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Title: The Earth Quarter
Author: Knight, Damon
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 "The Earth Quarter" ***

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



                           THE EARTH QUARTER

                            BY DAMON KNIGHT

              _The Niori permitted refugees from Earth to
          live in their cramped little ghetto conditionally:
           that they do so peacefully. But there will always
             be patriotic fanatics, like Harkway and Rack,
                    who must disturb the peace...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The sun had set half an hour before. Now, from the window of Laszlo
Cudyk's garret, he could see how the alien city shone frost-blue
against the black sky; the tall hive-shapes that no man would have
built, glowing with their own light.

Nearer, the slender drunken shafts of lamp posts marched toward him
down the street, each with its prosaic yellow globe. Between them and
all around, the darkness had gathered; darkness in angular shapes, the
geometry of squalor.

Cudyk liked this view, for at night the blackness of the Earth Quarter
seemed to merge with the black sky, as if one were a minor extension of
the other--a fist of space held down to the surface of the planet. He
could feel, then, that he was not alone, not isolated and forgotten;
that some connection still existed across all the light-years of the
galaxy between him and what he had lost.

And, again, the view depressed him; for at night the City seemed to
press in upon the Quarter like the walls of a prison. The Quarter:
sixteen square blocks, about the size of those of an Earth city, two
thousand three hundred human beings of three races, four religions,
eighteen nationalities; the only remnant of the human race nearer than
Capella.

Cudyk felt the night breeze freshening. He glanced upward once at the
frosty blaze of stars, then pulled his head back inside the window. He
closed the shutters, turning to the lamp-lit table with its hopeless
clutter of books, pipes and dusty miscellany.

Cudyk was a man of middle height, heavy in the shoulders and chest,
blunt-featured, with a shock of greying black hair. He was fifty-five
years old; he remembered Earth.

A drunk stumbled by in the street below, cursing monotonously to
himself, paused to spit explosively into the gutter, and faded into the
night.

Cudyk heard him without attention. He stood with his back to the
window, looking at nothing, his square fingers fumbling automatically
for pipe and tobacco. Why do I torture myself with that look out the
window every night? he asked himself. It's a juvenile sentimentalism.

But he knew he would go on doing it.

Other noises drifted up to his window, faint with distance. They grew
louder. Cudyk cocked his head suddenly, turned and threw open the
shutters again. That had been a scream.

He could see nothing down the street; the trouble must be farther over,
he thought, on Kwang-Chow-fu or Washington. The noise swelled as he
listened: the unintelligible wailing of a mob.

Footsteps clicked hurriedly up the stairs. Cudyk went to the door, made
sure it was latched, and waited. There was a light tapping on the door.

"Who is it?" he said.

"Lee Far."

He unlatched the door and opened it. The little Chinese blinked at him,
his upper lip drawn up over incisors like a rodent's. "Mr. Seu say
please, you come." Without waiting for an answer, he turned and rapped
his way down into darkness.

Cudyk picked up a jacket from a wall hook, and paused for a moment to
glance at the locked drawer in which he kept an ancient .32 automatic
and two full clips. He shook his head impatiently and went out.

Lee was waiting for him downstairs. When he saw Cudyk open the outer
door, he set off down the street at a dog-trot.

Cudyk caught up with him at the corner of Athenai and Brasil. They
turned right for two blocks to Washington, then left again. A block
away, at Rossiya and Washington, there was a small crowd of men
struggling in the middle of the street. They didn't seem to be very
active; as Cudyk and Lee approached, they saw that only a few were
still fighting, and those without a great deal of spirit. The rest were
moving aimlessly, some wiping their eyes, others bent almost double in
paroxysms of sneezing. A few were motionless on the pavement.

Three slender Chinese were moving through the crowd. Each had a white
surgeon's mask tied over his nose and mouth, and carried a plastic bag
full of some dark substance, from which he took handfuls and flung them
with a motion like a sower's. Cudyk could see now that the air around
them was heavy with floating particles. As he watched, the last two
fighters in the crowd each took a halfhearted swing at the other and
then, coughing and sneezing, moved away in separate directions.

Lee took his sleeve for a moment. "Here, Mr. Cudyk."

Seu was standing in the doorway of Town Hall, his round-bellied bulk
almost filling it. He saluted Cudyk with a lazy, humorous gesture of
one fat hand.

"Hello, Min," Cudyk said. "You're efficient, as always. Pepper again?"

"Yes," said Mayor Seu Min. "I hate to waste it, but I don't think the
water buckets would have been enough this time. This could have been a
bad one."

"How did it start?"

"A couple of Russkies caught Jim Loong sneaking into Madame May's," the
fat man said laconically. His shrewd eyes twinkled. "I'm glad you came
down, Laszlo. I want you to meet an important visitor who arrived on
the Kt-I'ith ship this afternoon." He turned slightly, and Cudyk saw
that there was a man behind him in the doorway. "Mr. Harkway, may I
present Mr. Laszlo Cudyk, one of our leading citizens? Mr. Cudyk, James
Harkway, who is here on a mission from the Minority People's League."

Cudyk shook hands with the man, who had a pale, scholarly face, not
bad-looking, with dark intense eyes. He was young, about thirty. Cudyk
automatically classified him as second generation.

"Perhaps," said Seu, as if the notion had just occurred to him, "you
would not mind taking over my duties as host for a short time, Laszlo?
If Mr. Harkway would not object? This regrettable occurrence--"

"Of course," Cudyk said. Harkway nodded and smiled.

"Excellent." Seu edged past Cudyk, then turned and put a hand on his
friend's arm, drawing him closer. "Take care of this fool," he said
under his breath, "and for God's sake keep him away from the saloons.
Rack is in town, too. I've got to make sure they don't meet." He smiled
cheerfully at both of them and walked away. Lee Far, appearing from
somewhere, trailed after him.

A young Chinese, with blood streaming brightly from a gash in his
cheek, was stumbling past. Cudyk stepped away from the doorway, turned
him around and pointed him down the street, to where Seu's young men
were laying out the victims on the sidewalk and administering first aid.

Cudyk went back to Harkway. "I suppose Seu has found you a place to
stay," he said.

"Yes," said Harkway. "He's putting me up in his home. Perhaps I'd
better go there now--I don't want to be in the way."

"You won't be in the way," Cudyk told him. "What would you like to do?"

"Well, I'd like to meet a few people, if it isn't too late. Perhaps
we could have a drink somewhere, where people meet--?" He glanced
interrogatively down the street to an illuminated sign that announced
in English and Russian: "THE LITTLE BEAR. Wines and Liquors."

"Not there," said Cudyk. "That's Russky headquarters, and I'm afraid
they may be a little short-tempered right now. The best place would
be Chong Yin's tea room, I think. That's just two blocks up, near
Washington and Ceskoslovensko."

"All right," said Harkway. He was still looking down the street. "Who
is that girl?" he asked abruptly.

Cudyk glanced that way. The two M. D.'s, Moskowitz and Estrada, were
on the scene, sorting out the most serious cases to be carted off to
hospital, and so was a slender, dark-haired girl in nurse's uniform.

"That's Kathy Burgess," he said. "I'd introduce you, but now isn't the
time. You'll probably meet her tomorrow."

"She's very pretty," said Harkway, and suffered himself to be led off
up the street. "Married?"

"No. She was engaged to one of our young men, but her father broke it
off."

"Oh?" said Harkway. After a moment: "Political differences?"

"Yes. The young man joined the activists. The father is a conservative."

"That's very interesting," said Harkway. After a moment he asked, "Do
you have many of those here?"

"Activists or conservatives? Or pretty girls?"

"I meant conservatives," said Harkway, coloring slightly. "I know the
activist movement is strong here--that's why I was sent. We consider
them dangerous in the extreme."

"So do I," said Cudyk. "No, there aren't many conservatives. Burgess
is the only real fanatic. If you meet him, by the way, you must make
certain allowances."

Harkway nodded thoughtfully. "Cracked on the subject?"

"You could put it that way," Cudyk told him. "He has convinced himself,
in his conscious mind at least, that we are the dominant species on
this planet; that the Niori are our social and economic inferiors. He
won't tolerate any suggestion that it isn't so."

Harkway nodded again, looking very solemn. "A tragedy," he said. "But
understandable, of course. Some of the older people simply can't adjust
to the reality of our position in the galaxy."

"Not many people actually like it," said Cudyk.

Harkway looked at him thoughtfully. He said, "Mr. Cudyk, I don't want
you to take this as a complaint, but I've gathered the impression that
you're not in sympathy with the Minority People's League."

"No," said Cudyk.

"May I ask what your political viewpoint is?"

"I'm neutral," said Cudyk. "Apolitical."

Harkway said politely, "I hope you won't take offense if I ask why?
It's evident, even to me, that you're a man of intelligence and
ability."

Everything is evident to you, Cudyk thought wearily, except what you
don't want to see. He said, "I don't believe our particular Humpty
Dumpty can be put back together again, Mr. Harkway."

Harkway looked at him intently, but said nothing. He glanced at the
signboard over the lighted windows they were approaching. "Is this the
place?"

"Yes."

Harkway continued to look at the sign. Above the English "CHONG YIN'S
TEA ROOM", and the Chinese characters, was a legend that read:

[Illustration: sign in other language]

"That's a curious alphabet," he said.

"It's a very efficient one," Cudyk told him. "It's based on the design
of an X in a rectangle--like this." He traced it with his finger on the
wall. "Counting each arm of the cross as one stroke, there are eight
strokes in the figure. Using only two strokes to a letter, there are
twenty-eight possible combinations. They use the sixteen most graceful
ones, and add twenty-seven three-stroke letters to bring it up to
forty-three, one for each sound in their language. The written language
is completely phonetic, therefore. But there are only eight keys on a
Niori typewriter."

He looked at Harkway. "It's also perfectly legible: no letter looks
too much like any other letter. And it has a certain beauty, don't you
think?" He paused. "Hasn't it struck you, Mr. Harkway, that anything
our hosts do is likely to be a little more sensible and more sensitive
than the human equivalent?"

"I come from Reg Otay," said Harkway. "They don't have any visual arts
or any written language there. But I see what you mean. What does the
sign say--the same thing as the English?"

"No. It says, 'Yungiwo Ren Trakru Rith.' 'Trakru rith' is Niori for
'hospitality house'--it's what they call anything that we would call
tea room, or restaurant, or beer garden."

"And 'Yungiwo Ren'?"

"That's their version of 'Chung kuo jen'[A]--the Chinese for 'Chinese.'
At first they called us all that, because most of the original
immigrants were from China; but they've got over it now--they found out
some of us didn't like it."

[Footnote A: _Pronounced "jung guo ren"._]

       *       *       *       *       *

Cudyk opened the door.

A few aliens were sitting at the round tables in the big outer room.
Cudyk watched Harkway's face, and saw his eyes widen with shock. The
Niori were something to see, the first time.

They were tall and erect, and their anatomy was not even remotely like
man's. They had six limbs each, two for walking, four for manipulation.
Their bodies were covered by a pale, horny integument which grew in
irregular sections, so that you could tell the age of a Niori by the
width of the growth-areas between the plates of his armor. But you saw
none of those things at first. You saw the two glowing violet eyes,
set wide apart in a helmet-shaped head, and the startlingly beautiful
markings on the smooth shell of the face--blue on pale cream, like an
ancient porcelain tile. And you saw the crest--a curved, lucent shape
that even in a lighted room glowed with its own frost-blue. No Niori
ever walked in darkness.

Cudyk guided Harkway toward the door at the far end of the room.
"We'll see who's in the back room," he said. "There is usually a small
gathering at this hour."

The inner room was more brightly lit than the other. Down the center,
in front of a row of empty booths, was a long table. Three men sat at
one end of it, with teacups and a bowl of lichee nuts between them.
They looked up as Cudyk and Harkway came in.

"Gentlemen," said Cudyk, "may I present Mr. Harkway, who is here on a
mission from the Minority People's League? Mr. Burgess, Father Exarkos,
Mr. Ferguson."

