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´╗┐Title: Plague of Pythons
Author: Pohl, Frederik
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 "Plague of Pythons" ***

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



                           PLAGUE OF PYTHONS

                           By FREDERIK POHL

                         Illustrated by RITTER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Galaxy Magazine October and December 1962.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



             The pythons had entered into Mankind. No man
              knew at what moment he might be Possessed!


Because of the crowd they held Chandler's trial in the all-purpose room
of the high school. It smelled of leather and stale sweat. He walked up
the three steps to the stage, with the bailiff's hand on his elbow, and
took his place at the defendant's table.

Chandler's lawyer looked at him without emotion. He was appointed by
the court. He was willing to do his job, but his job didn't require him
to like his client. All he said was, "Stand up. The judge is coming in."

Chandler got to his feet and leaned on the table while the bailiff
chanted his call and the chaplain read some verses from John. He did
not listen. The Bible verse came too late to help him, and besides he
ached.

When the police arrested him they had not been gentle. There were four
of them. They were from the plant's own security force and carried
no guns. They didn't need any; Chandler had put up no resistance
after the first few moments--that is, he stopped as soon as he could
stop--but the police hadn't stopped. He remembered that very clearly.
He remembered the nightstick across the side of his head that left his
ear squashed and puffy, he remembered the kick in the gut that still
made walking painful. He even remembered the series of blows about the
skull that had knocked him out.

The bruises along his rib cage and left arm, though, he did not
remember getting. Obviously the police had been mad enough to keep
right on subduing him after he was already unconscious.

Chandler did not blame them--exactly. He supposed he would have done
the same thing.

The judge was having a long mumble with the court stenographer
apparently about something which had happened in the Union House the
night before. Chandler knew Judge Ellithorp slightly. He did not
expect to get a fair trial. The previous December the judge himself,
while possessed, had smashed the transmitter of the town's radio
station, which he owned, and set fire to the building it occupied. His
son-in-law had been killed in the fire.

Laughing, the judge waved the reporter back to his seat and glanced
around the courtroom. His gaze touched Chandler lightly, like the
flick of the hanging strands of cord that precede a railroad tunnel.
The touch carried the same warning. What lay ahead for Chandler was
destruction.

"Read the charge," ordered Judge Ellithorp. He spoke very loudly.
There were more than six hundred persons in the auditorium; the judge
didn't want any of them to miss a word.

The bailiff ordered Chandler to stand and informed him that he was
accused of having, on the seventeenth day of June last, committed on
the person of Margaret Flershem, a minor, an act of rape--"Louder!"
ordered the judge testily.

"Yes, Your Honor," said the bailiff, and inflated his chest. "An Act
of Rape under Threat of Bodily Violence," he cried; "and Did Further
Commit on the Person of Said Margaret Flershem an Act of Aggravated
Assault--"

Chandler rubbed his aching side, looking at the ceiling. He remembered
the look in Peggy Flershem's eyes as he forced himself on her. She was
only sixteen years old, and at that time he hadn't even known her name.

The bailiff boomed on: "--and Did Further Commit on that Same
Seventeenth Day of June Last on the Person of Ingovar Porter an Act of
Assault with Intent to Rape, the Foregoing Being a True Bill Handed
Down by the Grand Jury of Sepulpas County in Extraordinary Session
Assembled, the Eighteenth Day of June Last."

Judge Ellithorp looked satisfied as the bailiff sat down, quite winded.
While the judge hunted through the papers on his desk the crowd in the
auditorium stirred and murmured.

A child began to cry.

       *       *       *       *       *

The judge stood up and pounded his gavel. "What is it? What's the
matter with him? You, Dundon!" The court attendant the judge was
looking at hurried over and spoke to the child's mother, then reported
to the judge.

"I dunno, Your Honor. All he says is something scared him."

The judge was enraged. "Well, that's just fine! Now we have to take up
the time of all these good people, probably for no reason, and hold up
the business of this court, just because of a child. Bailiff! I want
you to clear this courtroom of all children under--" he hesitated,
calculating voting blocks in his head--"all children under the age
of six. Dr. Palmer, are you there? Well, you better go ahead with
the--prayer." The judge could not make himself say "the exorcism."

"I'm sorry, madam," he added to the mother of the crying two-year-old.
"If you have someone to leave the child with, I'll instruct the
attendants to save your place for you." She was also a voter.

Dr. Palmer rose, very grave, as he was embarrassed. He glared around
the all-purpose room, defying anyone to smile, as he chanted: "Domina
Pythonis, I command you, leave! Leave, Hel! Leave, Heloym! Leave,
Sother and Thetragrammaton, leave, all unclean ones! I command you!
In the name of God, in all of His manifestations!" He sat down again,
still very grave. He knew that he did not make nearly as fine a showing
as Father Lon, with his resonant _in nomina Jesu Christi et Sancti
Ubaldi_ and his censer, but the post of exorcist was filled in strict
rotation, one month to a denomination, ever since the troubles started.
Dr. Palmer was a Unitarian. Exorcisms had not been in the curriculum at
the seminary and he had been forced to invent his own.

Chandler's lawyer tapped him on the shoulder. "Last chance to change
your mind," he said.

"No. I'm not guilty, and that's the way I want to plead."

The lawyer shrugged and stood up, waiting for the judge to notice him.

Chandler, for the first time, allowed himself to meet the eyes of the
crowd.

He studied the jury first. He knew some of them casually--it was not a
big enough town to command a jury of total strangers for any defendant,
and Chandler had lived there most of his life. He recognized Pop
Matheson, old and very stiff, who ran the railroad station cigar stand.
Two of the other men were familiar as faces passed in the street. The
forewoman, though, was a stranger. She sat there very composed and
frowning, and all he knew about her was that she wore funny hats.
Yesterday's had been red roses when she was selected from the panel;
today's was, of all things, a stuffed bird.

He did not think that any of them were possessed. He was not so sure of
the audience.

He saw girls he had dated in high school, long before he met Margot;
men he worked with at the plant. They all glanced at him, but he was
not sure who was looking out through some of those familiar eyes. The
visitors reliably watched all large gatherings, at least momentarily;
it would be surprising if none of them were here.

"All right, how do you plead," said Judge Ellithorp at last.

Chandler's lawyer straightened up. "Not guilty, Your Honor, by reason
of temporary pandemic insanity."

The judge looked pleased. The crowd murmured, but they were
pleased too. They had him dead to rights and it would have been a
disappointment if Chandler had pleaded guilty. They wanted to see
one of the vilest criminals in contemporary human society caught,
exposed, convicted and punished; they did not want to miss a step of
the process. Already in the playground behind the school three deputies
from the sheriff's office were loading their rifles, while the school
janitor chalked lines around the handball court to mark where the crowd
witnessing the execution would be permitted to stand.

       *       *       *       *       *

The prosecution made its case very quickly. Mrs. Porter testified
that she worked at McKelvey Bros., the antibiotics plant, where the
defendant also worked. Yes, that was him. She had been attracted by the
noise from the culture room last--let's see--"Was it the seventeenth
day of June last?" prompted the prosecutor, and Chandler's attorney
instinctively gathered his muscles to rise, hesitated, glanced at
his client and shrugged. That was right, it was the seventeenth.
Incautiously she went right into the room. She should have known
better, she admitted. She should have called the plant police right
away, but, well, they hadn't had any trouble at the plant, you
know, and--well, she didn't. She was a stupid woman, for all that
she was rather good-looking, and insatiably curious. She had seen
Peggy Flershem on the floor. "She was all _blood_. And her clothes
were--And she was, I mean her--her body was--" With relentless tact the
prosecutor allowed her to stammer out her observation that the girl had
clearly been raped. And she had seen Chandler laughing and breaking up
the place, throwing racks of cultures through the windows, upsetting
trays. Of course she had crossed herself and tried a quick exorcism but
there was no visible effect; then Chandler had leaped at her. "He was
_hateful_! He was just _foul_!" But as he began to attack her the plant
police came, drawn by her screams.

Chandler's attorney did not question.

Peggy Flershem's deposition was introduced without objection from the
defense. But she had little to say anyway, having been dazed at first
and unconscious later. The plant police testified to having arrested
Chandler; a doctor described in chaste medical words the derangements
Chandler had worked on Peggy Flershem's virgin anatomy. There was no
question from Chandler's lawyer--and, for that matter, nothing to
question. Chandler did not hope to pretend that he had not ravished and
nearly killed one girl, then done his best to repeat the process on
another. Sitting there as the doctor testified, Chandler was able to
tally every break and bruise against the memory of what his own body
had done. He had been a spectator then, too, as remote from the event
as he was now; but that was why they had him on trial. That was what
they did not believe.

At twelve-thirty the prosecution rested its case, Judge Ellithorp
looking very pleased. He recessed the court for one hour for lunch, and
the guards took Chandler back to the detention cell in the basement of
the school.

Two Swiss cheese sandwiches and a wax-paper carton of chocolate
milk were on the desk. They were Chandler's lunch. As they had been
standing, the sandwiches were crusty and the milk lukewarm. He ate them
anyway. He knew what the judge looked pleased about. At one-thirty
Chandler's lawyer would put him on the stand, and no one would pay
very much attention to what he had to say, and the jury would be out
at most twenty minutes, and the verdict would be guilty. The judge was
pleased because he would be able to pronounce sentence no later than
four o'clock, no matter what. They had formed the habit of holding the
executions at sundown. As, at that time of year, sundown was after
seven, it would all go very well--for everyone but Chandler. For
Chandler it would be the end.


II

The odd thing about Chandler's dilemma was not merely that he was
innocent--in a way, that is--but that many who were guilty (in a way;
as guilty as he himself, at any rate) were free and honored citizens.
Chandler himself was a widower because his own wife had been murdered.
He had seen the murderer leaving the scene of the crime, and the man
he had seen was in the courtroom today, watching Chandler's own trial.
Of the six hundred or so in the court, at least fifty were known to
have taken part in one or more provable acts of murder, rape, arson,
theft, sodomy, vandalism, assault and battery or a dozen other offenses
indictable under the laws of the state. Of course, that could be said
of almost any community in the world in those years; Chandler's was not
unique. What had put Chandler in the dock was not what his body had
been seen to do, but the place in which it had been seen to do it. For
everybody knew that medicine and agriculture were never molested by the
demons.

Chandler's own lawyer had pointed that out to him the day before the
trial. "If it was anywhere but at the McKelvey plant, all right, but
there's never been any trouble there. You know that. The trouble with
you laymen is you think of lawyers in terms of Perry Mason, right?
Rabbit out of the hat stuff. Well, I can't do that. I can only present
your case, whatever it is, the best way possible. And the best thing
I can do for your case right now is tell you you haven't got one." At
that time the lawyer was still trying to be fair. He was even casting
around for some thought he could use to convince himself that his
client was innocent, though he had frankly admitted as soon as he
introduced himself that he didn't have much hope there.

Chandler protested that he didn't have to commit rape. He'd been a
widower for a year, but--

"Wait a minute," said the lawyer. "Listen. You can't make an ordinary
claim of possession stick, but what about good old-fashioned insanity?"
Chandler looked puzzled, so the lawyer explained. Wasn't it possible
that Chandler was--consciously, subconsciously, unconsciously, call it
what you will--trying to get revenge for what had happened to his own
wife?

No, said Chandler, certainly not! But then he had to stop and think.
After all, he had never been possessed before; in fact, he had always
retained a certain skepticism about "possession"--it seemed like such a
convenient way for anyone to do any illicit thing he chose--until the
moment when he looked up to see Peggy Flershem walking into the culture
room with a tray of agar disks, and was astonished to find himself
striking her with the wrench in his hand and ripping at her absurdly
floral-printed slacks. Maybe his case was different. Maybe it wasn't
the sort of possession that struck at random; maybe he was just off his
rocker.

Margot, his wife, had been cut up cruelly. He had seen his friend, Jack
Souther, leaving his home hurriedly as he approached; and although he
had thought that the stains on his clothes looked queerly like blood,
nothing in that prepared him for what he found in the rumpus room.
It had taken him some time to identify the spread-out dissection on
the floor with his wife Margot.... "No," he told his lawyer, "I was
shaken up, of course. The worst time was the next night, when there
was a knock on the door and I opened it and it was Jack. He'd come
to apologize. I--fell apart; but I got over it. I tell you I was
possessed, that's all."

"And I tell you that defense will put you right in front of a firing
squad," said his lawyer. "And _that's_ all."

       *       *       *       *       *

Five or six others had been executed for hoaxing; Chandler was familiar
with the ritual. He even understood it, in a way. The world had gone to
pot in the previous two years. The real enemy was out of reach; when
any citizen might run wild and, when caught, relapse into his own self,
terrified and sick, there was a need to strike back. But the enemy was
invisible. The hoaxers were only whipping boys--but they were the only
targets vengeance had.

The real enemy had struck the entire world in a single night. One
day the people of the world went about their business in the gloomy
knowledge that they were likely to make mistakes but with, at least,
the comfort that the mistakes would be their own. The next day had
no such comfort. The next day anyone, anywhere, was likely to find
himself seized, possessed, working evil or whimsy without intention and
helplessly.

Chandler stood up, kicked the balled-up wax paper from his sandwiches
across the floor and swore violently.

He was beginning to wake from the shock that had gripped him. "Damn
fool," he said to himself. He had no particular reason. Like the
world, he needed a whipping boy too, if only himself. "Damn fool, you
know they're going to shoot you!"

He stretched and twisted his body violently, alone in the middle of the
room, in silence. He _had_ to wake up. He _had_ to start thinking. In a
quarter of an hour or less the court would reconvene, and from then it
was only a steady, quick slide to the grave.

It was better to do anything than to do nothing. He examined the
windows of his improvised cell. They were above his head and barred;
standing on the table, he could see feet walking outside, in the paved
play-yard of the school. He discarded the thought of escaping that
way; there was no one to smuggle him a file, and there was no time.
He studied the door to the hall. It was not impossible that when the
guard opened it he could jump him, knock him out, run ... run where?
The room had been a storage place for athletic equipment at the end of
a hall; the hall led only to the stairs and the stairs emerged into the
courtroom. It was quite likely, he thought, that the hall had another
flight of stairs somewhere farther along, or through another room. What
had he spent his taxes on these years, if not for schools designed with
more than one exit in case of fire? But as he had not thought to mark
an escape route when he was brought in, it did him no good.

The guard, however, had a gun. Chandler lifted up an edge of the table
and tried to shake one of the legs. They did not shake; that part of
his taxes had been well enough spent, he thought wryly. The chair?
Could he smash the chair to get a club, which would give him a weapon
to get the guard's gun?...

Before he reached the chair the door opened and his lawyer came in.

"Sorry I'm late," he said briskly. "Well. As your attorney I have to
tell you they've presented a damaging case. As I see it--"

"What case?" Chandler demanded. "I never denied the acts. What else did
they prove?"

"Oh, God!" said his lawyer, not quite loudly enough to be insulting.
"Do we have to go over that again? Your claim of possession would make
a defense if it had happened anywhere else. We know that these cases
exist, but we also know that they follow a pattern. Some areas seem to
be immune--medical establishments, pharmaceutical plants among them. So
they proved that all this happened in a pharmaceutical plant. I advise
you to plead guilty."

Chandler sat down on the edge of the table, controlling himself very
well, he thought. He only asked: "Would that do me any good at all?"

The lawyer reflected, gazing at the ceiling. "... No. I guess it
wouldn't."

Chandler nodded. "So what else shall we talk about? Want to compare
notes about where you were and I was the night the President went
possessed?"

The lawyer was irritated. He kept his mouth shut for a moment until he
thought he could keep from showing it. Outside a vendor was hawking
amulets: "St. Ann beads! Witch knots! Fresh garlic, local grown, best
in town!" The lawyer shook his head.

"All right," he said, "it's your life. We'll do it your way. Anyway,
time's up; Sergeant Grantz will be banging on the door any minute."

He zipped up his briefcase. Chandler did not move. "They don't give
us much time anyway," the lawyer added, angry at Chandler and at
hoaxers in general but not willing to say so. "Grantz is a stickler for
promptness."

Chandler found a crumb of cheese by his hand and absently ate it. The
lawyer watched him and glanced at his watch. "Oh, hell," he said,
picked up his briefcase and kicked the base of the door. "Grantz!
What's the matter with you? You asleep out there?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler was sworn, gave his name, admitted the truth of everything the
previous witnesses had said. The faces were still aimed at him, every
one. He could not read them at all any more, could not tell if they
were friendly or hating, there were too many and they all had eyes. The
jurors sat on their funeral-parlor chairs like cadavers, embalmed and
propped, the dead witnessing a wake for the living. Only the forewoman
in the funny hat showed signs of life, looking alertly at Chandler,
at the judge, at the man next to her, around the auditorium. Maybe it
was a good sign. At least she did not have the frozen in concrete,
guilty-as-hell look of the others.

His attorney asked him the question he had been waiting for: "Tell
us, in your own words, what happened." Chandler opened his mouth, and
paused. Curiously, he had forgotten what he wanted to say. He had
rehearsed this moment again and again; but all that came out was:

"I didn't do it. I mean, I did the acts, but I was possessed. That's
all. Others have done worse, under the same circumstances, and been
let off. Just as Fisher was acquitted for murdering the Learnards, as
Draper got off after what he did to the Cline boy. As Jack Souther
over there was let off after he murdered my own wife. They should
be. They couldn't help themselves. Whatever this thing is that takes
control, I know it can't be fought. My God, you can't even _try_ to
fight it!"

He was not getting through. The faces had not changed. The forewoman
of the jury was now searching systematically through her pocketbook,
taking each item out and examining it, putting it back and taking
out another. But between times she looked at him and at least her
expression wasn't hostile. He said, addressing her:

"That's all there is to it. It wasn't me running my body. It was
someone else. I swear it before all of you, and before God."

The prosecutor did not bother to question him.

Chandler went back to his seat and sat down and watched the next twenty
minutes go by in the wink of an eye, rapid, rapid, they were in a hurry
to shoot him. He could hardly believe that Judge Ellithorp could speak
so fast, the jurymen rise and file out at a gallop, zip, whisk, and
they were back again. Too fast! he cried silently, time had gone into
high gear; but he knew that it was only his imagination. The twenty
minutes had been a full twelve hundred seconds. And then time, as if
to make amends, came to a stop, abrupt, brakes-on. The judge asked the
jury for their verdict and it was an eternity before the forewoman
arose.

She was beginning to look rather disheveled. Beaming at
Chandler--_surely_ the woman was rather odd, it couldn't be just his
imagination--she fumbled in her pocketbook for the slip of paper with
the verdict. But she wore an expression of suppressed laughter.

"I _knew_ I had it," she cried triumphantly and waved the slip above
her head. "Now, let's see." She held it before her eyes and squinted.
"Oh, yes. Judge, we the jury, and so forth and so on--"

She paused to wink at Judge Ellithorp. An uncertain worried murmur
welled up in the auditorium. "All that junk, Judge," she explained,
"anyway, we unanimously--but _unanimously_, love!--find this son of a
bitch innocent. Why," she giggled, "we think he ought to get a medal,
you know? I tell you what you do, love, you go right over and give him
a big wet kiss and say you're sorry." She kept on talking, but no one
heard. The murmur became a mass scream.

"Stop, stop her!" bawled the judge, dropping his glasses. "Bailiff!"

The scream became a word, in many voices chorused: _Possessed!_ And
beyond doubt the woman was. The men around her hurled themselves away,
as from leprosy among them, and then washed back like a lynch mob. She
was giggling as they fell on her. "Got a cigarette? No cigarettes in
this lousy bag--oh." She screamed as they touched her, went limp and
screamed again.

It was a different note this time, pure hysteria: "I couldn't _stop_.
Oh, _God_."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler caught his lawyer by the arm and jerked him away from staring
at the scene. All of a sudden he was alive again. "You, damn it.
Listen! The jury acquitted me, right?"

The lawyer was startled. "Don't be ridiculous. It's a clear case of--"

"Be a lawyer, man! You live on technicalities, don't you? Make this one
work for me!"

The attorney gave him a queer, thoughtful look, hesitated, shrugged and
got to his feet. He had to shout to be heard. "Your honor! I take it my
client is free to go."

He made almost as much of a stir as the sobbing woman, but he
outshouted the storm. "The jury's verdict is on record. Granted there
was an _apparent_ case of possession. Nevertheless--"

Judge Ellithorp yelled back: "No nonsense, you! Listen to me, young
man--"

The lawyer snapped, "Permission to approach the bench."

"Granted."

Chandler sat unable to move, watching the brief, stormy conference.
It was painful to be coming back to life. It was agony to hope. At
least, he thought detachedly, his lawyer was fighting for him; the
prosecutor's face was a thundercloud.

The lawyer came back, with the expression of a man who has won a
victory he did not expect, and did not want. "Your last chance,
Chandler. Change your plea to guilty."

"But--"

"Don't push your luck, boy! The judge has agreed to accept a plea.
They'll throw you out of town, of course. But you'll be alive."
Chandler hesitated. "Make up your mind! The best I can do otherwise is
a mistrial, and that means you'll get convicted by another jury next
week."

Chandler said, testing his luck: "You're sure they'll keep their end of
the bargain?"

The lawyer shook his head, his expression that of a man who smells
something unpleasant. "Your honor! I ask you to discharge the jury. My
client wishes to change his plea."

... In the school's chemistry lab, an hour later, Chandler discovered
that the lawyer had left out one little detail. Outside there was a
sound of motors idling, the police car that would dump him at the
town's limits; inside was a thin, hollow hiss. It was the sound of a
Bunsen burner, and in its blue flame a crudely shaped iron changed
slowly from cherry to orange to glowing straw. It had the shape of a
letter "H".

"H" for "hoaxer." The mark they were about to put on his forehead would
be with him wherever he went and as long as he lived, which would
probably not be long. "H" for "hoaxer," so that a glance would show
that he had been convicted of the worst offense of all.

No one spoke to him as the sheriff's man took the iron out of the fire,
but three husky policemen held his arms while he screamed.


III

The pain was still burning when Chandler awoke the next day. He wished
he had a bandage, but he didn't, and that was that.

He was in a freight car--had hopped it on the run at the yards, daring
to sneak back into town long enough for that. He could not hope to
hitchhike, with that mark on him. Anyway, hitchhiking was an invitation
to trouble.

The railroads were safer--far safer than either cars or air transport,
notoriously a lightning-rod attracting possession. Chandler was
surprised when the train came crashing to a stop, each freight car
smashing against the couplings of the one ahead, the engine jolting
forward and stopping again.

Then there was silence. It endured.

Chandler, who had been slowly waking after a night of very little
sleep, sat up against the wall of the boxcar and wondered what was
wrong.

It seemed remiss to start a day without signing the Cross or hearing a
few exorcismal verses. It seemed to be mid-morning, time for work to
be beginning at the plant. The lab men would be streaming in, their
amulets examined at the door. The chaplains would be wandering about,
ready to pray a possessing spirit out. Chandler, who kept an open mind,
had considerable doubt of the effectiveness of all the amulets and
spells--certainly they had not kept him from a brutal rape--but he felt
uneasy without them.... The train still was not moving. In the silence
he could hear the distant huffing of the engine.

