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´╗┐Title: The Outer Quiet
Author: Kastle, Herbert D.
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 Outer Quiet" ***

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                            THE OUTER QUIET

                         BY HERBERT D. KASTLE

               _Fear is often Man's greatest enemy. But
             when there is nothing left to lose, there is
              everything to gain.... And with everything
                     to gain, where is the enemy?_

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


He lay on the cot, listening to the breathing of the six men who shared
apartment 2-B with him, and the panic fluttered deep in his stomach,
threatening to break upward and out in a wild scream. He fought it by
telling himself it was foolish for a man who had lived through the
destruction of New York and eight months imprisonment to feel this way.

He peered toward the window and tried to see the morning sun; not as
a pale, shimmery fog but as the bright Spring yellow he knew it was.
But the fog remained, no matter how many times he rubbed his eyes
with saliva-wet fingers. It was as if he were seeing everything under
water--a world of shimmery, hazy objects.

The panic rose again. The Conquerors' beam had done its work well, and
his chances of finding Adele before death found him, were now terribly
small. The first punishment had brought only a slight blur, this one
had almost blinded him, and it was only a matter of time before he
committed the third offense. It made no difference that Conqueror
Punitive assured all trainees that the degree of blindness decreased
as the years went by. He knew that his third offense would come sooner
than any improvement in his ability to see. And the third offense was
punishable by death.

Before another rush of fear could churn his brain, the morning
whistle sounded. Shrill, commanding, it began each day of aimless
wandering--the silent stroll over pavement connecting the five
buildings of what had once been Brooklyn's prize housing development; a
constant walk which destroyed those Americans unable to show complete
obedience and turned the others into slaves.

Again the whistle shrieked, and the room filled with coughs, groans and
sighs, for it was forbidden to talk. Only when one of the many rules
had been broken and a card bearing the trainee's number was found in
the box outside the door did some American get a chance to speak. He
would rush instantly to the small administration building near the
wall's only exit and report to the squat, gray-uniformed Conqueror
known as Punitive--the only Conqueror the trainees had ever seen. After
an explanation of the offense in too-precise English, the trainee was
told to sit on the stool facing the light tube. "I obey," he would
croak. In silence broken only by the hum of electric generators in
the basement, the beam of piercing white light would sear his eyes.
Afterwards, the assurance about the disappearing effects of the beam;
then back to the streets.

With _only_ Punitive representing them, the Conquerors weeded out
Americans who would not or could not obey. The vaguest suggestion of
communication between trainees was picked up by the detector bulbs--the
see-and-hear-all devices which hung much as oversized light bulbs from
the ceiling of every room, and stood like dead street lamps every fifty
feet or so along the pavements.

George lay a second longer, then twisted his tall, slim body erect and
sprang to his feet. As he slipped into the thick stockings, high-topped
shoes, and one-piece cover-alls with serial number stitched in large
red numerals across chest and back, he began sounding deep in his
throat. This was so slight a touch of the vocal cords that no detector
bulb or other trainee could hear it. But it was something more than
thinking; it was listening to a voice repeating all the things that
had mattered before the Conquerors' surprise attack atomized New York
City. It was his fight against non-entity.

"George Lowery," he said, "thirty-two, top salesman at Brady's Men's
Shop, resident of Babylon, Long Island, owner of 12 North Rector Drive,
husband of Adele Lowery, and today you may see her." But the last
phrase stuck in his throat and he had to repeat it several times. Even
so, he couldn't convince himself that the most important part of his
ritual was true--that perhaps he would see his wife as she walked the
streets.

Two days ago he had turned the breakfast table to stone by asking his
neighbor to pass the water. It was nothing more than a mistake--a
stupid thinking aloud. But yesterday the card had been in the door-box.
He had visited apartment 1-A in the Administration Building and, for
the second time, the thin beam of light had seared his eyes. Now he was
no longer sure he would be able to recognize his own wife.

"George Lowery," he sounded, fighting off the panic. "George Lowery,"
and he turned and moved through the now-empty rooms.

He was last in line outside the bathroom and waited dully for his turn.
The men in front of him were nothing but tall, short or in-between
nondescripts. The old group, of which he was the last, had been
different. They had looked at each other with meaning, with hope. After
six months passed, and realization came that no opposition to the
Conquerors was in sight, they went out in one mad day of talk. He had
watched silently, refusing to respond to the suicidal good morning's,
pardon me's, and salty discussions of Conqueror Punitive's parentage.

Not that life in the project meant anything to him. It was just that
he had to see Adele again--to assure himself that she still remembered
their life together. If her love had been stamped out, then the
Conquerors were right in their men-live-by-bread-alone theory, and he
was only one of a few remaining misfits--a breed as expendable in the
battle for survival as the great, pre-historic lizards had been.