The three shook hands with Harkway, Father Exarkos smiling pleasantly,
the other two with more guarded expressions. The priest was in his
fifties, grey-haired, hollow-templed, with high orbital ridges and a
square, mobile mouth. He said, in English oddly accented by a mixture
of French and Greek, "Please sit down, both of you ... I understand
that your first evening here has been not too pleasant, Mr. Harkway. I
hope the rest of your stay will be more so."

Burgess snorted, not quite loudly enough to be deliberately rude. His
face had a pleasant, even a handsome cast except for the expression
of petulance he was now wearing. He was a few years younger than the
priest: a big-boned, big-featured man whose slightly curved back and
hollowed cheeks showed that he had lost bulk since his prime.

Ferguson's pale face was expressive but completely controlled. The
gambler's eyes were narrow and unreadable, the lips and the long
muscles of the jaw showing nothing more than surface emotion. He asked
politely, "Planning to stay long, Mr. Harkway?"

"That all depends, Mr. Ferguson, on--to be blunt, on what sort of a
reception I get. I won't try to conceal from you the fact that my role
here is that of a political propagandist. I want to convince as many
people as I can that the Minority People's movement is the best hope of
the human race. If I can find that there's some chance of succeeding,
I'll stay as long as necessary. If not--"

"I'm afraid we won't be seeing much of you, in that case, Mr. Harkway,"
said Burgess. His tone was scrupulously correct, but his nostrils were
quivering with repressed indignation.

"What makes you say that, Mr. Burgess?" Harkway asked, turning his
intent, serious gaze on the older man.

"Your program, as I understand it," said Burgess, "aims at putting
humanity on an equal basis with various assorted races of lizards,
beetles and other vermin. I don't think you will find much sympathy for
that program here, sir."

"I'm glad to say that, through no fault of your own, you're mistaken,"
said Harkway, smiling slightly. "I think you're referring to the
program of the right wing of the League, which was dominant for the
last several years. It's true that for that period, the M.P.L.'s line
was to work for the gradual integration of human beings--and other
repressed races--into the society of the planets on which they live.
But that's all done with now. The left wing, to which I belong, has
won a decisive victory at the League elections.

"Our program," Harkway continued earnestly, "rejects the doctrine of
assimilation as a biological and cultural absurdity. What we propose
to do, and with sufficient help will do, is to return humanity to its
homeland--to reconstitute Earth as an autonomous, civilized member of
the galactic entity. We realize, of course, that this is a gigantic
undertaking, and that much aid will be required from the other races of
the galaxy.... Were you about to say something, Mr. Burgess?"

Burgess said bitterly, "What you mean, in plain words, Mr. Harkway,
is that you think we all ought to go home--dissolve Earth's galactic
empire--give it all back to the natives. I don't think you'll find much
support for _that_, either."

Harkway bit his lip, and cast a glance at Cudyk that seemed to say, You
warned me, but I forgot. He turned to Ferguson, who was smiling around
his cigar as blandly as if nothing out of the way had been said. "What
is your view, Mr. Ferguson?"

Ferguson waved his cigar amiably. "You'll have to count me out, Mr.
Harkway. I'm doing okay as things are--I have no reason to want any
changes."

Harkway turned to the little priest. "And you, Father Exarkos?"

The Greek shrugged and smiled. "I wish you all the luck in the
universe, sincerely," he said. "But I am afraid I believe that no
material methods can rescue man from his dilemma."

"If I've given any offense," said Burgess suddenly, "I can leave."

Harkway stared at him for a moment, gears almost visibly slipping in
his head. Then he said, "Of course not, Mr. Burgess, please don't think
that for a moment. I respect your views--"

Burgess looked around him with a wounded expression. "I know," he said
with difficulty, "that I am in a minority--here--"

Father Exarkos put a hand on his arm and murmured something. Harkway
leaned forward impulsively across the table and said, "Mr. Burgess,
I've traveled a long way in the hope of discussing these problems with
men of intelligence and standing in their community, like yourself. I
hope you'll stay and give me the benefit of your experience. I shall be
very much the loser if you don't."

Burgess was visibly struggling with his emotions. He stood up and said,
"No--no--not tonight. I'm upset. Please excuse me." Head bowed, he
walked out of the room.

There was a short silence. "Did I do the wrong thing?" asked Harkway.

"No, no," said Father Exarkos. "It was not your fault--there was
nothing you could do. You must excuse him. He is a good man, but he has
suffered too much. Since his wife died--of a disease contracted during
one of the Famines, you understand--he has not been himself."

Harkway nodded, looking both older and more human than he had a moment
before. "If we can only turn back the clock," he said. "Put Humpty
Dumpty together again, as you expressed it, Mr. Cudyk." He smiled
apologetically at them. "I won't harangue you any more tonight--I'll
save that for the meeting tomorrow. But I hope that some of you will
come to see it my way."

Father Exarkos' eyebrows lifted. "You are planning to hold a public
meeting tomorrow?"

"Yes. There's some difficulty about space--Mayor Seu tells me that the
town hall is already booked for the next three days--but I'm confident
that I can find some suitable place. If necessary, I'll make it an
open-air meeting."

Rack, thought Cudyk. Rack usually stays in town for only two or three
days at a time. Seu is trying to keep Harkway under cover until he
leaves. It won't work.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a dark shape in the doorway, and
his first thought was that Burgess had come back. But it was not
Burgess. It was a squat, bandy-legged man with huge shoulders and arms,
wearing a leather jacket and a limp military cap. Cudyk sat perfectly
still, warning Exarkos with his eyes.

The squat man walked casually up the table, nodding almost
imperceptibly to Ferguson. He ignored the others, except the M.P.L.
man. "Your name Harkway?" he asked. He pronounced it with the flat
Boston "a": "Haakway".

"That's right," said Harkway.

"Got a message for you," said the squat man. "From Captain Lawrence
Rack, United Uth Space Navy."

"The Earth Space Navy was dissolved twenty years ago," said Harkway.

The squat man sighed. "You wanna heah the message or don't you?" he
asked.

"Go ahead," said Harkway. His nostrils were pale, and a muscle stood
out at the side of his jaw.

"Heah it is. You're plannin' to hold a meetin' of the vehmin lovehs
society, right?"

As Harkway began to reply, the squat man leaned across the table and
backhanded him across the mouth, knocking him sideways out of his chair.

"Don't," said the squat man. He turned and strolled out.

Cudyk and Ferguson helped Harkway up. The man's eyes were staring
wildly out of his pale face, and a thin trickle of blood was running
from a pulped lip. "Who was that man?" he asked in a whisper.

"His name is Monk," said Cudyk. "At least that is the only name he has
been known to answer to. He is one of Rack's lieutenants--Rack, as
you probably know, is the leader of the activists in this sector. Mr.
Harkway, I'm sorry this happened. But I advise you to wait for a week
or so before you hold your meeting. There is no question of courage
involved. It would be suicide."

Harkway looked at him blindly. "The meeting will be held as planned,"
he said, and walked out, stiff-legged.

Ferguson shook his head, laughed, and shook his head again. Cudyk
exchanged a hopeless glance with Father Exarkos, and then followed
Harkway out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The shop was empty except for young Nick Pappageorge, dozing behind
the long counter, and the pale morning sunlight that streamed through
the plastic window. Most of the counter was in shadow, but stray
fingers of light picked out gem trays here and there, turning them into
minuscule galaxies of frosty brilliance.

Two Niori, walking arm in arm, paused in front of the window display,
then went on. Two human youngsters raced by, shouting. Cudyk caught
only a glimpse of them through the pierced screen that closed off the
back of his shop, but he recognized them by their voices: Red Gorciak
and Stan Eleftheris.

There were few children now, and they were growing up wild. Cudyk
wondered briefly what it must be like to be a child born into this
microcosm, knowing no other. He dismissed the thought; it was simply
one more thing about which there was no use to worry.

Cudyk had not spoken to anyone that morning, but he knew approximately
what was happening. Seu would have been busy most of the night,
covering up the traces of last evening's riot. Now, probably, he was
explaining it away to Zydh Oran, the Niori Outgroup Commissioner.
Harkway was making preparations for his meeting--another thing for Seu
to worry about when he got through cleaning up the last mess.

Barring miracles, today was going to be very bad.

Seu came in, moving quickly. He walked directly to the rear of the
shop. His normally bland face looked worried, and there were beads of
sweat on his wide forehead, although the morning was cool.

"Sit down," said Cudyk. "You've seen Zydh Oran?"

Seu made a dismissing gesture. "Nothing. Not pleasant, but nothing.
The same as usual--he tells me what happened, I deny it. He knows, but
under their laws he can't do anything."

"Someday it will be bad," said Cudyk.

"Yes. Someday. Laszlo--you've got to do something about Harkway.
Otherwise he's going to be killed tonight, and there will be a stink
from here to Sirius. I had to tell him he could use Town Hall--he was
all ready to hold a torch-light meeting in the streets."

"I tried," said Cudyk.

"Try again. Please. Your ethnic background is closer to his than mine.
He respects you, I think. Perhaps he's even read some of your books. If
anyone can persuade him, you can."

"What did he say when you talked to him?"

"An ox. A brain made of soap and granite. He says it is a matter of
principle. I knew then that I could do nothing. When an Anglo-Saxon
talks about his principles, you may as well go home. He won't accept a
weapon, he won't postpone the meeting. I think he wants to be a martyr."

Cudyk frowned. "Maybe he does. Have you seen Rack?"

"No. Ferguson pretends not to know where he is."

"That's rather odd. What is his motive, do you think?"

Seu said, "Basically, he is afraid of Rack. He cooperates with
him--they use each other--but you know that it's not a marriage of
minds. He knows that Rack is stronger than he is, because he is only
an amoral egotist, and Rack is a fanatic. I think he believes this
business may be Rack's downfall, and he would like that."

He stood up. "I have to go. Will you do it?"

"Yes."

"Good. Let me know." Seu walked out, as hastily as he had entered.

Nick Pappageorge had roused himself and was polishing a tall, fluted
silver vase. Cudyk said, "Nick, go and find out where Mr. Harkway is.
If he isn't busy, ask him if he'll do me the favor of dropping around
to see me. Otherwise, just come back and tell me where he is; I'll go
to him."

Nick said, "Sure, Mr. Cudyk," and went out.

Cudyk stared at the tray of unsorted gems on the desk before him.
He stirred them with his forefinger, separating out an emerald, two
aquamarines, a large turquoise and a star sapphire. That was all he
had had to begin with--his dead wife's jewels, carried half across
Europe when a loaf of bread was worth more than all the gem stones
in the world. The sapphire had bought his passage on the alien ship;
the others had been his original stock-in-trade, first at the refugee
center on Alfhal, then here on Palumbar. Now he was a prosperous
importer, with a business that netted him the equivalent of ten
thousand pounds a year.

But the wealth was ashes; he would have traded all of it for one
loaf of bread, eaten in peace, on an Earth that had not sunk back to
barbarism.

Momentum, he told himself. Momentum, and a remnant of curiosity. Those
are the only reasons I can think of why I do not blow out my brains.
I wonder what keeps the others from it? Seu? Chong Yin? I don't know.
Burgess has his fantasy, though it cracks now and then. Ferguson has
the sensibility of a jackal. Rack, as Seu said, is a fanatic. But why
do the rest of them keep on? For what?

       *       *       *       *       *

The doorway darkened again as Harkway came in, followed by Nick. Nick
gestured toward the rear of the shop, and Harkway advanced, smiling.
His lower lip was stained by a purple substance with a glossy surface.

Cudyk greeted him and offered him a chair. "It was good of you to come
over," he said. "I hope I didn't interrupt your work."

Harkway grinned stiffly. "No. I was just finishing lunch when your boy
found me. I have nothing more to do until this evening."

Cudyk looked at him. "You got to the hospital after all, I see."

"Yes. Dr. Moskowitz fixed me up nicely."

Cudyk had been asking himself why the M.P.L. man looked so cheerful.
Now he thought he understood.

"And Miss Burgess?" he asked.

"Yes," said Harkway, looking embarrassed. He paused. "She's--an
exquisite person, Mr. Cudyk."

Cudyk clasped his square hands together, elbows on the arms of his
chair. He said, "Forgive me, I'm going to be personal. Am I right in
saying that you now feel more than casually interested in Miss Burgess?"

He added, "Please. I have a reason for asking."

Harkway's expression was guarded. "Yes; that's true."

