THE HAPPY MAN
More’s “Utopia” was isolated—
cut off—from the dreary world outside.
All Utopias are….
by GERALD W. PAGE
ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE SCHELLING
Nelson saw the girl at the same time she saw him. He had just rounded an outcropping of rock about ten miles from the East Coast Mausoleum. They were facing each other, poised defensively, eyes alertly on each other, about twenty feet apart. She was blond and lean with the conditioning of outdoor life, almost to the point of thinness. And although not really beautiful, she was attractive and young, probably not yet twenty. Her features were even and smooth, her hair wild about her face. She wore a light blouse and faded brown shorts made from a coarse homespun material. Nelson had not expected to run into anyone and apparently, neither had she. They stood staring at each other for a long time; how long, Nelson was unable to decide, later.
A little foolishly, Nelson realized that something would have to be done by one of them. “I’m Hal Nelson,” he said. It had been a long time since he had last spoken; his voice sounded strange in the wilderness. The girl moved tensely, but did not come any closer to him. Her eyes stayed fixed on him and he knew that her ears were straining for any sound that might warn her of a trap.
Nelson started to take a step, then checked himself, cursing himself for his eager blundering. The girl stepped back once, quickly, like an animal uncertain if it had been threatened. Nelson stepped back, slowly, and spoke again. “I’m a waker, like you. You can tell by my rags.” It was true enough, but the girl only frowned. Her alertness did not relax.
“I’ve been one for ten or twelve years. I escaped from a Commune in Tannerville when I was in my senior year. They never even got me into one of the coffins. As I said, I’m a waker.” He spoke slowly, gently and he hoped soothingly. “You don’t have to be afraid of me. Now tell me who you are.”
The girl pushed a lock of almost yellow hair from her eyes with the back of her hand, but it was her only show of carelessness. She was strong and light. She was considerably smaller than he and could probably handle herself as well as he in this country. The landscape was thick with bushes, conifers and rocks. She would have no trouble in getting away from him if he scared her; and he would scare her with almost any sudden movement. It had been too long for Nelson to keep track of when he had been accompanied by others and he hungered for companionship; especially for a woman. The patrol that had captured Sammy and Jeanne and the old man, Gardner, had also gotten Edna and almost had gotten him. The fact that the girl was alone now more than likely meant that she had no one either. They needed each other. Nelson did not want to scare her off.
So he sat down on the ground with his back to a large rock and rummaged in his pack to find a can.
“You hungry?” he asked looking up at her. He couldn’t be sure at the distance, but he thought that her eyes were brown. Brown, and huge; like a colt’s. He held the can out where she could see it. She repeated the gesture of a while ago to brush back that same lock of almost yellow hair, but there was a change in her face which he could see even twenty feet away, and another, more subtle change about her which he had to sense. “You’re hungry, all right, aren’t you?” he said. He almost tossed her the can, but realized in time that she would run. He considered for a moment and then held it out to her. She focused her eyes on the can and for a moment Nelson might have been able to reach her before she turned and ran; but he had better sense than to try.
Instead, he watched the play of conflicting desires about the girl’s face and body. He could see the uncertainty and indecision in the girl’s nearly imperceptible movement. But she did not come.
Well, at least she didn’t run, either; and Nelson could claim to having broken ahead some in stirring up any indecision at all. He found the can’s release and pressed it with his thumb. There was a hiss as the seal came loose and an odor of cooked food as the contents sizzled with warmth. Nelson looked up at the girl and smiled.
It could have been wishful thinking, but it seemed to him that she was a step or two closer than she had been before he had taken his eyes off her to open the can. He couldn’t be sure. He smelled the food for her benefit and told her, “It’s pork and beans.” He held it out to her again. “I stole it from a patrol warehouse a few weeks back. It sure does smell good, doesn’t it? You like the smell of that, don’t you?” But she still wasn’t convinced that this wasn’t a patrol stunt to get hands on her and haul her back to a mausoleum. He couldn’t blame her. He slowly pushed himself to his feet and walked to a spot about ten feet from where he had been, and still about twenty feet from her, and put the can carefully on the ground. He went back and seated himself against the same rock to wait for her to make up her mind.
It didn’t take long. Without taking her eyes from him, she moved like an animal to the food and stooped slowly, keeping alert for any sudden move on his part, and picked up the food. She stood up, and stepped back a couple of steps.
She ate with her fingers, dipping them in and extracting hot food, with no apparent concern for the heat. She pushed the food into her mouth and licked her fingers carefully of clinging food. She ate rapidly, as if for the first time in weeks. And she kept her eyes, all the time, on Nelson.
Nelson didn’t care, now; he wouldn’t have jumped her, or done anything to scare her at all, even if her guard were to be let down for a moment.
He let her finish her meal, then smiled at her when she looked at him. She still held the empty can, and she was wiping her mouth with her free hand. She stared at him for almost half a minute before he said slowly, “You like that food. Don’t you?” She said nothing. She looked at him and at the can she held. He knew what was going on in her mind and he believed that he was winning. “You know we’ll both be needing someone out here, don’t you?” But her answer was an uncertain expression on her face as she stared at him.
“Loners don’t last too long out here. Being alone gets to you sooner or later,” he said. “You go mad or you get careless and the patrol gets you.”
The girl opened her mouth and glanced around quickly, then back at Nelson. She bent over, still watching Nelson all the time, and put the can down. Then she stepped backwards, toward the edge of the clearing, feeling the way with her feet and a hand held back to tell her if she were backing into a tree or rock. When she was almost to the edge of the clearing, almost to the trees, she stopped and stared at him. There were shadows now; it was almost night, and night came quickly in this country. Nelson could not see her face as she looked at him. She turned suddenly and ran into the trees. He made no effort to stop her or call her back; any such effort would have been futile and for his purposes, disastrous. No such effort was necessary.
