're a girl," he went on to instruct the rest of the class, "then you don't have a zipper.  No zipper, no crotch.  Period," he concluded with awesome severity.

The whole class felt itself truly instructed, the girls perhaps a little disappointed at being denied access to a brand new word; still, there being a spontaneous excitement at the discovery of any new knowledge, however exclusive, everyone was satisfied.  Miss Iverson at first felt she ought to even things out a bit, and was going to say something about girls having zippers on their coats and at the backs of their blouses; but she ruled against this in the name of leaving well enough alone.  After all, boys and girls did differ from one another - and if it were not in the possession of a crotch or a zipper, this difference, still the children had grasped the general idea.  Besides, few if any of these children could ever hope to reproduce; nature, it seems, does not care as a rule to duplicate those of her charges less fortunate: she may make the same errors over and over along parallel lines of genealogy, but rarely in two successive generations of the same line  She taints certain blood, then turns her back to her tainted children.  It may be their lives, these unfortunates, but it's her universe.  Only the best are good enough for immortality.

Miss Iverson desired the fine balance struck here today - the balance between her control of the studies and her pupil's spontaneity in discerning knowledge from one another.  It was a rare delicacy, this balance.  Some days the children never ventured a single comment, while other days they were nearly uncontrollable, paying no heed to anything she said.  Today, however, they were eager, enthusiastic, yet attentive and orderly.  She strove very hard to preserve that fortunate situation.

"What is the most important thing in this whole world?" she asked enticingly.  Every child there was practically on the edge of their chair to answer first - yet each raised his or her hand waiting first to be called upon before speaking.

"Anthony," the teacher selected as her first response."

"Going to the bathroom by yourself," the child stated categorically.

"And why?" Miss Iverson inquired.

The boy shrugged, a little embarrassed  to go any further into the subject.

"I know why," a little girl exclaimed.

"Why, Carrie?"

"So you can have self-control," she observed somewhat hesitantly, fearful the teacher would ask her to explain self-control.  She'd heard the term used approvingly, but didn't quite know what it meant.  'Of course," she hastily added to change the subject, "my favorite most important thing is my bracelet.  Then my tumbleweed plant."

"Tumbleweed plant?" Miss Iverson asked in surprise.

"Yes," Carrie answered.

"What kind of plant is that Carrie?"

"It's when you knock it over and break it.  Then it starts rolling into a big ball - just like in the movies.  Of course mine'll take awhile, but I have a cowboy hat so I'll be ready."

"You mean cattle not tumbleweed anyway cattle's more important and that's my favorite," exclaimed a little boy all in one breath, then was silent again.  This particular little boy rarely spoke, and grew so self-conscious whenever he did that he sat perfectly still for hours afterward.

Miss Iverson smiled warmly.  She could not speak directly to the boy, as his purpose in remaining silent - to be invisible - would be lost.  But she wished to encourage him, so she spoke to the class in general, never once looking toward the boy

"You know something class?" she said softly, careful with each word not to bruise the little boy's progress.

"What?" they said.

"I want to tell you what just about my very favorite thing in the world is.  You know what it is?"

"No," they replied.

"It's cattle.  And I'll tell you why.  They're very gentle, kind animals.  And they're very good to their little calves.  They're what we would call noble.  Sometimes I love to sit just very still, and neither talk nor make any sound, just watching the cattle graze, and listening to them calling one another.  And do you know something else?"

"What?" the class asked eagerly.

"They know when you're there, even if you don't make a sound.  And they can tell if you're a good person just by sniffing the air.  And they know if you like them whether you do anything to show them or not.  They always know who their friends are.  Believe me, they know."

The little quiet boy sat back in his seat and relaxed, a little trace of a smile on his lips.  He felt satisfied with himself.  He'd learned that he could say something sensible.  He wasn't as stupid after all as everyone had always said.

"You know what my favorite thing is?" asked another little boy.

"No, what is it, Jeremy?" Miss Iverson responded.

"Soup to nuts," he replied.  "That's what dinner is, you know," he went on to explain.  "It's called soup to nuts.  And I like chicken soup and peanuts the best.  Only I get choked on peanuts.  So I eat raisons instead.  They're gritty like nuts, you know."

"And guess what I like?" said a tiny girl in the front of the class.

"What, Janie?" asked Miss Iverson.

The girl pouted.  "No," she whined, "you're supposed to guess," she explained.

"Alright then, we'll guess.  I'll say pony tails."

The little girl giggled, then shook her head no.

"Juice of the barley," guessed someone.  Again, no.

"Bedtime," said another.  "Toast and jam"; "railings"; "rainbows"; "scrap iron"; "tulip trees"; "coral reefs"; and so on, each child summoning up the most exotic thing he'd ever heard and retained in his memory, each, however, meeting with the same giggling nod of little Janie's head.

Then Andrew Bakon spoke up.  "I know," he said.  "Your favorite thing is Miss Iverson."

At last the secret was guessed, little Janie proudly shaking her head this time in the affirmative.

"Why that's very good, Andrew," exclaimed the teacher.  "And Miss Janie, I've never been more honored in all my life that I'm your very favorite.  You know why?"

"Why?" everyone asked with great eagerness.

"Because there's no higher honor for a teacher than to know she's important to her students.  That's why."

"And you are important," the students all agreed.  "Especially when you read us a story," one child saw fit to add, hopeful that the message would take.

"I will indeed read a story - but first I want to see if anyone else wishes to say what his favorite thing is."  No one responded right away, each child too eager for a story to even consider what was important to him or her personally.  Miss Iverson, however, was not all that eager for story time to begin: it was so rare when the children were as enthusiastic, as relaxed as they were today; she hated to break that magical spell by consigning them back to passivity - to simply listening while she did all the speaking. 

The moment, however, had come and gone; and there was nothing she could do to preserve it.  Best to leave it alone and get on with the story, she reasoned - but no, she felt she had to try just once more to distract them from the external world long enough to get them thinking and speaking about themselves.  It was odd, she thought, how in these slow children normalcy was inverted to where the external world - the real world, as it were - held domain over their minds while the world of introspection - the whole range of their own egos, in a manner of speaking - retained a status inferior to that outside world.  Their preferment lay in observing the world around them; they seemed curiously reticent, even ill at ease, with their own thoughts and impressions and activities - almost as if they were somehow ashamed of their minds.  Perhaps it must be so, she thought; after all, their minds were insufficient to grasp the great mysteries of reality - and looking around at everyone else grasping these concepts, or feigning to grasp them anyway, perhaps these children saw first hand the nature of their inferiority.  Yet all the more wonder they didn't reject this great mysterious world altogether in favor of some fantasy world of their own making.

"What about you Andrew?" Miss Iverson asked.  "What's your favorite thing in all the world?"

He smiled.  "A little girl I know," he replied.

"Ah, who is she?  Is she in this class?"

The boy nodded that she was not.  "Her name is Marsha," he said.

"You were sad about it, Andrew.  You should be happy."

"No, ma'am.  I can't be happy."

"Why?" Miss Iverson persisted, vaguely aware that nothing further should be said about the little girl Marsha, yet still determined to make this one final effort to draw her students' minds back out into the classroom.

"Because I'm not normal, and she is," Andrew replied softly.  "I can be her friend, but I can never hope to grow up and marry her.  I guess she'll marry Karl.  She won't want to but she will though.  He likes her too.  And he's my best friend.  He's everything I wish I were.  Except he's not me.  But I don't want to say any more now.  I'd rather hear a story."

"Alright," Miss Iverson said gently, "we'll have a story now.  And you'll all of you be surprised too.  You know why?"

"Why?" they all asked.

"Because it's one I've been promising to read you for a long time now - remember? as a special reward sometime when I thought you were all especially good students?  Well, this is the time.  Because you were excellent students today."

All the class cheered and thanked their teacher at this unprecedented good news.  In truth they had mostly given up ever being good enough students to have so special a story read to them.  Now all their innermost prayers had been answered; at least, those of their prayers which could ever be answered.

"I'll have to get the book from another class though," Miss Iverson explained.  "So I'm going to have to ask each and every one of you to be on your absolute best behavior while I'm gone.  Agreed?"

"Oh yes, yes, yes," they all agreed as heartily as they had it in them to agree.  For they were in seventh heaven, on a cloud of nine, these little retarded boys and girls.  They were in heaven, as no heaven in heaven or earth ever was, these children.  For they were this very day to receive the greatest of all the gifts God ever in His infinite love and goodness set upon this precious earth.  They were to have thrown into their midst the very golden apple of the goddess, the gift of gifts, that rarest of treasures, the ultimate holy of holies.  A book from another class.  That most desired of all things, actually for real a textbook used by the other classes - by the normal students.  For the fairest, this grand fine golden apple.  Reserved for only the fairest.

They were as quiet, as well behaved as any group of children ever hoped to be while their teacher was gone to secure the precious book of stories for them.  It seemed to them an eternity without stirring or even breathing they thought perhaps; still, they felt it their solemn duty not to move or speak for the duration.

At last Miss Iverson returned, the book couched lovingly under her arm.  No one actually cheered, not out loud anyway; but in their eyes and on their smiling lips there passed in review a great parade, as of a conquering hero's homecoming.  It was all they could do to subdue their rapture; but they felt they must, so they did.  But it was their own special moment of triumph, and each of them knew it and felt it.  Miss Iverson bowed solemnly to her class: she knew as well as any of these children how deeply this moment filled their hearts, and so she bowed, a formal acknowledgment of their triumph.  She held the book up for their inspection.

It was a small book, its size all the more dwarfed by its very significance.  A red cover, blue letters, some yellowish design: this was its physical existence.  Inside were the stories, the words and letters and phrases their unadorned containment.  Inside, too, was the great prize for which they waited: their prize, the story they were promised.  Their reward.

"Now I'll have to read right along," Miss Iverson spoke to her class, "because they have to have this book back shortly in Mrs. Jefferson's class.  In fact she's sending a little boy to get it when they're ready for it.  So once I begin reading, I won't have time to interrupt myself.  So I'll ask you all please to be as quiet and attentive as you possibly can.  And now, I shall begin."

She turned the book to the proper place and began immediately the reading of her story.

"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," Miss Iverson read to her awe struck students.  For nearly an hour she read, every word of the story, every inflection of each syllable, every bit of expression on her face a source of endless concern to the children listening.  They were all quickly aught up in the tale, they all remained enthralled till the very end.  It was as if something of reality were here occurring within their own lives: far more than simply a story told to them, it seemed to these children almost a story about themselves, an episode from their own existence - so much so that by story's end some of the children were unsure whether everything they had heard had been merely heard or had actually happened.  It seemed so real to them.  And it seemed so empty when it was over, so dreary to have to return to the everydayness of their lives.

Without a word, a little boy stole into this child's kingdom, so silently that no one at first noticed his presence.  Then a glorious smile overtook the face of Andrew Bakon: he saw the boy, recognized the thick black hair and dark black eyes, knew immediately it was his beloved friend Karl.  Everyone else noticed the smile on Andrew's face well before they noticed the little visitor.  At first it seemed to everyone that Andrew was radiantly beaming because of the story, then they saw his eyes, followed the gleam in those eyes as it trailed across the classroom to the door, then saw the real object of Andrew's delight.  Then they all smiled and were absolutely enraptured by the presence, almost as much so as was Andrew.  Except that where his joy was that of greeting his best friend, theirs was that of being honored by so great a gift as a visit from not only a normal student but no less than the brightest, most popular boy in the entire school.  What a truly magnificent day in their lives this was!  First a long promised and eagerly awaited story was told them, then a visit from the cream of the elite was bestowed upon them.  Truly magnificent.

Karl bowed courteously, like a true little gentleman - as of the diplomatic corps, perhaps.  Miss Iverson nodded a tiny bow in reply.  "Welcome to our class," she greeted the visitor.  "We're honored by a visit from Mrs. Jefferson's star pupil," she went on to say.

"Thank you," Karl Johnson Jr. replied befitting his station: a polite thank you, acknowledging the sentiment expressed rather than one of gratitude for a compliment.  "I came for the book," Karl explained graciously, but firmly.

"By all means," Miss Iverson responded, not quite sure whether she liked this boy or not.  "And please convey our utmost thanks to Mrs. Jefferson for her kindness - and to all your classmates for their generosity.  We've most dearly enjoyed the story."

"I'll tell them," Karl replied.  "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to return to my class.  Good day."

"Good day," Miss Iverson replied just as the boy turned and left.

Andrew Bakon was still smiling, though not once had his smile been acknowledged by his beloved friend.  Then the smile slowly faded, but the pleasant memory of having been visited in his own class by his best friend remained with him always.  "In my own land," the words inside his thoughts expressed silently.  Like in the land of the blind, he was reminded, notwithstanding an uneasiness connected with that particular reminiscence.

The class, in general, found disappointment attendant upon the visitor's leaving; the return to the normalcy of routine left them panting as it were after more excitement.  But they were above all other considerations steadfastly practical in their approach to things: they knew that this afternoon's wondrous chain of events was not to be and could never be the true substance of their lives, that it was over and might never come again.  They accepted with no less grace the inevitability of its disappearance from their lives than they had the marvelous spontaneity of its appearance.  It was a rare and magical phenomenon to them, like the coming of a great comet, a once in a lifetime occurrence.  And for it they were grateful - as only children deprived have in them to be.

The rest of their day was uneventful, these students of Miss Iverson's Special Education Class.  Not that they thought of it as uneventful; to them it was normal.  They were all retarded in one way or another, all were slow learners, some more severely retarded than others; so it was quite normal for their days to be uneventful: what might appear to other children as boring was sufficient to their expectations.  Not to say they had no dreams, for they did; but not for a moment did they mistake their dreams for possibility.  No, their dreams were more what other children might hope to happen, and they regarded them as such.  Even in their dreams they rarely did the things themselves; rather, they envisioned other children performing their fantasy chores, accomplishing their fantasy deeds, achieving their fantasy goals.  Even their dreams were retarded.

And if it sometimes seemed they spoke and acted with a sophistication, a style and grace apparently normal in every particular, that too was but an illusion of normalcy.  For they had already peaked as intelligent beings: they had reached their full potential and would remain at their present level for the rest of their lives.  They would never go farther.  Even their futures were retarded: no more than a distorted extension of the immediate, misshapen with an inordinately visible present, like the stereotype of a retarded child, the head unbecomingly large for the total form with no redeeming factor, therefore all the heavier for it.

And when they left their classroom to return to their natural habitat as members of the human race, they were without the security of a special place where they belonged, a place where they might feel at ease among their own kind, their only peers on the face of this earth.  So it was that not simply their brains, their dreams, their futures but their very lives were retarded.  Traditionally they were known as special children, that they might be branded forever as different.

"Hey Karl - Karl!" Andrew Bakon called out.

"What is it?" the little boy up ahead replied impatiently, stopping only long enough to say the words before continuing down the hallway.

"Karl, wait up - please," Andrew called out once more.

"I'll miss my bus," Karl replied.

Andrew hurried along so as to catch up with his friend.  "I wanted to ask you over to my house," Andrew explained when he had finally caught up.

"I don't want to go to your house," Karl pointed out.

"Then can I come over to your house?" Andrew asked.

"Well, I don't know.  Why do you want to?"

"So we can play together."

"Andy, I don't really like playing with you.  I feel funny playing with someone who's so much slower than I am."

"I know you do," Andrew answered softly, "that's why I don't ask very often."

"Well why today then?"

"Because it was such a beautiful day at school, and everything we did was so good.  And I just wanted to make the day perfect by being with you."

"Okay," the other little boy finally relented, turning to Andrew with a smile.

"Thanks," Andrew returned the smile, with added warmth and tenderness.

"Why do you like to be with me so much?" Karl asked.

"Because you're the best friend I've ever had, and I look up to you."

"You don't have much choice about looking up to me, Andy.  But I do like you too.  And I guess in a way you're my best friend too.  Hey, by the way, what story did Miss Iverson read you in class today?"

"'In the Land of the Blind.'  It was the best story I've ever heard.  It was kind of sad in a way.  But it's funny: I felt like the man who wasn't blind, even though I know I shouldn't have.  Oh God I loved that story!"

"Hey, I've got an idea!" exclaimed the Johnson boy.

"What is it?" asked Andrew, his tone of voice nearly as excited as his friend's.

"When we get to my house we'll play a game of Land of the Blind.  Doesn't that sound great?"

"It does sound great."

"And you'll be the blind, and I'll be the one who's not blind.  But hurry or we'll miss the bus."

Somehow it didn't quite work out to Karl Johnson's satisfaction, this game he'd invented.  It was supposed to enhance his dominance over his less gifted playmate; but somehow it didn't work out that way.  No matter how he switched the game around, he was never able to completely outsmart, subdue and dominate Andrew Bakon.  He always found himself lagging behind.  Maybe it was the game, he thought.

"Don't you want to play this anymore?" asked Andrew upon perceiving his friend's growing disinterest.  He knew why Karl had lost interest: he knew he had won too many rounds to suit Karl Johnson Jr.  He hadn't really tried to win, he just did.

"No," answered Karl, "we're finished with this game.  We'll play another now."

"Please, Karl, just one more."  Andrew's words were pleading, but his voice and demeanor were firm - as if he were pleading more for his friend's satisfaction than out of some feeling of subservience. 

"No," Karl replied a bit uncertainly.

"Just one more round, Karl," the gentleness of Andrew Bakon's words immediately had the desired effect on his friend.

"Alright," Karl assented reluctantly, a strange feeling creeping slowly through him - the feeling that perhaps it was not he who was the stronger of the two.  But that's ridiculous, he told himself: anyone can see it's I who dominate.  Anyone can see it.

Andrew was blindfolded for the game.  He was spun around a few times then led to a spot in the center of the living room, where he was made to be seated.  Karl then left the room and re-entered in silence, moving like a thief all about the room.  Finally he came to rest in a spot at the far end of the room, from where he called out to his playmate.

"Help!" he called, "help, I'm hurt.  Help me!"

Andrew arose, went over to where the cry had originated, his movements slow and cautious, his purpose twofold - to avoid hitting anything, and to keep himself alert in case of attack.  The game was one of deception, its object to outmaneuver the other contestant in order to subdue him.  It was done with a simple touch, the game really no more than a variant of blind man's bluff, the winner whoever first touched the other.

"Over here," Karl called, feigning to throw his voice.  Then "over here," throwing his voice again, and another pleading "help me, I'm hurt" in order to disarm his opponent with pity.

At last he was in position.  Andrew had been deceived into turning away from him just long enough for him to reach out and touch him.  He crept to within distance and slowly spread out his arm.  Just as he was about to tap Andrew on the shoulder, the boy turned toward him and in doing so inadvertently touched him on his hand.

"It's no fair!" shouted Karl Johnson Jr., cheated of victory again.  "It's no fair!  You don't play right!"

"I try to play by your rules," Andrew answered softly.  "I'm sorry, Karl.  I didn't know you were behind me.  I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter anyway, it's just a stupid old game.  I didn't really like it.  Besides, I'd rather play another one."

"What one is that?" asked Andrew.

"To build a cave - you know, like old crazy Miss Lucetta's cave.  Alright?  Do you want to?"

"Sure I want to," replied Andrew.  "What do we build it with?"

"I have blocks we can use," explained Karl.  "Here, I'll go get them, you wait for me."

Little Andrew Bakon spent his moments waiting for Karl's return in looking around Mrs. Aral Johnson's living room, looking at her bric-a-brac and the little picture groupings and the quaint furnishings.  He loved it here, he loved everything about this room.  He admired Mr. Aral Johnson for the mildness of her taste, for the gentle security of her home.  He felt no less at home here than in his own living room.  The loving warmth here embraced him like a kind word or like a hug or a friend's smile.

"Here I am," Karl yelled as he entered with an armful of wooden blocks.

In no time at all the two boys had managed to convert the center of Mrs. Aral Johnson's living room into an intricately structured cavern of sorts.  They divided it between them, each boy taking one end of the cave as his own.

"The south entrance is yours," Karl established the boundaries, "and the north entrance is mine.  Here," he went on to elaborate his instructions, taking two small toy people from his pocket, "this little man is me and this one will be you.  Now we'll set them at our own side of the cave and see who can claim the most territory."

"Why do we have to claim territory?" asked Andrew as he positioned his man at the south entrance.

"To see who's the best," replied Karl.

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it matters."


Karl shrugged.  "It's traditional," he pointed out, then went on to explain that "when there's something to be gained, and two people want it, then they have to compete until one of them wins it and the other loses.  And you'd rather win than lose, wouldn't you?"

"You lose either way," Andrew observed a bit sadly.

"Are you afraid of losing?"

"No, I'm not afraid."

"Then let's compete.  You see, we'll each maneuver our man through the tunnels, and whoever gets to the middle first wins and gets to kill the other man.  Okay?"

"Why kill him?" asked Andrew.

"Because it's the right of the winner to kill the loser."

It was an intriguing maze of tunnels through which each boy guided  his token, each moving ever nearer to the point designated as center of the cave.  The race was close, almost to a hair - but by just that single hair's width Andrew's man had won, had reached the center first.

"You win," announced Karl.  "But my man's going to challenge yours anyway.  To the death.  Now!" he shouted as he caused his man to lunge upon Andrew's man, knocking him from Andrew's grip.

"He's dead!" Karl shouted victoriously.  "I win!  My man owns all the cave!  My man's the winner!  I'm the winner!"

But it was a shallow victory, short lived, for the action of the lunge forward had precipitated a tremor in the blocks - perhaps Karl's hand had bumped the wall, perhaps the movement of Andrew's defeated man had done it: whichever the case, the whole cave came toppling down upon Karl's gallant victor, burying him under a heap of rubble.

The game was over.                                        

Chapter 10.  A Little Girl Has Certain Toys

"Now Jenny Marie, you don't have to sit there quite so critically, you know!  My, my but you are hard to please today.  Now if I hadn't read you a story at all, you'd have done just the same and you know it too!  You're a very ill-tempered young lady, if you were to ask me for my opinion.  For the life of me I don't know where you get it from either.  I've always tried to be correct with you.  Heaven knows I never punish you - and you certainly can be trying when you're a mind to!  Why you'd think for sure I didn't feed you or anything!  You really do embarrass me sometimes Jenny Marie - you do!  Why there's no telling what the neighbors might choose to think goes on when no one's looking.  It's really a frustrating experience for me!  And just look at you sitting there; why you never would change your expression no matter what I say or do, now would you?  I mean, I could probably spill milk all over your nice clean dress - or I could show you the wonders of the world - all seven of them: it would all be the same to you, you'd just sit there with that old critical eye of yours fixed upon me, the same as always no matter what.  Honestly Jenny Marie, I think if anything ever happened to me, nobody would care two hoots to look after you.  It really is unbecoming.  Now I'm going to try one more time reading you this story.  And maybe I'll let you look at the pictures as I read; and you can read along if you like, for that matter.  But of course you must be silent if you do or else I might lose my place.  And I can just imagine that critical eye of yours upon me if I did that!  Alright, now here's the Gorgon, and she's in her cave, and remember now that anyone who happens to come into her cave faces certain death - that's important, you have to remember that or else the story makes no sense at all.  That's funny, though, I never thought of it till just right now: but if everyone didn't face death then Persius would be the villain and the Gorgon would be the tragic victim.  If actually they were brought to life, let's say, instead of killed, then the cave would be a good cave.  So I've thought of an idea for you, Jenny Marie: it's how a thing is used tells us if it's good or bad.  Or is it the thing itself regardless how it's used?  Oh Jenny Marie, you're no help at all to me.  But I think it's the other way, though - that how it's used is what tells if it's good or not.  Well, since I can't be sure myself there's little point in my asking you to accept my idea.  Why wouldn't we both look silly if you believed me just on my say so then found out I'd been wrong?  People would think for sure you've got nothing but sawdust inside your head!"

Jenny Marie, of course, remained silent, as her nature so dictated.  But her playmate, little Marsha Carens, broke out into laughter at this last statement.  Marsha reached over and gently tapped Jenny Marie on the forehead, this action bringing on another round of giggles.  Then she returned to her comic book, assuring Jenny Marie she would not scold her any more no matter how critical her eyes became.

"Oh Jenny Marie, how I love to read!" announced Marsha Carens when she had finished the story of the Gorgon.  "And I like reading to you.  I don't know why, you're so much harder to please than my other little girls.  But I guess it makes me try harder.  And maybe because of that you seem more real to me than the others.  I don't know if its worth it though, you certainly are difficult.  Why you're just like Karl Johnson: nothing ever quite satisfies you.  Oh did I tell you, by the way?  Well, I thought not, but Karl is one of my two boy friends.  Only I'm not going to say who the other is though.  Especially the way you are: why you'd only laugh at me like the other girls do.  Oh don't you get me wrong, Miss Jenny Marie: I don't care a whit if they do laugh at me!  Well, alright, if you can be discreet about it, I'll tell you that maybe I do mind just a little.  But I like Andrew - oh, darn, I wasn't going to tell you who it was!  Well, now you'll just have to be that much more discreet, won't you?"

Little Marsha began giggling all over again, it seemed so preposterous worrying whether her favorite doll would keep her secrets.  She picked Jenny Marie up and hugged her tightly, sharing both her laughter and warmth with the little dour looking creature.

"Oh, you do make my days brighter, you old sourpuss!" Marsha exclaimed lovingly.  "If I had one wish in the whole world and only one and no more," she hastily announced, "it'd be that you come to life just like snapping my fingers!  Only if I really did have a wish I wouldn't have to snap my fingers to make it come true.  And you know Jenny Marie," she whispered, "I can't snap my fingers anyway."  She winked and giggled softly a bit.  Then she began thinking.

"Oh," she concluded aloud, "you know what?  I don't think I could do with just one wish after all.  You know why?  Well, I'll tell you.  It's because of Chrissy Ellen, that's why.  She's also my favorite, too.  And I'd have to have two wishes, one to make each of you come alive.  Unless, of course, I could do it all in one wish.  But I guess then I'd have to snap my fingers twice!  And we all know I can't even snap them at all!  Well, maybe if I worked on it real hard."

She winked over in the direction of Chrissy Ellen, her other favorite doll, and she began to giggle again.  "Of course," she advised herself and her dolls, as a kind of reminder, "Chrissy Ellen would be no help at all to me.  Why she giggles entirely too much.  No, it just wouldn't do to have her around, not if I were choosing wishes.  Of course, if I did have a real wish - to tell you young ladies the truth - I'm not really sure I would use it on my dolls.  I'm not sure of that at all."

The little girl had grown more serious while speaking these last few words, as if she had left her child's world to step into another - not necessarily a more realistic world but another world though, one more grown-up like perhaps.

"No, my ladies, I'm just not sure at all," she mused in an echo of a voice.  "You see, I might prefer a real person, not simply a doll - or two dolls - made real.  You see, what I mean is I wish I had a great wonderful playmate, sort of like myself only much more grown up.  Someone very lovely, and oh so very charming.  And so smart you could just come to her with almost any sort of problem and she'd always find a solution.  Like for instance - now you listen Jenny and Chrissy, this is very instructive: suppose all those computers where my daddy works in that big pyramid - suppose all of them, right down to the very last one - suppose they all broke (you know, like if daddy maybe hit them with his broom by accident) and they were all broken and everything, and just at that minute old Miss Lucetta walked in and told everybody we were at war because the bombs were attacked - no that's not right girls, I have it wrong: the bombs wouldn't be attacked, we would be attacked by the bombs - and suppose it really happened, and Andrew's father and Karl's father and Mr. McDermitt all had to figure out what to do.  Well, you just suppose all that if you can.  And just who do you imagine in your silly little girls' heads they'd all have to turn to for advice on what to do?  Well, that's where my imaginary friend would come in: she'd be so great and so smart she'd know exactly what to do, and so they'd turn to her, of course.  That's just the kind of person she is!  And she'd be so charming and so level headed when she advised them that they'd all want to marry her - and fight one another to the death over her!"

Here she paused a moment to glance over at her dolls.  "Just as I thought," she reprimanded, "you girls were not paying attention to me or you'd be very angry with me right now for that last thing I said.  I only threw it in to confirm my suspicion.  And I was oh so right too!  You girls simply weren't listening at all to me!  I'm very disappointed - and I don't mind if you know it either!  But I forgive you.  You're my only playmates, you know, so I don't dare be too harsh with you.  Of course that's only outside of school: I have lots of playmates there.  And I like them too, only I wish they were a little more...silly, like me.  Not that I'm all that silly, but it's kind of silly though, talking to dolls and all.  Oh, but I don't care really, I enjoy it.  But it would be nice if you could talk back once in a while though.  Then I wouldn't have to talk so much all the time.  And I bet if you girls put your minds to it you could come up with just the most interesting conversation anybody ever heard, too!  Why, just think, you could begin with telling me how it was being dolls all this time.  And you could describe your labor pains at birth, since after all you were born full grown young ladies you know.  Of course I simply couldn't permit such a topic of conversation if young men were present - I think that goes without saying.  But it certainly would be an interesting topic though.  And just think - best of all girls: you could tell me what you think of me!  I daresay you'd have me fairly trembling in my shoes at that.  But I wouldn't mind, not one little bit.  It's just I would hope you'd mention my good points as well as my bad.  Of course, Jenny Marie, as critical as you are, I doubt very much you've ever noticed anything but bad points.  And poor Chrissy Ellen, well I'm afraid she'd just giggle and giggle till we'd have to gag her.  But it would be fun though, wouldn't it?"

The little girl attempted a giggle herself, but only half heartedly.  She was growing bored, but not knowing quite what to do next, she didn't wish to bring this playtime to a close just yet.  She wished it were possible to entertain herself over an extended period with just her dolls; but they weren't real - and the mere act of assigning them real characteristics would not bring them any nearer to life than the manufacturer's molds had.  Their bodies were only plastic, their souls illusions: they were made in formulation of a given specification, they were simulations of living beings.  Not even the loneliness of a child could breach the gulf between idea and form - and there is no greater incentive to be found than this loneliness.

"I'll read," Marsha Carens said aloud, "but not to my dolls," she added.  "I'll just read silently.  And live in their world for awhile."

She read, silently, from her favorite book - "Alice In Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass."  She identified with the little Alice, in some ways even tried to pattern herself after the portrait drawn by Lewis Carroll.  But she knew that this, too, was no more real than were her dolls.  She liked to imagine that perhaps the little girl in the stories had once been real herself.  Still, the girl was no more: it saddened Marsha to think of this, for she would have given anything to have Alice for a real life playmate.  There was so fine a reality there, so quaint a charm, so genuine an affection: Alice was so absolutely Marsha's own ideal of what a little girl ought to be that it hurt her rather deeply to realize there was no such girl to be found anywhere.

"Well, if you ask me," she observed in a somewhat critical light, "Mr. Humpty Dumpty would have done a deal better if he'd been a little less theoretical."  Here she let out a giggle of self-satisfaction; she had only that week discovered the term theoretical, and already had found a use for it.  She wished so much there were someone to share her enjoyment with, her little sacred moment's worth of triumph over ignorance.

"I wish daddy were home," she complained.  "After all, he did teach me the word.  But I'll tell him this evening.  You know," she went on at random, speaking not even to her dolls, "I don't like that pyramid.  Daddy should quit working there.  He should be a tour guide somewhere. that's what he should do.  Or in a circus.  Of course, I don't much approve of wild animals as playmates.  I think for myself a dog or a cat should be enough for anyone  Well, I do think though that if the lions and tigers weren't so dangerous I could get used to their company in time.  But nothing bigger.  Of course, you couldn't name them names like you name your dog and cat.  Well, just think: what if you tried to name your tiger something like Spot - why he'd chew your ears off just for the insult!  Tigers are like that, they're very proud, and they'd never permit being confused with leopards.  But then how would they know leopards have spots?  I mean, they can see they're spots - but they can't possibly know that's what they're called, now could they?  Of course not!  Or a lion you wanted to name Fido: it's just too small a name for a lion.  If you had a lion, you'd be simply compelled to name her Regina - and she'd be a fool to accept less!  Unless, of course, it were Elsa, who's a very famous lion.  But then when you're famous you can be called anything you like and nobody would dare criticize you.  Oh, but this is tiresome, though.  I want to do something.  Like a picnic or something -"

Her eyes brightened like two beacons at the approach of dusk, her whole face being drawn as if by her eyes into a rapturous smile of delight.

"Of course!" she shouted, jumping up from her reading chair.  "Of course!  Of course!  Of course!  Oh girls, girls: guess what?  Oh but this is the best idea I've ever had in my whole life!  And guess what it is?  But you'd never guess - not in a million years!  But we are, all of us, going on a picnic!  A picnic!  Oh but this is wonderful!  A real honest to goodness picnic!  Just us girls: no grown-ups, no boys, just us little girls!  Think of it!  Just us - on a picnic!  Oh I can hardly wait!  Oh, oh, oh!  A picnic!"

And she began dancing and jumping and carrying on as if there were no tomorrow.  All around the room, singing "A picnic!  A picnic!  We're going on a picnic!"

"All of us - all of us are going!" she slowed her motion but not her enthusiasm as she elaborated on the plan.  "What we'll do is all of us get ourselves ready, in our best picnic dress, and we'll gather up just what food and drink we think we'll use, so there won't be anything left to waste, then we'll just go - just like that!"  She tried to snap her fingers, giggling at her failure to accomplish the feat, a brusque "some day" her only remark.

Immediately she began gathering together what she felt she'd need.  From the kitchen came bread and cheese and slices of ham, crackers, cookies, cans of carbonated beverages; from the pantry, napkins and paper plates and cups; a picnic basket from the basement - and that was it, except for collecting up the picnickers. 

"Jenny Marie and Chrissy Ellen of course," she listed the party aloud.  "And of course the twins and Teddy and Ann and Andy - well Andy's a boy, but we'll take him anyway: we can pretend he's my boyfriend the real Andy."  She stopped a moment to reflect.  "I know I promised we'd all go," she explained to her toys, "but that was the excitement talking.  I can't possibly carry all of you plus enough to feed us all.  I wish I could, but wishing's an empty basket without a bottom - that's what daddy always says.  So I can't wish you all along with me.  And I don't think I care too much to take the smallest of you anyway.  It's just too easy to get lost way out there in the wilderness.  And there could be wild animals, which I wouldn't care to expose some of you least ones to.  And then you might stray off and fall into the stream - oh yes, did I forget to tell you? we're going to Hobbes' Run for our picnic!  And that's just too wild and dangerous for some of you.  It's nature in the wild out there.  Beasts and everything abound.  Of course, I've never seen them.  But I'm told they're really there.  It takes a strong firm hand to subdue them.  And you very little children I don't think could manage.  The bigger ones will do alright enough though, I believe.  Well, I'm wasting your time and mine just standing here, so let's be off!  Everyone ready?  I hope so, because I certainly am!"

With this Marsha Carens bounded out of the house to get her little red wagon for transportation of the picnic and the picnic party.  In a flash everything had been arranged inside the wagon and Marsha stepped with great dignity to the head of the wagon, positioning her hand about the tongue's handle and thereby beginning her trek to Hobbes' Run.

"You do be careful now," she called back to her guests, "I should hate to dump anyone out by accident.  And no scrapping among you either!  It's a wild, free country we'll be entering soon.  It'll do us no earthly good to be bickering.  There's only one way to conduct ourselves - and that's with courtesy.  We're not a colony of ants, you know.  We're civilized human beings."

She looked back at her party and thought for a moment, then broke into laughter, finally turning back to resume the trek without saying a word more on the subject.  They're as human as they need to be, she thought, and far more civilized than plenty who're twice as human.

"On our right, mes amis," she began speaking as though she were a tour guide, but had to stop for a giggle or two.  "I learned that word," she explained.  It's called mes amis because it means my friends - and, if you please, I think I pronounce it superbly.  So, mes amis, if you'll be so good as to look over there, you'll find a cabbage patch owned by one Miss Lucetta Oldham.  It's one of the last objects of civilization before we enter the great wilderness.  Miss Lucetta once owned Hobbes' Run as well, but sold it for a park.  But don't be fooled by her generosity, for I'm told she released a whole parcel of wild beasts into the park once it was finished1  Doubtless we'll see them.  Undoubtedly.  But don't be frightened: there's nothing we can do about it, you know - not once we're there."

She had made herself sound very serious, even of a foreboding tone, as she spoke this warning, it being all she could do, of course, to suppress another round of giggles.  The movement toward her objective helped steady her excitement, helped put her mind on more serious and away from more frivolous attitudes; in short, the very act of motion made it easier to suppress her frolicking, accordingly her giggle - since the one led inevitably to the other, as its climactic release of playfulness.

Ever more dense and sprawling was the growth of nature as Marsha and her party neared Hobbes' Run.  Trees were not only more numerous but seemed to grow taller in close proximity to their peers; flowers were if anything more stunning for being unadorned with landscaping; great ferns and evergreens stood everywhere as though sentries set to protect the forest from unauthorized visitation: it was easy to walk beneath the trees, to step over top the flowers, but the sprawling plants made detour a first principle - detour, or complete avoidance, depending solely on the visitor's will and stamina.

Luckily a well defined path transversed this wilderness, shaded in places by thick locks of leaves, occasionally covered with overturned plants or fallen limbs; but, in the main, cleared and readily accessible.  Easily wide enough, tranquil enough to allow passage of this party of picnickers.

"Whose woods these are I do not know," Marsha Carens recited for the benefit of her guests, after which she explained the authorship "by one Mr. Robert Frost - but of course," she went on to note, "the poem was written for the winter time.  In fact, that's why I chose not to recite the whole poem verse by verse.  Not that I couldn't if I chose to.  Just that I didn't think it appropriate to do so.  Besides, mes amis, I do know whose woods they are: they belong to one Thaddeus Green.  He has a little nephew named Johnny.  But don't ask if he's my boyfriend, because he isn't.  Why, I barely know him.  Though he does have freckles, though not too many though.  And green eyes.  And reddish brown hair.  And that's all you need to know about him, since you probably won't get to meet him till he's nearly full grown.  That's just the way of things.  That's of course if we come away alive from Hobbes' Run!  It's a wild and free country, if you remember my telling you so.  They say there was once a very great civilization there, but as you can see it's returned to the state of nature.  That's the law of diminishing returns, you see."

Here she simply could not contain a giggle, but she quickly recovered her composure, pardoned herself, and proceeded onward.

"That hill there, you may care to know, was once Mount Everest!  Until the strip miners got to it, that is!  Well," she relented lest her guests think her a braggart, "it isn't really Mount Everest.  But it belongs on a parcel of land owned by his royal highness Professor Jorge Bakon: that's how it got nicknamed Mount Everest.  I personally would call it Mount Olympus - but who am I to buck the system?  Anyway, we're already past it so what does it matter anyway?  And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment we've all been waiting for: up just ahead, you will find on your right and on your left and as far as the eye can see, no less than the one and the only - Hobbes' Run!  The center of the universe!  The be all and end all!  The beginning and the end of all!  The home of the wildest and the freest of the wild and the free!  The place among places, the first among equals: Hobbes' Run.  State owned and operated for your pleasure, and convenience, sold at auction by the great and glorious Miss Lucetta Oldham, full of beasts and all manner of devilish creatures, even with ghosts and spies and communists.  Yet by far the gentlest most peaceful spot on the face of this good old earth!  And we're there!  Holy halleluiah we're there!  Praise the almighty!  We're there!"

Indeed they had arrived, a little plaque not ten feet beyond where they stood making it quite clear that this was indeed Hobbes' Run.  To be sure there was no mention of Miss Lucetta's strange beasts, or any warning concerning the wild and free nature of things about this park.  None of this, or any other information, was posted anywhere; just the one plaque stood as sole identification and definition, the name Hobbes' Run given a free hand to cover any possible number of concepts and precepts: an umbrella, this name, with anyone's guess what lay beneath.

Actually, it looked quite mild and placid, this Hobbes' Run - notwithstanding how it often is with the deceptiveness of appearances.  It was rather ordinary and it had the style and flavor of a park; there was an arranged, sort of manicured look to it.  Still, there could be seen in the distance a rather forbidding, thickly forested spread of landscape which could well be inhabited by beasts.

"There's little doubt about it, mes amis," Marsha Carens thoughtfully explained, "and I feel it my duty to give you a fair warning.  You see there, in that horrible forest?   Well, that's where she lives.  Who, you say?  Why, the terrible, dreaded Gorgon - that's who!  Oh, but she's a fiend though.  She'd turn you to stone as quick as look at you - or do I have it backwards?  Of course, you're all stuffed anyway, so it's highly doubtful you have anything to fear from her.  Actually, it's just me who's in such awful peril from her.  So I shall be quite on my guard.  In the meantime we'll go over there and establish our base camp, right there besides Hobbes' Run itself."

With this remark the little girl pulled her wagon another hundred or so yards, coming to stop beside a little stream, the Hobbes' Run after which the entire park had been named.

"At last," she signed a great sigh of relief.  "At long long last we're here.  Praise the lord and pass the biscuits."  She felt a giggle in order here, and so indulged herself, after which she felt a little foolish.  "We have no biscuits to pass," she noted with a little disgust, "as I forgot to bring them.  So bread will have to suffice.  Or cake - if this was the French Revolution.  But as this isn't, it won't."

She immediately began unloading the picnic wares from her wagon, first taking out a large blanket and spreading it on the ground almost to the stream's edge.  Next came the picnic basket, the eating utensils, and last of all the other members of her picnic party.

"I hope there are no broken bones," she admonished her guests, "because out here in this wilderness medical help is absolutely out of the question.  And so I must issue a stern warning to each and every one of you," she further explained upon removing each from the wagon and setting it on the blanket, "that you are absolutely - I repeat absolutely - not to go near the water!  I simply will not have any of you falling into Hobbes' Run.  First of all you're none of you equipped to go swimming, and second even if you were you'd drown and be carried off anyway because the currents here are the strongest, most treacherous of anyplace on this whole earth!  So you simply wouldn't stand a chance.  Before anyone could fetch you out you'd be in the Arctic Ocean under a polar ice cap - for this river goes straight to the North Pole.  But not back again," she lowered her voice to an ominous tone to make this last observation.  "So be careful of the water.  And keep a sharp eye out for the beasts that Miss Lucetta summoned up from her old mine to set out into this place.  But whatever you do, don't keep too sharp an eye out for the Gorgon - because you absolutely don't want to see her.  To look upon her, after all, is death.  So even if she comes and sits down with us and helps herself to our food we won't so much as notice her.  Oh I know it's rude just to ignore people, especially when they're practically taking the very food right out of your own mouth; but what choice have we?  Oh maybe we'll talk about her and say how awful and wicked and rude she can be with her sitting there listening to every word - but that's as far as it goes!  We do have our dignity, you know!   So let's eat, and drink, and make merry!  For tomorrow we may be bombed to smithereens!"

She giggled at this, but not too heartily, for even so carefree a child as she could not find much to joke about when it came to the subject of bombs.  It was the one subject about which the least said the better.

"Now, Jenny Marie, here's a slice of bread for you: see that you don't make a mess of yourself eating it, if you please.  And one for you Chrissy Ellen - and please try not to giggle too much: I don't relish having you choked at our picnic.  And here's one for each of the twins, and one for Teddy, and you too Anne and Andy.  We can only hope we're not overrun with ants!  But you know as well as I that where there's crumbs there will be ants.  And look, on this far corner I'll set out a slice of bread for the Gorgon - just in case.  Oh! did you see that bluebird?  It's descended from the bluebird of happiness, you know.  I think it was in the mid twentieth century it lived.  It seems to me they have a monument to it someplace, but I don't remember where.  Perhaps another planet.  You know, Uranus may have once set on this very plot," Marsha observed completely out of context, as if a sudden thought had necessitated a change of subject.  But then she found herself unable to add anything to this new subject, so it too was dropped.