"Do you think she may feel similarly towards you?"

Harkway paused. "I think so. I hope so. Why, Mr. Cudyk?"

"Mr. Harkway, I will be very blunt. Miss Burgess has already lost one
lover through no fault of her own, and the experience has not been
good for her. She is, as you say, exquisite--she has a beautiful, but
not a strong personality. Do you think it is fair for you to give her
another such experience, even if the attachment is not fully formed, by
allowing yourself to be killed this evening?"

Harkway leaned back in his chair. "Oh," he said, "that's it." He
grinned. "I thought you were going to point out that her father broke
off the last affair because of the man's politics. If you had, I was
going to tell you that Mr. Burgess looked me up this morning and
apologized for his attitude yesterday, and breaking down and so on.
He's very decent, you know. We're getting along very well."

He paused. "About this other matter," he said seriously, "I'm grateful
for your interest, but--I'm afraid I can't concede the validity of
your argument." He made an impatient gesture. "I'm not trying to sound
noble, but this business is more important than my personal life.
That's all, I'm afraid. I'm sorry."

Another fanatic, Cudyk thought. A liberal fanatic. I have seen all
kinds, now. He said, "I have one more argument to try. Has Seu
explained to you how precarious our position is here on Palumbar?"

"He spoke of it."

"The Niori accepted this one small colony with grave misgivings. Every
act of violence that occurs here weakens our position, because it
furnishes ammunition for a group which already wants to expel us. Do
you understand?"

There was pain in Harkway's eyes. "Mr. Cudyk, it's the same all over
the galaxy, wherever these pitifully tiny outgroups exist. My group is
trying to attack that problem on a galaxy-wide scale. I don't say we'll
succeed, and I grant you the right to doubt that our program is the
right one. But we've got to try. Among other things, we've got to clean
out the activists, for just the reason you mention. And--pardon me for
stressing the obvious--but it's Captain Rack who will be responsible
for this particular act of violence if it occurs, not myself."

"And you think that your death at his hands would be a stronger
argument than a peaceful meeting, is that it?"

Harkway shook his head ruefully. "I don't know that I have that much
courage, Mr. Cudyk. I'm hoping that nothing will happen to me. But I
know that the League's prestige here would be enormously hurt if I let
Rack bluff me down." He stood up. "You'll be at the meeting?"

"I'm afraid so." Cudyk stood and offered his hand. "The best of luck."

He watched the young man go, feeling very old and tired. He had known
it would be this way; he had only tried for Seu's sake. Now he was
involved; he had allowed himself to feel the tug of love and pity
toward still another lost soul. Such bonds were destructive--they
turned the heart brittle and weathered it away, bit by bit.

       *       *       *       *       *

The assembly hall was well filled, although Harkway had made no special
effort to advertise the meeting. He had known, Cudyk thought, that
Rack's threat would be more than sufficient. The youngster was not
stupid.

There were no women or children. Ferguson was there, and a large
contingent of his employees--gamblers, pimps, waiters and strong-arm
men--as well as most of the Russian population. All but a few of the
Chinese had stayed away, as had Burgess. But a number of men whom Cudyk
knew to have M.P.L. leanings, and an even larger number of neutrals,
were there. The audience was about evenly divided, for and against
Harkway. If he somehow came through this alive, it was just possible
that he could swing the Quarter his way. A futile victory; but of
course Harkway did not believe that.

There was a murmur and a shuffle of feet as Rack entered with three
other men--Monk, the one called Spider, and young Tom De Grasse, who
had once been engaged to Kathy Burgess. The sound dropped almost to
stillness for a few moments after the four men took seats at the side
of the hall, then rose again to a steady rumble. Harkway and Seu had
not yet appeared.

Cudyk saw the man to his right getting up, moving away; he turned in
time to see Seu wedge himself through a gap in the line of chairs and
sit down in the vacated place.

The fat man's face was blandly expressionless, but Cudyk knew that
something had happened. "What is it?" he asked.

Seu's lips barely moved. He looked past Cudyk, inspecting the crowd
with polite interest. "I had him kidnapped," he said happily. "He's
tied up, in a safe place. There won't be any meeting today."

Seu had been seen. Someone a few rows ahead called, "Where's Harkway,
Mayor?"

"I don't know," Seu said blandly. "He told me he would meet me
here--said he had an errand to do. Probably he's on his way now."

Under cover of the ensuing murmur, he turned to Cudyk again. "I didn't
want to do it," he said. "It will mean trouble, sooner or later; maybe
almost as much trouble as if Harkway had been killed. But I had to make
a choice. Do you think I did the right thing, Laszlo?"

"Yes," said Cudyk, "except that I wish you had told me earlier."

Seu smiled, his heavy face becoming for that instant open and
confiding. "If I had, you wouldn't have been so sincere when you talked
to Harkway."

Cudyk smiled in spite of himself. He relaxed in his chair, savoring the
relief that had come when he'd learned that Harkway was not going to
die. The tension built up, day by day, almost imperceptibly, and it was
a rare, fleeting pleasure when something happened to lower it.

He saw the mayor looking at his watch. The crowd was growing restless:
in a few more minutes Seu would get up and announce that the meeting
was cancelled. Then it would be all over.

Seu was rising when a new wave of sound traveled over the audience. Out
of the corner of his eye Cudyk saw men turning, standing up to see
over the heads of their neighbors. Seu spoke a single, sharp word, and
his hand tightened on the back of his chair.

Cudyk stood. Someone was coming down the center aisle of the room, but
he couldn't see who it was.

Those who had stood earlier were sitting down now. Down the aisle,
looking straight ahead, with a bruised jaw and a bloody scratch running
from cheekbone to chin, came James Harkway.

He mounted the platform, rested both hands on the low speaker's stand,
and turned his glance across the audience, once, from side to side.
There was a collective scraping of chairs and clearing of throats, then
complete stillness. Harkway said:

"My friends--and enemies."

Subdued laughter rippled across the room.

"A few of my enemies didn't want me to hold this meeting," said
Harkway. "Some of my friends felt the same way. In fact, it seemed that
_nobody_ wanted this meeting to take place. But here you all are, just
the same. And here I am."

He straightened. "Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps because regardless of
our differences, we're all in the same boat--in a lifeboat." He nodded
gravely. "Yes, we're all in a lifeboat--all of us together, to live or
die, and we don't know which way to turn for the nearest land that will
give us harbor.

"Which way shall we turn to find a safe landing? To find peace
and honor for ourselves and our children? To find safety, to find
happiness?"

He spread his arms. "There are a million directions we could follow.
There are all the planets in the galaxy! But everywhere we turn, we
find alien soil, alien cultures, alien people. Everywhere except in one
direction only.

"Our ship--our own planet, Earth--is foundering, is sinking, that's
true. But _it hasn't--yet--sunk_. There's still a chance that we can
turn back, make Earth what it was, and then, from there--go on! Go on,
until we've made a greater Earth, a stronger, happier, more peaceful
Earth--till we can take our place with pride in the galaxy, and hold up
our heads with any other race that lives."

He had captured only half their attention, and he knew it. They were
watching him, listening to what he said, but the heads of the audience
were turned slightly, like the heads of plants under a solar tropism,
toward the side of the chamber where Rack and his men sat.

Harkway said, "We all know that the Earth's technical civilization is
smashed--broken like an eggshell. By ourselves, we could never put it
back together. And if we do nothing, no one else is going to put it
back together for us. But suppose we went to the other races in the
galaxy, and said--"

A baritone voice broke in quietly, "'_We'll sell our souls to you, if
you'll kindly give us a few machines!_'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Rack stood up--tall, muscular, lean, with deep hollows under his
cheekbones, red-grey hair falling over his forehead under the visor of
his cap. His short leather jacket was thrown over his shoulders like
a cloak. His narrow features were grey and cold, the mouth a straight,
hard line. He said, "That's what you want us to tell the vermin, isn't
it, Mr. Harkway?"

Harkway seemed to settle himself like a boxer. He said clearly, "The
intelligent races of the galaxy are not devils and do not want our
souls, Mr. Rack."

Rack ignored the "Mr." He said, "But they'd want certain assurances
from us, in return for their help, wouldn't they, Mr. Harkway?"

"Certainly," said Harkway. "Assurances that no sane man would refuse
them. Assurances, for example, that there would be no repetition of
the Altair Incident--when a handful of maniacs in two ships murdered
thousands of peaceful galactic citizens without the slightest
provocation. Perhaps you remember that, Mr. Rack; perhaps you were
there."

"I was there," said Rack casually. "About five hundred thousand vermin
were squashed. We would have done a better job, but we ran out of
supplies. Some day we'll exterminate them all, and then there'll be
a universe fit for men to live in. Meanwhile--" he glanced at the
audience--"we're going to build. We're building now. Not with the
vermin's permission, under the vermin's eye. In secret. On a planet
they'll never find until our ships spurt out from it like milt from
a fish. And when that day comes, we'll squash them down to the last
tentacle and the last claw."

"Are you finished?" asked Harkway. He was quivering with controlled
rage.

"Yes, I'm finished," said Rack wearily. "So are you. You're a traitor,
Harkway, the most miserable kind of a crawling, dirt-eating traitor the
human race ever produced. Get down off the platform."

Harkway said to the audience, "I came here to try to persuade you to
my way of thinking--to ask you to consider the arguments and decide
for yourselves. This man wants to settle the question by prejudice
and force. Which of us is best entitled to the name 'human?' If you
listen to him, can you blame the Niori if they decide to end even this
tiny foothold they've given you on their planet? Would you live in a
universe drenched with blood?"

Rack said quietly, "Monk."

The squat man stood up, smiling. He took a clasp knife out of his
pocket, opened it, and started up the side of the room.

In the dead stillness, another voice said, "No!"

It was, Cudyk saw with shock, Tom De Grasse. The youngster was up,
moving past Rack--who made no move to stop him, did not even change
expression--past the squat man, turning a yard beyond, almost at the
front of the room. His square, almost childish face was tight with
strain. There was a pistol in one big hand.

Cudyk felt something awaken in him which blossomed only at moments like
this, when one of his fellow men did something particularly puzzling:
the root, slain but still quasi-living, of the thing that had once
been his central drive and his trademark in the world--his insatiable,
probing, warmly intelligent curiosity about the motives of men.

On the surface, this action of De Grasse's was baldly impossible.
He was committed to Rack's cause twice over, by conviction and by
the shearing away of every other tie; and still more important, he
worshipped Rack himself with the devotion that only fanatics can
inspire. It was as if Peter had defied Christ.

The three men stood motionless for what seemed a long time. Monk,
halted with his weight on one foot, faced De Grasse with his knife hand
slightly extended, thumb on the blade. He was visibly tense, waiting
for a word from Rack. But Rack stood as if he had forgotten time and
space, staring bemused over Monk's shoulder at De Grasse. The fourth
man, Spider--bones and gristle, with a corpse-growth of grey-white
hair--stood up slowly. Rack put a hand on his shoulder and pressed him
down again.

Cudyk thought: Kathy Burgess.

It was the only answer. De Grasse knew, of course, everything that
had passed between Harkway and the girl. There was no privacy worth
mentioning in the Quarter. Pressed in this narrow ghetto, every man
swam in the effluvium of every other man's emotions. And De Grasse was
willing, apparently, to give up everything that mattered to him, to
save Kathy Burgess pain.

It said something for the breed, Cudyk thought--not enough, never
enough, for you saw it only in pinpoint flashes, the noble individual
who was a part of the bestial mob--but a light in the darkness,
nevertheless.

Finally Rack spoke. "You, Tom?"

The youngster's eyes showed sudden pain. But he said, "I mean it,
Captain."

There was a slow movement out from that side of the room, men inching
away, crowding against their neighbors.

Rack was still looking past Monk's shoulder, into De Grasse's face. He
said:

"All right."

He turned, still wearing the same frozen expression, and walked down
the side of the room, toward the exit. Monk threw a glance of pure
incredulity over his shoulder, glanced back at De Grasse, and then
followed. Spider scrambled after.

De Grasse relaxed slowly, as if by conscious effort. He put away his
gun, hesitated a moment, and walked slowly out after the others. His
wide shoulders were slumped.

