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´╗┐Title: Circle of Flight
Author: Stockham, Richard
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 "Circle of Flight" ***

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[Illustration]

     _Thorus, the vengeful, had determined_ his _way. Aria, the healer,
     had determined_ her _way. Which determined this classic meeting of
     the twain._



                        CIRCLE

                     _OF FLIGHT_

                By Richard E. Stockham

                Illustrated by Ed Emsh


It seemed they had argued for years as they were arguing tonight. The
man paced back and forth chain-smoking cigarettes; the woman sat
motionless, watching him. They glanced at their watches with fearful
eyes. They heard, with acutely alert ears, the goings and comings of
people in the hall; heard the shattering blast of rockets in the sky
above the city. And they argued.

"So you're going through with it tonight," he said heavily, "in your own
way."

"Yes."

"Perhaps I should stop you." He crushed out his cigarette. "If the
police were to hear--"

"No!" The word was thrown at him. "I know you don't mean that. But it's
unworthy of you even to say it." She covered her face with nervous
hands. "After all I _am_ your wife."

He stood over her, his lips tight. There was something of the fragile,
finely made puppet about her, he thought, as though she had been
refashioned a hundred times by some artisan seeking after perfect
delicacy and precision. He softened momentarily.

"Come with me then," he said.

"No."

"Why? Why?"

"Your way is _wrong_."

"We're the last two leaders of the opposition alive." His voice came
swiftly and low. "The authority's beaten us. Their setup for killing,
imprisonment, bribery and blackmail functions too well. Our whole
organization's been scattered like matchsticks. The police are closing
in on us. We're finished here on earth. We'll be lucky if we're killed
quickly." He waited a moment for his words to take effect. "We go along
together that far."

She stood, clasping her hands. "Of course. Of course."

"Look. I know you've finished that damned contraption of yours that'll
take you into the atoms. I know you've been working on it for years. But
I've been working too. My ship's been ready to take off into super-space
for two days. But I haven't gone. I've been waiting for you. To wait at
a time like this is to ask for death or worse. Now I demand you give up
this insane idea of going into the atoms. You've got to come with me."

"I've told you I can't escape with you out into the macrocosm. It's not
my _way_!"

"The word 'escape' doesn't apply," he snapped, "to what I'm doing.
_You're_ escaping. You'll creep into the microcosm and sit there like a
seed that won't grow. You can't fight the Authority from the microcosm.
That way is utter passivity and death. _My_ way is fighting back. I'm
going into hyper-space. My ship and I'll become so huge and powerful
I'll throw suns around like snowballs. I'll toss meteors around like
grains of corn. I'll upset gravities and warp time. I'll stretch and
straighten space. I'll turn dimensions inside out--"

"Yes. You'll destroy. You'll ruin everything, you'll break the innocent
as well as the guilty."

"I'll have to take that chance," he said grimly. "But I'll destroy the
Authority and everything that goes with it."

She pulled from his grasp. "Violence and destruction are not my way.
They never have been." Slowly now she sank into the chair, looked past
him as she spoke. "You've always worshipped spaces and vacuums and
voids. I've always been happy working with flowers and trees, the life
of the meadow and valley, the rain and the new, small buds in
springtime. We have always gone in opposite directions."

She paused and smiled a bit wistfully. "It's funny. Now we find, too
late to help our marriage, that there's a whole universe between us. You
refuse, or perhaps you're afraid, I don't know, to go to the source of
everything--this table, this chair, this gown, your own flesh. You don't
want to understand life; any more than you want to understand me. You
must conquer it--or destroy it. You must be a giant that can kick the
earth around like a football. But I _do_ want to understand, for in
understanding lies the cure. My machine will take me into the atoms.
I'll become part of the fabric and tapestry of the very warp and woof of
our world. By becoming a _part_ of it, I will _know_. I'll find the
secret of life in inner space and I'll return and release our people
from the Authority. And you? You'll never _really_ understand anything.
You'll be a wild comet, yes, but I'll be a raindrop in a deep well,
learning patience. I'll be a true healer."

For a moment sadness rose and softened his face. "There's nothing more
to say, is there."

"I'm afraid not."

