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´╗┐Title: Stopover
Author: Gerken, William
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Stopover" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



    _What will the world be like, the day after Tomorrow, for the lonely
    ones who will have talents that others will half fear, half envy?
    William Gerken describes this strange world in which young and old
    will have to find new values and pursue new dreams, as they search
    for the answer...._


stopover

_by WILLIAM GERKEN_


 When he opened the door to the shed that day, and saw
 the axe suspended in mid-air, he understood what was wrong.


He had been living with us for a week before I found out he was a
Lifter. Even the discovery was an accident. I had started for the store,
but then remembered a chore I wanted him to do. I heard the sounds of
wood-chopping coming from the shed, so I went behind the house to the
small wooden structure. I must have gasped or something, because he
turned around to look at me, dropping the axe he had poised over a block
of wood as he turned. Only he hadn't been holding the axe; it had been
hanging in mid-air without support.

The first time I saw him was when he knocked on my door. I don't think
I'll ever forget how he looked--tall and thin, old clothes and older
shoes, an unruly mop of blond hair. It was only when I looked at his
face that I realized that he was more than a mere boy of eighteen or
nineteen. The tired lines around his mouth, the sad, mature look in his
eyes, the stoop already evident in his young shoulders; he had been
forced to mature too quickly, and seemed to have knowledge a boy his
age had no right to be burdened with.

"I--I was wondering if I might get a bite to eat, sir," he said.

I grinned. No matter how he looked, he was no different from anyone else
his age where food was concerned. "Sure; come on in and rest a spell," I
told him. "Marty, can you fix a plate of something? We've got a guest."
Marty--my wife--glanced through the kitchen doorway. After a cursory
look at the boy, she smiled at him and went back to work.

"Sit down, son, you look pretty done-in. Come far today?"

He nodded. "Guess it shows, huh?" he said, brushing the road dust from
his trousers.

"Uh-huh. Where you from? Not around here, I know."

"Far back as I can remember, Oregon has been home."

It wasn't hard to guess why he was almost a thousand miles from home.
During the war, over ten million American families had been separated,
their way of life destroyed by the hell of atomic bombings. Ever since
its end, people had been seeking their loved ones; many, only to find
them dead or dying. Sometimes the searches stretched across continents
or oceans. In that respect the boy sitting opposite me was no different
from hundreds of others I've seen in the past ten years. The only
difference was in his face.

"Looking for your family," I said, making it a statement.

"Yessir." He smiled, as though the sentence had double meaning.

After he had eaten, he went down to the town store to look through its
records. They all do. They turn the pages of the big stopover book,
hoping a relative or friend had passed through the same town. Then they
sign the book, put down the date and where they're headed, and set out
once more. Almost all towns have stopover books nowadays, and a good
thing, too. They helped me find Marty back in '63, when the truce was
finally signed. In fact, I found her right here in this town. We got
married, settled down, and haven't been more than a hundred miles away
since then.

Martha called me into the kitchen almost as soon as he was gone. "He's a
nice boy."

"That he is," I agreed. "You know, I've been thinking; we could use a
young fella around here to help with the work."

"If he'll stay. There was something in his eyes; a sort of longing for
someone very close to him. That kind usually takes off after a night's
rest."

"I know. Guess I'll drop by the store; see if I can talk him into
staying."

By the time I reached the store, school was out, and a group of kids
were gathered around him, listening to his description of the Rocky
Mountains, which he had crossed during the summer. The kids weren't the
only ones listening. Even the adults were standing around in the store,
remembering the places they had once seen themselves, and getting such
bits of news as he dropped about the other towns he had passed through.
The Searchers are, next to the town radio stations, the only source of
information we have now, so it's no wonder they're so warmly greeted
wherever they stop.

Soon as he'd finished telling about the Rockies, I said we'd appreciate
it if he would stay for supper. He said he would, and later, while he
and Tommy, my eight-year-old son, and I were walking home, I asked him
if he'd stay with us for a while.

For a moment he looked wistful, as if wishing he could stay here, and
forget whoever he was trying to find. Then he smiled and said, thanks,
he would stay for a week or so.

He was real helpful, too, cutting stove and fireplace wood for the
coming winter, running errands, hunting for game animals, and teaching
at the school. Almost all Searchers teach when they can be persuaded to
stay in town for a spell. Since there are no more colleges to produce
teachers, anyone who knows something useful takes a turn at teaching.
'Fore the war, I was a mathematics major in college, so twice a week I
teach all kinds of math at school, from numbers through calculus.
Mostly, Searchers teach about what the places they had passed through
are like.

Then, when I opened the door to the shed that day, and saw the axe
suspended in mid-air, I suddenly realized why he had that sad, tired
look about him all the time.

He picked up the axe from where it had fallen, and stood it against the
wall. Reaching for his jacket, he said, "I--I guess I'd better be moving
along, Mr. Tranton. I'm really sorry if I've caused you any trouble." He
started past me for the door.

"Hold on, son." I grabbed his arm. "Why the rush?"

