H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire
Altamont cast a quick, routine glance at the instrument panels
and then looked down through the transparent nose of the
helicopter at the yellow-brown river five hundred feet below.
Next he scraped the last morsel from his plate and ate it.
"What did you make this out of, Jim?" he asked. "I hope you kept
notes while you were concocting it. It's good."
"The two smoked pork chops left over from yesterday evening,"
Loudons said, "and that bowl of rice that's been taking up space
in the refrigerator the last couple of days, together with a
little egg powder and some milk. I ground the chops up and mixed
them with the rice and other stuff. Then added some bacon, to
make grease to fry it in."
Altamont chuckled. That was Loudons, all right: he could take a
few left-overs, mess them together, pop them in the skillet, and
have a meal that would turn the chef back at the Fort green with
envy. He filled his cup and offered the pot.
"Caffchoc?" he asked.
Loudons held his cup out to be filled, blew on it, sipped, and
then hunted on the ledge under the desk for the butt of the cigar
he had half-smoked the evening before.
"Did you ever drink coffee, Monty?" the socio-psychologist asked,
getting the cigar drawing to his taste.
"Coffee? No. I've read about it, of course. We'll have to
organize an expedition to Brazil, sometime, to get seeds and try
Loudons blew a smoke ring toward the rear of the cabin.
"A much overrated beverage," he replied. "We found some, once,
when I was on that expedition into Idaho, in what must have been
the stockroom of a hotel. Vacuum-packed in moisture-proof
containers, and free from radioactivity. It wasn't nearly as good
"But then, I suppose, a pre-bustup coffee drinker couldn't
stomach this stuff we're drinking."
Loudons looked forward, up the river they were following. "Get
anything on the radio?" he asked. "I noticed you took us up to
about ten thousand, while I was shaving."
Altamont got out his pipe and tobacco pouch, filling the former
slowly and carefully.
"Not a whisper. I tried Colony Three, in the Ozarks, and I tried
to call in that tribe of workers in Louisiana. I couldn't get
"Maybe if we tried to get a little more power on the set...."
That was Loudons, too, Altamont thought. There wasn't a better
man at the Fort, when it came to dealing with people. But
confront him with a problem about things and he was lost.
That was one of the reasons why he and the stocky, phlegmatic
social scientist made such a good team, he thought. As far as he,
himself, was concerned, people were just a mysterious,
exasperatingly unpredictable order of things which were subject
to no known natural laws.
And Loudons thought the same thing about machines: he couldn't
Altamont gestured with his pipe toward the nuclear-electric
conversion unit, between the control-cabin and the living
quarters in the rear of the boxcar-sized helicopter.
"We have enough power back there to keep this windmill in the air
twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a
year, for the next fifteen years," he said. "We just don't have
enough radio. If I'd step up the power on this set any more, it'd
burn out before I could say, 'Altamont calling Fort Ridgeway.'"
"How far are we from Pittsburgh now?" Loudons wanted to know.
Altamont looked across the cabin at the big map of the United
States as they had been, the red and green and blue and yellow
patchwork of vanished political divisions. The colors gleamed
through the transparent overlay on which this voyage of
re-discovery was plotted.
The red line of their journey started at Fort Ridgeway, in what
had been Arizona. It angled east by a little north, to Colony
Three, in northern Arkansas ... sharply northeast to St. Louis
and its lifeless ruins ... then to Chicago and Gary, where little
bands of Stone Age reversions stalked and fought and ate each
other ... Detroit, where things that had completely forgotten
they were human emerged from their burrows only at night ...
Cleveland, where a couple of cobalt bombs must have landed in the
lake and drenched everything with radioactivity that still
lingered after two centuries ... Akron, where vegetation was only
beginning to break through the glassy slag ... Cincinnati, where
they had last stopped....
"How's the leg this morning, Jim?" he asked.
"Little stiff. Doesn't hurt much, though."
"Why, we're about fifty miles, as we follow that river, and
that's relatively straight." He looked down through the
transparent nose of the copter at a town, now choked with trees
that grew among the tumbled walls. "I think that's Aliquippa."
Loudons looked and shrugged, then looked again and pointed.
"There's a bear. Just ducked into that church or movie theater or
whatever. I wonder what he thinks we are."
Altamont puffed slowly at his pipe. "I wonder if we're going to
find anything at all in Pittsburgh."
"You mean people, as distinct from those biped beasts we've found
so far? I doubt it," Loudons replied, finishing his caffchoc and
wiping his mustache with the back of his hand. "I think the whole
eastern half of the country is nothing but forest like this, and
the highest type of life is just about three cuts below Homo
Neanderthalensis, almost impossible to contact, and even more
impossible to educate."
"I wasn't thinking about that. I've just about given up hope of
finding anybody or even a reasonably high level of barbarism,"
Altamont said. "I was thinking about that cache of microfilmed
books that was buried at the Carnegie Library."
"If it was buried," Loudons qualified. "All we have is that
article in that two-century-old copy of Time about how the
people at the library had constructed the crypt and were
beginning the microfilming. We don't know if they ever had a
chance to get it finished, before the rockets started landing."
They passed over a dam of flotsam that had banked up at a
wrecked bridge and accumulated enough mass to resist the periodic
floods that had kept the river usually clear. Three human figures
fled across a sand-flat at one end of it and disappeared into the
woods. Two of them carried spears tipped with something that
sparkled in the sunlight, probably shards of glass.
"You know, Monty, I get nightmares, sometimes, thinking about
what things must be like in Europe," Loudons said.
Five or six wild cows went crashing through the brush below.
Altamont nodded when he saw them.
"Maybe tomorrow, we'll let down and shoot a cow," he said. "I was
looking in the freeze-locker and the fresh meat's getting a
little low. Or a wild pig, if we find a good stand of oak trees.
I could enjoy what you'd do with some acorn-fed pork."
He looked across the table. "Finished?" he asked Loudons. "Take
over, then. I'll go back and wash the dishes."
They rose, and Loudons, favoring his left leg, moved over to the
seat at the controls.
Altamont gathered up the two cups, the stainless-steel dishes,
and the knives and the forks and spoons, going up the steps over
the shielded converter and ducking his head to avoid the seat in
the forward top machine-gun turret. He washed and dried the
dishes, noting with satisfaction that the gauge of the water tank
was still reasonably high, and glanced out one of the windows.
Loudons was taking the big helicopter upstairs, for a better
Now and then, among the trees, there would be a glint of glassy
slag, usually in a fairly small circle. That was to be expected:
beside the three or four H-bombs that had fallen on the
Pittsburgh area, mentioned in the transcripts of the last news to
reach the Fort from the outside, the whole district had been
pelted, more or less at random, with fission bombs.
West of the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela, it
would probably be worse than this.
"Can you see Pittsburgh yet, Jim?" he called out.
"Yes, it's a mess! Worse than Gary, worse than Akron even."
"Monty! Come here! I think I have something!"