"You know," she mused once again, "it would be so nice if you dolls could answer me back - then we'd have a real conversation.  Why, for example, you - especially you, Jenny Marie - might have said that Uranus certainly could not have ever set here, it's too big.  And I could have argued for it, and you against.  That would have been nice.  But as it is there's no one among you to challenge my statements, so I'm always right whether or not I really am or not.  I wish you all were real though.  In a way it would make me feel more real.  I kind of even wish the Gorgon was real, in a way.  Oh, I'd be just too terrified for words of course.  But it would be exciting though, you have to admit that.  But who knows? maybe old Miss Lucetta is actually the Gorgon, only she wears a nice pleasant mask so no one will ever see her.  Maybe she's just there waiting to be sure there's no Persius to come slay her; and once she's sure she'll take off her mask and show her real true self - and kill us all in doing so.  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  You see what I mean: the only chance to argue I ever get around here is if I take both sides and do all the arguing myself!  What a life, mes amis...what a life."

The afternoon had managed to wear on somehow; little Marsha Carens together with her party of picnic guests had managed to entertain themselves sufficiently not to have noticed the time passing.  Or perhaps a park like this is timeless in the sense that it dissipates a person's loneliness into its own: where nature dominates, there are fewer human landmarks; fewer reminders that millions, even billions, of other people are out there waiting if only one could find a way of attracting their attention; fewer faces to look at and wonder what it is that separates them from oneself - or why such separation must be at all.  Nature, in the wild - in its free state - offers a kind of spiritual compatibility to human aloneness, a soothing calm to anxiousness; it both quiets and comforts and still more: greatest of all, it provides solitary enjoyment, things to do that one can do all by oneself.

"Well, mes amis," Marsha announced along toward evening, "I think it's time for us to be returning to civilization, don't you?  And just don't any of you say no either, because to tell you the truth I'm getting just a little bit scared, even if there isn't a Gorgon loose here.  Although I'm not so sure now there isn't.  The darker it starts to get the less I'm sure of it.  And all these shadows, why my heavens! they each one begin looking like a monster or something.  And really, I don't think any of you would be much help to me if a monster did decide to come get us.  Oh I guess they'd go for you first because you're all smaller - but I don't know, they just might decide to get me first so's to get the biggest one out of the way first.  Anyway, I'm packing up and I'm leaving.  The  rest of you can do as you please - but I strongly advise you to come with me.  Hobbes' Run is no place to spend the night.  They say the ghosts of the past roam this place at night.  So they say."

In very little time all the picnic supplies had been gathered up and placed inside the wagon, followed in turn by each of the picnic guests.  The sky was trapped between sunset and night, the landscape was all hazy and blurred.  Images began to appear out of this ominous blend of sky and land.  Birds seemed to become bats, rabbits or squirrels in the underbrush sounded like timber wolves or mountain lions, even the very trees themselves began to morph right before Marsha Carens' eyes into great towering beasts - of the sort, perhaps, supposedly set out by Miss Lucetta Oldham.

And then it happened.  The wind picked up all at once and a clap of distant thunder echoed through Hobbes' Run.

"It's her!" cried the little girl, truly in a state of apprehension.  "The Gorgon," she repeated several times as she braced her guests in the wagon then grabbed hold  the handle to begin an excellent retreat.  In no time they had cleared the entrance to Hobbes' Run and were well out of danger, for as Marsha explained to her no doubt frightened guests, "everyone knows they don't dare go out of that place, in fear of their lives."  So they could slow down and catch their breath at last.

"Well thank God for that," Marsha panted out to her picnic guests.  "I thought for sure we were goners there for a minute.  You know how terrible that Gorgon can be when she wants to!  And I do hope you realize how fortunate we all are to have gotten out just in the nick of time.  And, believe me, it's straight home for us - and no dallying along the way either, because I'm just in the mood to leave any stragglers behind!"

Marsha lowered her voice a bit.  "I don't like to be frightened, mes amis.  I tell you this in the strictest confidence, of course.  It isn't becoming to put yourself in a situation where you end up getting scared - and all of it your own doing, too.  I mean, perhaps I may have exaggerated just a bit in my description of the wildness of Hobbes' Run.  But I certainly got paid back for it alright, didn't I?  You have to admit that!  Anyway, I refuse to submit to an inquisition.  And neither will I take an oath to the effect that there definitely are no beasts and no Gorgon back there.  For there might just be after all.  I wouldn't put it past Miss Lucetta to have done just as I said she did.  Putting beasts and Gorgons into picnic grounds is just her style.  So maybe I was right all along.  Anyway, we'll soon be home anyway so we don't need to worry about it any more.  I just hope you little ones don't have nightmares over this.  They say, you know, that if a doll ever gets a nightmare - which is rare, of course - but if it does, it simply goes through the most awful trauma.  It shakes and shivers and, eventually, I'm told, goes into convulsions and dies."

Here Marsha paused awhile as a thought came to her.  "Just like my mother did once," she said.  "And Andrew's mother too.  Both in the same week, mes amis.  It was some disease they caught - like an epidemic.  If that's really what it was, somehow I'm not sure.  Only I don't know the name of it, they never said that part.  I just remember that lots of people had it, and lots of them died.  And my and Andrew's mother both got it and died from it.  I wish they hadn't had that epidemic.  But if there's an epidemic that has your name on it, it's going to get you no matter what you do.  That's called fate, mes amis; and it's sort of like an epidemic itself when you think about it, too.  Because when fate comes to get you, it gets you.  And that's all there is to it.  That's why daddy says it's foolish to worry too much about things, or to wonder what you'll be when you grow up, or where you'll travel to, or if you'll be happy, or have a car - it doesn't matter, he says, because there's not a thing you can do about it anyway.  It's all taking place while you don't even know it.  Daddy says the future is forming right before your eyes and you don't even know it.  He told me about a man whose ideas he got all that from.  But I can't think what his name was - and I had it all memorized and everything, too.  But it was kind of like the planet, only not quite.  Which one though is the problem.  Not Jupiter, and not Neptune, but - oh how did that go now? daddy told me all that, it was mythology.  Let me see now: Jupiter and Neptune were brothers, and there was a third and that's the other planet I'm trying to think of.  Oh, darn, sometimes I think daddy told me too much, I can't even remember half of it.  Oh, I know, I remember!  Pluto - that's what it was: Pluto!  Only that's not the name of the man I'm trying to think of though.  But it was something like that though.  But it's not all that important though, really; don't you children trouble yourselves trying to think of it.  Whoever it is is probably dead now anyway.  An epidemic had hi name on it too, I guess.  Anyway, we're home now, children.  Time for bed time."

"Where on earth have you been?" asked Mr. German Carens of his daughter.  His tone was severe, but with concern its focal point.

"Oh daddy you wouldn't believe it," the little girl answered, her tone a curious mixture of enthusiasm and a plaintive, almost woeful sound.  "We have been frightened almost out of our senses," she went on to explain.  "See, we were on a picnic, then we heard strange noises - you know, like a Gorgon would make - and we had to run like the wind to get out of there.  Oh daddy, it was the experience of a lifetime!  You should have been there."

"Where though?  Where were you?"

"Hobbes' Run," the girl declared awesomely, her eyes growing very large and bright as she spoke, as if she were talking of some magical place never seen before and perhaps never again to be seen.

Mr. Carens shook his head thoughtfully.  "I haven't been there for years," he reflected.  "Not since your mother died.  What a beautiful place, though, as I recall.  And I do recall very well: I can see it in my mind right now.  You know how people say there was an aura about a particular place?  Well, there was an aura about that place.  It gave you a feeling.  Like being wild and free somehow, if just for a moment...the way some people actually are, though I could never be.  Like a sense of abandon.  But now just look what you've made me do.  I came to scold you for being out so late and here I end up regretting I wasn't there with you.  You rascal!  I don't know where you'll ever get any discipline, for it's certainly not from me!  But then, you never seemed to require discipline.  I guess you've always been too independent to need it.  I know lots would disagree with me, but I still maintain the more independent a child is the greater the degree of self-discipline.  Of course there's a world of difference between being independent and being headstrong: the one implies a certain care for reason, the other merely selfishness."

"Like Karl," Marsha noted.  "He's very selfish.  He doesn't think or care really about anyone but himself.  He always wants everyone to do just as he wants them to do.  Poor Andrew, he really gets pushed around.  And yet, you know it's funny, daddy, but it doesn't seem like Andrew's weaker than Karl or anything like that.  No, Andrew's actually quite independent  It' just that he so kind hearted toward everyone.  It would break his heart to hurt anyone.  So it's not that Karl really pushes him around - he lets Karl push him around.  Not because he's weak, but because he's so strong it doesn't hurt him.  Anyway I think that's it anyway.  But I guess time alone will tell - right daddy?"

"Absolutely.  Time will always tell.  It always has the final word to say on any subject."

"No, daddy, I didn't mean that time would actually do any talking.  I only meant that...that..." the little girl groped for some way to explain what she meant.

Mr. Carens smiled gratefully at his daughter's innocence, her quest for perfection.

"I know," he said softly.  "You meant that time will always be here, even after we're not.  And eventually - in time - whatever is going to happen will happen, and then we'll know where the truth lies.  Right?"

"Absolutely," Marsha answered brightly.  "That's exactly what I meant.  You know so much, daddy.  Why you know as much as Andrew's daddy and Karl's daddy and Mr. McDermitt all put together - and even with Miss Lucetta thrown in!"

"No," Mr. Carens shook his head.  "I don't know and don't want to know that much.  Nor am I certain anyone should.  At least, not as much as Professor Bakon seems to know.  Not if the result is an unquenchable thirst for the power with which to implement that knowledge.  He's so clear in what he sees.  There's no room in his vision for anyone else's opinion.  Only his own.  And don't kid yourself: he's every bit as dangerous now as when he had power.  It does no good to divest such a man of his authority, for so long as he breathes and there's any authority anywhere for the taking he'll find a way to get his hands on it.  He'll move heaven and earth if he has to - but he will manage one way or another to set up his own little kingdom somewhere, even if he has to travel to the ends of the earth to find the right place.  But mark my words: he will find that place, be it on the highest mountain or down in the deepest pit.  He'll find it - and more: he'll manage to find enough people to establish himself as their ruler.  How, I don't know, but I do know that somehow, somewhere he will manage to secure ample subjects to rule over.  Such is his nature, or that of any tyrant.  And all one can say is may God have mercy on us.  Because we'll need it."

"I know Chrissy Ellen and Jenny Marie need it alright!" interrupted Marsha.

"Who?" asked her father.

The little girl motioned to her little red wagon.  "Them," she noted.  "My two favorite toys in this whole universe.  This kingdom of our lord," she added solemnly.

Mr. Carens nodded to this sentiment.  "Then indeed they will need His mercy," he agreed.  "And all the rest of us as well.  But especially most favored things."


"Because they're always first to go, my precious.  In one way or another.  But don't take it too much to heart.  All things pass away eventually anyway.  We just try and make it till we've run out of time.  Sometimes it almost makes you feel all you're doing is just crawling on your belly to your grave - like a man in the desert to an oasis.  All he wants to do is reach that oasis and drink...to reach that grave and die.  It's not really much different than going to bed at night.  No matter how exciting your day's been, or how much you've tried to detain it - when it's time, you're more than happy to lie down.  Do you understand any of this, dear?"

Little Marsha Carens nodded that she did understand.  "You mean to say it's bedtime, right?" she asked.

Mr. Carens smiled.  "That's near enough," he replied.  "And hope the bedbugs don't bite," he added jokingly.

"If they're there, they will," observed Marsha stoically.  "It's their nature, they can't help it.  Just like Andrew's daddy can't help being a tyrant.  It's his nature.  I guess to him all the rest of us look foolish, huh daddy?"

"I suppose so, precious.  I guess we must look pretty small and puny to him.  Maybe that's why he thinks we all need him to tell us how to live.  There's no doubt: he knows how to take charge and make things happen alright.  But you know something, precious?  I wonder sometimes just how badly do we really need it?  How badly do we really need for someone to make things happen?  And even if we do need it - even if our very lives depend on it - can we afford the price for it?  Is it worth it to live in this grand and glorious world they alone can create if to do so we must accept their word for everything - if we must abide by their rules - if we must honor their wishes above our own:  if we must ourselves become a mere creation of theirs?  What do you think, precious: is it worth it or not?"

The little girl dozed off as she sat listening to her father.  Nature had kindly permitted her to put off making the decision.  Her childhood had been granted a reprieve, another and perhaps the most loving of all her toys.

Chapter 11.  The Alchemist's Stone

"I don't think anyone in our society can ever fully appreciate what it means to be living on this planet.  We assume way too much, of ourselves and of our environment.  History refutes us at every turn.  The greatest civilizations of the past have held firm to immutable values and standards - for better or worse they've held to them.  In the face of anger, of bitter frustration, of unbearable pain they refused to vary from their established patterns.  Never mind the inconvenience to the masses, never mind the cries for ever greater and senselessly greater freedom, never mind the oppression essential to keeping the order - never mind any of it: they knew well the foundations upon which their civilization, all civilization for that matter - was based.  They knew the deadly menace of giving way first to one then another demand then ever increasing demands.  They knew the first principle of preserving theirs or any society: hold firm, in the face of even the most heart rending supplications or the most vigorous demands.  Otherwise there is no chance of preservation.  It's the first compromise that's easiest to make, for it seems so innocent - but it's that same benign beginning which allows, indeed compels, the eventual inundation of all values and standards: of all rules.  Never forget that we humans are also animals, subject to the same inborn hierarchy, the same social structuring as any other creature on this planet.  Freedom is a condition indigenous to individuals alone, having nothing to do with societies.  Societies function, they aren't free or anything else of a personal quality.  And the freedom of individuals must inevitably erode the very foundation of society, which put quite simply is the submission of the individual to that larger body of which he is but a part.  The more complete the submission, the more successful the society.  Period.  And if in your state of blind rebellion against the great traditions of humanity you happen to scream that these were slave societies - if so, then rest assured they were not.  At no time were any of these societies slaves - that is to say, they were not the slaves of the people who comprised them.  If you wish to assert that the people were slaves of their society, you may please to do so.  It is, after all, merely a state of mind, no more than that.  If you think you're a slave, then I suppose you are.  But a slave to your own misguided thoughts, though,.  As to society, you're not a slave: you're a member.  You have a function to perform in its service; you must consent to perform it.  Otherwise you're of no value to your society.  You should therefore be eliminated.  Harsh, you think?  No, not really.  Why should your society take the time and effort to protect and preserve your existence if you give nothing in return?  Or perhaps you elect to take the position you'd do better to be off somewhere by yourself?  So tell me this: where would you acquire your sense of identity as a human being?  who or what would you identify with?  The trees, that you would attempt to take root to a single spot of ground? the birds, that you would spread you arms in simulated flight? or perhaps the groundhog, with whom you would burrow of a winter's eve? or maybe the flowers, alongside whom you would entice the bees to your nectar that your seed might be strewn before the winds? or the sky, the sun - what?  How would you do it, my thoughtless rebels?  How?  Or do you imagine that even without society to guide your development you would still come out the same - as a human, that is?  Do you really so imagine?  If so, there is nothing more to be said to you.  Or of you.  Your mind is but as an albatross if it leads you in that direction.  Not a beacon to guide you through the chaos of reality, but a superstitious curse set about your throat showing you ought but decay and doom.  A mind is too fragile and too important to be left to its own devices.  When we have before us the truths and the means for their definition and dissemination throughout society - when right before us is the proper system all laid out and waiting for our compliance - when we have in our grasp the means to perpetuate our most cherished traditions and values, then how dare we permit the thoughtless abandoning of our minds, the relegation of our precious development to the hit or miss of our own devices?  How in the name of God dare we!  How dare we!"

These statements were delivered by Professor Jorge Bakon before his Philosophy class, on a Monday morning in early spring.  The Professor wore a brown suit of exceptional tailoring, replete with matching accessories.  He happened to gaze out the window as he was speaking.  It's growing lovely, he thought to himself.  Spring, he mused as he spoke, ah glorious spring.  It was little trouble to him to let his thoughts wander like this while speaking of other things: his concentration was such that it could be easily divided with nothing detracted from either direction of its focus.  To all appearances he was totally absorbed in his lecture; he alone knew his deepest thoughts to be elsewhere.

Evelyn - dearest Evelyn - how you would have loved it here today, he thought.  And yet it's I, who never understood the wonder of spring till we met, who's here year after year to watch each new year begin.  When such ironies abound, how can I take seriously the cry that we are free agents in our own behalf?  Or that we are masters of our own destinies?  Where in nature does it say that?  Where in the arbitrary dictates of life and death do we find evidence of a rational, wholesome, human oriented way of life?  Where is humanity in fact to be found at all in these whims and subtleties of existence?  It contradicts everything we fumble around inside our heads seeking to believe.  Yet at heart each of us knows that what we pretend to believe is entirely a fabrication of our reluctance to admit the omnipotence of reality, our inevitable submission to it.  We all know that no matter how we live, or by what rules of conduct, the end result will always be the same.  So just because it's hard for most of us to admit it, there's still insufficient reason to break our backs attempting to practice our self deluded ideas.  We must submit to whatever dictates our society proscribes, whether we feel liberated or enslaved by them.  Since we cannot extend our own existences so much as a second beyond the limits fate has established for us, we must look to our society as the only source of continuity between our lives and immortality.  Even society cannot endure forever, but at least it provides a foothold on eternity - in a way that even our children cannot: they too can become lost along the way, but society is less likely to whither before its flowering.  And like the spring, society, with all its standards and values and traditions, renews constantly the living processes.  Every green bud on every tree is as a tradition preserved through even the deepest suspension against the time it might once again blossom forth into a magnificent living system of thought and action.  How remiss we should be were we to prune away these precious buds.  How terribly, terribly remiss.  My dearest, dearest Evelyn.  How terribly remiss.

There was a pause in Professor Bakon's thoughts, just as his words had ended in a pause.  He noticed one bud of one tree in particular, a small malformed bud on a huge oak tree.  It'll never open, he observed,  Still, it shouldn't be cast aside: let the tree keep it, feed and shelter it till in time it withers and falls.  It won't harm the tree a bit.  Besides, the bud is no more at fault than the tree.  It was not meant for life, except for its few moments' observation of the life around it.

"The history of Western Philosophy is but a footnote to Plate," Bakon observed to his class.  "It isn't an idle statement," he went on to observe.  "If anything it's one of the few intelligible statements ever made by the human race.  And frankly, I hardly give them credit for having said it.  It's so uncharacteristic of our species.  But I'll have to assume it actually was said by us.  It dumbfounds me though."

The members of the class chuckled mildly over this assessment, a little unsure though if they should have expressed themselves at all, for while an informality prevailed in Professor Bakon's classes there was a sense of unchallengeable hierarchy here.  Professor Bakon was after all who he was - one of the most influential men in the nation, and while he had been deposed of official power he was nevertheless an extremely powerful man in more subtle, behind the scenes ways.  It was well known that though the men at the top of government were indisposed toward him, there were still a myriad of influential men just below the top who supported and in effect obeyed him.  In point of fact it was an open secret that this very class, where ostensibly philosophy was taught, was in reality a day by day communication to his supporters - his operatives, as it were.  This accounted for at least the style of his presentation if not the actual choice of material presented to his class.  Bit by bit a kind of plan of action was being devised before these philosophy students to be hopefully assembled at some unspecified later date by the Professor and his operatives.  The students, through the omniscience of numerous grapevines, had surmised as much, knew accordingly they were as much guinea pigs or more appropriately a cover for these activities as students; and therefore were uncertain whether to act like students or merely sit out the ruse neither ingesting the material nor taking active participation in the classroom qua the classroom that in fact it was not.  All of which created in them near perfect checks on their activities while in class - even down to so small a thing as chuckling over something which might chance to amuse them.

"Of course I've said this before," the Professor pointed out, "and no doubt I'll say it again.  I have an unending admiration for and indeed an almost childlike fascination with Plato.  His philosophy is quite simply the be all and the end all so far as the entire range of human knowledge goes.  There is nothing he omitted which you need ever trouble yourself learning.  You'll find it of no more use to you than he found it to be.  Nor need you despair if you encounter some piece of information which seems to have escaped his attention yet has a time honored value: your despair would be misplaced, for I assure you if you look with ample discretion you'll find that in fact he did not overlook it at all, for its seeds will be there somewhere.  My dear students, take it from me: it has all been said and done before.  All we do is apply the formulas discerned by Plato; we embellish his system with our own small discernments.  At best, we elaborate upon his ideas, at the least we take them verbatim in application to our own peculiar situation.  But at any rate, they are his ideas, not ours.  The debt is ours, for using his ideas - not his for our having used them.  He owes us nothing, and we owe him nothing less than the most zealously strict loyalty to those ideas without which we couldn't maintain our civilization for even a day.  And we owe him another debt which we share in common with ourselves - we owe it to ourselves as well as to him: and that's survival, our survival, with it the survival of our institutions, our traditions, our values and standards and our rules of conduct.  At any price, dear students: any price.  Even if it means the loss of what we term personal liberty - which must inevitably be lost anyway as it is a non-concept, having no tangible link to the rest of the universe, let alone to this planet and that which we call nature.  Freedom, in the final analysis, is eminently suited to sacrifice.  Society is not, and can never be.  For while we still have survival without freedom, we have nothing without a strong social order.  It's that simple.  And if survival means leaving this world for another, so be that too!"                        

"Of course, I'm not talking about space exploration, interplanetary travel, that sort of thing," the Professor pointed out to his students.  "What I am talking about, though," he explained, "is an escape from what I perceive to be impending doom.  We've never been wholly free of the threat of invasion, we just imagined we were.  Plausible enough, I suppose - until the nuclear age began.  From then on we were as vulnerable as anyone else on the planet.  We all know it, but we hide that knowledge from ourselves.  I'm simply one who doesn't hide it, and never has, and never will.  I believe in facing reality, even if it means foreseeing our inevitable destruction.  But then, I don't want to see our society destroyed.  I want it to survive - but without the knowledge of its terrible fragility, and of its ultimate dissolution at the hands of invaders, there can be no hope of survival.  For without such knowledge there is no chance of protecting ourselves against what must ensue.  It's for this reason and for no other that I've always warned of the dangers, always spoken in behalf of our society, always pressured and even begged for the establishment of measures geared to sustaining our society when its end draws near.  Another world, to which we can move our world - our society, that is.  This has been my ambition as long as I can remember; and I shall continue to work for its attainment.  If I'm wrong, we've lost nothing: we'll still have at our disposal the means of survival should they be needed.  But as I perceive no error in my thinking, all the more's the reason for creating just such a world as I envision - this other world of which I speak constantly.  A world beneath our own.  As simple as that.  A gigantic bomb shelter.  Ready and waiting for us when its needed - or for those of us with the courage and the scope of vision to avail ourselves of it. And there is, dear students, just such a place.  For years I have been working to establish this alternate to our world.  For months, in fact, I have been preparing the place.  Slowly, step by careful step this world is being made ready for us.  It's dimensions are staggering.  Undoubtedly it's the largest network of underground caverns anywhere on this earth.  It consists of natural caves as well as man-made formations, specifically mines.  And of these the largest and greatest is the old platinum mine.  For numerous generations it's been in the hands of two of our greatest families - the Oldhams and the Timesons.  I'm sure this is no more than history for most of you students; it's hardly new information.  Nor is it new that the two families have all but died out, a single member surviving as monument to both.  All of you know of whom I speak.  Miss Lucetta Oldham has become a kind of living legend.  The last, and perhaps greatest, of her line.  Of her dynasty.  Like the Chinese empress Tsu Hzi - the Old Buddha.  After her, oblivion.  But her name will endure through her invaluable contribution to her society.  The Old-Times mine, the final and connecting link in the vast underground network I've spent my lifetime creating.  It's now part of it, this mine.  The remains of Miss Lucetta's world shall be the foundation of our new world.  Her gift - her legacy - shall be our birthright.  What was hers, shall be our children's.  What has passed from her hands to ours shall pass endlessly from one generation to the next as our society endures endlessly.  In a new world.  A world gentle and hopeful.  A still world, waiting since the birth of our planet to become the final repository of that planet.  And it's now within our reach.  At long last within reach."

My dearest, dearest Evelyn: within reach.  Though I'm afraid you wouldn't have liked it.  You'd never have gotten used to being below ground.  You couldn't imagine not seeing the sun, could you?  Or feeling the wind against you.  But there'll be air and light; not in the same order and degree, but we'll have them.  The truth is it won't be easy for anyone, but in time we'll get used  to it.  We'll come to look upon our artificial lighting every bit as enthusiastically as we now look upon the sunlight, or even the moonlight.  And we'll have both, in our own way.  The lighting won't be constant; we'll simulate night as well as day.  The idea itself won't be lost to us - just the form it takes will be changed.  Besides, the form can never be exactly the same as the idea it manifests.  We after all have all manner of compromise as it is.  It's seldom completely sunny, or completely dark at night.  We have clouds, we have starlight, we have the reflected light of cities which lights up the sky as though it were a full moon.  No, there won't be that much difference, not in essence.  But of all the people in this world, you're the one I'd never have convinced.  You'd never have left this world for mine.  I'd have had to endure it alone: endure, if you were alive but not with me; but merely accept, since I don't have you anyway.  It's easy to accept, when you live for yourself and no one else.  I suppose, Evelyn, it will be agony for these people to accustom themselves to my world.  Some, I suppose, will leave loved ones behind, as I would have had to leave you.  For them it will be hard.  They're the ones who'll have to endure, the ones who'll never be truly able to accept.  It's with them my greatest sympathy lies.  But it's of slight consequence, though.  Society must go on.  Every price that must be paid toward that end must be paid, every sacrifice required must meet its requirement.  Whatever must be endured must be endured - so that society may endure.  There's no other way.  No matter how it offends our sensibilities, or hurts our pride - regardless what the practical consequences - it still remains that men are expendable, society and civilization are not.  This is the sum total and the ultimate meaning of life.  There is nothing else.

"Some ask what the meaning of life is.  As if such a question itself has any meaning or any place in society.  Why should there have to be a meaning, in the context at least that it's generally used?  And who could give it?  And why should they: if there were such a meaning it would be well beyond the majority to comprehend it anyway, so why cast such pearls before such swine?  But, no, the truth of the matter is that no such meaning does or can exist: as I said, not within the context it's generally put.  That is, in connection with the individual as regards his own existence within the confines of himself.  No, don't look for meaning there; there is none  But if you look outside yourself, you'll find a sort of a meaning.  Not perhaps one you'd like - but the only one there is.  Society.  Simply look around you, then look no farther.  For there's your 'meaning,' your justification as it were.  That's why you are: it may not be why you were conceived and born, not in the immediate sense; but it's why you are, now that you're here.  You live so that your society may live.  And if you inquire as to the job of your leaders, that too is simple.  Your leaders have but one task: that of devising a system whereby a wholesome working relationship can exist between you and your society.  Or to put it another way, your leaders must determine where and how you best fit into society, and place you there - and make sure you stay, number one, and number two that your society goes along smoothly with each person exactly where he's supposed to be.  Of course, once everyone is where they belong, everything should go quite smoothly.  In theory at least.  In practice - well, life is life, humans are imperfect, mistakes are possible, so a cadre of leaders must always be there, on the alert for signs of disharmony.  We, all of us, help run the machinery; but none of us should get caught in the mechanism itself - and if we do, through error or whatever reason, there must be someone present to ensure the mechanism survives, regardless the cost to whomever was unfortunate enough to clog the mechanism.  Society must go on, its institutions must go on: the machine is our only allegiance.  We, as humans, must perish sooner or later anyway: the machinery cannot stop for us.  If we get in its way, we must pay the price, be that maiming or even death itself.  There's no other way, no point of compromise.  Come hell or high water."

"Or bombs!" one of the students whispered not dreaming his voice could carry enough to be audible up front.

"Or bombs," Professor Bakon echoed, bowing ever so slightly in the student's direction, as if to indicate recognition of the voice as well as having heard it.  "A good point too," he went on to note.  "I'm rather pleased it was brought up, in fact.  The purely theoretical gets a bit stale after it sits too long upon an audience.  It's good to break it up here and there with pieces from the real, everyday world.  And you can't get much more real - indeed, much more everyday, when you think about it - than bombs.  So let's have a go at it.  A question and answer session, perhaps a general discussion.  But I don't debate," the Professor added with a wink, as if sharing an old joke with his class, "I gave that up long ago.  Approximately the same time I declared myself a philosopher.  So with that in mind, first question!"

"How do you build a bomb?" someone asked.

"Lots of spit," the Professor answered.  "Ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.  I guess with a greater percentage of inspiration we might have had the foresight to can the whole damned thing!  But no point crying; they're here.  Bombs away!"

"Then how do you build a better bomb?" another asked.

"All a matter of ratio, my lad.  With each new bomb increase the proportion of perspiration to inspiration - and it's guaranteed to be a better one!  That is, if destructiveness is you goal.  And it usually is."

"How do we stop building bombs?" a young lady asked.

"We don't.  Nor can we, now that they've gotten started.  At least, not as long as we inhabit the present world.  It's unsafe to walk the streets at night without that great arsenal of bombs watching over us.  But in my world, ladies and gentlemen, I assure you there'll be no bombs.  Nuclear energy, yes - but in the service of society, not a constant threat to it.  In my world."

"Will you rule, in your world?" was timidly asked, at no little anxiousness to the querent.

"I'll govern, of course," replied Professor Bakon.  He was silent for awhile, as if caught up momentarily in thoughts apart from the business at hand.  And while he mused, the student who had posed the question sat more anxiously than ever, fearful he had asked the wrong question.  But he has no power anymore, the poor student kept reminding himself over and over again, never once believing it.

"It all derives from nature," Bakon began explaining in a musing kind of voice.  "Oh, and relax please," he instructed the student whose fretfulness he had detected, "I'm not offended at your question.  If anything, I'm flattered.  But let me explain something to you - to all of you.  It's not good enough simply to say I shall govern; not enough even to assert my fitness to rule; not even enough to point out by way of justification the need for strong leadership - none of this is sufficient.  It requires still another step; and that step is the link with nature, by implication with existence itself.  Now, nature is a cruel mistress: we all know it.  But the thing we do wrong is we try to get around it.  And you can't.  It's too wise, too high - and so on.  We have to accept it and to live within its confines.  It is the be all and the end all.  Nor is it something that applies only to us.  It's visible everywhere within the animal kingdom.  The social order.  It is the first principle of life on earth.  And that implies a hierarchy.  And that further implies inequality among the species.  Some are better, fitter at survival and reproduction than others.  They are better: like it or not ladies and gentlemen, they are better.  And, as a consequence of this inherent disparity among the species, some necessarily will and in fact must dominate others.  It's that simple.  Domination is the hand maiden of the natural order of things.  Lack of domination - or, if you will, equality - is an unnatural perversion of the order of things.  Now that's a fact: you can see it played out in virtually every species with a group instinct.  And we are such a species."

"Then we're just here to breed," a student observed.

"We're just here to breed, absolutely," answered Bakon.  "And to preserve our breeding grounds, which rather than actual territory per se is the social fabric as it manifests itself in any given territory.  There alone we differ from most other species.  We can abstract, so we can deal with an abstract territory; namely, society."

"But what causes some men to dominate - why do they want to?"

"They have no choice: they are born to," replied Bakon.  "It is their endowment from nature that, being the strongest and best, they desire the practical manifestation of their superiority, that is to say the domination over their inferiors.  Did it ever occur to you that nature gives nothing idly or at whim?  Nature endows some men more greatly than others because nature intends that some men must dominate others and that these select few are the ones given that function to carry out.  And the same may be said for weak men: it is their function to submit and to serve: that's why they were given no superior attributes.  And each man contributes according to his own particular degree and combination of attributes.  The highest being those rare few with intellectual, physical and emotional superiority.  The lowest, those most lacking these qualities."

"But does that make them a better person, just because nature was kinder to them?"

"Precisely, my dear young lady: that indeed makes them a better person."

"But you've overlooked something," the young lady continued on to say.

"I've overlooked nothing," Bakon said with a smile.

"Yes you have: everything you've said applies only to men, not to women.  It's men who seek to dominate, not women."

"Absolutely correct, my dear.  It does apply primarily to men.  As, please note, it so applies throughout the animal kingdom.  Domination is almost exclusively a function of the male.  The drive to dominate is a male drive."

"Some say it's a neurotic drive," the young lady insisted.

"And I quite agree.  In theory, anyway.  It's true though: more often - much more often - the male of the species is the more neurotic.  He has far greater pressures on him.  He must function on a more active, consequently on a more competitive level, hence he must attempt domination of other males.  How else can he be sure of his success?  The failures of course are those who cannot dominate.  Theirs is the lot of submission.  They're second rate among the species.,  Most often they never breed.  That too is their fate."

"But if breeding is our highest purpose - then what of our standards?  Shouldn't we value a society overpopulated to one, say, like ours?"

Bakon nodded in the affirmative.

"But then you encourage famine and pestilence!  That's hardly an ideal to strive for is it?"

Bakon grinned condescendingly.  "Nature does not consider such refinements," he explained patiently.  "It may appear irrational to us, but it's nature's best means of insuring an acceptable level of population.  We're not unique.  You see the same dynamic with nearly every abundantly prolific species.  They over breed, then the weak die out.  This is nature's way.  How can we improve on it - why should we try?  We must leave nature alone to handle this planet.  Let them eat cake.  Who cares anyway?  Only the weak will perish.  Nature goes on without them.  As I said, a cruel mistress indeed!"

"Will it be like that in your world?" a rather timid sounding voice asked.

"My world will be different only in its location.  Everything else will remain the same.  Nature is not to be abandoned altogether.  Now I should point out, however, that we will be dealing with a limited quantity of the mechanisms of survival.  That is, space, food, water, so on.  Not that it's unlimited here either, but I'm sure you can appreciate how vastly less abundant such things will be in the new world.  So we will have to adapt, of course, and in so doing we will tend to go easy in the strain we put on our resources.  But nature's laws will have to be obeyed just as will society's.  In my world."

"You say we'll get away from bombs in your world?"

"That's correct," replied Bakon.

"Yet everything you've said has tended to justify disaster and destruction - why doesn't that apply also to bombs?  Why should we seek at all to escape our bombs?"

"Because they don't suit," answered Bakon cryptically.

"They don't suit?" echoed the young man incredulously.

"Bakon nodded.  "They're of a different order," he explained.  "They rank differently within the existential hierarchy.  They are, in a word, very much lower down on the scale than are strictly natural phenomena.  Of course you might wish to assert that the building and the detonation of nuclear devices is no less a product of the natural order - of natural selection - than is over breeding and the subsequent famine and pestilence.  You might wish to so declare.  But you'd be wrong, I'm afraid.  You see, over breeding is the exaggeration of a natural - an institutional, if you will - function.  Technology is not.  It is artificial, it is entirely human in aspect: in a word, it is outside the mainstream of nature's direct control of man as one of its species of animals.  Technology is inorganic.  Bombs are deployed as much to thwart nature's scheme as to carry out that scheme.  Not to mention the cataclysmic damage they can reap upon nature herself, totally disrupting natural cycles and rhythms it has taken nature eons to synthesize from the conditions of existence upon this planet.  No, bombs simply do not suit, I'm afraid."

"I wonder though," suggested another young man, half musing to himself, "if nature's so cruel, if her ways create such chaos for mankind, then might it not be good riddance to blast this cruel mistress to kingdom come?  With so ugly a price demanded of us by nature for the privilege of living here in her precious little planet, doesn't it seem poetically just at least that in our turn we should disrupt these very cycles and rhythms that have in effect spurred and baited us on toward building always bigger and better weapons of self destruction?  And isn't it that very cruelty forced upon us by nature that has made us miserable wretches bent on self destruction?  So if we have to go anyway, why shouldn't we take nature with us?  What could be more fair?"

Bakon simply shook his head.  "There are times" he droned menacingly, "when one overstates his case.  It becomes necessary to correct him at such times.  And this is one of those times.  I shall find it extremely difficult to believe that anyone who could harbor such malignant thoughts toward nature could ever develop what I would call the philosophic spirit.  It's an attitude, this spirit, a way of thinking, having several component parts - one of which, a very important one of which, is an element of resignation toward one's fate in life, as well as toward the fate of humankind itself.  I strongly suggest, young man, that you strive to develop such an attitude.  It's in my best interest, your best interest, this class's best interest.  And in accordance with all of our best interests, I shall be forced to request your dismissal from this class should I discern any trace of malignancy given a reasonable period of time, say a week hence.  And don't imagine I will have forgotten all this within the week, for I won't.  Robert, isn't it?" Bakon asked.

The young man nodded that that was his name.

"Yes I thought so.  Robert Jeffries.  Your father was an associate of mine.  A good man.  I hope you can fill his shoes some day.  He has an excellent position.  You too some day can have such a position.  However, it will be very difficult to attain it without the sanctioning effect of a degree from this college.  And I'm quite afraid that a dismissal from my class would pretty well remove you from the list of candidates for graduation come this June.  Not that I wish to alarm you unduly.  But do please give it some thought though, won't you?  It's just one of our traditions, one of our little quirks, that we like our protégés to think as we think.  A harmless tradition, actually.  But one we cherish nonetheless.  Greatly."

"But what good to philosophy is a mind that compromises?" the poor student, Robert Jeffries, tried desperately to protest as tears began filling his eyes and as an ominous feeling began to creep down toward his stomach - the feeling, almost the certainty, that he had to change his professor's mind, for otherwise, he knew, he would compromise his own mind rather than risk dismissal.  And he knew, at rock bottom, that it was all over for him: that nothing could change Professor Bakon's mind.  "What good is it?" he repeated in a broken voice.

Bakon spread his hands in a gesture which said sorry kid, my hands are tied.  "What good is a mind that does not compromise?" Bakon asked in reply, then added, as if sliding a knife into the student's back, "to anyone."

The boy turned away and wept noiselessly for a few minutes, a quiet, polite sort of despair, so as not to disturb anyone.  He knew what he must do.  He'd had a puppy once that had had to be put to sleep, it was a wild creature, it couldn't adapt to the stringent order of the boy's household, so his father had the dog killed.  Now the boy's thoughts and ideas, too wild and free to adapt to the stringent philosophy of Professor Jorge Bakon - now they would have to be put to sleep, the contents of Robert Jeffries' mind.  But he didn't wish to embarrass anyone by too vigorous a display of heartbreak; just a sensible little flitter of emotion, then a sensible little resignation.  So quiet, so thoughtfully polite.  A strange sort of alchemy, the boy thought - then put that thought too to sleep, not knowing what to think, until such time as the Professor had transmuted all his thoughts - or rather, the raw energy from which his thoughts had been made - into thoughts acceptable to the Professor's world.  A strange alchemy.

"I did it for you, boy," muttered Bakon, moved close to pity by the boy's despair.  I did it for you, he told himself.  I could easily have countered your argument by restating that nature alone has the prerogative of being cruel.  But that wouldn't have turned you around.  I did it for you.

A strange alchemy indeed.

Chapter 12.  This Old Man He Played One

"We're not protesting anything," a smartly attired woman emphasized, a middle aged woman, of apparent middle income.  "We're just frightened, that's all.  Is that so hard to understand?  We simply want an alternative.  We want there to be someplace to go if and when it becomes necessary.  We pray to God there won't be a war, but in our hearts we know there will.  And deep down we're all of us terrified."

The group in general seemed to agree; they said nothing, but the curious half nods and sardonic grins suggested that indeed the woman had expressed their sentiments as well as her own.  We don't want to be bombed to smithereens, their faces chanted.

"So please understand we're not protesting," the woman went on to explain to the news reporter.  "We don't believe in protests and such - we're not a bunch of hot blooded radicals just out of school, we're decent, responsible citizens.  But we want our voices heard.  It seems our government is doing nothing to provide for our security should...should a nuclear disaster occur.  And we want it known that we want some security in the event it comes to it.  The government has done nothing, and yet there sits a plan, fully devised and tested experimentally - just sitting gathering dust even as we stand here discussing it!"

"You're speaking, of course, of the Bakon Plan," the reporter commented in a crisp, fresh voice.

"Yes, we are - very definitely we are!  The Bakon Plan is just sitting, waiting to be implemented.  We have everything we need: the space, the technological know-how to put it all together, the equipment, the personnel - everything.  Except a go ahead from our government.  And that's the one thing we need most.  And that's why we're here, to let own voices be heard."

"We have a background report on the Bakon Plan," the reporter turned to face the television camera as he spoke those words.  Immediately the camera cut to a mine somewhere to the south, as the television viewers watched the story of Professor Jorge Bakon's unique Plan unfold before their eyes.

"It all began here," a second reporter spoke in mellow tones.  "This is the entrance to the famous Old-Times platinum mine.  Rather unimposing.  But awesomeness quite often does spring from the most deceptive beginnings.  Look at the mighty Amazon River: it begins with a slow dripping of water high in the Andes.  And like the Amazon, our underground world here spreads and abounds and builds into a mighty, a truly awesome thing to behold.  There is no other like it anyplace on this earth.  An infinity of catacombs stretching for hundreds of miles beneath the ground.  And it all begins here, at this unimposing entrance to an old abandoned mine.  It wasn't conceived here though: it was conceived in the mind of a man of whom it can truly be said 'they broke the mold when they made him.'  Professor Jorge Bakon, one of the most imposing figures to appear on our national scene.  It was born in his mind, this great dream, this underworld to which man may someday be forced to escape: escape into the underworld out of the hell above.  The hell that we all pray to avoid, but which - like the hell of our fathers' religious beliefs - we all secretly fear to be our fate.  Our punishment, for our sins, each sin a bomb which may one day with a horrible vengeance come back to haunt us.

"But a single man has proposed salvation against the day that catastrophe befalls us.  Professor Bakon has devised a safety zone as it were, a place - a world - to which we may escape should it be necessary to do so.

"However, don't think this plan lies somewhere under glass in some ivory tower, labeled and set alongside impractical dreams of Utopia.  Don't think it, and don't look there for it: Jorge Bakon is not the kind of man to let his plan end up like that.  He's nowhere near that kind of man.  He's a man of action, a man whose dreams and visions are never more than a step away from becoming tomorrow' reality.  This is the kind of man we're dealing with here.  A man who gets things done.

"We'll be back in a moment."

The camera cut to a lovely young woman surrounded by what seemed like icicles.  She wore a pale blue evening gown and held a magazine in her hand.  A faint breeze gently rustled her long blonde hair and the folds of her gown.  She spoke in a courteous but very down-to-earth sort of voice.

"The world is very cold when you're alone," she said plaintively.  "And every woman has known such times," she went on as if identifying for each woman watching her innermost thoughts.  "And it's for just this reason a woman needs so much to communicate and to be communicated with.  She needs to reach out - and to know there's someone there reaching out to her.  No matter how small the scale."  The woman paused as if to imply with a pause that this was to be an exceedingly small scale indeed.  "Now we know," she continued, "and you know that nothing can replace a warm, living person.  We don't wish to suggest that anything can.  But on those lonely evenings, when there just doesn't seem to be anyone around to reach out to - then reach out to us."  Here the woman held up the magazine in her outstretched arm.  "We know your problems, we know how to help take your mind off them for an hour or two.  It isn't a lot, we know; but it's yours to take if you wish.  Women's Magazine.  We can't give you the warmth or the tenderness only a human - only a loved one - can give.  But we can give you a chance to communicate with others, to share their experiences, to know their loneliness and their happiness.  And we're within your reach.  So won't you reach out to us?  Women's Magazine.  A friend, in need."

The commercial ended with the young woman and her magazine fading like an unfocused picture into the background of ice.  As she faded the camera cut back to the show, and to the reporter.