Then there was the scraping of chairs and boot-soles and a rising
bee-hive hum as the audience stood up and began to move out. Harkway
made no effort to call them back.

Cudyk, moving toward the exit with the rest, had much to think about.
He had seen not only De Grasse's will, but Rack's, part against the
knife of human sympathy. And that was a thing he had never expected to
see.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Times like this," said Ferguson, narrowing his grey snake's eyes in a
smile, "I almost believe in God."

Father Exarkos smiled courteously and said nothing. He and Cudyk had
been sitting in the back room of Chong Yin's since a half-hour after
the meeting. Seu had been with them earlier, but had left. A little
after twelve, Ferguson had strolled in and joined them.

"I mean it," said Ferguson, laughing a little. "There was Harkway,
sticking his neck out, and there was little De Grasse standing in the
way. And Rack backed down." He shook his head, still smiling. "Rack
backed down. Now how would you explain that, gentlemen?"

It was necessary to put up with the gambler, who wielded more power
in the Quarter than anyone else, even Seu; but sometimes Cudyk found
himself dropping his usual attitude of detached interest in favor of
speculations about the specific variety of horrible fate which Ferguson
would most probably meet.

He was particularly irritating tonight, because Cudyk was forced
to agree with him. Cudyk had still not solved the riddle of Rack's
failure to finish what he had started.

It was conceivable that De Grasse should have acted as he did for
reasons of sentiment; but to apply the same motive to Rack was simply
not possible. The man had emotions, certainly, but they were all
channeled into one direction: the destiny of the human race and of
Lawrence Rack. De Grasse was at an age when the strongest emotions
were volatile, when conversions were made, when a man could plan an
assassination one day and enter a monastery the next. But Rack was
fixed and aimed, like a cannon.

Ferguson was saying, "He must be going soft. Going soft--old Rack.
Unless it's the hand of God. What's your opinion, Father?"

The priest said blandly, "Mr. Ferguson, since I have come to live upon
this planet, my opinions have changed about many things. I no longer
believe that either God, or man, is quite so simple as I once thought.
We were too small in our thoughts, before--our understanding of
temporal things was bounded by the frontiers of Earth, and of eternal
things by the little sky we could see from our windows.

"Before, I think I would have tried to answer your question. I would
have said that I think Captain Rack was moved by--a sudden access of
human feeling--or I would have said that I think Captain Rack was
touched by the finger of God. Perhaps I would have hesitated to say
that, because even then I did not believe that God interferes with the
small sins of men like Captain Rack. Or the small sins of anybody, for
that matter."

Ferguson grinned. "Well, Father, that's the best excuse for an answer
I ever heard, anyway." He dragged on his cigar, narrowing his eyes and
pursing his lips, as if the cigar were a tube through which his brains
were being sucked. "In other words," he said, "you don't think the big
blowup back home was a judgment on us for our sins. You think it was a
good thing, only more people should have got out the way we did. That
right?"

"Oh, no," said Father Exarkos. "I believe that the Famines and the
Collapse were a judgment of God. I have heard many theories about
the causes of the Collapse, but I have not heard one which does not
come back, in the end, to a condemnation of man's folly, cruelty, and
blindness."

"Well," said Ferguson, "excuse me, Father, but if you believe that
way, what are you doing here? Back there--" he jerked his head, as if
Earth were some little distance behind his right shoulder--"people
are living like animals. Chicago, where I come from, is just a stone
jungle, with a few beast-like scavengers prowling around in it. If the
dirt and disease don't get you, some bandit will split your head open,
or you'll run into a wolf or some other hungry animal. If none of those
things happen, you can expect to live to the ripe old age of forty, and
then you'll be glad to die."

He had stopped smiling. Ferguson, Cudyk realized, was describing
his own personal hell. He went on, "Now, if you want to call that a
judgment, I won't argue with you. But if that's what you believe, why
aren't you back there taking it with the rest of them?"

He really wanted to know, Cudyk thought. He had begun by trying to bait
the priest, but now he was serious. It was odd to think of Ferguson
having trouble with his conscience, but Cudyk was not really surprised.
The most moralistic men he had ever known had been gangsters of
Ferguson's type; whereas the few really good men he had known, Father
Exarkos among them, had seemed as blithely unaware of their consciences
as of their healthy livers.

The priest said, soberly, "Mr. Ferguson, I believe that we also are
being punished. Perhaps we more than others. The Mexican peon, the
Indian fellah, the peasant of China or Greece, lives very much as his
father did before him; he scarcely has reason to know that judgment has
fallen upon Earth. But I think that no inhabitant of the Quarter can
forget it for so much as an hour."

Ferguson stared at him, then grunted and squashed out his cigar. He
stood up. "I'll be getting along home," he said. "Good night." He
walked out.

Cudyk and Exarkos sat for a while longer, talking quietly, and then
left together. The streets were empty. Behind them and to their left as
they walked to the corner, the ghostly blue of the Niori beehives shone
above the dark human buildings.

The priest lived in a small second-floor apartment near the corner of
Brasil and Athenai, alone since his wife had died ten years before.
Cudyk had only to go straight across Ceskoslovensko, but he walked
down toward Brasil with his friend.

Near the corner, Cudyk saw a dark form sprawled in a doorway. "One of
your congregation, Astereos?" he asked.

"It is probable," said the priest resignedly. "Steve Chrisudis has been
drinking heavily again this past week; also the two Moulios brothers."

He stepped over and turned the man's face up to the light.

The face was bloody and broken, the eyes sightless. It was Harkway. He
had been dead long enough to grow cold.

       *       *       *       *       *

One question of Harkway's kept coming back to Cudyk. "Would you live in
a universe drenched with blood?"

Rack would, of course; for others there was a tragic dilemma. For them,
the race had come to the end of a road that had its beginning in
prehistory. Every step of progress on that way had been accomplished
by bloodshed, and yet the goal had always been a world at peace. It
had been possible to live with the paradox when the road still seemed
endless: before the first Earth starships discovered that humanity was
not alone in the universe.

Human beings were like a fragile crystalline structure, enduring until
the first touch of air; or like a cyst that withers when it is cut
open. The winds of the universe blew around them now, and there was no
way to escape from their own nature.

The way forward was the way back; the way back was the way forward.

There was no peace except the peace of surrender and death. There was
no victory except the victory of chaos.

As the priest had remarked, there were many theories about the
Collapse. It was said that the economy of Earth had been wrecked by
interstellar imports; it was said that the rusts and blights that had
devastated Earth's fields were of alien origin; it was said that the
disbanding of the Space Navy, after the Altair Incident, had broken
Earth's spirit. It was said that the emigrations, both before and after
the Famines, had bled away too much of the trained manpower that was
Earth's life-blood.

The clear fact was that the human race was finished: dying like
Neanderthal faced by Cro-Magnon; dying like the hairy Ainu among the
Japanese. It was true that hundreds of millions of people lived on
Earth much as they had done before, tilling their fields, digging
stones from the ground, laboring over the handicrafts which sustained
the men of the Quarter in their exile.

Humanity had passed through such dark ages before.

But now there was no way to go except downward.

If the exiles in their ghettoes, on a hundred planets of the galaxy,
were the lopped-off head of the race, then the ferment of theories,
plans, and policies that swirled through them stood for the last fitful
fantasies in the brain of a guillotined man.

And on Earth, the prelates, the robber barons, the petty princes were
ganglia: performing their mechanical functions in a counterfeit of
intelligence, slowing, degenerating imperceptibly until the last spark
should go out.

Cudyk fingered the manuscript which lay on the desk before him. It was
the last thing he had written, and it would never be finished. He had
hunted it up, this morning, out of nostalgia, or perhaps through some
obscure working of that impulse that made him look out at the stars
each night.

There were twenty pages, the first chapter of a book that was to have
been his major work. It ended with the words:

"The only avenue of escape for humanity is...."

He had stopped there, because he had realized suddenly that he had been
deliberately deceiving himself; that there was no avenue. The scheme he
had meant to propose and develop in the rest of the book had one thing
in common with those he had demolished in the first pages. It would not
work.

Cudyk thought of those phantom chapters now, and was grateful that he
had not written them. He had meant to propose that the exiles should
band together on some unpeopled planet, and rear a new generation which
would be given all the knowledge of the old, save for two categories:
military science and astronomy. They would never be told, never guess
that the bright lights of their sky were suns, that the suns had
planets and the planets people. They would grow up free of that numbing
pressure; they would have a fresh start.

It had been the grossest self-deception. You cannot put the human mind
in chains. Every culture had tried it, and every culture had failed....

He pulled open a drawer of his desk and put the manuscript into it. A
folded note dropped to the floor as he did so. Cudyk picked it up and
read again:

_You are requested to attend a meeting which will be held at 8
Washington Avenue at 10 hours today. Matters of public policy will be
discussed._

It was not signed; no signature was needed, nor any threatened
alternative to complying with the "request". Cudyk glanced at his
wristwatch, made on Oladi by spidery, many-limbed creatures to whom
an ordinary watch movement was a gross mechanism. The dial showed the
Galactic Standard numerals which corresponded to ten o'clock.

Cudyk stood up wearily and walked out past the carved screen. He said
to Nick, "I'll be back in an hour or so."

Eight Washington Avenue was The Little Bear, half a block from the
corner where he had first met Harkway, a block and a half from the
spot where Harkway's corpse had been left in a doorway. Two more
associations, Cudyk thought. After twenty-five years, there were so
many that he could not move a foot in the Quarter, glance at a window
or a wall, without encountering one of them. And this was another thing
to remember about a ghetto: you were crowded not only in space but in
time. The living were the most transient inhabitants of the Quarter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cudyk stepped through the open door of The Little Bear, saw the tables
empty and the floor bare. The bartender, Piljurovich, jerked his thumb
toward the stairs. "You're late," he said in Russian. "Better hurry."

Cudyk climbed the stairs to the huge second-floor dining hall, where
the Russians and Poles held their periodic revels. The room was packed
tight with a silent mass of men. At the far end, Rack sat on a chair
placed on a table. He stopped in mid-sentence, stared coldly at Cudyk,
and then went on.

"--or against me. From now on, there won't be any more neutrals. I want
you to understand this clearly. For one thing, your lives may depend on
it."

He paused, glancing around the room. "By now you all know that James
Harkway was executed last night. His crime was treason against the
human race. There are some of you here who have been, or will be,
guilty of the same crime. To them I have nothing more to say. To the
others, those who have considered themselves neutral, I say this:
First, New Earth needs all of you and has earned your allegiance.
Second, those of you who remain on an enemy planet in spite of this
warning will not live to regret it if that planet is selected for
attack.

"You have two months to make up your minds and to close your affairs.
At the end of that time, a New Earth transport will call here to take
off those who decide to go. It will be the last New Earth ship, and I
warn you that you had better not count on Galactic transportation after
that date."

He stood up. "That's all."

The audience was over. Rack waited, standing on the table, thumbs
hooked into his belt, jacket over his shoulders, like a statue
of himself, while the crowd moved slowly out of the room. It was
ludicrous, but you could not laugh.

Two months. For almost twenty years Rack had been a minor disturbance
in the Quarter, no more important or dangerous or mad than a dozen
others; appearing suddenly, at night, staying for a few days,
disappearing again for a month, or two, or six. He brought stolen goods
to Ferguson--furs from Drux Uta, perhaps, or jewels from Thon--and
Ferguson paid him in Galactic currency, reselling the merchandise
later, some on Palumbar, some on a dozen other worlds, for twenty times
the price he paid. Rack had a following among the younger men of the
Quarter; two or three a year joined him. Occasionally there were rumors
in the Quarter of Rack's close calls with the Galactic Guard. It had
never been a secret that he was building military installations on
some far-off planet. But now, for the first time, Cudyk realized that
Rack was actually going to make war on the universe.

Whatever the result, the least it meant was the end of the Quarter.

The stairs were choked. Cudyk worked his way down, to find the barroom
filled with little knots of men, talking in low voices. Only a few were
drinking.

Someone called his name, and then a hand grasped his sleeve. It was
Speros Moulios, the grey little tobacco dealer, whose two sons drank
too much. "Mr. Cudyk, please, what do you think? Should we go, like he
says?"