"We'll make the goodbys quick." He came to her. "At least we're being
honest with each other. No lies. No pettiness. We've developed pretty
powerful ideals. And they just won't fit together. It's that simple--and
that good."

She looked up at him and smiled. "At least I haven't lost you to another
woman."

He returned her smile. "We're getting sentimental. This isn't good. It's
weakening." He bent and lightly kissed her hair. For an instant her
breathing stopped.

"Goodby."

"Goodby," she whispered.

He strode to the door and opened it. His body snapped taut.

       *       *       *       *       *

Confronting him with a drawn blaster, stood a man in the shining red
garb of the police command. He resembled Mephisto with his flowing cape
and snug trousers. His face was dark, his nose thin, his eyes black and
very bright.

"You seem surprised," said the man in red.

Aria had half risen from the chair. As the eyes of the policeman turned
on her, she sank back.

"How opportune," the policeman continued. "The eve of your departures."
The smile set on his mouth. His gun snapped up on a line with Thorus'
heart. "No sudden moves, or you'll be burnt to a cinder. But no. That's
what you want--a quick death. So let me threaten you with merely burning
your legs off." The blaster lowered. "It may interest you to know we
have a recording of your whole conversation. But there's something
else."

His eyes holding Thorus, he gave a sharp command to two burly,
bullnecked policemen. They stepped from the shadows and stood behind the
commander. One held a small, black box.

"I see," the commander said, "You've had experience before with the
truth clamps. You're frightened."

Thorus motioned the commander inside. "A little fear trickles through my
hate."

The door swung shut behind the three policemen. Thorus glanced at Aria.
Her fingers clutched the arms of the chair. He knew she was thinking of
the blocks that had recently been installed in their minds by X-ray
hypnosis. Would the blocks hold after three days? Three days, they both
knew was the limit.

"It's your methods of escape we must have," said the commander. He
motioned to one of the policemen.

Thorus watched the man step in front of him and raise the clamps to his
forehead. He saw features that were thick and heavy, as though they had
been roughly moulded out of too wet clay.

"You can see," the commander went on, "the tremendous advantage to us of
being able to go into the macrocosm and toss meteors around like bits of
corn, as you say." He glanced at Aria, who sat huddled in the chair,
like a porcelain doll. "And then into the microcosm. Unlimited power. A
whole new universe to conquer and colonize."

Aria did not move or speak.

"I see she refuses to face reality." He turned to Thorus. "But _you_
will face reality--and so will she when we've finished. Had you
conducted your experiments in behalf of the Authority, you would have
been well rewarded. But no, you have been working against us--however,
it has been _for_ the Authority after all."

Thorus felt the clamps tight on his temples, like two steel fingers.
Sitting stiffly on a chair, he felt sweat on his back and chest, felt it
seep from his forehead down into his eyes, felt the burn of salt. There
was tightness all through him as he waited for the first shock. His
fingernails cut his palms. His breath stopped. His shoulders and arms
hardened, stretched tight his tunic.

The commander flicked his finger at the one kneeling before the little
black box. This one tripped a lever. A soft hum seemed to rise from the
box and fill the room.

Thorus listened to the hum grow until it was a soft, high pitched
scream. He closed his eyes. The next instant a shattering blow ripped
through every inch of his body. Fire ran along his nerves. He felt his
lips grimacing away from his teeth, felt the corners of his mouth
stretching back to his ears. Oh God, oh God, he cried out in silent
agony. Hold back my screams. Then he heard himself groan. He cut off the
sound of it. Choked. Heard a growl deep in his chest. Lights flashed in
his eyes and there was a tearing apart through his whole body. A
squeezing together rushed all around him and an insane pounding and
pulling as though his flesh were being beaten and clawed from his bones.
Time dropped away from him until it seemed he had never been aware of
anything but this agony. Then he was empty of sensation. He felt himself
fall forward, felt heavy hands catch him roughly and set him upright.
The soft voice of the commander flowed into his mind like a voice from
outer space:

"You will tell us your method of going into the macrocosm. The
equations, the type ship, its propellent, where the ship is hidden."

Thorus felt enveloped in a void.

The voice of the commander droned on. "All we need is a clue. We'll work
out the rest."