"Professor Jorge Bakon," the reporter resumed his commentary, as the background switched from the mine to the great cement building which housed the government's scientific laboratories, "Professor Jorge Bakon was the driving force behind this unprecedented achievement you see behind me.  'The Pyramid' as it's affectionately known by those who work here.   A kind of supermarket of the sciences, a little of everything stored within its walls.  The most comprehensive emporium ever conceived, let alone executed.  The idea behind it being to have everything right at your fingertips, when and where and as it's needed.  This too a monument to a single man, Jorge Bakon.  He devised it, blue-printed it, financed it, saw it built.  This, as we said, is not a man to take his own dreams lightly.  So neither should we.

"So if you wonder how Bakon's underworld can ever become a reality, you have only to look to this Pyramid to understand that somehow it can.  In fact, as we shall show you during the course of this broadcast, it not only can be done, it actually is being done - even as we speak to you at this very moment.  Work is and has been in progress for the past two and a half years.  But - and please bear this in mind - it is being done entirely from private financing.  There is no public money being apportioned for this endeavor.  And therein may hang the tale, for without massive public support it is doubtful whether Bakon's Plan can ever be completed.  Without government financing, the vast underground world may end up nothing but a ruin, a mausoleum to one man's glories instead of a movement.  For now, though, let's take a look at what we have.  Then let the public judge if it's worth the price they'll be asked to pay."

The remainder of the broadcast dealt with the Plan as devised and blue-printed, the extent of its execution to date, the immensity of the logistics involved, the manner of its financing.  It ended with the woman who began it, the smartly dressed middle aged woman declaring her support for the Plan.

"We're not protesting anything," she reiterated.  "We're terrified."

"They always do as they see other monkey's do," observed one gentleman as he stood on a street corner observing a large group of people.  The people were milling about, they appeared apprehensive, disorganized - almost as if in a daze.  The gentleman observing them from his safe distance smiled.  "Not even a week's gone by since they showed it on television, now here they are out marching - not protesting, of course, merely terrified.  It's disgusting!"

"Yeah, but they didn't dream it up just for television," the gentleman's companion remarked.  "They were showing actual people, you know, not merely actors!  They're called 'crisis actors' - but they weren't.  I mean, this has been going on for some time, after all!"

"Pooh-pooh," observed the first gentleman.  "I still say monkey see, monkey do!  Okay, there he is!" he shouted out, pointing to a car pulling up across the street.  At first the man's companion was caught off guard by the rapid change of subject, thinking the 'he' in question to be a monkey.  Then his perspective widened to the full situation.

"Okay, let's go," the man said as soon as his poise had been regained.  The two men pulled out guns and headed across to the car, first looking all around then motioning for the passenger inside the car to get out.

Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt acknowledged the two men, sliding with a swift graceful movement out of the car's back seat.  The two men immediately got alongside him, one on each side and accompanied him behind high walls into a courtyard and then into a large dark building.

All the while this was going on, the crowd watched from their safe distance, a kind of bewilderment creeping all about it as if it were a plague silently readying itself to strike, for the kill.

"Was that our men or theirs?" someone asked nervously.

"I don't know," another replied, even more nervously.

"But that was McDermitt, wasn't it?" yet another inquired with almost a hint of panic in his voice.

"Of course it was!  Who else could it have been?"

"Then who the hell were those men?"

"I don't know!  How should I know?"

"Well, they gotta be ours or theirs!"

"Yeah, but which?"

"Ah they gotta be ours surely," a tiny spark of reason tinged someone's words.

"Yeah, but they had guns - didn't you see their guns?"

"What the hell!  Would you go in that place without a gun?"

"Not if I expected to come out alive, I guess."

"Me neither."

"Well, them neither, either!"

"I don't know though.  They just didn't look like our Secret Service to me.  They looked a little too sleazy somehow."

"So who says our Secret Service can't look sleazy?"

"Oh no, man, those guys are professionals.  I mean, they're dedicated.  They'll like super patriots - maybe the last we've still got!"

"So who says a patriot can't look sleazy?  Even if he's the last one around!"

"Oh no.  I don't buy it, I don't buy it, I don't buy it!  I say they lured him here, then sent those two secret agents of theirs to take him at gunpoint!  I say they've kidnapped him, and I bet they're already torturing him trying to get him to talk!"

"About what?  Talk about what?"

"How do I know?  I'm not in on state secrets - hell, if a common man like me knew them they wouldn't be state secrets!  But you can be sure he knows plenty - and you can be damn sure they've got him in there right now getting him to spill his nice refined classy little guts to them!  You just mark my words: give 'em a couple days, you'll see those two goons hauling Mister Chesapeake McDermitt out in a basket.  If they leave enough of him to fill a basket.  Ha!  Embassy my ass!  Who's kidding who?  Those bastards got no more use for diplomacy than you or I - it's all just a cover!  Well hell, we already know they use it to cover their spy operations:  well, now we can see with our own eyes they use it to cover kidnapping and torture too!  God, oh God oh God, man, not for all the money on earth could you pay me to be in McDermitt's shoes right now!  Christ I can almost hear his screams right now!  But of course, there behind those walls you'd be lucky to hear a bomb going off!  And buddy, oh buddy, would I love to bomb that hell hole off the very face of this earth too!  And mister I bet you one God damned thing: I bet you if we had old Jorge Bakon back in power this would never have happened - you can just bet on that too!  No sir, he'd know how to deal with those animals alright.  There'd be no bull crap like that going down right under our very noses if he were in charge of this old country, and you can stake your life on that, too!"

The two men accompanying Chesapeake McDermitt discretely put away their guns once they were safely within the Embassy walls.  They were not needed here, their guns; it was outside where the risk was deemed greatest.  In here, inside the enemy's sanctuary, it was safe; out there, among his own people, McDermitt faced constantly the threat of an assassin's bullet - as did any high ranking government official.  In here the gentlemen who outside were bodyguards were merely escorts.  The men of the Secret Service looked only among their fellow citizens for signs of danger; with foreigners they were merely cautious, not actually suspicious.

"Mister McDermitt," the foreign minister greeted his visitor.

McDermirtt bowed in acknowledgement of the greeting.  "A pleasure, as always," he replied in elegant courtesy.

"Please," the minister motioned with his hand toward an open door.  Once they were inside the minister's office, another motion of his hand escorted McDermitt to a dark leather covered chair, the host seating himself in a matching chair facing MdCermitt's.  Everything in the room was dark, heavy, as if braced against some great anticipated upheaval which might any moment befall this bit of alien turf.  Everything cast a sinister reflection in McDermitt's eyes, and in his senses generally.

There's a feel about this place, he thought; one of foreboding.  One could so easily make so many wrong turns in such a place, he warned himself.  These men are untrustworthy: believe nothing they say.  Nothing he says, that is, thought McDermitt as he looked into his host's eyes.  Believe nothing, accept nothing, give away nothing.  This man is a scavenger, feeding upon the blood of others weaker than himself.  Never for a moment let him think us weaker than his people.  Never for an instant trust him, or turn your back on him.  Never.

McDermitt smiled affectionately, his host returning the gesture in kind.  These men are insufferable egotists, thought the foreign minister.  So proud, so confident of themselves, so sure they have the premier right and privilege of appropriating the spoils of this earth for themselves.  And then consigning what's left over to be split amongst the remainder of the world.  The insolence.  As if they are best qualified to distribute the world's riches.  No, my friend, I shall not be fooled by your glib charm, nor lulled by your shows and gestures of kindness and good naturedness into dropping my guard.  Not at all my friend, not so long as I know your true aims.  Not at all.

The two men savored each other's smile, savoring the affection each perceived behind the other's smile.  Then the spell had to be broken: they were not here as friends, but as representatives of their respective adversary positions.  They were here to talk on the gravest matters, not to engage in polite conversation; here to try and spare the world a little longer, not to enjoy the world.

"The terms that we have stated to you," McDermitt began at last, his words graceful even down to the adjectives and prepositions, his manner proper and dignified while in his mind he could not help thinking what a sham this was, speaking this way to someone little better than a barbarian.  But he spoke nonetheless: the world, he told himself, deserved it, even though he himself was growing weary of the world.  "These are our final terms.  We cannot go beyond them.  You shall have to take them or none at all.  If in securing a non-aggression pact we give up our very lifeblood, then it's of precious little use to us, as I'm sure you can appreciate."

What a slick bastard you are, thought the foreign minister as he nodded in agreement with McDermitt's statement.  So you would give up your lifeblood to do more, would you?  Ha! you have weapons tucked away it would doubtless surprise even you to discover!  "While we can respect your precaution," explained the minister, "we must in good conscience secure the best possible terms if such a pact as both of us seek is to have any meaning.  And to that end we must be absolutely assured that the terms you offer as your 'final terms' are indeed such that you cannot yourselves in good conscience go beyond."

"Be assured," answered McDermitt.  "We cannot, we will not go beyond them.  So in a way our task here today is the very prototype of simplicity.  A single yes or no is all there is to it.  We say yes to our proposal, no to anything beyond.  What do you say?"

"Suppose we called your bluff?" the minister quipped.

"Suppose we are not bluffing?"

"It's really no matter," the foreign minister backed off a bit.  "We intend to accept your proposal.  We find it reasonably acceptable.  Not everything we'd like - and certainly not as far as you could safely go if you chose; but acceptable nevertheless.  So you have our yes to mate with your own.  Let me hope the progeny shall be a vital entity and not a deformed mutant of our mutual hope: something we can live with and safely enjoy, not something that will come to devour us one dark day."

"There's no disagreement there," McDermitt hastily commented lest his host become lost in imagery right before his very eyes.

"No disagreement.  Very good, very good, very good," exclaimed the foreign minister rather dryly.  "So our work here is done.  Can I offer you a drink - or would perhaps the shattering of the celebration crystal shatter as well the happy illusion we have spun here?"

"You compare us to spiders?"  quipped McDermitt.  "And you complicate the metaphor needlessly: first our agreement becomes an illusion, then a spider web - God knows what it shall be next!"

"Reality, let's hope," retorted the minister.  "At least, that's our intention."

"Indeed, ours too," replied McDermitt.

"Then come, let's do drink on it."

"Very well.  To peace."

"To peace," echoed the foreign minister.  "It's good," he further observed when the toast had been completed, "that the days of intrigue are enough past us that you have no fear of taking a sip of our champagne."

"And, I might add, that you have no fear of dwelling on soil foreign to you."

"This is our soil, so long as it's our embassy."

"And our champagne, so long as it enter through our harbors."

"You imply you'd despair of drinking anything in our country?"

McDermitt smiled.  "Remember Crassus," he observed.  "He took drink from the Persians.  And was filled with regret."

The two gentlemen laughed together, taking this opportunity to hurl their champagne glasses into the fireplace.  They stood a moment observing one another, McDermitt tall and elegant in his dark blue suit, the minister swarthy, somewhat ungainly in his military uniform of a light blue shade.  Then they bowed and parted company, neither aware of what was brewing outside the embassy walls.

McDermitt was rapidly joined by the two agents of the Secret Service as he exited the minister's office.  He was accompanied down the hallways and out of the building.  He was escorted through the courtyard and to the entrance of the embassy compound.

"My God in heaven what is this!" McDermitt exclaimed in a panic stricken voice.  He stopped inside the gateway, too stunned to move any farther.

Where there had been perhaps a couple hundred people milling about carrying signs and generally conveying their concern over the tense world situation, now the crowd had swelled to what appeared several thousands, the bulk of which did not seem orderly, or leisurely, or very much concerned with the delicate balance within the world, within the sphere of diplomatic activities.  This was no longer an assembly of concerned citizens expressing their fear of holocaust; it had become a mob, fear crazed and filled with hostility, with the kind of pent up rage that always precedes an outbreak of uncontrollable violence: it had become the holocaust, or soon would be at any event.

An old man with shaggy white hair half covering his ears, an old man wearing a rather beat up looking hat, with shabby looking clothes, with dirt beneath his fingernails, but with a piercing look in his almost crystalline blue eyes - an old man had led the crowd in gamesmanship, in clever charade through varying stages of doubt and fear and eventually to hatred and anger until it had been fashioned into a fearsome thing ready to be unleashed upon the given command.  An old man...but how he played one upon these gullible citizens here this day filled with concern for the security of mankind.  How he stirred them, stroked at them, petted them, coerced them, deceived them, cajoled them until they were no longer their own selves with their own minds but had become his playthings, his weapon, with his will, his mind as their sole link to reality.  How he had manipulated them, this old man.

"How do I know?  I'm not in on state secrets," this old man had begun his deadly spiel.  "Ha! embassy my ass!" he had snorted in contempt, in defiance of the foreigners sitting perched on his own - these good people's own - native soil.  "Embassy" he chortled.  "Embassy?" the poor helpless word growing uglier with each breath the old man took.  "This is the devil's own playground!  The devil's own, I say it is!  It is his home away from home!  The devil's own!"

This old man was quite a speaker.  He could virtually hypnotize a crowd just by the timbre of his voice alone - but when he added his almost unearthly gaze it was all over for these poor citizens.  They were sealed and delivered, to whatever end had been set for them.

This old man had a grandson, the grandson's name was Robert, he was a student in Professor Jorge Bakon's Philosophy class.  A very nervous, frightened student.  And this old man had a son.  His name was Jacob Jeffries, and he had been an associate of Jorge Bakon back in the days when Bakon had been one of the three men in power.  This old man had a quaint sounding name.  It was Percival Jeffries.  And this old man was a very dear friend of Miss Lucetta Oldham.

But this old man had lost his mind for good to a strain of madness, years ago, just as surely as these concerned citizens gathered here this afternoon had temporarily lost theirs to him.  It had been easy for Miss Lucetta to convince Percival Jeffries that what he passed on to these people as true was in fact true.  It had been mere child's play for Miss Lucetta Oldham to set old man Jeffries up.  Mere child's play.

"I was a dear, dear friend to Mister Chesapeake McDermitt," old Jeffries said with a tear in his eyes, his voice momentarily lowered.  "I raised him as if he were my own son.  I fed him and clothed him and sheltered him, and I loved him.  He came to me a whimpering urchin off the street, and I took him in as one of my own.  And now, I stand here - we all stand here, just stand here, doing nothing - listening to my son's screams of agony, watching like spineless cowards as my son is kidnapped right before our very eyes and set upon by the foreign devils in the most hideous manner of which the mind can conceive.  No!  No, I say!  No, I shall not - we shall not, we can not! - stand idly by as our father, our great leader, the father of our very nation is torn into a thousand pieces by our mortal enemies!  No, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never!"

"Never, never, never! the crowd picked up the cry and magnified it a thousand fold, summoning forth legions of others from their homes and offices to join in the chant and thereby entice yet others, and still more and yet more until the very city seemed to have opened up like an anthill pouring untold thousands out into the streets to take up the old man's cry of never, never!

"Never, never!"  It was deafening, maddening.  "Never, never!"  It was a death knell, a leper's bell.  "Never, never!"  It was one hell of a trick this old man had played on mankind.  One hell of a trick.

"My God in heaven what is that!" exclaimed Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt in horror at the sight of what had happened during his brief visit at the foreign embassy.  "Oh God no, no - please no - don't let them do it!  Oh God don't let them do it!"

Slowly, rhythmically, wiggling like a serpent they came, closer and closer to where McDermitt stood panic stricken, his two bodyguards having already fled the scene.

"Look!" someone in the mob shouted in dissonance with the chant being carried aloft.  "Look - look!  There he is," the person cried out, pointing to where McDermitt stood almost reeling in terror, his knees and his hands visibly shaking.  "There he is!"

"Oh my God!" cried McDermitt, "oh my God!  They think I've sold out - oh God help me, help me!  They think I've sold out!  No - no!" he began shouting as loud as his rich elegant voice would permit, the tones of that voice, even in the grip of terror, still dignified, still elegant.  "No, I swear I didn't!" he cried.  "I swear I didn't!  Oh God, don't kill me, please, oh God please don't let them kill me, I didn't sell us out - I swear it, I didn't sell us out!"

To no avail, of course, all this fine shouting, these noble disclaimers of any wrongdoing: all to no avail, for the mob heard not a word of it, their own noises - the noises of their movement, like the rustling hiss of a beehive, and of their chant, like a mourning wail - drowning out every syllable uttered by Chesapeake McDermitt in his defense.  He could do nothing, neither cry innocence nor plead for mercy.  They kept drawing nearer and nearer to him, and he was utterly helpless to stop them or to alter their course so much as a single step: their ruler, one of the most powerful men on the face of the earth, and he was absolutely helpless to deter by even an inch the progress of these his subjects.  All his powers could not save him now, not unless these people decided to spare his life.  

Power had no frills today; the concept was stripped of all titles and elections and interpretations and of all executive orders and of all statutes and of all enforcements.  It showed here today - it reared - its ugly head, as it is, really, when its masks and papier maché wrappings and ribbon trimming are removed from it.  Brute force descended to where the mighty ruler knelt hunched in desperate terror, his frail looking body just outside the Embassy gate, huddled up against the wall, his face hidden behind his arms, perhaps in the vain last hope that if he did not see the mob it somehow might fail to notice him.

They were not a step away from him when they turned.  "They've released him!" cried old man Jeffries, his voice cracking with contempt and rage.  "But look at him - look how they've returned him to us!  Look what they've done to him!  Once a man, now but a shriveled hulk of a thing!  Look at the pathetic creature!  He might as well be dead!  They'd have done him a far greater service if they'd killed him outright than did this to him, left him a mere shadow of a man!  Even as he sits hunched against this wall - their wall, on our soil! - even as he lies here at our feet, he contemplates death, he shuns the very sight of his own kind in shame for what was done to him!  It ought to be our solemn duty to put him out of his misery.  But as he's one of our own, we cannot do it.  We must leave him be, to suffer his misery alone, however much we may wish to ease his burden.  So let him live - what little life there is left to him."

The old man raised his voice almost to a scream.  "But let us make right this terrible wrong committed by foreign devils on our very soil, before our very eyes!  Let us repay them, in a way the world will not soon forget!  Here, they've even left their gate open for us!  Not that we wouldn't tear it down just the same, but they've left it easier for us to get at them.  Kill the devils!" the old man shrieked.  "Kill the devils!  Kill them, kill the devils!"

The mob again took up the old man's chant, moaning and wailing and screeching and howling the old man's litany.  "Kill the devils!  Kill the devils!"

A thousand raging vandals streaming through the gates and into the courtyard, all surrounding the huge stone building where inside the foreign minister and his staff trembled in horror.

"We're coming for you!" old Percival Jeffries cried out to his enemies huddled inside.  "We're coming for you!  Now!" he howled, signaling to his army to storm the barricades.

A half dozen snaps simultaneously sounded, like the breaking of bones.  The doors had been breached, their latches had all snapped.  The mob swarmed the Embassy like a flood of waters through a breach in a dike.  A thousand vandals ransacked the foreign territory here on native soil.  A thousand vandals, one hundred for every person holed up within this compound.  One foreign minister, a stodgy man in a pale blue uniform, and nine members of his staff.  One hundred to one they were surrounded and taken.  The odds overwhelmingly precluded their further existence.

They didn't move a muscle, not the minister, not any of his staff.  It was as if they were playing possum, on the chance they could somehow be overlooked.  They had a tiny cache of arms, mostly handguns, but made no attempt to use them, no attempt to resist their captors.  Some perhaps thought they would not be killed, merely held as some sort of hostages; most of them, however, knew it was over and there was nothing they could do to stop it - their only hope that the mob would not be too unmercifully brutal with them...that they would die with fair rapidity and with a minimum of agony.  In a sense they were counting on their fear also - to render them insensitive, paralyzed almost, as much as possible oblivious to feeling, to physical pain.  The knew that this was what happened to lesser animals, such as antelopes devoured by tigers; they prayed with all their might it would prove the case with them as well.

Not one of them screamed above a mutter as they were apprehended and dragged from the Embassy, through the courtyard and out of the compound, out the gate and past where Chesapeake McDermitt still remained huddled in terror.  For an instant McDermitt looked up, in time to see the foreign minister being dragged past him.  The two men's eyes met for a second, each perceiving in the other a horror beyond description; each pleading also, behind the horror, for the other to do something, to save him: the foreign minister for McDermitt to save him from the monstrous fate he was about to suffer, McDermitt pleading for the minister to save him from having to face this unearthly madness - to somehow make it all stop before it was too late, and to make the world a sane, logical place once again.  Neither man able in the least to save the other.

Above the eerily deafening roar of the blood crazed mob could still - though just barely - be heard for a few brief minutes the death cries of the foreigners, a horrible melody of wails and screams amidst this steady beat of nondescript shouting and laughing and an almost animal kind of growling as the victims were literally torn to pieces by the furious, madding energy of these good citizens.

In time the noise lowered to a less violent, if more ghoulish tone.  It was almost as if they were now feasting upon the tattered remains of the victims' carcasses, almost as if they were slurping up the spilled blood, almost as if they were ghouls cannibalizing not merely the bodies but the souls as well of their victims, almost as if they were sucking the souls out of these men as they searched through the scattered limbs and internal organs and teeth and strips of skin - as if they were seeking enough flesh to still provide access to the souls before those souls fled those mangled bodies they once inhabited.  As if they were not content to simply maim the bodies beyond recognition but wanted as well to obliterate their souls.  As if they wished to do God's work as well as their own.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's.  But render unto the mob whatever it wishes.  It is bigger than Caesar and God together, the mob.  Nature's ultimate scavenger, feeding upon its own kind.   

Chapter 13.  What Is It With These People

The sun was setting; people were leaving.  The pleasant afternoon was about to give way to the evening, the mob, no longer energetic, had lost interest in its activities as a kind of paralysis had settled upon these people's minds and sensibilities.  For the moment it was not possible for them to dwell upon the deeds they had done here; it was all a blank to them.

We protested - yes, we did - we all protested, they all more or less agreed, if silently, in a manner of collective unison, their eyes, particularly the evasion in their eyes, making that point in place of their tongues.  That's why we were here - to protest; and now that we've done it, we'll just be on our way.  No big deal...

The guilt, of course, was there, and would always be there; soon enough it would step to the fore, and only with the greatest difficulty, and only after the direst anguish would it ever be relegated back to where it was right now.  These good citizens had let themselves become crazed murderers for an afternoon's outing: now they'll have to pay for that breach of conduct.  Oh they wouldn't suffer guilt if they had the choice, of course; but they won't have that choice: their choice lies in action, not in emotion.  They might have chosen not to murder, but they cannot choose not to experience guilt for the deed.  Causes alone are mankind's to maneuver; effects are outside the range of man's activities - like an octave too high for humanity to perceive, therefore impervious to human will.  Of course, none of this pertains to those of a psychotic bent.

A man with crazed eyes stalked the shadowy street, kicking here and there amidst the rubble of broken objects and broken bodies, for signs of life.  Whenever he thought to have perceived something moving his eyes would light up with a maniacal gleam and his mouth would twist into a grotesque kind of eager smirk.  Then as the motion proved nothing but the stirring of the wind, the gleam in the man's eyes would vanish, the smirk turn into a snarl.  The wind sorely disappointed the man.  He was looking for human beings still alive upon the ground.  He carried none of the paraphernalia one associates with the rendering of first aid to victims; he carried nothing, in fact.  He merely walked amidst the debris, the heavy cleats on his shoe soles clicking eerily against the pavement.

Most of the wounded had been removed.  The dead, of course, were left lying, pieces of their bodies spread about in the fashion of an explosion.  The ten foreign devils had been reduced to a couple hundred odd bits of flesh: they alone accounted for the dead.  But since no violence is ever unleashed which has no backlash, the good citizens who had unleashed violence here at the foreign embassy on native soil were caught as the tail snapped back.

There was a kind of in-fighting among the mob for the privilege of tearing the foreign devils apart, and just in general for getting near enough for a ring-side view - the result of which activity being a rather high incidence of injuries among the citizens comprising this mob.  Many were bruised and scraped, some cut and scratched, a few were even beaten, some to the point of being bloodied extensively, still a few others having been knocked down, some trampled, with possibly a broken bone here and there the result, while a very few - a hapless few - were rendered temporarily unconscious.  Fortunately most of the unconscious were removed by their peers, most of those remaining soon coming round to consciousness.  But in a particularly dark shadow there lay one man who had not yet come to, his figure barely perceptible to anyone else.  Perhaps it was his seclusion which kept him from being aided, or perhaps it was something about the man himself which repelled those who could have saved him.

The man with the crazed eyes was a young man, with a deeply ruddy hue to his skin, and a few patches of scraggly black hair covering his head.  He stopped a moment, having thought he heard something.  He could see nothing in the direction the sound seemed to have come from, but his curiosity was piqued, so he proceeded to investigate.  As he approach he began to sense something which made him grin in anticipation, his hands starting to sweat, his pulse and heartbeat increasing rapidly, his bowels tensing up, his whole body beginning to reel under this delightful sense of anticipation.  A few more steps and his excitement grew, welled up in him to near bursting proportions.  He knew.  In the shadow there upon the pavement something stirred that was not the wind.

Old Percival Jeffries had been knocked to the ground during the melee; he had struck his head, had been rendered unconscious and lay unattended for more than an hour before regaining consciousness.  He had just begun to stir, not aware that he was being watched at rather close range.  He had moaned, and in doing so had attracted the attention of the gentleman who now stood a few feet away drooling watching him out of crazed eyes.

A horrible shudder ran through the old man's body as the feeling struck him that he was being watched - a feeling wrought with the most sinister connotations as it spread through his body to grip his mind.  The old man's head turned to one side, turned toward the brute watching him through crazed eyes.  But the darkness of shadows hid the brute's features.

"Help me, help me," old man Jeffries cried out, an almost smirk of a laugh his only reply.

"Help me!" the old man cried out again, louder and more desperately.  This time, though, the plea was not directed at the man watching, and it did not refer to his injuries, at least not those injuries already sustained.

The man stepped closer, coming from a shadow into a patch of light.  Here old man Jeffries saw for the first time what kind of eyes had spotted him.  He began screaming his help me louder and with greater panic with each step the man took, his cry eventually becoming a simple scream of terror - the plea for help no longer relevant to the situation.

Clickety-click, the man's cleats said as they approached.  Clickety-clickety-click, against the pavement.  Football type cleats against the pavement.  Clickety-click, almost drowned out by the old man's screams.  Clickety-clickety-click...

He was right above the old man, looking down on him through his crazed eyes.  The old man screamed wildly, horribly.  Undo it all, undo it all, Percival Jeffries' brain screeched: undo it all!  But surely he must be joking.  Undo it all: why, the very idea!  It can't be undone, not now.

The man with the crazed eyes, incapable of experiencing guilt, slowly lifted his foot, higher and higher above old man Jeffries' head.  The old man had gagged on his own screams, a sort of hissing screech emanating from his throat.  The cleats - football type cleats, like the real athletes wear - they came down to the old man's face with a mighty force, a mighty thud, a kind of squish for the resolution.  This old man played no more.

Three screams harkened the end of this old man's life: his own, a watery kind of howl; the brute's squeal of delight as the blood squirted out of old man Jeffries' face; and a third, a muffled scream, from a little ways off - a scream of horror and of revulsion at the sight of so hideous a crime so very near at hand.

Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt still remained slumped beside the embassy wall, unable in all this time to get himself away from here - or away from the sense of horror which had paralyzed him.  He had had to watch it all, the slaughter of the entire foreign staff, and he had heard every last scream of agony as limbs were torn from bodies and eyes were gouged out and tongues pulled out - all the gore, all the heartless cruelty had been too close to be ignored.  He had sat horror-struck through it all; but he had sat there in silence, none of the butchery quite grotesque enough somehow to elicit so much as an involuntary scream from him.  Yet now, after it was all over and the mob had gone and the day grown dim - now, at the sight of an old man's face being crushed, even under cover of deep shadows, now he cried out in horror at that particular sight.  And of course, no sooner had he cried out than he realized what jeopardy he had put himself in.

He was no more than fifteen feet away from where the old man lay covered with blood.  He could just barely be seen from the shadow in which the old man lay and the brute stood; but he had been clearly heard.  The brute turned to him, looking him squarely in the face.  McDermitt shuddered.  So did the brute, who promptly turned and ran off.  McDermitt broke into hysterical laughter at the sight of this improbably, hopelessly ironic victory of his over a beast who at this point in time could have destroyed him with his bare hands.  He sat like that for some time, laughing into the deepening shadows which slowly slowly spread to engulf him.  Laughing at this, the most malevolent display of irony he had ever encountered.

"Why are you laughing?" somebody asked, somebody who had evidently approached unnoticed by McDermitt, for a little jerk of McDermitt's body greeted the query.  Not that he had energy for any reaction at all, but the suddenness of the voice coming out of the shadows so startled him that even this small movement on his part gave evidence of an immense fright.  Immediately he ceased his laughing, becoming perfectly still, as if to somehow fool his querent.

"Are you alright?" the voice asked.

It was some moments more till McDermitt was able to speak, but the concern expressed for his well being had calmed him, reassured him.

"Yes, I'm alright," he finally managed to answer.

"Why were you laughing?" the voice echoed its original question.  "Surely there's nothing funny here!"

"One does not always laugh out of amusement," McDermitt replied, somewhat surprised he was able to think so quickly, to speak so eloquently after all he had been through.

"I'm looking for someone, maybe you can help me," the voice explained.

"Who?" asked McDermitt.

"My grandfather," replied the voice.  "I'm told he was seen here this afternoon.,  I've been looking around here among the dead, but thank God he's not there.,  I don't know where he could be though.  He hasn't come home.  And, well, you see, he isn't entirely in control of his faculties.  So I'm afraid he may have wondered off somewhere.  You see, I watch after him, when I'm not at school.  But I'm scared for him this time, I don't know where he is."

"Maybe he'll turn up," replied McDermitt casually.

"I hope so.  Do you need any help?  You know, since he's not here, I don't want to stay around here with all this...this...you know, with all these corpses.  I don't guess you do either.  So you want me to help you?"

"Please, if you would," replied McDermitt.

A young man stepped beside McDermitt to help him to his feet, then the two started on their way, both of them shuddering and quickly turning their heads away as they walked past the faceless old man lying in the shadow.

"I know you, don't I?" McDermitt asked the young man.

"We have met, sir," the young man replied, "but I really didn't think you'd remember."

"And I know your father, too, don't I?"

"I think maybe you do."

"I know I do: he works for us.  Used to be one of Jorge Bakon's top aides.  But the name: the name escapes me, I'm sorry."

"Jeffries," the young man said.

"Yes, of course.  And you're Robert, then, aren't you?"

"Yes sir, I am."

"A fine lad, you are.  A very fine lad."

The shadows were gone from the street, the bodies removed, the blood washed clean from the pavement when the camera crew arrived for a special news report.                                    

"Ladies and gentlemen," announced the fine crisp voice of a man holding a microphone, "this doesn't look much like a field of battle.  There are no markers, no gravestones to mark the fallen dead.  It might never be taken for the sight of one of civilization's mightiest battles.  Perhaps future generations may never know what happened here.  But what did happen here was something of a milestone in human history, with the proof of its significance in the simple fact that the missing gravestone here may be that of this planet earth.  This spot, where I'm now standing, may prove to be mankind's final battle, its last resting place and retreat - the place which deprived us of those all important future generations we expect some day to sit in judgment of our actions here and now in our lifetimes.  And perhaps that will be the harshest judgment of all: that because of what we did, here, and now, on this very spot, there may be no future, and no generations to people it.  We'll be back to take a look at this spot and at what it represents in a moment."

There followed three television commercials.  One dealt with laxatives of a high caliber; one with an exotic vacation town; the third with a household cleansing agent the secret formula of which stopped just short of working pure miracles upon the households of the land.  Oh yes - oh yes, God, oh yes: the world may end tomorrow, but just in case it doesn't someone's sure to need a good laxative!

"We are unofficially in a state of war," announced the news reporter once the hawkers of purgatives and the like had relinquished the air waves back to him.  "The other great superpower has declared the tragedy which occrred here an act of unprovoked aggression against its people.  The leaders of that nation are this very moment meeting to decide upon a declaration of war put before their central ruling committee.  It has been reported that they are almost certain to vote in the affirmative - that is to say, in favor of the declaration.  Ladies and gentlemen, it is conceivable that by the time this broadcast ends we may be in the midst of an all-out nuclear war: the great holocaust.  It may even be that this very broadcast - brought to you live - may be the last ever witnessed upon this earth.  We pray not, but the odds simply do not favor our continued existence.  In fact, in what may well be the grimmest joke in mankind's history, the bookmakers of the various gambling houses are giving eighteen to one odds against seeing another sunrise, and progressively decreasing odds with every day that passes - so that, given their calculations, the odds are sixteen million seven hundred and seven thousand, four hundred and twenty-two against one that any of us shall see our nation's next birthday.  All of which is to say that this broadcast, like this spot, may be the last of its kind.

"We're told, of course - officially, we're told - that there is no cause for immediate concern, that our government is doing everything in its power to divert the flow of events into constructive channels, thereby to avert the impending holocaust.  We're told that great progress is being made in dissuading our prospective adversary from its intended course, that everything possible is being done to enhance the position of the moderates within their central committee.  We're told that no less an emissary than Chesapeake McDermitt has been sent to plead with the foreign power, to persuade its leaders that we as a nation are not responsible for the massacre which occurred here in this street just one week ago today - that it was the work of a crazed madman and had nothing to do with national policy or with the official position of our government on any level.  There was nothing we could do to prevent it, not even any way of rounding up the guilty parties since the mob dispersed so quickly, too quickly for our forces to move in.

"It is known who instigated the assault: an old man named Percival Jeffries has been definitely identified as the leader of the terrorists.  But he seems to have vanished completely.  No trace of him exists anywhere.  He wasn't identified as being among the dead, and he hasn't turned up anywhere.  All of which makes it that much harder to appease the men who now sit as it were in judgment upon this planet.  There is, however, one rather bizarre twist to this incident - or perhaps we should say one more among many.  We'll have word of that after these messages."

And after the messages were over, the news reporter returned to explain how the body of an old vagrant, mangled beyond recognition, had been found at the scene and was the center of a debate among the nation's leaders.  Some wanted to say the body was that of old Jeffries and thereby let the foreigners have their taste of vengeance.  But Dr. Karl Johnson vetoed any such maneuver, the face and teeth of the old vagrant being crushed beyond any sort of reconstruction; and neither his nor Jeffries' fingerprints are on file.  No identification was therefore possible.  Dr. Johnson refused to allow the hoax of palming off the dead man as Percival Jeffries.  It never occurred to Johnson that the vagrant might actually be Jeffries; his only concern was with the impropriety of establishing what constituted a hoax, regardless of what reality might establish.  He felt, as it was explained, that matters could be handled diplomatically, and that they could only be made worse through deliberate deception.  To this end he has dispatched Chesapeake McDermitt as his diplomatic troubleshooter.

"And that concludes this broadcast," explained the voice of the news reporter as an airplane was seen taking off from a nearby airport - the airplane on which Chesapeake McDermitt was being carried to his destination overseas, his country's hopes for averting the holocaust being carried aloft with him.  "Good evening," the reporter's voice added, the voice uncertain, as if perhaps the words were inappropriate, even distasteful - or as if an omen of sorts.

"He may be shot down - he knows that," Dr. Karl Johnson explained to his wife as the two of them sat watching the airplane disappear into the clouds.

Mrs. Aral Johnson looked embarrassed.  She wanted to say something but felt it might seem overly sentimental, not to mention insignificant.

"What is it dear?" asked Dr. Johnson, perceiving his wife's discomfort.

"Oh, it's silly," she explained, "but I can't help feeling it's good we did come down here to see him off.  I know it's little comfort to him if they do shoot him down or something - but it was the right thing to do.  Especially since we may never see him again.  Poor man.  He's had such an empty life.  No children, a wife who's now an invalid, no real friends...nothing."

"Who among us has a life that's not empty, in some ways, Aral?"

"Our lives are not empty - are they?"

"No, dear, they're not," replied Karl Johnson reassuringly, even though he believed otherwise.

Aral Johnson smiled.  "I know I mustn't have more children, and I know I've equated my worth with being a mother.  And I know you're disappointed with the children we do have -"

"Aral!  How can you say that?  For God sake when have I ever said anything to suggest disappointment with our children?"

"Karl, I just know.  Nothing needs to have been said.  I just know.  Especially Karl Junior: he's your greatest disappointment.  Oh, I know you love him.  But you don't see him as I do.  You don't understand him,.  He thinks he's everything - and he'll never be.  He doesn't know that.  And I'm afraid for him ever to find out."

"You know what I've always regretted most, Aral?" asked Karl Johnson, thereby changing the subject.

His wife took the cue.  "What?" she asked, thereby signaling her acquiescence of the change of subject.

"That I never had any close friends, especially as a child.  As a teenager.  I was too occupied with achieving all the goals my father set for me.  I used to go swimming by myself when I'd have a few minutes to kill.  I don't know why but that was the one thing I missed most not having a companion.  It seemed you could always find someone if you wanted to go drinking, or to go out and look for girls.  But to go swimming: it just seemed like there was never anyone close enough to ask to go for a swim.  I used to have this great place I found, where no one was hardly ever around, and you didn't even need swimming trunks.  But I never had anyone to share it with.  And it was the kind of thing where you wanted another guy to be there with you.  A buddy.  But I never had one.  And who would ever guess I still ache inside because I never had a swimming buddy?  But I always will.  That's an empty spot in my life that nothing else can ever replace.  I mean, even if I found the kind of friend I was always looking for the emptiness would still be there because it's too late now: it would have to have occurred...when I was a teenager - when I needed it most - for it to have eased the pain, the loneliness.  You see, I'm not lonely now.  All the company in the world can't fill that void in my life.  It doesn't prevent me from going on and doing what I have to do; it just renders my life incomplete regardless how much I achieve.  What is it they say: better late than never.  Well, like all clichés it's just about ninety percent accurate.  But that other ten percent belongs someplace too, you know."

"I hope he makes it," mused Aral Johnson somewhat absently.  It wasn't that she had ignored her husband's words, but that she had digested them with her heart, leaving her mind free to deal with other matters.  She had been thinking of Chesapeake McDermitt, of his airplane ride, and of what possibly lay in waiting at the other end of his route.  "Oh God, I hope he makes it!" she prayed.

Mrs. Aral Johnson's prayers at that airport that darkening evening were answered - to the letter if not the spirit of her plea.  Chesapeake McDermitt made it to his destination, his plane had not been shot down, had not even been so much as threatened by the enemy.  The airplane soared through smooth, untroubled airs all the way across the ocean, over foreign shores, and on into enemy territory - as peaceful, as uneventful as a painted plane against a painted sky, coming to a safe, smooth landing at the enemy's runway, at their very doorstep.

McDermitt thanked the plane's captain, thanked the rest of the crew, stood for a long while at the doorway, as if taking a last look at his own country represented here on foreign soil by this airplane, then at last disembarked.  A little tremor stirred his otherwise controlled features as he turned away from the plane to face the outside world, the foreign world - his diplomatic turf - and to begin the descent from his own country into that of the enemy, one by one stepping down the stairway which separated him from the protection, the security, the comforting familiarity of his native terrain and the unknown of this foreign terrain, this enemy soil.  Why couldn't I just be the diplomat, he thought bitterly to himself, and someone else be the Judas goat?  Why me?  Dear God why me?

A little thud marked his completed passage abroad.  No steps were below his feet, they were all behind him now.  No escape, something within him noted as it appeared to that mysterious quantity inside him that his country had left no escape route open to him; in effect, that it had betrayed him.

He was greeted courteously - but the very courteousness of it filled him with an unhealthy sense of the presence of some unspeakable evil: filled him with such a feeling precisely because it was a formal, a diplomatic courtesy, a show behind which might be concealed warmth and a willingness to listen or the brutal impulses of minds impervious to reason, incapable therefore of compassion.  The diplomatic courtesy might portend feast or cannibalism. 

"You will please accompany us," the official host whispered into McDermitt's ear, adding in a still softer tone that there was no need to involve the crew of his airplane, that resistance was absolutely useless.  He smiled, the host, as he said this, and patted McDermitt on the back rather good-naturedly - as a diplomatic sort of gesture.  You are now our prisoner, the entire transaction noted, it being rather indelicate and undiplomatic to come right out and say the words.  Time enough for that, anyway, once they were all safely escorted from the airport back to the guest's quarters. 

McDermitt slid into the back seat of a big black limousine, jumping a little as the door was slammed shut.  He sat there, surrounded by the elegance to which he was accustomed, as he was chauffeured away from the airport, away from the city, to a huge building enclosed by high walls.  Sort of like their Embassy, he thought as his limousine entered the compound, the thought bringing back a rush of painful memories and with these memories a sense of nausea.  Suddenly the limousine had stopped and McDermitt was made to get out.

Now the words that had remained silent earlier were finally said.  "You are our prisoner," the official host said in a voice much louder than it had presented itself at the airport.  "It is very doubtful whether you survive your internment.  We have not forgotten the death of our foreign minister and his staff.  We have not forgotten a thing - however much you may find yourself now wishing we had."

"I don't wish, anymore," explained Chesapeake McDermitt in a voice pained with sadness rather than fright.  What's the use? the little half smile on his lips said - the kind of smile focused inward, not at anyone or anything in the external world.  He wanted to tell these people of his disillusionment with life, not that it might serve his interest here, but that it was important to him that someone knew; and as these people may well be the last he would ever see, it was they who he wished to hear his story - to whom he wished he could unburden his soul of that story.  But he knew it was useless to wish for their attention.  They of all people on earth had no interest in his private sorrows.  But if I could just tell someone, he thought as he was led down a stairway to what seemed like some sort of dungeon, and then through a dim hallway and finally into a dark, dank little chamber: if only I could tell someone, he kept repeating over and over within his mind.  Tears formed in his eyes as he said it - pleaded it - over and over.  Tears...poor poor tears...

So they've got him, mused Jorge Bakon to himself.  What else did they expect, he and Johnson?  Send a well oiled piece of machinery like that to stop a nuclear war?  And actually expect to succeed?  There's no stopping it, my friends - no way to stop it.  It is inevitable.  As it always was, for anyone with the vision to see ahead to the final few frames.  All of civilization shall perish.  Unless I intercede.

"That doesn't mean necessarily that there's no hope," explained Dr. Karl Johnson to his staff of nuclear experts.  "He's at least still alive.  That means they haven't made up their minds absolutely - otherwise they'd have killed him outright.  After all, if you take someone captive, that in itself indicates an uncertainty as to what course you'll take: you can always release your captives later, should you relent.  But if you have no intention of relenting or if you reserve no bargaining position, then you have no need of hostages.  And since we are speaking of nuclear confrontation, it goes without saying that there's no turning back once it's begun.  So they have not determined yet whether or not to let it begin.  Naturally, we must be in a state of absolute readiness every moment - and that's your job, all of you gentlemen.  As for me, I'm taking McDermitt's capture as a sign they wish to bargain, at lease to talk it over before they act, possibly so that we can talk them out of it, reassure them.  I only pray that McDermitt doesn't have to lose his life as part of the bargain.  But I don't see much hope for him.