Picking up the pipe he had laid down, Altamont hurried forward,
dodging his six-foot length under the gun turret and swinging
down from the walkway over the converter.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Smoke. A lot of smoke, twenty or thirty fires at the very
Loudons had shifted from Forward to Hover and was peering through
a pair of binoculars. "See that island, the long one? Across the
river from it, on the north side, toward this end. Yes, by
Einstein! And I can see cleared ground, and what I think are
houses, inside a stockade...."
Murray Hughes walked around the corner of the cabin into the
morning sunlight, lacing his trousers, with his hunting shirt
thrown over his bare shoulders. He found, without much surprise,
that his father had also slept late. Verner Hughes was just
beginning to shave.
Inside the kitchen, his mother and the girls were clattering pots
Outside the kitchen door, his younger brother, Hector, was
noisily chopping wood.
Going through the door, he filled another of the light-metal
basins with hot water, found his razor, and went outside again,
setting the basin on the bench.
Most of the ware in the Hughes cabin was of light-metal. Murray
and his father had mined it in the dead city up the river, from a
place where it had floated to the top of a puddle of slag, back
when the city had been blasted, at the end of the hard times.
It had been hard work, but the stuff had been easy to carry down
to where they had hidden their boat. And, for once, they'd had no
trouble with the Scowrers.
Too bad they couldn't say as much for yesterday's hunting trip!
As he rubbed lather into the stubble on his face, he cursed with
irritation. That had been a bad-luck hunt, all around.
They had gone out before dawn, hunting into the hills to the
north. They'd spent the day at it, and shot one small wild pig.
Lucky it was small, at that. They'd have had to abandon a
full-grown one, after the Scowrers had began hunting them. Six of
them, as big a band as he'd ever seen together at one time, had
managed to cut them off from the stockade. He and his father had
been forced to circle miles out of their way.
His father had shot one, and he'd had to leave his hatchet
sticking in the skull of another, when his rifle had misfired.
That meant a trip to the gunsmith's, for a new hatchet and to
have the mainspring of the rifle replaced. Nobody could afford to
have a rifle that couldn't be trusted, least of all a hunter and
On top of everything else, he had had a few words with Alex
Barrett, the gunsmith, the other day.
Well, at least that could be smoothed over. Barrett would be glad
to do business with him, once the gunsmith saw that hard
tool-steel he had dug out of that place down the river. Hardest
steel either he or his father had ever found, and it hadn't been
He cleaned, wiped and stropped his razor and put it back in the
case. He threw out the wash-water on the compost pile and went
into the cabin, putting on his shirt and his belt. Then he passed
through to the front porch, where his father was already eating
at the table.
The people of the Toon like to eat in the open. It was something
they'd always done, just as they'd always like to eat together in
He sweetened his cup of chicory with a lump of maple sugar and
began to sip it before he sat down, standing with one foot on the
bench and looking down across the parade ground, past the
Aitch-Cue House, toward the river and the wall.
"If you're coming around to Alex's way of thinking—and mine—it
won't hurt you to admit it, son," his father said.
Murray turned, looking at his father with the beginning of anger,
and then he grinned. The elders were constantly keeping the young
men alert with these tests. He checked back over his actions
since he had come out onto the porch.
... to the table, sugar in his chicory, one foot on the bench ...
which had reminded him again of the absence of the hatchet from
his belt and brought an automatic frown ... then the glance
toward the gunsmith's shop, and across the parade ground ... the
glance including the houses into which so much labor had gone,
the wall that had been built from rubble and topped with pointed
stakes, the white slabs of marble that marked the graves of the
First Tenant and the men of the Old Toon....
He had thought, at that moment, that maybe his father and Alex
Barrett and Reader Rawson and Tenant Mycroft Jones and the others
were right: there were too many things here that could not be
moved along with them, if they decided to move.
It would be false modesty, refusal to see things as they were,
not to admit that he was the leader of the younger men, and the
boys of the Irregulars. He had been forced to face the
responsibilities of that fact since last winter.
Then, the usual theological arguments about the proper order of
the Sacred Books and the true nature of the Risen One had been
replaced by a violent controversy when Sholto Jiminez and Birdy
Edwards had reopened the old question of the advisability of
moving the Toon and settling elsewhere.
He had been in favor of the idea himself and found that the other
young men had followed his lead. But, for the last month or so,
he had begun to doubt the wisdom of it.
It was probably reluctance to admit this to himself that had
brought on the strained feelings between himself and his old
friend, the gunsmith.
"I'll have to drill the Irregulars, today," he said. "Birdy
Edwards has been drilling them while we've been hunting. But I'll
go up and see Alex about a new hatchet and fixing my rifle. I'll
have a talk with him."
He stepped forward to the edge of the porch, still munching on a
honey-dipped piece of cornbread, and glanced up at the sky. That
was a queer bird; he had never seen a bird with a wing action
Then he realized that the object was not a bird at all.
His father was staring at it, too.
"Murray! That's ... that's like the old stories from the time of
But Murray was already racing across the parade ground toward the
Aitch-Cue House, where the big iron ring hung by its chain from a
gallows-like post, with a hammer beside it.
The stockaded village became larger, details grew plainer, as the
helicopter came slanting down and began spiraling around it.
It was a fairly big place, some forty or fifty acres in a rough
parallelogram, surrounded by a wall of varicolored stone and
brick and concrete rubble from old ruins, topped with a palisade
of pointed poles. There was a small jetty projecting into the
river, to which six or eight boats of different sorts were tied;
a gate opened onto this from the wall.
Inside the stockade, there were close to a hundred buildings,
ranging from small cabins to a structure with a belfry. It seemed
to have been a church, partly ruined in the war of two centuries
ago and later rebuilt.
A stream came down from the woods, across the cultivated land
around the fortified village. There was a rough flume which
carried the water from a dam close to the edge of the forest and
provided a fall to turn a mill wheel.
"Look, strip farming," Loudons pointed. "See the alternate strips
of grass and plowed ground. These people understand soil
"They have horses, too."
As he spoke, three riders left the village at a gallop. They
separated, and the people in the fields, who had all started for
the village, turned and began hurrying toward the woods. Two of
the riders headed for a pasture in which cattle had been grazing
and started herding them also into the woods.
For a while, there was a scurrying of little figures in the
village below. Then, not a moving thing was in sight.
"There's good organization," Loudons said. "Everybody seems to
know what to do, and how to get it done promptly. And look how
neat the whole place is. Policed up. I'll bet anything we'll find
that they have a military organization, or a military tradition
"We'll have a lot to find out: you can't understand a people
until you understand their background and their social
"Humph. Let me have a look at their artifacts: that will tell
what kind of people they are," Altamont said, swinging the
glasses back and forth over the enclosure. "Water-power mill,
water-power sawmill—building on the left side of the water
wheel, see the pile of fresh lumber beside it. Blacksmith shop,
and from that chimney, I'd say a small foundry, too.
"Wonder what that little building out on the tip of the island
is, it has a water wheel too. Undershot wheel, and it looks like
it could be raised or lowered. Now, I wonder...."