He spent the night sheltered between some boulders and awoke the next morning rested by an undisturbed sleep.
He found a small creek near by and washed his face to awaken himself. It was a clear morning, with a warm sun and a cool wafting breeze. He felt good; he felt alive and ready for whatever the day had to offer. And he felt ready for breakfast.
He found another can of pork and beans in his pack and opened it. It was, he noted, almost the last. His supplies were getting low. He considered the situation as he slowly ate his breakfast.
Of course there was only one thing to do. He supposed that he could have gotten by simply by hunting his food, but hunting was at best seasonal and required that he keep more or less to a specific area; agriculture was about the same, only worse. A farm meant a smaller area than a hunting preserve and it also meant sticking to it more. It meant buildings to store food against winter. It meant inevitable—and almost certainly prompt—capture by a patrol. No, all things considered, there was only one answer and he knew the answer from long experience. Find a patrol warehouse and steal your food there.
The question of course, was where and when. There was a patrol station near where Nelson now was, and that was the natural target. He had a few furnace beam guns—three, to be exact—and since the patrol could detect the residue from a furnace beamer a mile away even at low force, the only safe thing to use one on was the patrol. And to be frank, he rather enjoyed his brushes with the patrol. Like him, they were wakers—people who had never known the electronic dreams which were fed to all but a few of Earth’s peoples. People who had never lain asleep in nutrient baths from their seventeenth birthday living an unreal world built to their own standards. Of the billions on earth, only a few hundred were wakers. Most of those were patrol, of course, but a few were rebels.
That was he, and also the girl he had seen yesterday. And it had been Edna and Sammy and Jeanne and Gardner; and maybe a dozen other people he had known since he had escaped from the Commune, when he had been just a kid—but when he had seen the danger.
For the past two and a half centuries or so, almost everyone raised on Earth had been raised in a commune, never knowing his or her parents. They had been raised, they had been indoctrinated and they had mated in the communes—and then gone into Sleep. More than likely, Nelson’s parents were there still, dreaming in their trance, having long ago forgotten each other and their son, for those were things of a harsher world over which one could have no control. In Sleep one dreamed of a world that suited the dreamer. It was artificial. Oh, yes, it was a highly personalized utopia—one that ironed out the conflicts by simply not allowing them. But it was artificial. And Nelson knew that as long as the universe itself was not artificial nothing artificial could long stand against it. That was why he had escaped the commune without letting them get him into the nutrient bath in which the dreamers lived out their useless lives. His existence gave the lie to the pseudo-utopia he was dedicated to overthrowing. The called it individualism, but Nelson called it spineless.
Above him was sky stretching light blue to the horizons—and beyond the blueness of stars. He felt a pang of longing as he looked up trying to see stars in the day sky. That was where he should be, out there with the pioneers, the men who were carving out the universe to make room for a dynamic mankind that had long ago forgotten the Sleepers of the home world. But no, he decided. Out there he would not be giving so much to mankind as he was here and now. However decadent these people were, he knew that they were men. Nelson knew that somehow he had to overthrow the Sleepers.
Before something happened while they lay helpless in their coffins, dreaming dreams that would go on and on until reality became harsh enough to put them down.
What if the spacefarers should return? What if some alien life form should grow up around some other solar type star, develop space travel, go searching for inhabitable worlds—solar type worlds—and discover Earth with it’s sleeping, unaware populace? could dreams defend against that?
Nelson shuddered with the knowledge that he had his work cut out for him, and awoke to his own hunger. He fished out a can and started to open it before he remembered, and fished out another can as well. He pressed the release on both and the tops flew off, releasing the odor of cooking food.
He leaned over and set one can on a flat rock that was just inside his reach, then scooted back about a foot and using his fingers, scooped up a mouthful of his own breakfast. Half turning his head, he caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye, about fifteen feet away, tense and expectant but ready to spring away if she thought it was necessary. He turned back and concentrated on eating his own breakfast.
“This sure is good after all night,” he said, after a few minutes, making a show of gulping down a chunk of stew beef, and sucking the gravy from his fingers. He did not look back.
“My name is Glynnis,” he heard abruptly. He sensed the uncertainty in her voice, and the—distant—hint of belligerence, but even so he could tell it was a soft voice, musical and clear—if he could judge after not having heard a woman’s voice in so long.
“Glynnis,” he said slowly. “That’s a pretty name. Mine’s Hal Nelson. Like I told you last night.”
“I haven’t forgotten. Is that for me?” She meant the food, of course. Hal Nelson looked around. She was still standing by the tree. She was trying to seem at ease and making an awkward show of it.
“Yes,” he told her. She took a step closer and stopped, looking at him. He turned back to his own eating. “No need to be scared, Glynnis, I won’t hurt you.” He became uncomfortably aware that she had not spoken his name yet and he wanted her to very much.
“No.” Then a brief pause before she said, “I’m not used to anybody.”
“It isn’t good to be alone out here with the animals and food so hard to come by—and the patrol searching for wakers. You ever have any brush with the patrol?”
She had come up and was eating now; her answer came between eager mouthfuls. “I seen them once. They didn’t know I saw them—or they would have caught me and taken me back with them.”
“Where’re you from? What are you doing out here?”
For a moment he thought she had not heard him. She was busy eating, apparently having classified him as a friend. Finally, she said, “My folks were out here. They were farmers for a while. I was born out here and we moved around a lot until my daddy got tired of moving. So we built a farm. He built it in a place in a valley off there”—She vaguely indicated south—”And they planted some grain and potatoes and tried to round up some kind of livestock. We had mostly goats. But the patrol found us.”