"I don't want to cause you any trouble. Now that you know what I am--"
he gritted the words out bitterly, "the word will get around. I wouldn't
want the others in town to be angry with you because of me. You and Mrs.
Tranton have been swell to me. Thanks for everything." He tried to pull
his arm loose, but I held fast.

"Let's go inside and have a cup of coffee," I suggested. "I don't know
about the other towns you've been through, but here we don't hate a
person because he might happen to have powers we don't."

"Yesterday I was down at the store, and I heard one of the men sounding
off about us," he said. "He didn't sound like he cared much for us."

"Must have been John Atherson. He never could understand ESP, and he
blames the war on it. We just let him talk; can't change a person like
that." We went up the back steps and through the door into the kitchen.
"Go on, show Marty," I said, taking off my jacket.

He looked at me to make sure I meant it. Then he raised the coffee pot
from the stove, and watched it move across the room under its own power
to the table where I was sitting. Leaving the pot in mid-air, he made
the cupboard open, and still standing in the middle of the room, floated
three cups and saucers to the table. Then he got the cream, sugar and
three spoons, put them on the table, and poured the coffee. Marty
watched the coffee pot move back to the stove, her mouth open in
amazement, "I heard of it, but I don't think I'd have believed it if I
hadn't seen it." I nodded, and she smiled at him. "Now that I know," she
said, "I'm even gladder you chose to stay here for a while."

He grinned. "Thanks." He sat down with us at the table, and stirred some
sugar into his coffee.

"It must be hard on you," Marty said quietly, in a knowing way. "Are you
really looking for your family, or for others with ESP?"

"My father was killed during the bombings. After that, Mom and I were
alone. She only had a little talent; Dad and I were the ones who were
really adept. Anyway, we stayed on the small farm we owned until last
spring. Then Mom married again, and I was free to leave. I think her new
husband was sorry to see me go, because it meant a lot of manual work
for him that I had been doing an easier way. I decided to see if I
couldn't find any others like myself, so I left and started across the
country."

"Do you have any other powers, or can you just control things?" Marty
asked.

He grinned. "If you mean, am I an all-around superman, no. Dad wasn't
either. I do have a scattering of other psi talents, though, but nothing
as well-developed as my telekinesis. I'm still working on them."

Tommy came in from school just then. "Could you teach him how to use his
mind that way, or do you have to be born with it?" I said.

He smiled again. "No, you don't have to be born with it. Everyone could
do it if they started training themselves young enough to use their
minds to the fullest extent. All through history certain people have had
strange powers. The trouble was, they were thought to be freaks instead
of the better developed humans they actually were. Even now, we're only
on the threshold of learning the full power of the mind." He turned to
Tommy. "Would you like to learn how to do things, Tommy?"

"Sure. Like what?"

He glanced at Marty and me. "Like making the world a better place to
live."

Two weeks later, at a meeting of the town council, I wasn't too worried
about getting the proposal accepted. We might have some trouble with
Atherson, but I figured between the two of us we could handle him. When
the new business came up, I stood up and led Tommy to the front of the
hall. There were a few whispers as we went, as children under fifteen
aren't allowed in the hall during a council meeting.

"Tommy has something to say to you which, I think, will interest
everyone here. Go on, son."

Seconds afterwards, we all heard, a clear "Hello," but not with our
ears; the word came from inside our heads.

Someone said: "The kid's a telepath," and the silence was broken.

Everybody was talking at the same time.

"I suppose you think it's an honor to have one of them damn things for
your son," Atherson yelled. "I'm glad you're the one who got stuck, and
not me."

"Tommy was not _born_ a telepath, John," I told him. "He has been
_deliberately trained_ to make use of the latent power in his brain. And
I don't think I'm 'stuck' either. We all know we've been slowly slipping
into retrogression ever since '63. None of us like it, but there isn't
anything we can do to halt it--yet. We don't want our children, or their
children, to keep slipping backwards. If we don't stop it in our
lifetime, we may not be able to stop it at all.

"As I see it, the best chance we have to at least achieve a status quo
is to accept the aid those among us with psi talents are willing to
give. After all, it's their world, too. With their help, we may be able
to build a better civilization, one without the socio-political diseases
that led to the war.

"The young man who has been staying at my house for the past three weeks
taught Tommy to do what he just did. He says he thinks he can do it with
any child under ten years old, and is even willing to try it with some
teen-agers. Of course, Tommy's training has just begun. He will keep on
learning for years.

"Here's my idea. If some of the children get a grounding in how to
develop their dormant brain power, by the time they're twenty, they'll
be able to mold a new society, one geared to the present culture instead
of the past traditions. How about it?"

I waited. For a minute there was silence. Finally one of the older men
stood up. "Is he sure he can do it?"

"All we know is it worked with Tommy," I replied.

"I don't like it; it's unnatural," Atherson said.

"No one asked you to like it," someone said.

Another called: "Do you think three world wars in fifty years _is_
natural? Let's take a vote."