"Monty, I think we ought to land right in the middle of the
enclosure, on that open plaza thing, in front of the building
that looks like a reconditioned church. That's probably the Royal
Palace, or the Pentagon, or the Kremlin, or whatever."
Altamont started to object, paused, and then nodded. "I think
you're right, Jim. From the way they scattered, and got their
livestock into the woods, they probably expect us to bomb them.
We have to get inside and that's the quickest way to do it." He
thought for a moment. "We'd better be armed, when we go out.
Pistols, auto-carbines, and a few of those concussion-grenades in
case we have to break up a concerted attack. I'll get them."
The plaza, the houses and the cabins around it, the
two-hundred-year-old church, all were silent and apparently
lifeless as they set the helicopter down. Once Loudons caught a
movement inside the door of a house, and saw a metallic glint.
"There's a gun up there," he said. "Looks like a four-pounder.
Brass. I knew that smith-shop was also a foundry. See that little
curl of smoke? That's the gunner's slow-match.
"I'd thought maybe that thing on the island was a powder mill.
That would be where they'd put it. Probably extract their niter
from the dung of their horses and cows. Sulfur probably from
"Jim, this is really something!"
"I hope they don't cut loose with that thing," Loudons said,
looking apprehensively at the brass-rimmed black muzzle that was
covering them from the belfry. "I wonder if we ought to—Oh-oh,
here they come!"
Three or four young men stepped out of the wide door of the old
church. They wore fringed buckskin trousers and buckskin shirts
and odd caps of deerskin with visors to shade the eyes and
similar beaks behind to protect the neck. They had powder horns
and bullet pouches slung over their shoulders, and long rifles in
their hands. They stepped aside as soon as they were out.
Carefully avoiding any gesture of menace, they simply stood,
watching the helicopter which had landed in their village.
Three other men followed them out. They, too, wore buckskins and
the odd double-visored caps. One had a close-cropped white beard,
and on the shoulders of his buckskin shirt, he wore the single
silver bars of a first lieutenant of the vanished United States
Army. He had a pistol on his belt. The pistol had the saw-handle
grip of an automatic, but it was a flintlock, as were the rifles
of the young men who stood so watchfully on either side of the
Two middle-aged men accompanied the bearded man and the trio
advanced toward the helicopter.
"All right, come on, Monty."
Loudons opened the door and let down the steps. Picking up an
auto-carbine, he slung it and stepped out of the helicopter,
Altamont behind him. They advanced to meet the party from the
church, halting when they were about twenty feet apart.
"I must apologize, lieutenant, for dropping in on you so
Loudons stopped, wondering if the man with the white beard
understood a word of what he was saying.
"The natural way to come in, when you travel in the air," the old
man replied. "At least, you came in openly. I can promise you a
better reception than that you got at the city to the west of us
a couple of days ago."
"Now how did you know that we had trouble the
day-before-yesterday?" Loudons demanded.
The old man's eyes sparkled with child-like pleasure. "That
surprises you, my dear sir? In a moment, I daresay you'll be
surprised at the simplicity of it.
"You have a nasty rip in the left leg of your trousers, and the
cloth around it is stained with blood. Through the rip, I
perceive a bandage. Obviously, you have suffered a recent wound.
I further observe that the side of your flying machine bears
recent scratches, as though from the spears or throwing hatchets
of the Scowrers. Evidently, they attacked you as you were
landing. It is fortunate that these cannibal devils are too
stupid and too anxious for human flesh to exercise patience."
"Well, that explains how you knew that we'd recently been
attacked," Loudons told him. "But how did you guess that it had
been to the west of here, in a ruined city?"
"I never guess," the oldster with the silver bar and the
keystone-shaped red patch on his left shoulder replied. "It is a
shocking habit—destructive to the logical faculties. What seems
strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of
"For example, the wheels and their framework under your flying
machine are splashed with mud which seems to be predominantly
brick-dust, mixed with plaster. Obviously, you landed recently in
a dead city, either during or after a rain. There was a rain here
yesterday evening, the wind being from the west. Obviously, you
followed behind the rain as it came up the river. And now that I
look at your boots, I see traces of the same sort of mud, around
the soles and in front of the heels.
"But this is heartless of us, keeping you standing here on a
wounded leg, sir. Come in, and let our medic take a look at it."
"Well, thank you, lieutenant," Loudons replied. "But don't bother
your medic. I've attended to the wound myself, and it wasn't
serious to begin with."
"You are a doctor?" the white-haired man asked.
"Of sorts. A sort of general scientist. My name is Loudons. My
friend, Mr. Altamont, here, is a scientist, too."
There was an immediate reaction: all three of the elders of the
village, and the young riflemen who had accompanied them,
exchanged glances of surprise.
Loudons dropped his hand to the grip of his slung auto-carbine
and Altamont sidled away from his partner, his hand moving as if
by accident toward the butt of his pistol. The same thought was
in both men's minds, that these people might feel, as the
heritage of the war of two centuries ago, a hostility to science
There was no hostility, however, in their manner as the old man
came forward with outstretched hand.
"I am Tenant Mycroft Jones, the Toon Leader here," he said. "This
is Stamford Rawson, our Reader, and Verner Hughes, our Toon
Sarge. This is his son, Murray Hughes, the Toon Sarge of the
"But come into the Aitch-Cue House, gentlemen. We have much to
By this time, the villagers had begun to emerge from the log
cabins and rubble-walled houses around the plaza and the old
church. Some of them, mostly the young men, were carrying rifles,
but the majority were unarmed. About half of them were women, in
short deerskin skirts or homespun dresses. There were a number of
children, the younger ones almost completely naked.
"Sarge," the old man told one of the youths, "post a guard over
this flying machine. Don't let anybody meddle with it. And have
all the noncoms and techs report here, on the double." He turned
and shouted up at the truncated steeple: "Atherton, sound 'All
A horn up in the belfry began blowing, apparently to advise the
people who had run from the fields into the forest that there was
They went through the open doorway of the old stone church and
entered the big room inside. The building had evidently once been
gutted by fire, two centuries ago, but portions of the wall had
been restored. The floor had been replaced by one of rough
planks, and there was a plank ceiling at about ten feet.
The room was apparently used as a community center. There were a
number of benches and chairs, all very neatly made; and along one
wall, out of the way, ten or fifteen long tables had been
stacked, the tops in a pile and the trestles on the tops.
The walls were decorated with trophies of weapons—a number of
M-12 rifles and M-16 submachine-guns, all in good, clean
condition; a light machine rifle; two bazookas. Among them were
cruder weapons, stone-and metal-tipped spears and clubs, the work
of the wild men of the woods.
A stairway led to the second floor, and it was up this stairway
that the man who bore the title of Toon Leader conducted them, to
a small room furnished with a long table, a number of chairs, and
several big wooden chests bound with iron.
"Sit down, gentlemen," the Toon Leader invited, going to a
cupboard and producing a large bottle stoppered with a corncob
and a number of small cups.