He hadn't been in the bathroom more than five minutes when the third
whistle sounded. With his beard still wet he rushed out of the
apartment, pausing only to check the empty door-box, then ran down two
flights of stairs to the street. It was windy for a morning in June
and his face felt cold where the damp hair covered it. The Conquerors
allowed nothing that could be used as a weapon to fall into American
hands, but even after eight months he was still not used to his light
brown beard and long shaggy hair.

Hurrying through the street, following the one-way arrows which kept
the trainees moving in the same direction, around and around the
project, he felt the panic well up again. He made a wide detour of the
excavation area which lay in the center of a rough square formed by the
four apartment houses and the Administration Building. This forbidden
area had been the cause of his first visit to Conqueror Punitive.
Some two months ago, right after the last shipment of fresh trainees
arrived, he had seen a group of women obviously new to the project,
rigid in their terror of this silent hell, walking right in the
direction of the excavation. Without thinking, he had shouted a warning
which stopped them from committing an offense.

By the time he reached the basement of building two, he was gasping for
breath. If the last whistle sounded before he was seated at one of the
long wooden tables, it would mean the third offense. There wasn't any
light-beam treatment for that one; only an electrode clamped to the
head and the oblivion of thousands of volts of electricity.

He went down the flight of steps into the basement which was dining
room for all the male prisoners, and grasped a spoon, cup and plate
from the tinware table just inside the door. The benches nearest the
door were filled, but he didn't have time to go any further. Just as he
plumped between two trainees, the whistle sounded.

He sat still a moment catching his breath, feeling the thin bodies
adjust themselves away from him. Scooping some cereal from one of the
center pots, he began to eat. The first mouthful stuck in his throat
and he hastily filled his cup. But when he had gulped down the sugared
water, a wave of nausea made him gag. He sat gripping the edge of the
table, his head spinning. And thoughts crept into his mind--thoughts
and questions he wanted to keep out.

Why were the trainees being starved? If the Conquerors wanted to kill
them, it would be simple enough to use the quicker and less expensive
method of firing squads. The training area was proof that they wanted
workers for their new world. And despite the hunger which made
hollow-eyed skeletons of them all, the men and women walked straighter
and with definite confidence. Their lips were sealed shut, their eyes
flickered observantly, their heads were always rigidly forward. Except
for a few lingering misfits like himself, the group conformed as well
as humans ever could. Why then the delay in releasing them as had been
promised?

He screwed his eyes around and tried to see the other tables. Those
even a short distance from the door were almost empty, and further
into the hall they seemed deserted. He had no way of knowing the total
number of men, but he was sure there weren't more than a hundred--out
of an original five hundred. If the same proportion held true for the
women, there were less than two hundred Americans left in the project!

He twisted his eyes to the person on his left. The face was that of a
boy in his late teens--the beard spotty and thin. The head barely moved
as he chewed, he held himself rigid, his hand moved up to his mouth in
a straight line and down the same way--he ate like a machine.

George swung his eyes to the right. Another young machine turned out
by the Conquerors. But was it only to be starved to death that these
men, most of them so young, had obeyed? It made no sense and this, more
than the conformity to slavery, terrified him.

But his terror lasted only a moment. What had he to do with whether
they lived or died? He was finished; all that mattered was seeing Adele.

He picked up his spoon and ate until the whistle shrieked its order
for the walking to begin. Then he rose with utensils in hand and was
carried to the door in the silent rush. As he dropped his tinware into
the barrel of chlorinated water, he thought with bitter amusement that
there was nothing for the Conquerors to do anymore--hardly a full day's
work for three or four men in operating the project now.



When he walked into the street, the sun was warmer. It was a beautiful
day; almost summer, he thought, and he breathed deeply. But the smell
of fresh growth was not in the air--only the dusty, burnt odor of the
ruined city beyond the walls. The sun grew brighter by the minute and
he found it increasingly more difficult to see. It was as if the rays
shattered into blinding blobs as they struck his eyes. Somehow, he knew
he was using his ears more than ever before.

Poor compensation, he thought. There was nothing to hear--no way of
finding her by listening. And besides the absence of speech, there was
the absence of _any_ sound.

He forced himself to place one leg after another, and all the horror in
the world crept into his brain. He wanted to turn around and speak to
those in back of him--to stop the one-way tide of stroll and ask some
questions. Just when had the last plane blurred by with jets roaring?
And when had the Conquerors marched outside the wall, boots thudding,
rifles clanking on canteen pack and buckle? When was the last atomic
blast--a distant rumble causing the ground to tremble beneath the
pavement?

Months; two or even three, it seemed to him. His long legs faltered and
he almost stumbled. Then he remembered his one purpose, and pushed the
thoughts from his mind.