"I've sent word to them.  We've received no confirmation, but I know they got our message.  I can only hope they'll respond.  I told them only that we wish to talk with them.  What else is there to say?  We simply ignore thirty centuries of civilization, of sophisticated semantics, of highly stylized philosophic principles - we ignore all this, we go back to the caveman: me talk, you talk, me listen, you listen.  What is the cliché?  Oh yes: getting back to basics.  The most advanced system of communications the world's ever seen, and it carries the most primitive message: please don't kill us!  But it's all we've got.  It may or may not work - but the existence of this planet depends on it.  But damn it - damn it! - why don't we hear something?  Damn it all, they've had time to answer!  Why haven't we heard anything?  The only thing in this whole universe standing between hope and an all out war - started by us, by the pressure of our people to strike first - is this flimsy, otherwise miserable little demi-tyranny that ironically sits the will of one man - my will - above all else!  My will: that's all that's holding back the holocaust.  God how ironic - God how ironic!  Bakon's got the people so stirred up it's all anyone can do to hold them at bay long enough to get some word from over there!  Let alone to actually arrive at an understanding.  All I can say, gentlemen, is I'll hold out as long as I can.  Then, when I snap - if I do - I'll order the attack.  And that'll be that.  And then I'll be the man who ended the world.  But if I can just get that first word from them!  Then I'll know that they do want to find a way out of this dilemma - that they don't want a war, that they're not simply waiting for the right moment to strike!  But damn it, when?  We can't hold out here forever!  Hell, it's just a matter of time till our people storm this place, and any other place they think we might be!  And then Bakon's will, not mine, shall hold the key to life here on earth.  I just wish I knew what he wanted.  No, that's not it: I wish I didn't know, then maybe I could just step down and give it all to him.  But I know, and I can't pretend otherwise.  He wants to rule.  I guess he imagines there'll be enough left after the holocaust to start a new world - one ruled by him.  I guess that's what he wants: not just this country but the whole world.  And he its Caesar.  Well I won't give it to him.  I'll fight him to the death over this!  I swear it!

"What about his cave?" one of Johnson's assistants asked.

"Let him have it!  At least we'll be rid of him!  Let him bury himself alive if he wants - and anyone else who wants  to go with him!  And the sooner the better!"

"The word is," someone explained to Professor Bakon, "that Johnson's given his okay for your project.  Some turn about, isn't it?"

Bakon shrugged.  "It's a private venture, it always was.  It never needed his or anybody's okay but mine.  I planned it, blueprinted it, funded it, and built it.  It wants no government sanction, certainly not a government headed by Karl Johnson!  The project is nearly complete.  There are just a few minor details still to be worked out.  Essentially though it's ready, awaiting only my official go-ahead.  And of course the collection of personnel needed to populate my new world.  That is a task best left to others.  I have more pressing business; I must constantly monitor this crisis so as to best select a time of...of departure, let's say.  Consequently I've left to an expert the task of arousing the populace, of preparing them emotionally for the moment when I choose to lead them to our new home.  All it needs, this vast machinery, to set it in motion is a nod of my head, at the right time, to the right party; and the impulse of a body in motion takes over from there on until we're safely inside the cave.  It's all just that simple."

"When will the time be right?" Bakon's associate inquired.

"I'll know," was all the Professor replied.

A news item later that same day confirmed that a breakthrough had occurred in the tense situation - a breakthrough which perhaps even signaled the beginning of negotiations with the enemy: word had been received, the long sought after "word" which Karl Johnson prayed for night and day.  A communiqué acknowledging receipt of Dr. Karl Johnson's message had been received.  Dr. Johnson and his staff were visibly relieved by the communication.  There was a distinct air of relaxation at the highest levels of government.  There was hope for the world.

"Good evening Miss Lucetta," exclaimed Professor Bakon in rather somber tones.

The woman being received in Professor Bakon's chambers bowed courteously in a stylish, old fashioned sort of manner.  "Good evening to you," she replied in greeting.  "How are you this lovely fall evening?" she asked, a certain gleam in her lovely eyes suggesting she well knew how the Professor was this evening, and that further she knew the cause of his consternation.  So much, she thought to herself gratifyingly - so much here can be left unspoken.  The Professor is quite a man, Miss Lucetta Oldham mused.  He is so clear in his perspective that one need never wonder what he means or how he feels.  One need waste no time securing menial information as to his state of mind: for he knows his own mind, therefore one need but read his expression and take it literally as reflecting his interior state.  Ah! if only there had been such a man in my time!  We could have ruled the world!

"And how is young Master Andrew," Miss Oldham inquired casually.

"Growing," was Professor Bakon's reply.

Miss Oldham nodded.  "How great and yet how small their responsibility," she mused.  "To grow from childhood to manhood - how majestic a feat.  Yet they do nothing for the world, nor are they expected to; only for themselves - their only responsibilities are to themselves, that they grow up.  I would not care to be a child again, Professor Jorge, even though each year brings me a bit nearer the inevitable.  Still, I would not trade my varied responsibilities - not the entire lot of them - for that one awesome responsibility of childhood.  Of course," she changed her tone, lowering it, lowering the level of enthusiasm in her voice, "it hardly betokens of anything much to converse about the future, now does it?  For it appears more certain with each passing day that there may well be no future of which to speak.  The world is mad, my dear Professor - stark raving mad!  What is it with them, these people here on earth?  Have they no sense of eternity?  Are they so preoccupied with the immediate here and now that they shut out completely the eons that have already gone past and those meant still to come?  Are they satisfied to blow up the world, shutting off eternity as one would an alarm clock by merely pressing a button, for no finer, nobler reason than that it pleases them at this here span of the moment to do so?  Is that it, dear Professor?  The clocks of the universe to be thrown out of kilter by a mere passing whim of no greater significance or duration than a hot flash passing across an old woman's forehead deep in the night?  Dare I to be so foolish as to jump from bed and go seek a mate for the sake of such as this?  Then how dare they blow up this earth, and in so doing alter the universe by our one little second's flicker, for what is in reality no more significant than this?  It's preposterous, my dear Professor: absolutely preposterous!  Don't you agree?"

The Professor nodded.

"And don't you agree something should be done?"

Again, he nodded.

"And don't you think that now is the time for its being done?"

A third time Jorge Bakon nodded.  This time Miss Oldham bowed in return.

"It shall be done," she said.  "I'll take my leave now," she added after a pause.  "A pleasant evening to you, sir."

Chapter 14.  The Triumvirate

"We sail with a corpse in our cargo," replied Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt to a question of interrogation.  He was in no frame of mind to smile at his little quip, but inwardly he managed to appreciate its humor, to experience a very small tinge of warmth, an ever so slight sensation akin to contentment.

"You will repeat that phrase," ordered McDermitt's interrogator as he motioned for his associate to approach, both of them rather large men with grim humorless faces and eyes and with very dry monotonous voices.

"I said, 'we sail with a corpse in our cargo,'" repeated McDermitt, suddenly wishing with all his might that this were a movie he was watching, so that he could relish the absurdity of this situation, and not an actual occurrence in which he was one of the principals.

"You did not sail here - you flew!" insisted the interrogator while his associate nodded ferociously in agreement.  "Nor did I say anything about the plane's entire cargo!"  Here he motioned again to his associate, snapping his fingers as he did.,  "Have the entire cargo checked," he commanded, giving his associate leave to telephone whomever one telephoned in a foreign land in such a situation.

McDermitt nodded contemptuously.  "Save yourself the trouble," he said lifelessly, "there's nothing there.  It was just a joke."

"Oh, now you change your tune," the interrogator observed sarcastically.  "All the same, it's no trouble, we'll proceed as the situation seems to warrant.  Notwithstanding it was your personal luggage to which I referred - not the entire cargo...ah! but wait!  I think I begin to understand something here!  Your people quite often refer to an airplane as a ship, do you not?  And, so being, it does seem to follow that to fly a plane is in fact to sail a ship!  So indeed it was your plane to which you referred after all.  And indeed I did quite the correct thing in ordering a thorough search of it.  But a corpse: that's what has me puzzled.  A corpse in your cargo.  A very, very clever code - but it will be broken, I assure you.  And I further warn you that the ease with which we succeed in eventually breaking it shall depend somewhat proportionately upon the number of your bones which we are required to break in order to attain our goal.  Am I quite clear on that point?"  The gentleman stood menacingly over the seated form of Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt.

McDermitt nodded in acknowledgment. 

"Unless, of course," the interrogator half mused to himself, "unless you speak of a literal corpse.  And perhaps also a symbolic corpse - perhaps, in fact, one and the same.  Perhaps, in fact, none other than our great beloved foreign minister who was so brutally butchered by the barbarians in your country.  Perhaps?"

"His remains have been returned to you already," explained McDermitt as he spread his hands in a gesture of futility.

"Ah yes," mused the interrogator, at first looking away then facing McDermitt in a sudden burst of menace.  "Then what is this corpse!" he demanded, raising his hand to threaten his prisoner, as if in so doing to grant to his demand an authority beyond challenge, to make of it an ultimatum beyond anyone's power to refuse compliance with: a threat of physical force to give an omnipotence and a supreme justification to his malignant little message to humanity.

"This corpse," answered McDermitt wearily, "was described by Henrik Ibsen, the great Norwegian - " here he was cut off by his interrogator.

"I am familiar with the Prime Minister of Norway!" the man snapped testily.  "I want only to know whose corpse is among your cargo!"

"My own,' whispered McDermitt, all the humor suddenly drained from his psyche.  "Everything I saw as myself, and everything I sought to pursue, to make of myself - all the particles of that image of the kind of man I must be: they're the dusts of that corpse stowed away on board.  That corpse it took me this far in order to bury.  Now I stand naked, without foundation or supports.  There is no imagery about me.  Only a biological entity, my friend.  Blood and bones - which you propose to turn to gore.  The rest -" McDermitt paused, a beautiful light flicked briefly within his eyes, "the rest is silence," he whispered with the most truly, profoundly reverent eloquence he had ever used in all his life - an eloquence so deeply moving that his interrogator shuddered in awe and bowed his head for a second in a kind of salute.  Then the man regained his sense of duty, carrying his hand through the various stages of completing what had been set in motion as a threat, the act of striking McDermitt across the face the full reality of that threat.  The man shook his head, though, in a kind off disbelief that he had been made by the world to strike this prisoner who had so moved him with the openness of his soul.  He shook his head, in silence, as his prisoner set himself upright again, as if not to inconvenience his interrogator too much in the performance of his solemn duty.

"Your first and highest duty is to your society," stated Miss Lucetta Oldham in the manner of merely pointing out the obvious to her listeners.  "We all know we each have a mind of our own," she further explained, "and we know both how to use it and that it's our responsibility alone how we use it.  What we sometimes forget, however, is when to use it - and of course, conversely, when not to use it.  I'm afraid it isn't universally understood that this grave intellectual responsibility which we all have is composed equally of initiation and restraint.  There are times when no matter what our minds tell us we cannot obey - times when we must defer to a higher authority.  And you know, the confusion - and the reluctance - lies in our mistaken notion of veracity.  We imagine there must be to every proposition a truth and a corresponding falsehood; and from this we derive the absolute predominance of the former aspect.  But why, I ask?  Why must what we perceive as true take precedence over what is not?  Particularly when what is not...is precisely what society seeks to maintain for whatever reason as its norm.  Not that this happens often, since what opposes truth is rarely held as a standard on any level; but if and when it does happen, I submit to you that it is your solemn and primary duty to put aside the workings of your mind, together with its findings, in favor of whatever it is - however absurd it may seem - that your society wishes.  A very old doctrine, of course, but one upon which each and every social system since the beginning of time has relied on for its continuance, indeed its very survival.  If your society has need to believe that two and two humans is equal to five and a half ghosts, then it is your ultimate responsibility to comply with the equation in order to preserve that society.  Customs do change: in time the truth will emerge, eventually it will come to general acceptance that two plus two is four.  But you must wait till then.  There are mechanisms built into every social system to accommodate such changes; it is to such mechanisms must be left the task of altering society's norms.  It is not the province of the human mind, or of the truth or falsehood of things, to make such determinations.  There is ample time in eternity's wake for all things to bear fruit.  Including the fruit of absolute truth, absolute adherence to it, within a given society.  There's no hurry to get at it.  It isn't there for us as humans anyway; it is there for societies.  Humans - individuals - are not whole enough to accommodate all truths.  So let's not worry whether or not the little truth you see, or the little truth I see, or the little truth Dr. Karl Johnson sees is accepted by society for incorporation into its polity.  You think, I think, no doubt Dr. Johnson thinks that we cannot survive as individuals unless what we each see so clearly is seen by all and accepted by all.  But we can survive.  We have done so since the beginning of time.  What in comparison is the span of a single life?  Indeed what!"

Miss Oldham sat in a high backed chair, not unlike a throne, in the living room of her family home, a large, rich home as rich in tradition as in material wealth.  Spread about the room, in chairs, in a roughly circular arrangement, were her guests, to whom she had been speaking.  Her manner blended stately dignity with lively charm to so perfect a degree it seemed an entirely new form of personality characteristic within the human spectrum,.  Her guests were completely enthralled with her comments, completely sold on the premises she paraded before their bedazzled eyes.  They - like so many others of her acquaintance on so many previous occasions, at so many similar after dinner gatherings - they were ready for anything at all she might care to request of them, ready for immediate acceptance with no questions asked.  A blank check for Miss Lucetta Oldham, each guest more eager than the next to be the first asked to affix his signature.  And each signature no less important, no less influential in whatever the given sphere of his interest, than the next.  Each a prize, in a contest, between Jupiter and Pluto for ultimate dominance.  And, in effect, with Miss Oldham at once Discord and her golden apple marked for the fairest: except that in this case Discord herself sought actively to promote one side in the contest.  Nor was it the three goddesses Juno, Minerva and Venus in competition; though in a sense three nonetheless: Bakon, Johnson and McDermitt, the three members of the old triumvirate.  And if the advantage seemed unfairly in Johnson's camp, with McDermitt in captivity, with Bakon removed from his official position - even so, it was more than offset by the absolute neutrality of McDermitt, the unparalleled influence of Bakon.  So indeed, in effect, a contest between Jupiter and Pluto, with Neptune oblivious to matters of position upon the landscape.

Three very large vases stood at an archway, each a piece of metalworking similar though not identical to, the other two.  Miss Oldham had ordered their execution from her own designs and had so positioned them, one in the middle, with ample space for walking around it through the archway, and one to either side of the archway.  They were fashioned of platinum overlaid upon some inferior substance; they were made, in fact, of the last pieces of platinum ever mined from the Old-Times mine, some twenty years ago, before its shutdown.  The veins had petered out, or so the experts had said.  Miss Oldham never for a moment believed it.  But she could find no workers for a dead mine; neither could she compel work to be done, hers was not the power to so compel.  One day though...she often mused.  The right time, the right set of circumstances...so she mused.  And the right ally...

It stood like Cerberus, this arrangement of platinum vases.  Beyond them - beyond the archway - lay all the world's treasures, all those accumulated through the generations, accumulated as dust accumulates.  It was Miss Lucetta Oldham's pride and joy, the crowning achievement of her life, this magnificent accumulation of the past.  It was her treasure room, the store room not so much of material treasures, though these certainly were most often the medium of display, but rather of spiritual and moral treasures, the accumulation of a past rich and grand in tradition and in particular design.  Artifacts: certainly; and jewels, and paintings and find china and silverware and mementoes as well, the latter no less prized than the more clearly valuable objects.  In all, the sum total of Miss Oldham's ancestry was here represented in these prized objects held under the strict guard of Cerberus in this room at the very center of the Oldham-Timeson family mansion.

It was in the shadow of the past that Miss Oldham sat elaborating upon the ideas which were to be the hallmark of the future, ideas it would seem almost giddy in their novelty, yet at the same time tenuous in their proximity to the past.  New ideas born of the old.

"What is now needed is the steadying hand of tradition," declared Lucetta Oldham to her guests.  A very peculiar sort of little smile played upon her lips, careful not to stray too far from the cover of mystery into the light of good natured warmth: all the more to enchant those perceiving the smile.,  "It's all very good to have new ideas," she remarked in elaboration, "but not at the expense of order.  It is just such a balance - one weighted heavily in favor of tradition - that our dear Professor Bakon envisions.  It does therefore serve us well to look into it - don't you agree?"

Everyone agreed.  Cerberus agreed, or so it seemed, as it seemed that the gates were thereupon opened wide to Miss Oldham's treasure trove; and all its contents, the spirits, at least of all its prizes, let out into the world.  Again.  To roam freely among humankind.

"Did you ever doubt it?" inquired Miss Oldham of a late evening visitor, very late in the evening, long after her guests of that particular evening had left.  She was still wearing the hostess gown in which she had presented herself to her guests.  Scarlet enfolded her graceful figure, a satiny scarlet which draped like a robe of state over her shoulders.  She looked more like one just preparing for a dinner party than one wandering through its wake at so late an hour.  Her eyes were as bright, as full of enthusiasm as if she indeed anticipated the advent any moment of the first flurry of guests.  Her smile as warm, as eager, as that of a schoolgirl.  She was as full of life now as she had been early.  It was as if she took her energy directly from life itself, like a kind of kinetic mechanism for drawing life from existence that it might go toward feeding her own vital needs.

"One always has reservations, dear lady," replied Professor Baken.  "Even when it is such a one as yourself setting the standards of the task at hand.  One can't help allowing for every eventuality.  I failed to do so but once...I shall never make that mistake again.  Never again shall I underestimate the power of events to take hold of one's plans and shake it all about till it no longer resembles the system originally devised.  Nor shall I fail to allow for the unlikely.  Never again, dear lady.  Now I know you understand these people, I know how loyal they are to you, how receptive to any reasonable proposition - such as ours; but I also know how chance can turn an advantage to a disadvantage.  Their very loyalty could undo their pledges of support.  I would have been the sole power in this nation right now had I not overlooked these kinds of small detail - had I not left to chance precisely what it needed to subvert my plans.  You cannot know, dear lady, how great an agony that induces in me.  Even to this day.  The power would have been mine - absolute power: the power to do openly and exactly what I now must do furtively and imprecisely.  No, chance is at a premium when the mode is collusion.  I shall not again be subject to its whims."

I never dreamed men smaller than I could wreck my plans...I never allowed for it.  Dearest Evelyn.  Just as I never allowed for a life without you.  Not that I imagined my wife beyond the reach of death, but that I imagined myself impervious to its consequences.  With no thought at any time to diminish my feeling for you, yet still I believed your death would leave me unmoved generally.  To this very day it surprises me how deep its effect has been.  How terribly it has surprised me.  And yet how little I miss our son Kierston.  He was more truly your child than mine, even his name was yours, not mine, in choice.  I feel that I never loved him.  I tolerated him for your sake, but I never loved him,.  Not as I love Andrew.  He's mine, Andrew is.  Even though he can have no future, still I see in him all my own hopes and aspirations for the future.  Even without a mind he's everything I could ever hope for in a son.  In him I see a nobility greater than in anyone else.  In him there is a sense of goodness, of justice, unlike any I have ever encountered.  Yet he scarcely knows of the existence of such concepts.  He scarcely knows.

These were the thoughts of Jorge Bakon very late in the evening, long after he had left Miss Lucetta Oldham's home.  He had sat down specifically to muse awhile, but not about his wife and sons; rather, he had meant to reflect on the bitter process, the circumstances - the chance occurrences - which had wrest power from his hands: or if not power itself, then certainly legitimate authority had been removed from his grasp.  He had sat down with no other thought on his mind but this manner of reflection.  Then, however, he found his mind reluctant to take up these matters for consideration.  He found these subjects without antecedent in any thoughts available to his immediate perusal; he found instead thoughts of his family virtually forcing their way beyond all else to the forefront of his mind, standing almost barricade like between his intent and his memories.  He chose therefore to muse as his mind dictated; always, however, with the hidden intent to let these thoughts of his family run their course and in so doing to guide him to where his memories of power lay stored.

Of course he could have applied his will so as to have pushed his family aside and thereby gotten to his objective - but he was in a quiet, rather placid frame of mind and rather enjoyed the diversion.  It was pleasant to recall his wife and to think of his son.

I don't even recall what Kierston died of, the thought occurred to him.  Was it leukemia?  It seems I recall hearing that word.  I recall Andrew pronouncing it, but at the time I don't think I paid any attention to the context: for all I knew, or cared, he might have been talking about the neighbor's cat and its feline leukemia.  I do recall one thing though, about the only thing I can think of specifically associated with Kierston: I recall thinking it a wonder he lasted so long.  It was just always obvious to me he was never intended to exist for very long.  Certainly it was apparent he was never meant to be anything or to accomplish anything in life.  I believe being a companion to his younger brother was all the achievement there is to show for his having lived.  I realize there are some who would see in all this a guilt on my part - a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein my son became all the things I, and perhaps the rest of the world, saw in him.  To those I would ask is it not the other way around instead?  Was it not because my son was without a sense of life that he was perceived as such?  Though in truth it could go either way - or both ways, one always reinforcing the other, the whole process leading inevitably to his death.  But the truth behind all the other truths is that I simply don't care one way or the other.  I simply didn't care one way or the other about the boy.  And as to guilt, I feel none, in the absolute.  It wasn't up to me to see in him something great and awesome: it was up to him to have something of that caliber in him in order that he might show it to me.  Period.

And no more thought was ever again given the subject; Kierston Bakon was no more.  His birth had been an embarrassment to him, and to his father.  He had lived only long enough to die: to have died first inside, from the inside out.  It was his role in life.  He was not meant to be noticed; not meant to attain even the minutest degree of recognition; not meant to salvage anything from the process of obliteration.  His annihilation was absolute.  He existed in one place alone: somewhere very deep inside the memory of little Andrew Bakon, his brother - the brother to whom he had been a companion.  The little retarded boy who had such trouble keeping anything at all within reach of his conscious awareness that only a constant effort, reinforced by a constant reminder to his senses, could retain anything at all of whatever he may have come at any given point to know.  He had been a joy and a delight to Andrew, this boy Kierston.  And it was with great pain that Andrew had mourned his death.  But the period of mourning was shortened by the loss of visual contact.  Within a week Kierston Bakon was but a half forgotten image clinging to his brother's memory.  Within a month no apparent trace remained anywhere.

Andrew Bakon went about with a thought that nagged at his conscience: the thought that there was something which he ought to remember, something very precious and important to him, something which he felt guilty about failing to remember - something which he felt would come to haunt him one day: something which, in letting it be forgotten, would bring misfortune upon him.  And though he could never recall what it was, he could never forget that there was something beckoning from deep within him to be recalled.

He plays with fools, thought Professor Jorge Bakon of his son.  Poor, poor Andrew, consorting with fools and idiots.  Poor, poor child.  Ah, Evelyn, how you grieved for him; how afraid you were to have him.  As if you knew while carrying him of his affliction.  Perhaps you did.  I suppose it's possible.  I suppose anything's possible.

"My God! they're all set to bomb us!  And you sit here worrying how Congress is going to react?  Are you crazy?  You've got to act, man - and now!"

"But I don't know!  Damn it, I don't know!" the man who sat hunched behind the massive desk had said in anguished reply.

"You don't know?  You don't know?  My God, you're the President!  You've got to know!  We're going to be bombed!"

The man pleaded passionately with the President, begging him to do something, but he seemed to be getting nowhere.

"It's our system!" the President kept insisting in defense of his indecision.  "It's our system!  I can't go it alone, I haven't the authority.  Not unless they specifically give it to me!"

"Then get it from them!"

"It's not that easy!  It's a cumbersome, outdated system, geared to a more leisurely pace, an easier assessment of situations, a more normal range of activity, and geared most of all to a sharing of responsibility.  Don't you see that?"

"Do you want us blown to bits while you sit pondering the faults of our system?"

"I want you to understand what I must go through to make the necessary actions possible!  It isn't as simple a matter as pressing a button!"

"But it's precisely that simple!"

"It isn't!  It isn't I tell you!  I will not be alone responsible for starting a nuclear war!  I am not going to move so much as a muscle without direct and explicit congressional authorization!  I will not take all the blame myself!  I refuse to have it be my decision alone!  And that's my final word on the subject."

"Then it's all over," the man commented almost wearily.  "By the time Congress decides to act, it'll be too late.  It'll all be over."

"No, that need not be.  They can move with haste - you'll see."

"We both know that's a lie.  There are too many of them.  Haste is a dish requiring no more than a hand full of cooks at most.  There are a couple hundred preparing the recipe, each with his own notion of which ingredients should be added, and in what proportion, and at what temperature.  Such a concoction will never come to a boil.  Never in a thousand years."

"Well," observed the President rather sheepishly, "perhaps we can console ourselves that haste does, you know, make waste."

The poor man was drained of his very existence upon hearing these words from out of the mouth of the President of the greatest nation that had ever existed on the face of this planet earth.  Drained of his very body and soul.

"That haste should make waste..." he muttered.  "...that haste should make waste...that our nation should end with such a remark..."

The year was the fiftieth anniversary of the ongoing animosity between this nation and its principle adversary.  For fifty years the imagined inevitable confrontation had been deferred, each year along the way portended for sure to be the last before this inevitability was realized, and each year just as surely as the preceding was not the last.

There was a sort of geometric growth pattern regarding the hysteria surrounding the conditions and the certainty of the inevitable, in such a manner that the consequent progression of fifty years' hysteria was something like a thousand fold in its expression: people were not even fifty but more like a thousand times more fearful of the enemy's bombs than they were at the nuclear age's conception.  There was something amounting to a mania in this particular year concerning every aspect of the nuclear equation, however esoteric or remote in time and actual circumstance.  Every morbid curiosity, every disproportionate fear, every exaggerated story was the subject of a nationwide public relations campaign, every somber remark given virtual nationwide coverage before a captive audience of terrified citizens caught up in the midst of the most far-reaching witch hunt in human history.

They were hunting for bombs in the night, these otherwise responsible citizens.  Witches on broomsticks were their quarry: plutonium and nitrogen witches affixed to the projectiles fashioned by modern technology of the fears and secret dreams of conquest shared by its members.

Look out of a night there!  Look out...look out...

There might be a bomb there careening like a chariot through the moon's glow.  Look out!  Stay sharp there!  Be aware...ever aware...

Civil Defense in excelsius deo.

"Bombs in Retrospect," read the cover article in that month's Women's Magazine.  It was an article written by a former high Cabinet official in the government hierarchy.  It was a rather poetic statement by one of the architects of the nation's foreign policy.  In essence what it said was confessional in scope - apologetic.  It said our entire foreign policy had been virtually dictated by that single subject - had been constructed around that one theme.  "We built a policy to better carry our bombs," the article said.  "Our every gratuity extended toward our fellow humans had attached to it a silken hidden web - a strand of our overall policy, our bombardier diplomacy.  The convergence of all our gratuities extended to all our fellow humans was in and around that policy; and the strands emanating from it converged upon this earth - around this earth - as a giant web in which were ensconced all our fellow humans.  How could we expect less of our adversary?  We feared a world in which he had all the bombs; he feared our having them all.  And as the lesser lands of our globe have always their ears hard pressed to the globe lest they fall ignorant of the great nations' comings and goings, so it was that they in turn picked up our vibrations of panic while they had none.  You need not be in the company of fear to become infected; its powers of contagion are such that you need only inhabit the same universe till eventually its vibrations, its pestilence, will find you.  And where it does finally seek you out, and when it does, you may be assured of one thing: the ravages of its pathology cannot be far off.  That is to say, its bombs will be well on their way."

The article said more, but therein was expressed its essential message.  Fear goes into the making of bigger and better bombs, but fear does nothing to forestall their being dropped: it encourages their use.  Reason alone can immunize here.

"The President has sent a letter requesting our immediate compliance in a matter of the utmost gravity and the direst urgency.  So let us commence work upon it.  This session of Congress is hereby opened."

So spoke the Speaker of Congress before a joint session of its members on a Wednesday morning at ten o'clock.

"My constituents demand action!" hollered one distraught Congressman.

"You're out of order!" hollered back the speaker.  "If you wish to be recognized you'll have to adhere to the rules."

"Damn the rules, man!  This is an emergency!" a second Congressman shouted out, upon which remark a very large portion - perhaps half - of the assembled body gave out a cheer, upon which outburst the remainder of the body responded by jeering.

"Order!  Order!" insisted the Speaker as he pounded his gavel furiously.  When the desired order had been effected - when the jeers had counterbalanced the cheers sufficiently to pacify the assembly - the Speaker again took charge of the proceeding.

"We shall not abandon the rules," he stated quite explicitly.  "We shall maintain as nearly a semblance of order as we possibly can.  No emergency, let's pray, is going to reduce us to a mass of babbling apes.  At least, if nothing more - at least let's show some respect for these halls and chambers...for this building...for the great and glorious traditions herein reposited -"

"For God sake, man!" interrupted some junior Congressman from some mining region, "this is hardly the time to moan out the national litany!  We're about to be bombed to smithereens - patriotic sentiment is just going to have to wait!  Now my people -"

"Your people?  Your people?" stormed some other junior member, from some agricultural region, "who the hell are you?  Caesar?  What is this 'my people' business?"

"My constituents!" the mining representative corrected himself.  "For God sake let's not worry about words at a time like this!"

"Oh, so language can just go to hell, can it?" raged a third member, this one a very smartly tailored young gentleman from an urban region.

"Is your precious language going to shield us from their bombs?"

"Maybe not - but neither is your ignorance!  And if anyone survives all this, we'll need my language a sight more than we'll need your ignorance!"

"I'm not ignorant - God damn it!  I'm not ignorant!  And the next man that calls me so is going to wish there were a falling bomb he could hide under!"

"Every one of you are out of order!" screamed the Speaker.

"Just calm yourselves: calm yourselves, all of you," spoke a cool voice barely above a whisper.  "We'll get the job done here a deal faster if we act like what we're supposed to be and not what we are.  For once - just for once - let's be rational, intelligent beings congregated here to examine a problem critically and thoroughly, instead of a pack of humans squabbling over our little piece of the pie, each jealously guarding our little bounty."

The audience was hushed for this brief interlude.  Then the spell was broken by the Speaker and his gavel.

"You may well be right," declared the Speaker in a voice genuine with awe, "but you're every bit as out of order as these others.  Rules come first, I'm afraid."

It started up all over again, the bickering, the wheeling and dealing, the politicking - the whole vast menagerie of give and take among the various personalities each with its own authority and its own sphere of influence.

"Our traditions will hold us together," somebody remarked right in the midst of the fracas.

"We cannot save ourselves!" declared someone else.

"I introduce a resolution that we declare war!" screeched out someone from the back of the room, some senior Congressman from an industrial region.

There was absolute silence upon these words having filled the chamber sufficiently to be grasped by everyone present.

For several moments no one said a word, neither for nor against this resolution.  Not even the Speaker felt the hands of decorum strongly enough upon him to offer the rules in counterpoint to the resolution or to declare the member out of order.

"One doesn't generally enter a resolution quite like this," the Speaker mumbled at last, barely audible, and not even sure whether he had spoken aloud or had simply thought to himself.  "Is there any objection?" he distinctly said aloud.  "Is there a second?  Is there a counter resolution?  Is there a filibuster?  Anything?"  He felt more foolish with each word he uttered, so he just quit speaking altogether.

Several more moments of absolute stillness ensued.  One could almost hear the motion of time as it squirreled its way through the chamber, like a river passing temporarily through a swamp, its progress all but halted, all but hopeless.  Then, without a word, everyone there got up and left, each one certain that something had to have happened because of the many hours they had spent sitting there - where actually only a few moments had passed.

Everybody knew that the end had come, that time had truly run out and that was why it had passed so slowly in the room - like a watch running down until it would eventually cease altogether.

No one could bring himself to take action on the resolution put before Congress.  Each one there had prayed that no other legislator would bring such a resolution before them.  They didn't know how it could be avoided, nor cared.  They knew only that it was all over, that there was no possible way out, that anywhere they turned or any course of action they took the result would be the same.  They knew that if attacked their action would have to counter that attack.  They knew also that if they declared war, and attacked first, that the enemy would have to counter their attack.  In either event it was all over.  So of what use were they?  They had spent their lives, their careers, in constructing all manner of usage, of importance, of necessity, of irreplaceability with which to justify the prestige they had afforded themselves.  They were the elite, their status higher than any other within their society.  Yet they were powerless, with all their formidable status, to alter the course of history; powerless to hold back the end when it was time for its appearance, their status of insufficient durability to shield the nation and the society and the people from whom they had extracted it.  In short, they were useless.  They may just as well go home.

The world had spent its youth in idle pursuits, arranging itself into self-centered little myriads of aggregates of spheres of interest.  Mine!  No, mine!  No, mine!  This is mine, you can't have it!  I want this and I'll fight you for it!  I'll punch you right in the nose too!  It's mine!...

In idle pursuits did humanity squander its precious formative stages.  The earth had become a divided and partitioned turf.  Humanity had grown up without ever having reached a maturation.  Idle, frivolous pursuits.

The existence of the world is at this point conditional.  The world, through interaction with eternity, had evidently seen itself as savage and greedy.  Little pieces of people gobbled up little pieces of land; it all tasted good, and sensual, but digested abominably, producing a nuclear fusion within the bowels, a green mushroom cloud of gas at its nadir.

God's gas.  Named for the He who sits in judgment.  He blew old Chaos to smithereens getting us here, this God did: now let us blow ourselves to smithereens to make way for that old dark fog Chaos in his triumphant return...

...through the mining region, into the agricultural region, on into the urban region, and through the industrial region...

...they each returned unto the houses of their fathers...

...making a paté of the father of fathers...

...hail Chaos!  King of Kings!  God of Gods!  Your wayward greedy children bow down before you here this Wednesday morning at 10 A.M.

The Speaker banged to an empty forum.  They had all left the Chamber of Congress, they had all filed out, one by one, as though in procession.  They had all left, each to return to his own sector, each expecting to find nothing remaining when he got home: each, in truth, carefully measuring each separate step he took, conscious of it on a deep, true level of his mind, wondering which of these precious steps would be his last upon this earth.  Each one here believed the end to be imminent.  Each dwelt within the range of a single footstep, one at a time, carefully measuring his progress by comparison to that humble standard.  Each had become as a child again, just learning to walk; each had returned to his birthplace, wherein the first faint stirrings of motion related to this single frame at a time reference of movement, this beginning of life.  No one walked from that Chamber who expected to live beyond the span of the immediate present.

And when the last legislator had left, the Speaker still remained.  He looked out over an empty forum.  He smiled gently, recalling all the times he had prayed for just such an assembly as this one now before him - all the times he had despaired of the noise and the conflict and the anger and occasionally even violence which had all, in turn, paraded before him, and which he had tried so hard, and often so vainly, to quiet or just to manage with the bang of his gavel.  How he had bargained, in his mind, with the great forces of the universe for just that quality of peace and of calm that lay now within his jurisdiction.  How he had longed for the chance - just once before he died - to conduct an orderly session, in consonance with the rules, one in which everyone spoke only as he was recognized to speak, and never out of turn, and only for the duration of his allotted time, and then quietly to return to his seat, for the next one's turn at speaking his mind.  How he had longed for this, each day of his long years of stewardship here in this Chamber.  "Just once before I die..."

And now it was empty, they had all gone, these contestants for the limelight of this forum.  And with them was gone the noise, the conflict, the anger, the occasional violence...everything which had given life and meaning to this otherwise lifeless and meaningless spot along the vast continuum of the universe.  It had all gone at last.  Just the Speaker remained, with his rules for guidance and his gavel for maintaining order.  But God! what little pleasure lay in these things now that there was nothing to compliment their authority...

He banged the gavel very softly.  We are at order, he thought to himself sadly: at long last at order.  The rules are safe from dispute, secure from contempt.  We are at peace.

"This session of Congress," he spoke very quietly, as in life he had never been able to speak, "is over.  We shall meet again..."

He sat his gavel down, then he slowly got up to leave.  We won't ever meet again, he thought to himself now that he was no longer Speaker but simply a man again.  Even if we don't perish, we shall never meet again: in walking away from our responsibility we have admitted our inability to fill our roles; we are no longer needed within this society.  So even if this particular chalice is passed from our lips, we are finished.  We have disbanded ourselves, dismantled our authority; we have brought to ruin the very system which had brought us all here in the first place.  I don't know what shall follow - but there cannot long remain a void without its being filled.  I can only pray there is a benevolence somewhere to be found in whatever it is which replaces us.  That's all I can hope for now...

The great Chamber was empty for good.  The movement of the door being closed behind the Speaker created a rustle, a tiny rustle as of a sparrow's wings fluttering against the horizon.  You wouldn't notice that kind of a rustle, not at all.  No one ever entered that room again.  That little sparrow's rustle was the last bit of movement ever registered within the great hall of Congress; it was left behind there forever, that tiny stream of air circulating through the empty chamber as a speck of dust might circulate throughout the universe without ever touching another existing thing.

"Three men - we'll have three men," someone suggested.

"Why three?" someone else asked.

"Three, because that's how it should go.  There should be three.  Three always has been.  Three houses - branches - of government; three facets of God; three leaves of clover: three, of whatever it was.  It's the first truly harmonious number.  The triad.  One is all alone.  Two are enmeshed in either love or hate or indifference.  The entrance of the third entity is truly the beginning of society.  The very existence of the third compels the other two to relate to him and to one another.  The odds favor it."

"So then, we're to have a governing body consisting of three men - solely because the odds are good for it?"

"Can you think of a better criterion?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Then three it is."

"Oh well, who's to say otherwise?  But as for me, I still miss the old system."

"But we have the essence of the system."

"The three, you mean?  You think that magic number was the essence of our system of government?"

"I do."

"I do not.  I think there was a great deal more to it.  But I don't suppose there's any way of going back.  They all abandoned us when we needed them most.  Our people would never agree to their return.  That little miracle that somehow saved our world just as surely doomed our government."

"We'll survive."

"Will we?  Perhaps.  But then perhaps their bombs did kill us off after all.  Just more slowly than if they had fallen on us.  Who would have guessed their firing mechanism would fail just when they were set to attack us?  They'd have wiped us out inside of a few hours.  And us helpless.  Oh not without adequate weapons of defense.  But without leadership, our government having vanished as if a magician's trick.  And their firing pin got stuck.  So the world did not get blown to bits.  Who'd have thought it?  And yet, I truly believe it's as surely over for us as if we had been blown to kingdom come.  But pray tell me good sir: just what manner of kingdom is it shall come, shall be vested upon us?  Pray tell, what shall it be?"


"Ah yes, of course.  That magic number again.  Another magician's trick.  But will it save us, I wonder."

"From what?  Do you think they'll try again?"

"To attack us?  Undoubtedly.  And undoubtedly they'll fail again.  There's no end to human incompetence.  We allow not one iota of unreason - not even so much as a decimal point full of prejudice or of whim - to corrupt the purity of our mechanism or the truth of their formulations.  But into our decisions we allow any random impurity.  We call it human considerations, and satisfy ourselves that it's beyond all hope of eradicating from our judgments.  Our machines wouldn't last a month on so flimsy a foundation.  What in God's name makes us think our society can survive eternally on just so slipshod a foundation?  It's laughable, really...when you stop and think about it."

"Maybe that's why they need dictators."

"Now why didn't I think of that!  Of course: whim carried to the ultimate human power yields pure reason, without a blemish of partiality!  How simple the formula!  If only I had thought of it!  How very, very simple that formula."

On a windy day late one summer it was made official: there was to be three.  A sort of triumvirate, to rule over the country, to preside over the various affairs of society known collectively as the government.  Three.  Some sort of accommodation with the past.  A kind of poverty stricken balance of power.  A poor man's authority; a form, without too much of a structure.  On a windy day in late summer.

No one ever knew, or ever would know, exactly how the notion first came about, or how it had gotten started through society, or at what point it somehow changed from a topic of after dinner conversation to a full blown referendum.  All that anyone could discern was that at some point the notion of three-man rule left off being just merely gossip and became an idea whose time was upon us, a thing of irresistible pull to the minds of the majority of citizens, a new kind of law given the full weight of public support and attended with sacred ritual and mythology, complete with proper calling card.

"An idea whose time has come," read an editorial in Woman's Magazine, a magazine seldom given to editorializing.  Women's called the idea of three man rule the wave of the future; but cautioned its readers to call it by its proper name.  It was to be henceforth known officially as The Triumvirate, and no longer Three-Man Rule.  It was explained that this was its true name, as it was called back when it was ascendant once before.  There came in the wake of all this to be in fashion a renewed interest in ancient history, particularly that of Rome.  And there came to be a renewed interest in history's all time greatest and most highly cherished triumvirate.

The names Caesar, Pompey and Crassus were all the rage, the homage paid them surpassed only by the homage paid the actual men bearing those names over two thousand years ago.  Everything was Caesar this, Pompey that, Crassus the other.  Parents named their children according to the standards established about those names, boys getting the full honors, girls having to settle for some mutation of the actual name.  Products were given those names in hopes of bringing new found wealth into the coffer of corporations.  Houses and apartments were named with them in mind: you could for an additional cost secure a Caesar condominium, or a Pompey ceiling, or a Crassus motif for your bathroom.  Streets and theaters were named or re-named wherever feasible.  And there was an old hoary building in a vacation spot named Caesar's Palace, which overnight became the number one tourist attraction in the country.

"They saw it coming I tell you," a tourist was heard to chant in praise.  "Yes sir, they saw it - and they cashed in on it.  God bless 'em!"

There was a Pompey ice cream, a Crassus soda pop, a Caesar cereal.  And - dear God in heaven! - a Caesar Salad, which overnight became the best loved dish in the land.

"We never doubted it for a moment," a chef was heard to remark.  "We kept the recipe intact - for the time when the palates of this nation will have matured.  And - voila! - they at last have!"

It was all the rage, these names from your history book.

"Little Caesar," was the nickname which came to be attached to Henry and Marie Bakon's son Jorge.  He was a precocious youth, and a perfect little gentleman.  He was very well mannered and exceedingly even-tempered.  He was thoughtful, quiet, considerate of others.  In sum, he was everything contrary to anything implied in the name Caesar, let alone Little Caesar.

But there was an air about him, a presence which seemed to those around him almost as if it were not of himself, a quality almost indefinable, a kind of ominous magnetism made all the more forbidding and awesome for its dire want of expression.  This presence was truly a tyrant, but where the boy should have been.  Everyone cowered before the boy, yet there was never a real reason for doing so; never a threat if they did not, never a reprimand, never the slightest suggestion of violence or of treachery.  Yet even so, there was a hard tyranny arranged within the boy's periphery, there was this terrible aura which encircled him, this appearance of intimidation - as if, while the boy was gentle and gracious, it was perceived in him that he had the power to do immense mischief upon the world if ever he should choose to do it.  Not that anyone disbelieved the boy's sincerity, or questioned the genuineness of his soft emotions and mannerisms - but that they felt beneath it all that if they failed to pay homage to him then one day his demeanor would turn on him, that this presence would seize the sweetness of Jorge Bakon and wrestle it out of his heart for nothing more than the pure frustration of not being worshipped any longer.  As if they felt that so long as this presence - this beast lurking - was kept satisfied it would leave the boy alone, and he in turn would leave them be: would keep them shielded from the beast.  The people in Jorge's sphere often thought of China, of Napoleon's advice to let China sleep for the world would tremble if ever she awoke.  This was how they viewed the presence, the aura, about Jorge Bakon, Little Caesar.

"Your son, Marie, is destined to be a great man," observed Miss Lucetta Oldham to Mrs. Bakon.

"I think maybe so," was Marie Bakon's reply.  "But I can't be sure I approve," she added as an afterthought.

"Not approve?" repeated Miss Oldham.  "What is there about the prospect which warrants disapproval?"

"It's very hard to put into words, Miss Oldham," explained Mrs. Bakon.  "But I know Jorge better than anyone.  I know he expects people to treat him special."

"And why not?  He is special, is he not?"

"No one is that special, and certainly not in and for themselves.  I'm sorry, I can't quite find proper expression for what I feel concerning this whole matter.  I don't want to say special, I don't want to say disapprove - I don't want to employ any of the words I have at my disposal.  So I'm left without words to use unless I choose to settle for these kinds of words.  But they're insufficient.  Alright, take special: you say Jorge is special.  Well, yes, he is - but  not in the way you're thinking

"You mean, I suspect, to imply that Jorge has within him the seed of greatness, and that's why he's special.  But you see, that's not how I mean it.  To me, Jorge is special not in that he may or may not have the potential for greatness; but simply that he is so different, so uniquely himself.  It's that kind of special I mean.  But it doesn't entitle him to great deference.  Only to understanding - and to that, I believe everyone is entitled."