"It's a little early in the day," he went on, "but this is a very
"You smoke a pipe, I take it?" he asked Altamont. "Then try some
of this, of our own growth and curing."
He extended a doeskin moccasin, which seemed to be the tobacco
Altamont looked at the thing dubiously, then filled his pipe from
The oldster drew his pistol, pushed a little wooden plug into the
vent, added some tow to the priming, and, aiming at the wall,
snapped it. Evidently, at time the formality of plugging the vent
had been overlooked: there were a number of holes in the wall
This time, however, the pistol didn't go off. The old man shook
out the smoldering tow, blew it into flame, and lit a candle from
it, offering the light to Altamont.
Loudons got out a cigar and lit it from the candle; the others
filled and lighted pipes. The Toon Leader reprimed his pistol,
then holstered it, took off his belt and laid it aside, an
example the others followed.
They drank ceremoniously, and then seated themselves at the
table. As they did, two more men entered the room. They were
introduced as Alexander Barrett, the gunsmith and Stanley
Markovitch, the distiller.
The Toon Leader began by asking, "You come, then, from the west?"
"Are you from Utah?" the gunsmith interrupted, suspiciously.
"Why, no, we're from Arizona. A place called Fort Ridgeway,"
The others nodded, in the manner of people who wish to conceal
ignorance. It was obvious that none of them had ever heard of
Fort Ridgeway, or Arizona either.
"You say you come from a fort? Then the wars aren't over yet?"
Sarge Hughes asked.
"The wars have been over for a long time. You know how terrible
they were. You know how few in all the countries were left
alive," Loudons said.
"None that we know of, beside ourselves and the Scowrers, until
you came," the Toon Leader said.
"We have found only a few small groups, in the whole country, who
have managed to save anything of the Old Times. Most of them
lived in little villages and cultivated land. A few had horses or
cows. None, that we have ever found before, made guns and powder
for themselves. But they remembered that they were men, and did
not eat one another.
"Whenever we find a group of people like this, we try to persuade
them to let us help them."
"Why?" the Toon Leader asked. "Why do you do this for people that
you have never met before? What do you want from them—from
us—in return for your help?"
He was speaking to Altamont, rather than to Loudons. It seemed
obvious that he believed Altamont to be the leader and Loudons
"Because we are trying to bring back the best of the Old Times,"
Altamont told him. "Look, you have had troubles, here. So have
we, many times. Years when the crops didn't ... didn't...." He
looked at Loudons, aware that his partner should be talking now,
and also suddenly aware that Loudons had recognized the situation
and left the leadership up to him....
"... years that the crops failed. Years of storms, or floods.
Troubles with those beast-men in the woods.
"And you were alone, as we were, with no one to help.
"We want to put all men who are still men in touch with one
another, so that they can help each other in trouble, and work
"If this isn't done, everything that makes men different from
beasts will soon be no more."
"He's right. One of us, alone, is helpless," the Reader said. "It
is only in the Toon that there is strength. He wants to organize
a Toon of all Toons."
"That's about it. We are beginning to make helicopters, like the
one Loudons and I came in. We'll furnish your community with one
or more of them. We can give you a radio, so that you can
communicate with other communities. We can give you rifles and
machine guns and ammunition, to fight the—the Scowrers, did you
call them? And we can give you atomic engines, so that you can
build machines for yourselves."
"Some of our people,—Alex Barrett here, the gunsmith, and Stan
Markovitch, the distiller, and Harrison Grant, the
iron-worker—get their living by making things. How'd they make
out, after your machines came in here?" Verner Hughes asked.
"We've thought of that. We had that problem with other groups
we've helped," Loudons said. "In some communities, everybody owns
everything in common and so we don't have much of a problem. Is
that the way you do it, here?"
"Well, no. If a man makes a thing, or digs it out of the ruins,
or catches it in the woods, it's his."
"Then we'll work out some way. Give the machines to the people
who are already in a trade, or something like that. We'll have to
talk it over with you and with the people concerned."
"How is it you took so long finding us?" Alex Barrett asked.
"It's been two hundred or so years since the Wars."
"Alex! You see but you do not observe!" The Toon Leader rebuked.
"These people have their flying machines, which are highly
complicated mechanisms. They would have to make tools and
machines to make them, and tools and machines to make those tools
and machines. They would have to find materials, often going in
search of them. The marvel is not that they took so long, but
that they did it so quickly."
"That's right," Altamont said. "Originally, Fort Ridgeway was a
military research and development center. As the country became
disorganized, the Government set this project up to develop ways
of improvising power and transportation and communication methods
and extracting raw materials. If they'd had a little more time,
they might have saved the country.
"As it was, they were able to keep themselves alive, and keep
something like civilization going at the Fort, while the whole
country was breaking apart around them.
"Then, when the rockets stopped falling, they started to rebuild.
Fortunately, more than half the technicians at the Fort were
women, so there was no question of them dying out.
"But it's only been in the last twenty years that we've been able
to make nuclear-electric engines, and this is the first time any
of us have gotten east of the Mississippi."
"How did your group manage to survive?" Loudons asked. "You call
it the Toon. I suppose that's what the word platoon has become,
with time. You were, originally, a military platoon?"
"Pla-toon!" the white-bearded man said. "Of all the unpardonable
stupidities! Of course that's what it was. And the title, Tenant,
was originally lieu-tenant. I know that, though we have dropped
all use of the first part of the word. But that should have led
me, if I had used my wits, to deduce platoon from toon."
The Tenant shook his head in dismay at his stupidity and Loudons
found himself forced to say, "One syllable like that could have
come from many words."
The Tenant smiled at Loudons and said, "Your courtesy does not
excuse our stupidity. We know our history and we should have
identified the word accurately.
"Yes, we were originally a ... a pla-toon of soldiers, two hundred
years ago, at the time when the Wars ended. The old Toon, and the
First Tenant, were guarding POWs, and there, sir,"—to
Loudons—"is a word we cannot trace. We have no idea what they
were. In any event, the pows were all killed by a big bomb, and
the First Tenant, Lieutenant Gilbert Dunbar, took his platoon and
started to march to DeeCee, where the government was.
"But there was no government any more.
"They fought with people along the way. When they needed food, or
ammunition, or animals to pull their wagons, they took them, and
killed those who tried to prevent them. Other people joined the
toon, and when they found women they wanted, they took them.
"They did all sorts of things that would have been crimes if
there had been any law, but since there was no law, it was
obvious that they could be no crime.
"The First Ten—Lieutenant—kept his men together, because he had
The Books. Each evening, at the end of each day's march, he read
to his men out of them."
Altamont knew without looking at his associate that Loudons would
be inconspicuously jotting down notes. The last was an item the
sociologist would be sure to record: the white-bearded Tenant had
pronounced that reference to a written testament in capital
The story was continuing....