Nelson nodded, bitterly, he knew what had happened. Her father had gone on as long as he could until at last, broken and uncaring he had made one last ditch stand. More than likely he had half wanted to give up anyway, and had not only because of the conflict of his family and saving face. “You were the only one who got away?” he asked.
“Uh-huh. They took the others.” She spoke without emotion, peering into her food can to see if there was any left. “I was out in the field but I saw them coming. I hid down low behind some tall grain and got to the forest before they could find me.” She examined the can again, then decided it was empty and put it down.
“Do you know what they do to people they take?” Nelson asked.
“Your daddy tell you? What did he say?”
“He said they take you back to the Mausoleum and put you to sleep in a coffin.” She looked up at him, her face open, as if that was all there was to it. Nelson decided that she was as guileless as he had expected her to be, and reflected absently on that factor for a moment.
A light breeze was up and the air was full of the scents of the forest. Nelson liked the pungent smell of the pines and rich odor of chokeberries and bushes; and the mustiness that could be found in thickly overgrown places where the ground had become covered with a brown carpet of fallen pine needles. Some days he would search places in the forest until he found one or another brush or tree whose leaves or berries he would crush in his fingers simply so that he could savor the fragrance of them. But not this morning.
He rose to his feet and reached over to pick up Glynnis’ discarded food container. She drew away from him, bracing herself as if to leap and run. He stopped himself and froze where he stood for a moment, then drew back.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said. “We can’t stay here, because if you stay somewhere they find you. We can’t leave the containers here, either, because if they find them it might give them a clue in tracking us.”
She looked ashamed, so he reached over, ready to draw back his hand if she acted as if she were scared. She tugged at her lower lip with her teeth and stared at him with eyes that were wide but she did not spring to her feet. Somehow Nelson knew that the girl was acutely aware of how much she needed help out here. Suddenly, her right hand darted out and for a split second Nelson feared he had lost after all. But she reached over for the discarded can, picked it up and handed it to him. He reacted a little slowly, but he smiled and took the container. Their hands touched briefly and the girl drew hers away, immediately looking ashamed for so doing. Nelson continued to smile at her, and rather stiffly, she answered with a smile of her own. He put the container into the knapsack with the others and then slipped into the armstraps. Glynnis helped him.
They walked for an hour, that first day together, neither speaking. Glynnis stayed close by his side and Nelson could feel her proximity to him. He felt good in a way he had not felt in along time. When the silence was finally broken, it was Nelson who broke it. They were topping a small hill in a section of wilderness that was not as heavily wooded as most and the sunlight was warm against Nelson’s face. He had been thinking the matter over off and on all morning, and now he asked, “Have you ever raided a patrol depot?”
“No,” she answered, a trace of apprehension in her voice.
They topped the hill and began moving down the other side. “Sometimes it’s a pushover, when nobody is there. Other times it’s mortal hell. The patrol is always anxious to get their hands on wakers, so they try to keep an eye out for them at the depots. That means a fight unless we’re very lucky. If the depot we pick is too heavily manned—”
“What do you mean, ‘Depot we pick’?”
“We need more food. We either shoot some, raise some, or steal some.”
“Oh,” she said, but there was apprehension in her voice.
“We don’t have any choice. We’ll wait until almost dark. If the depot is guarded by too many men, or for some reason an extra number is there for the night, then we’re in trouble unless we play our cards just right. You just do as I tell you and we’ll be all right.” He reached back and fumbled with the side pouch on his pack. “You know how to use one of these? Here, catch.” He tossed her in his spare furnace beamer.
She almost missed it. She caught it awkwardly and held it gingerly with both hands, looking first at the gun and then him. Then, still gingerly, but with a certain willingness, she took the gun by the grip and pointed it to the ground, her eyes shut hard. Then, suddenly, her expression changed and she glanced up at him, worriedly.
“Oh, you said they could tell if we fired one of these.”
“Don’t worry,” Nelson said. “The safety is on. Let me show you.” He took the gun and explained to her how to use it. “Now then,” he concluded. “When we get to the depot you stay outside the alarm system. I’ll go in, leaving you to guard. Try not to use this unless you have to, but if it is necessary, don’t hesitate. If you fire it, I’ll know. My job will be to slip past the alarm and get inside to the food. If you fire, that’ll be a signal that you’ve been discovered by the guards and we have to get out of there.”
“Won’t this give us away the same as shooting game?”
“Sure, but we get more food this way and maybe some other stuff. Especially reloads for the furnace guns. And, if we’re lucky, we can ground the patrol. One more thing, Glynnis,” he added. “Are you sure you can kill a man?”
“Is it hard?” she asked innocently. Nelson was rattled only for a second.
“No, it isn’t hard, except that he’ll probably be trying to kill you, too.”
“I’ve hunted some game with this.” She held up her hunting knife so that the blade caught the sunlight. She had kept it clean and sharp. Nelson could see, but there were places where the blade had been chipped.
“Well, maybe there won’t be any need to kill anyone at all,” he said, a little more hastily than he intended. “I guess you’ll do fine, Glynnis, I’ll feel a lot safer knowing you’re out there.” He would feel as he had felt when Edna had gone with him on raids.
Toward evening they came to the depot Nelson had picked out. They were on a high although gently sloping hill, among the trees that crested it, looking down at the depot about a quarter of a mile away. There was still enough light to see by, but the sky was darkening for night. For the past two or three hours, Nelson had been repeatedly drilling Glynnis over her part. It was simple, really, and she knew it backwards, but she patiently recited her role when he asked her, whether out of regard for his leadership or an instinctive realization of his pre-raid state of nerves, he did not know. He made her recite it again, one last time. She spoke in low tones, just above a whisper. Around them the gathering of dusk had quieted the world. He waited for it to get a little darker, then he touched her shoulder and clasped it for a second before beginning his way to the depot.