"I must disagree on that point," observed Miss Oldham gravely.  "This is not a pretty business, life that is.  Neither can society be.  We have neither time nor energy, nor the natural disposition, for rendering our sympathies universally.  I'm afraid, to shorten a long story, we must suffer only the chosen few, giving the rest nothing. It sounds cruel - and it is cruel - but there is no other way.  Those who are born into this world with neither position nor wealth - those without status - must bear the absence of understanding and compassion for their plight as well.  Truthfully, Marie, there is no other way.  If everyone has a little something, then there is no incentive for those who are not great yet to aspire to greatness: only the truly great are motivated from within, all others are motivated by the thought of looking down on those who have nothing.  A great man does not gloat that others have less.  But my dear, the vast majority of successful men are great only to the extent that others are not.  They are mere illusions, created of statistical comparisons.  It is their only motivation, thinking themselves to be this thing which they are not and could never be.  And I'm sorry to say it, but they are needed, these pretenders, no matter how distasteful they may be.  They have their place on this earth.  They perform tasks, and as reward they are treated to our collective sympathies.  While those they leave behind are given nothing but the poking of a sharp stick.  So it's always been, my dear, and so it always shall.  Just be glad that your Jorge will never have to feel the sharp stick at his side.  And there's really nothing more for you to consider."

Marie Bakon smiled.  "How wise you are," she spoke almost mechanically, half-heartedly.  She believed in the essential wisdom of this proud woman, just as she acknowledged the heritage which stood behind the Oldham name.  They were in fact one, the wisdom and the heritage.  It was impossible to say where one began and the other left off, or which had in the course of things come first.  Was it the wisdom of the Oldhams - and of their counterpart the Timesons - which made their long tradition so imminently rich, so well honored; or was it this grand tradition which endowed them with an air of special wisdom, gave them to presuppose their own wisdom, society to honor them for possessing it?                                

Marie Bakon was hesitant toward either supposition.  Her deference toward the Oldham-Timesons was genuine; her regard for their sensible, down to earth way of seeing things as they were and accepting without rebellion what was commonly referred to as the way of the world, too, was quite genuine.  But in all this was something to trouble Marie Bakon's thoughts, something hard to pinpoint - impossible to find actually worthy of complaint, but bothersome nevertheless.  If they are so highly honored, Marie Bakon thought to herself, and if they are thought to be so wise - then doesn't the combination almost overshadow truth itself?  Doesn't it seem that their word carries so inordinate a weight that even a hard and fast truth of existence might be brushed aside as inconsequential if they should choose to espouse beliefs contrary to that truth?  Isn't there a danger, then, that their opinion could impress itself upon the minds of people with the weight of an edict?  Isn't there at root a danger here of tyranny?

"Mother, it's of no consequence one way or the other," Jorge Bakon asserted kindly once when Marie Bakon spoke to him of the Oldham-Timesons.  "There is a line," he explained soothingly, "in a book I've read: 'Alice Through The Looking Glass.'  The line is given by, of all things, Humpty Dumpty.  'The question is whoever is to be master - that's all.'  Do you understand what it means?"

"Of course."

"Then don't trouble yourself over it.  Those who are meant to rule will rule.  The very fact that they rule confirms their fitness to rule.  What difference does it make whether truth or fiction is the mode of their expression?  If they speak great truths or if they speak the most outrageous nonsense - it's all one, it makes no difference whatever.  The essence does not change: their word - whatever that word may be - is of greater import than any other, and it will always be taken as the final word on the subject."

"The final word?" asked Mrs. Bakon a bit haughtily.  "Aren't you overlooking reality?  It will eventually expose all falsehoods for what they are.  Given enough time."

"But it won't be viewed that way," Jorge answered back, momentarily uncertain of himself and of how to reply to his mother's statement.

"How will it be viewed?" inquired his mother.

"As the words of a new ruler - words which simply happen to contradict an earlier view.  After all, reality manifests itself to humans through humans.  The words of one...the words of another.  This is how it is.  Whoever is ascendant within a society can pick and choose his own opinions as society's truths.  When he goes, his truths go with him, and another set of truths come to the center of attention as another human comes to be ascendant within his society.  That's how it is...that's how it is viewed.  The mass of humans perceive no such occurrence as reality stripping bare somebody's words to expose his falsehoods.  They see only somebody overthrowing those ideas which had been held as true, then substituting his own in their place.  As simple a matter as changing into a new suit of clothes.  Truth is no more than an interchangeable wardrobe of outfits, whoever is in charge the model upon whom the new outfit will look as though it and it alone had been expressly created for this season's fashion show.  'The singer, not the song,' mother.  Always remember that, and you'll have no trouble understanding human society.  Not what is said, but who says it."

"You're probably right," admitted Marie Bakon to her son.  "But what an ugly world.  However so much more beautiful if the world of our illusions could be made real.  However so much more beautiful.  To breathe clean air, from a clean atmosphere.  To drink pure water, life giving water, from a pure reservoir.  How beautiful..."

"But it can never be, mother."

"Then our imaginations are for naught," Marie Bakon smiled, as if at great peace with herself.  You are as wrong as wrong can be, she thought of her son.  As wrong as wrong can be...

"It's been called a plum before - ripe for the picking," declared young Jorge Bakon to a teacher of his.  "But never before has it been quite so true as it is now.  Oh, I don't intend to pluck it from the vine," he added as if to clarify his statement into a metaphor.  "But I do mean to be in command some day.  There's a void; it cannot long remain that way.  Someone must eventually fill it in.  There is no such thing as a society of humans without some manner of power to be found within it and some means of its exercise.  For that matter any society, not just human society.  No society can long remain without power of some sort at its core.  Societies, after all, exist by the grace of centrifugal force.  Shut off that force, and society flies into so many meaningless pieces.  Even just weaken that center of gravity and society begins to polarize.  And you can plainly see it happening with us.  Even as we sit lamenting, our society is slowly disintegrating right before us.  You see, our institutions by and of themselves have no real enduring vitality; consequently they cannot hold things together for long.  For awhile, yes - as they have done these past fifteen years.  But now they're losing their cohesiveness, it's all starting to come unglued.  It requires a much sterner kind of authority than merely the abstract authority of institutions and of traditions: it needs the firm hand of humans in order for it to be effective.  Authority without the power behind it to effect its enforcement is as pitiably fragile an entity as a bird with a broken wing.  Nor can it be left to the good graces of our people to preserve our society.  It needs stronger, more predictable patterns of interaction.  I'm afraid that freedom, like everything else, has no more meaning than any other impossible ideal without the firm roots of authority to hold it to this earth.  Take away the power which creates stability and freedom will simply turn on its worshippers.  No, freedom is not the first goal of society but its last goal - an afterthought to be sought after and secured only when everything else it needs has been attained.  This is how it is.  I make no apology for it, or for happening to see it.  The path before us - before me - is clear.  Quite clear.  I must acquire rulership.  I see no alternative if our society is to survive.  This is how it must be."

"And the men we already have in rulership," Bakon's teacher gently reminded.

"What of them, you mean?" responded Bakon a bit incredulously, as if such a consideration were preposterous.  "Those men are simply there, that's all.  They don't belong, really.  I suppose they're the best available at the moment - or at least were the best at the exact moment they were chosen.  Well, be that as it may, they have outlived their usefulness.  Better men are needed.  More aggressive leadership.  The country is beginning to show signs of wear under their stewardship - and, please note, it is more nearly a stewardship than a rulership, whatever it is they do.  It's beginning to lag behind, this greatest of all nations.  Stagnating.  And all so that three old worn out men may retain the positions thrust upon them.  For this sorriest of all possible reasons for maintaining a status quo, we are to sit back and watch our nation die?  For this reason?  For the sake of three old men, and a hoary old idea of three-pronged leadership?  For this I'm to witness the passing of civilization from this planet?  Can you seriously imagine I'll sit still for such as this?  That I'll hold back my ambition, my talents, my very destiny in order not to upset this indelicate imbalance of history and culture?  Can you possibly be so blind as to fail seeing my only possible course of action here?  Can you fail to see the overwhelming implication to my behavior as a human being, the overriding imperative for my intervention into this absurd masquerade?  I have absolutely no choice in the matter!  I must take power by whatever means are available and expedient.  I must dissolve this impasse to action and progress, this ancient farce, this cretin's idea of continuity with the past and with the defunct republicanism of that past - this insufferable nonsense about a triumvirate at the head of our society!  I must accrue to myself all the power.  It can no longer stand the abusing debasement of its being shared, parceled out like sticks of licorice among the three, or any other variety of this 'many-from-one' lunacy of human social development!  It must be consolidated and given thereby its fullest expression.  There is no alternative.  Not if survival is our aim in life."

"The people will not have it!  They will not have it!" roared a Mr. Josiah Smithson, senior member of the triumvirate when confronted by Jorge Bakon concerning his scheme.  "Do you hear me, Bakon, they will not stand for it!"

"They?  They?  You speak of the people as though they counted for something!  They are nothing, these precious 'they' of yours!"

"Nothing, you maintain?  Well be advised, young man, it is from them - and from no other source - that flows the almighty power you seek so greedily!  From them, do you hear?  And from no other source!"

"It is inherent in the very nature of rule," corrected Bakon.  "It has nothing to do with the people.  It proceeds directly and entirely from the fact of rulership.  To rule is to have power.  No one gives it - not willingly - at least no one but a fool does: it is taken as part of the process of ruling.  Whoever presides dictates.  Power is his alone, created by his position solely for his own exercise; it is not granted, not by anyone.  So move aside, old man, and take your two cronies as you go.  It's my turn to rule."

"Never," replied Smithson.  "You may succeed in turning us out of office - you may manage to convince the people we must be put out of office: but you will never manage to have them accept one man rule in our place.  We'll make sure of that.  If we must go - and if the people so will it, then so be it - but if so, we shall make sure there are three chosen to replace us.  Not one, but three.  And if you truly believe there is no connection between the power of a ruler and the legitimacy granted that power by the people ruled - then try replacing us without first taking your case before the people, without first winning their support.  Just try it - and they'll tear you to pieces."

"In time they'll be conditioned," replied Bakon with an evasion not quite fully covered with hauteur.

"Oh, so in time they'll be conditioned to accept your view?  Well, that may be - but it doesn't alter in the least particular that it will always be from them flows whatever power their ruler has.  So even if you do convince them the power lies in the position - and in you as their ruler - it still won't change the true nature of it.  Just because you dupe them doesn't make your deceit any less so.  A lie to the power of infinity is still a lie.  Its identity never changes.  Your image no matter how enlarged remains just as plainly out of balance as when it was no bigger than a fly speck.  And that rather trite observation, sir, will mark your downfall.  Count on it."

There was never a question of who would win out, who would lose.  Nor was there ever a question of method.  It was all cut and dried: Bakon won, the Smithson triumvirate lost, the attack as subtle as it was effective.

There was nothing to overthrow, no need of a coup in particular.  Rather, it was the simplest task Jorge Bakon had ever assigned himself.  He merely proved the triumvirate inefficient, ineffectual, inadequate to the requirements of a society poised, as was this one, between the modern world and the primeval world of the jungle - poised delicately, one false move either way capable of forging the very linkage needed to ensnare that society.  Too much civilization, and the society became a weakened, therefore a ready target of aggression; too little civilization and the society lost its essential technological sophistication which it needed to insure an adequate defense.  A delicate stance, any way it was viewed.

And these three old men, the members of the Smithson triumvirate, were absolutely unable to maintain so fine a balance: so declared Jorge Bakon repeatedly before the people of the nation, in newspapers, magazines, on television, radio, in speeches to live audiences.  Everywhere.  

Naturally, the members of the triumvirate had more than ample opportunity for expressing their contrary views; but they lacked the luster of Bakon, they lacked the polish of his suave, self-assured delivery, they lacked the vitality of his obsessive belief in his opinions as the only truth, the whole truth.  And they lacked his overpowering drive for total domination more than anything else.  They were reasonable men, given to open minded opinions, always willing to consider opposing views and where feasible to strike a compromise.  Bakon, however, was uncompromising and unwilling to so much as even hear any other viewpoint.

Most surely the prize in this contest of political skills was a plum full ripe for the plucking if ever there were such a thing in all the history of mankind.  And most surely of all did Jorge Bakon with a dexterity bordering on divine genius, a skill consummately maneuverable, an understanding of human weakness almost prophetic - most surely did he pluck this fruit off the outstretched hand of his society. Without so much as a real contest.

The miracle was that he did not get it all.  It seemed incredible the three old men could garner any support at all among the people, let alone sufficient to hold absolute power at bay long enough to effect a compromise of sorts; but somehow they managed, these three old men.  Though actually it was not really them, it was something else manifesting itself through them which achieved the splintering of Bakon's power.

It was custom - tradition.  Specifically, it was the custom of the triumvirate which managed to maintain for awhile more the semblance of freedom and democracy within this society.  People simply could not and would not accept any notion of one man rule no matter how blindly they might have chosen to follow that one man.  It was too much a part of them, it was ingrained in the very patterns of their lives, their behavior, their beliefs and thoughts.  It was their fondest tradition, this separation of government into three bodies: a fanciful separation to be sure, but a custom bearing the weight of an absolute belief - bearing that weight down even upon so mighty an entity as the ideas of Jorge Bakon.

"Two men will be with you," advised old Smithson before he left office.  "You thought you'd have it all, no doubt.  But the people shall not be cheated of their right to dictate to their rulers the terms by which they may rule.  So it is with you as well.  I had faith in them, in their love of liberty; but still I dreaded this showdown.  I feared they'd lose - they'd give it all up in your honor, so great was your influence over them.  But they've vindicated their own deepest beliefs, their ideals.  They've chosen to keep their liberty.  They've chosen, that is, to let you rule instead of recognizing your self-proclaimed right to rule.  They've held out for the most optimal terms; they're still the boss, you their servant."

"You think so?" replied Bakon.  "You think it's all that, do you?  Well, you're wrong, Smithson, because it isn't.  I assure you it's no more than a custom - the custom of triumvirate, of three-pronged rule.  A mere liking for the Neptune's trident.  No more than this."

"No," Smithson shook his head, "not merely a custom.  Ah, it may well be a custom, too - that is, it may have become a custom - but it's much more: it's an idea, a belief.  Or at least that's where it derives from.  Please don't confuse an idea with a mere custom."

"There's nothing to confuse," replied Bakon.  "It may have been an idea to whoever initiated it, an idea to whoever carried it down through the ages, an idea to whoever sits in guardianship of it - it may be an idea to you, or even to me, but I assure you it's simply a custom and not one whit more than a custom to the great mass of humanity.  And therein, my dear sir, lies the great overriding strength of my argument, and the very source of my claim to power - to the acquisition, the assertion, the utilization of power.  It is a custom in the eyes of the great majority of people.  And as such it can be replaced with other customs without disturbing the sensibilities or the equilibrium or the psyches of the large portion of humankind.  They can accept slavery as easily as freedom - and once done, they can as easily accept themselves as slaves as they can free men.  It's just a matter of transition.  I anticipated their readiness to accept it.  I was too soon -"

"You'll always be too soon!" interrupted Smithson.  "People will never accept their own slavery!"

"They would, and quite easily and willingly.  But it must bear of course some other nomenclature.  A prettier sounding word.  And in fact a prettier concept to define the word.  And altogether a prettier reality in general.  I don't propose to slip manacles and leg irons around every limb of every person in this society.  It's not needed, it never has been.  Nor is it desirable.  I cannot lead a shackled people, I cannot attain my goals with the aid of sheep.  I'm not seeking slaves.  I seek, rather, the minds of men that I might mold them to my line of thinking.  That's the way I intend to move ahead toward my goals.  Not with whips at their backs and chains on their feet, but with ideas - my ideas - as the motive power of their actions, as the threads which pattern their behavior, as the molds into which all their independent thoughts and deeds must first pass and be shaped before being brought into reality - as the very eyes through which they come to behold the world around them.  My ideas, as their primary link to existence.  My aims and their aims one.  The world as I see it and wish it, the world - the only possible world - they inhabit or conceive of being inhabitable.  My life, theirs.  My soul, their only god.  My own divinity if you will, sir: that's what I seek, at rock bottom.  My own deification.  And mark my words: I shall attain it, sir.  I shall..."

Chapter 15.  Crassus

"Two men will be with you," old Smithson of the expiring triumvirate had announced to his successor, Jorge Bakon.  "You'll never have it all, sir," he went on to declare.

"Which two men?" someone had asked - someone other than Bakon, who was totally disinterested in the identities of his fellow members of the new triumvirate, and who had left old Smithson's presence.

Smithson replied that the men were Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt and Dr. Karl Johnson, both of whom were quite well known among their contemporaries: Johnson being known for his scientific learning and for his exceedingly humanitarian perspective, McDermitt for his social prestige, his immense wealth, and for his incomparable diplomatic skills.  Both men were exceedingly well thought of within their society, their virtues well expressed in their respective achievements - Johnson's the achievements of expansion, of noble ambition transfixed in practical goals diligently sought and honorably executed; McDermitt's those of consolidation, of a fine harboring of traditions and customs within the framework of social progress, of the steady attainment of carefully selected objectives blended with the sure perfection of high breeding and impeccable background.  Johnson the man of the future, McDermitt of the past: together, a harmonic arrangement suitable to the difficult requirements of a society in transition from one way of life to some as yet unknown other.

"Two of the finest gentlemen this nation has ever produced," observed old Smithson's questioner, to which sentiment Smithson nodded in agreement.

"I only hope," Smithson added in the manner of an afterthought, "that they'll be adequate to their foremost task in life."

"What task is this?"

"That of keeping Jorge Bakon at bay.  He's a wolf, this man.  And in this respect consider all of our freedoms as flocks of sheep - flocks tended by Dr. Johnson and Mr. McDermitt.  Should they fail in their vigil, our freedoms will go into fattening the wolf's power lust.  It's an old recipe, my friend, time-honored.  Tried and true.  It's always worked and it always shall.  Unless the entire force of government stands vigil over its citizens' freedoms, the tyrants have a clear shot at the people's jugular.  It's something the tyrants go after instinctively.  It's only on rare occasions that the people have realized it too - and even rarer when they've acted on that realization.  They rarely demand anything of their government, when in fact it is theirs to demand full and absolute and unquestioned protection of their natural liberties by that government.  We must therefore pray that Dr. Johnson and Mr. McDermitt have it in them to stand between us and this wolf Bakon."

How did I get into this mess? thought Chesapeake McDermitt as he sat in the enemy's dungeon, their captive.  This was not his normal style of thought - it was too carefree, too self indulgent, too ignoble: not at all the kind of thoughts his mind was wont to convey, not his usual method of contemplation.  His thoughts were normally bound within the tight confines of duty, the range and scope of his mind constricted by the noble traditions of his heritage.  He was an aristocrat and a statesman, the first by birth, the second through upbringing.  He was not used to such abstractions as his predicament at any given moment in his career; his duty required any sacrifices his position enjoined him to make: it was not his business to rebel, even in thought, against the higher good of his society, or its higher wisdom.

In a word he felt uncomfortable with his thoughts, as uncomfortable as with his surroundings - and, indeed, in something very like the same ratio.  Here he was in a fine, elegant suite of rooms: sitting room, dining, bedroom, bath, all tastefully appointed, easily as rich as any decor of any great hotel.  Here he was, the honored guest.  Yet here it was, this suite, not in some grant hotel someplace but in the middle of a dungeon deep beneath the enemy's fortress prison.  And here he was luxuriously captive within this lavish dungeon.  And so were his thoughts captive - the rebellious, independent thoughts of a man victimized by circumstance held captive within the iron clad framework of attitudes learned, customs honored, traditions sanctified, so that he felt more anguish at his own anger and resentment than at his captivity.

He felt disloyal, he felt traitorous, even sinful at his assessment of the current state of diplomatic affairs as a mess into which he had somehow wondered.  He felt as if he were single-handedly destroying everything he had believed about himself and about life, everything he had held dear as personal values and as social responsibilities, everything that was expected of him and that he had come to expect of himself.  He felt as if he were unworthy of the situation he was in and of the great sacrifice he would be called upon to make.

He was not afraid, neither of torture nor of death.  He was not afraid that he might not hold up well or that his dignity might desert him under stress.  But he was afraid - terrified - that he might come to resent his society for making so great a demand on him - for extracting so great a sacrifice.  He felt as though he might at any moment come to actually hate his people for doing this to him.  And he felt as though the very fate of civilization hung by just that fine a thread as his ability to bear up under this anguish.  He felt as if it was absolutely vital to the continued existence of the civilized world that men be able to put aside personal, selfish attitudes and feelings for the sake of the duty they had to and the greater good of their society.  He felt - had always felt - that if ever he gave in, if ever he broke - his will, his sense of responsibility, his spirit of humanity: that if ever he gave in, then all hope was gone, for if even he who had dedicated his entire life to that ideal, he who had consecrated that noblest of all ideals upon the altars of his family heritage - if even he could break, then there was no hope, it was forever an unattainable ideal, vague and reckless.  And then ultimately meaningless.

So terror gripped upon him in that crypt below the enemy's fortress, where damask draped the places where in a real home would have been windows, and where iron reinforced the hand carved motif of the door, and soundproofing enveloped the entire surface of the rooms, and electronic equipment monitored his every move, every sound he made there within that lavish vault.  Dear God don't let me betray them, he prayed in terror.  Don't let my life have been for nothing.

But all the same it almost overpowered him sometimes, the feeling that it was he who had been betrayed, he who had been cheated, he who had been maligned.  Sometimes it was all he could do to keep from thinking it.  Sometimes he was scarcely sure if it was even his mind doing the thinking.  He toyed off and on with the idea that someone else was thinking these terrible thoughts and he was simply reading their minds.  He toyed mightily with that notion.

"Telepathy," he explained.

"What?" inquired his interrogator.

"I've become adept at telepathy," he said in a detached tone of voice.

The man sat for a moment staring at McDermitt, looking at him as at an object of extreme loathing.  "Repeat that please," the man ordered.

"I am telepathic," McDermitt repeated.  "It was not a faculty I knew myself to be possessed of, not one I undertook to develop, not one -" he stopped suddenly.

His interrogated had gotten up and walked over to him, stopping in front of him, slapping him across the mouth in a gesture of almost pure contempt - very little violence as such, but the strong, quick motion of disgust.

"I am a scientist," the man remarked haughtily, adding as he gestured about the room, "we are all scientists here, except for you.  We have devoted our lives to the pursuit and the study of knowledge.  We are not pursuers of the frivolous or the senseless.  We are not statesmen possessed of omnipotence, we do not beckon while others must jump to do our bidding.  We are men of science and of reason.  Men made to serve the likes of you: you, vermin, with your childish concept of telepathy!  The scum of this earth - and for no other reason than that you have a little power at your disposal, so must our ideas and our very minds be at your disposal!  We who have discovered the very secrets of existence - we must turn our discoveries over to such as you, submit our researches to your judgment, beg your indulgence of our ideas and of our needs: we who are next to gods in the true hierarchy of humanity, we must defer to the very lowest among humanity in order to be allowed to pursue our researches, even just to live!  And you dare, vermin, speak before us of your telepathic powers?  You dare confront us with this final insult?  You insufferable abomination!"

Once more the man lashed out and struck McDermitt across the face, this time with great violence in his hand - that of pure hatred, and of an overpowering urge to destroy this prisoner, as though McDermitt were some arch villain hateful beyond all other things in existence.

"You dare insult us like this?" the man screeched and struck McDermitt yet a third time.

"Come, each of you take a turn!" he called to his fellow scientists - fellow interrogators.

McDermitt shook his head feebly.  "No, please," he begged, "I'm not who you think I am.  Please, I'm not one of your masters.  Please, please!  I'm only like them - a counterpart merely, no more.  What purpose can it serve to take out your hate on me?  I'm only like them, I'm not them!"

Then a thought came to him: the thought that nothing could possibly save him, that his very likeness to these scientists' masters was his doom, that through him - through their destruction of him - would they attain a manner of satisfaction for all the abuse and the humiliation and the frustration they had suffered at the hands of those masters of theirs who he was so very much like.  The thought that they were here represented in the person of himself, these hated masters of his interrogators; that in destroying him it was a vicarious overthrowing and destroying of their masters; and that there was nothing on earth to save him.  These were his last thoughts; his mind would never work properly again.

One after another these seekers after the divine truths of the cosmos beat him, each separate one of these scientists, these lovers of knowledge beating him unmercifully, each interrogator getting in his allotted share of blows upon McDermitt's unarmed frame.  In the name of the science, and the truth, and the eternal light.  Amen.

All the while, wherever there was left within him some vestige, some semblance of thought, McDermitt was contained of a single thought, a single idea for the total expression of his mentality: that hideous, inescapable knowledge that through him these scientists were taking their revenge on the leaders to whom they had indentured their souls that their minds might continue to function; that monstrous anguish of knowing that nothing could keep his fate at bay, of knowing that in him these men saw reflected their masters, and in his abuse lay the smoldering ritual of rebellion - the soft ceremony, the unformed, boneless shape of actual rebellion, but the shape alone, without either essence or reality.  I am your boss, I am your boss, he thought.  This was how the complex relationship of his beating was characterized in his thoughts.  The symbols of the situation - fists and flesh for arms and tyrants - and the things symbolized were all entrapped in that one phrase, that catch word.  I am your boss.

He even screamed it out at one point: "I am your boss!" - a defiant, angry, haughty cry.  And both he and his tormentors knew what was meant by it.  They beat him more fiercely than ever after his cry, as if they were answering his statement with their combined brute force.

He could not believe how long it was taking him to pass out. He imagined nothing like what was happening; he expected to pass out, or else die, in the first few moments of torment.  Yet he kept going.  He couldn't grasp it, or how it could be.  Here were five men beating him with a savagery which only those capable of selling their souls to others can display; and here was his frail body ruptured and punctured and bleeding and torn - yet still he remained conscious.  It was almost unbearable to him that he remained intact with so much damage done to him.  And yet there was pride in him, the pride of toughness, of being able to take it.  He had never thought he had it in him to take so much; he had always felt inferior because of his delicate sensibilities.  Now he felt the pride of toughness.  Of being man enough to take it.

It was a virtue, this business of being tough, a virtue held sacred in his society - perhaps in every living society - but one he had felt the lack of, and the anguish at its lack.  I cannot fulfill their image of a man, he had always secretly felt.  And now he knew he could.

But infinitely much more, if even this late the discovery, he knew how little it really mattered whether he could take it or not.  He had been tested supremely, and had won: he was one of them, a man, acceptable to himself and to his society.  And yet all he wanted - all, at last, he knew to be of any importance whatsoever - was to pass out, so that the agony of his torment might become obviated.  He knew at long last that there are referents in actuality to all the slick virtues people so carelessly accept, and that when you actually get down to practicing them, these virtues, you encounter something far different from the glorious heroism everybody associates with them.  It's ugly, and it's absolutely meaningless, the actual instance of these so called virtues.  It's pain and it's anguish.  And by what infernal right does anyone, or everyone, declare pain and anguish values to be sought after?  Let them have their virtues, he concluded in silent betrayal.  Let them take it, let them be tough...let them endure the blows.  But dear God let me pass out!

He saw for an instant in his mind the battered remains of the foreign minister who these people had sent in good faith to his people.  He heard that man's screams as his limbs had been torn from his body by the crowd of virtuous citizens.  He recalled all this for a brief instant.  His coffin's not heavy, he thought in paraphrase of an old, old song, he's my twin.  I'm the one in his coffin, he's the one will be in mine.  He's my brother...

Then he sensed, just barely sensed, and only for a portion of a second, a wonderful circumstance...a divine inspiration, or revelation.  He sensed the onset of unconsciousness.  He knew that he was about to pass out, at long last; and in that knowledge was only goodness.  There was peace, there was release from pain, there was affinity at long long last to his society's ideals, and to his own - his deepest ideals, his society's shallowest: those formed within himself at his earliest encounter with the bigger, stronger boys of his childhood, and to which all his others had been affixed, if quite by chance.  Now when he would awaken, if ever he did, the very first thought there to greet him was this supreme knowledge that he could take it, he was surely and truly a man, he did not easily succumb to pain, he did not easily give up consciousness, he had held out to the bitter end.  He had become alter ego to an alcoholic: men were enjoined to drink their fill and to be tough and take it.  He was tough now, he took it.  Who knows? maybe there might even be time left for carousing.  Or for womanizing - society's other identifying characteristic by which are established the bounds of manhood.  A man fights, drinks, and...you name it.  None of which could poor McDermitt do very well up to now.                                

"Chesapeake S. L. G. McDermitt," a neighborhood child had dubbed McDermitt when he too was a child.

"What do the initials mean?" another child asked.

"The S. L. G., you mean?"

"Yeah, what do they mean?"

"Why that's his middle name.  You know, how all those rich class kids have all those strange middle names and all those fancy initials and monograms and all?  Well those are his.  I gave them to him."

"But what do they mean?"

"It means 'Chesapeake Sissy Little Girl McDermitt,' that's what it means."

Whereupon the two children burst into laughter.  That too was always one of society's trademarks bestowed upon its male members, that ability to laugh heartily and without the restraint of compassion at another human.  A boy was tough, only girls were afraid to hurt other people' feelings.  And sissies.

"Doesn't it bother you?" a friend of McDermitt's had asked him after having overheard some other children passing along the monogram.

"No, of course not," McDermitt replied thoughtfully.

"Not even a little bit?" his friend persisted.

"I don't say it doesn't maybe hurt a little.  In fact, I don't say at all that it doesn't hurt - only that it doesn't really bother me.  But I guess you'll say they're the same, hurt and bothered.  Only I don't see them that way.  I see them as different points of focus of the same event.  That's why even though it hurts, because I don't want to be ridiculed and it feels sad to be ridiculed, even so it doesn't really bother, because I realize that what's behind it has a legitimate basis.  What I mean is, there's a standard for little boys, and I understand that I don't live up to that standard."

"What do you mean?" inquired his friend, with great interest, and with a certain uneasiness, for he'd never heard this manner of talk before and, as most people felt uneasy in the presence of a new idea even though his natural curiosity insisted he inquire further into the matter.

"Well, little boys are supposed to be tough.  And I'm not."

"How do you know you're not?"

"I don't fight, so how could I be?"

"Oh," his friend exclaimed, sensing at last something not at all new but rather quite familiar, his mind therefore put at ease again.

"Right?" McDermitt persisted.

"Yeah, I'd have to say so, if it's your fault."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if maybe your parents don't let you fight, then it can't really be your fault that you don't.  See?"

"Oh yeah," replied McDermitt, not quite sure if he actually did see.

"Of course, on the other hand," his friend mused, "suppose they saw that you weren't tough enough to fight, and so that's why they wouldn't let you fight?  You know, because maybe they knew you'd get beat, and they didn't want their son beat up.  See what I mean?"

Chesapeake nodded.

"Why don't you ask them?" his friend suggested.

"I might," he replied.  But I doubt it, he thought to himself.  After all it's their opinion of me, whatever it is, so I have no right to pry.  It's their business, and not mine.

"Next week you begin school," Chesapeake McDermitt's mother had informed him.  We've thought it over very, very carefully and decided it would be in your best interest to send you to the Armory.  Remember, dear, when we discussed that school with you?"

"Yes ma'am," the boy replied.

"Well that's the one we decided on.  I know you'll like it.  A military academy provides excellent training for a boy.  Now if you were a girl, of course that would be different.  We'd want to keep you here with us for the duration of your primary schooling, then of course send you to a finishing school.  But since you'll naturally be going into the diplomatic corps when you begin your career, your father and I have carefully considered all the possibilities and we both agree this is best for you, going to the military academy.  Now it's true, of course, that it doesn't exactly prepare you for the diplomatic training you'll naturally want later on, still we feel - your father and I - that it will provide you with a proper background.  Certainly this is true academically.  They have the finest scholastic record of any young boy's academy.  You'll be proud to be an alumnus of that school.  And while the discipline may be a bit severe, still we feel - your father and I - that you'll quickly adapt yourself to the regimen, and in the end that you'll be most grateful for it.  Now we'll write you as often as we can, although they do have very definite rules concerning parental correspondence; I think we may not write in excess of three letters per month, but I'm sorry I'm just not as clear on that point as I know I should be.  But your father or I, one, will certainly check into it.  And of course you're allowed to answer each time we correspond with you.  And - well, you'll know more concerning the regulations and so forth, of course, once you've adjusted yourself to the regimen.  Why, when you come out of there, I'll bet you'll be able to tell us a thing or two about rules and regulations and what-not that'll surprise even your father.  Oh, I wish he'd been here with me to tell you all this himself - he'd be so proud of his little boy.  But, of course, he's right: this is my responsibility, telling you.  You're still a boy and under my care.  So it is my place to see to your schooling.  Your father decided on the school, and I've naturally taken care of the details.  Now when you get older though, you won't be mine any longer.  You will have moved from the home into the sphere of your life's work, your profession, your career in the diplomatic corps.  And so, of course, you'll come more naturally under sway of your father's influence.  Oh, and let me tell you, dear, how quickly that time will come!  You won't even realize it, it'll be upon you so fast.  You won't even have time to wish for it - it'll be right before you as quickly as you can spin around once!  Life, you see, goes ever so much faster when we're absolutely clear as to our duties.  It doesn't tarry, my dear.  It moves right along.  Oh so fast - quickly, that is...not fast.  I often wonder how people manage to get through their years when they have no clearly defined responsibilities and duties to direct their activities.  They must spend oh so much time at groping and learning and experimenting to find the right way to get their goals accomplished - or even just to find some sort of goal in the first place.  Just imagine not having it all laid out for you - why just think if no one had bothered taking the trouble to plan out your life for you!  How difficult that must be for those poor children having to start life with such a handicap, having to spend their precious formative years groping about aimlessly in search of some sort of existence, some set of values, some interests, or talents, or desires, some kind of life's work.  How awful a waste of energy.  When all it takes is a little foresight, a little careful planning, and your whole future is laid out right before you.  You have only to move from one point on the path to the next.  And you're there - and all because someone had the care, and the loving concern for your interest and your welfare to lay it all out for you.  That, my precious, is what a parent should ideally be.  It's up to the parent to see where his child can best fit into society and to point him in the proper direction.  It is the very highest responsibility of a good parent to assess his child's abilities, and sort through them, very carefully noting which best serve the child's interest and which serve ends contrary to his proper socialization, and then proceeding with the vital business of encouraging those abilities concomitant to his and society's best interest, discouraging those which could be sources of future conflict.  We know, for instance, that our children should be schooled, that they should grow up and marry, and bear children of their own, and that they should pursue the career best suited to the skills their parents have developed within them.  It's a beautifully simple arrangement - isn't it, dearest?"

"Yes ma'am," the little cadet replied gravely, dutifully.

"Your son is without question one of the finest young cadets we've ever had the privilege to teach," the Commandant of the Armory informed Mr. and Mrs. Clement A. S. McDermitt at an informal gathering just after the ceremonies which graduated Master Chesapeake with high honors.

"It seems only yesterday, doesn't it?" mused Mrs. McDermitt.

"And the recommendations?" inquired Mr. McDermitt in rapid sequence after his wife's totally irrelevant therefore totally unheeded remark.

"The highest, sir," replied the Commandant with great dignity.  "Any prep school would be proud to have him as a student."

"Good," said Mr. McDermitt, then carried right on with the subject uppermost in his mind.  "We'll enroll him right today."

"Oh but Clement," interrupted the hesitant voice of Mrs. McDermitt.  "Must we be so efficient all the time?  He's just graduated, you know.  Can't we give him a day or two to relax, to savor his triumph before going on?"

"Why?" asked McDermitt incredulously.

"He's just a boy, Clement.  He's got all the rest of his life.  Surely a day or two won't hurt."

"His life will continue on with or without him," replied McDermitt in an icily cool voice, as if it pained him to have to point out so obvious a circumstance of his son's existence.  "If he slouches," he went on to say, "it's his everlasting loss.  And I for one don't intend to permit it.  When he's grown he can slouch all he wishes.  But so long as he's under my guardianship he'll not slouch an instant!  The time he's in my care is not to be wasted!"

"But I hoped he might visit mother.  You know how she adores him."

"Your mother, my dear, does not hold the key to my son's future.  But the swift completion of his appointed rounds does contain that vital key.  An opportunity missed is an inexcusable insult to the ordering of nature.  Schooling, my dear, comes before grandmothering.  Once he's securely situated at Harrison, then if there's time left we'll visit the boy's grandmother.  But eighteen generations of my family has gone directly from grade school to the Harrison School.  And not a one has missed registration.  I do not, my dear, propose to be the first to do so.  We'll register now, when it's fresh in our plans.  Let your plans sit, and soon enough you'll find they become someone else's.  Good day."

The last remark was addressed to the Commandant of the Armory, after which the McDermitts, arm in arm, went to round up their little cadet and be off to the Harrison School.

"Why do they rush you about so?" a classmate at the Harrison School inquired of Chesapeake McDermitt.

"Perhaps they do it to keep me from thinking," young Chesapeake replied somewhat nervously.

"Why?" the classmate persisted.

"For fear I'll engage an independent notion," Chesapeake answered sadly.

"Don't they want you to be independent?" the classmate asked tenderly.

McDermitt shook his head no, they did not want that.

"Why not?"

"I guess because they love me too much to leave things to chance," he said.

"Do you feel like crying?" the classmate asked gently.

McDermitt nodded yes, he did, but added with a kind of helpless shrug of his shoulders that he would not cry even though he wished to do so.

"The duty I had as an infant to cry," he explained somewhat bitterly, "is no longer relevant or operative."

"But I see a tear just the same, about to fall."

McDermitt wiped his lashes clear of the encumbrance.  "It's a slouch," he remarked.

"I love school, Grandma," Chesapeake McDermitt wrote in a letter.  "I miss you though," he added a few sentences later.  "School occupies all my time but the most important part of it: the part when I'm doing just what I'm doing now.  Writing to you.  All my love, Chesapeake S. L. G. McDermitt."

He never explained to his grandmother what the middle initials stood for.  She often thought of it, though; it seemed so unlike him, so cryptic, so...imaginative.  She wondered what he could possibly have meant by it; but she never inquired of him.  She never saw him from the day he entered the Armory right through the day she died during his junior year at the Harrison School.

"Grand-mama," he babbled over and over to himself when he received word of her death.  "All my love, grandmama," he continued babbling to himself.  "All my love, your little S. L. G.  Your little dearest S. L. G., grandmama.  He sends his love.  All his love.  Little S. L. G....on his way to great things, this little S. L. G."

This went on for awhile, then it ceased.  He never again spoke or in any way used those initials of his childhood.  He put such things out of his mind.  There was too much else to do.  But at his grandmother's funeral he slipped, unnoticed, into the casket a little good-bye note, signed only with those initials.

"I'm with you all the way," the note read, and it was signed "S. L. G."

It was with top honors that Chesapeake McDermitt graduated from the Harrison School.  He had been presented by his father before the admissions board of a fine, traditional old college which specialized in the training, education and socialization of diplomatic hopefuls.  This formal presentation had taken place in the middle of Chesapeake's final semester at the Harrison School.

Mr. McDermitt had written his son on a Tuesday in April advising the young man to be ready at eight-fifteen that Friday morning and that the two of them, father and son, would proceed to the Quincy College for a ten-thirty appointment with the admissions board.

Mr. McDermitt arrived at exactly eight-fifteen.  His son was ready and waiting.  The two of them rode for two hours to the Quincy College, arriving just in perfect time for the ten-thirty appointment.  Neither had spoken a word on the way.

"The rest is a mere formality," the director of admissions had informed Mr. McDermitt when the meeting was over.  "Have your boy submit the necessary forms by the first of May and we'll go from there.  And tell him we'll be looking forward to seeing him next September third, at eight forty-five in front of Steubbins Hall.  From there he'll go directly to an orientation by the Dean, then to his dorm at Anderson Hall.  I'm not sure just yet who his roommate will be, but don't worry we'll have that all worked out: we certainly make every effort to insure our young men the most acceptable companions.  Believe me, there won't be any of our 'grant' or otherwise less prestigious students in your son's room.  He'll have one of his own kind.  To be sure, he will."

And so, indeed, it was.  Just as Chesapeake McDermitt's father had been promised.  Everything that worthy gentleman had ordered up for his son had been prepared to perfection and seemed in immaculate detail, in perfect replication of Mr. McDermitt's wishes.

"What's wrong?" Chesapeake McDermitt inquired of the roommate who had been ordered up for him.

The young man did not answer, so McDermitt asked again, noting also, in the interrogative, that his roommate seemed to be sobbing.

The young man sat up.  He lifted his head to look up at McDermitt.  There was a look of intense, but almost questioning agony in the boy's face.  He cocked his head a bit, looking now at McDermitt at a slight diagonal.  He nodded softly.  "I don't know," the boy replied.  Then he threw his weight back down on the bed and began sobbing all over again - sobbing this time because he realized that he didn't know what he had been sobbing about in the first place.

McDermitt had to leave the room.  He ran out into the hall and burst out laughing.  He had no idea what he was laughing at, and he felt both disrespectful and even a little frightened, but something in the preposterous situation of his roommate, something about the boy sobbing without knowing why, then sobbing all the more for not knowing - something about it all simply struck McDermitt as just about the funniest, most ridiculously absurd thing he had ever encountered in his entire life.  And he was absolutely helpless before this whatever it was; he could do nothing whatsoever to keep himself from laughing or to stop himself once he had started.  It was just funny, that was all...just funny.

He finally stopped laughing and went about his business.  He never spoke to anyone about it; never.  It was his personal secret, he kept it throughout his life.  No one ever suspected.

His roommate hung himself the day before graduation.  No one discovered his body till the day after graduation.  No one had noticed his absence from the graduation ceremony.

Chesapeake McDermitt graduated from college with the highest honors, as expected.  He was immediately taken up by the diplomatic corps, his father had seen to that, a position with that elite corps had been secured for him.

He was instructed by his father where to go for his personnel interview, what time to be there, and what attire seemed most proper.  Only this time he was to go alone: he was a man now, he'd have to stand now on his own two feet.  His father could no longer help him.  He was on his own.

On his own, and looking as proud as he felt.  The brown suit his father had recommended he wear fit him to perfection, he looked not only right for the interview but also noble and dignified, an air of breeding surrounding him at all critical points.  A gentleman and a scholar.  At your service.

Of course he got the position; there was never much doubt of it.  And of course he functioned marvelously in his position, moving ahead at respectable intervals and into ever more refined environments.  He was on his way, on his own.

He married at age twenty-six.  A lovely young woman, his new wife; from one of the best families.  Their respective parents had known one another casually, had decided how perfectly lovely a union of the two children would be, had arranged a meeting, and left to nature to take its course.

"She's a lovely, lovely girl," Chesapeake McDermitt's mother had said.  "What a lovely wife she'll make some lucky man.  Who known?  It may be one day she'll be showing me her children and they'll be calling me grandmama.  Who can say about these things?  When nature calls, how ought but to answer?"

There were no grandchildren, there were never to be.  Chesapeake and his wife had toyed with the idea of adoption, but it seemed each time the subject was brought up around either of their parents there was no end to the practical objections made.  But at root every single objection had one of two notions: either the child would not be good enough to join the McDermitt and the Wilson lines or else it was just a matter of time anyway till a natural child was bound to come along.  These notions were never expressed outright, of course; but it took very little sophistication for the young couple to get the not so subtly hidden meaning behind the overt objections.

"What should we do?" inquired Chesapeake McDermitt's lovely wife.