Life and feeling and thought were surging back into Thorus now. Strength
filled his muscles again. Sight came into his eyes. Again he sat
straight and stiff on the chair. The block held, he thought. It held and
they cannot know now!

"Speak!" The commander's voice rose. "Damn you!" He seized Thorus by the
hair. "You've blocked off the information. I'll see both of you tortured
until you'll wish to kill each other. Then we'll try the clamps again."
He smashed his fist into Thorus' face.

On the instant the commander pulled back his fist, Thorus reached out
and jerked the blaster from his belt. His foot came up hard against the
man's groin. There was a grunting cry of pain. Thorus fell backward off
the stool, pressing the blaster trigger as he hit the floor. He saw
blood gush from the commander's middle, saw him pitch sideways, like a
broken statue, heard Aria's scream. The clamps pulled from his head. He
swung the gun's muzzle to the two policemen, clawing at their holsters.
The blaster struck out, a long coughing hiss, a spray of flame. There
were cries and gasps and jerking and clutching and the scrambling fall
of the two bodies.

Then silence.

Thorus crawled unsteadily to his feet, stood swaying. The gun hung
loosely in his hand. Now he felt Aria close to him, heard her voice
trembling and breathy.

"Thorus! Are you all right?"

"Yes."

"The blocks held! They held!"

Steadying himself, he saw Aria glance at the bodies on the floor.

"Destruction!" she shuddered. "Nothing but destruction. Oh God, I'm sick
of it!"

Thorus let the gun drop to the floor. "There's no time to talk. Your
laboratory." He grasped her by the shoulders and turned her toward a
bright steel door across the room. "_You'll_ save time to go into your
damned microcosm. _You'll_ make it. Good luck. If I have any luck at
all, I'll make it too." He gave her a push. Without speaking or turning
back, she moved across the room, as though sleep walking. The gleaming
door slab slid back as she approached it, closed behind her.

The memory of her face stayed in his mind for a long moment after she
had disappeared, and from the room's atmosphere he seemed to breathe in
regret and a sense of their failure. He turned abruptly, looked down at
each crumpled body. Opening the door a crack, he searched the brightly
lighted street for the figure of a policeman, saw none, stepped outside
and ran.

       *       *       *       *       *

In her laboratory, Aria worked deftly, swiftly at the transparent
body-length cylinder. She checked wire connections, dials, buttons, then
opened one end of the tube, lowered herself into place, when she had
closed the tube, she lay still, the forefinger of her right hand resting
on a button.

During all these preparations, she was viewing, with her inner sight,
Thorus' tiny ship streaking through the night toward a distant mountain
peak where a small metal ball, large enough for one man, sat shrouded by
a screen of invisibility. Now she saw the streak of flame die in the
night and the tiny ship sitting motionless beside the metal ball; saw
Thorus open a hatch in the ball's side, let himself through the opening
and swing shut the circle of steel.

"Thank God," she said. "Whatever comes now, at least he's made it."

Wiping away the vision of him, she hesitated a moment, said goodby to
earth and life as she'd known it and would never know it again. A moment
of yearning for a chance to live safely and well as a wife and mother
swept her with sadness. The yearning held her finger from the button; a
final hugging of human love and full human life, a last lonely cry for
earth as she had known it in childhood with the press of wind and the
touch and sight of green growing things and the depth of blue above and
the ground beneath.

Feeling then as though she were plunging into midnight ocean depths, she
thrust her finger hard against the button!

Instantly light shimmered all about!

The room dissolved. A sense of dreaming too vividly, yet of being deep
in a sleep that was a thousand times more acutely awake than any
awakeness she had ever known filled all her being. She felt herself
sinking into a great bottomless depth and yet at the same time soaring
through space to the ends of the universe, until both falling and
soaring flowed into each other and became suspension. And then suddenly
she saw all things as one. She saw the intricate design of a snowflake
that was the snows of all the earth and a drop of water that held all
the oceans.