He kept close to the bushes as far down as he could and crouched low over the ground the rest of the way even though he knew it was too dark for ordinary optics to pick him up. He had an absorber in his pack that would take care of most of the various radiations and detectors he would come into contact with, and for the most part, unless the alarms were being intently watched, he didn’t expect to be noticed on the control board. And you couldn’t watch a board like that day after day with maximum efficiency. Not when the alarms were set off only by an occasional animal or falling tree limb. Mostly he had to keep watch for direct contact alarms and traps; he was an accomplished thief and an experienced burglar. At last he found himself at the fence surrounding the depot.
In a clump of bushes a few feet from the fence he hid the containers; it saved him the job of having to bury them, and they would be deadweight now, anyway. Then he turned his attention on the fence.
He took a small plastic box out of his pack and pressed a panel in its center with his thumb. Silently, smoothly, two long thin rods shot out from each end of the box until they were each about a foot long. There was a groove on the box and Nelson fitted it to the lower strand of the fence wire. He let go of the gadget and it balanced of its own accord, its antenna vibrating until they blurred, then ceasing to vibrate as the gadget balanced. Nelson went down on his back and pulled on gloves. He grabbed the fence wire and lifted it so that he could slide under. When he was inside he picked the gadget off the wire by one antenna and shut it off. The antennae pulled back inside. Gardner had made this gadget; Gardner had been handy with things like this. And there would be no other when Nelson lost this. He didn’t want to leave it where it could be found or where he might have to abandon it to save his neck in an emergency.
He turned to the problem of getting across the open field. He had little fear of being picked up by radiation detectors, thanks to his absorber. But direct contact could give him away. But most of those had to be buried. That meant that he could keep close to the bushes and not have to worry. The roots of the bushes fouled up the detection instruments if they got to them. He made his way, judging each step before he took it and at last stood by the door.
It was dark by then. He could see the stars in the clear darkness of the sky. They seemed somehow brighter than they had before. Nelson fished through his pack until he felt the familiar shape of the gadget he wanted. It was smaller, more compact than the one he had used to get over the fence; but it was more complex. He felt along the door frame for the alarm trip and found it. He placed the gadget there and switched it on. There was a short, low, buzzing sound as the gadget did its job and Nelson glanced around nervously, in fear it had been heard. The door’s lock clunked back and Nelson released air from his lungs. He pushed the door open and found himself in darkness.
He was in a corridor with doors facing off from it. He could see light coming under two of the doors, meaning patrolmen behind them. He moved cautiously by the two doors, almost opposite each other, to a door at the end of the corridor. He grasped the handle and opened the door, realizing too late that the door should have been locked.
But by that time the door was open. His hand darted to his holstered furnace beamer and unlocked the safety. It was almost pitch dark in the room but he heard the room’s occupant turning over on the bunk and mumble low, incoherently, in his sleep. Nelson waited a minute but the man didn’t wake up.
Nelson closed the door.
He tried another door; this time, one that was locked. He had no trouble forcing the lock pattern; less than a minute later he was inside, with the door shut behind him. He took out a flashlight.
This was the storeroom, all right. It was piled with boxes mostly unopened. Nelson read the labels on the boxes and opened those which contained food he needed and supplies. He found another pack in an opened box in one corner and began outfitting it like his own. Or as nearly like his own as possible; he know that he could never duplicate or replace the gadgets Gardner had designed, and in a way he was bitter about it. He found the ammunition stores and took as many capsules for the furnace beamers as he could carry. He went to the door but slipped the furnace beamer out of his holster before opening the door.
The corridor was still dark. He stepped into it, alert for any sound or movement that might mean danger or herald discovery. His nervousness had given way to cool, detached determination. He almost made it to the door before he heard the footsteps.
His reaction was unconscious and reflexive. He turned, leveling his gun. He had passed the two doors light had shown under. One of them was opening and Nelson saw the shadow of the man who had opened it; then the man. The man saw Nelson at about the same time and stood gaping at him. Without realizing that he had fired, Nelson felt the recoil of the gun; the roar of the beam against the close walls hurt his ears, parts of the wall blistered and buckled, other parts of it charred black, some parts vaporizing in thin patches. The patrolman had flared instantly, never really knowing what had hit him. Smoke and heavy odors filled the corridor as Nelson slid out into the open. The patrol depots were fireproof, but the area Nelson had blasted would be far to hot to pass through for the rest of the night.
Nelson toned down the volume of his beamer and fired at a fence post. The tough plastic burst into splinters with a sudden explosion. A snapping wire whipped to within inches of Nelson’s face but he didn’t have to think about it. He was running up the hillside a short while later—he had lost track of time as such—hoping that Glynnis would use her gun if any patrolmen were following him.
He reached the hilltop in darkness, afraid to use his flashlight. Suddenly, he stumbled; was falling over something soft, like an animal or a man. Cursing low and involuntarily, he managed to roll over so that he fell on his back. He saw the form, a patch of irregular blackness in the darkness around him and knew it for a body. He got to his feet glancing around, not knowing what this meant. He bent over the form, keeping the furnace beam’s muzzle only a few inches from it, but too far back to be grabbed suddenly. He couldn’t see the man’s clothing very plainly but he could tell it was a patrolman’s uniform. Nelson reached down to feel for a heartbeat and drew his hand away sticky with what he knew must be blood. Nelson was shaken for a moment; but he put aside the strange kinship he so often felt for patrolmen because they were also wakers and drew back, peering round into the darkness, pretty certain that he knew what had happened to this patrolman.
He pushed himself erect and turned to see Glynnis, a dark figure but obviously her, standing near a clump of trees a few feet off.
“You move quiet as a cat,” he said. “You do this?”