By alternately hurrying and slowing his steps, he was able to pull
alongside some trainees and let others catch up with him. With sidelong
glances he tried to find Adele. He had to see her--to convince himself
that she had not forgotten the happy years together.

It had been between buildings three and four--the women's living
quarters--that he had seen her that first and only time six months ago.
He was walking quickly and pulled up beside her. One sidelong glance
was exchanged and her face had filled with terror. Then she almost ran
from him. He followed, but the weird chase ended after she actually
turned to look back.

Afraid she might commit further offenses in her efforts to avoid him,
he had slowed his pace to a crawl and soon lost sight of her after
turning a few comers. Now his time was running out and he had to see
her. She should be wiser in the ways of the camp; they could exchange a
glance and separate. But that glance would tell him whether or not she
too had become a machine.

_If she's alive_, a corner of his brain whispered. But he refused to
think of her as being dead.

The sun was getting hot and the faces he looked at were
indistinguishable in their blurry outlines. Nausea and dizziness
returned and he could no longer concentrate on his search.

_It's too late_, he thought. The second treatment had finished his
chances.

He tried thinking of other things, to remember his feelings from the
time of the blast to the day he had passed through the new brick wall
into the project. But all he got was a blur of fear. Fear then, fear
now, and fear until the day they would kill him.

"Sick of fear!" a voice rusty from disuse rasped out. "Sick of the
whole mess!"

It was with a sense of complete surprise that he realized his mouth was
open and it was his own voice shouting.

"It's over," he rasped and turned around to face a startled, thin-faced
woman whose blue eyes peered at him--but not with terror. He looked at
her, his mouth sagging open.

"Over for both of us," she whispered, and moved toward him with arms
outstretched and trembling.

He tried to turn and run, to save her from further violations, but she
grasped his hand.

"George." And she was in his arms. "My third offense--when I stopped
walking. There's nothing to lose now."

The shuffling of feet continued about them as they embraced, and she
talked hurriedly as if afraid that the few hours before the evening
meal would not be enough for all she had to say.

"I've walked behind you all these months. I was sure you would say
something if you saw me and I didn't want you to be punished. Each
morning I waited until the last moment before leaving the women's
dining room--until you came by looking for me. Then I'd walk behind
you, sometimes within touching distance. Once I had to wait too long,
and then I went to Punitive for the second time. But it was all for
nothing. I hoped you would go free, but it was all for nothing."

He kissed her then and she had to stop. When he took his lips from
hers, they both turned to the nearest detector bulb. They were being
watched, but what difference did a thousand violations make now?

She was talking again, and actually smiling. "You look distinguished in
a beard!"

He laughed, and saw the nearby trainees pick up the forgotten sound. He
took her lips back to his own and heard the shuffling feet slow down
all around them. And the fear was gone.

"Let's go to the excavation," he said. "We'll sit down at the bottom in
privacy and talk and laugh. We're free, Adele, and the rest doesn't
matter now."

He put his arm around her waist and they strolled against the pattern,
the rigid walkers parting before them. When they reached the huge pit
he kicked at the OFF LIMITS sign and was surprised at how easily it
fell. Then he took her hand and moved down the steep, sandy slope.

It wasn't until Adele moaned and closed her eyes tightly that he saw
that the bottom of the pit was covered with stones--and clean white
bones. The blood pounded in his temples as he stared at the piled
skeletons and chemical stained earth. And the few hours of peace was no
longer enough.

Adele helped him pick up stones, until his hands and her cradled arms
could hold no more. Bulbs, at least, could be broken.

Up they climbed, and when they reached the pavement there were many
trainees shuffling slowly past the spot where the sign lay.

He threw the first stone at a detector bulb while still some distance
from it, and his ruined eyes failed him. But the next time he stood
directly beneath it and the shattering of glass seemed as loud as the
atomic blast had been. Down the street they went, smashing bulb after
bulb, retrieving their missiles so as to have enough to last. And all
the trainees moved slowly behind them, on up to the last bulb in front
of the Administration Building.

The new sound was a sharp crack, and someone screamed in a rusty voice.
He turned to see one of the crowd twitching on the pavement, then
followed the faces turned up to Conqueror Punitive's window. There was
a shadow there--a shadow with a rifle.

"The last bulb," Adele said. "Smash it."

He drew back his arm and the crack of rifle fire reached him a second
after the hot streak creased his shoulder. But he wasn't hurt, and
threw the stone.

As the glass shattered there was an eruption of strange language from
the building--a terrified shouting. The trainees stopped walking, then
broke into frenzied movement and hoarse shouts. They pushed George and
Adele aside in pursuit of the gray-uniformed figure running toward the
gate. The third shot was inside the building, and then the crowd picked
up the fleeing Conqueror. His screams died quickly.