"... finally, they came here. There had been a town here, but it
had been burned and destroyed, and there were people camping in
"Some of them fought and were killed, others came in and joined
"At first, they built shelters around this building and made this
their fort. Then they cleared away the ruins, and built new
houses. When the cartridges for the rifles began to get scarce,
they began to make gunpowder, and new rifles, like these we are
using now, to shoot without cartridges.
"Lieutenant Dunbar did this out of his own knowledge because
there is nothing in The Books about making gunpowder. The guns in
The Books are rifles and shotguns and revolvers and airguns.
Except for the airguns, which we haven't been able to make, these
all shot cartridges.
"As with your people, we did not die out because we too had
women. Neither did we increase greatly—too many died or were
killed young. But several times we've had to tear down the wall
and rebuild it, to make room inside for more houses. And we've
been clearing out a little more land for the fields each year.
"We still read and follow the teachings of The Books: we have
made laws for ourselves out of them."
There was a silence during which Altamont felt himself to be the
focus of attention; not obtrusively, but, nonetheless,
insistently. However, this was Loudon's field and Altamont
preferred not to speak.
"And we are waiting for the Slain and Risen One," Tenant Jones
added, and there was no doubt that he was looking at Altamont
intently. "It is impossible that He will not, sooner or later,
deduce the existence of this community, if He has not done so
Again the silence and lack of movement, broken by Loudons this
time, when he picked up the candle to re-lit his cigar.
Mentally, Altamont thanked his partner.
"Well, sir," the Toon Leader changed the subject abruptly,
"enough of this talk about the past. If I understand rightly, it
is the future in which you gentlemen are interested." He pushed
back the cuff of his hunting shirt and looked at an old and worn
wrist watch. "Eleven hundred: we'll have lunch shortly.
"This afternoon, you will meet the other people of the Toon, and
this evening, at eighteen hundred, we'll have a mess together.
Then, when we have everyone together, we can talk over your offer
to help us, and decide what it is that you can give us that we
"You spoke, a while ago, of what you could do for us, in return,"
Altamont said. He knew that now he would have to be the one to
stress their original mission: Loudons would probably be so
fascinated by this society that the sociologist might never
remember the primary reason for coming to Pittsburgh.
"There's one thing you can do, no further away than tomorrow, if
He had no time to wonder at the interchange of glances around the
table before the Toon Leader said, "And that is—?"
"In Pittsburgh, somewhere, there is an underground crypt, full of
books. Not printed and bound books, but spools of microfilm. Do
you know what that is?"
The men of the Toon shook their heads. Altamont continued:
"They are spools on which strips of films are wound and on which
pictures have been taken of books, page by page. We can make
other, larger pictures from them, big enough to be read—"
"Oh, photographs, which you can enlarge. I can understand that.
You mean, you can make many copies of them?"
"That's right. And you shall have copies, as soon as we can take
the originals back to Fort Ridgeway, where we have the equipment
for enlarging them. But while we have information which will help
us to find the crypt where the books are, we will need help in
getting it open."
"Of course! This is wonderful. Copies of The Books!" the Reader
exclaimed. "We thought that we had the only one left in the
"Not just The Books, Stamford, other books," the Toon Leader
told him. "The books mentioned in The Books. But of course we
will help you. You have a map to show where they are?"
"Not a map, just some information. But we can work out the
location of the crypt."
"A ritual," Stamford Rawson said happily. "Of course!"
They lunched together at the house of Toon Sarge Hughes with the
Toon Leader and the Reader and five or six of the leaders of the
community. The food was plentiful, but Altamont found himself
wishing that the first book they found in the Carnegie Library
crypt would be a cook-book.
In the afternoon, he and Loudons separated.
Loudons attached himself to the Tenant, the Reader and an old
woman, Irene Klein, who was almost a hundred years old and was
the repository and arbiter of most of the community's oral
Altamont, on the other hand, started with Alex Barrett, the
gunsmith, and Mordecai Ricci, the miller, to inspect the gunshop
and the grist mill. They were later joined by a half dozen more
of the village craftsmen and so also visited the forge and
foundry, the sawmill and the wagon shop. Altamont additionally
looked at the flume, a rough structure of logs lined with sheet
aluminum; and at the nitriary, a shed-roofed pit in which
potassium nitrate was extracted from the community's animal
But he reversed matters when it came to visiting the powder mill
on the island: he became the host and took them by helicopter to
the island and then for a trip up the river.
The guests were a badly-scared lot, for the first few minutes, as
they watched the ground receding under them through the
transparent plastic nose. Then, when nothing serious seemed to be
happening, exhilaration took the place of fear. By the time they
set down on the tip of the island, the eight men were confirmed
The trip up-river was an even bigger success, the high point
coming when Altamont set his controls for Hover, pointed out a
snarl of driftwood in the stream, and allowed his passengers to
fire one of the machine-guns at it.
The lead balls of their own black-powder rifles would have
plunked into the water-logged wood without visible effect. The
copper-jacketed machine-gun bullets ripped it to splinters.
They returned for a final visit to the distillery awed by what
they had seen.
"Monty, I don't know what the devil to make of this crowd,"
Loudons said, that evening, after the feast, when they had
entered the helicopter and were preparing to retire.
"We've run into some weird communities—that lot down in New
Mexico who live in the church and claim that they have a divine
mission to redeem the world by prayer, fasting, and flagellation.
"Or those yogis in Los Angeles—"
"Or the Blackout Boys in Detroit!" Altamont interrupted. He had
good reason to remember them.
"That's understandable," Loudons said, "after what their
ancestors went through in the last war. And so are the others, in
their own way.
"But this crowd here!" Loudons put down his cigar and began
chewing on his mustache, a sure sign that he was more than
puzzled: he was a very worried man.
Altamont respected his partner's abilities in this area. However,
he also knew that the best way to get his friend to work any
problem was to have him do it in conversation.
"What has you stopped, Jim?"
"Number of things, Monty. They're hard to explain because—" the
sociologist shrugged, winced a little as the gesture pushed his
leg down on the edge of his bunk—"well, let me just mention
"These people are the descendants of an old United States Army
platoon, yet they have a fully-developed religion centered on a
slain and resurrected god.
"Now, Monty, with all due respect to the old US Army, that just
doesn't make sense! Normally, it would take thousands of years
for a slain-god religion to develop, and then only in a special
situation, from the field-fertility magic of primitive
"Well, you saw those people's fields from the air. Some members
of that old platoon were men who knew the latest methods of
scientific farming. They didn't need naive fairy tales about the
planting and germination of seed."
"Sure this religion isn't just a variant of Christianity?"
"In the first place, these Sacred Books cannot be the Bible—you
heard Tenant Jones say that they mentioned firearms that used
cartridges. That means they can't be older than 1860 at the
"And, in the second place, this slain god wasn't crucified, or
put to death by any form of execution: he perished, together with
his enemy, in combat, and both god and devil were later
Loudons picked up his cigar again. "By the way, the Enemy is
supposed to be the master-mind back of these cannibal savages in
the woods and also in the ruins."