A vote was taken, and it was decided to add an extra class for those
children whose parents wanted them to attend. After a month, the council
would expect a report on what progress--or lack of it--had been made.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few weeks later, when my math class was over, I hung around to watch
the new class. It was divided into small groups, each training on a
different psi talent. One group was lifting pencils and gently returning
them to desks by telekinesis. Another was sitting quietly, once in a
while breaking into shouts of laughter; probably telepathy. There were
other groups, but I didn't know enough about the talents to identify
their work.

During the time he was teaching, he met a girl. They spent quite a bit
of time together, and she joined the special class. By the time the
report to the council came due, it wasn't hard to tell they were in
love.

Just about everyone in town turned out for that meeting. The boys and
girls who were taking the class were seated at the front of the hall.
The report was first on the agenda, so the kids could go home to bed.

"When we started," he said, "I asked those children who weren't
interested, or who were--um--unsuited to the work, to leave. Then we ran
through a general training exercise, and after a week, I split the class
up into groups. Each group was to concentrate on one talent, but general
sessions for the entire class give everyone practice in all talents. I
think we've made fairly good progress. Some of the older teen-agers have
shown an interest in the talents (he glanced at his girl), and although
progress has not been as rapid as with the younger children, they are
sufficiently developed to help instruct. Now your children are going to
demonstrate what they have learned."

For the next half hour we watched Tommy and fourteen other boys and
girls work. Tommy and the others who had concentrated on telepathy read
silently to us from books and talked to each other, projecting their
thoughts so we could also listen in. The telekinesis group all worked
together to build a small table. All the necessary materials were
stacked at the front of the room. The kids sat in a half circle, their
brows furrowed in concentration as lumber, nails and hammers moved under
the guidance of their minds. When they had finished, the table was
complete, even to the sanding and a coat of varnish.

Finally, the only one with precognition--a girl about six years old,
with long blonde hair--gave the weather forecast for the next two weeks.
Copies of her prediction were passed out to us, so we could check her
accuracy.

Once the kids were gone, he stood up again. "I hope you are all
convinced as to what can be accomplished through the use of psi. The
talents can and should be used for the betterment of society, not for
carnival side shows. Of course, there are more than those just
demonstrated. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them present in this group.
I was hoping for either a healer or a sensitive, but no one had the
necessary ability.

"If you want the class continued, the decision is yours. Thanks for
having open minds, and for giving me a chance." He picked up his jacket
and walked out.

Atherson didn't bother to come to the meeting, so the vote to continue
the class was unanimous.

He stayed on, teaching part-time, helping out with the work at my place,
and seeing his girl. Then, one afternoon two weeks after the council
meeting, she came to see me. "You've got to stop him, Mr. Tranton," she
said. "He's going to leave. He told me he was going right after he
finished the class today. He's probably down at the store right now,
buying things to take with him. You've got to make him stay."

"Why?" I asked quietly, watching the tears well up in her eyes. She
hadn't lost her composure yet, but she felt so strongly about him she
was on the verge of breaking down.

"Because I love him and he loves me," she retorted. "That's why. Won't
you talk to him? At least get him to take me with him. Please."

"You said you love him. Would you rather he stayed here, and was never
fully happy, or left to continue searching, maybe to return someday,
ready to settle down? If you really love him there's no question."

"Couldn't he take me with him?"

I shook my head. "I don't think you should even ask him to take you.
You'd be a burden that would slow him down. He'd worry about you, have
to get your food, find shelter for you. He might let you go with him,
but don't ask him to. He's too young to be tied down. Now go on, and
wish him good luck and kiss him goodbye. He's coming up the road now."

She glanced out the open window, jumped up, and ran out into the
sunlight, to wait at the side of the road. I picked up the book I had
been reading, but the window was too close to the road for me to
concentrate on the pages. She didn't say anything until he was standing
before her.

"I'll be waiting," she said. "Take care of yourself."

He nodded. "I have to go," he told her. "Partly because it was Dad's
last wish, partly because I need others of my own kind. Alone, we can't
help the world much; together, there's a good chance for results. I left
a letter for the council saying you were going to take over the class,
because you have the ability to carry on. Watch Cathy, and help her all
you can. She's got it; her weather forecast proved that much. You've got
to drum that into her; never let her forget it. Maybe I'll be back--I
hope so. But first, I have to find others. I need them, and they might
need me. We're still not completely self-sufficient.

"Give the kids my love, and keep them at it. Just don't forget they
_are_ kids. Give them a chance to grow up as normally as possible.
That's a chance I didn't have."

He kissed her tenderly, then started off down the road. When he reached
the crest of the hill, he turned and waved. Marty joined me at the
doorway, and we waved too. Outlined against the bright blue afternoon
sky, he stood immobile for a moment. To many, he would have been just a
young man with a tired-out face; but to me, the symbol of a better life
for Tommy and his children ... a life unmarred by the threat of instant
death as punishment for something he had little control over.

He's gone now, but the work will go on, and the Athersons of the world
will come to realize he is giving us another chance, a chance we don't
really deserve. Somehow he reminds me of another man. A man who said:
"Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of
such is the kingdom of God."



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ September 1957.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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