The others of the group followed him; in a moment Cudyk was surrounded.
He felt helpless. "I can't advise you, Mr. Moulios," he said. "To be
truthful, I don't know what I am going to do myself."

Nobilio Villaneuva, the druggist, said, "I have worked fifteen years,
saved all my money. What am I going to do with it if I go to this New
Earth? And what about my daughter?"

Someone came elbowing his way through the crowd. He signaled to Cudyk.
"Laszlo!" It was bald, cheerful Mike Moskowitz, one of the Quarter's
two doctors. He said, "Some of the fellows want to form a delegation,
to go back and ask Rack some questions. They asked me to serve, but
I've got to get back to the hospital. Same thing with Seu, he's got six
things on his hands already. Father Exarkos isn't here. Will you take
over? Good. I'll see you later."

Cudyk sighed. The men around him were watching him expectantly. He
stepped over to the bar, picked up an empty glass and rapped with it
on the counter until the room quieted.

"It's been suggested," he said, "that a delegation be formed to ask
Captain Rack for more information. Do you all want that?"

There was an affirmative murmur.

"All right," said Cudyk. "Nominations?"

They ended up with a committee of five: Cudyk as spokesman, Moulios,
Chong Yin, the painter Prokop Vekshin, and the town clerk, Martin
Paz. Cudyk had slips of paper passed out, and collected a hundred-odd
questions, most of them duplicates and some of them incoherent. Paz
made a neat list of those that remained, and the delegation moved
toward the stairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the foot of the stairway Cudyk saw Burgess standing, blinking
uncertainly around him. He dropped back and put his hand on the man's
arm. "Hello, Louis. I'm glad to see you. How is Kathy?"

Burgess straightened a trifle. "Oh--Laszlo. She's all right, thank you.
Feeling a little low, just now, of course...." His voice trailed off.

"Of course," said Cudyk sympathetically. "I wish there were something I
could do."

"No--no, there's nothing. Time will cure her, I suppose. Where are you
going now?"

Cudyk explained. "Were you at the meeting, earlier?" he asked.

"No. I was not invited. I only heard--ten minutes ago. Perhaps it would
be all right if I came upstairs with you? In that way--But if I would
be a nuisance--" His features worked.

Cudyk felt obscurely uneasy. He recalled suddenly that it was a long
time since he had seen Burgess looking perfectly normal. He said
reluctantly, "I think it will be all right. Why not? Come along."

Rack was sitting at the end of the long table on the far side of the
room, talking to Ferguson. Ferguson's hatchet-man, Vic Smalley, was
leaning watchfully against the far wall. Monk and Spider sat at Rack's
left. De Grasse, pale and red-eyed, sat halfway down the table, away
from the others. He stared at the table in front of him, paying no
attention to the rest.

Cudyk had heard that De Grasse was still with Rack, and had wondered
what he had done to expiate his sin. The obvious answer was one that he
had not wanted to believe: that De Grasse had been given the task of
murdering Harkway.

He had done it, probably, with a tormented soul and under Rack's eye,
but he had done it. So much, Cudyk thought wearily, for the selfless
nobility of man.

Rack looked up expressionlessly as the five men approached. "Yes?"

Cudyk said, "We have been chosen to ask you some questions about your
previous statement."

"Ask away," said Rack, leaning back in his chair. Before him was a
glass of the dark, smoky liquor Ferguson imported for his special use.
He was smoking a tremendously long, black Russian cigarette.

Cudyk took the list from Paz and read the first question. "What is the
status of New Earth as to housing, utilities and so on?"

"Housing and utilities are adequate for the present population," said
Rack indifferently. "More units will be built as needed."

Paz scribbled in his notebook. Cudyk read, "Will every new colonist be
expected to serve as a member of New Earth's fighting forces?"

Rack said, "Every man will work where he's needed. Common sense ought
to tell you that middle-aged men with pot bellies and no military
training won't be asked to man battleships."

"What is the size of New Earth's navy?"

"Next question."

"Will new colonists be allowed to retain their personal fortunes?"

Rack stared at him coldly. "The man who asked that," he said, "had
better stay in the Quarter. If by his personal fortune he means
Galactic currency, he can use it to stuff rat-holes. Any personal
property of value to the community, and in excess of the owner's
minimum needs, will be commandeered and dispensed for the good of the
community."

"Will new colonists be under military dis--"

"Look out!" said De Grasse suddenly. He lurched to his feet, upsetting
his chair.

Someone stumbled against Paz, who fell heavily across Cudyk's legs,
bringing him down. Someone else shouted. From the floor, Cudyk saw
Burgess standing quietly with a tiny nickeled revolver in his hand.

"Please don't move, Mr. Ferguson," said Burgess. "I don't trust you.
All of you, stand still, please."

Cudyk carefully got his legs under him and slowly stood up. The men on
the other side of the table were still sitting or standing where they
had been a moment before. De Grasse stood in an attitude of frozen
protest, one big hand flat against his trousers pocket. He looked
comically like a man who has left the house without his keys.

They must have taken his gun away, Cudyk thought, after that affair
yesterday.

Monk and the aged Spider were sitting tensely, trying to watch Rack and
Burgess at the same time. Rack, as always, was inhumanly calm. Ferguson
looked frightened. The gunman, Vic Smalley, had straightened away from
the wall; he looked alert and unworried.

"Captain Rack," said Burgess, "you killed that man Harkway."

Rack said nothing.

"I did it," De Grasse said hoarsely. "If you have to shoot somebody,
shoot me."

Burgess turned slightly. Rack, without seeming to hurry, picked up
the glass in front of him and half rose to fling the black liquor at
Burgess' face.

The gun went off. Burgess stumbled back a step and then toppled over,
with a knife-handle sprouting magically between neck and shoulder.
De Grasse came hurtling across the table top, dived onto Burgess'
prostrate body and came up with the gun. Not more than two seconds had
gone by since Rack lifted the glass.

The delegates were moving away, leaving a clear space around De Grasse
and Burgess. Cudyk heard some of them clattering down the stairs.

Rack was leaning over the table, supporting himself with one hand,
while the other rested at his waist. His attitude, together with his
frozen expression, suggested that he was merely bending over to
examine Burgess' body. But in the next moment he turned slightly,
lifted the hand that was pressed to his side, and looked at the dark
stain that was spreading over his shirt.

De Grasse stood up. Cudyk went to Burgess and knelt beside him.
The man was conscious and moving feebly. "Lie still," said Cudyk.
Someone pushed his shoulder roughly, and he looked up to see De
Grasse transferring the revolver from his left hand to his right. The
youngster's lips were compressed. "Get out of the way," he said harshly.

"No," said Rack. "Leave him alone." He sat down carefully. After a
moment De Grasse went around the table and joined him.

Cudyk lifted Burgess' jacket carefully. There was not much bleeding,
and he did not think the wound was dangerous. Burgess said weakly, "Did
I kill him, Laszlo?"

"No," said Cudyk. "No one was killed."

Burgess turned his head away.

There were footsteps on the stairs, and Moskowitz came into the room,
followed by Lee Far and two men with a stretcher. Moskowitz glanced
at Burgess and at Rack, then knelt beside Burgess without a word. He
pulled out the knife expertly, pressing a wad of bandage around the
wound.

"I'll take that," said Spider, bending over with his grey hand
outstretched.

Moskowitz dropped the knife on the floor and went on bandaging Burgess.
Spider picked it up, glared at the doctor and went back around the
table.

Cudyk waited until Moskowitz had finished with Burgess and started
probing for the bullet in Rack's side. Following the stretcher bearers
down the stairs, he went out into the clear morning sunlight.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was never any end to it. The Quarter was like a tight
gravitational system, with many small bodies swinging around each other
in eccentric orbits, and the whole shrinking in upon itself as time
went on, so that it grew more and more certain that one collision would
engender half a dozen more.

And in the mind, too, each event went on forever. Cudyk remembered
Burgess, in the stretcher as he was being carried home, weeping
silently because he had failed to kill the man who had murdered his
daughter's lover. And he remembered Rack, sitting silent and weary as
he waited for Moskowitz to attend to him: sitting without anger for the
man who had shot him, sitting with patience, filled with his own inner
strength.

And De Grasse, tortured soul, who had once more shown himself willing
to sacrifice himself to any loyalty he felt.

Even Monk, even Spider, lived not for himself but for Rack.

There were all the traditional virtues, dripping their traditional
gore: nobility, self-sacrifice, patience, even generosity. By any test
except the test of results, Rack was a great man and Burgess another.

And the test of results was a two-edged razor: for by that test, Cudyk
himself was a total failure, a nonentity.

He thought, _We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men...._

When every action led to disaster, those who did nothing were damned
equally with those who acted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Someone touched Cudyk's arm as he left Chong Yin's. He turned and saw
that it was Ferguson.

"I've got something to say to you, Cudyk. I saw you were busy talking
to Father Exarkos in there, so I didn't bother you. Besides, it's
private. Come on down to my place."

The man was doing him an honor, Cudyk realized, in approaching him
personally instead of sending an underling. And now, as Ferguson stood
waiting for him to reply, Cudyk saw that there was something curiously
like appeal in his eyes.

"All right, if you wish," he said. "But I will have to go back to the
shop within an hour--Nick has not had his lunch."

"I won't keep you that long," Ferguson said.

They turned at the corner and walked down Washington, past Town Hall
to The Little Bear. Beyond this point, everything was Ferguson's: the
dance hall, the casino, the bawdy house, the two cafes and three bars,
and the two huge warehouses at the end of the avenue. But it was the
casino that Ferguson meant when he said "my place".

A white-aproned boy got up hurriedly and opened the heavy doors when
they approached. Ferguson strode past without looking at him, and Cudyk
followed across the long, empty room. Dust covers shrouded the roulette
table, the chuck-a-luck layout, faro, chemin-de-fer, dice and poker
tables. The bar was deserted, bottles and glasses neatly stacked.

Ferguson led the way up a short flight of stairs to the overhanging
balcony at the end of the room. He opened the door with a key--a rarity
in the Quarter, since cylinder locks were available only by scavenging
on Earth, and had to be imported, whereas a mechanism used by the
Niori as a mathematical toy could be readily adapted into an efficient
combination lock.

The low-ceilinged room was furnished with a blond-wood desk and swivel
chair, a long, pale green couch and two chairs upholstered in the same
fabric: all Earth imports, scavenged from stocks manufactured before
the Collapse. The carpet was a deeper green. There were three framed
pictures on the walls: a blue-period Picasso, a muted oyster-white and
grey Utrillo and a small Roualt clown.

Ferguson was watching him. "Just like my place in Chicago," he said.
"You never saw it before, did you?"

"No," Cudyk said. "I have never been in the Casino until now."

"Sit down," said Ferguson, pointing to one of the upholstered chairs.
He pulled out the swivel chair and leaned back in it. He nodded toward
the glass which formed the entire front wall of the room. "Sittin' up
here, I can see everything that goes on downstairs. I got a phone--"
he laid his hand on it--"that communicates with the cashier's booth in
every room. I can handle the whole place from here, and I don't have to
be bothered by the goofs if I don't want to. Also, that glass is bullet
proof. It's Niori stuff, ten times better than anything we had back
home. They tell me you couldn't get through it with a bazooka."

Cudyk said nothing.

"What I wanted to talk to you about--" said Ferguson, leaning forward
with his elbows on his knees. "You understand, Cudyk, this is
confidential. Strictly between us."

"I don't want any confidence that will be difficult to keep," said
Cudyk.

"What do you mean?"

"If it is something that touches the safety of the Quarter--"

Ferguson waved his hand impatiently. "No, it's nothing like that. I
just don't want it to get around too early. All right, use your own
judgment. Here it is.

"Rack's coming back in about three weeks with his transport, to pick up
anybody that wants to go to New Earth. I'm not going, and neither are
any of my boys. On the other hand, I'm not going to stay here either.
It isn't healthy any more.

"I don't know what Rack's got, but I've got a pretty good idea he's
got enough to raise a lot of hell. Now you can figure the angles for
yourself: maybe he won't bomb this planet because he thinks he can
still make some use of the Quarter--but that's a big maybe. Even if he
doesn't, it's a dead cinch there's going to be trouble. The Niori know
he comes here, even if they can't prove it, and when the war starts
they're going to be sore."