He went to the door, supporting himself with one hand on the wooden
wall, and looked out.

The tracks followed the roll of a river, their bed a few feet higher
than an empty three-lane highway, which in turn was a dozen feet above
the water. As he looked out the engine brayed twice. The train jolted
uncertainly, then stopped again.

Then there was a very long time when nothing happened at all.

From Chandler's car he could not see the engine. He was on the convex
of the curve, and the other door of the car was sealed. He did not need
to see it to know that something was wrong. There should have been a
brakeman running with a flare to ward off other trains; but there was
not. There should have been a station, or at least a water tank, to
account for the stop in the first place. There was not. Something had
gone wrong, and Chandler knew what it was. Not the details, but the
central fact that lay behind this and behind almost everything that
went wrong these days.

The engineer was possessed. It had to be that.

Yet it was odd, he thought, as odd as his own trouble. He had chosen
this car with care. It contained eight refrigerator cars full of
pharmaceuticals, and if anything was known about the laws governing
possession, as his lawyer had told him, it was that such things were
almost never interfered with.

Chandler jumped down to the roadbed, slipped on the crushed rock and
almost fell. He had forgotten the wound on his forehead. He clutched
the sill of the car door, where an ankh and fleur-de-lis had been
chalked to ward off demons, until the sudden rush of blood subsided and
the pain began to relent. After a moment he walked gingerly to the end
of the car, slipped between the cars, dodged the couplers and climbed
the ladder to its roof.

It was a warm, bright, silent day. Nothing moved. From his height he
could see the Diesel at the front of the train and the caboose at its
rear. No people. The train was halted a quarter-mile from where the
tracks swooped across the river on a suspension bridge. Away from the
river, the side of the tracks that had been hidden from him before, was
an uneven rock cut and, above it, the slope of a mountain.

By looking carefully he could spot the signs of a number of homes
within half a mile or so--the corner of a roof, a glassed-in porch
built to command a river view, a twenty-foot television antenna poking
through the trees. There was also the curve of a higher road along
which the homes were strung.

Chandler took thought. He was alive and free, two gifts more gracious
than he had had any right to expect. However, he would need food and
he would need at least some sort of bandage for his forehead. He had
a wool cap, stolen from the high school, which would hide the mark,
though what it would do to the burn on his skin was something else
again.

Chandler climbed down the ladder. With considerable pain he gentled
the cap over the great raw H on his forehead and began to climb the
mountain.

       *       *       *       *       *

He knocked on the first door he came to, a great old three-story house
with well tended gardens.

There was a wait. The air smelled warmly of honeysuckle and mown
grass, with wild onions chopped down by the blades of the mower. It
was pleasant, or would have been in happier times. He knocked again,
peremptorily, and the door was opened at once. Evidently someone had
been right inside, listening.

A man stared at him. "Stranger, what do you want?" He was short, plump,
with an extremely thick and unkempt beard. It did not appear to have
been grown for its own sake, for where the facial hair could not be
coaxed to grow his skin had the gross pits of old acne.

Chandler said glibly: "Good morning. I'm working my way east. I need
something to eat and I'm willing to work for it."

The man withdrew, leaving the upper half of the Dutch door open. As it
looked in on only a vestibule it did not tell Chandler much. There was
one curious thing--a lath and cardboard sign, shaped like an arc of a
rainbow, lettered:

    WELCOME TO ORPHALESE

He puzzled over it and dismissed it. The entrance room, apart from
the sign, had a knickknack shelf of Japanese carved ivory and an
old-fashioned umbrella rack, but that added nothing to his knowledge.
He had already guessed that the owners of this home were well off. Also
it had been recently painted; so they were not demoralized, as so much
of the world had been demoralized, by the coming of the possessors.
Even the elaborate sculpturing of its hedges had been maintained.

The man came back and with him was a girl of fifteen or so. She was
tall, slim and rather homely, with a large jaw and an oval face. "Guy,
he's not much to look at," she said to the pockmarked man. "Meggie,
shall I let him in?" he asked. "Guy, you might as well," she
shrugged, staring at Chandler with interest but not sympathy.

"Stranger, come along," said the man named Guy, and led him through a
short hall into an enormous living room, a room two stories high with a
ten-foot fireplace.

Chandler's first thought was that he had stumbled in upon a wake. The
room was neatly laid out in rows of folding chairs, more than half of
them occupied. He entered from the side, but all the occupants of the
chairs were looking toward him. He returned their stares; he had had
a good deal of practice lately in looking back at staring faces, he
reflected. "Stranger, go on," said the man who had let him in, nudging
him, "and meet the people of Orphalese."

Chandler hardly heard him. He had not expected anything like this. It
was a meeting, a Daumier caricature of a Thursday Afternoon Literary
Circle, old men with faces like moons, young women with faces like
hags. They were strained, haggard and fearful, and a surprising number
of them showed some sort of physical defect, a bandaged leg, an arm in
a sling or merely the marks of pain on the features. "Stranger, go in,"
repeated the man, and it was only then that Chandler noticed the man
was holding a pistol, pointed at his head.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler sat in the rear of the room, watching. There must be thousands
of little colonies like this, he reflected; with the breakdown of
long-distance communication the world had been atomized. There was a
real fear, well justified, of living in large groups, for they too were
lightning rods for possession. The world was stumbling along, but it
was lame in all its members; a planetary lobotomy had stolen from it
its wisdom and plan. If, he reflected dryly, it had ever had any.

But of course things were better in the old days. The world had seemed
on the brink of blowing itself up, but at least it was by its own hand.
Then came Christmas.

It had happened at Christmas, and the first sign was on nation-wide
television. The old President, balding, grave and plump, was making a
special address to the nation, urging good will to men and, please,
artificial trees because of the fire danger in the event of H-bomb
raids; in the middle of a sentence twenty million viewers had seen him
stop, look dazedly around and say, in a breathless mumble, what sounded
like: "_Disht dvornyet ilgt_." He had then picked up the Bible on the
desk before him and thrown it at the television camera.

The last the televiewers had seen was the fluttering pages of the Book,
growing larger as it crashed against the lens, then a flicker and a
blinding shot of the studio lights as the cameraman jumped away and
the instrument swiveled to stare mindlessly upward. Twenty minutes
later the President was dead, as his Secretary of Health and Welfare,
hurrying with him back to the White House, calmly took a hand grenade
from a Marine guard at the gate and blew the President's party to
fragments.

For the President's seizure was only the first and most conspicuous.
"_Disht dvornyet ilgt._" C.I.A. specialists were playing the tapes
of the broadcast feverishly, electronically cleaning the mumble and
stir from the studio away from the words to try to learn, first, the
language and second what the devil it meant; but the President who
ordered it was dead before the first reel spun, and his successor was
not quite sworn in when it became his time to die. The ceremony was
interrupted for an emergency call from the War Room, where a very
nearly hysterical four-star general was trying to explain why he had
ordered the immediate firing of every live missile in his command
against Washington, D. C.

Over five hundred missiles were involved. In most of the sites the
order was disobeyed, but in six of them, unfortunately, unquestioning
discipline won out, thus ending not only the swearing in, the general's
weeping explanation, the spinning of tapes, but also some two million
lives in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and (through
malfunctioning relays on two missiles) Pennsylvania and Vermont. But it
was only the beginning.

       *       *       *       *       *

These were the first cases of possession seen by the world in some
five hundred years, since the great casting out of devils of the
Middle Ages. A thousand more occurred in the next few days, a hundred
in the next hours. The timetable was made up out of scattered reports
in the wire-service newsrooms, while they still had facilities
for spot coverage in any part of the world. (That lasted almost a
week.) They identified 237 cases of possession by noon of the next
day. Disregarding the dubious items--the Yankee pitcher who leaped
from the Manhattan bridge (he had Bright's disease), the warden of
San Quentin who seated himself in the gas chamber and, literally,
kicked the bucket (did he know the Grand Jury was subpoenaing his
books?)--disregarding these, the chronology of major cases that evening
was:

8:27 PM, E.S.T.: President has attack on television.

8:28 PM, E.S.T.: Prime Minister of England orders bombing raid against
Israel, alleging secret plot (order not carried out).

8:28 PM, E.S.T.: Captain of SSN _Ethan Allen_, surfaced near Montauk
Point, orders crash dive and course change, proceeding submerged at
flank speed to New York Harbor.

9:10 PM, E.S.T.: Eastern Airlines six-engine jet makes wheels-up
landing on roof of Pentagon, breaking some 1500 windows but causing no
other major damage (except to the people aboard the jet); record of
this incident fragmentary because entire site charred black in fusion
attack two hours later.

9:23 PM, E.S.T.: Rosalie Pan, musical-comedy star, jumps off stage,
runs up center aisle and vanishes in cab, wearing beaded bra, G-string
and $2500 headdress. Her movements are traced to Newark airport where
she boards TWA jetliner, which is never seen again.

9:50 PM, E.S.T.: Entire S.A.C. fleet of 1200 jet bombers takes off
for rendezvous over Newfoundland, where 72% are compelled to ditch
as tankers fail to keep refueling rendezvous. (Orders committing the
aircraft originate with S.A.C. commander, found to be a suicide.)

10.14 PM, E.S.T.: Submarine fusion explosion destroys 40% of New York
City. Analysis of fallout indicates U.S. Navy Polaris missiles were
detonated underwater in bay; by elimination it is deduced that the
submarine was the _Ethan Allen_.

10:50 PM, E.S.T.: President's party assassinated by Secretary of
Health, Education and Welfare; Secretary then dies on bayonet of Marine
guard who furnished the grenade.

10:55 PM, E.S.T. Satellite stations observe great nuclear explosions in
China and Tibet.

11:03 PM, E.S.T.: Heavily loaded munitions barges exploded near North
Sea dikes of Holland; dikes breached, 1800 square miles of reclaimed
land flooded out....

And so on. The incidents were countless. But before long, before even
the C.I.A. had finished the first playthrough of the tapes, before
their successors in the task identified _Disht dvornyet ilgt_ as a
Ukrainian dialect rendering of, My God, it works!--before all this, one
fact was already apparent. There were many incidents scattered around
the world, but not one of them took place in Russia itself.

       *       *       *       *       *

Warsaw was ablaze, China pockmarked with blasts, East Berlin demolished
along with its western sector, in eight rounds fired from a U.S. Army
nuclear cannon. But the U.S.S.R. had not suffered at all, as far as
could be told by the prying eyes in orbit; and that fact was reason
enough for it to suffer very greatly very soon.

Within minutes of this discovery what remained of the military strength
of the Western world was roaring through airless space toward the most
likely targets of the East.

One unscathed missile base in Alaska completed a full shoot, seven
missiles with fusion war-heads. The three American bases that survived
at all in the Mediterranean fired what they had. Even Britain, which
had already watched the fire-tails of the American missiles departing
on suicide missions, managed to resurrect its own two prototype
Blue Streaks from their racks, where they had moldered since the
cancellation of the British missile program. One of these museum-pieces
destroyed itself in launching, but the other chugged painfully across
the sky, the tortoise following the flight of the hares. It arrived a
full half-hour after the newer, hotter missiles. It might as well not
have bothered. There was not much left to destroy.

It was fortunate for the Communists that most of the Western arsenal
had already spent itself in suicide. What was left wiped out Moscow,
Leningrad and nine other cities. It was even fortunate for the whole
world, for this was the Apocalypse they had dreaded, every possible
nuclear weapon committed. But the circumstances were such--hasty
orders, often at once recalled; confusion; panic--that most were
unfused, many others merely tore great craters in the quickly healing
surface of the sea. The fallout was locally murderous but quite spotty.

And the conventional forces invading Russia found nothing to fight. The
Russians were as confused as they. There were not many survivors of the
very top brass, and no one seemed to know just what had happened.

Was the Secretary of the C.P., U.S.S.R. behind that terrible brief
agony? As he was dead before it was over, there was no way to tell.
More than a quarter of a billion lives went into mushroom-shaped
clouds, and nearly half of them were Russian, Latvian, Tatar and
Kalmuck. The Peace Commission squabbled for a month, until the
breakdown of communications cut them off from their governments and
each other; and in that way, for a time, there was peace.

       *       *       *       *       *

This was the sort of peace that was left, thought Chandler looking
around at the queer faces and queerer surroundings, the peace of
medieval baronies, cut off from the world, untouched where the rain
of fallout had passed by but hardly civilized any more. Even his own
home town, trying to take his life in a form of law, reduced at last
to torture and exile to cast him out, was not the civilization he had
grown up in but something new and ugly.

There was a great deal of talk he did not understand because he could
not quite hear it, though they looked at him. Then Guy, with the gun,
led him up to the front of the room. They had constructed an improvised
platform out of plywood panels resting on squat, heavy boxes that
looked like empty ammunition crates. On the dais was a dentist's chair,
bolted to the plywood; and in the chair, strapped in, baby spotlights
on steel-tube frames glaring on her, was a girl. She looked at Chandler
with regretting eyes but did not speak.

"Stranger, get up there," said Guy, prodding him from behind, and
Chandler took a plain wooden chair next to the girl.

"People of Orphalese," cried the teen-age cutie named Meggie, "we have
two more brands to save from the imps!"

The men and women in the audience cackled or shrilled "Save them!
Save them!" They all had a look of invisible uniforms, Chandler saw,
like baseball players in the lobby of a hotel or soldiers in a diner
outside the gate of their post; they were all of a type. Their type was
something strange. Some were tall, some short; there were old, fat,
lean and young around them; but they all wore about them a look of
glowing excitement, muted by an aura of suffering and pain. They wore,
in a word, the look of bigots.

The bound girl was not one of them. She might have been twenty years
old or as much as thirty. She might have been pretty. It was hard to
tell; she wore no makeup, her hair strung raggedly to her neck, and
her face was drawn into a tight, lean line. It was her eyes that were
alive. She saw Chandler and she was sorry for him. And he saw, as he
turned to look at her, that she was manacled to the dentist's chair.

"People of Orphalese," chanted Guy, standing behind Chandler with the
muzzle of the gun against his neck, "the _meeting_ of the Orphalese
Self-Preservation _Society_ will now come to _order_." There was an
approving, hungry murmur from the audience.

"Well, people of _Orphalese_," Guy went on in his singsong, "the
agenda for the day is first the salvation of we _Orphalese_ on
McGuire's _Mountain_."

("All saved, all of us saved," rolled a murmur from the congregation.)
A lean, red-headed man bounded to the platform and fussed with the
stand of spotlights, turning one of them full on Chandler.

"People of Orphalese, as we are _saved_, do I have your consent to
_pass on_ and proceed to the next order of _business_?"

("Consent, consent, consent," rolled the echo.)

"And then the _second_ item of business is to _welcome_ and bring to
grace these two newly _found_ and adopted _souls_."

The congregation shouted variously: "Bring them to grace! Save them
from the imps! Keep Orphalese from the taint of the beast!"

Evidently Guy was satisfied. He nodded and became more chatty. "Okay,
people of Orphalese, let's get down to it. We got two new ones, like I
say. Their spirits have gone wandering on the wind, or anyway one of
them has, and you all know the et cetera. They have committed a wrong
unto others and therefore unto themselves. Herself, I mean. Course, the
other one could have a flame spirit in him too." He stared severely at
Chandler. "Boys, keep an eye on him, why don't you?" he said to two
men in the front row, surrendering his gun. "Meggie, you tell about the
female one."

The teen-aged girl stepped forward and said, in a conversational tone
but with modest pride, "People of Orph'lese, well, I was walking down
the cut and I heard this car coming. Well, I was pretty surprised, you
know. I had to figure what to do. You all know what the trouble is with
cars."

"The imps!" cried a woman of forty with a face like a catfish.

The girl nodded. "Most prob'ly. Well, I--I mean, people of Orph'lese,
well, I was by the switchback where we keep the chevvy-freeze hid, so I
just waited till I saw it slowing down for the curve--me out of sight,
you know--and I rolled the chevvy-freeze out nice and it caught the
wheels. Right over!" she cried gleefully. "Off the shoulder, people of
Orph'lese, and into the ditch and over, and I didn't give it a chance
to burn. I cut the switch and I had her! I put a knife into her back,
just a little, about a quarter of an inch, maybe. Her pain was the
breakin' of the shell that enclosed her understanding, like it says.
I figured she was all right then because she yelled but I brought her
along that way. Then Guy took care of her until we got the synod. Oh,"
she remembered, "and her tongue staggered a little without purpose
while he was putting it on, didn't it, Guy?" The bearded man nodded,
grinning, and lifted up the girl's foot. Incredulously, Chandler saw
that it was bound tight with a three-foot length of barbed wire, wound
and twisted like a tourniquet, the blood black and congealed around it.
He lifted his shocked eyes to meet the girl's. She only looked at him,
with pity and understanding.

Guy patted the foot and let it go. "I didn't have any more C-clamps,
people of Orphalese," he apologized, "but it looks all right at that.
Well, let's see. We got to make up our minds about these two, I
guess--no, wait!" He held up his hand as a murmur began. "First thing
is, we ought to read a verse or two."

He opened a purple-bound volume at random, stared at a page for a
moment, moving his lips, and then read:

"Some of you say, 'It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we
wear.'

"And I say, Ay, it was the north wind, but shame was his loom, and the
softening of the sinews was his thread.

"And when his work was done he laughed in the forest."

Gently he closed the book, looking thoughtfully at the wall at the back
of the room. He scratched his head. "Well, people of Orphalese," he
said slowly "they're laughing in the forest all right, I guarantee, but
we've got one here that may be honest in the flesh, probably is, though
she was a thief in the spirit. Right? Well, do we take her in or reject
her, O people of Orphalese?"

The audience muttered to itself and then began to call out: "Accept!
Oh, bring in the brand! Accept and drive out the imp!"

"Fine," said the teen-ager, rubbing her hands and looking at the
bearded man. "Guy, let her go." He began to release her from the chair.
"You, girl stranger, what's your name?"

The girl said faintly, "Ellen Braisted."

"'_Meggie_, my name is Ellen Braisted,'" corrected the teen-ager.
"Always say the name of the person you're talkin' to in Orph'lese, that
way we know it's you talkin', not a flame spirit or wanderer. Okay, go
sit down." Ellen limped wordlessly down into the audience. "Oh, and
people of Orph'lese," said Meggie, "the car's still there if we need it
for anything. It didn't burn. Guy, you go on with this other fellow."

Guy stroked his beard and assessed Chandler, looking him over
carefully. "Okay," he said. "People of Orphalese, the _third_ order of
business is to _welcome_ or reject this _other_ brand saved from the
imps, as may be your _pleasure_." Chandler sat up straighter now that
all of them were looking at him again; but it wasn't quite his turn, at
that, because there was an interruption. Guy never finished. From the
valley, far below, there was a sudden mighty thunder, rolling among the
mountains. The windows blew in with a crystalline crash.

       *       *       *       *       *

The room erupted into confusion, the audience leaping from their seats,
running to the broad windows, Guy and the teen-age girl seizing rifles,
everyone in motion at once.

Chandler straightened, then sat down again. The red-headed man guarding
him was looking away. It would be quite possible to grab his gun, run,
get away from these maniacs. Yet he had nowhere to go. They might be
crazy, but they seemed to have organization.

They seemed, in fact, to have worked out, on whatever crazed foundation
of philosophy, some practical methods for coping with possession. He
decided to stay, wait and see.

And at once he found himself leaping for the gun.

No. Chandler didn't find himself attacking the red-headed man. He
found his _body_ doing it; Chandler had nothing to do with it. It was
the helpless compulsion he had felt before, that had nearly cost him
his life; his body active and urgent and his mind completely cut off
from it. He felt his own muscles move in ways he had not planned,
observed himself leap forward, felt his own fist strike at the back of
the red-headed man's ear. The man went spinning, the gun went flying,
Chandler's body leaped after it, with Chandler a prisoner in his own
brain, watching, horrified and helpless. And he had the gun!

He caught it in the hand that was his own hand, though someone else
was moving it; he raised it and half-turned. He was suddenly conscious
of a fusillade of gunfire from the roof, and a scattered echo of guns
all round the outside of the house. Part of him was surprised, another
alien part was not. He started to shoot the teen-aged girl in the back
of the head, silently shouting _No!_

His fingers never pulled the trigger.

He caught a second's glimpse of someone just beside him, whirled and
saw the girl, Ellen Braisted, limping swiftly toward him with her
barbed-wire amulet loose and catching at her feet. In her hands was
an axe-handle club caught up from somewhere. She struck at Chandler's
head, with a face like an eagle's, impersonal and determined. The blow
caught him and dazed him, and from behind someone else struck him with
something else. He went down.

He heard shouts and firing, but he was stunned. He felt himself dragged
and dropped. He saw a cloudy, misty girl's face hanging over him; it
receded and returned. Then a frightful blistering pain in his hand
startled him back into full consciousness.

It was the girl, Ellen, still there, leaning over him and, oddly,
weeping. And the pain in his hand was the burning flame of a kitchen
match. Ellen was doing it, his wrist in one hand, a burning match held
to it with the other.


IV

Chandler yelled hoarsely, jerking his hand away.

She dropped the match and jumped up, stepping on the flame and watching
him. She had a butcher knife that had been caught between her elbow
and her body while she burned him. Now she put her hand on the knife,
waiting. "Does it hurt?" she demanded tautly.

Chandler howled, with incredulity and rage: "God damn it, yes! What did
you expect?"

"I expected it to hurt," she agreed. She watched him for a moment more
and then, for the first time since he had seen her, she smiled. It was
a small smile, but a beginning. A fusillade of shots from outside
wiped it away at once. "Sorry," she said. "I had to do that. Please
trust me."

"_Why_ did you have to burn my hand?"

"House rules," she said. "Keeps the flame-spirits out, you know. They
can't stand pain." She took her hand off the knife warily, "it still
hurts, doesn't it?"

"It still does, yes," nodded Chandler bitterly, and she lost interest
in him and got up, looking about the room. Three of the Orphalese were
dead, or seemed to be from the casual poses in which they lay draped
across a chair on the floor. Some of the others might have been freshly
wounded, though it was hard to tell the casualties from the others in
view of the Orphalese custom of self-inflicted pain. There was still
firing going on outside and overhead, and a shooting-gallery smell of
burnt powder in the air. The girl, Ellen Braisted, limped back with
the butcher knife held carelessly in one hand. She was followed by the
teen-ager, who wore a smile of triumph--and, Chandler noticed for the
first time, a sort of tourniquet of barbed-wire on her left forearm,
the flesh puffy red around it "Whopped 'em," she said with glee, and
pointed a .22 rifle at Chandler.

Ellen Braisted said, "Oh, he--_Meggie_, I mean, he's all right." She
pointed at his burned palm. Meg approached him with competent care,
the rifle resting on her good right forearm and aimed at him as she
examined his burn. She pursed her lips and looked at his face. "All
right, Ellen, I guess he's clean. But you want to burn 'em deeper'n
that. Never pays to go easy, just means we'll have to do something else
to 'im tomorrow."