There was the rhythmic beating all around as though of a great,
omnipresent heart and the surge and flow of oceans of lifeblood and the
rise and fall of eternal breathing. A speck of soil was the soil of all
the earth, from which grew forests and fields of green. She let herself
out into the space of all this and was merely there, like time is, where
there is the motion and change of birth and death and birth again and
death again. She felt a gentle touch on her body that was the body of
all mankind and knew it for the touch of air, a single element of all
earth's winds that yet was all the clear winds of earth.

The next moment a thundrous roar crashed like a tidal wave. She felt a
gigantic shaking in all the snow and water, in the oceans and mountains,
in the air and wind, in the blood and life and beating heart. A
faltering of the rhythm and flow went, like a cosmic shudder, through
all this life and through her own being so that she was conscious of
nausea and ache and a violent flinging about.

She had a sense then of pulling within herself, like a sea anemone that
has been touched by an enemy.

And in her silent voice, she cried out, "Thorus!"

In the macrocosm. Thorus destroying! Destroying! The next instant her
inner sight swung back to where Thorus' ship, the shining metal ball,
had leapt up off the mountain of earth; leapt, in the fraction of a
second, through the blue earth covering into black, outer space. Her
inner sight saw the metal ball inflating, a cosmic balloon, flashing
like the sun, then seeming to fill the space between all the suns!

       *       *       *       *       *

Thorus, in his ship, was conscious of being a colossus that could step
from planet to planet as though he were using them for stones to cross a
pond of earth water. Step past the solar system, he thought, out into
the universe. Now the sun became a tiny ball of fire, a lightning bug,
the earth a grain of dust. He could blow out the light of the sun, flick
Earth and the other planets into nothingness. "I've broken through," he
thought. "I've done it! I've been released." And looking out and away,
he saw universe upon universe extending past infinity, it seemed, an
ocean without a horizon.

Now, said his thought, I will destroy all evil and I shall begin with
the evil of earth. As though he were looking through a microscope, he
focused his sight on the grain of dust that was earth. His fingers made
delicate adjustments on a dial, and earth, softly green and blue, swam
clearly into his vision. He magnified his sight of earth until he could
see all of it like a gigantic relief map. He saw the fortified places of
the Authority--great, spreading, shining, metal domes; saw them dotting
the earth; saw the lines of vehicles speeding back and forth between
them. He saw too the hamlets of the people, in the spaces between the
forts of the Authority, all places of squalor with row upon row of
boxlike houses, each exactly like the other. There were not any green
lawns or shade trees, only houses and streets and people moving about.

Thorus felt his anger rise. He pressed a button that flung out fields of
gravity. Earth rocked and heaved, like an animal in convulsions.
Volcanos exploded, shot out their flaming, poisonous refuse. Oceans were
monsters writhing and rolling in their troughs, reaching onto the land,
as though to pull it beneath them. And the land itself split wide and
snapped shut great, yawning jaws. There was a wild rushing about among
all the people, a madness, as though frantic motion would save them.
They looked up off the convulsed earth with panic stricken eyes, their
voices raised in agony.

Thorus' voice sounded, "The time for the death of the Authority has
come. I will crush them as though I were crushing snails." He reached
out from the ship with rays that seized meteors and flung them like a
schoolboy flinging stones at bottles, one by one against the massive,
shining domes of the Authority. The domes cracked and split and were
crushed. The atomic bombs broke open with flame that leapt up yellow
tongues and grew mushrooms in the sky, and a burning death spread all
around.

Then Thorus was quiet, watching all that he had destroyed.

But suddenly, he became aware of Aria's thought within him, crying out.
"Destroyer! Murderer! In moments you've set humanity back a hundred
thousand years. You're worse than the Authority. There'll never be any
peace for you or for the earth or even the universe after what you've
done. Other Authorities will come and you'll have to destroy them and
others and others. Destruction for you forever, on and on, until you
fill the universe with it...."

In his mind, Thorus saw her among the falling snowflakes and the drops
of cool water and the green, growing atoms; saw her in the transparent
tube sink deeper and deeper into the microcosm, away and away like a
minnow swimming down into a beautiful lake on a summer's day. Deeper,
ever deeper, until there was nothing but the blue, sleepy water.

As Thorus looked upon the earth again and saw the terrible destruction
he had wrought, he trembled. There was the realization in him that,
beneath his consciousness, had lain the hope that, after he had wiped
clean the earth, Aria's healing power would remake it. But now there
would be no healing, and for thousands of years earth would lie a
smoking ruins with the people crawling about its shattered surface like
bugs.