"Let's do nothing," he replied.  Then he added, recalling a line from an old play, "It's safer."

"I wish we could have a child," his wife said.

"So do I," he agreed, "but we can't."

"Not one of our own perhaps, but -"

"Not one of anyone's own, not ours, not anyone's.  It wasn't meant to be, that's all."

"Why do you suppose that?"

"Number one, if we were meant to have a child of our own, we'd have been given that capacity.  And number two, if we were meant to adopt someone else's child, we'd have been given other parents in the first place."

"I don't see why you have to blame them.  They're only offering us their suggestions.  It's after all our choice, isn't it?"

"I don't know dear - how do you tell?  How do you tell?"  ...how do you tell...how do you tell...

He awoke at last from his beating.  Anyway, he supposed that was what it was; an awakening after having passed out during the course of his interrogation.  He seemed to be on a bed, in a charmingly decorated room, like the VIP suite of a fine hotel.  He heard the click of the door and in a moment saw his interrogators standing over him, all five scientists looking down at him.  The feeling he got was that they were looking at a cadaver they were about to dissect.  He shuddered at their gaze; but he did not really care.

"Dinner time," one of the men announced, at which announcement a gleam came over each man's face.  The scientist who had spoken then took something out of his pocket.  It looked to be a vial of sorts, but a very odd one, made of metal and very heavy looking.  The man then put on gloves, passing the vial to one of his associates while he put them on.  Then he took the vial back, motioning for his associates to do something or another.

Swiftly they surrounded the bed on which McDermitt lay, two men on each side.  They grabbed him and held him fast.  Not that it took any effort; McDermitt was still too dazed from his beating to resist anyway.  Slowly the fifth man approached, carefully removing the lid from the vial.  Again he motioned.  This time the two men nearest McDermitt's face reached a hand each to his mouth, together holding the mouth wide open.  Slowly and cautiously the vial was tilted until its contents spilled out into Chesapeake McDermitt's mouth and on down his throat.

He felt very little, just a slight burning sensation.  Then the men retreated from the room and McDermitt quickly fell back to sleep.

A drink, something said.  But he couldn't remember what it was about that observation that terrified him so.  But something did though, he knew that much alright.

Chapter 16.  Pompey

"Good morning, dear," announced Mrs. Aral Johnson in soft, buoyant tones very much in keeping with the lovely spring morning.

"Good morning," Dr. Karl Johnson responded to his wife's irresistible greeting, though perhaps his response was less in kind.

"Please take breakfast this morning," Aral Johnson attempted to persuade her husband.

"Honey, I just don't feel like it," Dr. Johnson insisted.

"Oh, but you know you need a good breakfast, Karl.  I know - believe me, I have some sense of responsibility: I know you have so many more important things on your mind.  But you can't neglect the everyday things either, not entirely.  I realize it may sound almost unpatriotic, but I can't help seeing you foremost as my husband.  That's how I saw you first, how I've known you these past years.  Oh please, don't neglect the everyday things.  They're all I have, you know.  And if I'm left feeling I've failed you in these matters, or if I see they're without any merit whatever in your estimate...then I've failed as a person.  If I've failed you as a wife.  Please?"

Karl Johnson absolutely did not wish to take breakfast this morning, as he had not for the past many mornings of this latest crisis.  He considered it an almost unforgivable waste of his time, sitting down to a full breakfast when so much else awaited.  But today he relented; he sat down to take breakfast with his wife and children.

In the kitchen Aral Johnson prepared the eggs and bacon and toast; the various juices according to the tastes of each individual member of her family; the fruits of the properly balanced breakfast; and the cereals where she felt they might best serve the needs and the interest of her family; and of course the freshly perked coffee for she and her husband - cream and sugar for herself, black coffee for the Mister.  She was never so proud as now, fixing this breakfast she had feared in her heart her husband would reject - this breakfast she nearly feared would never again even be.  Nor was she ever quite so touched as at her husband's loving patience with her wish, and his tenderness with their children while the family sat waiting for Mom to fix their breakfast.  Every second was as an immense treasure in this kind woman's life; every syllable that passed between this man she loved and these children she had given him was a heavenly chord of angels' song; and every single breath she felt pass in and out of her lungs was as a precious dewdrop of nectar in which was reflected God's whispers.

"Billie and Susie," Dr. Johnson teased with his darling twins.

"Yes, daddy," they replied in unison.

"Why isn't your homework done," he feigned sternness, but they all knew that the loving gentleness behind the discipline was far stronger, far more effective in assuring that such things as homework could always be counted on to get done.

"We never do homework," Billie chirped in the most awesome defiance ever engaged in, feigned or otherwise.

"Oh, I see," mused Johnson.  "It's quite clear I shall now have to get out my belt," he went on to postulate.  The twins were too mortified to do anything but giggle.

"Dad, why can't you be serious ever?" inquired Karl Junior.  The boy, always late for breakfast, always with an air about him of being intentionally late, as if it were beneath him in some way to take his meals with the rest of the family - the boy had just this moment entered the breakfast room, and had just a slight hint of contempt in his voice.

"Karl," the father said, "I should think you'd understand the importance of an open environment.  There has to be frivolity as the greatest of the ingredients of that environment.  And there's too precious little place as it is for that rarest of all adhesives.  It holds us together, Karl.  Without it we'd be simply robots.  We'd be prisoners in our own homes.  Afraid to speak out or express ourselves for fear of not taking life seriously enough.  Do you imagine that spontaneity and self-assurance grow in any kind of environment at all?  Because if you do, then now's the time to understand, Karl, that they do not.  And if I can't bend, if I can't show my own children my willingness to leave myself open to their judgment, then how can I expect them ever to develop the skills they'll need to cope with life?  Each of you has got to know he's a real person, a complete person, with a mind of his own and a right to develop that mind and to make it known.  And if you can't get that security in your own home, then by what right does any man call himself your father, any woman your mother?  It's our solemnest duty as your parents to teach you how to master your fears of this world.  By what inverted madness does anyone grant us the right to instill that very fear in you or to teach you to bow your heads before that insidious devil?  By what magnitude of evil does this occur?"

The twins looked somewhat frightened by their father's remarks.  Not that he shouted - he scarcely raised his voice at all - but that he was speaking in terms that made them afraid.  They knew the words their father spoke to be hard, and they knew also that those words had more to do with their brother Karl then with themselves.  In a sense they were frightened for him, not because they envisioned him being punished, but because they sensed somehow that if such words were needed for his enlightenment then there must be something gravely the matter with him

"Is he going to die, do you think?" Susie asked Billy.  Although she had not specified who she meant, her twin brother knew it was Karl Junior she had meant.

"You mean does he have leukemia, like Andrew's brother died of?  I don't know," Billy confessed anxiously.  "I hope not," he added with great thoughtfulness.

"He doesn't like us, you know," Susie bent over to whisper in Billy's ear.

"I know," the boy replied.  "He's afraid he'll have to share too many things with us.  Maybe we should go through our own things, like our toys and all, and go give him some of our things.  So we can share with him.  What do you think, Susie?"

"No, I think not, Billy."

"Why not?"

"He doesn't really like our things anyway.  He'd only laugh at us."

"Yeah, I guess so," admitted Billy.  His reluctance to make this admission had more to do with his secret admiration for his big brother than with his fear of being ridiculed.  If he ridicules me, Billy reasoned, then I won't be able to look up to him anymore.  Of course Billy was only a child, he could be excused the lapse in his reasoning which allowed him to go on looking up to someone even though the faults of that person if put to concrete application would render the person unworthy of admiration.  So long as Billy never actually put his big brother to the test, so long as his idol's flaws remained hidden, he could still look up to him.  Clearly a child's way of reasoning, which grown men and women instinctively understand for what it is.

But while the twins mused and whispered and feared, listening to their father's words and commenting on them afterward - while they were children, and acted as children, their older brother Karl Junior was of a different attitude: he was defiant and contemptuous of his father's words, and of his father also.  But he managed to conceal this attitude, at least all but the outermost expression of it, which was seemingly little more than a somewhat bored indifference.

"You don't much care, do you Karl?" Dr. Johnson asked softly, almost rhetorically.

"I do," the boy answered with only the vaguest pretence of conviction.  "Really I do, dad," he very carefully added after an instant's pause.

Dr. Johnson smiled, sadly a little but with a great depth of understanding.  He knew his son was of an independent frame of mind, but he knew just as surely that his son lacked a broad perspective - that the boy could only, and probably would always, see things from a very narrow, limited point of view.  He knew that his son would grow to be a selfish, willful manipulator of other people, whose only interest lay in attaining his own ends at whatever cost to anybody else.  He knew all this.  And it gave him the strangest sort of feeling he had ever experienced to realize that he did not truly care one way or the other.  As any father, he would have imagined that his love for his son would have absolutely precluded indifference toward the particular course that son's life might take.  Yet there it was, at the bottom of his every thought concerning his son, this indifference to whatever might become of him.  Of course, he vaguely suspected yet a deeper source of his feeling toward his son.  He seemed to think that he was helpless to deter his son from whatever course would be chosen - that regardless what he said or did his son would choose whatever he wished to choose without the slightest concern for his father's thoughts or opinions or wishes or words.  He felt, in a sense, that he was no match for his son, for his son's will.  Just as he had felt helpless before his father when as a child he encountered the same haughty contempt as he now encountered from his son.

Of course he had been the object, not the subject of activities then; he had been small, and to be small meant exactly what it had always meant: it meant to be without a voice, without a say in one's own behalf.  It meant that one was ipso facto the recipient and never the initiator of action; it meant that one was consigned to a world made up entirely from the elements of passivity, wherein one's chief role was that of supplicant, chief duty that of compliance, chief persona that of imitator.  It meant, in sum, the being of a child, in a society where only the big and the strong had any say.  It meant being a carefree little creature locked away inside the carefree, sterile utopian dream known euphemistically as childhood.

And sometimes it even meant knowing more than one's parents what was in one's own best interest, and having to bear the humiliation of never being recognized for one's true worth - especially where those very elements of worth were the very elements deemed most unsuitable, most unbecoming to a child.

Karl Johnson knew this particular measure of unhappiness in his childhood.  He knew the pain of the rejection of his values and virtues outright.  He knew the sadness of never being understood.  He knew the pitiful longing to someday be taken seriously, the deep tight need within him to be recognized as an actual person with actual ideas and goals and ambitions and abilities and desires...and with the sum of these, his needs as a member of the human race.  He knew it intimately.

And he knew the great courage it gave him, the overwhelming sense of purpose, the urgent meaning he sought to bestow upon his existence - above all the meaning, which in childhood, in his carefree Utopia, he felt so keenly the lack of.

"No sir, I can't," he had said once in reply to a request by his father.

"What do you mean you can't?" the elder Johnson inquired, his face set into the mold of authority, of intimidation, a reserve of anger ready to back up its formality.

"I can't because it'll interfere with my studies," Karl explained, though aware that any explanation had little hope of success where his father's mind had already been made up.

"I don't care about your studies," Mr. Johnson retorted.  "I care about your development as a human being.  That comes before any studies!  It is expected of a boy that he play on a football team.  And I've arranged exactly that.  If it means you study at some other than your regular time, then let it mean that.  Or if it means you don't study at all and take a grade lower than what you've been used to, then so be that.  But the point is, you will not neglect your responsibilities to society.  Believe me, it's no accident society developed along the lines it did.  There's a reason why boys are enjoined to play on a ball team: it's to ensure your proper development as a useful citizen of your society.  There are certain attributes required of a man, and it is my responsibility as your father to see to it that they're developed in you now while you're still young enough to have them easily impressed upon you.  You must learn aggressiveness, you must learn cooperation, the team spirit, the sense of going out from yourself to think first of the larger whole rather than of yourself, and you must learn above all the ambition to do your duty, to live up to your responsibilities.  These are all virtues which it is my duty to instill in you.  And these are - every one of them - virtues which you can learn on the football field.  Can - and, make no mistake about it, son, will learn."

"It isn't even my schoolwork anyway," Karl Johnson said bravely, but with the hopeless knowledge that he had no way whatsoever in the matter.  "It's my other studies - the ones I do on my own.  It's those I'd have to give up.  There's so much to learn."

"At the proper time, you'll be free to learn them," his father pointed out.  "But for now, you'll learn what a boy your age is expected to learn - neither more nor less."

"I won't play, father," Karl asserted.

"I'll take you there, and you will play!"

"You can take me there, but I won't play.  You can make me get dressed up in their uniform, you can stand me up next to the other boys, but neither you nor anyone can make me play.  You can punish me if I don't - but you can't actually make me play. No one can."

"We shall see, young man.  We shall certainly see."

Karl never played, not once that whole season.  Yet neither did he get away from the team, from his responsibility to be present at all games.  He was there at every game, because he was compelled to be there.  But he never actively participated.  He hated the game; it seemed so stupid to him to be out there banging about trying to gain a few points on an opponent when there was so much to learn, when all his precious books lay unopened in his closet back home, when the priceless knowledge he could gain - and which he needed to satisfy his inner craving for excitement, for challenge - went unnoticed and unused.

He was the laughing stock of his team.  He wasn't tough, aggressive, like the other boys: he didn't burn with an urge to get in there and knock the enemy down, or with the urge to go out and win, to defeat the opponent, to gain the glory of touchdown points and parental approbation.  He was none of these things, he never tried, never cared, never participated.  He was just there: name-rank-and serial number kind of there.  An eyesore, a little boy unsuited to combat.  A laughing stock.

And an abominable disappointment to his family.  And to the larger society which was represented within the Johnson household by Mr. Johnson, Karl's father, charged with the noble task of socializing the boy, of raising him to take his rightful place alongside his fellow teammates.

But when he could he would sneak a few minutes' worth of knowledge from his library there hidden away inside his closet.  That is, until his library was discovered.  Then it was taken away from him; tit for tat, sort of: no football, no books.  Play football, make that the center of the world, and the books would be returned.  But play football and there's no time for reading: well - there you have it.

"Dad, I want to be a nuclear scientist," Karl explained.

"And you shall," Mr. Johnson in turn explained.  "Don't worry son, you'll be able to get the best possible education available.  I hope you haven't imagined I'm opposed to your succeeding in so noble a career.  I assure you nothing could be further from the truth, son.  Believe me, I'll stand behind you one hundred percent.  No problem there."

"Then why, dad?  Why?" young Karl Johnson pleaded with fervent desperation to know.  "Please tell me, dad: why won't you let me have my books?"

"Because you have all the time in the world for that son.  What you need first to learn cannot be learned from textbooks.  Only on the playing field."

"But dad, the more I learn now the more I'll be able to learn later - don't you see that?"

"You need learn only so much in order to pass your exams and become certified.  Anything above and beyond that is just so much fat to be trimmed away.  I merely propose to trim it by not letting it get started to begin with, that's all.  You won't need it, it's above and beyond what you absolutely need in order to become certified.  It is therefore a waste of your time and mine, not to mention society's time.  So the matter is quite settled.  Do you understand?"

Karl shook his head that he did not understand.  "How can I expect to make any contribution if all I do is just learn what I absolutely have to know?  How can I go beyond what's already here if I never learn beyond what's required for me?  How can the science - or anything - ever progress if no one ever goes beyond what they just absolutely have to know?"

"I don't know and I don't care.  But you can rest assured someone somewhere will go beyond, as you say.  It's just that it won't be you.  That's all."

"But why?  Why, dad?  Why can't it be me?"

"Because I say so.  And because I'm your father and you're under my authority and you'll do as I say you're to do.  Period."

"But you don't own my life.  You have no right to shortcut my future.  I'm not asking you to do anything for me, or to study or learn for me, or even to give up anything.  I'm just asking to be allowed to determine what I'll do with my own time and my own energy and my own life."

"I determine the priorities of your life!" raged Mr. Johnson.  "Not you, but I!  I'm the father, you the child!  And by the grace of our society and under the dictates of the law it is I, not you, who sets and who executes the arrangement of your life's priorities!  It is I who determines what you will do, how you will do it, when and where and for how long you will do it!  It is I who will decide whether you can read a book or not, and under what conditions you may do so!  And I say that until you have first - and foremost - fulfilled your duty to your society, there shall be no books brought into this house!  You are here to play football because that, number one, is what is prescribed; and number two, that is what I say you're going to do!  And so long as you're living under my roof this is how it's to be!"

"Then I'll leave!" resolved Karl Johnson.

"I'm afraid it's not that simple.  It is my responsibility to raise and protect and care for you until you're of age.  And to do that - to fulfill that responsibility - I'm obliged to keep you here under my roof till such time as you're able to survive on your own.  And that's how it should be.  I take my responsibilities very seriously, young man.  And I would advise you to do the same, too."

"It's not fair," Karl whispered, the weight of the injustice bearing down upon him almost to the point of crushing the very life out of him.  Tears began rolling down his cheeks as all the implications of his father's sense of absolute responsibility to his society's literal standards and customs and traditions reared up like demons before him.  All the things it looked as if he would now never be able to accomplish stood up one by one and were consumed piecemeal by that line of demons summoned by his father from the grab bag society had prepared for just such an occasion.  All his dreams, being destroyed right before his sight, him unable to stop the slaughter.  And all perfectly legal.

"Fair?" his father was saying.  "What the devil does that have to do with it?  Fairness relates to justice, which in turn is strictly a legal matter.  And legally I have the guardianship, therefore the right of direction.  Therefore what I do is very strictly in accord with the legal aspects of the matter.  So, therefore, it is not only fair but eminently so."

But young Karl had not been listening to his father; he had missed that last explanation of fatherly authority.  He had been entertaining a new set of thoughts - thoughts which made his tears dry up and a sort of smile light up his whole face.  he had been thinking thoughts revolved around a magic word he happened to latch onto in his despondency over the loss of his private library: the very word library, and all the thoughts it implied.  Public library...school library...bookstores...friends' houses...teachers' books...  A whole world out there.  Waiting.

So Karl Johnson continued his studies in secret, outside his own home, behind his father's back and without legal permission.  He had to study on the run, when, where and as he could.  All serious subjects were censured, he could accede to them only as a young boy normally does pornography, or a puff from a cigarette.  Only on the sly.

Ah, but he became masterful at it though.  His ingenuity was never seriously tested; he found that he could invent infinitely more circumstances for allowing himself access to his precious books than he had time ever to use, so he kept in reserve all the ideas he could not put to actual use.  The idea was not, after all, to become an expert at espionage but only to enable his studies to go on, so that the precious continuity between his present ambition to learn and the ultimate fruition of that ambition might not be lost - so that when he could legitimately take up the studies of his chosen vocation he would be prepared to move ahead at a pace consistent with his enthusiasm.  And, so that he would never run the risk of losing his interest in the subjects he now loved, or of seeing it erode before his very eyes.  Not that he really feared the loss of interest, but that he feared the acceptance of defeat.  He feared that he might suffer so great an agony at not being able to be near his beloved studies that in desperation he might bury his love rather than have to live day to day unfulfilled.

He was grateful then for his own ingenuity - fully as grateful as for his love of science itself.  It was his fine inventive mind that kept him from defeat, from giving up his interest in science.  And he learned, his inventiveness growing ever stronger, and ever more directed away from the business of espionage and toward the affairs of science, his initial overtures at conspiracy sufficient to achieve the aim intended, his energies therefore released for more creative expressions.

But of course the price for his success had to be paid in other departments of his life.  There was, after all his achievements on the sly, nothing left at all of his relationship with his father.  It was gone for good.  No father, no son.  No family substance.  He was an only child, therefore his absence from active participation in the family pretty well broke the family apart.  Neither his mother nor his father ever quite figured out what had happened to disrupt their family unity; they knew only that something had gone out of the family, and with it had gone that precious togetherness, that feeling of oneness.  Sometimes Mr. Johnson wondered if perhaps his authority were still intact or had eroded somehow.  But yet, he could see he was still the boss - that he still gave the orders, and that those orders were still carried out, to the letter of the law.  And since he had never been able to grasp such a concept as the spirit of the law, he could not comprehend that that was what was missing - always had been missing - or that he himself had instigated its loss.  But he still gave his crisp, sparkling orders; and they were still executed.  So why did he persist to the day he died feeling a lack of respect?  His authority was absolutely intact: wasn't that the living proof of his being respected?  Isn't that the way it worked?  Isn't that what it was all about?  Firmness, the firmness of authority, breeds respect.  Compromise breeds contempt.  Kindness was no substitute for strength.  Isn't that what parental authority was all about?  The parent ruled, the child obeyed.  What could be simpler?  Wasn't that the prescribed order of things - the natural order?  Wasn't it...  Then how could everything have eroded so, wondered Mr. Johnson, Karl's father.

It was in college, while Karl's secrecy was coming to fruition, that he met Aral.  He loved her immediately, and his feelings were gladly reciprocated.  She was the gentlest, most deeply loving human he had ever met; there was never a moment when he had the slightest doubt of her sincerity, or her loyalty, or of where he stood with her, her love was so openly absolute.

Neither marriage nor the birth of their children kept the Johnsons from moving ever nearer their goals in life: his goals, which his wife was perfectly happy to take as her own, since nothing in life which Karl Johnson sought was ever questioned let alone contradicted by Mrs. Aral Johnson.  Their marriage was blessed with a perfect blending of mutual interests: that she saw her interest best realized in subordination of her needs to those of her husband was only the immediate form taken, for it could as easily have gone another direction, her husband as willing to uphold her desire for independence had that been the case as she was willing to forfeit any such desire.  The whole point being that each knew and loved the other almost perfectly, and saw no sacrifice of personal interests or needs in the other's fulfillment of personal interests and needs, there not being a trace of conflict between their mutual wants as husband and wife.  It was therefore no trouble for Karl Johnson to support a family and at the same time pursue his ambitions.

Studies and honors and awards and offers were showered upon him as though fortune had conspired personally to situate him at its epicenter.  He was taken immediately into the government service upon his graduation from college, with the highest honors of anyone in his class.  And with a doctorate in nuclear physics.  He was offered countless jobs with private industries, countless professorships at major universities, countless fellowships, countless of whatever life had to offer. 

But he chose the government service.  He saw in it an opportunity to help establish policies regarding nuclear energy and its uses and its controls; not just to carry out policies already established.  It was his ambition in life to have a say in how things would be done, and in what would be done, and in what would be the ordering of priorities.  He saw a chance to be free at last of the reins of authority.  For he'd be at the reins; and though he had no particular desire to dictate to others what they should do, he did have a great fear of being dictated to himself.  He saw it foremost, then, as a defense for safeguarding his own freedom: just that added assurance he needed to feel at peace with himself.

When the children had left and a few minutes still remained before time to leave for work, Dr. Johnson looked up at his wife as though seeing her for the first time.  He smiled the same sort of smile with which he had greeted her first appearance in his life - a smile recognized immediately by his wife from among her almost limitless stockpile of memories for exactly what it was.  A trembling of warmth spread through her body, almost as if all the old treasures had been released from her memory; it worked its way through her system, this intensity, and ended up released as tears.

"I've never stopped loving you for even a second," Dr. Johnson reported to his wife.  "And the strength of my love for you has never faltered.  You're the joy of my existence.  And if I've rarely said this to you, it's only for fear of your getting tired of hearing it."

No words were necessary for his wife's reply.  That the very meaning of her existence had been restated, that a thousand times said a moment could not tire her of hearing it, and that the entire strength of her being went toward requiting her husband's love - that her husband's words were taken in and understood and more than amply noted by the look on her lovely face and by the tears in her eyes.

"Life would have been a struggle without you," Karl Johnson went on to explain.  "I would have struggled, and I would have surmounted the obstacles in any event.  But because of you, the struggles all became challenges, the surmounting became fulfillment.  You turned philosophy into living.  I would have had being - existence - but no essence, no life.  No meaning, other than just the cold self-serving utilitarianism of survival.  Instead, I have the boundless joy of giving and of sharing my love.  That's more than enough.  No man has a right to ask more."

He arose to kiss his lovely wife, to hold her a moment in his arms before going off to work.

"I'll take you to dinner this evening," he whispered in his wife's ear.  "We'll have someone watch the kids.  We'll let this be our evening, just as we've made this our morning.  Till then," he said as he released his wife from his embrace.

Not even the horribleness of his day's work, of the events which had gone into making necessary the specific duties and tasks he was called upon to perform, the awesome vortex into which had been poured random data to be shredded and mixed and from which had strewn forth the vile creation of chance circumstances facing both Dr. Johnson and the whole civilized world - so powerful was the dreamlike spell cast that evening upon the Johnsons that not even the ugliness of what all had happened nor the unpleasantness of what had to be done nor the sickening thought of what perhaps lay in store for the world could diminish the loveliness or the genuine happiness of their evening together.  They were husband and wife together for an entire evening: they were each in what they considered to be their highest and best of all possible roles.  They related to each other alone, and no one else or nothing else on earth had so much as a moment's claim on their time.

"Excuse me, sir," interrupted the head waiter at the restaurant where they were dining.

"Yes?" inquired Dr. Johnson.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, sir, but I have an urgent call for you.  Can you take it?"

Johnson considered for a moment, then he smiled at his wife, speaking to the waiter as he looked into his wife's loving, infinitely understanding eyes.  "No, I cannot take the call, sir," he addressed the waiter.  "There's something far more urgent already in progress.  The call will have to wait."

The waiter nodded and left.

"Don't worry, dear," Karl Johnson assured his wife, "it's seldom as urgent, in retrospect, as everyone originally imagined.  That applies to anything - particularly telephone calls.  Nothing truly urgent should ever be entrusted to a machine.  The world's woes can bear one more evening's weight.  But isn't it so funny, when you think of it: how immeasurably light an evening is when it's spent like this, like we are, here, together; and how imponderably heavy it weighs upon us, even one evening's time, when we're hell bent on destroying one another."

He paused a moment, as if to let such notions as destruction fall off the flow of conversation.  "I love you, Aral," he whispered.

"I love you," she whispered back.

"This evening may never, never come again, Aral."

"I know it won't.  Not that it could anyway, since every moment is its own and belongs to no other.  But even if that weren't true it could never come again.  The world will see to that, Karl.  I feel it: you're to be taken from me.  I never told you this before, but it's something I've been aware of for some time now.  I can't explain it, Karl; not to where you would ever understand.  I have no real basis for it, at least not in logical terms.  Nor is it foolish womanly fears.  It's a feeling - no, more than that: a certainty.  It's something I know, just as surely as I know the sun tomorrow.  I know it to be because it has no choice but to be.  You and I will never again be like this.  This evening has to fit into the scheme of my eternity.  Please, Karl, don't say anything just yet.  I know I'm overly emotional, and sentimental.  But please allow that I understand these qualities in me, and when they apply, and where they apply, and when and where they don't.  And they don't apply now, or here.  I just know, Karl; not through my emotions, or my sentiments.  Not through anything in particular.  I just know, that's all.  I love you so much, Karl - I suppose perhaps that's how I know.  In any event, I do know.  That's why this evening means so much more to me than I can ever express.  I wonder, Karl: can one element become another?  Can something like a soul become something like a minute?  Because if it can, then I commit my soul to this moment, to let it become part of time.  This moment exists somewhere - it does, it goes somewhere: it can't be that something so precious ceases altogether.  And I want for my soul to go with it, to become that moment.  Wherever it goes."

Chapter 17.  Caesar

A great storm seemed to have entered the Pyramid on the seventeenth of March.  On that day Professor Jorge Bakon instructed the guards stationed in front of the Pyramid to open its doors to him, so that he might enter.  It was well known to the guards that Professor Bakon was not to be permitted entry; that was their specific instructions.  They were given weapons and uniforms to see to it that their orders were carried out; they were prepared for trouble.  They could have shot him on sight just for being within the Pyramid's grounds; but they had no training to enable them to contend with a man of such overwhelming presence as Professor Bakon.  He said to them merely that he wished to enter, that he had business inside.  He neither pleaded nor insisted; he simply stated his request, stated it in such a way that it had the force of an order.  And despite all their instructions to the contrary, these guards opened the doors for him just as simply, as matter of factly as the guards at the main gate had likewise admitted him,  No one could find a reason sufficient to excluding this man from this building or from anything else he wished to do.

Mr. Carens, the janitor from the sixth floor, saw Bakon first.  Carens had been downstairs on some errand, he had had to loiter near the door.  He practically gasped when he saw Professor Bakon entering the building.  He knew the score, he was abreast of the gossip, he knew as well as any man alive how alien Professor Bakon's presence was to this building.  He knew that Bakon didn't belong here - that is, he knew that Bakon was not permitted entry, but as  to not belonging here, well, that was a term that held little meaning to someone, especially someone like German Carens, seeing Bakon inside, alongside, this building.  He belonged all right, there was no question of that: no one else seemed more nearly the equal of this building.  But he had no legal right to be here.  And it was the unlawfulness of his presence here that prompted such great discord within Mr. German Carens' sense of propriety.

"We haven't seen you here for a long time, sir," stated Mr. Carens rather nervously, and rather hastily, for he no sooner greeted Professor Bakon than he was off to spread the word.  Besides, he was a little reluctant to have the Professor reply to his salutation, a little afraid of what he might hear.

The Professor spoke to Mr. Carens before he could get away however.  "How's your daughter?" he asked.

"She's doing fine, sir," Carens replied. 

Bakon held up his hand.  "You can drop the 'sir' when we're talking family," he advised the janitor.  "I think Andrew has a crush on her."

"She speaks of him warmly," Carens said.

"Perhaps one day she'll be Mrs. Andrew Bakon.  But who knows.  Give her my regards."

"I will," Mr. Carens promised.  Then the Professor continued on his way, heading first for the cafeteria.

In a flash Mr. Carens had disappeared into one of the elevators waiting to ascend.  He headed straight for the sixth floor, as quickly as his finger could reach the button.  He knew as well as if he'd heard it directly from Bakon himself that Dr. Karl Johnson was the object of the unexpected visitation.  And as Dr. Johnson's office was situated on the sixth floor - his, Carens' floor - there was little doubt as to where the visit would find its ultimate expression.

"Oh hurry up you fart!" shouted Mr. Carens in frustration at the elevator buttons lighting gaily, gingerly, in sequence as the elevator ascended one after another floor on its way here to the center of the universe.  He could almost feel it taking forever getting there.  Then finally eternity opened before him, at first just a crack of the door, then the whole door.  Ah! he thought in relief as he stepped out into the nether land of his precious sixth floor.  At last, at last! he sighed.  Then he gathered up his breath in a nice big gulp and hurried away to break the news.

It was a good five minutes later when the guest arrived, carrying a cup of coffee.  Everyone was there to greet him.

"What are you doing here?" asked Dr. Johnson.

Bakon took his time answering.  He just stared for a moment.

"Nothing's changed, has it?" he finally said.

"What are you doing here?" repeated Johnson.

"I'm here to give advice," Professor Bakon noted somewhat haughtily.

"We don't need it," replied Johnson.

"You most surely need it," contradicted Bakon.  As for the others present - the associates of Dr. Johnson, former associates of Professor Bakon - they just stood by, observing, paying attention, but volunteering nothing.  They were all of them men in white lab coats, scientists and lab technicians.  They were not administrators, they did not see it in their professional roles to hold much in the way of opinions, not on subjects outside the immediate scope of their laboratories.  Some of them may have had opinions; none of them expressed any.  They were not administrators.

"It might surprise you how much we don't need your advice," Dr. Johnson replied to Professor Bakon's reply.

"Who is we?" Bakon insisted to know.  "Is it you and these gentlemen?  Or is it you and Mr. McDermitt?  By the way, where is McDermitt?  And how is he?  And how was his recent trip abroad?  Beneficial to his health, would you say?  Was the weather good?  Did he fare well?  May I see him?"

"I should say no to you," Dr. Johnson recanted.  "If our positions were reversed, you'd have me thrown out of here, or else shot.  I should grant you the same consideration, shouldn't I?  But we're not the same.  What you would do goes against everything I hold dear.  And flies in the face of decency.  But I don't have to follow suit, not even to deal with you.  So come along, we'll go pay Mr. McDermitt a visit.  Just as long as we keep our distance."  Dr. Johnson turned to address his men.  "The rest of you can return to your work.  Professor Bakon and I will manage on our own from here on out."

Johnson motioned for his guest to follow as he headed in the direction of the elevator.  Once the two men were inside, and Dr. Johnson had pressed the appropriate button, Professor Bakon spoke again.  "So," he noted, a bit surprised, or at least with feigned surprise.

"What?" replied Johnson.

"I said 'so,'" Bakon pointed out.  "Meaning, 'so that's where he is.'  Which of course I already knew.  Basement number seven: the very bottom.  And as we both well know what's down there, it sends a chill up both our spines.  Oh yes, even mine.  I'm not immune to everything.  There are things which scare even me.  Not the least of which is what can happen to a man when the powers of science are unleashed against him.  And to think: just a drop, the slightest drop, from a tiny vial.  And the most hideous horror.  I can't imagine anything worse.  I suppose there are worse.  But I can't imagine any."

"Here we are," announced Dr. Johnson solemnly as the elevator reached its destination and as the doors began to open.  A long corridor lay ahead, a heavy looking door at the end of it.

"Indeed" mused Professor Bakon in an equally solemn tone of voice.

The walls, the floor, the ceiling: all very clean, very antiseptic, polished, whitewash looking.  Recessed lighting.  Like perhaps the corridor of a hospital.  And like that kind of corridor, an odd, pungent smell seeped from nowhere to engulf the air of the whole corridor.  Like a smell of death, of decay, slow death.  Everywhere.  As though the very walls, ceiling, floor and nice lighting were giving way to rot.  It seemed there ought to have been great strands of fingers dangling from the ceiling.  Seemed that way.  Like it ought to have been that way.

Four times every three or four seconds four little clicks upon the antisepticness.  Upon the tiles of the floor.  Click-click-click-click: one-two-three-four.  Footsteps, of course, of the two men.  Bakon and Johnson, on their way to visit with a third.  To complete the triumvirate.

They reached the door, their steps clicked no more.  Aught-aught-aught-four.

Do we knock? neither man asked, but something vaguely perverse in each of them prompted the desire to ask.  Oh let's not - let's surprise him! something else perverse wished them to say, something neither wished to say.  Oh! let's do!

"Oh God," moaned Bakon.  "I'm too scared to even look."

Nevertheless, Jorge Bakon was the first to reach up and open the little window, the one which permitted the world to gaze in upon Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt.

There was no obvious sign of disease.  A few hints, perhaps, of what was to come.  But apparently this was an early stage, the full brunt of the disease was yet to come.  For now, it appeared only as a very old man seated on a bed.

Chesapeake McDermitt was that man seated on the bed, that very old man.  His hair was completely white, and small clumps of it lay scattered about the bed, it having fallen out and been left lying where it fell.  His face was quite drawn and wrinkled, his arms quite shriveled and sort of pock marked only more sinister looking than that.  It was more like sores all over his arms.  He had on a short sleeve shirt and what looked to be pajama bottoms.  He had slippers on his feet.  But in the patches of skin visible where his pant legs failed to meet the tops of his slippers, there were the same sores visible as were on his arms.  There was a strange, strange sort of aura about him - a literal aura, a kind of putrid brown phosphorous which seemed to radiate from him and almost glow with its putrescence.

The man had been returned to his own people from captivity in a similar, though less advanced, condition.  He had been ushered immediately, and under the tightest security, and under the darkest cover of night, into this contamination chamber.  It was thoroughly lined with lead, this chamber - this sealed chamber.  This, Mr. Chesapeake McDermitt's final resting place.

He would die here, and his body would be left lying here to rot.  No one would ever enter, he would never leave.  He was contaminated.  His body was being eaten away by a form of radiation poisoning.  He had been given a drop - just a single drop - of a new compound, the very latest patented formula, something derived from plutonium.  Some new miracle substance, whose greatest glory was its ability to power the most incredibly destructive missile ever devised; and in whose warheads to trigger the most awesome spectacle since the advent of the nuclear age.  It was hardly worthy of mention what it could do to a human...once inside.

It just ate them away, like any good killer drug.  The only thing in any way remarkable being the interesting glow it gave off as it combined with atoms of flesh to disintegrate their nuclei.  That's what the brownish glow Professor Bakon observed around Mr. McDermitt was: it was the nuclei of his atoms being charred, the remains of each atom combining with the atoms of the miracle drug to vaporize, so to speak.  It was all incredibly complex, and fascinating to the scientific mind.  It was all very strange and technical and awesome...to the dedicated student of science, the true student of science.

No one really knew exactly how much of what was going on inside of McDermitt was known to him, felt by him.  He had lost his mind completely; that was the first job the drug had undertaken - perhaps understandably.  It had destroyed the delicate membranes and atoms of the cerebral cortex, the seat of higher intelligence.  It may have known, in its simple naive way, this drug, that no amount of higher intelligence was needed for the conduct of warfare, of destruction.  So no doubt it was a blessing, geared perhaps to easing the poor man's suffering.  Undoubtedly, when one day old ladies repeat the tale, they'll say it was a blessing.  He never knew the full extent of what hit him.

Tears of the most truly profound sorrow rolled down Professor Bakon's cheeks.  This man was a friend, he thought to himself.  And I can't even reach out a hand to him: to do so would be to contaminate myself.  I can't even see him, face to face.  A camera my only window in to him.  And he couldn't see me, or know I was watching him, even if he had the mind to look around.

"A zombie," Professor Bakon whispered.  "My God...my God."

Many minutes went by before Bakon regained his composure.  Then, when he did, he spoke only of the facts, not a word about his sentiments.

"When will we know if there has been any contamination of others?" he asked.

"Soon," Dr. Johnson replied.  "I suspect, however, that there wasn't any - nor would there ever be any.  I suspect.  But there's no way of knowing for sure.  We've quarantined everyone who had any contact with him."

"For how long?"

"Who can say?" Johnson replied.  "No more than three months, though, I would say."

"But you don't think there's any danger?" inquired Bakon.

"No, I don't.  I think - anyway, based on tests we've done with these particular elements - I think they attain a degree of stabilization which confines them to only the medium into which they're initially introduced.  Of course, our research was done with fluids only simulating the human system, so we can't predict absolutely the same results with actual human subjects.  But I think it is one where they grossly miscalculated.  Judging from their note anyway, it's apparent they thought that in contaminating McDermitt and in sending him home to us they would in turn contaminate the rest of us.  I don't think that's likely to happen.  Though it's apparent they did."

"So you see no further threat from...in here," Bakon gestured toward the cell door.

"No I don't," replied Dr. Johnson.

"Then it served no purpose.  It was all for nothing, what they did to him."

"So it would seem."

Professor Bakon shut the little window, shutting off the camera eye view of his old friend.  There was a muffled noise of some kind behind the cell door, a noise that must have been loud if it could be heard through the heavy steel and lead door.

Both men who heard the noise shuddered.  They dared not try to imagine what it was.  They just got out of there, not wanting to have to think about it.  They both sighed of relief when the elevator door closed in front of them, when the corridor was shut off from their sight.

Neither man spoke in the elevator; each had his own thoughts, each wished to retain those thoughts for himself alone.  They were not pleasant thoughts, and since each knew the others' thoughts to be the same as his own, with only slight variations, neither saw any reason to express his own thoughts.  It was a moment's silence, a final tribute to an old friend who was for all practical purposes dead.  There was just one thing they each wanted to say, but felt it would be almost sacrilegious: they both wondered whether McDermitt would be destroyed, eaten up from within, by the disease first or starve to death before the radiation killed him.  They wondered how he would die; but it was too gruesome to talk about.  Here was a man given a lethal dose of a particularly virulent mutation of radioactivity; a man to whom no food or drink could safety be given, for fear of spreading the contagion; a man locked away from all human contact in the most utter isolation; a man sitting out all alone on a cot in the middle of a lead lined cell, slowly dying: a man seized by an enemy and sent back to his own people in the hope of contaminating the entire lot of them.  Too gruesome to talk about...

"Nothing, then, is changed," observed Professor Bakon in a strange sort of voice, its tone suggesting at once irony and sorrow, yet also sarcasm - as if he were saying I told you so.  "Nothing has been accomplished."

The elevator door had closed behind them, it seemed alright to talk now.

"What do you mean?" Dr. Johnson questioned.

"I mean the problem still remains with us," explained Bakon.  "The problem McDermitt had been sent abroad to try and settle.  The continuing matter.  Their bombs or our bombs.  Their wish to destroy us and our wish to destroy them.  Their threats and our counter threats.  Proposals and counter proposals.  And so on.  To put it more succinctly, are we not not still in a quasi state of war with them?  Have they not severed diplomatic ties?  Have they not threatened us with imminent attack?  And as McDermitt's mission was thwarted, how was anything changed by it?  So what, Mr. Leader of His People, are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to pay them a visit," answered Dr. Johnson arrogantly.

"Oh, I see.  Just as our friend did.  Well, how splendid - for me at least."

"Not just as he did.  I intend to take certain precautions.  And I intend to deliver an ultimatum - our ultimate ultimatum, if you will."

"And what might that be?" inquired Bakon.

"That all hostilities between us cease.  And that if they don't it shall be us who declares war.  I shall have with me a declaration of war - let's say, a carbon copy of the declaration.  It shall be effective upon a given date forty-eight hours after my departure from this country.  If I don't return it becomes automatically operative; if I return dissatisfied it becomes likewise.  If in the interim we're attacked, again likewise.  The point being that I mean business.  If all this world can ever look ahead to is war and ultimate destruction anyway, then as God is my witness I have no qualms about initiating those very activities myself.  If we're never to know a moment's freedom from the threat of nuclear war, then I'd gladly elect to have that it way and have done with it.  But I think they'll back down.  In fact I know they will.  They don't believe any more than we do that any such concept as a 'winner' has any application in such a conflict.  They know as well as we that it spells the end of this world.  And I don't believe they want that any more than we do.  They'd happily rule this entire planet and every living thing on it; but I've got to believe that even those abominable ideas do not undercut their humanity - they're human beings above all their ideas, and as such they can't help but realize that this is our only possible home anywhere in the universe.  At least, anywhere we can get to.  And no one, no matter how monstrous his ideas or how hideous his crimes - no one has ever lived who willingly and knowingly destroyed his own home in full knowledge that he had absolutely no place else to go to.  It hasn't happened, nor will it ever.  It goes against everything human - everything evil as well as everything good.  And just because our enemies and their ideas are evil doesn't mean they're any less human.  Human nature covers an immense territory.  And because it does, I believe it's possible to deal - to bargain - with even the most hideously evil specimens of humanity.  They too have to have someplace to live.  The fact they want so much more than their rightful share proves how valuable they know this earth to be.  They're not about to give it up completely just to risk grabbing up a few more pieces of it.  And that's what I'm counting on to save us: not their love for life, but their greed.  They want it too badly to risk losing it all."

"Lovely thought," mused Professor Bakon.

"I wouldn't have expected anything else from you," observed Dr. Johnson, not without an obvious disappointment.  "And if the old situation were still in existence, you'd have done your best to sabotage my plans.  Because you know it's more than merely a 'lovely thought.'  You know it's the most logical assessment of the situation - and you know it stands an almost absolute chance of succeeding.  And if it does - and once this crisis is past - there's little else for you to do, is there?  You've spend most of your life working to convince people of the imminence of doom.  If I'm successful, your game's up, and you know it.  Because a rational people, who feel secure from overt threats, would never support you or your ideas.  It's only in times of crisis and panic that you have any chance of taking over - of taking away the people's freedom, and of making yourself their ruler.  When I return, your day of reckoning shall be at hand.  Never again will anyone listen to your cries and your warnings and your predictions of doom and destruction.  Not a soul.  Of course you'll still have to be watched: I'm not so naive I imagine you're no longer a threat to our freedom.  But no one is likely to hand power over to you, and as long as we keep vigil you're not likely to ever be in a position to seize it.  In a word, sir, it looks as if you're one tyrant who won't have his day.  It looks as if the world is safe from Jorge Bakon.  But it's going to take all the power this government can muster in order to keep you at bay, and all the vigilance.  But we'll manage.  We'll win.  Because in a world safe from peril you have no real base of support within this society.  As you well know."