“Uh-huh.” She came forward and stared down at the corpse. Nelson was glad he couldn’t see her face in the darkness. “There were two of them. They split up and I followed after this one and came up behind him. I slit his throat. Then I went and got the other one the same way.”
And it had been so simple, thought Nelson. He handed Glynnis the extra pack. “Take this.” She accepted it wordlessly and slipped her arms into the straps. “Oh,” he added, as an afterthought. “Let me show you something.” He reached into the pack and drew out a knife. A good one with a long plasteel blade that would not chip or corrode like hers. He handed it to her and imagined her smiling face in the darkness.
“It doesn’t feel like metal,” she said, after she had taken the knife from its scabbard.
“It isn’t. It’s a kind of plastic, stronger than most metals. Do you like it?” He was wasting time, he knew, and he cursed himself for it. But it didn’t matter.
“It’s real nice,” she answered.
“I’m glad you like it,” he said, taking her elbow in his hand. “We’d better go now. They’ll be after us.”
They ran most of the night, although it wasn’t always running. Nelson picked a lot of terrain that was too uneven or too thickly covered with growth for running. They kept to rocks and creekbeds as much as they could, and they stopped only a few hours before dawn to get a few hours sleep they were too exhausted to postpone any longer.
When Nelson awoke the sun was a little higher than he had wanted it to be. He got to his feet and scanned the morning sky but saw nothing to indicate sky patrol robots. He felt uneasy about not having made more territory; but the way had been erratic and uneven. A thorough search pattern could find him easily; the further away he got from the depot the better chance he stood of not being discovered by a robot. He wondered, briefly, just how many would be called out, but there was no reason to wonder. Three patrolmen dead meant a lot of searching to find the killers. He and Glynnis couldn’t waste much time.
He nudged the still sleeping girl with his foot to wake her. She awoke suddenly, her hand darting toward her new knife and a low but startled cry came from her.
“Quiet.” He had dug two cans out of his pack and handed one to her. “We overslept. Eat in a hurry.”
She opened her breakfast. “We’ll be traveling most of the day?” she asked. When he nodded, “yes,” she said, “I can take it.”
“I know you can; but they’ll have a search out for us by now and a thorough one. If we hadn’t met when we had they’d have picked you up for sure after I raided that depot—if I could have pulled it off alone.”
“You ever see an air robot?” he asked.
“I hope you never do. They’ll fly out a search pattern, and they have equipment that can detect a human being. They can send back signals to tell where we are if they spot us. Our only hope is to get away before the search pattern gets this far. If we can get far enough away, we stand a better chance, because they’ll have to spread out more thinly. We’ll have to run for a long time, but eventually they’ll give up. Until then—Well—” He let it hang. But Glynnis caught on.
The rest of the day they traveled, stopping only briefly to eat and once during the afternoon when they came to a small river. Nelson’s admiration for Glynnis increased. She responded intelligently to his commands, and learned quickly. She was strong and athletic, with the reflexes of an animal.
They made good time. When darkness came Nelson estimated they had made almost fifty miles since the raid, even over rough terrain. He hoped that that would be enough. He was tired, and though the girl attempted to hide her own fatigue, her attempts were becoming more and more exaggerated. He searched out a camp site.
He found one on a hill, overlooking a river. There was protection from the wind. The moon was up and there was plenty of light from it; but Nelson didn’t think the searchers would be out at night.
After they had eaten, Nelson leaned back against the thick bole of a tree and found himself studying the girl. Her features were even enough, but she was not a classically beautiful girl. Nor an unattractive one. It was her eyes, he decided. She was staring off into the sky and forest. Her eyes were large, dark, enigmatic eyes that expressed much; expressed it eloquently. But he had the feeling there was much in the girl that those eyes hid. Her body was lean, but whether from exercise or undernourishment he couldn’t be sure. Her figure was full, for all the leanness, and ample. She was strong, though she hardly looked muscular. She had been toughened by her environment. Edna had not been as tough as Glynnis.
With sudden embarrassment, he realized he had been comparing Glynnis and Edna frequently. He didn’t want to do that—but he couldn’t help himself.
“Something wrong?” Glynnis asked anxiously.
She was returning his stare. “No,” he said. “I was … looking at you.” For a long moment, neither spoke. Then he said, “We’ll be together for a long time.”
“I know. We’ll have to be.”
“I’m glad I found you. I lost my wife to the patrol some time back.”
“I’ve never been anyone’s wife before. There was Frank, but I was never really what you could call his wife, exactly.”
“Many people ever stay with your folks?”
“Not many. Frank only stayed a few days. I liked him. I wanted to go with him.”
“Why didn’t you?”
She broke off a blade of grass and slowly began tearing it into strips, intently gazing at it. “He just left suddenly without taking me. I guess he thought I was just a stupid brat. That was maybe two or three years ago.” Her voice sounded as if she were smiling a little. Nelson thought that strange.
“You ever think much about the sleepers?” he asked suddenly.
“Sometimes. I wonder what it’s like in their dreams.”
“They like it in their dreams. Those dreams are built for them. They get along happily in their world, grateful for it. That’s the word, grateful.” He listened for a moment to nightsounds. “But they’re helpless. If anything happens, they’re asleep and unable to act. If they wake up, they’re in a world they don’t know how to live in.”
“If you were a sleeper, what kind of world would you want to dream about?”
“I don’t want to be a sleeper.”
“Yes, but if you were. Would you live in a castle?”
He thought on it for the first time. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t think so. I think I’d travel. Go out to the stars. There’s a whole universe out there. Men went out there; they’re still out there. I guess they’ve forgotten us.”
“You think they’ll ever come back?”
“Some day I think somebody from out there will come back and land on Earth to see what it’s like. Maybe they’ll try to invade us. We’d be pretty helpless with most of us asleep in our pipe-dream utopias.”