He turned from all he saw. He closed his eyes and threw his ship out
into space, threw it away into the fathomless void. He must escape from
the universe, must flee from the horror that filled him at the
desolation he had wrought. Straight out into space, out into the
forever, where earth would cease to exist, where he and his remorse
would be lost.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gleaming suns and galaxies streaked past yet he seemed within himself to
be hanging motionless in an infinite sea of blackness while he knew that
the speed of him cracked through the barrier of time and space; knew
that it was a speed beyond any conceived by the mind of man. On into
forgetfulness, escape beyond his memory, faster and farther away than
his mind, so far away that even earth would disappear in his thought.

As incredible distances stretched almost to breaking between himself and
earth, he thought: So this is the end. For all I've been and wanted to
be, this is it. A nothingness beyond the universe.

But as the last word went from his thought, he saw a greenish blue ball
of light rush toward him. He watched it inflate in the port. It
enveloped the whole ship. The suns and the galaxies had faded into
nothingness. He was aware of sinking into eternal depths but at the same
time he felt himself soaring until sinking and soaring flowed into each
other. After a time, he saw shimmering white crystals encircling his
ship. And then the encircling crystals became one snowflake reflecting
light like the moon.

A great wonder filled him and he stared in overwhelming awe. He heard
his own heartbeat in his body and outside the ship, holding the ship in
an eternal throbbing; heard the flowing of his own blood like a
turbulent river; heard his breathing become the ebb and flow of wind,
like the sound of surf. His body too became the soil of earth and its
rock and water and he was deeply conscious of growth all through him. He
was birth and death and he was both in one and he was the life of
mankind, of animals, of plants.

As he waited in what seemed to be eternity, sunlight broke into his
sight and he saw a field of grass forming around his ship. Blue sky swam
into focus above him. White cloud patches formed in the blue as though
they had been ordered there by the word of creation. Thorus knew then
that he was on earth again, that he had come up from deep inside it.

Rising up, like one awakening uncertainly from sleep in a strange room,
he opened the ship's hatch and looked out upon the land. A flash of
light caught his eyes then, from above, and he looked up in wonder.

He gasped.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aria, in the transparent cylinder, sinking down through the blue, like a
leaf, settling gently to the earth a hundred feet away.

She crawled out and stood looking across the field of grass at him, a
strange, smile on her face.

Thorus leaped from his ship and ran toward her. He ran silently. She
held out her hands and he grasped them tenderly, as he would grasp the
hands of a child. And all he could say was, "Aria. Aria."

"Thorus," she said, and there was courage and joy in her voice. "We've
come back."

They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment and then they were
close, and they held to each other and swayed.

"Do you know what's happened?" she said.

"Yes. You came back through hyper-space while _I_ came back through the
atoms." His voice was quiet. "Oh, Lord. Oh good and strange Lord. We
forgot that one of the great men twenty thousand years ago, proved that
space was curved."

"Yes." She stood away from him now, yet held to his hand. "We couldn't
escape from our place in life or ourselves or the good and the evil that
we have done. We came back to our earth and now we must do what we have
left undone."

There was much to be done.

Thorus looked around. He saw in the distance a crushed and smoking
ruins. "I've destroyed the Authority, but I've destroyed too much. Now
the people are in chaos."

Aria stood silently awhile, and then moved his arm. "But now you can
help me to heal them. You've seen in the microcosm, as I have in the
macrocosm that all life is one. Now we can show the people that outer
and inner space are not separate. We can show them how they exist
together and how there can be no escape in either or from either. It
will take a long time. But we will do it. And the doing will be grand."
She paused. "The beginning and the end, Thorus. The greatness and the
smallness. The light and the darkness. It's all here."

"And all that's in between. That too."

"Yes," she answered quietly. "That too."

They turned to the smoking ruins and arm in arm began walking toward it.


                    THE END


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber Notes:

This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction May 1953.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.


"Obvious punctuation errors repaired."

Page 100 (page 8 of this ebook) baloon spelling corrected to balloon





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