"The hell you will," thought Chandler, and all but said it; but reason
stopped him. In Rome he would have to do Roman deeds. Besides, maybe
their ideas worked. Besides, he had until tomorrow to make up his mind
about what he wanted to do.

"Ellen, show him around," ordered the teen-ager. "I got no time myself.
Shoosh! Almost got us that time, Ellen. Got to be more careful, cause
the white-handed aren't clean, you know." She strutted away, the rifle
at trail. She seemed to be enjoying herself very much.

       *       *       *       *       *

The name of the girl in the barbed-wire bracelet was Ellen Braisted.
She came from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and Chandler's first wonder
was what she was doing nearly three thousand miles from home.

Nobody liked to travel much these days. One place was as bad as
another, except that in the place where you were known you could
perhaps count on friends and as a stranger you were probable fair game
anywhere else. Of course, there was one likely reason for travel.

She didn't like to talk about it, that was clear, but that was the
reason. She had been possessed. When the teen-ager trapped her car the
day before she had been the tool of another's will. She had had a dozen
sub-machine guns in the trunk and she had meant to deliver them to a
party of hunters in a valley just south of McGuire's Mountain. Chandler
said, with some effort, "I must have been----"

"_Ellen_, I must have been," she corrected.

"Ellen, I must have been possessed too, just now. When I grabbed the
gun."

"Of course. First time?"

He shook his head. For some reason the brand on his forehead began to
throb.

"Well, then you know. Look out here, now."

They were at the great pier windows that looked out over the valley.
Down below was the river, an arc of the railroad tracks, the wooded
mountainside he had scaled. "Over there, Chandler." She was pointing to
the railroad bridge.

Wispy gray smoke drifted off southward toward the stream. The freight
train Chandler had ridden on had been stopped, all that time, in the
middle of the bridge. The explosion that blew out their windows had
occurred when another train plowed into it--evidently at high speed. It
seemed that one of the trains had carried some sort of chemicals. The
bridge was a twisted mess.

"A diversion, Chandler," said Ellen Braisted. "They wanted us looking
that way. Then they attacked from up the mountain."

"Who?"

Ellen looked surprised. "The men that crashed the trains ... if they
_are_ men. The ones who possessed me--and you--and the hunters. They
don't like these Orphalese, I think. Maybe they're a little afraid of
them. I think the Orphalese have a pretty good idea of how to fight
them."

Chandler felt a sudden flash of sensation along his nerves. For a
moment he thought he had been possessed again, and then he knew it for
what it was. It was hope. "Ellen, I never thought of fighting them. I
thought that was given up two years ago."

"So maybe you agree with me? Maybe you think it's worth while sticking
with the Orphalese?"

Chandler allowed himself the contemplation of what hope meant. To find
someone in this world who had a _plan_! Whatever the plan was. Even if
it was a bad plan. He didn't think specifically of himself, or the
brand on his forehead or the memory of the body of his wife. What he
thought of was the prospect of thwarting--not even defeating, merely
hampering or annoying was enough!--the imps, the "flame creatures,"
the pythons, devils, incubi or demons who had destroyed a world he had
thought very fair.

"If they'll have me," he said, "I'll stick with them, all right! Where
do I go to join?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not hard to join at all. Meg chattily informed him that he was
already practically a member. "Chandler, we got to watch everybody
strange, you know. See why, don't you? Might have a flame spirit in
'em, no fault of theirs, but look how they could mess us up. But now we
know you don't, so--What do you mean, how do we know? Cause you _did_
have one when you busted loose in there. Can't have two at a time, you
know. Think we couldn't tell the difference?"

The interrupted meeting was resumed after the place had been tidied
up and the dead buried. There had been four of the hunters, and even
without their sub-machine guns they had succeeded in killing eight
Orphalese. But it was not all loss to the Orphalese, because two of the
hunters were still alive, though wounded, and under the rules of this
chessboard the captured enemy became a friend.

Guy had suffered a broken jaw in the scuffle and another man presided,
a fat youth who favored a bandaged leg. He limped to his feet,
grimacing and patting his leg. "O Orphalese and brothers," he said, "we
have lost friends, but we have won a test. Praise the Prophet, we will
be spared to win again, and to drive the imps of fire out of our world.
Meggie, you going to tie these folks up?" The girl proudly ordered
one of the hunters into the spotlighted dentist's chair, another
into a wing chair that was hastily moved onto the platform. The men
were bleeding and hurt, but they had clearly been abandoned by their
possessors. They watched with puzzlement and fear.

"Walter, they're okay now," Meg reported as others finished tying up
the hunters. "Oh, wait a minute." She advanced on Chandler. "Chandler,
I'm sorry. You sit down there, hear?"

Chandler suffered himself to be bound to a camp chair on the platform
and Walter took a drink of wine and opened the ornate book that was
before him on the rostrum.

"Meg, thanks. Guy, I hope I do this as good as you do. Let me read you
a little. Let's see." He put on his steel-rimmed glasses and read:

"Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man, but a
shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own
awakening."

He closed the book, looked with satisfaction at Guy and said: "Do you
understand that, new friends? They are the words of the Prophet, who
men call Kahlil Gibran. For the benefit of the new folks I ought to say
that he died this fleshly life quite a good number of years ago, but
his vision was unclouded. Like we say, we are the sinews that batter
the flame spirits but he is our soul." There was an antiphonal murmur
from the audience and Walter flipped the pages again rapidly, obviously
looking for a familiar passage. "People of Orphalese, here we are now.
This's what he says. What is this that has torn our world apart? The
Prophet says: 'It is life in quest of life, in bodies that fear the
grave.' Now, honestly, nothing could be clearer than that, people of
Orphalese and friends! We got something taking possession of us, see?
What is it? Well, he says here, people of Orphalese and friends, 'It
is a flame spirit in you ever gathering more of itself.' Now, what the
heck! Nobody can blame _us_ for what a flame spirit _in_ us does! So
the first thing we got to learn, friends--and people of Orphalese--is,
we aren't to blame. And the second thing is, we _are_ to blame!"

He turned and grinned at Chandler kindly, while the chorus of
responses came from the room, "Like here," he said, "people of
Orphalese, the Prophet says _everybody_ is guilty. 'The murdered is
not unaccountable for his own murder, and the robbed is not blameless
in being robbed. The righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the
wicked, and the white-handed is not clean in the doings of the felon.'
You see what he's getting at? We all got to take the responsibility
for _everything_--and that means we got to suffer--but we don't have
to worry about any special things we did when some flame spirit or
wanderer, like, took us over.

"But we do have to suffer, people of Orphalese." His expression became
grim. "Our beloved founder, Guy, who's sitting there doing a little
extra suffering now, was favored enough to understand these things in
the very beginning, when he himself was seized by these imps. And it is
all in this book! Like it says, 'Your pain is self-chosen. It is the
bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.'
Ponder on that, people of Orphalese--and friends. No, I mean really
ponder," he explained, glancing at the bound "friends" on the platform.
"We always do that for a minute. Ada there will play us some music so
we can ponder."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler shifted uncomfortably, while an old woman crippled by
arthritis began fumbling a tune out of an electric organ. The burn
Ellen Braisted had given him was beginning to hurt badly. If only these
people were not such obvious _nuts_, he thought, he would feel a lot
better about casting his lot in with them. But maybe it took lunatics
to do the job. Sane people hadn't accomplished much.

And anyway he had very little choice....

"Ada, that's enough," ordered the fat youth. "Meg, come on up here.
People of Orphalese, now you can listen again while Meg explains to the
new folks how all this got started, seeing Guy's in no condition to do
it."

The teen-ager marched up to the platform and took the parade-rest
position learned in some high-school debating society--in the days when
there were debating societies and high schools. "Ladies and gentlemen,
well, let's start at the beginning. Guy tells this better'n I do,
of course, but I guess I remember it all pretty well too. I ought
to. I was in on it and all." She grimaced and said, "Well, anyway,
ladies and gentlemen--people of Orph'lese--the way Guy organized
this Orphalese self-protection society was, like Walter says, he was
possessed. The only difference between Guy and you and me was that he
knew what to do about it, because he read the book, you see. Not that
that helped him at first, when he was took over. He was really seized.
Yes, people of Orph'lese, he was taken and while his whole soul and
brain and body was under the influence of some foul wanderer fiend
from hell he did things that, ladies and gentlemen of Orph'lese, I
wouldn't want to tell you. He was a harp in the hand of the mighty, as
it says. Couldn't help it, not however much he tried. Only while he
was doing--the things--he happened to catch his hand in a gas flame
and, well, you can see it was pretty bad." With a deprecatory smile Guy
held up a twisted hand. "And, do you know, he was free of his imp right
then and there! Now, Guy is a scientist, people of Orph'lese, he worked
for the telephone company, and he not only had that training in the
company school but he had read the book, you see, and he put two and
two together. Oh, and he's my uncle, of course. I'm proud of him. I've
always loved him, and even when he--when he was not one with himself,
you know, when he was doing those terrible things to me, I knew it
wasn't Uncle Guy that was doing them, but something else. I didn't know
what, though. And when he told me he had figured out the Basic Rule,
I went along with him every bit. I knew Guy wasn't wrong, and what he
said was from Scripture. Imps fear pain! So we got to love it. That one
I know by heart, all right: 'Could you keep your heart from wonder at
the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous
than your joy.' That's what it says, right? So that's why we got to
hurt ourselves, people of Orph'lese--and new brothers--because the
wanderers don't like it when we hurt and they leave us alone. Simple's
that.

"Well--" the girl's face stiffened momentarily--"I knew _I_ wasn't
going to be seized. So Guy and I got Else, that's the other girl he'd
been doing things to, and we knew she wasn't going to be taken either.
Not if the imps feared pain like Guy said, because," she said solemnly,
"I want to tell you Guy hurt us pretty bad.

"And then we came out here, and found this place, and ever since then
we've been adding brothers and sisters. It's been slow, of course,
because not many people come this way any more, and we've had to kill
a lot. Yes, we have. Sometimes the possessed just can't be saved, but--"

Abruptly her face changed.

Suddenly alert, her face years older, she glanced around the room. Then
she relaxed....

And screamed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Guy leaped up. Hoarsely, his voice almost inarticulate as he tried to
talk with his broken jaw, he cried, "Wha ... Wha's ... _matter_, Meg?

"Uncle Guy!" she wailed. She plunged off the platform and flung herself
into his arms, crying hysterically.

"_Wha?_"

She sobbed, "I could feel it! They _took_ me. Guy, you promised me they
couldn't!"

He shook his head, dazed, staring at her as though she were indeed
possessed--still possessed, and telling him some fearful great lie to
destroy his hopes. He seemed unable to comprehend what she had said.
One of the hunters bellowed in stark fear: "For God's sake, untie
us! Give us a chance, anyway!" Chandler yelled agreement. In one
split second everyone in the room had been transmuted by terror into
something less than human. No one seemed capable of any action. Slowly
the plump youth who had presided moved over to the hunter bound in
the dentist's chair and began to fumble blindly at the knots. Ellen
Braisted dropped her head into her hands and began to shake.

The cruelty of the moment was that they had all tasted hope. Chandler
writhed wildly against his ropes, his mind racing out of control. The
world had become a hell for everyone, but a bearable hell until the
promise of a chance to end it gave them a full sight of what their
lives had been. Now that that was dashed they were far worse off than
before.

Walter finished with the hunter and lethargically began to pick at
Chandler's bonds. His face was slack and unseeing.

Then it, too, changed.

The plump youth stood up sharply, glanced about, and walked off the
platform.

Ellen Braisted raised her face from her hands and, her eyes streaming,
quietly stood up and followed. The old lady with the arthritis
about-faced and limped with them. Chandler stared, puzzled, and then
comprehended.

They were marching toward the corner of the room where the rifles were
stacked. "Possessed!" Chandler bellowed, the words tasting of acid as
they ripped out of his throat. "Stop them! You--Guy--look!" He flailed
wildly at his loosened bonds, lunged, tottered and toppled, chair and
all, crashingly off the platform.

The three possessed ones did not need to hurry. They had all the time
in the world. They were already reaching out for the rifles when
Chandler shouted. Economically they turned, raising the butts to
their shoulders, and began to fire at the Orphalese. It was a queerly
frightening sight to see the arthritic organist, with a face like a
relaxed executioner, take quick aim at Guy and, with a thirty-thirty
shell, blow his throat out. Three shots, and the nearest three of the
congregation were dead. Three more, and others went down, while the
remainder turned and tried to run. It was like a slaughter of vermin.
They never had a chance.

When every Orphalese except themselves was down on the floor, dead,
wounded or, like Chandler, overlooked, the arthritic lady took careful
aim at Ellen Braisted and the plump youth and shot them neatly in the
temples. They didn't try to prevent her. With expressions that seemed
almost impatient they presented their profiles to her aim.

Then the arthritic lady glanced leisurely about, fired into the
stomach of a wounded man who was trying to rise, reloaded her rifle
for insurance and began to search the bodies of the nearest dead. She
was looking for matches. When she found them, she tugged weakly at the
upholstery on a couch, swore and began methodically to rip and crumple
pages out of Kahlil Gibran. When she had a heap of loose papers piled
against the dais she pitched the remainder of the book out of the
window, knelt and ignited the crumpled heap.

She stood watching the fire, her expression angry and impatient,
tapping her foot.

The crumpled pages burned briskly. Before they died the wooden dais was
beginning to catch. Laboriously the old lady toted folding chairs to
pile on the blaze until it was roaring handsomely.

She watched it for several minutes, until it was a great orange pillar
of fire sweeping to the ceiling, until the drapes on the wall behind
were burning and the platform was a holocaust, until the noise of
crackling flame and the beginning of plaster falling from the high
ceiling proved that there was no likelihood of the fire going out
and, indeed, no way to put it out without a complete fire department
arriving on the scene at once.

The old lady's expression cleared. She nodded to herself. She then
put the muzzle of the rifle in her mouth and, with her thumb, pulled
the trigger that blew the top of her head off. The body fell into the
flames, but it was by then already dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler had not been shot, but he was very near to roasting. Walter
had released one hand and, while the possessed woman's attention was
elsewhere, Chandler had worked on the other knots.

When he saw her commit suicide he redoubled his efforts. It was
incredible to him that his life had been saved, and he knew that if he
escaped the flames he still had nothing to live for--that blasted brief
hope had broken his spirit--but his fingers had a will of their own.

He lay there, struggling, while great black clouds of smoke, orange
painted from the flames, gathered under the high ceiling, while the
thunder of falling lumps of plaster sounded like a child heaving
volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica down a flight of stairs, while
the heat and shortage of oxygen made him breathe in violent spasms.
Then he cried out sharply and stumbled to his feet. It was only a
matter of moments before he was out of the house, but it was very
nearly not time enough.

Behind him was a great, sustained crash. He thought it must have been
the furniture on the upper floor toppling through the burned-out
ceiling of the hall. He turned and looked.

It was dark, and now every window on the side of the house facing him
was lighted. It was as though some mad householder had decided to equip
his rooms only with orange lights, orange lights that flickered and
moved. For a second Chandler thought there were still living people in
the rooms--shapes moved and cavorted at the windows, as though they
were gathering up possessions or waving wildly for help. But it was
only the drapes, aflame, tossed about in the fierce heat.

Chandler sighed and turned away.

Pain was not a sure defense after all. Evidently it was only an
annoyance to the possessors ... whoever, or whatever, they might be.
As soon as they had become suspicious they had exerted themselves and
destroyed the Orphalese. He listened and looked about, but no one else
moved. He had not expected anyone. He had been sure that he was the
only survivor.

He began to walk down the hill toward the wrecked railway bridge,
turning only when a roar told him that the roof of the house had fallen
in. A tulip of flame a hundred feet tall rose above the standing walls,
and above that a shower of floating red-orange sparks, heat-borne,
drifting up and away and beginning to settle all over the mountainside.
Many were still red when they landed, a few still flaming. It was a
distinct risk that the trees would begin to burn, and then he would be
in fresh danger. So great was his stupor that he did not even hurry.

By a plowed field he flung himself to the ground.

He could go no farther because he had nowhere to go. He had had two
homes and he had been driven from both of them. He had had hope twice,
and twice he had been damned.

He lay on his back, with the burning house mumbling and crackling in
the distance, and stared up at the orange-lit tops of the trees and,
past them, the stars. Over his left shoulder Deneb chased Vega across
the sky; toward his feet something moved between the bright rosy dot
that was Antares and another, the same brightness and hue--Mars? He
spent several moments wondering if Mars were in that part of the
heavens. Then he looked again for the tiny moving point that had
crossed the claws of the Scorpion, but it was gone. A satellite, maybe.
Although there were few of them left that the naked eye could hope to
see. And there would never be any more, because the sort of accumulated
wealth of nations that threw rockets into the sky was forever spent.

It was probably an airplane, he thought drowsily, and drifted off to
sleep without realizing how remote even that possibility had become....
He woke up to find that he was getting to his feet.

Once again an interloper tenanted his brain. He tried to interfere, for
he could not help it, although he knew how useless it was, but his own
neck muscles turned his head from side to side, his own eyes looked
this way and that, his own hand reached down for a dead branch that lay
on the ground, then hesitated and withdrew. His body stood motionless
for a second, the lips moving, the larynx mumbling to itself. He could
almost hear words. Chandler felt like a fly in amber, prisoned in his
own brainbox. He was not surprised when his legs moved to carry him
back toward the destroyed building, now a fakir's bed of white-hot
coals with brush fires spattered around it. He thought he knew why. It
seemed very likely that what possessor had him was a sort of clean-up
squad, tidying up the loose ends of the slaughter; he expected that his
body's errand was to destroy itself, and thus him, as all the Orphalese
had been destroyed.


V

Chandler's body carried him rapidly toward the house. Now and then it
paused and glanced about. It seemed to be weighing some shortcut in
its errand; but always it resumed its climb.

Chandler could sympathize with it, in a way. He still felt every
pain from burn, brand and wound; as they neared the embers of the
building the heat it threw off intensified them all. He could not be a
comfortable body to inhabit for long. He was almost sympathetic because
his tenant could not find a convenient weapon with which to fulfill his
purpose.

When it seemed they could get no closer without the skin of his face
crackling and bursting into flame his body halted.

Chandler could feel his muscles gathering for what would be the final
leap into the auto-da-fe. His feet took a short step--and slipped.
His body stumbled and recovered itself; his mouth swore thickly in a
language he did not know.

Then his body hesitated, glanced at the ground, paused again and bent
down. It had tripped on a book. It picked the book up, and Chandler saw
that it was the Orphalese copy of Gibran's _The Prophet_.

Chandler's body stood poised for a moment, in an attitude of thought.
Then it sat down, in the play of heat from the coals. It was a moment
before Chandler realized he was free. He tested his legs; they worked;
he got up, turned and began to walk away.

He had traveled no more than a few yards when he stumbled slightly, as
though shifting gears, and felt the tenant in his mind again.

He continued to walk away from the building, down toward the road. Once
his arm raised the book he still carried and his eyes glanced down, as
if for reassurance that it was the same book. That was the only clue he
was given as to what had happened and it was not much. It was as though
his occupying power, whatever it was, had gone--somewhere--to think
things over, perhaps to ask a question of an unimaginable companion,
and then returned with an altered purpose. As time passed, Chandler
began to receive additional clues, but he was in little shape to fit
them together, for his body was near exhaustion.

He walked to the road, and waited, rigid, until a panel truck came
bouncing along. He hailed it, his arms making a sign he did not
understand, and when it stopped he addressed the driver in a language
he did not speak. "_Shto_," said the driver, a somber-faced Mexican in
dungarees. "_Ja nie jestem Ruska. Czego pragniesh?_"

"_Czy ty jedziesz to_ Los Angeles?" asked Chandler's mouth.

"_Nyet. Acapulco._"

Chandler's voice argued, "_Wes na_ Los Angeles."

"_Nyet._" The voices droned on. Chandler lost interest in the argument
and was only relieved when it seemed somehow to be settled and he was
herded into the back of the truck. The somber Mexican locked him in; he
felt the truck begin to move; his tenant left him, and he was at once
asleep.

He woke long enough to find himself standing in the mist of early dawn
at a crossroads. In a few minutes another car came by, and his voice
talked earnestly with the driver for a moment. Chandler got in, was
released, slept again and woke to find himself free and abandoned,
sprawled across the back seat of the car, which was parked in front of
a building marked Los Angeles International Airport.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler got out of the car and strolled around, stretching. He
realized he was very hungry.

No one was in sight. The field showed clear signs of having been
through the same sort of destruction that had visited every major
communications facility in the world. Part of the building before
him was smashed flat and showed signs of having been burned. He saw
projecting aluminum members, twisted and scorched but still visibly
aircraft parts. Apparently a transport had crashed into the building.
Burned-out cars littered the parking lot and what had once been a green
lawn. They seemed to have been bulldozed out of the way, but not an
inch farther than was necessary to clear the approach roads.

To his right, as he stared out onto the field, was a strange-looking
construction on three legs, several stories high. It did not seem
to serve any useful purpose. Perhaps it had been a sort of luxury
restaurant at one time, like the Space Needle from the old Seattle
Fair, but now it too was burned out and glassless in its windows. The
field itself was swept bare except for two or three parked planes in
the bays, but he could see wrecked transports lining the approach
strips. All in all, Los Angeles International Airport appeared to be
serviceable, but only just.

He wondered where all the people were.

Distant truck noises answered part of the question. An Army six by six
came bumping across a bridge that led from the takeoff strips to this
parking area of the airport. Five men got out next to one of the ships.
They glanced at him but did not speak as they began loading crates of
some sort of goods from the truck into the aircraft, a four-engine,
swept-wing jet of what looked to Chandler like an obsolete model.
Perhaps it was one of the early Boeings. There hadn't been many of
those in use at the time the troubles began, too big and fast for short
hops, too slow to compete over long distances with the rockets. But, of
course, with all the destruction, and with no new aircraft being built
anywhere in the world any more, no doubt they were as good as could be
found.

The truckmen did not seem to be possessed; they worked with the
normal amount of grunting and swearing, pausing to wipe sweat away
or to scratch an itch. They showed neither the intense malevolent
concentration nor the wide-eyed idiot curiosity of those whose bodies
were no longer their own. Chandler settled the woolen cap over the
brand on his forehead, to avoid unpleasantness, and drifted over toward
them.

They stopped work and regarded him. One of them said something to
another, who nodded and walked toward Chandler. "What do you want?" he
demanded warily.

"I don't know. I was going to ask you the same question, I guess."

The man scowled. "Didn't your exec tell you what to do?"

"My what?"

The man paused, scratched and shook his head. "Well, stay away from us.
This is an important shipment, see? I guess you're all right or you
couldn't've got past the guards, but I don't want you messing us up.
Got enough trouble already. I don't know why," he said in the tones
of an old grievance, "we can't get the execs to let us _know_ when
they're going to bring somebody in. It wouldn't hurt them! Now here we
got to load and fuel this ship and, for all I know, you've got half a
ton of junk around somewhere that you're going to load onto it. How do
I know how much fuel it'll take? No weather, naturally. So if there's
headwinds it'll take full tanks, but if there's extra cargo I--"

"The only cargo I brought with me that I can think of is a book," said
Chandler. "Weighs maybe a pound. You think I'm supposed to get on that
plane?"