Jorge Bakon said nothing.  His face registered nothing.  He was absolutely calm, absolutely self-controlled.  He might have been asleep for all his activity at this moment; except for the delicate gleam in his eyes.

"When do you leave?" he said after a moment's silence.

"In a week," replied Johnson.

"And return in a week and two days," noted Bakon, to which Dr. Johnson nodded in affirmation.

"If you return," Bakon then added.

"We both know I will," Dr. Johnson said as if in summation.

"A lot can happen in nine days," observed Professor Bakon.  "Why, the very ground could open up and swallow us all."

"If you're alluding to your cave, I well know it's ready for occupancy.  Right down to your force field gateway.  And your blue-green synthetic rocks.  And the nuclear reactor you've had built from misappropriated supplies.  Yes, I know all about your plan to have the ground swallow us all up, as you say.  What you don't know is that it's worthless, because once I return no one's going to wish to join you there beneath the ground.  Besides which, when I do return, I fully intend to dismantle your little handiwork; your little kingdom."

"As I said, Karl: if you return.  After all, just because you're so confident you'll succeed in your mission does not mean absolutely that you will.  The odds, as I see them, are far greater for your sharing our fried Mr. McDermitt's fate."

"In which event -" Dr. Johnson had started to point out but was interrupted by Professor Bakon.

"Oh yes, of course, I'm forgetting: we're to blow the whole world up if anything happens to you.  Well, perhaps you'll pardon me if I go with human nature on this one.  The men you leave behind in charge, however loyal they may be, are by no means so loyal to you personally that they'll snuff out their own lives and those of everyone near and dear to them as well as the lives of everyone period just to demonstrate that loyalty.  No, my friend, I think you'll find your plan considerably less attractive once you've left the safety of your own territory and wandered into the enemy's hands.  You'll find your little bluff to be just that.  And the mantle, the power, the world shall fall out of your hands and into mine, sir.  Where it rightfully belongs.  Good day, Karl."

But you're not sure - are you? thought Dr. Johnson to himself, watching his guest walk away.  You know where the odds lie: they lie with me, not you.  Because my plan is not wishful thinking, nor is it a madman's grand delusion; it's sane, and it's logical.  It's based on the probable outcome of a given set of circumstances.  The only thing drastic about it is that it is drastic - it has to be, the situation demands it.  And they do want to survive, just as much as we do.  You seem to forget: freedom is an illusion, a state of mind.  With literal expression, but still an abstract idea.  An idea devised by only the most highly evolved minds, an idea put into practice by only the most highly evolved societies.  Not an idea whose time has or even will or ever had come; but one which can only flourish where civilization is advanced enough to make the adjustment to it, and where the human mind is of sufficient scope to comprehend it and all its implications.  It is an idea whose potential has always been there, but whose actual advent has waited for thousands of years, and still waits.  And always will wait: until enough human beings have evolved highly enough to accept it and to understand.  But it may never happen, for even though civilization itself, societies built upon civilization, may advance cumulatively through the ages, the human mind must begin anew each time another birth occurs, and must depend solely upon the power of the being possessing that mind to come to terms with this most exalted idea, this concept of freedom.  Our minds to not evolve, only our culture.  Each single being must in a single lifetime pass through all the stages of humanity in order to reach a stage highly enough evolved to be receptive to the idea of personal worth and of individual dignity, and of freedom.  Most never reach that stage.  Too many more pressing personal considerations occupy their time.  They must live, survive, sustain themselves first.  Only then do they have time for thinking.  No man can think on an empty stomach.  And most stomachs never fill adequately.  Only in their death have they time enough to think.  So it must forever remain an idea waiting for a time.  But when enough people believe in their hearts and their souls that no one has the right to abuse them and that nothing justifies one human being's mistreatment or enslavement or harassment of another - then the world will never again be the same.  The only problem facing us then will be how to put man's destructive things to constructive use - his bombs and his prejudices: his two chief weapons for the destruction of his fellow man, the former but a concrete expression of the latter.  How to channel these to good use, that's the problem for the infinite future.  Eliminate prejudice and you've solved the arms race.

But for now, let it suffice to threaten our enemies with total destruction.  Such is the irony of this world that that's the only way any good may be hoped to be obtained.  In this best of all possible worlds...                

"It must be done immediately," Professor Jorge Bakon mumbled to himself as he was leaving the Pyramid.  The cave, he meant: the cave must be readied.  And the people who were to be led to it must be readied.  There was no time to lose.  It had to be done immediately.  The chance might never come again - would never come again, Professor Bakon corrected the wording of his thoughts.  The chance would never come again.  A week's time was all he had.  Then after that two days - just two days - in which to get everyone inside.  Before the flood, he mused in a somber metaphor.  The flood of bombs...which he knew would almost certainly not come but which he convinced himself would come.  He knew that unless he believed it, and absolutely, then he might not succeed - not on such short notice - to convince the rest of mankind.  So it all had to be done immediately.  The whole thing had to build to a frenzy of panic by the time Dr. Karl Johnson boarded the plane for his mission.  Everyone had to be ready by then.  They must be inspired to an unbearable level of anxiety, and they must then be taken hold of while in that state of panic, force fed the idea of imminent destruction, made to believe absolutely that no other choice lay before them but to do as Professor Bakon recommended: to follow him, to pack up only whatever they could carry, to leave all else behind - to be willing to leave all else behind - and to follow, blindly, unquestioningly, unhesitatingly, into the Professor's cave, their new home.  They must want to go - to see any other course as hopeless; they must want to look upon the cave as their new home, their ultimate home, their highest place of security.  They must practically beg to be taken to the promised land.  And all of it - all of - before they have a chance to stop and think.  They must act out of impulse, and above all, they must act together, as a crowd.  Or a mob.  Otherwise, they may recall their own individuality, their own separateness as a person, their distinction from the crowd.  And seeing themselves as persons, not as part of a group, they may begin to think, to examine, to weigh the evidence and to judge for themselves.

So it must be done immediately...if it's to be done at all.

In the comfort of your own home, Professor Bakon thought to himself in an amused sort of way, the irony of so casual a notion in the context of so monumental a situation striking him as particularly delightful.  It was a very old cliché, and when applied to something so novel as departing the earth, it made Professor Bakon think how absurd all human endeavors really were.  He liked that thought, it had a ring of immortality to it.

He had arrived in the meantime at the home of Miss Lucetta Oldham.  This was where his plans were wedded to the necessary subtle mechanisms of social persuasion and imitation, where the magnificent charms and talents of Miss Oldham and the impeccable authority of her pedigree joined with the bold schemes pioneered by Professor Bakon to become an aggressive campaign whose fruits were the minds and hearts, and the allegiance, of a compliant, adulating, totally submissive crowd just waiting to be taken in and brought up: to be socialized, just as a child starting from scratch would be.

"Good afternoon, Professor Bakon," Miss Oldham greeted her visitor cordially as she held out her hand to him.

"Good afternoon," replied Professor Bakon.

Miss Oldham then led the way to her parlor.  She knew the Professor, she knew his habits.  She knew he did not make casual visits to people's homes: if he came to call, it was because he had important business.  There was nothing casual or hesitant about his purpose, he went only after that which he truly wanted, and only as far as he needed to go in order to get it.  And she liked this in a man, this directness, this purposefulness, this fine contempt for the niceties of social contact.  She had no use for what she called gadflies; and she called everyone who was less than Professor Bakon a gadfly.  In fact, of all living creatures, she held herself to be his only peer.  Or, more accurately, she held him to be her only peer.

"We must act immediately," Professor Bakon announced to his hostess.  "Can you get everything organized, for your part, by this time next week?" he asked.

"Of course," Miss Oldham answered with just a touch of hostility bristling about the edges of her supremely self-confident air.  "And your part?" she in turn asked.

Bakon nodded, without actually answering.  "Then we need not go into detail," he observed in the manner of paying his hostess a well-deserved compliment.  "We both know what to do then.  I have my operatives set in their tasks -"

"And I my circle of friends," Miss Oldham took the Professor's cue to interrupt him by completing his thought.

"There is one matter I want absolutely coordinated - I want absolutely nothing having to do with it left to chance," Bakon explained, looking his hostess squarely in the face at all times as he spoke.  "It's the matter of Dr. Johnson's family.  I want them to be with us.  Above all else I want that one single piece to be as carefully fit in with the other pieces as humanly possible.  There must be no slip-up there - none whatsoever.  The entire success of the operation depends upon it.  We must convince Aral Johnson beyond any possible doubt that her husband has been killed by the enemy, as a prelude to attack.  She must be made to feel a personal stake in all this.  She must be made to believe that only in willingly coming with us can she preserve her husband's memory, and his love - their love together - and all the good he spent his life achieving.  Her maternal instincts must be brought to the surface and made to dominate her entire thinking process, it must be used  to blind her to any and all arguments or any appeals that might be made to her reason - anything that could in any way contradict the ideas we're feeding her and thereby endanger our whole plan: anything that could cause her to think must be made to appear as a threat to her love and to her children  In that way her instinct will serve as our ally.  Our most powerful ally."

"Of course," observed Miss Oldham almost matter-of-factly.  "It's always the noblest elements that must be won over first.  How else are people to be made to serve their masters willingly?"

Professor Bakon smiled handsomely, being greatly impressed with this formidable lady.  He had almost asked her why it was she had never sought power herself, why with all her talents, her charms and her incredible persuasiveness she had refrained from indeed becoming a master.  He had started to make such an inquiry, then he had smiled so handsomely, delighted with the simplicity of the answer.  For she had indeed sought power all these years, while powerful leaders and triumvirates and what not came and went, and their powers with them: she had all along sought power, and had all along little by precious, careful little gathered it around her, little by little, while others flashed and dazzled and expired, all the while Miss Oldham grew more powerful with each succeeding change of command.  She had made herself a necessary ingredient of every one of these leaders' power; she was constant, her pedigree and her social worth beyond doubt, she was an essential component of any sort of coalition, and she was always sought out as one of the entourage circulating around each new leader, each power broker.  While unbeknownst to anyone but herself she was slowly becoming not merely an ingredient of leadership, of the maintenance of power - she was becoming power itself, its very personification.  It was as true a maxim as any that without the support of Miss Lucetta Oldham no one could rule with any effect; with her support, anyone could rule.  She bestowed power, much like some medieval pontiff without whose sanction no king could sit upon the throne.  She had indeed sought power, all along, and had gained it, in a sense had become it.  And even so great a leader as Professor Jorge Bakon had to kneel before Miss Lucetta if his place were to become reality.  Hers was the final voice of the order and the authority of society.

Quite a woman, Bakon thought to himself.  Yet for all her greatness she hasn't the significance of my Evelyn.  No woman ever has or ever shall.  She has no equal...my Evelyn.  She didn't need power; she loved.  She loved everything that lived.  Even the child whose birth meant her death.  How perfect her love...how perfect.

"Perhaps you wonder at my apparent callousness," observed Miss Oldham.

"What?" asked Bakon in reply, confused momentarily upon the breakup of his reverie.

"I wouldn't attempt to pry into your private thoughts, nor to read your mind," Miss Oldham explained, "but I did sense myself somewhere in those thoughts.  Perhaps as a point of comparison, or some such circumstance.  In any event, I feel I was not the more favorable comparison.  It occurs to me that you may entirely misinterpret my feelings simply in light of my motives.  Rest assured that I feel the deepest sense of obligation - fully as deep as your own.  Because I feel this overwhelming duty, I am able at whatever cost to put aside more strictly personal considerations.  Aral Johnson is a good example.  I think very fondly of her, she is one of the dearest persons I've ever known.  And I would sooner forfeit my own life than lift a finger toward breaking up her marriage.  That is, under normal circumstances.  In this particular instance, the greater good of society absolutely demands it.  She simply must be separated from her husband.  We must above all others have her, mustn't we, to insure our proper entry into our cave?  She and her children are our insurance against any rash actions by her husband when he returns.  To me there is no other consideration, this one takes precedence over all others.  Her happiness must be sacrificed for the greater benefit of the many.  It's very disheartening, but no less necessary because of it.  She must be convinced that he will have been destroyed in the nuclear holocaust, as you and I know he will be.  And there's the irony of it: we must deceive the poor woman into believing what will happen anyway.  But if we wait and let her see for herself, it'll be too late; we'll all have perished along with her husband, victims of the same holocaust.  But you and I know what others find so hard to see.  We both know that the right choice must often be forced on people, for their own good as well as for everyone's good.  If we left people like Aral Johnson to their own devices they would all perish.  We have no choice but to rule them - even deceive them, even use force against them if we must - in order to provide for their well being and their survival.  The supreme irony, wouldn't you say?"

Chapter 18.  A Reflection of Things That Were

Nighttime itself was a fog, it seemed maybe two or three inches thick, like the way it's supposed to appear in a science fiction tale involving some ethereal dimension.  It was as if this time the feel of night held real promise for the opening of a whole new world, a different sort of world anyway, a world of those elemental spirits perhaps, the ones everyone used to joke about - well, not joke exactly, but speak of in only a half serious way.

There weren't clouds in the sky; no, that was not what suggested the fog, the nether, the possibility of another dimension just an inch or two away from the darkness that conformed like paraffin to the contours of the landscape.  No, it wasn't clouds that did it.  It was the darkness - the night itself.

God was it ever dark.  If ever a night had presence, if ever the very existence of darkness assumed a definite form, this was it.  In a molten kind of way, like the dark was really, truly black, perhaps some incredible, otherworldly compound derivative of coal tar.

He reached out and touched: that's how real it seemed, felt to him.  He actually spread his hand, extended his arm a little way ahead of him and a little overhead and felt around, like one might see a mime do feigning containment in a jar.

He touched nothing of course; he could as easily have extended his arm indefinitely with little more prospect of grasping or rubbing against anything, at least anything capable of halting his progress or of opening up to another dimension.  He'd have hit the moon first before any such as that; then everything else in the solar system; then everything else in the universe, and of course, from there right back where he began, only perhaps in daylight instead of darkness.   Certainly, though, without the least smudge of night anyplace on his person.

So it wasn't there, really, after all - for all its apparent heaviness, its transubstantiality.  It remained just an idea, its only form imaginary.  Like a good taste, or a good aroma.  You couldn't locate it to save your very life.  You'd breathe it in, or savor it, but you'd never find it.

How strange, he thought, to feel this way: to feel so much like being in a fog that I actually resent its absence.  How very unlike a realist.

He looked up into the sky, noting reverently its intense blackness, noting its scarcity of stars, or apparent scarcity, on such a dark cloudless night.  He had never ceased to be amazed by starlight, by its incredible duplicity, its almost mesh like quality.

The stars don't look like that, he reminded himself.  We're not even seeing them.  Only their projected image.  How do we know that even that image is a true image, it's diffracted through billions of particles first, or that it even reaches us anyway.  How do we know but what it gets trapped in the upper atmosphere and it's a dot, not in the sky but on some particle of dust or some ion, that we see.  How do we know?  But then, which is more beautiful: that we know or that it's there?  Isn't that really our greatest task?  Or, I wonder: perhaps it's greater still not to need to find such answers.  Just to enjoy the marvels.  I wish I knew though.

Johnny Green was a young man, his age was eighteen - and it therefore seemed unendurably urgent to him to understand the mysteries of existence, and to behold those mysteries from an emotional, exhilarating perspective which cast all kinds of exuberant hues of tone and style about them.  His age was his guide as well as his incentive.  If he managed to develop wisdom he would always see these mysteries of existence as wondrous challenges to the spirit; should he fail to go beyond curiosity, or to carry it to its higher octave, wisdom, then of course he would settle for his facts second-hand, he would cease to question, to seek, to learn, to know.  Perhaps one can never know for sure that one knows, or what one knows: but one can satisfy his mind that he's done all he can toward gaining knowledge.  That he has not willingly accepted someone else's image of truth as truth itself.  That with his mind he has tried his best to get in between the minds of others and the truths they report, to get as close as he might possibly get, and to face head-on whatever there is out there causing those images put before him by others.

"Star of light and star of bright," he called out, Johnny Green, to the sky.  "Release, please, just one speck of your light that I might feel it, taste it, discover it for myself.  Not so that I can be the first to discover, but so that my abilities as I stand here will be sufficient to learn whether or not you're real.  I know I can test for it later, after so many long years of study and after finally securing the proper instruments - but why can't there be an easier way?  Why can't I just know now, through my immediate senses, without any extensions of those senses?  Why must I wait?  Why can't I enjoy here and now a taste of knowledge, of what it feels like to know - to really and truly know?  Why...why won't you release just one secret - just one speck of light?  Starlight-starbright..."

Of course, it's not the way, the young man reminded himself.  I can no more take a spot out of the atmosphere and know it absolutely as starlight than I can snap my fingers and have this ground open up and let out its contents.  Its prisoners.  I know they're here - that's the thing: I feel it in me that this is right where they are, right here, below where I stand now.  At this moment.  So help me I know they're here.

But how do I get to them?  How do I tell them, show them?  My world: I want them to know my world.  This, the real world.  Their world isn't real, not down there.  It's made to some specification; made to order.  But it's not real!  It's a gyp!  They were all gypped, tricked into living out their lives in a tomb, a grave...six feet under!  Not a home down there: a grave, where they're all buried.  All laid to rest.  All of them.  The living dead.  Too scared to face the true world.  They prefer the cozy atmosphere of the grave; its closeness, its somber perfume.  The musty oil...the sensual fragrance...

But if I could only get to them.  If I could just get to them.

They expected death, they perceived their own graves, got a fix on it, visualized it, fashioned it - then went to get into it, to lie in it, to live the future they saw now, during their own lifetimes.  They did all that!  Remarkable people.  Remarkable insight.

...Elemental spirits...They've become their elemental spirits...

Here in the plain - oh, how'd that go? that old song? something about a rain in a plain...something like that.  But such a long time ago.

"Does the present always anticipate the future and then try to simulate it?  Does everything that exists now seek simply to become an image of what it imagines things will be like later on sometime?  Just like we consciously try to make the past an anticipation of the present, as if they too saw ahead, and saw us, and acted to create the image they saw in us, in our time?  Is everything a reflection of things that are yet to be?  An anticipation?"

Johnny Green stopped awhile to think on this matter.  His body kind of writhed, unconsciously, and ever so slightly, but just enough to have it appear as though it were snuggling, or rubbing, up against the rich coating of black against which it stood.

Is it really this way, he asked himself.  Or is it just the reverse - is the present a reflection of the past, the future a reflection of the present?  Or does it work in both directions at once?  Which is it?

He knew that the philosophers seemed to have satisfied their inquiry into the matter; he knew that they had so ordered the universe that the present came out of the past, and the future would be the issue of the present.  Marvelously they birthed existence.  Sterility and sanitation were circumscribed and in abundance attended the plucking of one epoch from the place where its progenitor prepared for its delivery.  Words and syllogisms circling about, serious mid-wifery set in motion.  And a smack!  A cry!  And to humanity a new age.

"An era!  An era!" they would announce to the proud world.  A new fledgling era, given birth on this the ultimate of existence in the era of our Lord Freedom and Democracy.  Hail the new arrival!

"But is it so?" he asked.  "Is it that way?  Is it?"

Or does it only look that way?

But if it is truly that way then what kind of age gave birth to this one - this one here below my feet?  What kind of metaphysics led them here?  What route was taken?  Why here?

The plain was not entirely flat, certain small hill-like mounds occurred at intervals; to some extent the land was rolling, but more exactly it did not actually roll, as the term is used; rather it was a somewhat flattened parcel of land which rose up at very inconsistent times and places, more like lumps on a body than contours on a field.  Grass pretty well covered the whole area, even if it did seem more like a close knitting of splotches and clumps than a meadow's soft carpeting.  Weeds, of course, grew where they found space, a few flowers finding space among the weeds to establish a precarious base.  A number of boulders, as well as a great amount of small rocks and pebbles were scattered throughout the area: the kind of pebbles that get in one's shoes, the kind of rocks upon which one steps to the disadvantage of his comfort, the kind of boulders that seem to menace, each one suggesting itself to be a hideout or a place of ambush.  If one could be impressed by all this, it must necessarily be in a negative sort of way.

The place was foreboding - not ugly, not forlorn, not exactly eerie but close to that: foreboding, most nearly.  Vaguely threatening, yet with a tantalizing hint of excitement.  A place of adventure.  And a place to get a very important lesson; a place to get a feel of life, of what life is all about.  A place to really think deeply about the nature of this world.  Not by any means an unwholesome place; but then, neither an entirely pleasant place.

Think about life - just think about life!  This was what the plain seemed to be saying to Johnny Green.  Never mind that you've always thought about life; never mind that your nature nearly demands reflection - your nature, young Johnny, in light of all you've seen, all you've had happen to you and around you, all you've taken as homeless into your mind, all you've protected and nourished once inside, all these homeless impressions and facts and memories; never mind that you need to play and to laugh as well as to think - never mind any of this, the plain seemed bent on conveying to young Johnny: never mind all the rest, you think about life while you're here in my domain.  For if you knew what all I've seen in my time, all the coming and going, the great exodus, the disappearance, the sealing of the mighty tomb - if you but knew what wonders I've parceled out among my boulders and my mounds and my sickly grasses, if you only knew, then I don't think you'd stand quite so passively, breathing in the night air and contemplating the droplets of starlight seeping through the atmosphere.  No, indeed, I don't think you'd entertain such idleness out here in my presence!  Not if you knew!

But of course it all registered in Johnny Green's thoughts, this fanciful monologue delivered to his mind from where he happened to be in place and time.  It registered.  He knew that this was where it had all happened, the coming and  the going, the exodus, the disappearance, the sealing of the tomb.  Upon the elemental spirits, he thought: the sealing of the tomb upon the spirits.  They had been here; as surely as day follows night they had been here.  They had walked this very ground, had spread their arms, had opened the earth, had gone in, then the ground had closed over top of them.  They had been here alright.  There were traces of their having passed.

Look at the odd way in which the plain expressed itself, its uneven contours, its dying grasses, its worn spots, its overturned rocks, its very feel of having been trampled almost to oblivion.  It had surely seen a great multitude.  But where had it hidden them?  What had it done with them?  Why did it continue keeping them prisoner...

"...keeping her prisoner..." the young man mumbled in the midst of his reverie.  Don't you see I'm ready for her?  Don't you see that?

That rock over there, he thought, that's the key to it all.  If one just understood how to use it.  That bluish-green rock over there.

He walked over to it, stood looking down at it for many minutes, as he had done so often before.  Just standing there, looking, and wondering.  Blue-green...beautiful, beautiful blue-green...

Vanity's color, the blue-green.  Although not really, for this was a blue-green unlike aquamarine; this was a kind of set-up between the two colors, but one in which they failed to blend.  Somehow they each retained their individual character, the blue was clearly blue, the green obviously green - neither corrupted by the other.  It was a strange, strange rock, taking within itself the essences of two separate colors the way it did, and keeping each essence distinct from the other.

Really, if truth be known, it did not seem too much like a natural formation, this blue-green rock.  It seemed more nearly to be something man-made than something occasioned by nature to just happen upon this particular setting.  It seemed more as if human hands had fashioned it than winds, rains, the sun's rays and the winter's cold.  Erosion even to the optimal degree of perfection could hardly have ordered up quite so awesome a piece of nature.  It seemed more likely to be the result of human skill, this blue-green rock.

And anyway, the young man conjectured, how come the color shows so vividly even in the dead of night, when I can barely see the ground beneath my feet?  How come this stands so clearly, so illuminatingly?  How can this be: where is its source of light?  It must be within it.  But what known element has its own light in itself?  Even a diamond requires some outside source of light.  And anything radioactive can be mechanically detected.  So what possible element is left?

"None," Johnny Green concluded with a finality rather anti-climactic, since he had already so concluded time and again on his late night visits to this place.  "No, it isn't anything occurring in a natural formation," he observed.  "It's something man-made.  And made by them.  And that means beyond a doubt that this is where they are.  Right beneath my feet.  Or at least this is where the entrance is, or was.  This is exactly where they entered their underworld.  Right where I'm standing.  It's got to be."

But we'll never know, he mused.  Other than by intuition anyway.  How else can we know?  They've taken all the maps.  All traces of the mine have been removed.  Not a single map remains anywhere.  Every trace gone.  It's as if it had never existed.  Except as a legend.  A fabulous legend - like the Flying Dutchman's Mine, or King Solomon's Mine.  Something you just read about, but can't find any record of, and can't locate.  An image.  A reflection...

A reflection of an actual thing, a thing that was once known, on an everyday level, just as if it were any old place, one you heard about every day, and took for granted, and knew it existed - and never once questioned its existence.  Now suddenly all trace of it has vanished, every record, every map.  And you find yourself contemplating it just like you would any mystery, or any fable, or any ancient civilization - thinking about it; yet wondering all the while if it ever really existed or not.  Something taken perfectly for granted not a quarter century ago, now nothing remaining but a question mark in people's minds - maybe even some of the very same people who had worked there once, or played there, or at least had come at some time or another to look at it...maybe for the peace or the quiet...but who now find themselves doubting whether it ever existed.

A reflection of their own memories.  Which they've come to doubt because there's no proof of any antecedent to those memories.  They wonder now if maybe they only imagined they had known of it, believing that if it cannot be found then it could not have existed.  Questioning their own mind they question the source of its contents.

It seems like something's wrong somewhere.  Our thinking, or something.  I just wish I knew what.

He lifted his foot a little, then gently brought it down to rest upon the blue-green stone.  He wished for a moment he could absorb some kind of message from it, rather like practicing the art of psychometrics; but he felt no particular regret at not being able to do it, since no possible verification existed for information secured in such a manner.  And if it couldn't be verified then it could never truly be accepted; it would always remain just outside the realm of truth - human truth, that is, since the only truths humans can know are those available to investigation and verification: if a whole region of truth exists somewhere beyond the province of the human mind, so what? it can be of no value to anyone, of no use, it can not even be suspected, so why consider it?

Besides, intuition accounts for anything in between the two realms, that which we can know and that which we cannot.  If it ever was, or ever might be, then its existence can be inferred.  It isn't necessary to touch a stone to believe that a great body of people dwell below the ground; just the fact of their disappearance, the memory of their presence, the absence of any sign of mass slaughter is enough to suggest their existence in invisibility and to pinpoint the place wherein they appear invisible: this alone does it.

"What have they done to the rain?" an old song had asked.  But it might better be put what has the rain done to them, Johnny Green thought to himself.  It's driven them into hiding, was his answer.  The nuclear rain: the rain down upon the earth of fire and brimstone.  It's driven them into hiding.

Johnny Green looked up once more into the sky, almost as if he expected to see the fires and brimstones of the atomic age raining down upon him.  Instead, he saw stars - countless stars all across the sky, stars which earlier in the evening were not visible but which now shone, blazed, from every conceivable angle overhead and on down into the horizon.  The stars of light and of bright which he had called upon earlier had now made their appearance.  And for this he was grateful.

There was no nuclear fallout here, Johnny Green advised the stars.  The bombs were never released.  They failed to fall.  So there is no fallout.  So the earth is safe.  So the tomb can open, should open, and the corpses - the spirits - come out of hiding.  Why won't they though?  Why won't she?  She's among them.  A corpse, sealed away from me.  Her future, hers and mine, reflected in a decision made twelve years ago.  Our future together brushed aside, another future gleaming out from that past even toward the future - toward this very spot where I'm standing now looking down to where my future became absorbed into somebody's mirror reflecting out in time twelve years ahead of itself.  My future - mine! - held within a mirror imprisoned - sealed - six feet below the ground in somebody's fear, somebody's nightmare, somebody's vision of some awesome future devastation wrought by the falling of nuclear bombs upon the ground where I would have to walk if I were to have had a future - falling on that ground, this ground, here where I stand...falling fallout: the fallout of their vision covering my future.  This is what the bomb did to me!  It wiped my dreams off the face of the earth as effectively as if it had been dropped squarely down on me.  But I care to know why, and by what right did my future become an instrument for the manipulation of past circumstances.  Why did they deny me a future just that the past might be made more to their liking?  Who were they to do this to me?  Because they were there - is that the answer?  Because they were there, and could do it, and could get away with it?  Is that all there is to it?  Because they were there?"

From where he was on the empty plain, Johnny Green could also look back and see lights, the house lights and the occasional street lights of the place, the small section where he lived.  They sparkled, these lights, just about like the stars did.  It seemed to him an important sort of parallel to keep in mind.  It seemed to signify quite a lot; and he felt he must never undersell the value of signification, of symbolism, metaphor: of the poetic devices by means of which people keep their souls together.

"These lights come out, too," he said somewhat uncertainly, not uncertainty as to the truth of the statement but regarding its meaning.  It kind of made it sound to him as though they were not real but only a reflection of something, these lights - just as the stars' light was often a reflection of something which had perhaps ceased long ago to exist.  For an instant he felt something very close to terror as this thought implied that he might be all alone on earth, that everyone else had ceased to exist, and that there were no longer any houses or streets, only the reflection of their illumination.

Then his perspective returned.  He knew again that everything he expected to exist did exist, that everything was where it was supposed to be, and that his relationship to everything was exactly as it was meant to be and as he believed it to be.  He could return to contentment, to the feeling of security.  All was as it should be.

"It's not merely a reflection," he noted as he began walking back toward his home, and away from here.  He knew he would return here; but for now...

It was beginning to grow foggy anyway.  The fog was lifting up from the ground.  Johnny Green wondered for a moment if maybe it was steam arising from beneath the ground - from the caverns that lay below, from some kind of activity being conducted down there.  By them.                                            

Chapter 19.  A Place For My People

The sun could not have shone more brilliantly than early that morning, on the plain where a great multitude lay assembled.  Every connotation of light seemed emblazoned through the skyline of the earth's horizon, every color of the spectrum seemed personally involved in the proceedings, every ray of sunshine seemed ready to give witness before some high tribunal of the verity of this undertaking.  All the universe seemed here represented in these many aspects of the morning sun on this, a Tuesday, the twelfth day of June, in the year of our lord 2023.

I see them - and I see them - and I see them - and I, too - and I - and I as well: we all see them, the various conditions in which the energy of light made itself manifest appeared to be saying.  We see them.  Every last one of them.

A thousand-thousand here assembled.  The great and the small; the mighty, the weak; the rich and powerful, the poor and downtrodden: they were all here, all numbered among the mighty host of mankind's last outpost, its final collection of humanity, its ultimate gathering together for one last try at survival.  These were its future, its new and final society, its lone survivors.  They would survive the disaster which would come at any minute; they alone would survive it.  Of all who had ever lived, of all their descendants - these alone would carry the name of humanity forward, together with its identity.  These alone, out of all who had ever lived, would go on living, would provide seed for future stock, would carry the germ of new cultures, new ideas, new philosophies, new modes of expression; conversely, they would carry the means of new horrors, new wars, new tyrannies, new manners of slaughtering one another, new ignominies to inflict upon their brothers, new torments and new devices of torture - the whole spectrum of humanity they carried with them to their new lives, their new world, this great multitude of mankind.  They perhaps failed to note the ugliness of their nature slipping silently in place alongside their nobility: in their exuberance they most likely forgot who they were - forgot their very names...their name.  Human kind.  The bad inborn with the good.  Human nature.  Forgotten, but not gone.  The ugly underside of everyone's nobility, his and her depravity; forgotten, but not gone.

"Praise to God for this moment!" someone cried.

"For our deliverance!" another added in prayer.

"Praise to God in the highest!" a new refrain was sounded, carried forth and around and around throughout the multitude till at length everyone there was kneeling down in prayer, every head bowed in thanks to the goodness of their creator, the wisdom He had endowed them with that they alone of all mankind might have come to have seen what was inevitable and acted upon that foresight; and they thanked Him for the great honor He had bestowed upon them by having chosen them as His own people, for His own purpose, to found His world of the future.  They, the chosen elect of God, bowed down in prayer and in thanksgiving.  The chosen few, humbled by the great honor.

It was very still on that plain, while that great multitude bowed in unison.  A little way ahead of where their ranks seemed to have formed was a great gaping hole in the ground, the hole into which they would all descend in due course.  It was purely by chance, or even more so by the logic of their movement, that the people faced in the direction of this hole: chance or not, it seemed that the people were kneeling before this hole, praying to it, bowing in adoration of it.  Of course they were not doing so; but to the fanciful observer it might have appeared that they were.  Certainly to a skeptic it would be almost too great a temptation not to have it reported that way; but it really was a coincidence.  Anyone knows these good people had not come here to worship the grave.  Particularly if one could only have attended the birth of this multitude from out of society's womb: if you had been there, if you had witnessed the excitement, the bustling activity, if you had been caught up in the contagion of joyful anticipation, if you had only - could have only - just been there, then you'd have known, you'd have understood.  One would have seen just how preposterous it would have seemed for anyone to suppose these good people were here paying homage to death!

This was Professor Bakon and Miss Oldham's daybreak.  It therefore entered with even more subtlety than most days, hardly noticed at all, until it was too late to unlight the sky.

Those two central forces of this extraordinary enterprise seemed to be everywhere that day.  They may well have planned it that way, or it might have just seemed so; at any rate both Professor Jorge Bakon and Miss Lucetta Oldham were imminently visible from the very first moments of daylight right up to the end.  Their mission was to save the world, a truly noble mission; and the stakes were supremely high - almost certain death, the total extinction of the human race.  Yet when all in all was brought to bear upon the matter, it became clear that no kind of sentiment, neither nobility nor fear could be relied upon or trusted to substitute for the old tried and true methods of human progress.  Prodding and trickery and intimidation knew no peers in the great annals of human history: there was no substitute for the real thing - no safe one at least.

A small nucleus of persons - associates of Professor Bakon on one hand and cronies of Miss Oldham on the other hand - was assembled, trained and briefed as appropriate to their station and their degree of complicity, and charged with the task of rounding up the herd.  They had worked for months, many months, twisting arms and flattering and cajoling and otherwise ever so gently persuading others of the urgency of their cause.  Now as the day was at hand they worked doubly hard herding their fellow men and women to the appointed place and time, ever on the lookout for strays and others who might have gotten loose: there were obligations here, commitments, words of honor, promises, even reluctant agreements - each and every one collectable and due in full on this the 12th of June, 2023.

A lot was owed to the friends and associates of the Professor and the Lady, as in turn a lot was owed to the Professor and the Lady by their friends and associates.  Debts and debts, abounding and teeming were the debts.  So forget the noble sentiments, forget the grave fears - forget all aspects of humanity save one: the politics of human interaction, the collection of debts.  We live in a debtors' prison, they might have said, these people about to embark on a great new human venture.  We're proud, noble, fearful, hopeful, loving, moving, caring, angry - we're filled with all the emotion and passion of humanity; and, what's more, we've just been conned and forced into accepting a mortgage on our existences.  The double-edged sword.  Shrewd to the touch on this here side, hurtful in the manner of broken bones and torn flesh on the other side.  Whichever way way you hold it, it doesn't matter one whit: it'll do its job, the same job generally, whatever way it's held.  And we, being we, respond.  This is our message to the universe; the measure of our humankind.  We stand or fall by it.  And today - today - we go down into the earth for it.  Debts, debts everywhere...second only to deceit.

"I'm sorry," said Miss Oldham tenderly, "I'm so very sorry, my dear."  She stretched out her hand to Mrs. Aral Johnson, who eagerly accepted it.

This was two and a half days prior to the great day of reckoning.  It was mid-day of June tenth, a Sunday.  Dr. Karl Johnson had left three days earlier for his mission abroad.  There had been no word from him since; a nation, its people and its institutions together, waited anxiously for some word.  The daily newspapers spoke of it; the press covered it as enthusiastically as if something had been already resolved.  The schools and universities could speak of nothing else; lectures were virtually cancelled as students and faculty alike found themselves attuned to one another in a truly rare affinity.  Shops and other businesses found themselves in an economic improbability; there were more customers everywhere than anyone could remember ever having seen at any one given time, yet sales were down fearfully, as people seemed to just congregate anyplace they normally went even though they neglected the consummation of their respective normal associations.  That was the thing: people just wanted to get together and discuss Dr. Johnson and his strange mission.

Everyone wanted to know hour by hour if anything had been heard of him, or from him.  But for three days there was no mention of him, no communication with him: nothing to indicate he was even still alive.

Then on the third day came the rumor.  No one could possibly have pinpointed it, reconstructed it, or in any way discern anything substantial about it.  Yet it had somehow started, as if miraculously - as if of spontaneous generation.  On the third day after his departure there it was, full grown and full of noise.  A thing complete in and of itself, this rumor concerning Dr. Johnson.

"He's dead," a man was heard repeating to his neighbor, as if that one brief allusion to it right in the midst of its rampage seemed best to crystallize and characterize both the rumor and the reaction to it.  Of course there was more to it, but that was its essence: he's dead.

Supposedly Dr. Karl Johnson, so the story had it, had gotten safely to the enemy's borders, had been given permission to enter their territory and to land his aircraft at their capital city.  Not only that, but he had supposedly been granted an audience with the enemy leaders, and had then actually departed the enemy's capital.  And there was where it ended.  He had not apparently gotten outside the enemy's borders; something happened, but no one knew what.  Either he was shot down - shot in the back, so to speak, as he retreated; or else his plane simply crashed due to some kind of mechanical failure or pilot error.  In any event, the result was the same: Dr. Karl Johnson was lost somewhere behind enemy lines.  Whether killed or captured or what, no one could say: no one knew.  Yet just the same everyone believed him dead.  And everyone knew what that meant.  It meant they, too, would soon be dead.

Everyone somehow knew about the plans Dr. Johnson had formulated - the provisions in case just such an event as happened should happen.  How the plans were leaked was a mystery; but everyone knew that there would be an imminent nuclear attack upon the enemy, initiated in strict accordance with the instructions Dr. Johnson had left with his subordinates.

Of course, even under such dire circumstances, the effects of chance, of probability could still be felt.  For example, the subordinates of Dr. Johnson could, now that their leader was dead, decide on a course of their own.  But these men were trained to be dedicated and to obey: they were selected for their positions for just those qualities of blind obedience.  So it was unlikely they would disobey their instructions.  Or the bombs could fail.  But that was even more unlikely, owing to the exalted state of scientific thought, and the exalted place afforded the men of science: these bombs were built to last, and to work - they were not refrigerators or automobiles, they served no utilitarian function, they could not therefore be afforded the luxury of slip-shod manufacture: they had to work, their function was too sensitive to allow for defects.  Or the enemy might surrender at once, thus foregoing the satisfaction of retribution.  But this was human nature being dealt with, so there was little hope of escaping vengeance.  In all, every chance occurrence was amply countered by some or another force having social bearing on the matter; some sort of tradition having some relevance bringing it into play in these circumstances.  In short, chance and probability were outdone, outweighed, by the twin elements of human nature and social upbringing - these two latter elements being, for humanity, by far and away the weightier.

No, everyone accepted their own doom as inevitable.  Everyone touched by the rumor - and that meant everyone able to understand its implications - felt that in a very short span of time their lives, their very world, would be snuffed out for good.  Not a soul truly expected to be alive a week hence from Sunday, June 10th, 2023.

Then, as if from nowhere, Professor Jorge Bakon re-appeared in the public eye, and held out the prospect of salvation.  His kingdom underground had been completed; he now beckoned to the people to follow him down into the earth where they would be safe and could escape the bombs.

"Come," he seemed to beckon, "Come, join me."  Not with his hand, or with any gesture as such did he beckon, but with his entire being - with the mere fact of his appearance upon the scene at this critical moment in history.  It was like a miracle to these people.  A sign from God.

Not all wished to join him; in fact most preferred to accept their fate and to die, not wishing to inhabit the underworld for the rest of eternity.  But a great multitude did want to follow; they were moved by Professor Bakon's beckoning to them, inspired to enter with him into his kingdom, and to dwell there for the rest of their lives and their children's lives and on into the eternal future.  They were willing to leave this earth behind that they might be saved from destruction.  They were willing...

Professor Bakon made no public appearance as such.  He relied on word of mouth for his message to reach the widest possible audience.  He relied most heavily on his own associates and on Miss Oldham's associates.  Through these persons his word was carried throughout society, until virtually everyone knew what the alternative - the only alternative - to destruction was.  And besides this everyone knew his own personal options: each person could choose whether he wished to be saved or not, and still further each choosing salvation had another option, namely whether or not he had any way of becoming one of the chosen few who would be saved.

It was a large nation, and while distances had long ago been reduced to everyday affairs and everyday size, still there were those for whom distance had always remained the handicap it had been throughout most of human history.  They were not the ones too far away; they were the ones too poor to bridge the gulf between the primitive and the modern worlds.  Anybody with the money could board an airplane and within hours be at the mouth of Bakon's cave.  Those who did not have the money, or could not raise it in time were automatically denied entry into the future.  For them there was no further choice in the matter.

But then there was the greater body of citizens, who could afford the cost put upon their trip to the future - and there was the dilemma facing them.  They had the money, but not the time.  For there was a limited amount of time in which to make the escape; and a corresponding limitation upon the means of effecting the escape.  Only a given umber of airplanes were available at any given time to make the journey to the mouth of Bakon's cave; and only a given number of people could therefore hope to be aboard one of the flights.  Either they would be lucky enough to make it or they would not: that was their option.  And it was the final option since in a few days nothing would be left alive above ground.  What looked from the perspective of mankind's beginning as an infinity of choices ever progressing arithmetically now had been revealed as indeed a very finite state in which the final choice of all was about to be made - and to be based, not in the least upon man's intellect but entirely upon the whim of fortune.  Thus it would soon come about that something like a cycle of humanity will have been completed, with the very same ingredients present at the end as were there at the beginning: a very fortuitous set of circumstances upon which mankind stumbled blindly.  So it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.  The survival of the luckiest.

It must be recalled that there was no official word on any of this; indeed, there was almost no one to issue such a statement.  The government having been re-structured to allow an omnipotent source of authority, the triumvirate so highly sought after having dissolved into virtual one man rule, and that one man having been rumored dead, there was little of an official nature left to be done until things could manage to settle into some workable pattern.  The government's hands were tied; no one of an official capacity seemed willing to step forward to put things in order - so nothing was done.

Of course, nature would deal with this situation in time as it does with all vacuums - but the whole point here was the very absence of time.  There appeared to be something less than a week left before the world was blown up; this was far too little time for anyone to just up and step in so that order might be restored.  And besides, where was the incentive for his or her doing so?  There was little hope for building a power base or establishing a dictatorship when everyone would be destroyed within the week; it takes time to sow these kinds of seeds.  And anyway, who wants to rule over charred corpses?  The very notion makes a mockery of tyranny!

There was, true enough, one man on the scene of sufficient charisma and indeed with a substantial enough power base to set up a government and begin a reign of tyranny in a week's time.  This was, of course, Professor Bakon - but he was out rounding up people to follow him into the ground; there was no use looking to him for leadership here above ground.  And herein lay the sharpest honed irony of all, for if there was anything well known about Bakon it was his insatiable lust for power - yet here he was forsaking his supreme chance at absolute power in order to lead an army underground.  Surely that was infinite testament to his sincerity, his complete dedication to his belief, his proposition that the bombs were as good as on their way.  Therewith was all hint of deceit laid to rest in the people's minds: they knew he would never let this chance at power out of his grasp unless he meant every word he said.  In the flash of a syllogism he became a hero to the people, who of course had no way of suspecting his true motive.  It had been universally rumored that Karl Johnson was dead: how could they doubt it?  How could they know whether or not he actually was dead?  How could anyone know?