"Tell me something," said Cudyk after a moment. "If you knew all this
long ago--and you must have, since you have been so closely associated
with Rack--why did you help Rack, and so force yourself to leave
Palumbar?"

Ferguson grinned and shrugged. "I'm not complaining," he said. "Rack
never fooled me. I got mine, and he got his--it was a business
arrangement. When you figure everything in, I can clear out now and
I'm still ahead. See, you got to figure that nothing lasts forever.
If I hadn't played along with Rack, he would have taken his business
somewhere else. Maybe I could have stayed here a little longer, but
then again, maybe I would have stayed too long. This way, I got my
information in advance, and I got my profit from dealing with Rack.

"As a matter of fact, he thinks I and all my outfit are going to be on
that transport when it goes back to his base. He knows I wouldn't take
a chance on staying here when the shooting starts. What he doesn't know
is that I got someplace else to go, and a way to get there."

He sat back in his chair again. "I got a Niori-built freighter hidden
back in the hills. Had it for eight years now. It'll carry five hundred
people, and fuel and provisions for a year, on top of the cargo. And I
got a planet picked out where nobody will bother me--not Rack, and not
the Galactics."

       *       *       *       *       *

He took a cigar box from the desk and offered it to Cudyk. Cudyk shook
his head, showing his pipe.

Ferguson took a cigar, twirled it in his lips slowly, and lit it.
"You know," he said, bending forward, "there's plenty of planets in
the galaxy that aren't inhabited. Some have never even been explored.
They're off the shipping routes, no intelligent race on them, nothing
special in the way of organic products, so nobody wants them. Rack's
got one--I've got another."

He gestured with the cigar. "But I'm not using mine to build up any war
base. What for?" His long face contorted with violent disgust. "That
Rack is crazy. You know it and I know it. If it wasn't for him, I could
have stayed here, who knows how long? Or I could have moved to one of
the other colonies if I saw a good chance. I like it here. This is
civilization--all that's left of it.

"But--" he leaned back again--"you got to take what you can get. If
the odds are too heavy, cash in and walk out. That's what I'm doing:
I'm retiring. On this planet I told you about, there's a big island.
A tropical island. Fruit--all you can eat. Little animals something
like wild pigs. Fish in the ocean. Gravity just a little under Earth
normal, atmosphere perfect. And I'm taking along everything else
we'll need. Generators, all kinds of electrical equipment, stoves,
everything. It'll last your lifetime and mine."

He looked at Cudyk. "What more would you want?"

Cudyk said slowly, "You're asking me to go with you?"

Ferguson nodded. "Sure. I'll treat you right, Cudyk. My boys will go
on working for me, you understand, and so will most of the others I'm
going to take. I'll be the boss. But you, and three or four others, you
won't have to do any work. Just lie in that sand, or go fishing, or
whatever you feel like. How does it sound?"

"I don't think I quite understand," said Cudyk. "Why do you choose me?"

Ferguson put down his cigar. He looked uncomfortable. He said
irritably, "Because I've got to have somebody to talk to." He stared at
Cudyk. "Look at me. Here I am, I'm fifty years old, and I been fighting
the world ever since I was a kid. You think I can just cut loose from
everything now, and lie under a tree? I'd go nuts in a month. I'm not
kidding myself, I know what I am. It takes practice to learn how to
relax and enjoy yourself. I never learned, never had the time.

"When I get on that island, and I get all the houses built and the
wires strung up, and everything's organized and I've got nothing else
to do, I can see myself lying there thinking about this place, and all
the other places I ever owned, and thinking to myself, 'What for?' And
there's no answer, I know that. But just the same, I'm going to be
wanting to start in again, making a deal, opening a joint, figuring the
angles, handling people.

"So there I'll be, with all these mugs around me. What do they know to
talk about? The same things I do. Things that happened to them in the
rackets, here or back on Earth. You got to talk to somebody, or you go
crazy. But if I've got nobody but them to talk to, how'm I ever going
to get my mind off that kind of stuff?"

He gestured toward the Roualt, on the wall to Cudyk's left. "Look at
that," he said. "I bought that thing in 1991. I've been looking at it
for, let's see, twenty-three years. For the first five or so I couldn't
figure out whether the guy was kidding or not. Then, gradually, I got
to like it. But I still don't know _why_ the hell I like it. It's the
same thing with everything. I have a Corot that I'm nuts about--I look
at it every night before I go to sleep. It's just a landscape, like
you used to see on calendars in the old days, except the calendars
were junk and this is art. I know that, I can feel it. But what's the
difference between the two? Don't ask me.

"See what I mean? That's the kind of stuff I got to learn about. Art.
Literature. Music. Philosophy. I always wanted to, before, but I never
had the patience for it. Now I've _got_ to do it. My kind of life is
finished, I've got to learn a new kind."

He frowned at his cigar. "It isn't going to be easy. Maybe there'll be
times when you'll wish you had anybody else in the world around but me.
But I won't take it out on you, Cudyk."

He meant it, Cudyk knew. For a moment he wondered, Why don't I
accept? He could see Ferguson's island paradise clearly enough: the
tropical trees, the log huts--with electric light, induction stoves
for cooking, and hot and cold water--the sand, the sunshine, the long,
lazy afternoons spent in talking quietly on the beach. There would be
no strain and no tension, if everything went as Ferguson planned--only
a long, slow twilight, with nothing left to fear or to hope for:
forgetfulness, lethargy; lotos and Lethe; a pleasant exile, a scented
prison.

"You won't have to worry about the others, the guys that work for me,"
Ferguson said. "After they get through building the settlement, they
can do what they want as long as they don't make any trouble. There'll
be enough women to go around--they can settle down and raise kids.
There won't be any liquor, and I'm going to keep the weapons locked up.
About the ship--I'll wreck that as soon as we land. Once we're there,
we're there."

If it were not for Ferguson himself, Cudyk thought, I believe I might
do it. But Ferguson, inside a year, is going to be a pitiable and
terrible object. This is his own punishment, his lesser evil--he
chooses it himself. But he is not going to like it.

"I think I understand," he said. "Believe me, Mr. Ferguson, I'm deeply
grateful for this offer, and I am tempted to accept. But--I think I
will stay and take my chances with the Quarter."

Ferguson stared at him, then shrugged. "Don't make up your mind in
too much of a hurry," he said. "Think it over--I'm not leaving for a
couple of weeks. And listen, Cudyk, do me a favor. Don't spread this
around."

"Very well," said Cudyk.

Ferguson did not get up to see him to the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a curious feeling of suspension in the Quarter. Trade was
slow; only a few Niori and still fewer members of other Galactic races
strolled down the narrow streets, and for more than a week Cudyk sold
nothing.

Human faces were missing, too. Almost two hundred of the ghetto's
inhabitants had left quietly, during the night, when word had gone
around that the "New Earth" transport was waiting. Villaneuva had gone,
with his family; so had Martin Paz; and Ferguson had gone earlier with
all his crew. Today, two weeks later, Cudyk had spent the morning
wandering the City. It was a thing he had done often in his first years
on the planet, before the restless drive of his youth had seeped away,
leaving nothing but momentum, and memory, and a few vestiges that
reminded him of the man he had been.

He had spent whole days in the City, then, looking into this building
and that, talking to the natives, asking questions, observing. He had
seen the City as part of a colossal jigsaw puzzle from which, if you
were patient and perceptive, you might extract the nexus, the inner
pattern that made the essential difference between Niori and men.

For the Niori, like nearly all the intelligent races of the galaxy, had
one survival factor that men had always lacked. There was no word for
it in any human language; you could only talk around it in negatives.
The Niori did not kill; they did not lie; they did not steal, intrigue,
exploit each other, hate, make war.

For men, "the fittest" had always been the man, or nation, or race,
that survived by exterminating its rivals. Somehow, the Niori had found
another way. There was no word for it. But perhaps you could find it,
if you looked long enough.

He had studied their architecture, and pondered long on the arrangement
of the City's great hive-buildings: a peculiar, staggered arrangement
which was neither concentric nor radial; which created no endless
vistas, only islands of buildings or lakes of parkland. He had tried to
see into that arrangement and through it to the soul of the race, as
other scholars had peered into the city-plans of Athens and New York,
reading inwardness into one and outwardness into the other.

The method was sterile. The Niori had no "world-view" in the
Spenglerian sense. Their cities expressed only function and a sense of
beauty and order.

In those early days, he had said to himself: These people have no
cinemas, theaters, churches, art galleries, concert halls, football
fields. Let me see what they have instead, and perhaps I will begin to
understand them.

He had seen the Niori, sitting in a circle of six or eight, solemnly
capping one word with another, around and around. To him, the sequences
of words were sense-free and followed no discernable pattern. To the
Niori, evidently, they fulfilled some function analagous to those of
poetry and group singing.

He had watched them debating in the governing council. There was
no rhetoric and no heat, even when the issue was important and the
opinions widely divergent. He had seen their shops, in which each
article was labeled with its cost to the merchant, and the buyer gave
as much more as he could afford. It was incredible; but it worked.

He had followed their culture through a thousand other avenues until
he wearied of it, having learned nothing more than he knew at the
beginning. Afterwards, for twenty years he had not left the Quarter
except to transact business, or to oversee the unloading of merchandise
at the spaceport.

Today he had gone once more, feeling an obscure compulsion: perhaps
because he knew the day was coming when he would see the City for the
last time; perhaps hoping, in that small spark of himself that still
allowed itself to hope for anything, that one more visit would show him
the miraculous key to all that he had misunderstood.

He had learned nothing new, but the morning had not been altogether
wasted. It was a clear autumn day, good for walking in so green a city.
And paradoxically enough, being the only Earthman on the streets had
made him feel less alien than before. He attracted no attention, in a
spaceport city: he walked side by side with squat Dritik and spidery
Oladsa, beings of a hundred different races from as many stars. When he
returned to the Quarter, he felt oddly refreshed and calmed.

We have very little left, he thought, except one or two minor virtues
that have no bloodstains on them. Kindliness, humor, a sense of
brotherhood ... perhaps if we had stuck to those, and never learned
the martial virtues, never aspired to be noble or glorious, we would
have come out all right. Was there ever a turning point? When Carthage
was sown with salt, or when Paul founded the Church--or when the first
caveman sharpened the end of a stick and used it for murder? If so, it
was a long way back, dead and buried, dust and ashes.

We took all that was best in thousands of years of yearning and
striving for the right, he thought, and we made it into the Inquisition
and the Star Chamber and the NKVD. We fattened our own children for
each generation's slaughter. And yet we are not all evil. Astereos
is right: if the other races had been like ourselves, it would have
been bearable; or if we ourselves had been creatures of pure darkness,
conscienceless, glorying in cruelty--then we could have made war on the
Galaxy joyfully, and if we failed at least there would have been an
element of grandeur in our failure.

Olaf Stapledon had said this once, he remembered--that there was an
artistry in pure, uncontaminated evil, that it was in its own way as
real an expression of worship as pure good.

The tragedy of human beings, then, was that they were not wholly
tragic. Jumbled, piebald parcels of contradictions, angels with asses'
ears.... What was that quotation from Bierce? _The best thing is not to
be born...._

Someone brushed by him, and Cudyk looked up. He was at the intersection
of Ceskoslovensko and Washington; he had come three blocks past his
apartment without noticing where he was going.

Chong Yin's was only a few doors to his left; perhaps he had been
heading there automatically. But the doors were closed, he saw; seven
or eight Chinese were standing in the street outside, and as Cudyk
watched, Seu Min came down the stairs from the living quarters over the
tea room. The other Chinese clustered around him for a moment, and then
Seu appeared again. The others slowly began to disperse.

Cudyk went to meet him. The mayor's face looked strained; there were
new, deep folds of skin around his eyes. "What is it, Min?" said Cudyk.

Seu fell in beside him and they walked back up the street. "Chong
killed himself about an hour ago," said the Chinese.

How many does that make? Cudyk thought, frozen. Six, I think, in the
last two months.