The man grunted non-committally.

"All right, suit yourself. Listen, is there any place I can get
something to eat?"

The man considered. "Well, I guess we can spare you a sandwich. But you
wait here. I'll bring it to you."

He went back to the truck. A moment later one of the others brought
Chandler two cold hamburgers wrapped in waxed paper, but would answer
no questions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler ate every crumb, sought and found a washroom in the wrecked
building, came out again and sat in the sun, watching the loading crew.
He had become quite a fatalist. It did not seem that it was intended he
should die immediately, so he might as well live.

There were large gaps in his understanding, but it seemed clear to
Chandler that these men, though not possessed, were in some way working
for the possessors. It was a distasteful concept; but on second thought
it had reassuring elements. It was evidence that whatever the "execs"
were, they were very possibly human beings--or, if not precisely human,
at least shared the human trait of working by some sort of organized
effort toward some sort of a goal. It was the first non-random
phenomenon he had seen in connection with the possessors, barring the
short-term tactical matters of mass slaughter and destruction. It made
him feel--what he tried at once to suppress, for he feared another
destroying frustration--a touch of hope.

The men finished their work but did not leave. Nor did they approach
Chandler, but sat in the shade of their truck, waiting for something.
He drowsed and was awakened by a distant sputter of a single-engined
Aerocoupe that hopped across the building behind him, turned sharply
and came down with a brisk little run in the parking bay itself.

From one side the pilot climbed down and from the other two men lifted,
with great care, a wooden crate, small but apparently heavy. They
stowed it in the jet while the pilot stood watching; then the pilot and
one of the other men got into the crew compartment. Chandler could not
be sure, but he had the impression that the truckman who entered the
plane was no longer his own master. His movements seemed more sure and
confident, but above all it was the mute, angry eyes with which his
fellows regarded him that gave Chandler grounds for suspicion. He had
no time to worry about that; for in the same breath he felt himself
occupied once more.

He did not rise. His own voice said to him, "You. Votever you name, you
fellow vit de book! You go get de book verever you pud it and get on
dat ship dere, you see?" His eyes turned toward the waiting aircraft.
"And don't forget de book!"

He was released. "I won't," he said automatically, and then realized
that there was no longer anyone there to hear his answer.

When he retrieved the Gibran volume from the car and approached the
plane the loading crew said nothing. Evidently they knew what he was
doing--either because they too had been given instructions, or because
they were used to such things. He paused at the wheeled stairs.
"Listen," he said, "can you at least tell me where I'm going?"

The four remaining men looked at him silently, with the same angry,
worried expression he had seen on their faces before. They did not
answer, but after a moment one of them raised his arm and pointed.

West. Out toward the Pacific. Out toward some ten million square miles
of nearly empty sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

Long before they reached their destination Chandler had reasoned what
it must be. He was correct: it was the islands of Hawaii.

Chandler knew that the pilot and his coopted partner were up forward,
in the crew compartment, but the door was locked and he never saw them
again. Apart from them he was the only living person on the plane.

The plane was lightly loaded with cargo of unidentifiable sorts. In
the rear section, where once tourist-class passengers had eaten their
complimentary tray meals and planned their vacations, the seats had
been removed and a thin scatter of crates and boxes were strapped to
the floor. In the luxury of the forward section Chandler sat, stared at
the water and drowsed. He seemed to be always sleepy. Perhaps it was
the consequence of his exertions; more likely it was a psychological
phenomenon. He was beyond worry. He had reached that point in emotional
fatigue when the sudden rattle of cannonfire or the enemy's banzai
charge can no longer flood the blood with adrenalin. The glands are
dry. The emotions have been triggered too often. Battle fatigue takes
men in many different ways, but in Chandler it was only apathy. He not
only could not worry, he could not even rouse himself to feel hunger,
although the pricking of habit made him get up and search the flight
kitchen, unsuccessfully, for food.

He had no idea how much time had passed when the hiss of the jets
changed key.

The horizon dipped below the wingtip and straightened again, and he
beheld land. He never saw the airfield, only water, then beach, then
water again, then a few buildings. Then there was a roar of jets, with
their clamshells deflecting their thrust forward to brake their speed,
and then the wheels were on the ground. As the plane stopped he felt
himself once more possessed. It was no longer terrifying--though
Chandler was sure he was doomed.

Without knowing where he was going or why he picked up the ripped book,
opened the cabin exit and stepped down onto the rolling steps that had
immediately been brought into place. He was conscious of a horde of
men swarming around the plane, stripping it of its cargo, and wondered
briefly at the rush; but he could not stop to watch them, his legs
carried him swiftly across a paved strip to where a police car was
cruising.

Chandler cringed inside, instinctively, but his body did not falter as
it stepped into the path of the car and raised its hand.

The police car jammed on its brakes. The policeman at the wheel,
Chandler thought inside himself, looked startled, but he also looked
resigned. "To de South Gate, qvickly," said Chandler's lips, and he
felt his legs carry him around to the door on the other side.

There was another policeman on the seat next to the driver. He leaped
like a hare to get the door open and get out before Chandler's body got
there. He made it with nothing to spare. "Jack, you go on, I'll tell
Headquarters," he said hurriedly. The driver nodded without speaking.
His lips were white. He reached over Chandler to close the door and
made a sharp U-turn.

As soon as the car was moving Chandler felt himself able to move his
lips again.

"I," he said. "I don't know--"

"Friend," said the policeman, "kindly keep your mouth shut. 'South
Gate,' the exec said, and South Gate is where I'm going."

Chandler shrugged and looked out the window ... just in time to see the
jet that had brought him to the islands once more lumbering into life.
It crept, wobbling its wingtips, over the ground, picked up speed,
roared across taxi strips and over rough ground and at last piled up
against an ungainly looking foreign airplane, a Russian jet by its
markings, in a thunderous crash and ball of flame as its fuel exploded.
No one got out.

It seemed that traffic to Hawaii was all one way.


VI

They roared through downtown Honolulu with the siren blaring and cars
scattering out of the way. At seventy miles an hour they raced down a
road by the sea. Chandler caught a glimpse of a sign that said "Hilo,"
but where or what "Hilo" might be he had no idea. Soon there were fewer
cars; then there were none but their own.

The road was a surburban highway lined with housing development,
shopping centers, palm groves and the occasional center of a small
municipality, scattering helterskelter together. There was a road like
this extending in every direction from every city in the United States,
Chandler thought; but this one was somewhat altered. Something had been
there before them. About a mile outside Honolulu's outer fringe, life
was cut off as with a knife. There were no people on foot, and the only
cars were rusted wrecks lining the roads. The lawns were ragged stands
of weeds in front of the ranch-type homes.

It was evidently not allowed to live here.

Chandler craned his neck. His curiosity was becoming almost unbearable.
He opened his mouth, but, "I said, 'Shut up.'" rumbled the cop without
looking at him. There was a note in the policeman's voice that
impressed Chandler. He did not quite know what it was, but it made him
obey. They drove for another fifteen minutes in silence, then drew up
before a barricade across the road.

Chandler got out. The policeman slammed the door behind him, ripping
rubber off his tires with the speed of his U-turn and acceleration back
toward Honolulu. He did not look at Chandler.

Chandler stood staring off after him, in bright warm sunlight with a
reek of hibiscus and rotting palms in his nostril. It was very quiet
there, except for a soft scratchy sound of footsteps on gravel. As
Chandler turned to face the man who was coming toward him, he realized
he had learned one fact from the policeman after all. The cop was
scared clear through.

Chandler said, "Hello," to the man who was approaching.

He too wore a uniform, but not that of the Honolulu city police. It
was like U.S. Army suntans, but without insignia. Behind him were
half a dozen others in the same dress, smoking, chatting, leaning
against whatever was handy. The barricades themselves were impressively
thorough. Barbed wire ran down the beach and out into the ocean; on the
other side of the road, barbed wire ran clear out of sight along the
middle of a side road. The gate itself was bracketed with machine-gun
emplacements.

The guard waited until he was close to Chandler before speaking. "What
do you want?" he asked without greeting. Chandler shrugged. "All right,
just wait here," said the guard, and began to walk away again.

"Wait a minute! What am I waiting for?" The guard shook his head
without stopping or turning. He did not seem very interested, and he
certainly was not helpful.

Chandler put down the copy of _The Prophet_ which he had carried so
far and sat on the ground, but again he had no long time to wait. One
of the guards came toward him, with the purposeful movements Chandler
had learned to recognize. Without speaking the guard dug into a pocket.
Chandler jumped up instinctively, but it was only a set of car keys.

As Chandler took them the look in the guard's eyes showed the quick
release of tension that meant he was free again; and in that same
moment Chandler's own body was occupied once more.

He reached down and picked up the book. Quickly, but a little clumsily,
his fingers selected a key, and his legs carried him toward a little
French car parked just the other side of the barrier.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler was learning at last the skills of allowing his body to have
its own way. He couldn't help it in any event, so he was consciously
disciplining himself to withdraw his attention from his muscles and
senses. It involved queerly vertiginous problems. A hundred times a
minute there was some unexpected body sway or movement of the hand,
and his lagging, imprisoned mind would wrench at its unresponsive
nerves to put out the elbow that would brace him or to catch itself
with a step. He had learned to ignore these things. The mind that
inhabited his body had ways not his own of maintaining balance and
reaching an objective, but they were equally sure.

He watched his own hands shifting the gears of the car. It was a make
he had never driven, with a clutchless drive he did not understand, but
the mind in his brain evidently understood it well enough. They picked
up speed in great, gasoline-wasting surges.

Chandler began to form a picture of that mind. It belonged to an older
man, from the hesitancy of its walk, and a testy one, from the heedless
crash of the gears as it shifted. It drove with careless slapdash
speed. Chandler's mind yelled and flinched in his brain as they rounded
blind curves, where any casual other motorist would have been a
catastrophe; but the hand on the wheel and the foot on the accelerator
did not hesitate.

Beyond the South Gate the island of Oahu became abruptly wild.

There were beautiful homes, but there were also great, gap-toothed
spaces where homes had once been and were no longer. It seemed that
some monstrous Zoning Commissar had stalked through the island with
an eraser, rubbing out the small homes, the cheap ones, the old ones;
rubbing out the stores, rubbing out the factories. This whole section
of the island had been turned into an exclusive residential park.

It was not uninhabited. Chandler thought he glimpsed a few people,
though since the direction of his eyes was not his to control it was
hard to be sure. And then the Renault turned into a lane, paved but
narrow. Hardwood trees with some sort of blossoms, Chandler could not
tell what, overhung it on both sides.

It meandered for a mile or so, turned and opened into a great vacant
parking lot. The Renault stopped with a squeal of brakes in front of a
door that was flanked by bronze plaques: _TWA Flight Message Center_.

Chandler caught sight of a skeletal towering form overhead, like
a radio transmitter antenna, as his body marched him inside, up a
motionless escalator, along a hall and into a room.

His muscles relaxed.

He glanced around and, from a huge couch beside a desk, a huge soft
body stirred and, gasping, sat up. It was a very fat old man, almost
bald, wearing a coronet of silvery spikes.

He looked at Chandler without much interest. "Vot's your name?" he
wheezed. He had a heavy, ineradicable accent, like a Hapsburg or a
Russian diplomat. Chandler recognized it readily. He had heard it often
enough, from his own lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man's name was Koitska, he said in his accented wheeze. If he had
another name he did not waste it on Chandler. He took as few words as
possible to order Chandler to be seated and to be still.

Koitska squinted at the copy of Gibran's _The Prophet_. He did not
glance at Chandler, but Chandler felt himself propelled out of his
seat, to hand the book to Koitska, then returning. Koitska turned its
remaining pages with an expression of bored repugnance, like a man
picking off his arm. He seemed to be waiting for something.

A door closed on the floor below, and in a moment a girl came into the
room.

She was tall, dark and not quite young. Chandler, struck by her beauty,
was sure that he had seen her, somewhere, but could not place her face.
She wore a coronet like the fat man's, intertwined in a complicated
hairdo, and she got right down to business. "Chandler, is it? All
right, love, what we want to know is what this is all about." She
indicated the book.

A relief that was like pain crossed Chandler's mind. So that was why he
was here! Whoever these people were, however they managed to rule men's
minds, they were not quite certain of their perfect power. To them the
sad, futile Orphalese represented a sort of annoyance--not important
enough to be a threat--but something which had proved inconvenient at
one time and therefore needed investigating. As Chandler was the only
survivor they had deemed it worth their godlike whiles to transport him
four thousand miles so that he might satisfy their curiosity.

Chandler did not hesitate in telling them all about the people of
Orphalese. There was nothing worth concealing, he was quite sure. No
debts are owed to the dead; and the Orphalese had proved on their own
heads, at the last, that their ritual of pain was only an annoyance to
the possessors, not a tactic that could long be used against them.

It took hardly five minutes to say everything that needed saying about
Guy, Meggie and the other doomed and suffering inhabitants of the old
house on the mountain.

Koitska hardly spoke. The girl was his interrogator, and sometimes
translator as well, when his English was not sufficient to comprehend
a point. With patient detachment she kept the story moving until
Koitska with a bored shrug indicated he was through.

Then she smiled at Chandler and said, "Thanks, love. Haven't I seen you
somewhere before?"

"I don't know. I thought the same thing about you."

"Oh, everybody's seen me. Lots of me. But--well, no matter. Good luck,
love. Be nice to Koitska and perhaps he'll do as much for you." And she
was gone.

Koitska lay unmoving on his couch for a few moments, rubbing a fat nose
with a plump finger. "Hah," he said at last. Then, abruptly, "And now,
de qvestion is, vot to do vit you, eh? I do not t'ink you can cook, eh?"

       *       *       *       *       *

With unexpected clarity Chandler realized he was on trial for his life.
"Cook? No, I'm afraid not. I mean, I can boil eggs," he said. "Nothing
fancy."

"Hah," grumbled Koitska. "Vel. Ve need a couple, three doctors, but I
do not t'ink you vould do."

Chandler shook his head. "I'm an electrical engineer," he said. "Or
was."

"Vas?"

"I haven't had much practice. There has not been a great deal of call
for engineers, the last year or two."

"Hah." Koitska seemed to consider. "Vel," he said, "it could be ...
yes, it could be dat ve have a job for you. You go back downstairs
and--no, vait." The fat man closed his eyes and Chandler felt himself
seized and propelled down the stairs to what had once been a bay of a
built-in garage. Now it was fitted up with workbenches and the gear of
a radio ham's dreams.

Chandler walked woodenly to one of the benches. His own voice spoke
to him. "Ve got here someplace--_da_, here is cirguit diagrams and de
specs for a sqvare-vave generator. You know vot dat is? Write down de
answer." Chandler, released with a pencil in his hand and a pad before
him, wrote _Yes_. "Okay. Den you build vun for me. I areddy got vun but
I vant another. You do dis in de city, not here. Go to Tripler, dey
tells you dere vere you can work, vere to get parts, all dat. Couple
days you come out here again, I see if I like how you build."

Clutching the thick sheaf of diagrams, Chandler felt himself propelled
outside and back into the little car. The interview was over.

He wondered if he would be able to find his way back to Honolulu, but
that problem was then postponed as he discovered he could not start the
car. His own hands had already done so, of course, but it had been so
quick and sure that he had not paid attention; now he found that the
ignition key was marked only in French, which he could not speak. After
trial and error he discovered the combination that would start the
engine and unlock the steering wheel, and then gingerly he toured the
perimeter of the lot until he found an exit road.

It was close to midnight, he judged. Stars were shining overhead; there
was a rising moon. He then remembered, somewhat tardily, that he should
not be seeing stars. The lane he had come in on had been overhung on
both sides with trees.

A few minutes later he realized he was quite lost.

Chandler stopped the car, swore feelingly, got out and looked around.

There was nothing much to see. The roads bore no markers that made
sense to him. He shrugged and rummaged through the glove compartment
on the chance of a map; there was none, but he did find what he had
almost forgotten, a half-empty pack of cigarettes. It had been--he
counted--nearly a week since he had smoked. He lit up.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a pleasant evening, too. He felt almost relaxed. He stood there,
wondering just what might be about to happen next--with curiosity more
than fear--and then he felt a light touch at his mind.

It was nothing, really. Or nothing that he could quite identify. It was
though he had been nudged. It seemed that someone was about to usurp
his body again, but that did not develop.

As he had about decided to forget it and get back in the car he saw
headlights approaching.

A low, lean sports car slowed as it came near, stopping beside him, and
a girl leaned out, almost invisible in the darkness. "There you are,
love," she said cheerfully. "Thought I spotted someone. Lost?"

She had a coronet, and Chandler recognized her. It was the girl who had
interrogated him. "I guess I am," he admitted.

The girl leaned forward. "Come in, dear. Oh, that thing? Leave it here,
the silly little bug." She giggled as they drove away from the Renault.
"Koitska wouldn't like you wandering around. I guess he decided to give
you a job?"

"How did you know?"

She said softly, "Well, love, you're here, you know. Otherwise--never
mind. What are you supposed to be doing?"

"Going to Tripler, whatever that is. In Honolulu, I guess. Then I have
to build some radio equipment."

"Tripler's actually on the other side of the city. I'll take you to the
gate; then you tell them where you want to go. They'll take care of it."

"I don't have any money for fare."

She laughed. After a moment she said, "Koitska's not the worst. But I'd
mind my step if I were you, love. Do what he says, the best you can.
You never know. You might find yourself very fortunate...."

"I already think that. I'm alive."

"Why, love, that point of view will take you far." The sports car slid
smoothly to a stop at the barricade and, in the floodlights above the
machine-gun nests, she looked more closely at Chandler. "What's that on
your forehead, dear?"

Somehow the woolen cap had been lost. "A brand," he said shortly. "'H'
for 'hoaxer.' I did something when one of you people had me, and they
thought I'd done it on my own."

"Why--why, this is wonderful!" the girl said excitedly. "No wonder I
thought I'd seen you before. Don't you remember? I was in the forewoman
at your trial!"


VII

A pink and silver bus let Chandler off at Fort Street in downtown
Honolulu and he walked a few blocks to the address he had been given.
The name of the place was Parts 'n Plenty. He found it easily enough.
It was a radio parts store; by the size of it, it had once been a big,
well-stocked one; but now the counters were almost bare.

A thin-faced man with khaki-colored skin looked up and nodded. Chandler
nodded back. He fingered a bin of tuning knobs, hefted a coil of
two-strand antenna wire and said, "A fellow at Tripler told me to come
here to pick up equipment, but I'm damned if I know what I'm supposed
to do when I locate it. I don't have any money."

The dark-skinned man got up and came over to him. "Figured you for a
mainlander. No sweat. Have you got a list?"

"I can make one."

"All right. Catalogues on the table behind you, if you want them." He
offered Chandler a cigarette and sat against the edge of the counter,
reading over Chandler's shoulder. "Ho," he said suddenly. "Koitska's
square-wave generator again, right?" Chandler admitted it, and the man
grinned. "Every couple months he sends somebody along. He doesn't
really need the generator, you know. He just wants to see how much you
know about building it, Mr.--?"

"Chandler."

"Glad to know you. I'm John Hsi. But don't go easy on the job just
because it's a waste of time, Chandler; it could be pretty important to
you."

Chandler absorbed the information silently and handed over his list.
The man did not look at it. "Come back in about an hour," he said.

"I won't have any money in an hour, either."

"Oh, that's all right. I'll put it on Koitska's bill."

Chandler said frankly, "Look, I don't know what's going on. Suppose I
came in and picked up a thousand dollars' worth of stuff, would you put
that on the bill, too?"

"Certainly," said Hsi optimistically. "You thinking about stealing
them? What would you do with them?"

"Well...." Chandler puffed on his cigarette. "Well, I could--"

"No, you couldn't. Also, it wouldn't pay, believe me," Hsi said
seriously. "If there is one thing that doesn't pay, it is cheating on
the Exec."

"Now, that's another good question," said Chandler. "Who is the Exec?"

Hsi shook his head. "Sorry. I don't know you, Chandler."

"You mean you're afraid even to answer a question?"

"You're damned well told I am. Probably nobody would mind what I might
tell you ... but 'probably' isn't good enough."

Exasperated, Chandler said, "How the devil am I supposed to know what
to do next? So I take all this junk back to my room at Tripler and
solder up the generator--then what?"

"Then Koitska will get in touch with you," Hsi said, not unkindly.
"Play it as it comes to you, Chandler, that's the best advice I can
offer." He hesitated. "Koitska's not the worst of them," he said; and
then, daringly, "and maybe he's not the best, either. Just do whatever
he told you. Keep on doing it until he tells you to do something else.
That's all. I mean, that's all the advice I can give you. Whether it's
going to be enough to satisfy Koitska is something else again."

       *       *       *       *       *

There is not much to do in a strange town when you have no money.
Chandler's room at what once had been Tripler General Hospital was
free; the bus was free; evidently all the radio parts he could want
were also free. But he did not have the price of a cup of coffee or a
haircut in the pockets of the suntan slacks the desk man at Tripler
had issued him. He wandered around the streets of Honolulu, waiting for
the hour to be up.

At Tripler a doctor had also examined his scar and it was now concealed
under a neat white bandage; he had been fed; he had bathed; he had been
given new clothes. Tripler was a teeming metropolis in itself, a main
building some ten stories high, a scattering of outbuildings connected
to it by covered passages, with thousands of men and women busy about
it. Chandler had spoken to a good many of them in the hour after waking
up and before boarding the bus to Honolulu, and none of them had been
free with information either.

Honolulu had not suffered greatly under the rule of the Exec.
Remembering the shattered stateside cities, Chandler thought that this
one had been spared nearly all the suffering of the rule of the world
by the Exec, whoever they were. Dawdling down King Street, in the
aromatic reek of the fish markets, Chandler could have thought himself
in any port city before the grisly events of that Christmas when the
planet went possessed. Crabs waved sluggishly at him from bins. Great
pink-scaled fish rested on nests of ice, waiting to be sold. Smells of
frying food came from half a dozen restaurants. It was only the people
who were different. There was a solid sprinkling of those who, like
himself, were dressed in insigneless former Army uniforms--obviously
conscripts on Exec errands--and a surprising minority who, from
overheard snatches of conversation, had come from countries other than
the U.S.A. Russian mostly, Chandler guessed; but Russian or U.S.,
wearing suntans or aloha shirts, everyone he saw was marked by the
visible signs of strain. There was no laughter.

Chandler saw a clock within the door of a restaurant; half an hour
still to kill. He turned and wandered up, away from the water, toward
the visible bulk of the hills; and in a moment he saw what made
Honolulu's collective face wear its careworn frown.

It was an open square--perhaps it had once been a war memorial--and in
the center of it was a fenced-off paved area where people seemed to be
resting. It struck Chandler as curious that so many persons should have
decided to take a nap on what surely was an uncomfortable bed of flat
concrete; he approached and saw that they were not resting. Not only
his eyes but his ears conveyed the message--and his nose, too, for the
mild air was fetid with blood and rot.