“I wouldn’t like to be caught and put in a dream,” she said. “But I’d like to live in a castle.” Nelson gazed at her. She had never known a commune, he realized. If she had, she would have bred when told to and then docilely filed away to her coffin. But she had never been indoctrinated. If she went into the dreams, it would be against her will. But he had to admit that he had some reservations….
He moved close to her.
“Maybe some day we can live in a castle. Or go into space to some planet where men live in castles.” He stared at the stars. “Out there they must be like gods,” he said and his voice sounded strange, even to him.
He looked down at Glynnis. The moonlight was full on her face; she looked fit to be a goddess to those gods, he thought. She was staring off and around at the wilderness; she was saying, “Out here there’s trees. And air. I like to look at the trees.” He reached over and pulled her face around to him and kissed her. She was startled, but returned the kiss warmly.
She pulled away just far enough to look into his face. She was smiling. “I think I like you better than I did Frank,” she said.
Nelson lay awake for a few moments, trying to identify the noise. It was a low humming sound off in the distance. He could feel Glynnis, breathing evenly with sleep beside him. The sky was just beginning to color with sunrise in the east. As quietly as possible, Nelson eased himself erect, still trying to place the noise. He placed it, and realized that he had not really wanted to identify it.
“Quiet,” he said as he roused the girl. She opened her eyes wide, and stared at him, confused and uncomprehending.
“Hear that noise?”
“Yes,” she said after a second.
“One of their search machines. Probably they’ve adopted a loose search pattern, or maybe we left some kind of sign somewhere. It’s not coming closer, but we’d better get out of here.”
They ate hastily, in the awakening light of sunrise. They ran away from the sound of the machine, and it lessened in the distance.
It was the middle of the morning when they heard it again. Nelson judged it to be roughly a mile away and to the west. He waited a minute, listening. It seemed to be describing a search pattern curve that swung in front of their path. He decided to double back and around to miss it.
The undergrowth was thick in this part of the forest. They made their way through the bushes and waist-high grasses, being as careful as possible not to leave too many signs of their passing. Glynnis’ shorts and thin blouse weren’t much protection against the thorns or the recoiling limbs of bushes but she didn’t complain. Gradually the forest became mostly trees again. They found a path some animal had made and followed it.
When they came to the clearing, Nelson almost didn’t see the thing in the air. He heard Glynnis gasp behind him, and with a start, glanced around. She was staring at something in front of them, and in the air. He looked where she was staring and saw the air robot hovering near the edge of the clearing. It was about two feet long, slender, metallic and smooth. Nelson knew though that it was alert and that receptors built into its skin were registering their presence. It hovered about ten feet above the ground, some twenty feet from them, making no noise. Sky robots made noise only when they were moving at a fairly good speed. They had fled the noise of one only to be trapped in the silence of another.
Suddenly, Glynnis was shouting, “It’s one of them!” Nelson turned to see her level her gun, and before he could stop her a white hot streamer lashed out at the robot and engulfed it.
“No,” he shouted, too late. The machine took the blast turning cherry red and bobbing lightly in the air for a moment before energy compensators and stabilizers adjusted to the effects of the blast. The machine turned back to its lustrous silver color and there was a low hum as it righted itself gracefully then swung around, into the center of the clearing to get a better focus on them.
“It doesn’t even have a mark on it,” Glynnis said, in a low tone, moving closer to Nelson and laying one hand on his shoulder.
“No. But don’t worry; it can’t hurt us. We’ve got to figure some way to get out of here and leave it behind.” He turned and gently guided her toward the trees. When they were in the dubious shelter of the trees, Nelson stopped and tried to figure a way out. He could see the machine hanging in the center of the clearing on invisible lines of force, turning slightly to find them in the dense growth, then, with one end pointed at them, bobbing slightly with the low breeze.
“What’s it doing?” Glynnis asked. There was superstitious awe in her voice that annoyed Nelson.
“Sending a signal to the patrol. We don’t have much time before they get here.”
“But if the machine can’t be shot down what can we do?”
“Hand me your gun.” He took her gun and pointed to a vernier control set into the side of the weapon. “This is the intensity control; it’s on low.” He turned it up. “Now it’s on full.”
“Will that stop the machine?”
“Not by itself. But if we both move in, blasting together, again and again we might do it some damage.”
“All right,” she said, taking the gun.
Nelson led the way into the clearing. The machine moved back a little and bobbed to keep them in alignment. Nelson felt the dryness of his throat as he raised his gun to aim at the incurious machine. “All set?” he asked. From the corner of his eye he could see that Glynnis had raised her gun and was sighting.
“All set,” she answered.
“O.K.” Nelson fired. His blast hit the robot head on. It was absorbed, but almost as soon as it had died down, Glynnis fired. Nelson fired again, catching the machine in an almost steady stream of white hot energy. The machine suddenly caught on to what they were doing. It tried to escape their range by going up, but they followed it. By this time the compensators were already beginning to fail. Haywire instruments jerked the machine back down and then side to side, then into a tree trunk, blindly. It rebounded and dipped low, almost touching the ground before it curved back up. Some of Glynnis’ shots were missing, but Nelson made every shot count, even while the robot was darting about wildly.
The machine was glowing cherry red, now, some twelve feet off the ground, unable to rise further, one end pointed sharply upward. Something inside it began screaming, loudly, shrilly, with a vibration that hurt Nelson’s teeth. Nelson was firing mechanically. The machine’s loud screaming stopped suddenly. Nelson checked his fire. Glynnis fired once more, missing as the machine suddenly dropped about a foot. For perhaps a second the machine remained motionless. Then it died without sound, and fell to the ground, landing with a dull noise and setting fire to the grass under and around it.