He had not known Chong well--the old man had been a north-country
Chinese, not Westernized in the least, who spoke only his own language.
Now that he thought of it, Cudyk realized that he did not know who
Chong's close friends had been, if he had had any. He had always been
the same spare, stooped figure in skull-cap and robe, courteous,
unobtrusive, self-contained. He had a family; a wife, rarely seen, and
six children.

Somehow Cudyk felt that he would have been less surprised to hear that
Moulios had committed suicide, or Moskowitz, or even Seu himself. My
mistake, he told himself. I allowed myself to think of Chong as an
institution, not as a man.

"Have you some whisky?" asked Seu abruptly.

"Yes," said Cudyk, "of course."

"Let us go and drink it," Seu said. "I'm very tired."

It occurred to Cudyk that he had never heard Seu say that before. They
turned the corner at Athenai and climbed the stairs to his apartment.
Seu sighed, and dropped heavily into a chair while Cudyk went to get
the bottle and glasses.

"Straight, or with water?" he asked.

"Straight, please." Seu tilted his glass, swallowed and shuddered.
Cudyk watched him in silence.

Seu, alone in the Quarter, owned a Niori communicator--an elaborate
mechanism which reproduced sound, vision in three dimensions, odors,
modulated temperature changes and several other things perceptible only
to Niori. There was no restriction on their sale, and they were cheap
enough, but the Niori broadcasts were as dull or as incomprehensible
to men as a Terrestial breakfast program would have been to Niori. Seu
used his as a source of Galactic news. Today, Cudyk guessed, the news
had been very bad.

"It's Rack, isn't it?" he said finally.

Seu glanced at him and nodded. "Yes, it's Rack. I haven't told anyone
else about it yet. The Quarter's in a half-hysterical state as it is.
But if you don't mind my talking it out to you--"

"Go ahead," said Cudyk.

"It's worse than anything we expected." Seu took another swallow of the
whisky, and made a face. He said, "They've got a hydrogen-lithium bomb."

" ... I was afraid of that."

Seu went on as if he had not heard. "But they're not using it on
planets. They're bombing suns, Laszlo."

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment, Cudyk did not understand, then he felt his abdominal
muscles contract like a fist. "They couldn't," he said hoarsely. "It
would explode before it got past the outer layers."

"Under faster-than-light drive?" Seu asked. "I did some figuring. At
1000 _C_, it would take the bomb about two point six thousandths of a
second to travel from the surface to the center of an average G-class
star. I think that is a short enough interval, but maybe it isn't.
Maybe they have also found some way to increase the efficiency of the
standard galactic drive for short periods. Anyway, does it matter?" He
looked at Cudyk again. "I have seen the pictures. I _saw_ it happen."

Cudyk's throat was dry. "Which stars?" he said.

"Törkas. Rud-Uri. That's the Oladi sun. And Gerzión. Those three, so
far."

Cudyk's fingers were nervously caressing the smooth metal of his
wristwatch. He looked down at it suddenly, remembering that the
Oladsa had made it. And now they were gone, all but their colonies
and travelers on other worlds, and those who had been in space at the
time. All those spidery, meticulous people, with their million-year-old
culture and their cities of carved opal, wiped out as a man would swat
a fly.

Seu took another drink. His face flushed, and drops of sweat stood out
on his forehead and cheeks.

He said, "They'll have to learn to kill, now. There isn't any
alternative. They intercepted one of the New Earth ships and sprayed it
with the stasis field. It didn't work; the ship got away. They'll have
to learn to kill. Do you know what that means?"

"Yes."

Seu drank again. His face was fiery red, now, and he was gasping for
breath. "I can't get drunk," he said bitterly. "Toxic reaction. I
thought I'd try once more, but it's no good. Laszlo, look out, I'm
going to be sick."

Cudyk led him to the lavatory. When he came out, the Chinese was weak
and waxen-pale. Cudyk tried to persuade him to rest on the bed, but he
refused. "I've got to get back to my office," he said. "Been gone too
long already. Help me down the stairs, will you, Laszlo?"

Cudyk walked him as far as Brasil and Washington, where two of Seu's
young men took over with voluble expressions of gratitude. Cudyk
watched the group until it disappeared into the town hall.

He could feel nothing but an arid depression. Even the horror at Rack's
mass-murders, even his pity for Seu was blunted, sealed off at the back
of his mind. The lives of saints, Cudyk remembered, spoke of "boundless
compassion", "infinite pity"; but an ordinary man had a limited supply.
When it was used up, you were empty and impotent, a canceled sign in
the human equation.

Half instinctively, half by choice, Cudyk had chosen his friends among
the strongest and most patient, the wise and cynical: the survivors.
But he had leaned too much on their strength, he realized now. He had
seen Seu crumble; and he felt as if a crutch had broken under his
weight.

That evening he opened his shutters and looked out at the sky. The
familiar constellations were there, unchanged. The light of the nearest
star took more than three years to reach Palumbar. But in his mind's
eye one glittering pinpoint exploded suddenly into a dreadful blossom
of radiance; then another; then a third. And he saw the blackened
corpses of planets swinging around each, murdered by that single flash
of incredible heat.

During the night he dreamed of a black wasteland, and of Rack standing
motionless in the center of it, brooding, with his cold grey face
turned to the stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Cudyk's birthday. He had never told anyone in the Quarter the
date, and had all but forgotten it himself. This morning, feeling an
idle desire to know what the season was on Earth, he had hunted up a
calendar he had last used twenty years ago; it translated the Niori
system into Gregorian years, months and days. The result, when he had
worked it out with some little trouble, was February 18th. He was
fifty-six.

Now he was constrained to wonder whether the action had been as random
as it seemed. Was it possible that subconsciously he had no need of
the calendar--that he had kept track, all these years, and had known
when his birthday came? If so, why had he felt it necessary to remind
himself in this oblique way?

A return to the womb? A hunger for the comforts of the family circle,
the birthday cake, candles, the solace of yearly repetition?

Cudyk was fifty-six. When he had been fifty-five, he had thought of
himself as a man in his middle years, still strong, still able. Now he
was old. The same thing had happened to Seu: he had recovered from his
first shock when the news had come about Rack, and for more than three
weeks now he had moved about the Quarter, as quiet and as competent as
before; but there was a difference. His swift, furtive humor was gone
except for rare flashes; his voice and his step were heavy.

It was the same with all of them, all the old settlers. Cudyk had met
Burgess on the street the day before, for the first time in several
weeks, and had been genuinely shocked. The man's hair was white, his
skin papery, his gait stumbling.

Even Exarkos showed the change. More and more of his grey, woolly hair
was vanishing. The umber crescents under his eyes were a deeper shade,
almost black.

The Quarter's graveyard was five acres of ground, surrounded by
trees, on the outskirts of the City; there the dead reclined in a
more ample space than the living enjoyed. The Niori had allotted the
ground, though the outline of the City was thereby disfigured, and had
contributed slabs of a synthetic stone which carved easily when it was
fresh, later hardening until it would resist any edged tool. The plot
was ill tended, but the standing stones, translucent pearl or rose, had
a certain beauty. To the Niori, the purpose of the graveyard was only
that; they were not equipped to understand mankind's morbid clinging to
its own carrion.

Cudyk had gone to Chong's funeral, presided over by Lee Yuk, the
asthmatic little Buddhist priest; and the image of those ranked
headstones, neatly separated into the Orthodox, the Protestants, the
Buddhists, the Taoists and the unbelievers, had returned to him many
times since. It was another sign of the change that was taking place
in him: the images which formerly had dominated his mind had been
pictographs of abstractions--the great globe of infinity, the tiny
spark that was creative intellect. Now they were the pale headstone and
the dark curtain of death.

He had felt nothing, standing over Chong's grave and watching the sod
fall. What is there to say about a man when he is dead? The priest's
words were false, as all such words are false; they had no relevance;
the man was dead. Nothing was left of him now but the dissolving
molecules of his flesh, and the fragmentary, ego-distorted memories he
had planted in the minds of others. He was a name written in water.

It was not Chong who obsessed Cudyk, nor the many other half-remembered
men and women whose names were clumsily carved on those stones. It was
the cemetery as a symbol: the fascination of the yawning void.

Cudyk had one other preoccupation: he thought often of Earth, a dark
globe turning, black continents dim against the grey ocean, pricked by
a few faint gleams that were cities. Or, if he thought of the cities,
he saw them too drowned in shadow: the shapes of tower and arch melting
into night-patterns; moonlight falling faintly, dissolving what it
touched, so that shadows became as solid stone, stone as insubstantial
mist.

For Earth, also, was a symbol of death.

There had been no more suicides since Chong had died, and no riots. It
seemed to Cudyk that the whole Quarter moved, like himself, through a
fluid heavier than air. All motion had slowed, and sounds came muted
and without resonance. People spoke to him, and he answered, but
without attention, as if they were not really there.

Even the recent news about Rack's defeat had stirred him only
momentarily, and he had seen in Seu's face that the Chinese felt
himself somehow inadequate to the tale even as he told it. The
Galactic fleet, vastly expanded, had met Rack's activist forces with
a new weapon--one, indeed, which did not kill, but which was shameful
enough to a citizen of the Galaxy. The weapon projected a field which
scrambled the synapse patterns in the brain, leaving its victim
incapable of any of the processes of coherent thought: incapable of
adding two figures, of lighting a cigarette, or of aiming a torpedo.
Eleven New Earth ships had been captured, and it was thought that
these were all the activists' armed vessels; there had been no further
attacks since then.

He did not believe that anything which could now possibly happen could
rouse him from his apathy. But he had forgotten one possibility. Seu
came to him in Chong Yin's, where Yin's eldest son Fu now moved in his
father's place, and said, "Rack wasn't taken. He's here."

       *       *       *       *       *

Cudyk sat with his teacup raised halfway between the table and
his lips. After a long moment, he saw that his hand was trembling
violently. He set the cup down. He said, "Where?"

"The Little Bear. Half the town has gone there already. Do you want to
go?"

Cudyk stood up slowly. "Yes," he said, "I suppose so." But he felt the
tension that pulled his body together, the tautened muscles in back and
shoulders and arms.

As they reached the corner of Ceskoslovensko and Washington, they
saw scattered groups of men moving ahead of them, all hurrying, some
frankly running. The crowd was thick around the doorway of The Little
Bear when they reached it, and they had difficulty forcing a passage.
Men moved aside for Seu willingly enough, but there was little space to
move.

Inside, it was worse. The stairway was solidly packed; it was obviously
impossible to get through.

"There is a back stair," Seu said. He worked his way toward the rear of
the room, Cudyk following, until he caught sight of the bartender. The
press was not so thick here, and he was able to reach the man and lead
him into a corner away from the others. "Can you get us up the back
way?"

The Russian nodded, scowled, and put his finger to his lips. Following
him, they went through the swinging doors at the back of the room,
through the dark kitchen and up the narrow service stairs at the rear.
The bartender unlocked the door and helped them force it open against
the pressure of the packed bodies inside.

The long room was heavy with the odors of sweat, tobacco smoke and
stale air. Faces shone greasily under the glare of the ceiling lights.
The only clear space was the table-top against the wall to Cudyk's
right, where Rack stood.

Cudyk could see him clearly over the heads of those in front of him.
He stood with legs planted firmly, hands at his sides. As always, the
leather jacket was draped over his shoulders like a cloak.

He was alone. Spider was not there, nor Monk, nor Tom De Grasse.

Rack was talking in a low, clear voice. Cudyk listened to the end of a
sentence which conveyed nothing to him, and then heard: "After that,
we got it. They gave it to us." Rack's hands clenched once, and then
opened again.

"They intercepted us three minutes after we came out of overdrive in
the orbit of New Earth. Twelve fighting ships, the whole fleet. We
were in a line, just closing in after we broke C on the way down--the
_Thermopolae_, the _Tours_, the _Waterloo_, the _Chateau Thierry_,
the _Dunkirk_, the _Leningrad_, the _Acre_, the _Valley Forge_, the
_Hiroshima_, the _San Francisco_, the _Seoul_, and the flagship last,
the _Armageddon_.

"We didn't know they were there--they were out of our detector range.
They had us like sitting ducks. The first thing we knew about it was
when a teletype report from the leading ship, the _Thermopolae_, broke
off in the middle of a word. Five seconds later the same thing happened
to a report coming in from the next ship. Three seconds more, and the
_Waterloo_ was gone.