These were not sleeping men and women. Some were dead; some were
unconscious; all were maimed. The pavement was slimed with their blood.
None had the strength to scream, but several were moaning and even
some of the unconscious ones gasped like the breathing of a man in
diabetic coma. Passersby walked briskly around the metal fence, and if
their glances were curious it was at Chandler they looked, not at the
tortured wrecks before them. He understood that the sight of the dying
men and women was familiar--was painful--and thus was ignored; it was
himself who was the curiosity, for staring at them. He turned and
fled, trying not to vomit.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was still shaken when he returned to Parts 'n Plenty. The hour
was up but Hsi shook his head. "Not yet. You can sit down over there
if you like." Chandler slumped into the indicated swivel chair and
stared blankly at the wall. This was far worse than anything he had
seen stateside. The random terror of murders and bombs was at least a
momentary thing, and when it was done it was done. This was sustained
torture. He buried his head in his hands and did not look up until he
heard the sound of a door opening.

Hsi, his face somehow different, was manipulating a lever on the
outside of a door while a man inside, becoming visible as the door
opened, was doing the same from within. It looked as though the lock on
the door would not work unless both levers operated; and the man on the
inside, whom Chandler had not seen before, was dressed, oddly, only in
bathing trunks. His face wore the same expression as Hsi's. Chandler
guessed (with practice it was becoming easy!) that both were possessed.

The man inside wheeled out two shopping carts loaded with electronic
equipment of varying kinds, wordlessly received some empty ones from
Hsi; and the door closed on him again.

Hsi tugged the lever down, turned, blinked and said, "All right,
Chandler. Your stuff's here."

Chandler approached. "What was that all about?"

"Go to hell!" Hsi said with sudden violence. "I--Oh never mind. Sorry.
But I told you already, ask somebody else your questions, not me." He
gloomily began to pack the items on Chandler's list into a cardboard
carton. Then he glanced at Chandler and said, apologetically, "These
are tough times, buddy. I guess there's no harm in answering _some_
questions. You want to know why most of my stock's locked behind an
armor-plate door? Well, you ought to be able to figure that out for
yourself, anyway. The Exec doesn't like to have people playing with
radios. Bert stays in the stockroom; I stay out here; twice a day the
bosses open the door and we fill whatever orders they've approved. A
little rough on Bert, of course. It's a ten-hour day in the stockroom
for him, and nothing to do. But it could be worse. Oh, that's for sure,
friend: It could be worse."

"Why the bathing suit? Hot in there?"

"Hot for Bert if they think he's smuggling stuff out," said Hsi. "You
been here long enough to see the Monument yet?"

Chandler shook his head, then grimaced. "You mean up about three blocks
that way? Where the people--?"

"That's right," said Hsi admiringly, "three blocks mauka from here,
where the people--Where the people are serving as a very good object
lesson to you and me. About a dozen there, right? Small for this time
of year, Chandler. Usually there are more. Notice anything special
about them?"

"They were butchered! Some of them looked like their legs had been
burned right off. Their eyes gouged out, their faces--" Chandler
brought up sharply. It had been bad enough looking at those wretched,
writhing semi-cadavers; he did not want to talk about them.

The parts man nodded seriously. "Sometimes there are more, and
sometimes they're worse hurt than that. Have you got any idea how they
get that way? They do it to themselves, that's how. My own brother was
out there for a week, last Statehood Day. He jumped feet first into a
concrete mixer, and it took him seven days to die after I put him on my
shoulder and carried him out there. I didn't like it, of course, but
I didn't exactly have any choice; I wasn't running my own body at the
time. Neither was he when he jumped. He was made to do it, because he
used to have Bert's job and he thought he'd take a little short-wave
set home. Like I said, you don't want to cheat on the Exec because it
doesn't pay."

"But what the devil am I supposed to--"

Hsi held up his hand. "Don't ask me how to keep out of that Monument
bunch, Chandler. _I_ don't know. Do what you're told and don't do
anything you aren't told to do; that is the whole of the law. Now do me
a favor and get out of here so I can pack up these other orders." He
turned his back on Chandler.


VIII

By the morning of the fourth day on the island of Oahu, Chandler had
learned enough of the ropes to have signed a money-chit at the Tripler
currency office against Koitska's account.

That was about all he had learned, except for a few practical matters
like where meals were served and the location of the fresh-water
swimming pool at the back of the grounds. He was killing time using the
pool when, in the middle of a jacknife from the ten-foot board, he felt
himself seized. He sprawled into the water with a hard splashing slap,
threshed about and, as he came to the surface, found himself giggling.

"Sorry, dear," he apologized to himself, "but we don't carry our weight
in the same places, you know. Get that square-what'sit thingamajig,
like an angel, and meet me in front by the flagpole in twenty minutes."

He recognized the voice, even if his own vocal chords had made it. It
was the girl who had driven him back from the interview with Koitska,
the one who had casually announced she had saved his life at his
hoaxing trial. Chandler swam to the side of the pool and toweled as he
trotted toward his quarters. She was from Koitska now, of course; which
meant that his "test" was about to be graded.

Quickly though he dressed, she was there before him, standing beside a
low-slung sports car and chatting with one of the groundskeepers. An
armful of leis dangled beside her, and although she wore the coronet
which was evidence of her status the gardener did not seem to fear
her. "Come along, love," she called to Chandler. "Koitska wants your
thingummy. Chuck it in the trunk if it'll fit, and we'll head waikiki
wikiwiki. Don't I say that nicely? But I only fool the malihinis, like
you."

She chattered away as the little car dug its rear wheels into the drive
and leaped around the green and out the gate.

The wind howled by them, the sun was bright, the sky was piercingly
blue. Riding next to this beautiful girl, it was hard for Chandler to
remember that she was one of those who had destroyed his world. It was
a terrible thing to have so much hatred and to feel it so diluted.
Not even Koitska seemed a terrible enough enemy to accept such a load
of detestation; it was hate without an object, and it recoiled on the
hater, leaving him turgid and constrained. If he could not hate his
onetime friend Jack Souther for defiling and destroying his wife, it
was almost as hard to hate Souther's anonymous possessor. It could
even have been Koitska. It could even have been this girl by his
side. In the strange, cruel fantasies with which the Execs indulged
themselves it was likely enough that they would sometimes assume the
body, and the role, of the opposite sex. Why not? Strange, ruthless
morality; it was impossible to evaluate it by any human standards.

It was also impossible to think of hatred with her beside him. They
soared around Honolulu on a broad expressway and paralleled the beach
toward Waikiki. "Look, dear. Diamond Head! Mustn't ignore it--very bad
form--like not going to see the night-blooming cereus at the Punahou
School. You haven't missed that, have you?"

"I'm afraid I have--"

"Rosalie. Call me Rosalie, dear."

"I'm afraid I have, Rosalie." For some reason the name sounded familiar.

"Shame, oh, shame! They say it was wonderful night before last. Looks
like cactus to me, but--"

Chandler's mental processes had worked to a conclusion. "Rosalie
_Pan_!" he said. "Now I know!"

"Know what? You mean--" she swerved around a motionless Buick, parked
arrogantly five feet from the curb--"you mean you didn't know who I
was? And to think I used to pay five thousand a year for publicity."

Chandler said, smiling, and almost relaxed, "I'm sorry, but musical
comedies weren't my strong point. I did see you once, though, on
television. Then, let's see, wasn't there something about you
disappearing--"

She nodded, glancing at him. "There sure was, dear. I almost froze to
death getting out to that airport. Of course, it was worth it, I found
out later. If I hadn't been took, as they say, I would've been dead,
because you remember what happened to New York about an hour later."

"You must have had some friends," Chandler began, and let it trail off.
So did the girl. After a moment she began to talk about the scenery
again, pointing out the brick-red and purple bougainvillea, describing
how the shoreline had looked before they'd "cleaned it up." "Oh,
thousands and thousands of the _homeliest_ little houses. You'd have
hated it. So we have done at least a few good things, anyway," she said
complacently, and began gently to probe into his life story. But as
they stopped before the TWA message center, a few moments later, she
said, "Well, love, it's been fun. Go on in; Koitska's expecting you.
I'll see you later." And her eyes added gently: _I hope_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler got out of the car, turned ... and felt himself taken. His
voice said briskly, "_Zdrastvoi, Rosie. Gd'yeh Koitska?_"

Unsurprised the girl pointed to the building. "_Kto govorit?_"

Chandler's voice answered in English, with a faint Oxford accent:
"It is I, Rosie, Kalman. Where's Koitska's tinkertoy? Oh, all right,
thanks; I'll just pick it up and take it in. Hope it's all right. I
must say one wearies of breaking in these new fellows."

Chandler's body ambled around to the trunk of the car, took out the
square-wave generator on its breadboard base and slouched into the
building. It called ahead in the same language and was answered
wheezily from above: Koitska. "_Zdrastvoi. Iditye suda ko mneh. Kto,
Kalman?_"

"_Konyekhno!_" cried Chandler's voice and he was carried in and up to
where the fat man lounged in a leather-upholstered wheel-chair. There
was a conversation, long minutes of it, while the two men poked at
the generator. Chandler did not understand a word until he spoke to
himself: "You--what's your name."

"Chandler," Koitska filled in.

"You, Chandler. D'you know anything at all about submillimeter
microwaves? Tell Koitska." Briefly Chandler felt himself free--long
enough to nod; then he was possessed again, and Koitska repeated the
nod. "Good, then. Tell Koitska what experience you've had."

Again free, Chandler said, "Not a great deal of actual experience. I
worked with a group at Caltech on spectroscopic measurements in the
million megacycle range. I didn't design any of the equipment, though I
helped put it together." He recited his degrees until Koitska raised a
languid hand.

"_Shto_, I don't care. If ve gave you diagrams you could build?"

"Certainly, if I had the equipment. I suppose I'd need--"

But Koitska stopped him again. "I know vot you need," he said damply.
"Enough. Ve see." In a moment Chandler was taken again, and his voice
and Koitska's debated the matter for a while, until Koitska shrugged,
turned his head and seemed to go to sleep.

Chandler marched himself out of the room and out into the driveway
before his voice said to him: "You've secured a position, then. Go back
to Tripler until we send for you. It'll be a few days, I expect."

And Chandler was free again.

He was also alone. The girl in the Porsche was gone. The door of the
TWA building had latched itself behind him. He stared around him,
swore, shrugged and circled the building to the parking lot at back, on
the chance that a car might be there for him to borrow.

Luckily, there was. There were four, in fact, all with keys in them. He
selected a Ford, puzzled out the likeliest road back to Honolulu and
turned the key in the starter.

It was fortunate, he thought, that there had been several cars; if
there had been only one he would not have dared to take it, for fear of
stranding Koitska or some other exec who might easily blot him out in
annoyance. He did not wish to join the wretches at the Monument.

It was astonishing how readily fear had become a part of his life.

The trouble with this position he had somehow secured--one of the
troubles--was that there was no union delegate to settle employee
grievances. Like no transportation. Like no clear idea of working
hours, or duties. Like no mention at all--of course--of wages. Chandler
had no idea what his rights were, if any at all, or of what the
penalties would be if he overstepped them.

The maimed victims at the Monument supplied a clue, of course. He could
not really believe that that sort of punishment would be applied for
minor infractions. Death was so much less trouble. Even death was not
really likely, he thought, for a simple lapse.

He _thought_.

He could not be sure, of course. He could be sure of only one thing:
He was now a slave, completely a slave, a slave until the day he
died. Back on the mainland there was the statistical likelihood of
occasional slavery-by-possession, but there it was only the body that
was enslaved, and only for moments. Here, in the shadow of the execs,
it was all of him, forever, until death or a miracle turned him loose.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the second day following he returned to his room at Tripler after
breakfast, and found a Honolulu city policeman sitting hollow-eyed on
the edge of his bed. The man stood up as Chandler came in. "So," he
grumbled, "you take so long! Here. Is diagrams, specs, parts lists,
all. You get everything three days from now, then we begin."

The policeman, no longer Koitska, shook himself, glanced stolidly
at Chandler and walked out, leaving a thick manila envelope on the
pillow. On it was written, in a crabbed hand: _All secret! Do not show
diagrams!_

Chandler opened the envelope and spilled its contents on the bed.

An hour later he realized that sixty minutes had passed in which he had
not been afraid. It was good to be working again, he thought, and then
that thought faded away again as he returned to studying the sheaves of
circuit diagrams and closely typed pages of specifications. It was not
only work, it was hard work, and absorbing. Chandler knew enough about
the very short wavelength radio spectrum to know that the device he was
supposed to build was no proficiency test; this was for real. The more
he puzzled over it the less he could understand of its purpose. There
was a transmitter and there was a receiver. Astonishingly, neither was
directional: that ruled out radar, for example. He rejected immediately
the thought that the radiation was for spectrum analysis, as in the
Caltech project--unfortunate, because that was the only application
with which he had first-hand familiarity; but impossible. The thing
was too complicated. Nor could it be a simple message transmitter--no,
perhaps it could, assuming there was a reason for using the
submillimeter bands instead of the conventional, far simpler short-wave
spectrum. Could it? The submillimeter waves were line-of-sight, of
course, but would ionosphere scatter make it possible for them to
cover great distances? He could not remember. Or was that irrelevant,
since perhaps they needed only to cover the distances between islands
in their own archipelago? But then, why all the power? And in any case,
what about this fantastic switching panel, hundreds of square feet of
it even though it was transistorized and subminiaturized and involving
at least a dozen sophisticated technical refinements he hadn't the
training quite to understand? AT&T could have handled every phone call
in the United States with less switching than this--in the days when
telephone systems spanned a nation instead of a fraction of a city. He
pushed the papers together in a pile and sat back, smoking a cigarette,
trying to remember what he could of the theory behind submillimeter
radiation.

At half a million megacycles and up, the domain of quantum theory began
to be invaded. Rotating gas molecules, constricted to a few energy
states, responded directly to the radio waves. Chandler remembered
late-night bull sessions in Pasadena during which it had been pointed
out that the possibilities in the field were enormous--although only
possibilities, for there was no engineering way to reach them, and
no clear theory to point the way--suggesting such strange ultimate
practical applications as the receiverless radio, for example. Was that
what he had here?

He gave up. It was a question that would burn at him until he found the
answer, but just now he had work to do, and he'd better be doing it.

Skipping lunch entirely, he carefully checked the components lists,
made a copy of what he would need, checked the original envelope and
its contents with the man at the main receiving desk for his safe, and
caught the bus to Honolulu.

At the Parts 'n Plenty store, Hsi read the list with a faint frown that
turned into a puzzled scowl. When he put it down he looked at Chandler
for a few moments without speaking.

"Well, Hsi? Can you get all this for me?" The parts man shrugged and
nodded. "Koitska said in three days."

Hsi looked startled, then resigned. "That puts it right up to me,
doesn't it? All right. Wait a moment."

He disappeared in the back of the store, where Chandler heard him
talking on what was evidently an intercom system. He came back in a
few minutes and slipped Chandler's list into a slit in the locked
door. "Tough for Bert," he said. "He'll be working all night, getting
started--but I can take it easy till tomorrow. By then he'll know what
we don't have, and I'll find some way to get it." He shrugged again,
but his face was lined. Chandler wondered how one went about finding,
for example, a thirty megawatt klystron tube; but it was Hsi's problem.
He said:

"All right, I'll see you Monday."

"Wait a minute, Chandler." Hsi eyed him. "You don't have anything
special to do, do you? Well, come have dinner with me. Maybe I can get
to know you. Then maybe I can answer some of your questions, if you
like."

       *       *       *       *       *

They took a bus out Kapiolani Boulevard, then got out and walked a
few blocks to a restaurant named Mother Chee's. Hsi was well known
there, it seemed. He led Chandler to a booth at the back, nodded to
the waiter, ordered without looking at the menu and sat back. "You
malihinis don't know much about food," he said, humorously patronizing.
"I think you'll like it. It's all fish, anyway."

The man was annoying. Chandler was moved to say, "Too bad, I was hoping
for duck in orange sauce, perhaps some snow peas--"

Hsi shook his head. "There's meat, all right, but not here. You'll
only find it in the places where the execs sometimes go.... Tell me
something, Chandler. What's that scar on your forehead."

Chandler touched it, almost with surprise. Since the medics had treated
it he had almost forgotten it was there. He began to explain, then
paused, looking at Hsi, and changed his mind. "What's the score? You
testing me, too? Want to see if I'll lie about it?"

Hsi grinned. "Sorry. I guess that's what I was doing. I do know what an
'H' stands for; we've seen them before. Not many. The ones that do get
this far usually don't last long. Unless, of course, they are working
for somebody whom it wouldn't do to offend," he explained.

"So what you want to know, then, is whether I was really hoaxing or
not. Does it make any difference?"

"Damn right it does, man! We're slaves, but we're not animals!"
Chandler had gotten to him; the parts man looked startled, then sallow,
as he observed his own vehemence.

"Sorry, Hsi. It makes a difference to me, too. Well, I wasn't hoaxing.
I was possessed, just like any other everyday rapist-murderer, only I
couldn't prove it. And it didn't look too good for me, because the
damn thing happened in a pharmaceuticals plant. That was supposed to be
about the only place in town where you could be sure you wouldn't be
possessed, or so everybody thought. Including me. Up to the time I went
ape."

Hsi nodded. The waiter approached with their drinks. Hsi looked at
him appraisingly, then did a curious thing. He gripped his left wrist
with his right hand, quickly, then released it again. The waiter did
not appear to notice. Expertly he served the drinks, folded small pink
floral napkins, dumped and wiped their ashtray in one motion--and then,
so quickly that Chandler was not quite sure he had seen it, caught
Hsi's wrist in the same fleeting gesture just before he turned and
walked away.

Without comment Hsi turned back to Chandler. He said, "I believe you.
Would you like to know why it happened? Because I think I can tell you.
The execs have all the antibiotics they need now."

"You mean--" Chandler hesitated.

"That's right. They did leave some areas alone, as long as they weren't
fully stocked on everything they might want for the foreseeable future.
Wouldn't you?"

"I might," Chandler said cautiously, "if I knew what I was--being an
exec."

Hsi said, "Eat your dinner. I'll take a chance and tell you what I
know." He swallowed his whiskey-on-the-rocks with a quick backward jerk
of the head. "They're mostly Russians--you must know that much for
yourself. The whole thing started in Russia."

Chandler said, "Well, that's pretty obvious. But Russia was smashed
up as much as anywhere else. The whole Russian government was
killed--wasn't it?"

Hsi nodded. "They're not the government. Not the exec. Communism
doesn't mean any more to them than the Declaration of Independence
does--which is nothing. It's very simple, Chandler: they're a project
that got out of hand."

       *       *       *       *       *

Back four years ago, he said, in Russia, it started in the last days
of the Second Stalinite Regime, before the Neo-Krushchevists took over
power in the January Push.

The Western World had not known exactly what was going on, of course.
The "mystery wrapped in a riddle surrounded by an enigma" had become
queerer and even more opaque after Kruschchev's death and the revival
of such fine old Soviet institutions as the Gay Pay Oo. That was the
development called the Freeze, when the Stalinites seized control
in the name of the sacred Generalissimo of the Soviet Fatherland, a
mighty-missile party, dedicated to bringing about the world revolution
by force of sputnik. The neo-Krushchevists, on the other hand, believed
that honey caught more flies than vinegar; and, although there were few
visible adherents to that philosophy during the purges of the Freeze,
they were not all dead. Then, out of the Donbas Electrical Workshop,
came sudden support for their point of view.

It was a weapon. It was more than a weapon, an irresistable tool--more
than that, the way to end all disputes forever. It was a simple radio
transmitter (Hsi said)--or so it seemed, but its frequencies were on
an unusual band and its effects were remarkable. It controlled the
minds of men. The "receiver" was the human brain. Through this little
portable transmitter, surgically patch-wired to the brain of the person
operating it, his entire personality was transmitted in a pattern of
very short waves which could invade and modulate the personality of any
other human being in the world. For that matter, of any animal, as long
as the creature had enough "mind" to seize--

"What's the matter?" Hsi interrupted himself, staring at Chandler.
Chandler had stopped eating, his hand frozen midway to his mouth. He
shook his head.

"Nothing. Go on." Hsi shrugged and continued.

While the Western World was celebrating Christmas--the Christmas before
the first outbreak of possession in the outside world--the man who
invented the machine was secretly demonstrating it to another man. Both
of them were now dead. The inventor had been a Pole, the other man a
former Party leader who, four years before, had rescued the inventor's
dying father from a Siberian work camp. The Party leader had reason to
congratulate himself on that loaf cast on the water. There were only
three working models of the transmitter--what ultimately was refined
into the coronet Chandler had seen on the heads of Koitska and the
girl--but that was enough for the January push.

The Stalinites were out. The neo-Krushchevists were in.

A whole factory in the Donbas was converted to manufacturing these
little mental controllers as fast as they could be produced--and
that was fast, for they were simple in design to begin with and were
quickly refined to a few circuits. Even the surgical wiring to the
brain became unnecessary as induction coils tapped the encephalic
rhythms. Only the great amplifying hookup was really complicated. Only
one of those was necessary, for a single amplifier could serve as
re-broadcaster--modulator for thousands of the headsets.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Hsi demanded.

Chandler put down his fork, lit a cigarette and beckoned to the waiter.
"I'm all right. I just want another drink."

He needed the drink. For now he knew what he was building for Koitska.

       *       *       *       *       *

The waiter brought two more drinks and carried away the uneaten food.
"We don't know exactly who did what after that," Hsi said, "but
somehow or other it got out of hand. I think it was the technical
crew of the factory that took over. I suppose it was an inevitable
danger." He grinned savagely. "I can just imagine the Party workers
in the factory," he said, "trying to figure out how to keep them in
line--bribe them or terrify them? Give them dachas or send a quota
to Siberia? Neither would work, of course, because there isn't any
bribe you can give to a man who only has to stretch out his hand to
take over the world, and you can't frighten a man who can make you
slit your own throat. Anyway, the next thing that happened--the
following Christmas--was when they took over the world. It wasn't a
Party movement at all any more. A lot of the workers were Czechs and
Hungarians and Poles, and the first thing they wanted to do was to
even a few scores.

"So here they are! Before they let the whole world go bang they got out
of range. They got themselves out of Russia on two Red Navy cruisers,
about a thousand of them; then they systematically triggered off every
ballistic missile they could find ... and they could find all of them,
sooner or later, it was just a matter of looking. As soon as it was
safe they moved in here. Best place in the world for them.

"There are only a thousand or so of them here on the Islands, and
nobody outside the Islands even knows where they are. If they did, what
good would it do them? They can kill anyone, anywhere. They kill for
fun, but sometimes they kill for a reason too. When one of them goes
wandering for kicks he makes it a point to mess up all the transport
and communications facilities he comes across--especially now, since
they've stockpiled everything they're likely to need for the next
twenty years. We don't know what they're planning to do when the twenty
years are up. Maybe they don't care. Would you?"

Chandler drained his drink and shook his head. "One question," he said.
"Who's 'we'?"