Into the building the Americans poured--shaggy skeletons shrieking
hatred. By the time George and Adele followed, men and women stood
silently in the rooms and halls. Punitive looked ridiculously small
crouched in a corner, his head back, the rifle between his knees with
the barrel in his shattered mouth. The total number of gray-uniformed
bodies was six, all but Punitive killed by the Americans.

But the trainees began to file from the building and run back toward
their rooms, for the body in the large room filled with complex
electrical equipment was lying in front of a high-powered sending
set--a radio whose tubes still glowed red.

George looked at the radio, then at Adele. "They sent for help," he
whispered. "Soon, every American here will be dead. And it's because of
us."

She didn't answer, and he expected no answer. The room grew dark as
they stood looking at the humming set. Then he fumbled over the dials,
switched the current off, and led her out into the street.

There was no whistle for the evening meal. The streets were empty, and
the silence hemmed them in like a solid wall. They walked toward the
men's feeding hall.

Passing through the hall, they entered the door leading to the kitchen.
There were huge electric stoves and further on, wheat and sugar sacks
piled ceiling high. In a large bin they found various canned goods--the
Conquerors' personal food supply. The stoves worked, and Adele found
an opener and pots in the glare of the unshaded light bulbs. They ate
quickly; soup, meat, several cans of condensed milk. Then they left the
basement and walked into the balmy evening air.



On the grassy spot in front of the Administration Building they loved
each other desperately. Afterwards, they spoke of God, of what they
believed would come after death, and were comforted. But they did not
talk of what would happen to the others--that was too painful for words.

Before he fell asleep, with Adele breathing regularly beside him, he
once again strained his ears to hear something--anything--from outside
the wall. Except for the ever-present hum of the oil-fed electric
generators in the Administration Building, there was nothing. Not the
bark of a dog or the scream of a cat or the clash of inanimate objects.
Even the wind was dead. But he was too exhausted for fear, and slipped
quickly into sleep. Once during the night, he awoke and raised his
head to listen. When he lay back, there was a thought in his mind both
terrible and full of hope.

Adele awakened him in the morning. From the sun he could tell that it
was past the time for the first meal. They went to the feeding hall and
ate; then returned to the grassy spot. This time they found little to
speak of and sat silently, watching the gate. They watched until the
sun dipped low and shadows engulfed the silent buildings. Then they saw
the first trainees slipping toward the feeding hall; the women moving
toward the men's section in the need for comfort and protection.

When George and Adele arrived in the kitchen, all the Americans were
there. The women cooked the meal and whispered among themselves. The
men sat talking, following the women with their eyes, trying to forget
despair and certain death.

They finished eating and sat quietly at the tables, husbands reunited
with wives, boys and girls whispering to each other, all unwilling to
return to the rooms, George spoke his thoughts.

It was hard to speak aloud; he had kept his thoughts to himself for
so very long, but he managed to speak quietly and calmly. He reminded
them of the tactics the aliens had used to ensure obedience, how they
had held out the promise of freedom as a reward for conformity. How,
backed by the fear and terror they were able to inspire with their
drastic punishments, they were able to enslave all the Americans and
keep them toeing the mark. How they had probably felt secure enough in
their conquest of the minds and bodies of their captives to leave the
Earth in the hands of a few Punitives and a host of electronic gadgets.
He told them, too, that the fact that no help had arrived despite the
radio messages held the promise that the conquerors had no interest
in Earth any longer; he assumed that they were busy elsewhere, or had
merely conquered for the sheer joy of it, or that they lost
interest ... any reason would suffice. The important thing was that
they they were free again. Free to live and laugh, to love and to
hope ... and to prepare a defense should the need arise.

When he finished, even Adele looked at him with disbelief. But they
all followed him to the Administration Building and one of the young
men seated himself at the radio. Filling the room and overflowing into
the hall, they waited. The youth knew his radios and manipulated the
dials skillfully, but there was nothing except the crackle of static.
With dread and hope mingled together, George listened to the empty
airwaves--to the messages sent out on the sending set, and again to the
barren, static response. Then he turned to Adele and smiled weakly.
"We've more than Noah had," he said, and held her trembling hand.

It was not until two days passed and the fuel for the generators had
been exhausted that the first search party ventured into the city. The
report was one word ringing hollowly in the feeding hall. "Nothing."

Later expeditions utilized automobiles from the city's streets and
traveled far out to other states. They returned with several haggard
Americans and reports of some few surviving Conquerors. They also told
of farms heavy with crops and of livestock wandering wild. But there
were no large human groups; no signs of organized humanity anywhere in
the world.

Two months after George and Adele Lowery's revolt, the trainees left
the housing area for the fields where they could raise food and plan
their civilization. George rode beside his wife in the lead car. There
was no joy or laughter in them, nor would there be for many years. But
the wrecked city fell behind, the green and brown of the fields took
its place, and somewhere in the motorcade a voice began singing.





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