"I gave the order to reverse acceleration and scatter. But the
field--whatever it was--came after us. It would have taken us at least
two minutes to build up the overdrive potential again, and we all knew
we wouldn't make it. They were getting us one ship every six or eight
seconds.

"The men were looking to me for orders. I didn't have any to give them.
Suddenly De Grasse turned around and looked at Monk and Spider, and
they all nodded. They jumped me. I don't know what happened. I struck
my head against the deck when I went down, or one of them hit me with a
gun-butt."

His fists clenched and opened once more. "When I came to, I was
strapped into a one-man lifeboat, on overdrive, doing ten C's. They
must have emptied the ship's accumulators into that lifeboat, charged
it up to C potential and got me off just before the field hit them.

"I took my bearings, reversed, and went back. Eventually I found the
fleet again. The Galactics had matched course and velocity with them
and they were just beginning to tow them off, one ship to one with
plenty of theirs left over, in the general direction of Altair.

"They hadn't got into overdrive yet. I slipped in--there were a hundred
of their little scouts nosing around, about the same mass as my
lifeboat--and berthed in the same port I'd come out of. I got out and
walked into the control room.

"The crew was still there, still alive. But not men. They were lying
on the deck, looking at nothing. Their mouths were open, and they were
drooling."

Rack's head moved stiffly, and his sharp profile turned from one side
of the crowd to the other. "Mindless idiots," he said. "They couldn't
feed themselves, or stand up, or sit. But they had saved me.

"I built up the charge and took my time about it. When the Galactics
went into overdrive, I took off in another direction. I was a good
seventy light years away before they knew I was gone.

"I had a ship, an undamaged ship. But I had no crew to man her. I can
astrogate, and when I have to, I can man the engines on top of that.
But I can't fight her as well.

"I came here, put the _Armageddon_ into a one-day orbit and came down
in a lifeboat. I want to go back and find out what those slime-eaters
did to us, and give them a taste of the same. _I want twenty men._"

There was a silence.

Rack said, in the same even, low voice, "Will you fight for the human
race?"

Someone called, "What did you do with your other crew?"

Rack said, "I gave them military burial, in space."

For the first time, the crowd as a whole broke its silence. A low
murmur rose. Rack said sharply, "I would have given my life for those
men, as they did for me, gladly. But they were already dead. If there's
a way to restore a man's mind after that has been done to it, only the
vermin know how. I would rather be buried in space, and so would they."

A deep voice called, "Are you God, Rack?"

"I'm not God," he said promptly. "Are you a man?"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was another murmur, dying as a pulsing movement began near the
back of the room: someone was forcing his way toward Rack. In the
stillness, another voice said thinly, "My Demetrios ... my
Alexander ..." It was Moulios, wailing for his two lost sons.

Red-faced, with a lock of black hair hanging over his forehead, the
painter Vekshin squeezed through to the edge of the table on which Rack
stood. He shouted, "I'm a man, all right. What do you call yourself,
you assassin? You come here with blood dripping from your jaws like a
weasel fresh from a poultry yard, and we're supposed to feel sorry for
you because they wouldn't let you go on killing! The great god Rack!
_Ptui!_"

Rack did not move. He said quietly, "I killed your enemies, while you
sat at home and drank tea."

"Enemies!" Vekshin roared. "You're the enemy, Rack." He put his big
hands on the table-top and heaved himself up.

Rack let him come. He waited until the Russian was standing on the
table; then he stepped forward with a motion so smooth it seemed
casual. There was a flurry of blows, none of which landed except two:
one in Vekshin's midriff, the other on the point of his jaw. Five men
went down as Vekshin's body hurtled into them.

Rack stepped back. "I have very little patience left," he said, "but if
there is anyone else here with a personal grudge, let him step up."

Two men at the table's edge moved as if to climb up. Rack put his hand
to the gun at his belt. The two men stayed where they were.

Rack stared out over the crowd. He looked suddenly very weary. It
occurred to Cudyk that he must have gone without sleep for a long time.

Rack said: "This is the last call. I am not trying to deceive you.
I promise you nothing, not glory, not your lives, not even that you
will be able to spend your lives usefully. But if there is any man
here who will serve aboard the _Armageddon_, in the last fight for
mankind--raise your hand!"

There was a long moment's silence. Rack turned abruptly, with his hand
still on his gun, and said to the men in front of Cudyk: "Stand back!"

The silence held for an instant, while the men at the table's end moved
uncertainly away; then sound broke like an avalanche. As Rack jumped
down, the crowd surged toward him, no longer an audience but a mob.
Cudyk felt the pressure at his back, caught a glimpse of Rack's face,
then heard the deafening report of the gun as he went hurtling forward
into the melee.

The gun did not fire again. Cudyk was squeezed tightly in the center of
the struggling mass. He saw Seu, a few feet away. The mayor's mouth was
open; he was shouting something, but the words were lost.

Suddenly Rack came into view again, charging straight toward Cudyk,
hurling bodies to either side. The lower half of his face was a smear
of blood; his cap and jacket were gone, his shirt torn half away.

Cudyk was half-aware of the constriction in his throat, the pounding of
blood at his temples. He wrenched one arm free and, as Rack came near,
struck him full in the face.

He had one more glimpse of Rack's white features, the pale eyes staring
at him with a curiously detached expression: the eyes of a Caesar or a
Christ, reproachful and sad. Then the crowd surged once more, the door
to the back stairway slammed open, and Rack was gone.

Cudyk found himself running through the doorway with half a dozen
others. He caught sight of Rack leaping down the stairs, just short of
the landing where the narrow stairway doubled back on itself.

With a regretful sigh, feeling no surprise at what he was about to
do, Cudyk put both hands on the railing and swung himself over into
vacancy. Then there was an instant of wild, soaring flight, Rack's
foreshortened body drifting beneath him, and the shock.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dazed and numb, Cudyk felt the universe moving under him like a
gigantic pendulum. He saw faces appear and vanish, felt someone push
him aside, heard voices faintly.

After a long time his head cleared, and there was silence. He was lying
at the foot of the stairs, one arm flung over the first step. Rack was
not there; no one was there but himself.

He moved cautiously and was rewarded by an astonishing number and
variety of pains. But apparently he had broken no bones. He felt
weak and hollow; he was afraid he might vomit. He hoisted his torso
up slowly, sat on the lowest step and then put his head between his
trembling knees.

He heard a foot scuff on the concrete floor, and looked up. It was Seu.

The Chinese looked at him anxiously. "You're all right?"

"Yes. I think so. I have felt better in my life."

"Do you want to get up? Did you jump or fall?"

Cudyk leaned forward, trying the strength of his thighs to raise him,
and Seu put a hand under his arm to help. "I jumped," Cudyk said. "What
happened, afterward?"

"The mob came down, me in the middle, and I couldn't stop to see if you
were all right. They took Rack with them. He was unconscious then; he
may have been dead."

"And?"

"They tore him apart," said Seu.

They moved toward the exit from the kitchen, Seu holding Cudyk's arm
firmly.

"I don't know if you felt this," the mayor said stiffly, "but the way
it seemed to me was that Rack suddenly represented all of it--not only
the bombings, but the Quarter, the Galaxy, Earth--everything we hated.
It was a feeling of release, a kind of ecstasy. Watch out for the sill."

"Scapegoat," Cudyk said, indistinctly.

"Yes.... Zydh Oran saw it, you know. He was there when the mob came
out. He saw it all. This finishes the Quarter, Laszlo. After this there
won't be any more reprieves."

Cudyk glanced down at Seu's plump fingers. There was a thin film of
blood on the skin, and a dark line of it around each finger-nail.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cudyk stood at the top of the gentle rise opposite the Washington
Avenue bridge, and looked down at the Quarter. It was just after
sunset, and the ranked street-lights cast a lonesome gleam. The streets
were empty. There was no one left in the Quarter except one man in the
powerhouse. When the time was up, he would pull the switches on the
master board and come out; then the Quarter would be dead.

The Niori edict had come on the Wednesday morning after Rack's death.
They had been given four days to pack their belongings, arrange for
assignment of cargo space, and wind up their several affairs. Cudyk's
stock was small and his personal belongings few; he had been ready two
days ago.

The evening breeze, freshening, pressed Cudyk's trousers against his
calves and stirred the hair at the back of his head. Looking into the
east, he saw a few pallid stars in the sky.

Several hundred people had already been collected by the air-cars which
served the spaceport. Cudyk, Seu, Exarkos and a few others, by unspoken
assent, had taken places at the rear of the crowd, to be the last to go.

He glanced at Seu. The little man was standing with his hands in his
pockets, shoulders slumped, staring dully at the Quarter. He looked up
after a moment, smiled unhappily, and shrugged.

"It's absurd to feel homesick for it, isn't it?" he said. "It was a
ghetto; we had no roots there. It was cramped, and it stank, and we
fought among ourselves more viciously than we ever fought on Earth. But
twenty years ..."

"We could pretend that we had roots, at least," Cudyk answered. "We
don't belong anywhere. Perhaps we'll be happier, in the long run, once
we face that and accept it."

"I doubt it."

"So do I."

To Cudyk's right, Father Exarkos was sitting on his suitcase, hands
relaxed on his thighs. Cudyk said, "If I were a believer, Astereos,
I think it would do me a great deal of good to confess to you and be
absolved."

The priest's dry, friendly voice said, "Why, have you sinned so
terribly, Laszlo?"

"I killed a man," said Cudyk, "but that's not what I mean. I jumped
over a stairway railing and stopped Rack. If it hadn't been for me, he
might have got away. There would have been nothing wrong with that. He
couldn't have done any more harm, one man by himself. The Guards would
have captured him sooner or later, anyhow. And if he had gotten away,
we wouldn't have given the Niori the one more straw they needed. In
that sense, it is my fault that we were expelled."

"No, Laszlo," said Seu.

Exarkos said, "You have nothing for which to reproach yourself, on
that score. You were only the instrument of history, my friend, and a
minor instrument at that. And, speaking for myself, not for the Church,
Rack deserved to die."

Cudyk thought, at least it was quite suitably ironic. Cudyk, the man
of inaction, hurls himself through the air to kill a murderer. And the
citizens of the Quarter are deported, not because one of their race
murdered a billion billion Galactics, but because that same killer was
killed by them.

That was one thin mark on the credit side. There was one more: the
tension was gone, for some of them at least. Now the worst thing that
could happen had happened; the Damocletian thread had snapped. The
problems which had caused the tension no longer existed.

Earth was two months away. Cudyk expected nothing and hoped for
nothing. But the Niori had agreed to set each passenger down wherever
on the globe he chose to go; each man, at least, could choose his own
hell. The crews of the captured battleships, and the captured staff of
the base on New Earth, were also being sent back. The weapon that had
been used on them had done no permanent damage; they would simply have
to be retrained, to learn all over again, as if they were reborn.

Seu was going to North America, where he hoped survival for a fat
cosmopolite would be a little less difficult than in Europe or Asia.
Moskowitz had been born in New York, and was going back there. Exarkos
was going to Istanbul first, for orders; he had no idea where he might
be sent after that. Cudyk had not yet made up his mind. He thought that
perhaps he would go with the priest; if he should change his mind after
landing it would be no great loss; one wilderness, as Exarkos had once
said, was as good as another.

It will all be anticlimax, he thought, and perhaps that is the
definition of Hell: unending anticlimax.

He wondered how it would feel to be Earthbound again. The repatriation
ship was to be the last Galactic vessel which would ever call at Earth.
And there would be a constant guard. The Niori had learned, belatedly
but well. If humanity ever climbed high enough again to reach the
stars with its bloody fingers, the citizens of the galaxy would be
ready.

Cudyk looked at his watch. The man in the powerhouse must be a
sentimentalist; he was waiting until the last possible moment.

He heard the soft hum of the air-car behind him, turned and saw it
settling lightly to the clipped lawn. The remaining passengers were
moving toward it. Exarkos stood up and lifted his suitcase. Cudyk
turned back for one last look at the Quarter. It was full dark now,
and all he could see of it was the blocky, ambiguous outline of its
darkness against the glowing buildings beyond, and the cross-hatched
pattern of yellow street lights.

The lights went out.





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