Hsi carefully unwrapped a package of cigarettes, took one out and lit
it. He looked at it as though he were not enjoying it; cigarettes had a
way of tasting stale these days. As they were. "Just a minute," he said.

Tardily Chandler remembered the quick grasp of the waiter's fingers on
Hsi's wrist, and that the waiter had been hovering, inconspicuously
close, all through their meal. Hsi was waiting for the man to return.

In a moment the waiter was back, looking directly at Chandler. He
looped his own wrist with his fingers and nodded. Hsi said softly,
"'We' is the Society of Slaves. That's all of us--slaves--but only a
few of us belong to the Society. We--"

There was a crash of glass. The waiter had dropped their tray.

Across the table from Chandler, Hsi looked suddenly changed. His left
hand lay on the table before him, his right hand poised over it.
Apparently he had been about to show Chandler again the sign he had
made.

But he could not do it. His hand paused and fluttered, like a captured
bird. Captured it was. Hsi was captured. Out of Hsi's mouth, with
Hsi's voice, came the light, tonal rhythms of Rosalie Pan. "_This_
is an unexpected pleasure, love! I never expected to see you here.
Enjoying your meal?"


IX

Chandler had his empty glass halfway to his lips, automatically, before
he realized there was nothing in it to brace him. He said hoarsely,
"Yes, thanks. Do you come here often?" It was like the banal talk of a
language guide, wildly inappropriate to what had been going on a moment
before. He was shaken.

"Oh, I love it," cooed Hsi, investigating the dishes before him. "All
finished, I see. Too bad. Your friend doesn't feel like he ate much,
either."

"I guess he wasn't hungry," Chandler managed.

"Well, I am." Hsi cocked his head and smiled like a female
impersonator. "I know! Are you doing anything special right now, love?
I know you've eaten, but--well, I've been a good girl and I guess I can
eat a real meal, I mean not with somebody else's teeth, and still keep
the calories in line. Suppose I meet you down at the Beach? There's a
place there where the luau is divine. I can be there in half an hour."

Chandler's breathing was back to normal. Why not? "I'll be delighted."

"Luigi the Wharf Rat, that's the name of it. They won't let you in,
though, unless you tell them you're with me. It's special." Hsi's eye
closed in Rosalie Pan's wink. "Half an hour," Hsi said, and was again
himself. He began to shake.

The waiter brought him straight whiskey and, pretense abandoned, stood
by while Hsi drank it. After a moment he said, "Scares you. But--I
guess we're all right. She couldn't have heard much. You'd better go,
Chandler. I'll talk to you again some other time."

Chandler stood up. But he couldn't leave Hsi like that. "Are you all
right?"

Hsi almost managed control. "Oh--I think so. Not the first time it's
come close, you know. Sooner or later it'll come closer still, and that
will be the end, but--yes, I'm all right for now."

Chandler tarried. "You were saying something about the Society of
Slaves."

"Damn it, go!" Hsi barked. "She'll be waiting for you.... Sorry,
I didn't mean to shout. But go." As Chandler turned, he said more
quietly, "Come around to the store tomorrow. Maybe we can finish our
talk then."

       *       *       *       *       *

Luigi the Wharf Rat's was not actually on the beach but on the bank of
a body of water called the Ala Wai Canal. Across the water were the
snowtopped hills. A maitre-de escorted Chandler personally to a table
on a balcony, and there he waited. Rosalie's "half-hour" was nearly
two; but then he heard her calling him from across the room, in the
voice which had reached a thousand second balconies, and he rose as she
came near.

She said lightly, "Sorry. You ought to be flattered, though. It's a
twenty-minute drive--and an hour and a half to put on my face, so you
won't be ashamed to be seen with me. Well, it's good to be out in my
own skin for a change. Let's eat!"

The talk with Hsi had left a mark on Chandler that not even this girl's
pretty face could obscure. It was a pretty face, though, and she was
obviously exerting herself to make him enjoy himself. He could not help
responding to her mood.

She talked of her life on the stage, the excitement of a performance,
the entertainers she had known. Her conversation was one long
name-drop, but it was not pretense: the world of the famous was the
world she had lived in. It was not a world that Chandler had ever
visited, but he recognized the names. Rosie had been married once to
an English actor whose movies Chandler had made a point of watching on
television. It was interesting, in a way, to know that the man snored
and lived principally on vitamin pills. But it was a view of the man
that Chandler had not sought.

The restaurant drew its clientele mostly from the execs, young ones or
young-acting ones, like the girl. The coronets were all over. There had
been a sign on the door:

    KAPU, WALIHINI!

to mark it off limits to anyone not an exec or a collaborator. Still,
Chandler thought, who on the island was not a collaborator? The only
effective resistance a man could make would be to kill everyone
within reach and then himself, thus depriving them of slaves--and
that was, after all, only what the execs themselves had done in other
places often enough. It would inconvenience them only slightly. The
next few planeloads or shiploads of possessed warm bodies from the
mainland would be permitted to live, instead of being required to dash
themselves to destruction, like the crew of the airplane that had
carried Chandler. Thus the domestic stocks would be replenished.

An annoying feature of dining with Rosalie in the flesh, Chandler
found, was that half a dozen times while they were talking he found
himself taken, speaking words to Rosie that were not his own, usually
in a language he did not understand. She took it as a matter of
course. It was merely a friend, across the room or across the island,
using Chandler as the casual convenience of a telephone. "Sorry," she
apologized blithely after it happened for the third time, and then
stopped. "You don't like that, love, do you?"

"Can you blame me?" He stopped himself from saying more; he was
astonished even so at his tone.

She said it for him. "I know. It takes away your manhood, I suppose.
Please don't let it do that to you, love. We're not so bad. Even--"
She hesitated, and did not go on. "You know," she said, "I came here
the same way you did. Kidnaped off the stage of the Winter Garden. Of
course, the difference was the one who kidnaped me was an old friend.
Though I didn't know it at the time and it scared me half to death."

Chandler must have looked startled. She nodded. "You've been thinking
of us as another race, haven't you? Like the Neanderthals or--well,
worse than that, maybe." She smiled. "We're not. About half of us
came from Russia in the first place, but the others are from all over.
You'd be astonished, really." She mentioned several names, world-famous
scientists, musicians, writers. "Of course, not everybody can qualify
for the club, love. Wouldn't be exclusive otherwise. The chief rule
is loyalty. I'm loyal," she added gently after a moment, "and don't
you forget it. Have to be. Whoever becomes an exec has to be with us,
all the way. There are tests. It has to be that way--not only for our
protection. For the world's."

Chandler was genuinely startled at that. Rosie nodded seriously. "If
one exec should give away something he's not supposed to it would upset
the whole applecart. There are only a thousand of us, and I guess
probably two billion of you, or nearly. The result would be complete
destruction."

Of the Executive Committee, Chandler thought she meant at first, but
then he thought again. No. Of the world. For the thousand execs,
outnumbered though they were two million to one, could not fail to
triumph. The contest would not be in doubt. If the whole thousand execs
at once began systematically to kill and destroy, instead of merely
playing at it as the spirit moved them, they could all but end the
human race overnight. A man could be made to slash his throat in a
quarter of a minute. An exec, killing, killing, killing without pause,
could destroy his own two million enemies in an eight-hour day.

And there were surer, faster ways. Chandler did not have to imagine
them, he had seen them. The massacre of the Orphalese, the victims at
the Monument--they were only crumbs of destruction. What had happened
to New York City showed what mass-production methods could do. No doubt
there were bombs left, even if only chemical ones. Shoot, stab, crash,
blow up; swallow poison, leap from window, slit throat. Every man a
murderer, at the touch of a mind from Hawaii; and if no one else was
near to murder, surely each man could find a victim in himself. In
one ravaging day mankind would cease to exist as a major force. In a
week the only survivors would be those in such faroff and hopelessly
impotent places that they were not worth the trouble of tracking down.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You hate us, don't you?"

Chandler paused and tried to find an answer. Rosie was not either
belligerent or mocking. She was only sympathetically trying to reach
his point of view. He shook his head silently.

"Not meaning 'no'--meaning 'no comment'? Well, I don't blame you, love.
But do you see that we're not altogether a bad thing? It's bad that
there should be so much violence. In a way. Hasn't there always been
violence? And what were the alternatives? Until we came along the world
was getting ready to kill itself anyway."

"There's a difference," Chandler mumbled. He was thinking of his wife.
He and Margot had loved each other as married couples do--without any
very great, searing compulsion; but with affection, with habit and
with sporadic passion. Chandler had not given much thought to the
whole, though he was aware of the parts, during the last years of his
marriage. It was only after Margot's murder that he had come to know
that the sum of those parts was a quite irreplaceable love.

But Rosie was shaking her head. "The difference is all on our side.
Suppose Koitska's boss had never discovered the coronets. At any moment
one country might have got nervous and touched off the whole thing--not
carefully, the way we did it, with most of the really dirty missiles
fused safe and others landing where they were supposed to go. I mean,
touched off a _war_. The end, love. The bloody _finis_. The ones that
were killed at once would have been the lucky ones. No, love," she
said, in dead earnest, "we aren't the worst things that ever happened
to the world. Once the--well, the _bad_ part--is over, people will
understand what we really are."

"And what's that, exactly?"

She hesitated, smiled and said modestly, "We're gods."

It took Chandler's breath away--not because it was untrue, but because
it had never occurred to him that gods were aware of their deity.

"We're gods, love, with the privilege of electing mortals to the club.
Don't judge us by anything that has gone before. Don't judge us by
anything. We are a New Thing. We don't have to conform to precedent
because we upset all precedents. From now on, to the end of time, the
rules will grow from us."

She patted her lips briskly with a napkin and said, "Would you like to
see something? Let's take a little walk."

She took him by the hand and led him across the room, out to a sundeck
on the other side of the restaurant. They were looking down on what had
once been a garden. There were people in it; Chandler was conscious of
sounds coming from them, and he was able to see that there were dozens
of them, perhaps a hundred, and that they all seemed to be wearing
suntans like his own.

"From Tripler?" he guessed.

"No, love. They pick out those clothes themselves. Stand there a
minute."

The girl in the coronet walked out to the rail of the sundeck, where
pink and amber spotlights were playing on nothing. As she came into the
colored lights there was a sigh from the people in the garden. A man
walked forward with an armload of leis and deposited them on the ground
below the rail.

They were _adoring_ her.

Rosalie stood gravely for a moment, then nodded and returned to
Chandler.

"They began doing that about a year ago," she whispered to him, as a
murmur of disappointment came up from the crowd. "Their own idea. We
didn't know what they wanted at first, but they weren't doing any harm.
You see, love," she said softly, "we can make them do anything we like.
But we don't make them do that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hours later, Chandler was not sure just how, they were in a light plane
flying high over the Pacific, clear out of sight of land. The moon was
gold above them, the ocean black beneath.

Chandler stared down as the girl circled the plane, slipping lower
toward the water, silent and perplexed. But he was not afraid. He was
almost content. Rosie was good company--gay, cheerful--and she had
treasures to share. It had been an impulse of hers, a long drive in
her sports car and a quick, comfortable flight over the ocean to cap
the evening. It had been a pleasant impulse. He reflected gravely that
he could understand now how generations of country maidens had been
dazzled and despoiled. A touch of luxury was a great seducer.

The coronet on the girl's body could catch his body at any moment. She
had only to think herself into his mind, and her will, flashed to a
relay station like the one he was building for Koitska, at loose in
infinity, could sweep into him and make him a puppet. If she chose, he
would open that door beside him and step out into a thousand feet of
air and a meal for the sharks.

But he did not think she would do it. He did not think anyone would,
really, though with his own eyes he had seen some anyones do things as
bad as that and sickeningly worse. There was no corrupt whim of the
most diseased mind in history that some torpid exec had not visited
on a helpless man, woman or child in the past years. Even as they
flew here, Chandler knew, the gross bodies that lay in luxury in the
island's villas were surging restlessly around the world; and death and
horror remained where they had passed. It was a paradox too great to be
reconciled, this girl and this vileness. He could not forget it, but he
could not feel it in his glands. She was pretty. She was gay. He began
to think thoughts that had left him alone for a long time.

The dark bulk of the island showed ahead and they were sinking toward a
landing.

The girl landed skillfully on a runway that sprang into light as she
approached--electronic wizardry, or the coronet and some tethered serf
at a switch? It didn't matter. Nothing mattered very greatly at that
moment to Chandler.

"Thank you, love," she said, laughing. "I liked that. It's all very
well to use someone else's body for this sort of thing, but every now
and then I want to keep my own in practice."

She linked arms with him as they left the plane. "When I was first
given the coronet here," she reminisced, amusement in her voice, "I
got the habit real bad. I spent six awful months--really, six months
in bed! And by myself at that. Oh, I was all over the world, and
skin-diving on the Barrier Reef and skiing in Norway and--well," she
said, squeezing his arm, "never _mind_ what all. And then one day I got
on the scales, just out of habit. Do you know what I _weighed_?" She
closed her eyes in mock horror, but they were smiling when she opened
them again. "I won't do that again, love. Of course, a lot of us do
let ourselves go. Even Koitska. Especially Koitska. And some of the
women--But just between us, the ones who do really didn't have much to
keep in shape in the first place."

She led the way into a villa that smelled of jasmine and gardenias,
snapped her fingers and subdued lights came on. "Like it? Oh, we've
nothing but the best. What would you like to drink?"

She fixed them both tall, cold glasses and vetoed Chandler's choice of
a sprawling wicker chair to sit on. "Over here, love." She patted the
couch beside her. She drew up her legs, leaning against him, very soft,
warm and fragrant, and said dreamily, "Let me see. What's nice? What do
you like in music, love?"

"Oh ... anything."

"No, no! You're supposed to say, 'Why, the original-cast album from
_Hi There_.' Or anything else I starred in." She shook her head
reprovingly, and the points of her coronet caught golden reflections
from the lights. "But since you're obviously a man of low taste
I'll have to do the whole bit myself." She touched switches at a
remote-control set by her end of the couch, and in a moment dreamy
strings began to come from tri-aural speakers hidden around the room.
It was not _Hi There_. "That's better," she said drowsily, and in a
moment, "Wasn't it nice in the plane?"

"It was fine," Chandler said. Gently--but firmly--he sat up and reached
automatically into his pocket.

The girl sighed and straightened. "Cigarette? They're on the table
beside you. Hope you like the brand. They only keep one big factory
going, not to count those terrible Russian things that're all air and
no smoke." She touched his forehead with cool fingers. "You never told
me about that, love."

It was like an electric shock--the touch of her fingers and the touch
of reality at once. Chandler said stiffly, "My brand. But I thought you
were there at the trial."

"Oh, only now and then. I missed all the naughty parts--though, to tell
the truth, that's why I was hanging around. I do like to hear a little
naughtiness now and then ... but all I heard was that stupid lawyer and
that stupid judge. Made me mad." She giggled. "Lucky for you. I was so
irritated I decided to spoil their fun too."

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler sat up and took a long pull at his drink. Curiously, it seemed
to sober him. He said: "It's nothing. I happened to rape and kill a
young girl. Happens every day. Of course, it was one of your friends
that was doing it for me, but I didn't miss any of what was going on,
I can give you a blow-by-blow description if you like. The people in
the town where I lived, at that time, thought I was doing it on my own,
though, and they didn't approve. Hoaxing--you know? They thought I was
so perverse and cruel that I would do that sort of thing under my own
power, instead of with some exec--or, as they would have put it, being
ignorant, some imp, or devil, or demon--pulling the strings."

He was shaking. He waited for what she had to say; but she only
whispered, "I'm sorry, love," and looked so contrite and honest that,
as rapidly as it had come upon him, his anger passed.

He opened his mouth to say something to her. He didn't get it said.
She was sitting there, looking at him, alone and soft and inviting.
He kissed her; and as she returned the kiss, he kissed her again, and
again.

But less than an hour later he was in her Porsche, cold sober, raging,
frustrated, miserable. He slammed it through the unfamiliar gears as he
sped back to the city.

She had left him. They had kissed with increasing passion, his hands
playing about her, her body surging toward him, and then, just then,
she whispered, "No, love." He held her tighter and without another word
she opened her eyes and looked at him.

He knew what mind it was that caught him then. It was her mind.
Stiffly, like wood, he released her, stood up, walked to the door and
locked it behind him.

The lights in the villa went out. He stood there, boiling, looking
into the shadows through the great, wide, empty window. He could see
her lying there on the couch, and as he watched he saw her body toss
and stir; and as surely as he had ever known anything before he knew
that somewhere in the world some woman--or some man!--lay locked with a
lover, violent in love, and was unable to tell the other that a third
party had invaded their bed.

Chandler did not know it until he saw something glistening on his
wrist, but he was weeping on the wild ride back to Honolulu in the car.
Her car. Would there be trouble for his taking it? God, let there
be trouble! He was in a mood for trouble. He was sick and wild with
revulsion.

Worse than her use of him, a casual stimulant, an aphrodisiac touch,
was that she thought what she did was right. Chandler thought of the
worshipping dozens under the sundeck of the exec restaurant, and
Rosalie's gracious benediction as they made her their floral offerings.
Blind, pathetic fools!

Not only the deluded men and women in the garden were worshippers
trapped in a vile religion, he thought. It was worse. The gods and
goddesses worshipped at their own divinity as well!



X


Three days later Koitska's voice, coming from Chandler's lips, summoned
him out to the TWA shack again.

Wise now in the ways of this world, Chandler commandeered a police car
and was hurried out to the South Gate, where the guards allowed him a
car of his own. The door of the building was unlocked and Chandler went
right up.

He was astonished. The fat man was actually sitting up. He was fully
dressed--more or less; incongruously he wore flowered shorts and a
bright red, short-sleeve shirt, with rope sandals. He said, "You fly
a _gilikopter_? No? No difference. Help me." An arm like a mountain
went over Chandler's shoulders. The man must have weighed three hundred
pounds. Slowly, wheezing, he limped toward the back of the room and
touched a button.

A door opened.

Chandler had not known before that there was an elevator in the
building. That was one of the things the exec did not consider
important for his slaves to know. It lowered them with great grace and
delicacy to the first floor, where a large old Cadillac, ancient but
immaculately kept, the kind that used to be called a "gangster's car,"
waited in a private parking bay.

Chandler followed Koitska's directions and drove to an airfield where
a small, Plexiglas-nosed helicopter waited. More by the force of
Chandler pushing him from behind than through his own fat thighs,
Koitska puffed up the little staircase into the cabin. Originally the
copter had been fitted for four passengers. Now there was the pilot's
seat and a seat beside it, and in the back a wide, soft couch. Koitska
collapsed onto it. His face blanked out--he was, Chandler knew,
somewhere else, just then.

In a moment his eyes opened again. He looked at Chandler with no
interest at all, and turned his face to the wall.

After a moment he wheezed. "Sit down. At de controls." He breathed
noisily for a while. Then, "It von't pay you to be interested in
Rosalie," he said.

Chandler was startled. He craned around in the seat but saw only
Koitska's back. "I'm not! Or anyway--" But he had no place to go in
that sentence, and in any case Koitska no longer seemed interested.

After a moment Koitska stirred, settled himself more comfortably, and
Chandler felt himself taken. He turned to face the split wheel and the
unfamiliar pedals and watched himself work the controls. It was an
admirable performance. Whoever Chandler was just then--he could not
guess--he was a first-class helicopter pilot.

       *       *       *       *       *

They crossed a wide body of ocean and approached another island; from
one quick glance at a navigation map that his eyes had taken, Chandler
guessed it to be Hilo. He landed the craft expertly on the margin of a
small airstrip, where two DC-3s were already parked and being unloaded,
and felt himself free again.

Two husky young men, apparently native Hawaiians by their size, rolled
up a ramp and assisted Koitska down it and into a building. Chandler
was left to his own devices. The building was rundown but sound. Around
it stalky grass clumped, long uncut, and a few mauve and scarlet
blossoms, almost hidden, showed where someone had once tended beds of
bougainvillea and poinsettias. He could not guess what the building
had been doing there, looking like a small office-factory combination
out in the remote wilds, until he caught sight of a sign the winds had
blown against a wall: _Dole_. Apparently this had been headquarters
for one of the plantations. Now it was stripped almost clean inside, a
welter of desks and rusted machines piled heedlessly where there once
had been a parking lot. New equipment was being loaded into it from the
cargo planes. Chandler recognized some of it as from the list he had
given the parts man, Hsi. There also seemed to be a gasoline-driven
generator--a large one--but what the other things were he could not
guess.

Besides Koitska, there were at least five coronet-wearing execs visible
around the place. Chandler was not surprised. It would have to be
something big to winkle these torpid slugs out of their shells, but he
knew what it was, and that it was big enough to them indeed; in fact,
it was their lives. He deduced that Koitska's plans for his future
comfort required a standby transmitter to service the coronets, in case
something went wrong. And clearly it was this that they were to put
together here.

For ten hours, while the afternoon became dark night, they worked
at a furious pace. When the sun set one of the execs gestured and
the generator was started, rocking on its rubber-tired wheels as its
rotors spun and fumes chugged out, and they worked on by strings of
incandescent lights. It was pick-and-shovel work for Chandler, no
engineering, just unloading and roughly grouping the equipment where
it was ready to be assembled. The execs did not take part in the work.
Nor were they idle. They busied themselves in one room of the building
with some small device--Chandler could not see what--and when he looked
again it was gone. He did not see them take it away and did not know
where it was taken. Toward midnight he suddenly realized that it was
likely some essential part which they would not permit anyone but
themselves to handle, and that, no doubt, was why they had come in
person, instead of working through proxies.

Just before they left Koitska and two or three of the other execs
quizzed him briefly. He was too tired to think beyond the questions,
but they seemed to be trying to find out if he was able to do the
simpler parts of the construction without supervision, and they seemed
satisfied with the answers. He flew the helicopter home, with someone
else guilding his arms and legs, but he was half asleep as he did it,
and he never quite remembered how he managed to get back to his room at
Tripler.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning he went back to Parts 'n Plenty with an additional
list, covering replacement of some parts that had been damaged. Hsi
glanced at it quickly and nodded. "All this stuff I have. You can pick
it up this afternoon if you like."

Chandler offered him a cigarette out of a stale pack. "About the other
night--"

Hsi began to perspire, but he said, casually enough, "Interested in
baseball?"

"Baseball?"

Hsi said, as though there had been nothing incongruous about the
question, "There'll be a Little League game this afternoon. Back of the
school on Punahou and Wilder. I thought I might stop by, then we can
come back and pick up the rest of your gear. Two o'clock. Hope I'll see
you."

Chandler walked away thoughtfully. He had no real intention of going
there, but something in Hsi's attitude suggested more than a ball game;
after a quick and poor lunch he decided to go.

The field was a dirty playground, scuffed out of what had probably
once been an attractive campus. The players were ten-year-olds, of the
mixture of hair colors and complexions typical of the islands. Chandler
was puzzled. Surely even the wildest baseball rooter wouldn't go far
out of his way for this, and yet there was an audience of at least
fifty adults watching the game. And none seemed to be related to the
ballplayers. The Little Leaguers played grave, careful ball, and the
audience watched them without a word of parental encouragement or joy.