For that matter, they had started a major forest fire with their blastings. The trees across the clearing from them were already roaring with flames. Nelson didn’t wait to check on the machine. He grabbed Glynnis and pulled her around toward the way they had come. She stumbled, staring back at the machine.
“Come on!” he said, in agitation. She came to life, mechanically, and let him propel her along. The wind was away from them, but the fire growing. They ran madly until they had to stop and fall exhausted to the ground. When he could breathe again without torturing his lungs, Nelson looked back and saw the smoke from the fire in the distance behind them. They were safe from the fire, but their escape was cut off by it. It would, he knew with dull certainty, attract attention.
When he had rested as long as he dared, he said, “We’d better get going.”
“I’m not sure I can,” she said.
“Well, you’ve got to. If we stay here, we’ll be caught.”
They did not pause to eat. It was about midday when they encountered the robot and they walked well into the afternoon, their only purpose being to put as much distance between them and the place where they had shot the robot down as possible. Nelson found himself moving numbly, blindly uncaring of anything by making progress forward. He listened to the humming of an approaching robot for a long while before it registered on his consciousness.
He whirled, drawing his gun, momentarily giving way to the panic that had been threatening to engulf him all afternoon. He saw the machine, high above the trees behind them, safely out of range, he knew. Bitterly, he fought down the urge to fire the gun anyway. It took a tremendous exertion of will to make his arm return the gun to its holster.
“What can we do?” asked Glynnis, a slight quaver in her voice.
“Not a thing,” said Nelson; then, almost in a rage he cried it. “Not one damned thing!”
They both turned back the way they had been going and ran, hoping to find some cover with which to duck the machine. Nelson converted his rage and fear into a strength he had never known he could call upon. He ran on, and Glynnis behind him. And he knew that she, like he, ran despite the rawness in her throat and lungs and cramping of her legs. The only thing he could think of was that he wanted to enter a mausoleum not as a prisoner, but as the head of an army.
He ran blindly, hearing nothing but the machine and his own rasping breath. Then suddenly, he was stumbling over the edge of an embankment, flailing his arms and twisting himself around so that he managed to land on his back. It hurt and the wind went out of him. He was sliding and rolling. Somehow he managed to stop himself. He lay painfully coughing and trying to get his breath. Below him he could see the wild rushing of a river at the base of the sheer embankment. He looked back up. Glynnis had one leg over the edge but had not fallen. Nelson crawled his way back up the slope.
They were trapped by the river. It must be another part of the same river they had spent the night by, thought Nelson. But where it had been calm and shallow, it was now a raging torrential river where brown, churning waters ran between high, difficult to climb cliffs.
There was no need for either of them to speak. They began looking for a place to cross the river. All the time they searched they could hear the machine behind them, above them, humming safely out of their range.
The sun was low in the sky when they heard the second humming. The humming grew until it was a throbbing that covered the weaker sound of the robot and chilled Nelson.
“The patrol,” he said, pushing the girl toward the forest. “Back into the trees. We’re going to have to fight it out with them.”
They ran into the trees. The throbbing stopped and behind them, Nelson could hear the sounds made by men thrashing through the undergrowth. His palms were wet; he wiped them on his shirt front. The impending contact with the patrol gave him a calmness as always, and he picked out a thicket where he believed he could make some sort of stand.
He reached the thicket with Glynnis behind him. Her gun was out. He signed to her to lower the intensity of the gun; she caught on. He watched her face. It was like a mask.
Nelson listened to the sounds of the approaching patrolmen. Five or six, he decided. Plus a guard back at the flier. He’d figure on eight, in all, he decided. Then the first one showed behind some bushes.
Nelson touched Glynnis’ arm in a signal to wait. The patrolman looked around, searching too intensely to find anything. He was young. Nelson didn’t think he would uncover their whereabouts and for a moment debated letting him pass.
But he didn’t want to be surrounded. He pulled his gun up and sighted carefully before squeezing the trigger. In the tenth of a second before the patrolman burst into flames, the blast produced a blast circle that grew to the size of a basketball in his midsection. The patrolman fell without screaming.
The others were there now. Most of them were young and two rushed forward at the sight of their companion’s death, to die like heroes. The others wisely sought cover. Nelson decided that the thicket wasn’t as safe as he’d hoped. One of the patrolmen was doing a good job with an energizer, coming closer with each shot, before Nelson finally saw where he was, and fired at him. Nelson saw the trunk of a large fallen tree and pointed to it for Glynnis’ benefit. She nodded.
There was cover most of the way. Nelson went first, crouching low to the ground and running with the ease of a cat. He made the log and began firing to cover Glynnis. He saw her coming, out of the corner of his eye, then concentrated on covering her with firepower. Suddenly the girl let out a startled yell and he saw her sprawl to the ground, tripping over a root. He called her name and without thinking leaped to his feet to run to help her. He was halfway there when the patrolman came into range. Nelson realized what he had done. Glynnis was already on her feet and running. Cursing himself, Nelson jerked his gun around, but it was too late. An energizer blast exploded the ground beneath him and he felt himself hurtling over backwards. He could only see blackness and the bright, quick, flashing of pin-point light in it. Then, he was falling, spinning….
Patrol Cadet Wallace Sherman watched the man on the table with mixed feelings; on the one hand, there was pity for a man whose condition was hopeless, and on the other there were the misgivings that come with guarding a criminal. Perhaps it was Sherman’s youth that caused him to emphasize those misgivings and move his hand toward his sidearm when the man stirred.
But the man on the table only stirred a little and groaned. Sherman was not sure whether or not the man was coming to. He shouldn’t be, Sherman knew. He took a couple of steps forward and starred at the man’s face.