And when his own wife was reported having accepted it and was seen preparing to follow Professor Bakon to his cave - then how could even the greatest of skeptics doubt the reality of it all?  Even Mrs. Aral Johnson believed her husband dead; even she prepared for the journey toward the place where Professor Bakon had secured mankind's future.  By what possible criterion did anybody else doubt?                        

"I'm so very sorry, my dear," announced Miss Lucetta Oldham upon paying a visit to Mrs. Aral Johnson.  The old woman stretched out her hand to take Mrs. Johnson's in it.  Then she very lightly embraced the poor woman.  "I hope you won't mind my just barging in like this," she explained, "but I simply must tell you what I've heard.  Come, let's sit down over here," she said as she maneuvered herself and her hostess to a couch, gracefully seating them both in one regal move.

"What on earth is it?" asked Aral Johnson with just a hint of despair in her voice.  And that was in a sense the cue to Miss Oldham that she was ready to believe anything: she was emotionally moved, which meant she was irrational underneath, which meant she would not question the news.

"I'm afraid you husband is dead," Miss Oldham stated simply and eloquently.

For a moment Mrs. Johnson neither said nor did anything.  She sat there quite still, as though listening to music and responding inwardly to its rhythms.  Then she spoke in a very calm, but a very low voice.

"I knew as much," she nearly whispered.  "I just felt it.  No, not that really; but what I felt when he left was that I would never see him again - yet somehow I felt it would be because of me that we'd never meet again rather than because of him.  I felt that something I would do would end our life together.  I didn't know what, but I was so very unhappy with that feeling."

She shut her eyes so that she might think back to her husband's departure.  She knew that to do this meant also to recreate the feeling of unhappiness she had experienced; still she wanted to see her husband one last time as he was.

He had noticed a sadness in his wife that evening, which he took simply to be the normal sadness which separation entails.  Still, he felt more troubled by it than he could recall ever having felt.  He assumed it was the situation which added apprehension to this otherwise normal sorrow: the fear of the bombs, the danger of the mission, the very uncertainty of the future.  He simply put it down to all these circumstances.  Even so he felt compelled to mention it to her.  He asked her what it was that was troubling her, to which she replied exactly as he expected.  But in his heart he was not reassured.  Nothing could keep him from feeling that more was involved.

And as for her part, she didn't know how to tell him what she really felt.  He had his mission, he couldn't allow anything she might say to detain him.  So where was the gain in expressing her fear?  This was what she kept reminding herself in order to hold herself back from telling her husband that she never expected to see him again.  The truth was she thought she would be prevented from ever seeing him again, as if by some incredibly bizarre, almost supernatural set of circumstances.  And how could she tell him this?  What possible words could convey the message that she might not be there waiting for her husband when he returned without conveying as well the false implication that she did not wish to see him again?  And how could she conceivably say or do anything that might in any way giver her beloved husband the idea he was no longer loved?  There was no possible way it could be done.  So she said nothing.

"I'm frightened for you," she had said to her husband in the airport.  They stood just inside the doorway, looking out at the official airplane being readied.  They noted the characteristics of the evening - of the sky, the feel of the air, any subtle scents which might have floated to them.  They treasured what's called nature; they came close to feeling what might be termed an obligation to nature.  They felt loyal to the things of this universe, a kind of abstract commitment to the rendering of existence in front of them.

"I can't help feeling there's more to it than that," Karl Johnson replied to his wife.

"There doesn't need to be any more to it than that," Mrs. Johnson explained thoughtfully.  "It's quite enough just to be frightened.  Oh Karl: must you go?"

"Of course I must.  And there's the real irony: there's far more to be frightened about if I don't go.  Believe me, dearest, this is the most sensible thing any of us could do."

"To threaten them?"

"Yes.  Everything that's been done on both sides for the past hundred years has led us to just this moment when in order to save ourselves we have to threaten total destruction.  I know, Aral, it's madness.  But what is life if not madness?  Only the threat of death prompts serious consideration of life.  It's always been that way.  And I suppose just about every philosopher who ever lived has said as much; but no one's ever listened.  So who do they listen to when it's all said and done?  To a tyrant threatening to wipe out everybody!  I know it doesn't make sense.  But name one thing that ever has, from start to finish.  People are inspired by anything and everything ahead of reason and of what's actually to their benefit.  That's always the last thing they consider, if even then.  But there's something in me that can't help screaming out against it; it's so - God! - it's so horribly frustrating knowing that I could go armed with every word of truth and wisdom ever written or spoken and the only response I'd get would be a knife in the back on my way out - yet let me just show them one lousy bomb and they'll eat up my every demand like I was God Himself speaking!  Or for that matter let God Himself come down and speak before them.  They'd laugh Him right off this planet!  Until He starts hurling His thunderbolts: then just watch the bastards sit up at attention and listen!  And it doesn't look like it's ever going to be any different.  They'll never change, Aral.  Never.  So that's how I know I'm perfectly safe confronting an enemy as I propose to.  Their very nature as humans is my protection.  So long as I threaten them, and they know I'm serious, and they know they'll be utterly destroyed if they don't heed me - so long as I'm dealing with a pack of my fellow human beings, and dealing as one of them, then I'll be alright.  There's nothing to worry about.  I'm in no danger.  It sickens me to think of it, but there's hardly the slightest thing to worry about.  Just so long as I leave reason behind and remember to take along my threats...than I'll be alright.  Have no fear, my dearest Aral.  I'll be quite alright."

She didn't really believe him; but she couldn't say so.  She kissed him goodbye just as though she expected to see him in a week; but she knew she would never see him.  But what was there for her to do?  She couldn't let her husband know what was truly in her heart.  She turned away and left the airport, even before the plane took off.  She had no further interest in that place once her husband boarded it.  She had lost sight of him, just as if he had been swallowed up into one of those black holes in the center of the universe.  The place meant no more to her than the black hole would.  She felt no impulse to stay around and see the plane leave - she'd seen her husband leave.  That ended it.  She went back home to her children.

All three of her children could sense something the matter with their mother, though none of them could figure exactly what it was.  The twins, of course, were too young to have any appreciable insight into their mother's heart: they knew she was unhappy, and took their emotions vicariously from hers, so that they became unhappy too, without knowing what they were unhappy about.  But then children need no reasons to justify their emotions; whatever they feel is an end in itself, and its own reason for being, being such as to require absolutely nothing further, neither prior to or subsequent to its manifestation.

The other child, Karl Junior, had a greater insight not only into his mother's nature but into the ways of human beings in general.  He was brighter than his siblings; his mind was never content merely to bask in the reflected sensations and understandings of others, it sought actively to probe the world around him, to take its nourishments first hand.  He was skeptical and arrogant, whereas his brother and sister were trusting and gentle.  There seemed more involved than just a difference of age: Karl had always been more independent, more irreverent somehow, more like a grown-up in his attitude toward grown-ups.  He seemed a bit too scheming for a child, and a bit too manipulative.  A lot of people who knew him thought these kinds of qualities unwholesome in a child, and they blamed it on his intelligence, particularly the highly independent turn his intelligence seemed to take.  Others said he was simply spoiled.  While still others held him to be the ideal child.  Whatever the case, he understood his mother's unhappiness better than his more tender hearted siblings.  He knew she was unhappy because of his father's departure; logic alone would tell that much, but he perceived beyond direct logic to its more remote basis: he knew, without it ever having been said, that this particular departure was different from other such occurrences.  Again there was a logical element: the times made this trip far more dangerous than any previous trip.  But again also he saw beyond this to the implications of his mother's reaction to the departure.  He saw, though not very clearly perhaps, that his mother had a sense of dread which far exceeded normal concern, so much so that he concluded his mother did not expect his father to return.

Of course he was no more certain of this than his brother or sister, but this was the way he perceived the situation, though naturally he was of an age which prevented him from granting his intuition the force of absolute certainty.  Maybe in time he would come to regard the conclusions of his mind as beyond question, but for now he was still enough insecure to have reservations about himself.  It rather intrigued him, though, thinking that his father might not return.

So when the boy heard Miss Oldham telling his mother of his father's death, he put together two distinct impressions to arrive at a rather enjoyable state of mind.  He realized how terribly accurate his intuition had been in perceiving what his mother's thoughts had been three days earlier: he just heard his mother admit that that was precisely what she had been thinking; and he realized that his father was gone for good - and that gave him a sense of power he had never experienced before.  He had gotten in a single moment the two things to which human beings most aspire: knowledge and power.  Such things go right to a person's head; Karl Johnson Jr., as a child, could scarcely be expected to be any better able to handle them.

"I'm so sorry, my dear Aral, so very, very sorry," Miss Oldham was repeating in a voice so genuinely sincere, so compassionate that no one would have suspected her of fabricating Dr. Johnson's death.  "I don't wish to appear insensitive," she went on after a very brief interlude in which sorrowful glances were exchanged between herself and Mrs. Johnson, "but there is a most urgent matter now to be taken care of."

Aral Johnson looked at her inquiringly, though she didn't care to say anything.  Still, her look was meant to encourage Miss Oldham to continue speaking, so that lady wasted no time getting down to business.

"As you know, my dear Aral," Miss Oldham said, "there were certain very serious arrangements made consequent to any such tragedy as befell your dear husband.  Believe me I regret mentioning such things at a time like this, but if not now then I fear never, such is their urgency.  To state it as simply as I can, it was determined that if anything like this should happen to your husband, our government was bound by prior commitment to retaliate with full military strength.  And so they shall, probably within the next seventy-two hours.  Which means that those of us who wish to survive the inevitable holocaust must act immediately."

"As you say, Miss Oldham," mused Mrs. Johnson, "those of you wishing to survive..."  She let the obvious implications of the situation complete her sentence for her.

"I can understand your sentiment, Aral.  But what of your children?  Surely you can't wish to deny their survival!"

Aral Johnson knew very well that that was coming, and that at the slightest hint of a threat to her children she must put everything else aside and do whatever she must do to protect them.  She nodded in acquiescence to Miss Oldham's suggestion.

"But shouldn't I wait for some official word?" she asked.

"Official word?  I don't understand," replied Miss Oldham.

"Please don't be offended, but I thought perhaps I should allow the proper authorities to notify me before I do anything."

"But they never will!" remarked Miss Oldham.  "Surely you must see that.  They can't acknowledge your husband's death without creating a panic among the people.  So I quite assure you they won't notify you of anything.  In fact, I'm sure they'd deny it altogether if you asked them about it.  Believe me, my dear, they have no intention of doing anything which might stir up the masses - even if that means keeping from you your own husband's death."

"Then howc an I be sure -" Mrs. Johnson started to ask, but was interrupted by Miss Oldham, who took the liberty of anticipating her question and responding before it could be asked.

"We have sources, Aral," Miss Oldham explained.  "We know the information was obtained, just as we know that it will not be released.  We know all this.  Through our sources, Aral.  Surely you can believe that Professor Bakon and myself both have sources at the very highest levels of government.  And surely you know that they have access to the most secret data.  And surely you realize, Aral, that of all possible data they might happen to be party to, this particular news would be deemed in our interest.  Surely, Aral, if ever there were a circumstantial case in the making, this is it.  And surely we must not at this late date question the validity of the information or seek to confirm it absolutely.  To do so would be to deny ourselves and our children the right of survival.  And I know you can't wish to be guilty of that, can you?"

Aral Johnson nodded.  No, of course not, she couldn't possibly wish to be guilty of that.  And so it was done.  Even the wife of the man believes him dead: who are we to disbelieve it?                        

Chapter 20.  The Mouth Of The Cave

Suddenly the turmoil had begun...could begin...for the cornerstone was now laid.  The appeal to the heart of Mrs. Aral Johnson had proven successful.  Her children had been the only lever needed in her bribery, their welfare had been the chord tied most directly to her emotions, the appeal to their welfare had in one stroke created just the right vibration.  She had been convinced to go with Miss Lucetta Oldham into the future world of Professor Bakon.  The rest of mankind was easy to convince after that - the rest, that is, having any interest in Bakon's cave.

There was a kind of half-hearted, last minute campaign by the government (a term they still used, but so loosely as to prove more ludicrous than anything else: there was no real government without the triumvirate, and of the triumvirate only one man remained, Dr. Karl Johnson, whose very existence had come under question) - a campaign to try and convince the people that Dr. Johnson was indeed still alive.  There were public statements, television reports, even a makeshift addition hastily printed and pasted to the front cover of each copy of Women's Magazine, whose regular monthly issue had been released simultaneous to the fantastic events happening.  But in all this was no real impact, there was no force behind the campaign: how could there be any force when there was no leader whose drive clearly directed the campaign.  It had all gone flaccid, which may or may not be the central tendency of social orders; the point being that everyone was taught to equate strong leadership with the achievement of objectives, conversely to equate the lack of such leadership with chaos.

The government's statement attached so fortuitously to Women's Magazine gave an idea of the tenor of the campaign - a statement attached to various other publications which just happened also to be in readiness for release at the same time, though of course none of these others had anywhere near the circulation of Women's Magazine.  It was a sad little attempt to reassure the public.

"The government wishes to state officially its objection to and grave concern over the recent statements made about Dr. Karl Johnson.  There is no basis in fact for such statements, and while the exact whereabouts of Dr. Johnson is a highly secret matter, this government states categorically that there is no cause for any undue alarm on the part of the general public.  Please bear with the current tide of events and everything will work out to our best advantage in the end,."

One almost expected to find down at the paragraph's end the closing remarks "sincerely, your government," such was the statement's civility: this, anyway, was a sentiment expressed by many people.  Many others, however, had an altogether different attitude toward it.  Specifically, they did not believe a word of it.  They felt they were being deceived, that actually Dr. Johnson was dead, quite dead, and that the holocaust would begin any minute.  Their faith lay in the rumor circulating so freely, and not in the government which they had given virtual omnipotence.  They trusted Jorge Bakon more than they did the members of their government - not because they believed him more trustworthy but because he was one while they were many, and additionally he was strong, forceful, where they were soft-spoken, therefore wishy-washy, therefore most probably less truthful, or more dishonest if one perceived the comparison in negative rather than positive aspect.  They had learned all their lives to respect and to put their trust in forceful statements, forcefully delivered; and to be wary of anything gentle as it might be weak and ineffectual.  This was fundamental, the very cornerstone of their great body of traditions, that truth sprang always - and always would spring - full force, ablaze of power and hugeness from out of the dark onto the great and glorifull scape against which they played out their lives.  Never a whisper - never!  Truth in a whisper?  Absolutely never!

It was useless right from the start to attempt to counter the rumors with suggestions of truth; and in truth the members of government knew this to be the case, so their efforts were never more than half-hearted.  They knew the enormous contagion of hearsay: they knew because they almost believed themselves that their leader was dead, their better judgment barely able to contain their enthusiasm for this rumor.  It was so tempting even to them to relinquish responsibility for adhering strictly to reality, so tempting to let their minds just go limp and slither down around the supports - the kind of carefree, happy-go-lucky circumstances and facts established so easily and fashioned so prettily out of hearsay.  It was all they could do to keep from renouncing their responsibility as guardians of their government and go join Professor Bakon down in his cave.

Theirs was an unenviable lot anyway, so they surely could be excused if they indulged in fantasy.  They were, after all, not in power: the triumvirate was in power, and they were not it.  Yet they were members - officials - of the government all the same.  And since right now the triumvirate ruled in name only - literally, that is, for it was precisely the name triumvirate, and the concept behind it, which ruled in Dr. Karl Johnson's absence - and since a name had no power to inspire people to action, it was understandable that these officials felt themselves to have been sucked inside a vacuum, and wishing very much to get back out.  But in spite of all this they felt they could not just abandon everything and go with Professor Bakon.  So they did their best to reassure their people; and they succeeded just about as well as one could expect under the circumstances.  But even if they had spoken out of absolute conviction, even if they spoke with the zeal of a missionary, they could not possibly have turned events back to the original course.

Nothing - given the set of circumstances - could have stopped the rumor from spreading or from gaining so great a force over the people's imaginations as to impel an urge for mass migration unlike anything known to humanity since the Israelites were led by Moses from Egypt.  Nothing could have possibly counteracted this tremendous impetuous.  No truth, no idea, no edict, no appeal of any sort could have stood up against this onslaught or have driven it back or even halted its progress.  It was an idea beyond the scope of rational inquiry, destined to spawn an event beyond the range of human experience.  A rumor, believed as no such misalignment of facts was ever believed; an exodus, executed as no such movement was ever executed.

In two and a half days the rumor had taken absolute control of the nation; and in a second two and a half days the exodus had been consummated.  Never before had the world changed so drastically in so short a period of time.  Even the anticipated total destruction of the world in the great holocaust would take at least that long.  And it took God six days to create the world.  But in only five days Jorge Bakon had managed to sweep it into his root cellar.  So while it did not make him greater than God or more effective than a nuclear war necessarily, it did make him a third member of a kind of triumvirate: God the Spirit, Bombs of Destruction, and the Great Mover of Humanity, a kind of Christ-like figure - in the manner, that is, of the second coming of Christ.  All in all, then, there was in possession of the events here a religious flavor, perhaps the most appropriate aspect of this entire situation.

Professor Bakon had won; his rumor had defeated reality - at least, this time around.  The fear of destruction had been funneled through his rumor of Dr. Johnson's death into a mass of humanity gathered on a plain waiting to be taken from the earth.  They stood, tens of thousands of people - the lucky ones, those able to make their way in time to this place of embarkation, and those unwilling to sit back and wait for the bombs to be dropped - tens of thousands of people assembled on a flat scraggly parcel of ground.  No doubt there was some mercy in its location, since if had been a beautiful valley surrounded by majestic mountains or a great plateau overlooking the sea or a deep cool forest - if it had been somewhere breathtaking and vibrant with the beauty of this earth at its best - then it would have surely made it almost unbearable to these people to leave it all behind.  But mercifully it was a sickly, unattractive, barely earth-like place, almost as devoid of aesthetic appeal and of practical appeal.  It didn't look like anything much, and it couldn't do anything much to support human life.  It was therefore a good point from which to depart the earth.  The people could look back and nearly find themselves thinking good riddance.  Nearly...

But the excitement was such, and had built up to such a fevered pitch that all thoughts of regret were virtually extinguished anyway.  By the time everyone reached this point of departure all feelings not generated by the excitement and the frenzy of getting prepared were brushed aside, if not permanently then with sufficient temporary force to get the job done: to get the people moving, and to get Professor Bakon's world started, and to begin putting his ideas into practice.

"Get up!  Get up!  Get up!  Get up!" they all cried to one another when the morning's first rays of sunlight hit the sky to burst open the new day.  "Get up!  Get up!" they begged, and pleaded, and cajoled, and cried, and stormed and in a thousand other ways communicated to one another.  "It's the 12th!  The 12th!  The 12th of June!  The 12th of June!  Get up - get up - get up!  Get going!  Get up!  It's June - it's the 12th - the 12th of June: get up! get up!  Great God alive, get up!"

Everywhere - everywhere - it was the same: the same cry, the same cock-a-doodle-doo, the same litany, the same supplication, the same command: the day is here, you must make ready for what we're to do today.  Get up and get ready and go!  People everywhere, all the same with all the same greeting for this day, and all the same prayers for the next day.  Here today - here for today - and fear for tomorrow.

- But no!  No!  Not a word of it - not a word!  No fear, no apprehension, no bewilderment, no nothing - no anything, that is - but happiness and excitement and enthusiasm and joy and goodness and blessedness and...and...and everything...  Only nothing negative - please, not now, not at least till tomorrow.  Please? -

This was how they thought, as they thought.  And how otherwise should they think?  They were embarking upon a venture unlike anything ever conceived, moving into a void unlike anything ever encountered, leaving the past behind in a way more complete than anything ever attempted, cutting themselves off from any possible avenue of return such as was never experienced before in all history.  Surely that explains the enormity of their confusion; perhaps it also excuses their foolhardiness.  But whatever the true assessment, they were all getting up to begin their new lives.  They were all seeing the rising of the sun for the very last time in their lives - just as the setting of yesterday's sun had been its last such spectacle for them, and last night's whole business of the moon likewise.  Perchance it had been full, that final lunation.  One must suppose it had a greater, more satisfying effect being fall.

There was no point shedding more tears.  They keenly felt the loss of their sun and moon last night and this morning.  Perhaps some the moon more, others the sun.  Or perhaps the two equally.  But their tears were all dried by the time the day was a little past the horizon.  Let them leave it at that and move on their way to their new home, mindful just below their level of consciousness, that they shall never again behold the sun or moon or the stars at night.  And let them speak no more of it.

The whole procedure had been thought out as carefully as could be done in so short a space of time.  Everyone who intended going had thought out just what they should do to get ready.  They took a hasty inventory of their goods, picking out everything they would like to take with them - being careful to further refine their inventory by selecting from among the possessions they wish to take those which they might have to leave behind and those which they absolutely must have with them.  No one had to say anything, it just seemed so obvious to everyone that at the last moment they might have to trim their inventories.  No one said a word specifically about taking this care - all that was said was to take only what was necessary.  Yet each separate person's sense of responsibility, even under such trying circumstances, was well accounted for in their actions.  To a man they made this provision, separating their necessaries into essentials and expendables.  No one wanted to be caught without an alternate plan at the last moment and have to leave perhaps everything behind.  That terrified every one of them, that thought of being without any provision, without any of their possessions...without anything of their world save the clothes on their back.  They were leaving enough of their identities as it was; the thought of leaving every shred of identity behind frightened them almost as much as did the bombs they expected to fall within a few days.  So not even panic could blind them to the absolute need for order and for careful planning.  They were, after all, human beings; and they knew instinctively that they required a sense of who they were if they were to survive the ordeal put before them.  They knew life's priorities.  So if they were not wise, they were at least careful, which is simply to say they were indeed human beings.

In all kinds of situations this scenario played itself out, over and over again, like a tried and true plot which is used again and again for no other reason than that it has proven successful.  No matter how varied the particular circumstances of each set of people getting their store of goods ready - and since they were so human, they were blessed of an endless variety of life styles and family patterns and the like - the actual business of preparation remained a constant throughout the land.  All goods were separated into these categories of necessary but expendable and necessary and essential.  They all knew instinctively that consistency of method was second only to uniformity of purpose in getting the job done effectively and properly.  They were like little machines, of a common mint mark, with wiring where veins might be expected, and a terminal where a brain might be sought.  Sort of, anyway; they were sort of like this.  That was what it took though.

Precious things were necessary but expendable: necessary because they reinforced the sense of identity these people wished to try and preserve, but expendable in that they were not the kind of provisions required to sustain life.  And what was precious varied from person to person.  For one person it may have been old photograph albums, for another perhaps newspaper clippings, or to another it may have meant jewelry and other items of adornment, or to still another perhaps books and pamphlets: whatever the actual items considered precious, without exception they were allowed to be expendable.  The essentials, however, were those things intimately related to the maintenance of life and personal security.  Items such as medical supplies, canned foodstuffs, armaments, and so forth: anything which it took to preserve life.

Of course, a vast reserve of these kinds of essential provisions had been accumulated gradually by Professor Bakon and his staff during the period of the last few weeks.  It was never quite understood how come Professor Bakon to have had such incredible foresight as to stock the cave before any real danger had been discerned.  Everyone more or less assumed that since he had been preaching nuclear holocaust for so long he simply anticipated it independently of any actual threat.  But it didn't really matter all that much to the people though; they knew these reserves were needed and they were grateful to Professor Bakon for having had the foresight to provide them.  They left the unanswered questions and implications as they found them.  They knew that if each person took with him only what he could carry then obviously there would not be adequate provisions to last indefinitely,.  In other words they knew their lives would depend upon Professor Bakon's store of provisions, and upon his generosity, and his sense of humanity and justice in dispensing them - and while they were apprehensive, they thought it unwholesome to question the Professor's motives or anything else about him.  They were uneasy, but they would survive, so they accepted their uneasiness.

And now the day was here, and they were ready, with their carts or their shopping bags or whatever else they could manage to secure in which to place their goods.  By mid-morning they were all packed, all ready, just waiting for someone to come and fetch them.  Though actually it was impossible for each person to be individually fetched, and they were aware of this.  But they expected the word of departure, once it had gone out, to come somehow their way, to come by and get them, metaphorically if in no other way.  Or they expected to see a multitude passing nearby, and they would go out and join their brothers.  Or if nothing of the like happened, they would set out on their own anyway: the point being that they knew where they were to all come together, and they knew the hour of departure from the earth.  It was to be three thirty-five P. M.  As long as everyone was at the place of departure, at the proper time, it made little difference how they got there, singly or as one great multitude.  No doubt there was greater glory in the latter circumstance, but they were humans after all and could as easily settle for something more modest just so long as the end was the same.  The end was where the glory was anyway, not the means to the end.  They were splendid people, to a man.

Some few fortunate persons, however, were not plagued with the need for being practical.  They did not have to concern themselves with being on the alert for signs of the multitude's passage, nor did they need to worry over their possessions, sorting and wondering if some might have to be left behind.  These were ordinary concerns, of ordinary persons; they were not the categories of things which certain fortunate and highly privileged persons had to be aware of - an understandable enough situation when one bears in mind that these were human beings, in a human environment, comprising a human society.  Therefore it went without saying that some were, and would always be, more fortunate and more privileged than the majority - while conversely, still others would always have even less than the majority had.  It was the human equation being once more played out in the arena of human events; too ordinary an occurrence to warrant or need explaining, too intrinsic to human affairs to require further comment.  Suffice it to say that this enterprise was no different in the dynamics of its execution, the interaction of people within a context of social customs and traditions, than any other human endeavor.

Miss Lucetta Oldham had commissioned eighteen carts to be used in removing her worldly possessions from this earth, and in her employ were twenty good strong workmen - eighteen to do the work of loading and hauling the carts with the two remaining men as overseers.  There was no automation available for anybody's moving, not even that of the privileged few - this because it was impossible to move motor vehicles through the opening of Bakon's Cave.  All who wished to enter the future, the new world, must do so on foot.  Their automobiles, or trucks, or any other conveyance would not fit through the opening, let alone the passageways leading deep into the cave's interior.  That is to say, of course, that the vast quantity of people involved in the exodus precluded the space needed for such vehicles as were normally used in everyday life.  So that while certainly a single car or truck for that matter could easily enough fit through the aperture, there was no possibility of tens of thousands of such conveyances fitting or of being accommodated once inside.  So little carts were used wherever a conveyance was permitted - and by no means was everyone encouraged to occupy even that much space.  The large majority of people were encouraged  to carry their belongings and to take only what they could carry.

But Miss Lucetta Oldham, and a handful of others, had felt free to engage as many carts as needed.  It may be wondered in this regard whey she availed herself of only eighteen carts when clearly she might have had eighteen hundred: the answer quite simply being that she had already had most of her belongings moved to her new home in Bakon's cave.  In fact it was primarily for appearance sake that she had left enough behind to fill so many as eighteen carts.  True there were certain of her possessions she considered far too valuable to sit unattended in a cave while she was still above ground - mostly those of her treasure room, those so intimately possessed of a traditional, almost religious, quality.  But except for these it was a question of appearance which dictated the need for eighteen cartfulls of goods.  She wished to appear as much taken by surprise as anyone else, and at the same time she wished all present to see how many more cartfulls she was permitted: how much more privilege she meant to afford herself.  However, she did not wish to incur the resentment of others; and while she expected no real resentment of her eighteen carts, she was cautions not to tempt fate by overstating her case before her fellow human beings.  Privilege, as she understood with a deep insight into human nature, was accepted - even respected - by most people, while license and pomposity were quite unacceptable.  And quite rightly so, she reasoned: privilege is a solemn responsibility, whereas deliberate displays of opulence and arrogant contempt for those less fortunate are inexcusable signs of tyranny and of irresponsibility, improper and unbecoming to a lady or to a gentleman.  And Miss Lucetta Oldham was most profoundly a lady.  And to a lady, appearances were everything.

Even Mrs. Aral Johnson, who was not considered an important person insofar as her status within Bakon's new world was concerned but who had been instrumental in convincing the people of this venture's authenticity - even she was accorded a special share of privilege, even she was permitted to exceed the standard quota of goods which might be taken along.  It was a kind of reward to her for having been so indispensable to Professor Bakon's plan, and so easily swayed by his reasoning, so easily convinced of her husband's death.  Naturally, she had no thought of being rewarded, since she had no knowledge of her importance to the Professor's plan; she merely took what was offered her.  It was not in her nature to question anyone's motives or to peek behind the face value of reality to see what manner of things actually held that face up to her level of perspective.  She could easily enough discern emotions, no matter how carefully hidden they might be: love or hate or any shade in between had no hope of escaping her notice, she could sense an emotion almost to say a mile off.  But impartial deception, of rational constitution, set before her indifferently, coldly, calculatingly: there was no danger whatsoever of its being detected by her.  She was helpless as a kitten up against such a facade as this.

So she simply accepted the eight carts which were prescribed to her and her family.  She was not even aware that she was getting more than others.  She might have balked at her privileged treatment had she known, but as it was she didn't know.  Besides, she had just lost her husband.  She was not all that concerned with carts, and quotas, and privileges, or any other such minor element.  Her thoughts were with her husband.  It seemed absolutely vital to her that every moment of these last few hours before leaving be spent in reflection on her husband: she knew she would never see him again, and that she'd never see this world again, so it just seemed natural to her that so long as her eyes still beheld this world her mind should behold her husband, with whom she had shared the world.

She knew that in time she must put her thoughts of Karl Johnson aside, just as surely as she knew she would in time forget what this earth looked like - not that she could ever forget either completely, but she knew that in time all memories fade to the point where they barely reflect the events they mirror any longer.  She didn't pine though, she merely accepted.  It was outside the province of her mind to associate regret with things which could not be altered: she might be sad, and she was indeed sad, to think there would come a time when she'd have to look at photographs to recall the faces of both her husband and his world, but she could never experience regret in that context.  Regret was for things that one could do something about, sadness for things one could not change.  And this, far more than being her philosophy of life, was her soul, a very deep soul but one filled with very simplistic, very matter of fact truths.  Not because they were comfortable, but because she believed them.

"Come now children," she called upstairs as the hour approached to leave.  "Gather your last minute things, and hurry down."

She knew there would be such last minute things - she knew there would always be such things: it was in the very nature of reality as she saw it for there to be such things.  Little things, so precious - too precious to pack ahead of time and perhaps risk losing or risk having forgotten to pack while thinking it had been done.  Little jewels whose continued existence only the safety and the immediate security of one's own two hands could guarantee.  Little last minute things, each individual personality finding its own, each a reflection of the working sum total of that personality.  Each a separate little form, the idea - the true and genuine idea - of which was the soul of whoever most cherished that particular item out of all else there was.  The last minute things...without which there's really no point in going on, is there?

"Oh mommy, wait for us please!" called Suzy, one of Aral Johnson's twins.

"Of course I'll wait," Mrs. Johnson cried back, "but do hurry, or else you'll have to leave behind whatever it is you're gathering up."

"Oh no, no please!  We're hurrying - honest we are!  Oh, please don't make me leave Aggie!"

The little girl was downstairs in a flash, her brother Billy trailing along behind her while her eldest brother Karl Junior lagged still farther behind.  In Suzy's arms were an assortment of things, prominent among which was a baby doll, of medium size - her precious Aggie.

"Oh hurry Karl!" she called back to her brother.

"I'm coming, don't worry," he replied with calm self-assurance. 

"Oh mommy, please wait for Karl!" little Suzy called ahead to her mother, her anxiety concerning any possible loss of yet another family member far greater than her confidence in her big brother's judgment.

"Oh angel, I wouldn't so much as take a step out of this house without all three of you right with me," Mrs. Johnson reassured her little girl, hugging her to reinforce her statement.

"I wish daddy were with us," little Suzy whispered to her mother.

"I do too," Mrs. Johnson whispered back.

"He'll join us later," Suzy's twin brother Billy pointed out.  He had overheard his sister's whispers and wished to do his part in helping reassure his little sister - of course she was not his little sister, but she was a girl while he was a boy so somehow even though they were the same age he felt he ought to be the elder of the two, the more protective, the stronger.

"Will he?" inquired Suzy.

"I'm sure he will," replied Mrs. Johnson.  "But in his own good time," she added.

Little Billy looked as if he wished to say something more, then he apparently decided against saying whatever it was on his mind.  He kind of nodded to himself, in the manner of one saying no, better not: better to leave well enough alone.  But all the same he grew rather sad, rather quiet and reflective as if, while his thoughts did not warrant telling, still they were too important to dismiss altogether.

"We'll all wait outside, on the front porch," Mrs. Johnson announced to her family.  "Now have you got everything you want?" she asked, looking at each of her children in turn, listening to their replies of yes, and noting by the look on their faces if the answer could be trusted.  She wanted to be absolutely sure that all was as well as it could be hoped to be with each of her children, so she looked as carefully as she knew how at each one, in this way satisfying herself that they really were ready to go.

"Alright," she said, "let's go now.  And remember, when we go out the front door, we won't open it again, or ever come back into this house again.  We'll wait outside till they come for us.  Then we'll leave."

"What if they don't come for us?" asked Suzy.

"They will," her mother replied.

With that they all turned and left.  Mrs. Johnson closed the door very quietly and very gently - it made her recall an old song she had heard once, only a few words of which she remembered.  They will "close the door gently, and put out the flame."  She nodded her head ever so lightly.  All her tears were inside; outwardly she was calm: she had to be, her children's welfare demanded it.  The house, once the door was shut, ceased to exist any longer in her sight - that, too, for her children's sake.  Closing the door gently, and putting out the flame...  That, too...

It wasn't long that they had to wait there on the porch: maybe as much as half an hour, or a little less.  Then someone came for them, and they left, with their eight cart loads of goods - carts which they had already loaded but which they required assistance in order to move.  Nothing was said; a few words of greeting were exchanged between Mrs. Johnson and her bearers but that was all.  Eight bearers, just as she had been promised.

In no time at all the house began to grow dim as the horizon gradually reversed itself, what was far growing nearer, what was near farther.  Not that Aral Johnson saw her home sinking into the background; she didn't, she kept her eyes straight ahead...for her children's sake.  They, of course, looked back from time to time, though a bit uncertainly, and uneasily.  They saw the house grow small: that's so it can fit into your mind and become a memory, little Billy Johnson thought to himself, though he didn't think himself particularly clever for having viewed it that way.  Cleverness had no involvement here: not here, where necessity loomed so large as to block off all available space.  Billy thought in that particular idiom in order to lessen his anxiety; and it did soothe him somewhat to think his house was actually growing smaller - so small that he could no longer possibly live there even if his family were not leaving - and that the entire purpose of its diminution was so that it could be contained within his mind in the form of a memory.

The other two children took turns looking back to their tiny house fading away, but they didn't indulge in fancy, they just looked then turned away.  Their feelings were pretty much the same as their brother Billy's were, but their imaginations were not as active, so they contented themselves with merely looking.  Even so, though, their mother did not look back a single time.  At least not physically, though in her mind she saw everything, even the last sight, just as the house's chimney vanished.  But she kept her eyes on the new horizon, for her children's sake.

As they grew closer and closer and closer to the horizon, they met more people on their way to the same point in space.  And even more still the nearer they approached their destination.  All of these people with their little cart loads of goods, most of them having only one cart for an entire family.  Some had more than one - some were thereby marked as privileged; but all with the same telltale mark.  The little cart.

There were dozens, strung out across the horizon; then there were hundreds, then as the point toward which they were all moving grew nearer there came in view thousands, then finally tens of thousands of little carts, all of a single purpose, that of moving the worldly goods of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So or the family of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So or any other conceivable combination of So-and-Sos.  The little carts.  The army of the future, the little cartfulls of worldly possessions, the medium of passage from the past, from the old world, into the new world of the future.

An army travels on its stomach.  No further comment on Napoleon's axiom, just its notation: an army travels on its stomach.  And on its traditions.  An army, in this case, many tens of thousands strong, on little two-wheel and four-wheel carts.  It would have been odd for anyone to have seen a three wheeled or a five wheeled cart, or a uni-cart - odd indeed, but how wonderfully refreshing!  But there was none to be seen, none to be found.  No one had thought in this time of crisis to be different, or original, or creative, or daring, or even arrogant or defiant; even whimsy, the highest of all characteristics, was left out.  These qualities were missing from the execution of Professor Bakon's bold innovation in human affairs.  Nobody bothered to take them into the future; they would perish along with the past, it seemed, when the bombs came.  They were not invited to partake of salvation and of eternity, these noblest of qualities, for no human being thought to create a cart in their image and likeness.  

Tens of thousands of little carts, strewn everywhere, coming from all directions but all faced in the same direction, all headed toward the same destination.  Something that would appear as an abstract portrait if it could be seen from above: something variegated with a thousand different shades, something quite ablaze with the colors of a great people's belongings, all coming together from their various perspectives of movement, slowly and gradually all coming closer and closer together, forming a kaleidoscope within their framework as they converged upon the great hole in the ground into which they would eventually all disappear.  Something that might appear to blend painting with moving picture, the colors almost with a life of their own as they moved across the canvas toward an inevitable fate which they appeared unable to perceive.  Moving irresistibly toward the cave's entrance, much the same as stars are said to move toward some great black hole in the center of the universe.

It would appear that way from above, the mouth of Professor Bakon's cave at so slight an angle to the earth's plane as to indeed look like a huge black hole toward which all the little cartfulls of color were moving.  From below, on the earth, there was clearly a little mound built up into which the cave's opening was slanted - but even from below it was awkwardly situated, this opening, slanting far too much to allow the people to simply walk into it: it had to be gone down into.  Not as one would descend into a hole, but still it was more nearly a case of going down into it than of walking a straight path to it.  To be sure it was not perilous in any sense, the expert technology that went into its design and its construction seeing to that; but it might have looked at first glance that way.  The idea was that it be low to the ground, so as to help cushion the impact when the bombs fell; Professor Bakon did not wish to have the bombs rip a hole in his hiding place.  What with the nuclear fallout and all.

Then suddenly the vast portrait stopped wiggling, the colors ceased blending and moving, the motion was halted, and the work was done.  It would begin moving again in awhile, this time to all disappear into the ground; but for now it had stopped.  The little carts carrying the colors were at rest.  The people were in prayer for the success and the safety of their venture.

They all bowed their heads in silence, in prayer.

Then, once again, "Praise to God in the highest" sounded as it had been sounded earlier, just before the silence, just when all the people with all their little carts had come to rest in the great plain.  Only now it was of a somewhat different quality, this refrain.  It was more spiritual, less emotional.  More nearly appropriate to a people who were leaving this world behind to enter into a new world.  More awesome and majestic, but without the exuberance of passion.  More appropriate to angels than to humans.

Way ahead of everyone else was Jorge Bakon.  He stood at a perspective just slightly above that of the multitude.  He was not on a hill, there was nothing anywhere on that plain high enough to be called a hill; nor was he on the mound above the cave's entrance, but he was inclined to the plane of the mound, angled on the slope, slight as it was, which led up to the cave's entrance.  This made him enough higher than the plain itself to permit his being seen by everyone there assembled.

There were murmurings within the crowd: they could be silent for a moment, for prayer, but not a moment more.  They resumed their chattering the very second the prayer ended and their heads were lifted.  Not that they were loud, and certainly not raucous, but they were busy talking to one another with an incessant rumble continually resulting from their interchange of words.  Naturally enough, as anyone who has ever attended a gathering of people at an arena can testify, these people sounded, from an objective distance, like a swarm of bees or locusts.  And indeed this was precisely how they sounded to Professor Jorge Bakon as he stood at the mouth of his cave.  He mused over the noise - he didn't object to it, or find it contemptuous; he just politely considered it, very much the way one might consider - contemplate - an actual swarm of bees.  He knew he was in no danger from them.  Nor they from him, really.  To him, the fact that they outnumbered him so greatly just about balanced the scales.  They were fairly evenly matched, he reckoned, he and his people. 

He looked all around, in all directions, very slowly taking in the entire of the universe which could be seen or visualized from where he stood.  He had an odd sort of look on his face, one impossible to decipher as it suggested so many contrary possibilities, and seemed in a way to contain something of each, the grand sum of all of these attitudes - if they might be summed up in any way - being one of amazement that it was so easy to be doing this: to be leaving this all behind  So easy...

He lifted his right arm into the air, high above his head.  He slowly began turning away from the people, away from the world, toward the mouth of the cave.  And as he did, with his outstretched arm he motioned to his people, beckoning them to follow - almost as if it were his arm, together with the motion and with what was signified by that motion, which caused him to turn.  Just as it would cause his people to follow.

For just an instant everything was still again, then the procession began.  The people began moving, their little carts - their goods - began moving, and so did their tongues once more.  And once more they became like a swarm of bees.  Or perhaps more like ants, that metaphor perhaps a bit more appropriate: for they did, after all, appear as scavengers returning to their nest after a forage through the earth, each one carrying away some little dismembered portion of the kill, the fine wares and goods in the little carts like bits of the once living flesh of some noble beast which had perished and which had been overrun by ants, the carcass picked clean while the useless bones were left to bleach in the heat of the sun.

It was a scary feeling for these poor creatures, this last bit of movement, these last bits of time.  They didn't understand why they were here, not a one of them.

- Oh God! a little girl thought somewhere in the crowd.  I've forgotten them! -

And in what way was anyone else any different?  Hadn't they all forgotten some or another precious possession - each one something different, but each one forgetting something just as surely as that poor little girl had forgotten?

- "Oh no!" the little girl moaned so softly that not even her father standing beside her had heard.  She knew she could not go back to retrieve her forgotten treasures, not now.  Nor could she even mention what it was she had left behind.  She resolved in her innocence to make the best of it.  She couldn't know that she was the noblest creature in that moment who ever walked this earth.  She simply resolved to go on without her precious Jenny Marie and her precious Chrissy Ellen.  She even thought that perhaps she had deliberately left them behind anyway, her two favorite dolls - left them behind so that they would not have to endure the sorrow of leaving this world which she truly believed to be the best of all worlds possible.  She turned a little ways around, and ever so gently blew a kiss back to where they were, her beloved playmates.  God Himself would have surely stepped down from heaven to have intercepted that kiss...if only He had had a microscope powerful enough to enable Him to have seen the little girl's gesture -

And everyone there, in their own way, made, if only in their hearts, the same kind of gesture as that little girl.  Not that very many believed, as she believed, in the blessedness of the earth; few felt they were leaving the truly best of all possible worlds - rather they felt they were leaving the only possible world, and were reasonably content with that estimation.  Still, they each one waved bye-bye.

They had begun entering the cave, at seven minutes past four in the afternoon of June twelfth.  Slowly they entered, and cautiously, guards along the way both outside and inside the cave directing their movement, insuring their safety and their orderly progression.  It was a tedious process, but a consistent one, never a single moment's break in the steady flow of people and carts through the great opening in the earth.  They came to stay, everyone of these people; so they were in no hurry.

Each person paused ever so slightly upon reaching the cave's entrance, each one having filed past Professor Bakon just a few yards below the entrance.  Each man, woman and child looked up into the mouth as they passed through - like they were passing through some great triumphant arch.  They almost expected angels, with flaming swords, to be perched somewhere above them; though some expected, instead, a three-headed dog - depending, no doubt, upon their mood.

Suddenly something appeared in the distance, back where these people had started from.  Everyone thought of an army advancing on them.  But there were too few to constitute an army.  Then everyone fixed upon the idea of a messenger.

Hurry along! motioned Professor Bakon.  Hurry along!  For they've surely come to tell us of doom, of the bombs, of the holocaust!  So hurry along: for God's sake... save yourselves...hurry along!

Somehow they all got in, and got the thing shut just in time, just before the message could arrive.

Praise God they're saved!  Praise be to God they're saved!

(Part II)