"Did you get a look at these Sacred Books, or find out what they
Loudons shook his head disgustedly. "Every time I brought up the
question, they evaded me. The Tenant sent the Reader out to bring
in this old lady, Irene Klein—she was a perfect gold-mine of
information about the history and traditions of the platoon, by
the way—and then he sent the Reader out on some other errand,
undoubtedly to pass the word around not to talk to us about their
"I don't get that," Altamont said. "They showed me
everything—their gunshop, their powder mill, their defenses,
He smoked in silence for a moment, then added, in an apologetic
tone, "Jim, I'm sure you've thought of this: the slain god
couldn't be the original platoon commander, could he?"
"I've thought of it, and he isn't, Monty.
"No, definitely not, though they have the greatest respect for
his memory—decorate his grave regularly, drink toasts to him,
and so on. But he hasn't been deified. They got the idea for this
god of theirs out of the Sacred Books."
Loudons put the cigar down again and returned to chewing his
mustache. "Monty, this has me worried like the devil:
"I believe that they suspect that you are the Slain and Risen
Altamont considered the idea, then nodded slowly. "Could be, at
that. I know the Tenant came up to me, very respectfully, and
said, 'I hope you don't think, sir, that I was presumptuous in
trying to display my humble deductive abilities to you.'"
"What did you say?" Loudons demanded rather sharply.
"Told him certainly not, that he'd used a good, quick method of
demonstrating that he and his people weren't like those mindless
subhumans in the woods."
"That was all right," Loudons approved, but then his worries
returned. "I don't know how we're going to handle this—"
"Jim, how about that pows business? Is there something there?"
"Monty!" Loudons voice was drily chiding as he took a pad of
paper and scribbled briefly. "Take a look and figure for
Altamont looked at the paper. Loudons had simply printed the
first three letters of the word in capitals and separated each
letter with a period. "Ouch! Yes, of course, that's what an
infantry platoon would be guarding.
"Go ahead, Jim, this is your end of our business. I'll stay out
of it and, especially, I'll keep my mouth shut."
"I don't think you'll be able to," Loudons said soberly. "As
things stand now, they only suspect that you are their deity.
"And that means this: we're on trial here!"
"We have been in spots like this before, Jim," Altamont reminded
"Not like this, Monty, and let me explain.
"I get the impression here that logic, not faith, is the supreme
religious virtue. And get this, Monty, because it's something
practically unheard of: skepticism is a religious obligation, not
"I wish I knew...."
Tenant Mycroft Jones, Reader Stamford Rawson, Toon Sarge Verner
Hughes, and his son, Murray Hughes, sat around the bare-topped
table in the room on the second floor of the Aitch-Cue House. A
lighted candle flickered in the cool breeze that came in through
the open window, throwing their shadows back and forth on the
"Pass the tantalus, Murray," the Tenant said, and the youngest of
the four handed the corncob-corked bottle to the eldest. Tenant
Jones filled his cup and then sat staring at it, while Verner
Hughes thrust his pipe into the toe of the moccasin and filled
it. Finally, the Tenant drank about half the clear, wild-plum
"Gentlemen, I am baffled," he confessed. "We have three alternate
possibilities here and we dare not disregard any of them.
"Either this man who calls himself Altamont is truly He, or his
is merely what we are asked to believe, one of a community of men
like ours, with more of the old knowledge than we possess."
"You know my views," Verner Hughes said. "I cannot believe that
He was more than a man, as we are. A great, a good, a wise man,
but a man and mortal."
"Let's not go into that, now." The Reader emptied his cup and
took the bottle, filling it again. "You know my views, too. I
hold that He is no longer upon earth in the flesh, but lives in
the spirit and is only with us in the spirit.
"But you said there were three possibilities, none of which can
be eliminated. What was your third possibility, Tenant?"
"That they are creatures of the Enemy, perhaps that one or the
other of them is the Enemy."
Reader Rawson, lifting his cup to his lips, almost strangled. The
Hugheses, father and son stared at Tenant Jones in horror.
"The Enemy—with such weapons and resources!" Murray Hughes
gasped. Then he emptied his cup and refilled it. "No! I can't
believe that: he would have struck before this and wiped us all
"Not necessarily, Murray," the Tenant replied. "Until he became
convinced that his agents, the Scowrers, could do nothing
against us, he would bide his time. He sits motionless, like a
spider, at the center of the web; he does little himself; his
agents are numerous.
"Or, perhaps, he wishes to recruit us into this hellish
"It is a possibility," the Reader admitted, "and one which we can
neither accept or reject safely. And we must learn the truth as
soon as possible. If this man is really He, we must not spurn Him
on mere suspicion. If he is a man, come to help us, we must
accept his help; if he is speaking the truth, the people who sent
him could do wonders for us, and the greatest wonder would be to
make us again a part of a civilized community.
"And if he is the Enemy...." Rawson left the sentence unfinished,
but his face was grim.
"But if he is really He," Murray said, a little diffidently, for
he was not yet accustomed to being included in the council of the
elders, "I think we are on trial."
"What do you mean, son? Oh, I see. Of course, I don't believe
that he is, but that's mere doubt, not negative certainty.
However, if I'm wrong, if this man is truly He, we are worthy of
him, we will penetrate his disguise."
"A very pretty problem, gentlemen," the Tenant said, smacking his
lips over his brandy, "for all that it may be a deadly serious
one for us. There is, of course, nothing we can do tonight. But,
tomorrow, we have promised to help our visitors, whoever they may
be, in searching for this crypt in the city.
"Murray, you were to be in charge of the detail that was to
accompany them. Carry on as arranged, and say nothing of our
suspicions, but advise your men to keep a sharp watch on the
strangers, that they may learn all they can from them.
"Stamford, you and Verner and I will go along. We should, if we
have any wits at all, observe something."
"Listen to this infernal thing!" Altamont raged. "'Wielding a
gold-plated spade handled with oak from an original rafter of the
Congressional Library, at three-fifteen one afternoon last
week—' One afternoon last week!" He cursed luridly. "Why
couldn't that blasted magazine say what afternoon? I've gone over
a lot of twentieth century copies of that magazine and that
expression was a regular cliche with them."
Loudons looked over his shoulder at the photostated magazine
"Well, we know it was between June thirteen and nineteen,
inclusive," he said. "And there's a picture of the university
president, complete with gold-plated spade, breaking ground. Call
it Wednesday, the sixteenth. Over there's the tip of the shadow
of the old Cathedral of Learning, about a hundred yards away.
There are so many inexactitudes, that one'll probably cancel out
"That's so, and it's also pretty futile getting angry at somebody
who's been dead two hundred years, but why couldn't they say
Wednesday, or Monday, or Saturday, or whatever?"
Monty checked back in the astronomical handbook, and the
photostated pages of the old almanac, then looked over his
calculations. "All right, here is the angle of the shadow, and
"I had a look, yesterday, when I was taking the local citizenry
on that junket. The old baseball diamond at Forbes Field is
plainly visible, and I located the ruins of the Cathedral of
Learning from that.