The man was breathing normally. His head moved slightly but his eyes were still closed. His face was the palest, softest looking face Sherman had ever seen. It was the face of a man who had never known sunlight, Sherman thought somberly; or at least had not known it in many years. He wondered, vaguely just what kind of life the man dreamed he had. As he was watching the man’s face, Sherman saw his lips move and heard him utter something he could not make out. He bent closer to hear better.
“Glynnis”—the man on the table was saying.
“Is he waking up?” Sherman heard a voice asking.
A little embarrassed, Sherman turned around and saw Blomgard standing in the doorway, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. No. At least I don’t think so. He said something; a word. Glynnis, I think. Sounds like a girl’s name.”
Dr. Blomgard came into the room and walked over to the table on which his patient was stretched out. He removed the clipboard from its hook and looked through the sheaf of papers fastened to it. After a few seconds, he said, “Ah, yes. Glynnis. Part of his dream.”
“Doctor—,” Sherman heard himself saying, then caught himself.
“What, cadet,” Blomgard asked, turning around. He was a big man, gray-haired, his hair an unruly mop. His eyes were dark and piercing, but they were softened by the thickness of the white brows over them.
“I assure you, that no question will be considered out of place, if that’s what is worrying you.”
“Well, doctor,” Sherman said with some difficulty, “I was wondering if all this is worth it. I mean a special reserve with the artificial life-dreams for these people. Is it worth the expense and effort?”
Blomgard regarded the question a moment before answering. “Well, that depends on things. We have a fairly dynamic, expanding civilization. This man was born out of step; a natural born rebel. We’ve reached the stage where, with a little effort on their own part, most people can sooner or later find exactly what they want. There are, of course, exceptions. They can’t help being the way they are, but they are that way. It isn’t his fault that he would think nothing of blowing up any civilization he found himself living in. This is the solution.”
“A drug-induced dream state? Is that a solution?”
“It’s a pretty good one. We provide him with a completely fictitious, a totally unreal world in which he will be happy.”
“How can anyone be happy like that? I prefer reality.”
Blomgard smiled. “Yes, to a larger extent than he does, you do. Or you like what you think of as reality.” He picked up the clipboard again and studied the papers on it. “His dream world is one that is designed for his happiness. In it, he sees everyone else as inhabiting the dream-coffin. And he pictures himself as a rugged individualist, going about trying to destroy such a civilization. And of course, he is practically a lone wolf. Not completely, for he would not be happy that way. The man is an underdog.”
“I guess it’s best,” Sherman said.
“It is,” the doctor replied, seriously. “We have no right to take his life; nor do have the right to destroy his personality, however much that personality may be offensive to us. And since most inhabitable planets are, unfortunately, inhabited before we ever get to them, we have more urgent colonies to establish where we can find room. No, this is best. We give him a dream based exactly on his psychological needs; a compensation, so to speak, for the real life we take away from him. For most people only have the right to pursue happiness. In return for a normal life, we’ve given him a guaranteed happiness.”
The doctor let that sink in for a while; but Sherman still had a strong wish that he had pulled some other duty. Perhaps on one of the new outposts, like Deneb.
The doctor glanced at his watch. “Well, the repairs are done with and they should have the nutrient refreshed by now. Let’s wheel him on back.”
A little gratefully, Sherman moved over to the table.
“You’ll be all right, soon enough,” the doctor said to the unconscious man on the table. “This interruption will be neatly explained away and remain as merely a memory of a slightly unpleasant moment after things get back to normal. That’ll convince you of the reality of your world—if you ever need convincing.”
Sherman saw the sleeping man stir slightly and heard him utter sounds again.
“Wheel him out,” Blomgard said.
Gratefully, Sherman turned the table around and wheeled it out the door.
From far off, Nelson heard Glynnis calling to him. “Are you all right, Hal?” he heard. “Can you hear me, Hal?”
“I can hear you,” he managed to say. He opened his eyes. He saw his gun a few dozen feet away on the ground.
“I thought they had you, sure,” Glynnis said quietly. “I got the two of them. Don’t ask me how I did it, but I got them.”
He sat up, feeling dizzy from having hit the ground with such force. “I don’t guess I was much help,” he said weakly. “You sure did a fine job.” His head ached, but the remembered the fight and being thrown by the impact of the blast. And something else—something distant and alien, like a dream, from the deepest part of his mind. It pestered him a moment, just out of reach of his consciousness, then he shrugged it off as unimportant. He looked around and saw the charred bodies of the patrolmen. “You did a fine job,” he told Glynnis, meaning it.
“Can you fly a patrol ship?”
“We’ve got one now,” Glynnis said. “I shot the guard they left with it, too. Had to.”
“I see,” he said, marveling at the girl. “I can fly one. I haven’t since I was in the commune, though. As long as it’s in good condition.”
“I guess it is. I didn’t hit it with any shots.”
“We can go anywhere in the world with that ship,” he said getting to his feet. “It doesn’t need fuel; it can fly forever. You know what that means Glynnis? We can raise an army, if we want to.”
“And we can get into the mausoleums and wake everybody up?”
“Yes. Come on,” he said and started toward the flier. But Glynnis grabbed his arm and stopped him. “What is it?” he asked.
“What’s it like to live in a world where everyone’s awake?” she asked him.
“Why … I don’t know, I’ve never lived in one.”
“Then why do you want to wake everyone up?”
“It’s wrong the way they are now.”
Glynnis scowled and Nelson could tell that she was struggling with strange concepts. He felt sympathy for her, knowing how she felt.
“What I mean,” she asked finally, “is why is it wrong? What’s the reason?”
“Because they can do better. We can save them and show them that; I can lead them back where they belong.”
“I see,” Glynnis said gravely accepting his words. “All right.”
Nelson smiled at her. She looked up at him and smiled back. The patrol ship was waiting for them, not far off.
Together, they marched off to save the world.