Hsi approached him from the shadow of the school building. "Glad you
could make it, Chandler. No, no questions. Just watch."

In the fifth inning, with the score aggregating around thirty, there
was an interruption. A tall, red-headed man glanced at his watch,
licked his lips, took a deep breath and walked out onto the diamond. He
glanced at the crowd, while the kids suspended play without surprise.
Then the red-headed man nodded to the umpire and stepped off the field.
The ballplayers resumed their game, but now the whole attention of the
audience was on the red-headed man.

Suspicion crossed Chandler's mind. In a moment it was confirmed, as the
red-headed man raised his hands waist high and clasped his right hand
around his left wrist--only for a moment, but that was enough.

The ball game was a cover. Chandler was present at a meeting of what
Hsi had called The Society of Slaves, the underground that dared to pit
itself against the execs.

Hsi cleared his throat and said, "This is the one. I vouch for him."
And that was startling too, Chandler thought, because all these
wrist-circled men and women were looking at _him_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"All right," said the red-headed man nervously, "let's get started
then. First thing, anybody got any weapons? Sure? Take a look--we don't
want any slipups. Turn out your pockets."

There was a flurry and a woman near Chandler held up a key ring with a
tiny knife on it "Penknife? Hell, yes; get rid of it. Throw it in the
outfield. You can pick it up after the meeting." A hundred eyes watched
the pearly object fly. "We ought to be all right here," said the
red-headed man. "The kids have been playing every day this week and
nobody looked in. But _watch your neighbor_. See anything suspicious,
don't wait. Don't take a chance. Holler 'Kill the umpire!' or anything
you like, but holler. Good and loud." He paused, breathing hard. "All
right, Hsi. Introduce him."

The parts man took Chandler firmly by the shoulder. "This fellow
has something for us," he said. "He's working for the exec Koitska,
building what can't be anything else but a duplicate of the machine
that they use to control us. He--"

"Wait a minute!" A bearded man came forward and peered furiously into
Chandler's face. "Look at his head! Don't you see he's branded?"

Chandler touched his scar as the man with the beard hissed, "Damned
hoaxer! This is the lowest species of life on the face of the
earth--someone who pretended to be possessed in order to do some damned
dirty act What was it, hoaxer? Murder? Burning babies alive?"

Hsi economically let go of Chandler's shoulder, half turned the bearded
man with one hand and swung with the other. "Shut up, Linton. Wait till
you hear what he's got for us."

The bearded man, sprawling and groggy, slowly rose as Hsi explained
tersely what he had guessed of Chandler's work--as much as Chandler
himself knew, it seemed. "Maybe this is only a duplicate. Maybe it
won't be used. But maybe it will--and Chandler's the man who can
sabotage it! How would you like that? The execs switching over to
this equipment while the other one is down for maintenance--and their
headsets don't work!"

There was a terrible silence, except for the sounds of the children
playing ball. Two runs had just scored. Chandler recognized the
silence. It was hope.

Linton broke it, his blue eyes gleaming above the beard. "No! Better
than that. Why wait? We can _use_ this fellow's machine. Set it up, get
us some headsets--and we can control the execs themselves!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The silence was even longer; then there was a babble of discussion, but
Chandler did not take part in it. He was thinking. It was a tremendous
thought.

Suppose a man like himself were actually able to do what they wanted
of him. Never mind the practical difficulties--learning how it worked,
getting a headset, bypassing the traps Koitska would surely have set
to prevent just that. Never mind the penalties for failure. Suppose
he could make it work, and find fifty headsets, and fit them to the
fifty men and women here in this clandestine meeting of the Society of
Slaves....

Would there, after all, be any change worth mentioning in the state of
the world?

Or was Lord Acton, always and everywhere, right? Power corrupts.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The power locked in the coronets
of the exec was more than flesh and blood could stand; he could almost
sense the rot in those near him at the mere thought.

But Hsi was throwing cold water on the idea. "Sorry, but I know that
much: One exec can't control another. The headpieces insulate against
control. Well." He glanced at his watch. "We agreed on twenty minutes
maximum for this meeting," he reminded the red-headed man, who nodded.

"You're right." He glanced around the group. "I'll make the rest of it
fast. News: You all know they got some more of us last week. Have you
all been by the Monument? Three of our comrades were still there this
morning. But I don't think they know we're organized, they think it's
only individual acts of sabotage. In case any of you don't know, the
execs can't read our minds. Not even when they're controlling us. Proof
is we're all still alive. Hanrahan knew practically every one of us,
and he's been lying out there for a week with a broken back, ever since
they caught him trying to blow up the guard pits at East Gate. They had
plenty of chance to pump him if they could. _They can't._ Next thing.
No more individual attacks on one exec. Not unless it's a matter of
life and death, and even then you're wasting your time unless you've
got a gun. They can grab your mind faster than you can cut a throat.
Third thing: Don't get the idea there are good execs and bad execs.
Once they put that thing on their heads they're all the same. Fourth
thing. You can't make deals. They aren't that worried. So if anybody's
thinking of selling out--I'm not saying anyone is--forget it." He
looked around. "Anything else?"

"What about germ warfare in the water supply?" somebody ventured.

"Still looking into it. No report yet. All right, that's enough for
now. Meeting's adjourned. Watch the ball game for a while, then drift
away. _One at a time._"

Hsi was the first to go, then a couple of women together, then a
sprinkling of other men. Chandler was in no particular hurry, although
it seemed time to leave anyway, because the ball game appeared to be
over. A ten-year-old with freckles on his face was at the plate, but
he was leaning on his bat, staring at Chandler with wide, serious eyes.

Chandler felt a sudden chill.

He turned, began to walk away--and felt himself seized.

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked slowly into the schoolhouse, unable to look around. Behind
him he heard a confused sob, tears and a child's voice trying to
blubber through: "Something _funny_ happened."

If the child had been an adult it might have been warning enough. But
the child had never experienced possession before, was not sure enough,
was clear into the schoolhouse before the remaining members of the
Society of Slaves awoke to their danger. He heard a quick cry of _They
got him!_ Then Chandler's legs stopped walking and he addressed himself
savagely. A few yards away a stout Chinese lady was mopping the tiles;
she looked up at him, startled, but no more startled than Chandler was
himself. "You idiot!" Chandler blazed. "Why do you have to get mixed
up in this? Don't you know it's wrong, love? Stay here!" Chandler
commanded himself. "Don't you _dare_ leave this building!"

And he was free again, but there was a sudden burst of screams from
outside.

Bewildered, Chandler stood for a moment, as little able to move as
though the girl still had him under control. Then he leaped through a
classroom to a window, staring. Outside in the playground there was
wild confusion. Half the spectators were on the ground, trying to rise.
As he watched, a teen-age boy hurled himself at an elderly lady, the
two of them falling. Another man flung himself to the ground. A woman
swung her pocketbook into the face of the man next to her. One of the
fallen ones rose, only to trip himself again. It was a mad spectacle,
but Chandler understood it: What he was watching was a single member
of the exec trying to keep a group of twenty ordinary, unarmed human
beings in line. The exec was leaping from mind to mind; even so, the
crowd was beginning to scatter.

Without thought Chandler started to leap out to help them; but the
possessor had anticipated that. He was caught at the door. He whirled
and ran toward the woman with the mop; as he was released, the woman
flung herself upon him, knocking him down.

By the time he was able to get up again it was far too late to help ...
if there ever had been a time when he could have been of any real help.

He heard shots. Two policeman had come running into the playground,
with guns drawn.

The exec who had looked at him out of the boy's eyes, who had
penetrated this nest of enemies and extricated Chandler from it, had
taken first things first. Help had been summoned. Quick as the coronets
worked, it was no time at all until the nearest persons with weapons
were located, commandeered and in action.

Two minutes later there no longer was resistance.

Obviously more execs had come to help, attracted by the commotion
perhaps, or summoned at some stolen moment after the meeting had first
been invaded. There were only five survivors on the field. Each was
clearly controlled. They rose and stood patiently while the two police
shot them, shot them, paused to reload and shot again. The last to die
was the bearded man, Linton, and as he fell his eyes brushed Chandler's.

Chandler leaned against a wall.

It had been a terrible sight. The nearness of his own death had been
almost the least of it.

He had no doubt of the identity of the exec who had saved him and
destroyed the others. Though he had heard the voice only as it came
from his own mouth, he could not miss it. It was Rosalie Pan.

He looked out at the red-headed man, sprawled across the foul line
behind third base, and remembered what he had said. There weren't any
good execs or bad execs. There were only execs.



XI


Whatever Chandler's life might be worth, he knew he had given it away
and the girl had given it back to him.

He did not see her for several days, but the morning after the massacre
he woke to find a note beside his bed table. No one had been in the
room. It was his own sleeping hand that had written it, though the
girl's mind had moved his fingers:

    If you get mixed up in anything like that again I won't be able to
    help you. So don't! Those people are just using you, you know.
    Don't throw away your chances. Do you like surfboarding?

    Rosie

But by then there was no time for surfboarding, or for anything
else but work. The construction job on Hilo had begun, and it was a
nightmare. He was flown to the island with the last load of parts. No
execs were present in the flesh, but in the first day Chandler lost
count of how many different minds possessed his own. He began to be
able to recognize them by a limp as he walked, by tags of German as he
spoke, by a stutter, a distinctive gesture of annoyance, an expletive.
As he was a trained engineer he was left to labor by himself for hours
on end. It was worse for the others. There seemed to be a dozen execs
hovering invisible around all the time; no sooner was a worker released
by one than he was seized by another. The work progressed rapidly,
but at the cost of utter exhaustion. By the end of the fourth day
Chandler had eaten only two meals and could not remember when he had
slept last. He found himself staggering when free, and furious with the
fatigue-clumsiness of his own body when possessed. At sundown on the
fourth day he found himself free for a moment and, incredibly, without
work of his own to do just then, until someone else completed a job
of patchwiring. He stumbled out into the open air and had time only
to gaze around for a moment before his eyes began to close. This must
once have been a lovely island. Even unkempt as it was, the trees were
tall and beautiful. Beyond them a wisp of smoke was pale against the
dark-blue evening sky; the breeze was scented.... He woke and found he
was already back in the building, reaching for his soldering gun.

There came a point at which even the will of the execs was unable to
drive the flogged bodies farther, and then they were permitted to sleep
for a few hours. At daybreak they were awake again. The sleep was not
enough. The bodies were slow and inaccurate. Two of the Hawaiians,
straining a hundred-pound component into place, staggered, slipped--and
dropped it.

Appalled, Chandler waited for them to kill themselves.

But it seemed that the execs were tiring too. One of the Hawaiians said
irritably, with an accent Chandler did not recognize: "That's pau. All
right, you morons, you've won yourselves a vacation; we'll have to fly
you in replacements. Take the day off." And incredibly all eleven of
the haggard wrecks stumbling around the building were free at once.

The first thought of every man was to eat, to relieve himself, to
remove a shoe and ease a blistered foot--to do any of the things they
had not been permitted to do. The second thought was sleep.

Chandler dropped off at once, but he was overtired; he slept fitfully,
and after an hour or two of turning on the hard ground sat up, blinking
red-eyed around. He had been slow. The cushioned seats in the aircraft
and cars were already taken. He stood up, stretched, scratched himself
and wondered what to do next, and he remembered the thread of smoke he
had seen--when? three nights ago?--against the evening sky.

In all those hours he had not had time to think one obvious thought:
There should have been no smoke there! The island was supposed to be
deserted.

He stood up, looked around to get his bearings, and started off in the
direction he remembered.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was good to own his body again, in poor condition as it was. It was
delicious to be allowed to think consecutive thoughts.

The chemistry of the human animal is such that it heals whatever
thrusts it may receive from the outside world. Short of death, its
only incapacitating wound comes from itself; from the outside it can
survive astonishing blows, rise again and flourish. Chandler was not
flourishing, but he had begun to rise.

Time had been so compressed and blurred in the days since the slaughter
at the Punahou School that he had not had time to grieve over the
deaths of his briefly-met friends, or even to think of their quixotic
plans against the execs. Now he began to wonder.

He understood with what thrill of hope he had been received--a man like
themselves, not an exec, whose touch was at the very center of the exec
power. But how firm was that touch? Was there really anything he could
do?

It seemed not. He barely understood the mechanics of what he was
doing, far less the theory behind it. Conceivably knowing where this
installation was he could somehow get back to it when it was completed.
In theory it might be that there was a way to dispense with the
headsets and exert power from the big board itself.

A Cro-Magnard at the controls of a nuclear-laden jet bomber could
destroy a city. Nothing stopped him. Nothing but his own invincible
ignorance. Chandler was that Cro-Magnard; certainly power was here to
grasp, but he had no way of knowing how to pick it up.

Still--where there was life there was hope. He decided he was wasting
time that would not come again. He had been wandering along a road
that led into a small town, quite deserted, but this was no time for
wandering. His place was back at the installation, studying, scheming,
trying to understand all he could. He began to turn, and stopped.

"Great God," he said softly, looking at what he had just seen. The
town was deserted of life, but not of death.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were bodies everywhere.

They were long dead, perhaps years. They seemed natural and right as
they lay there. It was not surprising they had escaped his notice at
first. Little was left but bones and an occasional desiccated leathery
rag that might have been a face. The clothing was faded and rotted
away; but enough was left of the bodies and the clothes to make it
clear that none of these people had died natural deaths. A rusted blade
in a chest cage showed where a knife had pierced a heart; a small
skull near his feet (with a scrap of faded blue rompers near it) was
shattered. On a flagstone terrace a family group of bones lay radiating
outward, like a rosette. Something had exploded there and caught them
all as they turned to flee. There was a woman's face, grained like oak
and eyeless, visible between the fender of a truck and a crushed-in
wall.

Like exhumed Pompeii, the tragedy was so ancient that it aroused only
wonder. The whole town had been blotted out.

The execs did not take chances; apparently they had sterilized the
whole island--probably had sterilized all of them except Oahu itself,
to make certain that their isolation was complete, except for the
captive stock allowed to breed and serve them in and around Honolulu.

Chandler prowled the town for a quarter of an hour, but one street was
like another. The bodies did not seem to have been disturbed even by
animals, but perhaps there were none big enough to show traces of such
work.

Something moved in a doorway.

Chandler thought at once of the smoke he had seen, but no one answered
his call and, though he searched, he could neither see nor hear
anything alive.

The search was a waste of time. It also wasted his best chance to study
the thing he was building. As he returned to the cinder-block structure
at the end of the airstrip he heard motors and looked up to see a plane
circling in for a landing.

He knew that he had only a few minutes. He spent those minutes as
thriftily as he could, but long before he could even grasp the
circuitry of the parts he had not himself worked on he felt a touch at
his mind. The plane was rolling to a stop. He and all of them hurried
over to begin unloading it.

The plane was stopped with one wingtip almost touching the building,
heading directly into it--convenient for unloading, but a foolish
nuisance when it came time to turn it and take off again, Chandler's
mind thought while his body lugged cartons out of the plane.

But he knew the answer to that. Takeoff would be no problem, any more
than it would for the other small transports at the far end of the
strip.

These planes were not going to return, ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

The work went on, and then it was done, or all but, and Chandler knew
no more about it than when it was begun. The last little bit was a
careful check of line voltages and a balancing of biases. Chandler
could help only up to a point, and then two execs, working through the
bodies of one of the Hawaiians and the pilot of a Piper Tri-Pacer who
had flown in some last-minute test equipment--and remained as part of
the labor pool--laboriously worked on the final tests.

Spent, the other men flopped to the ground, waiting.

They were far gone. All of them, Chandler as much as the others. But
one of them rolled over, grinned tightly at Chandler and said, "It's
been fun. My name's Bradley. I always think people ought to know each
other's names in cases like this. Imagine sharing a grave with some
utter stranger!"

"Grave?"

Bradley nodded. "Like Pharaoh's slaves. The pyramid is just about
finished, friend. You don't know what I'm talking about?" He sat up,
plucked a blade of stemmy grass and put it between his teeth. "I guess
you haven't seen the corpses in the woods."

Chandler said, "I found a town half a mile or so over there, nothing in
it but skeletons."

"No, heavens, nothing that ancient. These are nice fresh corpses, out
behind the junkheap there. Well, not _fresh_. They're a couple of weeks
old. I thought it was neat of the execs to dispose of the used-up labor
out of sight of the rest of us. So much better for morale ... until
Juan Simoa and I went back looking for a plain, simple electrical
extension cord and found them."

With icy calm Chandler realized that the man was talking sense. Used-up
labor: the men who had unloaded the first planes, no doubt--worked
until they dropped, then efficiently disposed of, as they were so cheap
a commodity that they were not worth the trouble of hauling back to
Honolulu for salvage. "I see," he said. "Besides, dead men tell no
tales."

"_And_ spread no disease. Probably that's why they did their killing
back in the tall trees. Always the chance some exec might have to come
down here to inspect in person. Rotting corpses just aren't sanitary."
Bradley grinned again. "I used to be a doctor at Molokai."

"Lep--" began Chandler, but the doctor shook his head.

"No, no, never say 'leprosy.' It's 'Hansen's disease.' Whatever it is,
the execs were sure scared of it. They wiped out every patient we had,
except a couple who got away by swimming; then for good measure they
wiped out most of the medical staff too, except for a couple like me
who were off-island and had the sense to keep quiet about where they'd
worked. I used," he said, rolling over his back and putting his hands
behind his head, "in the old days to work on pest-control for the
Public Health Service. We sure knocked off a lot of rats and fleas. I
never thought I'd be one of them." He was silent.

Chandler admired his courage very much. The man had fallen asleep.

Chandler looked at the others. "You going to let them kill us without a
struggle?" he demanded.

The remaining Hawaiian was the only one to answer. He said, "You just
don't know how much _pilikia_ you're in. It isn't what we _let_ them
do."

"We'll see," Chandler promised grimly. "They're only human. I haven't
given up yet."

       *       *       *       *       *

But in the end he could not save himself; it was the girl who saved
him. That night Chandler tossed in troubled sleep, and woke to find
himself standing, walking toward the Tri-Pacer. The sun was just
beginning to pink the sky and no one else was moving. "Sorry, love,"
he apologized to himself. "You probably need to bathe and shave, but
I don't know how. Shave, I mean." He giggled. "Anyway, you'll find
everything you need at my house."

He climbed into the plane. "Ever fly before?" he asked himself. "Well,
you'll love it. Here we go. _Close_ the door ... _snap_ the belt ...
_turn_ the switch." He admired the practiced ease with which his body
started the motor, raced it with a critical eye on the instruments,
turned the plane and lifted it off, up, into the rising sun.

"Oh, dear. You _do_ need a bath," he told himself, wrinkling his nose
humorously. "No harm. I've the nicest tub--pink, deep--and nine kinds
of bath salts. But I wish you weren't so tired, love, because it's
a long flight and you're wearing me out." He was silent as he bent
to the correct compass heading and cranked a handle over his head to
adjust the trim. "Koitska's going to be so _huhu_," he said, smiling.
"Never fear, love, I can calm him down. But it's easier to do with you
in one piece, you know, the other way's too late."

He was silent for a long time, and then his voice began to sing.

They were songs from Rosalie's own musical comedies. Even with so poor
an instrument as Chandler's voice to work with, she sang well enough to
keep both of them entertained while his body brought the plane in for
a landing; and so Chandler went to live in the villa that belonged to
Rosalie Pan.



XII


"Love," she said, "there are worse things in the world than keeping me
amused when I'm not busy. We'll go to the beach again one day soon, I
promise." And she was gone again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler was a concubine--not even that; he was a male geisha,
convenient to play gin rummy with, or for company on the surfboards, or
to make a drink.

He did not quite know what to make of himself. In bad times one hopes
for survival. He had hoped; and now he had survival, perfumed and
cushioned, but on what mad terms! Rosalie was a pretty girl, and a
good-humored one. She was right. There were worse things in the world
than being her companion; but Chandler could not adjust himself to the
role.

It angered him when she got up from the garden swing and locked herself
in her room--for he knew that she was not sleeping as she lay there,
though her eyes were closed and she was motionless. It infuriated him
when she casually usurped his body to bring an ashtray to her side, or
to stop him when his hands presumed. And it drove him nearly wild to be
a puppet with her friends working his strings.

He was that most of all. One exec who wished to communicate with
another cast about for an available human proxy nearby. Chandler
was that for Rosalie Pan: her telephone, her social secretary, and on
occasion he was the garment her dates put on. For Rosalie was one
of the few execs who cared to conduct any major part of her life in
her own skin. She liked dancing. She enjoyed dining out. It was her
pleasure to display herself to the worshippers at Luigi the Wharf Rat's
and to speed down the long combers on a surfboard. When another exec
chose to accompany her it was Chandler's body which gave the remote
"date" flesh.

He ate very well indeed--in surprising variety. He drank heavily
sometimes and abstained others. Once, in the person of a Moroccan exec,
he smoked an opium pipe; once he dined on roasted puppy. He saw many
interesting things and, when Rosalie was occupied without him, he had
the run of her house, her music library, her pantry and her books. He
was not mistreated. He was pampered and praised, and every night she
kissed him before she retired to her own room with the snap-lock on the
door.

He was miserable.

He prowled the house in the nights after she had left him, unable
to sleep. It had been bad enough on Hilo, under the hanging threat
of death. But then, though he was only a slave, he was working at
something that used his skill and training.

Now? Now a Pekingese could do nearly all she wanted of him. He despised
in himself the knowledge that with a Pekingese's cunning he was
contriving to make himself indispensable to her--her slippers fetched
in his teeth, his silky mane by her hand to stroke--if not these things
in actuality, then their very near equivalents.

But what else was there for him?

There was nothing. She had spared his life from Koitska, and if he
offended her, Koitska's sentence would be carried out.

Even dying might be better than this, he thought.

Indeed, it might be better even to go back to Honolulu and life.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning he woke to find himself climbing the wide, carpeted
steps to her room. She was not asleep; it was her mind that was guiding
him.

He opened the door. She lay with a feathery coverlet pulled up to her
chin, eyes open, head propped on three pillows; as she looked at him he
was free. "Something the matter, love? You fell asleep sitting up."

"Sorry." She would not be put off. She made him tell her his
resentments. She was very understanding and very sure as she said,
"You're not a dog, love. I won't have you thinking that way. You're
my friend. Don't you think I need a friend?" She leaned forward. Her
nightgown was very sheer; but Chandler had tasted that trap before and
he averted his eyes. "You think it's all fun for us. I understand. Tell
me, if you thought I was doing important work--oh, _crucial_ work,
love--would you feel a little easier? Because I am. We've got the
whole work of the island to do, and I do my share. We've got our plans
to make and our future to provide for. There are so few of us. A single
H-bomb could kill us all. Do you think it isn't work, keeping that bomb
from ever coming here? There's all Honolulu to monitor, for they know
about us there. We can't like some disgusting nitwits like your Society
of Slaves destroy _us_. There's the problems of the world to see to.
Why," she said with pride, "we've solved the whole Indian-Pakistani
population problem in the last two months. They'll not have to worry
about famine again for a dozen generations! We're working on China now;
next Japan; next--oh, all the world. We'll have three-quarters of the
lumps gone soon, and the rest will have space to breathe in. It's work!"