"Here's the above-sea-level altitude of the top of the tower.
After you've landed us, go up to this altitude—use the
barometric altimeter, not the radar—and hold position."
Loudons leaned forward from the desk to the contraption Altamont
had rigged up in the nose of the helicopter; one of the
telescope-sighted hunting rifles clamped in a vise, with a
compass and a spirit-level under it.
"Rifle's pointing downward at the correct angle now?" he asked.
"Good. Then all I have to do is to hold the helicopter steady,
keep it at the right altitude, level and pointed in the right
direction, and watch through the sight while you move the flag
around, and direct you by radio."
"Simple, if I had been born quintuplets!"
"Mr. Altamont! Doctor Loudons!" a voice outside the helicopter
called. "Are you ready for us now?"
Altamont went to the open door and looked out. The old Toon
Leader, the Reader, Toon Sarge Hughes, his son and four young men
in buckskins with slung rifles were standing outside.
"I have decided," the Tenant said, "that Mr. Rawson and Sarge
Hughes and I would be of more help than an equal number of young
men. We may not be as active, but we do know the old ruins
better, especially the paths and hiding places of the Scowrers.
These four young men you probably met last evening, but it will
do no harm to introduce them again.
"Birdy Edwards; Sholto Jiminez; Jefferson Burns; Murdo Olsen."
"Very pleased, Tenant, gentlemen. I met all of you young men last
evening and I remember you," Altamont said. "Now, if you'll crowd
in here, I'll explain what we're going to try to do."
He showed them the old picture. "You see where the shadow of a
tall building falls?" he asked. "We know the height and location
of this building. Doctor Loudons will hold this helicopter at
exactly the position of the top of the building and aim through
the sights of the rifle, there. One of you will have this flag in
his hand, and will move it back and forth. Doctor Loudons will
tell us when the flag is in sight of the rifle."
"He'll need a good pair of lungs to do that," Verner Hughes
"We'll use the radio. A portable set on the ground, and the
helicopter's radio set," Altamont said.
To his surprise, he was met with looks of incomprehension. He had
not supposed that these people would have lost all memory of
"Why, that's wonderful!" the Reader exclaimed, when the
explanation was concluded. "You can talk directly. How much
better than just sending a telegram!"
"But, finding the crypt by the shadow, that's exactly like the—"
Murray Hughes began, then stopped short. Immediately, he began
talking about the rifle that was to be used as a surveying
transit, comparing it with the ones in the big first-floor room
at the Aitch-Cue House.
Locating the point where the shadow of the old Cathedral of
Learning had fallen proved easier than either Altamont or Loudons
had expected. The towering building was now a tumbled mass of
slagged rubble, but it was quite possible to determine its
original center, and with the old data from the excellent
reference library at Fort Ridgeway, its height above sea level
was known. After a little jockeying, the helicopter came to a
hovering stop, and the slanting barrel of the rifle in the vise
pointed downward along the line of the shadow that had been cast
on that afternoon in June, 1993.
The cross-hairs of the scope sight centered almost exactly on the
spot Altamont had estimated on the map.
Guiding himself by peering through the rifle-sight, Loudons
brought the helicopter slanting down to land on the sheet of
fused glass that had once been a grassy campus.
"Well, this is probably it," Altamont said. "We didn't have to
bother fussing around with that flag after all. That hump over
there looks as though it had been a small building, and there's
nothing corresponding to it on the city map. That may be the
bunker over the stair-head to the crypt."
They began unloading equipment—a small, portable
nuclear-electric conversion unit, a powerful solenoid-hammer,
crowbars and intrenching tools, tins of blasting plastic. They
took out the two hunting rifles and the auto-carbines, and
Altamont showed the young men of Murray Hughes' detail how to use
"If you will pardon me, sir," the Tenant said to Altamont, "I
think it would be a good idea if your companion went up in the
flying machine and circled over us, to keep watch for the
Scowrers. There are quite a few of them, particularly farther up
the rivers, to the east, where the damage was not so great and
they can find cellars and shelters and buildings to live in."
"Good idea. That way, we won't have to put out guards," Altamont
said. "From the looks of this, we'll need every body to help dig
into that thing. Hand out one of the portable radios, Jim and go
up to about a thousand feet. If you see anything suspicious, give
us a yell, then spray it with bullets, and find out what it is
They waited until the helicopter had climbed to position and was
circling above, and then turned their attention to the place
where the sheet of fused earth and stone bulged upward. It must
have been almost ground-zero of one of the hydrogen-bombs: the
wreckage of the Cathedral of Learning had fallen predominantly to
the north, and the Carnegie Library was tumbled to the east.
"I think the entrance would be on this side, toward the Library,"
Altamont said. "Let's try it, to begin with."
He used the solenoid-hammer, slowly pounding a hole in the glaze,
and placed a small charge of the plastic explosive. Chunks of the
lava-like stuff pelted down between the little mound and the huge
one of the old library, blowing a hole six feet in diameter and
the two and a half feet deep, revealing concrete bonded with
crushed steel-mill slag.
"We missed the door," Altamont said. "That means we'll have to
tunnel in through who knows how much concrete. Well...."
He used a second and larger charge, after digging a hole a foot
deep. When he and his helpers came up to look, they found a large
mass of concrete blown out, and solid steel behind it. Altamont
cut two more holes, one on either side of the blown-out place,
and fired a charge in each of them, bringing down more concrete.
He found he hadn't missed the door after all. It had merely been
A few more shots cleared it, and after some work, they got it
open. There was a room inside, concrete-floored and entirely
empty. Altamont stood in the doorway and inspected the interior
with his flashlight; he heard somebody behind him say something
about a most peculiar sort of dark-lantern.
Across the small room, on the opposite wall, was a bronze plaque.
The plaque carried quite a lengthy inscription, including the
names of all the persons and institutions participating in the
microfilm project. The History Department at the Fort would be
interested in that, but the only thing that interested Altamont
was the statement that the floor had been laid over the trapdoor
leading to the vault where the microfilms were stored. He went
outside to the radio.
"Hello, Jim. We're inside, but the films were stored in an
underground vault, and so we have to tear up a concrete floor,"
he said. "Go back to the village and gather up all the men you
can carry. I don't want to use explosives inside. The interior of
the crypt oughtn't to be damaged. Besides, I don't know what a
blast in there might do to the film, and I don't want to take any
"No, of course not. How thick do you think the floor is?"
"Haven't the least idea. Plenty thick, I would guess. Those films
would have to be well-buried, to shield them from radioactivity.
We can expect that it will take some time."
"All right. I'll be back as soon as I can."
The helicopter turned and went windmilling away, over what had
been the Golden Triangle, down the Ohio. Altamont went back to
the little concrete bunker and sat down, lighting his pipe.
Murray Hughes and his four riflemen spread out, one circling
around the glazed butte that had been the Cathedral of Learning,
another climbing to the top of the old Library, and the others
taking positions to the south and east.