She saw his expression and said earnestly, "No, don't think that! You
call it murder. It is, of course. But it's the surgeon's knife. We're
quicker and less painful than starvation, love ... and if some of us
enjoy the work of weeding out the unfit, does that change anything? It
does not! I admit some of us are, well, _mean_. But not all. And we're
improving. The new people we take in are better than the old."

She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.

Then she shook her head. "Never mind," she said--apparently to herself.
"Forget it, love. Go like an angel and fetch us both some coffee."

       *       *       *       *       *

Like an angel he went ... not, he thought bitterly, like a man.

She was keeping something from him, and he was too stubborn to let her
tease him out of his mood. "Everything's a secret," he complained, and
she patted his cheek.

"It has to be that way." She was quite serious. "This is the biggest
thing in the world. I'm fond of you, love, but I can't let that
interfere with my duty."

"_Shto, Rosie?_" said Chandler's mouth thickly.

"Oh, there you are, Andrei," she said, and spoke quickly in Russian.

Chandler's brows knotted in a scowl and he barked: "_Nyeh mozhet bit!_"

"Andrei...." she said gently. "_Ya vas sprashnivayoo...._"

"_Nyet!_"

"_No Andrei...._"

Rumble, grumble; Chandler's body twitched and fumed. He heard his own
name in the argument, but what the subject matter was he could not
tell. Rosalie was coaxing; Koitska was refusing. But he was weakening.
After minutes Chandler's shoulders shrugged; he nodded; and he was
free.

"Have some more coffee, love," said Rosalie Pan with an air of triumph.

Chandler waited. He did not understand what was going on. It was up to
her to enlighten him, and finally she smiled and said: "Perhaps you can
join us, love. Don't say yes or no. It isn't up to you ... and besides
you can't know whether you want it or not until you try. So be patient
a moment."

Chandler frowned; then felt his body taken. His lips barked:
"_Khorashaw!_" His body got up and walked to the wall of Rosalie's
room. A picture on the wall moved aside and there was a safe. Flick,
flick, Chandler's own fingers dialed a combination so rapidly that he
could not follow it. The door of the safe opened.

And Chandler was free, and Rosalie excitedly leaping out of the bed
behind him, careless of the wisp of nylon that was her only garment,
crowding softly, warmly past him to reach inside the safe. She lifted
out a coronet very like her own.

She paused and looked at Chandler.

"You can't do anything to harm us with this one, love," she warned.
"Do you understand that? I mean, don't get the idea that you can tell
anyone anything. Or do something violent. You can't. I'll be right
with you, and Koitska will be monitoring the transmitter." She handed
him the coronet. "Now, when you see something interesting, you move
right in. You'll see how. It's the easiest thing in the world, and--Oh,
here. Put it on."

Chandler swallowed with difficulty.

She was offering him the tool that had given the execs the world. A
blunter, weaker tool than her own, no doubt. But still it was power
beyond his imagining. He stood there frozen as she slipped it on his
head. Sprung electrodes pressed gently against his temples and behind
his ears. She touched something....

Chandler stood motionless for a moment and then, without effort,
floated free of his own body.

       *       *       *       *       *

Floating. Floating; a jellyfish floating. Trailing tentacles that
whipped and curled, floating over the sandbound claws and chitin that
clashed beneath, floating over the world's people, and them not even
knowing, not even seeing....

Chandler floated.

He was up, out and away. He was drifting. Around him was no-color.
He saw nothing of space or size, he only saw, or did not see but
felt-smelled-tasted, people. They were the sandbound. They were the
creatures that crawled and struggled below, and his tentacles lashed
out at them.

Beside him floated another. The girl? It had a shape, but not a human
shape--a pair of great projecting spheres, a cinctured area-rule shape.
Female. Yes, undoubtedly the girl. It waved a member at him and he
understood he was beckoned. He followed.

Two of sandbound ones were ahead.

The female shape slipped into one, he into the other. It was as easy to
invest this form with his own will as it was to command the muscles of
his hand. They looked at each other out of sandbound eyes. "You're a
boy!" Chandler laughed. The girl laughed: "You're an old washerwoman!"
They were in a kitchen where fish simmered on an electric stove. The
boy-Rosie wrinkled his-her nose, blinked and was empty. Only the small
almond-eyed boy was left, and he began to cry convulsively. Chandler
understood. He floated out after her.

This way, this way, she gestured. A crowd of mudbound figures. She
slipped into one, he into another. They were in a bus now, rocking
along an inland road, all men, all roughly dressed. Laborers going
to clear a new section of Oahu of its split-level debris, Chandler
thought, and looked for the girl in one of the men's eyes, could not
find her, hesitated and--floated. She was hovering impatiently. This
way!

He followed, and followed.

They were a hundred people doing a hundred things. They lingered a
few moments as a teen-age couple holding hands in the twilight of the
beach. They fled from a room where Chandler was an old woman dying on
a bed, and Rosalie a stolid, uncaring nurse beside her. They played
follow-the-leader through the audience of a Honolulu movie theater, and
sought each other, laughing, among the fish stalls of King Street. Then
Chandler turned to Rosalie to speak and ... it all went out ... the
scene disappeared ... he opened his eyes, and he was back in his own
flesh.

He was lying on the pastel pile rug in Rosalie's bedroom.

He got up, rubbing the side of his face. He had tumbled, it seemed.
Rosalie was lying on the bed.

In a moment she opened her eyes.

"Well, love?"

He said hoarsely, "What made it stop?"

She shrugged. "Koitska turned you off. Tired of monitoring us, I
expect--it's been an hour. I'm surprised his patience lasted this
long."

She stretched luxuriously, but he was too full of what had happened
even to see the white grace of her body. "Did you like it, love? Would
you like to have it forever?"



XIII


For nine days Chandler's status remained in limbo. He spent that day
in a state of numb bemusement, remembering the men and women he had
worn like garments, appalled and exhilarated. He did not see Rosalie
again that day, she kept to her room and he locked out. He was still a
lapdog, but a lapdog with a dream dangling before him. He went to sleep
that night thinking that he was a dog who might become a god, and he
had eight days left.

The next day Rosalie wheedled another hour of the coronet from Koitska.
They explored the ice caves on Mount Rainier in the bodies of two
sick, starving hermits and wandered arm in arm near the destroyed
International Bridge at Niagara, breathing the spray of the unchanging
Falls. He had seven days left.

They passed like a dream. He saw a great deal of the inner workings
of the exec, more than before. He had privileges. He was up for
membership in the club. Rosalie had proposed him. He talked with two
Czechoslovakian ballet dancers in their persons, and a succession of
heavily accented Russians and Poles and Japanese through the mouth of
the beach boy who came to tend Rosalie's garden. He thought they liked
him and was pleased that he penetrated where he had not been allowed
before ... until he realized that these freedoms were in themselves a
threat. They allowed him this contact so that they could look him over.
If they rejected him they would have to kill him, because he had seen
too much. But by then a week had passed, and another day, and though he
did not know it he had only one day left. Rosalie did what she could to
make the days of waiting easy for him.

"Embarrassing, isn't it? I went through it myself, love. Come have a
drink."

"When will I know?" he demanded fretfully.

"Well." She hesitated. "I don't suppose there's any harm in telling
you, love, under the circumstances--"

He knew what the circumstances were.

"I guess I can tell you. You need just over seven hundred votes to
come in. You've got--" Her eyes glazed for a moment. She was looking
through some clerk's eyes, somewhere on the island. "You've got about a
hundred and fifty so far. Takes time, doesn't it? But it's worth it in
the end."

"How many 'no' votes?"

"None." She said gently, "You'll never have but one, love, because
that's all it takes."

He stared. The girl gook took up his hand and kissed it lightly. "One
blackball's enough, yes, but never fear. Rosie's on your side."

       *       *       *       *       *

Restlessly Chandler stood up and made himself another drink. His head
was beginning to buzz. They had been drinking on her sun terrace since
early afternoon.

Rosalie came up beside him soothingly. "I know how you feel. Want me to
tell you about when I went through it?"

"Sure," he said, stirring the ice around in the glass and drinking it
down. He made another drink absently, hardly hearing what she said,
although the sound of her voice was welcome.

"Oh, that lousy headdress! It weighed twenty pounds, and they put it on
with hatpins." He caressed her absently. He had figured out that she
was talking about the night New York was bombed. "I was in the middle
of the big first-act curtain number when--" her face was strained,
even after years, even now that she was herself one of the godlike
ones--"when something took hold of me. I ran off the stage and right
out through the front door. There was a cab waiting. As soon as I got
in I was free, and the driver took off like a lunatic through the
tunnel, out to Newark Airport. I tell you, I was scared! At the toll
booth I screamed but my--friend--let go of the driver for a minute,
smashed a trailer-truck into a police car, and in the confusion we got
away. He took me over again at the airport. I ran bare as a bird into a
plane that was just ready to take off. The pilot was under control....
We flew eleven hours, and I wore that damn feather headdress all the
way."

She held out her glass for a refill. Chandler busied himself slicing
a lime for her drink. Now she was talking about her friend. "I hadn't
seen him in six years. I was just a kid, living in Islip. He was with
a Russian trade commission next door, in an old mansion. Well, he was
one of the ones, back in Russia, that came up with these." She touched
her coronet. "So," she said brightly, "he put me up for membership and
by and by they gave me one. You see? It's all very simple, except the
waiting."

Chandler pulled her down on the couch beside him and made a toast.
"Your friend."

"He's a nice guy," she said moodily, sipping her drink. "You know how
careful I am about getting exercise and so on? It's partly because of
him. You would have liked him, love, only--well, it turned out that he
liked me well enough, but he began to like what he could get through
the coronet a lot more. He got fat. A lot of them are awfully fat,
love," she said seriously. "That's why they need people like me. And
you. Replacements. Heart trouble, liver trouble, what can they expect
when they lie in bed day in and day out, taking their lives through
other people's bodies? I won't let myself go that way.... It's a
temptation. You know, almost every day I find some poor woman on a diet
and spend a solid hour eating creampuffs and gravies. How they must
hate me!"

She grinned, leaned back and kissed him.

Chandler put his arms around the girl and returned the kiss, hard. She
did not draw away. She clung to him, and he could feel in the warmth
of her body, the sound of her breath that she was responding. The
drink made him reckless; the last two weeks made him doubtful; he was
torn. He could tell that there was no resistance in her body, but the
coronet made it in doubt; she could fling him away from her with one
touch of the mind. Yet she didn't do it--

"_Vi myenya zvali?_" his own voice demanded, harsh and mocking.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl tried to push him away. Her eyes were bright and huge, staring
at him. "Andrei!"

"_Da, Andrei! Kok eto dosadno!_"

"Andrei, please. I know that you are--"

"Filthy!" screamed Chandler's voice. "How can you? I do not allow
this carrion to touch you so--not vot is mine--I do not allow him to
live!" And Chandler dropped her and leaped to his feet. He fought. He
struggled; but only in his mind, and helplessly; his body carried him
out of the room, running and stumbling, out into the drive, into her
waiting car and away.

He drove like a madman on roads he had never seen before. The car's
gears bellowed pain at their abuse, the tires screamed.

Chandler, prisoned inside himself, recognized that touch. Koitska! He
knew who Rosalie Pan's lover had been. If he had been in doubt his own
voice, raucous and hysterical with rage, told him the truth. All that
long drive it screamed threats and obscenities at him, in Russian and
tortured English.

The car stopped in front of the TWA facility and, still prisoned, his
body hurried in, bruising itself deliberately against every doorpost
and stick of furniture. "I could have smashed you in the car!" his
voice screamed hoarsely. "It is too merciful. I could have thrown you
into the sea! It is not painful enough."

In the garage his body stopped and looked wildly around. "Knives,
torches," his lips chanted. "Shall I gouge out eyes? Slit throat?"

A jar of battery acid stood on a shelf, "_Da, da!_" screamed Chandler,
stumbling toward it. "One drink eh? And I von't even stay vith you to
feel it, the pain--just a moment--then it eats the gut, the long slow
dying...." And all the time the body that was Chandler's was clawing
the cap off the jar, tilting it--

He dropped the jar, and leaped aside instinctively as it splintered at
his feet.

He was free!

Before he could move he was seized again, stumbled, crashed into a
wall--

And was free again.

He stood waiting for a moment, unable to believe it; but he was still
free. The alien invader did not seize his mind. There was no sound. No
one moved. No gun fired at him, no danger threatened.

He _was_ free; he took a step, turned, shook his head and proved it.

He was free and, in a moment, realized that he was in the building with
the fat bloated body of the man who wanted to murder him, the body that
in its own strength could scarcely stand erect.

It was suicide to attempt to harm an exec. He would certainly lose his
life--except--that was gone already anyhow; he had lost it. He had
nothing left to lose.



XIV


Chandler loped silently up the stairs to Koitska's suite.

Halfway up he tripped and sprawled, half stunning himself against the
stair rail. It had not been his own clumsiness, he was sure. Koitska
had caught at his mind again, but only feebly. Chandler did not wait.
Whatever was interfering with Koitska's control, some distraction or
malfunction of the coronet or whatever, Chandler could not bank on its
lasting.

The door was locked.

He found a heavy mahogany chair, with a back of solid carved wood. He
flung it onto his shoulders, grunting, and ran with it into the door,
a bull driven frantic, lunging out of its querencia to batter the wall
of the arena. The door splintered.

Chandler was gashed with long slivers of wood, but he was through the
door.

Koitska lay sprawled along his couch, eyes staring.

Alive or dead? Chandler did not wait to find out but sprang at him
hands outstreched. The staring eyes flickered; Chandler felt the pull
at his mind. But Koitska's strength was almost gone. The eyes glazed,
and Chandler was upon him. He ripped the coronet off and flung it
aside, and the huge bulk of Koitska swung paralytically off the couch
and fell to the floor.

The man was helpless. He lay breathing like a steam engine, one eye
pressed shut against the leg of a coffee table, the other looking up at
Chandler.

Chandler was panting almost as hard as the helpless mass at his feet.
He was safe for a moment. At the most for a moment, for at any time
one of the other execs might dart down out of the mind-world into the
real, looking at the scene through Chandler's eyes and surely deducing
what would be no more to his favor than the truth. He had to get away
from there. If he seemed busy in another room perhaps they would go
away again. Chandler turned his back on the paralyzed monster to flee.
It would be even better to try to lose himself in Honolulu--if he
could get that far--he did not in his own flesh know how to fly the
helicopter that was parked in the yard or he would try to get farther
still.

But as he turned he was caught.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chandler turned to see Koitska lying there, and screamed.

His eyes were staring at Koitska. It was too late. He was possessed by
someone, he did not know whom. Though it made little enough difference,
he thought, watching his own hands reach out to touch the staring face.

His body straightened, his eyes looked around the room, he went to the
desk. "Love," he cried to himself, "what's the matter with Koitska?
Write, for God's sake!" And he took a pencil in his hand and was free.

He hesitated, then scribbled: _I don't know. I think he had a stroke.
Who are you?_

The other mind slipped tentatively into his, scanning the paper.
"Rosie, you idiot, who did you think?" he said furiously. "What have
you done?"

_Nothing_, he began instinctively, then scratched the word out.
Briskly and exactly he wrote: _He was going to kill me, but he had some
kind of an attack. I took his coronet away. I was going to run._

"Oh, you fool," he told himself shrilly a moment later. Chandler's
body knelt beside the wheezing fat lump, taking its pulse. The faint,
fitful throb meant nothing to Chandler; probably meant nothing to Rosie
either, for his body stood up, hesitated, shook its head. "You've done
it now," he sobbed, and was surprised to find he was weeping real
tears. "Oh, love, why? I could have taken care of Koitska--somehow--No,
maybe I couldn't," he said frantically, breaking down. "I don't know
what to do. Do you have any ideas--outside of running?"

It took him several seconds to write the one word, but it was really
all he could find to write. _No._

His lips twisted as his eyes read the word. "Well," he said
practically, "I guess that's the end, love. I mean, I give up."

He got up, turned around the room. "I don't know," he told himself
worriedly. "There might be a chance--if we could hush this up. I'd
better get a doctor. He'll have to use your body, so don't be surprised
if there's someone and it isn't me. Maybe he can pull Andrei through.
Maybe Andrei'll forgive you then--Or if he dies," Chandler's voice
schemed as his eyes stared at the rasping motionless hulk, "we can say
you broke down the door to _help_ him. Only you'll have to put his
coronet back on, so it won't look suspicious. Besides that will keep
anyone from occupying him. Do that, love. Hurry." And he was free.

Gingerly Chandler crossed the floor.

He did not like to touch the dying animal that wheezed before him,
liked even less to give it back the weapon that, if it had only a few
moments of sentience again, it would use to kill him. But the girl was
right. Without the helmet any wandering curi-himself.[1] The helmet
would shield him from--

[Footnote 1: Transcriber's note: As printed. Missing words, probably
printer error.]

Would shield anyone from--

Would shield Chandler himself from possession if he used it!

He did not hesitate. He slipped the helmet on his head, snapped the
switch and in a moment stood free of his own body, in the gray,
luminous limbo, looking down at the pallid traceries that lay beneath.

       *       *       *       *       *

He did not hesitate then either.

He did not pause to think or plan; it was as though he had planned
every step, in long detail, over many years. Chandler for at least a
few moments had the freedom to battle the execs on their own ground,
the freedom that any mourning parent or husband in the outside world
would know well how to use.

Chandler also knew. He was a weapon. He might die--but it was not a
great thing to die, millions had done it for nothing under the rule
of the execs, and he was privileged to be able to die trying to kill
_them_.

He stepped callously around the hulk on the floor and found a door
behind the couch, a door and a hall, and at the end of that hall a
large room that had once perhaps been a message center. Now it held
rack after rack of electronic gear. He recognized it without elation.
It had had to be there.

It was the main transmitter for all the coronets of the exec.

He had only to pull one switch--that one there--and power would cease
to flow. The coronets would be dead. The execs would be only humans.
In five minutes he could destroy enough parts so that it would be at
least a week's work to build it again, and in a week the slaves in
Honolulu--somehow he could reach them, somehow he would tell them of
their chance--could root out and destroy every exec on all the islands.

Of course, there was the standby transmitter he himself had helped to
build.

He realized tardily that Koitska would have made some arrangement for
starting that up by remote control.

He put down the tool-kit with which he had been advancing on the racks
of transistors, and paused to think.

He was a fool, he saw after a moment. He could not destroy this
installation--not yet--not until he had used it. He remembered to sit
down so that his body would not crash to the floor, and then he sent
himself out and up, to scan the nearby area.

There was no one there, nobody within a mile or more, except the feeble
glimmer that was dying Koitska. He did not enter that body. He returned
to his own long enough to barricade the door--it had a strong-looking
lock, but he shouldered furniture against it too--and then he went
up and out, grateful to Rosalie, who had taught him how to navigate
in the curious world of the mind, flashing across water, under a
mind-controlled plane, to the island of Hilo.

There _had_ to be someone near the standby installation.

He searched; but there was no one. No one in the building. No one near
the ruined field. No one in the village of the dead nearby. He was
desperate; he became frantic; he was on the point of giving up, and
then he found--someone? But it was a personality feebler than stricken
Koitska's, a bare swampfire glow.

No matter. He entered it.

       *       *       *       *       *

At once he screamed silently and left it again. He had never known such
pain. A terrifying fire in the belly, a thunder past any migraine in
the head, a thousand lesser aches and woes in every member. He could
not imagine what person lived in such distress; but grimly he forced
himself to enter again.

Moaning--it was astonishing how thick and animal-like the man's voice
was--Chandler forced his borrowed body stumbling through the jungle.
Time was growing very short. He drove it gasping at an awkward run
across the airfield, dodged around one wrecked plane and blundered
through the door. The pain was intolerable. He was hardly able to
maintain control.

Chandler stretched out the borrowed hand to pick up a heavy wrench even
while he thought. But the hand would not grasp. He brought it to the
weak, watering eyes. The hand had no fingers. It ended in a ball of
scar tissue. The left hand was nearly as misshapen.

Panicked, Chandler retreated from the body in a flash, back to his
own; and then he began to think.

It was, it had to be, the creature he had seen in the village of the
dead. A leper. One of the few who escaped from the colony at Molokai.
Chandler drove himself back to that body and, though it could not work
well, he could make it turn a frequency dial, using its clubbed hands
like sticks. He could make it throw a switch. He then caused it to
place the toothed edge of a rusting saw on the ground and strike at it
with its throat in a sort of reverse guillotine. Chandler could not see
that he had a choice; he dared not have that creature left where it
might be seized the moment he quit its body. It was better dead.

After that it all became easy.

In his own body he destroyed the installation in Oahu. A few minutes
at Koitska's work bench, and he had changed the frequency on his own
coronet to transmit on the new band the leper's touch had given the
Hilo equipment.

He worked rapidly and without errors, one ear cocked for the sound of
someone coming to threaten what he was doing (the sound never came),
impatient to get the job done.

He was very impatient, for when he was done he would be the only exec.

And the execs would be only slaves.


XV


Chandler strolled out of the TWA building, very tired.

It was dawn. His job was done. He carried the coronet, the only working
coronet in the world, in his hand. He had spent the night killing,
killing, killing, and blood had washed away his passions; he was spent.
He had killed every exec he could find, in widening circles from the
building where his body lay. He had slit his dozen throats and fired
bullets into his hundred hearts and hundred brains; he had entered
bodies only long enough to feel for a coronet, and if it was there the
body was doomed; and he stopped only when it occurred to him he wasn't
even doing that much any more. He had probably killed some dozens of
slaves, as well as all the execs in reach. And when he stopped the orgy
of killing he had made one last search of the nearer portions of the
island and found no one alive, and he had then realized that one of the
closest execs had been Rosalie Pan.

He knew that in a while he would feel very badly for having killed that
girl (which could she have been? The one with the shotgun in the mouth?
The one whose intestines he had spilled with a silver letteropener in a
whim of hara-kiri?), but just now he was too worn.

He was Chandler the giant killer, who had destroyed the creatures
who had destroyed a world, but he was all tired out. He poked at the
filigree of the coronet absently, as a man might caress the pretty rug
which once had been the skin of a tiger that almost killed him. It was
all that was left of the exec power. Who held this single coronet still
held the world.

Of course, said a sly and treasonable voice in a corner of his mind,
the job was not really done.

Not quite. Not all.

The job would not be done until it was impossible for anyone to find
enough of the installations to be able to reconstruct them.

And then, said the voice, while Chandler stared at the dawn, listening,
what about the _good_ things the exec had done? Would he not be foolish
to throw away so casually this one, unique chance to right every
imaginable wrong the world might do him?

Chandler went back into the building and brewed some strong black
coffee. While it was bubbling on the stove he slipped the coronet back
atop his head. Only for a while, he promised. A very little while. He
pledged himself solemnly that it would be just long enough to clean up
all loose ends--not a moment longer, he pledged. And knew that he was
lying.





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