Altamont sat in silence, smoking his pipe and trying to form some
conception of the wealth under that concrete floor.
It was no use.
Jim Loudons probably understood a little more clearly what those
books would mean to the world of today, and what they could do
toward shaping the world of the future.
There was a library at Fort Ridgeway, and it was an excellent one ...
for its purpose. In 1996, when the rockets had come crashing
down, it had contained the cream of the world's technical
knowledge—and very little else. There was only a little fiction,
a few books of ideas, just enough to give the survivors a
tantalizing glimpse of the world of their fathers.
A rifle banged to the south and east, and banged again. Either
Murray Hughes or Birdy Edwards: it was one of the two hunting
rifles from the helicopter.
On the heels of the reports, they heard a voice shouting,
"Scowrers! A lot of them, coming from up the river!"
A moment later, there was a light whip-crack of one of the
muzzleloaders, from the top of the old Carnegie Library, and
Altamont could see a wisp of grey-white smoke drifting away from
where it had been fired.
Altamont jumped to his feet and raced for the radio, picking it
up and bring it to the bunker.
Tenant Jones, old Reader Rawson, and Verner Hughes had caught up
their rifles. The Tenant was shouting. "Come on in! Everybody,
come on in!"
The boy on top of the library began scrambling down. Another came
running from the direction of the half-demolished Cathedral of
Learning, a third from the baseball field that had served as
Altamont's point of reference the afternoon before.
The fourth, Murray Hughes, was running in from the ruins of the
old Carnegie Tech buildings, and Birdy Edwards sped up the main
road from Schenley Park. Once, twice, as he ran, Murray Hughes
paused, turned, and fired behind him.
Then his pursuers came into sight!
They ran erect, they wore a few rags of skin garments, and they
carried spears and hatchets and clubs, so they were probably
classifiable as men. But their hair was long and unkempt, and
their bodies were almost black with dirt and from the sun. A few
of them were yelling, but most of them ran silently. They ran
more swiftly than the boy they were pursuing: the distance
between them narrowed every moment. There were at least fifty of
Verner Hughes' rifle barked, one of them dropped. As cooly as
though he were shooting squirrels instead of his son's pursuers,
he dropped the butt of the rifle to the ground, poured a charge
of powder, patched a ball and rammed it home, replaced the
ramrod. Tenant Jones fired then, and Birdy Edwards joined them,
beginning to shoot with the telescope-sighted rifle.
The young man who had been north of the Cathedral of Learning had
one of the auto-carbines; luckily, Altamont had providently set
the control for semi-auto before giving it to him. He dropped to
one knee and began to empty the clip, shooting slowly and
deliberately, picking off the runners who were in the lead.
The boy who had started to climb down off the Library halted,
fired his flintlock, and began reloading it.
Altamont, sitting down and propping his elbows on his knees, took
both hands to the automatic which was his only weapon, emptying
the magazine and replacing it. The last three savages he shot in
the back: they had had enough and were running for their lives.
So far, everybody was safe. The boy in the Library came down
through a place where the wall had fallen. Murray Hughes stopped
running and came slowly toward the bunker, putting a fresh clip
into his rifle. The others came drifting in.
"Altamont, calling Loudons," the scientist from Fort Ridgeway was
saying into the radio. "Monty to Jim: can you hear me?"
"We'd better get ready for another attack," Birdy Edwards said.
"There's another gang coming from down that way. I never saw so
"Maybe there's a reason, Birdy," Tenant Jones said. "The Enemy is
after big game, this time."
"Jim, where the devil are you?" Altamont fairly yelled into the
radio; and as he did, he knew the answer. Loudons was in the
village, away from the helicopter, gathering tools and workers.
Nothing to do but keep on trying!
"Here they come!" Reader Rawson warned.
"How far can these rifles be depended on?" Birdy Edwards wanted
Altamont straightened, saw the second band of savages approaching
about four hundred yards away.
"Start shooting now," he said. "Aim for the upper part of their
The two auto-loading rifles began to crack. After the first few
shots, the savages took cover. Evidently they understood the
capabilities and limitations of the villagers' flintlocks, but
this was a terrifying surprise to them.
"Jim!"—Altamont was almost praying into the radio—"Come in,
"What is it, Monty? I was outside."
Altamont told him.
"Those fellows you had up with you yesterday, think they could
be trusted to handle the guns? A couple of them are here with
me," Loudons inquired.
"Take a chance on it! It won't cost anything but my life, and
that's not worth much at the present."
"All right, hold on. We'll be there in a few minutes."
"Loudons is bringing the helicopter," Altamont told the others.
"All we have to do is to hold on, here, until he comes."
A naked savage raised his head from behind what might, two
hundred years ago, have been a cement park-bench and he was only
a hundred yards away. Reader Rawson promptly killed him and began
"I think you're right, Tenant," he said. "The Scowrers have never
attacked in bands like this before. They must have a powerful
reason and I can think of only one."
"That's what I'm beginning to think, too," Verner Hughes agreed.
"At least, we've eliminated the third of your possibilities,
Tenant. And I think probably the second, as well."
Altamont wondered what they were double-talking about. There
wasn't any particular mystery about the mass attack of the wild
men to him.
Debased as they were, they still possessed speech and the ability
to transmit experiences. No matter how beclouded in superstition,
they still remembered that aircraft dropped bombs, and bombs
killed people, and where people had been killed, they would find
fresh meat. They had seen the helicopter circling about, and had
heard the blasting: everyone in the area had been drawn to the
scene as soon as Loudons had gone down the river.
But they seemed to have forgotten that aircraft carried guns,
although they did spring to their feet and start to run at the
return of the helicopter.
However, most of them did not run far.
Altamont and Loudons shook hands many times in front of the
Aitch-Cue House, and listened to many good wishes, and repeated
their promise to return. Most of the microfilmed books were to be
stored in the old church. They were taking with them only the
catalogue and a few of the most important works. Finally, they
entered the helicopter. The crowd shouted farewell as they rose.
Altamont, at the controls, waited until they had gained five
thousand feet, then turned on a compass-course for Colony Three.
"I can't wait until we're in radio range of the Fort, Jim. This
is one report that I really want to make," he said.
"Of all the wonderful luck!" he went on. "And I don't know which
is the more important: finding those books, or finding those
people. In a few years, when we can get them supplied with modern
equipment and instructed in its use—
"What's the matter, Jim? You should be even more excited than I
"I'm not very happy about this, Monty," Loudons confessed. "I
keep thinking about what's going to happen to them."
"Why, nothing's going to happen to them. They're going to be
given the means of producing more food, keeping more of them
alive, giving them more leisure to develop themselves in—"
"Monty, I saw the Sacred Books."
"The deuce! What were they?"
"It. One volume. A collection of works. We have it at the Fort
and I've read it. How I ever missed all those clues—"
"You see, Monty, what I'm worried about is what's going to happen
to those people when they find out that we're not really Sherlock
Holmes and Doctor Watson...."
This etext was produced from The Science-Fictional Sherlock Holmes, 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.