Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: The Almost-Men
Author: Cox, Irving E.
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 Almost-Men" ***

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



                            THE ALMOST-MEN

                         BY IRVING E. COX, JR.

               _All learning must begin with a need. And
               when the tried old ideas won't work for a
              people--won't conquer defeat and despair--a
                new way of thinking must be found...._

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


Hands shook at his shoulder, dragging him awake. Lanny's foster father
was bent over him, whispering urgently, "Get up, boy. We have to leave."

Groggily Lanny pushed himself into a sitting position. He had been
sleeping in his earth burrow beside Gill, outside Juan's cottage.
Hazily Lanny remembered being carried home from the canyon after the
explosion, but he could recall nothing else.

It was an hour before dawn. Gill was dressing; his shoulder was wrapped
in a homespun bandage. Lanny got up, staggering a little, and helped
his brother put on his leather jacket and his weapon belt.

"Thanks, Lan," his brother said.

Lanny touched the bandage. "Shouldn't you heal the cells, Gill?"

"I have to expose it to the sun first. I didn't catch it soon enough
last night, and too many germs infested the wound." To their foster
father, Gill added, "I still think you should leave me here. I may
not--"

"You're both my responsibility," Juan Pendillo answered. "We'll survive
together, Gill, or die together."

"What happened?" Lanny asked as he pulled on his breeches and pushed
his stone knife and his wooden club through the loops of his weapon
belt.

Silently Juan pointed toward the dawn sky. High above them Lanny heard
the whine of a score of enemy police spheres. "They insist on the
surrender of all eight hunters who went out last night."

Gill said, "But Tak Laleen killed Barlow with her energy gun. Why are
they blaming us?"

"Barlow was working for them as a spy," Lanny put in. It was a
convenient explanation, but vaguely he knew he was lying. He felt a
pang of guilt, but he couldn't understand why. What had he done that he
should be ashamed of?

What had happened last night? Lanny wracked his brain, trying to
remember.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eight hunters had been sent out to bring in a cache of rifles which
Lanny's brother, Gill, had found in the rubble of Santa Barbara. It
was risky business, because under the terms of the surrender treaty
men were prohibited the use of all metals in the prison compounds.
But the younger generation--boys like Lanny and Gill, born since the
invasion--were more fiercely determined to resist the Almost-men than
their elders. Armed with fifty rifles, they thought they would be
strong enough to attack the Chapel of the Triangle.

The Almost-men: the children had coined the word, subtly asserting
the pride of man. Yet they knew it was a semantic trick they played
upon themselves. It changed nothing. The conquerors were physically
identical to men; their enormous superiority was entirely technological.

As the eight hunters crept toward the ruins of Santa Barbara, through a
narrow canyon, old man Barlow suddenly emerged from the brush and stood
grinning at them. It was his privilege to join the hunters; any citizen
of the settlement could have done so. But the younger generation hated
Barlow. He was the practical man; he called himself a realist. He never
allowed them to forget they were defeated, imprisoned and without
weapons; he took savage delight in poking holes in their plans for
resistance.

"What are you doing here?" Lanny's brother demanded.

"I came to watch the fun, Gill."

"We're going to bring back fifty rifles; that's all--"

"Right under the noses of our masters? Don't be naive."

"There's only one way the Almost-men would find out--"

Barlow snorted. "Don't think I ran to the Chapel of the Triangle and
told Tak Laleen what you were up to. They don't need that sort of help
from us. When are you going to get it through that thick skull of
yours? We're outclassed; we're second-raters; we'll never defeat them."

From the night sky they heard the low hum of a force-field car. An
opalescent sphere soared above the canyon. Gill's fist smashed into
Barlow's jaw.

"So you did tell her!"

Barlow fell back against the canyon wall, his mouth bleeding.

The sphere came to a graceful stop thirty feet above the hunters and
the de-grav platform lowered a woman toward the canyon. Surrounded by
the faintly opaque capsule of her protective force-field, she moved
toward them, a beautiful, dark-haired woman clothed in white.

This was Tak Laleen, the alien missionary assigned to the Santa Barbara
area. She lived in the Chapel of the Triangle. Under the terms of the
surrender treaty, the missionaries of the Almost-men were guaranteed
immunity to preach and work in the treaty areas. They were selfless,
generous and kind, yet men abhorred them, for they represented the
tangible power of the conqueror.

Tak Laleen glided toward the hunters, forming the alien's triangular
sign of peace with her small, white fingers. "I come in peace, in the
name of the All of the Universe."

"We haven't violated any regulation," Gill snapped stiffly.

Barlow sidled toward her. "Take me back to the Triangle," he begged.
"I'll tell you--"

Gill's fist lashed out again; Barlow reeled under the blow. "We're a
legally elected punishment squad," Gill lied. "This man has broken a
community law."

"You don't understand!" Barlow cried desperately. "They came to get--"

The other hunters fell on him, pummeling him into silence. The violence
sickened Lanny, yet what alternative did they have? Lanny raised his
club. At the same time the missionary came closer to the mob, and his
club touched her forced-field capsule. Normally the energy would have
paralyzed him with pain. But his mind refused to accept the normal, and
Lanny felt the same sort of integrated unity with the energy field that
he had with his hunting club. Command over the matter structure of the
field. The energy flowed into his body and was absorbed, stored in an
explosive concentration of power.

For a moment the opaque capsule dimmed. Tak Laleen clenched her hand
over her mouth and fled into her sphere. The car soared up above the
canyon.

Lanny swung his club again. Since Barlow must die, let him die quickly,
without pain. Murder!--the accusation was a pang of agony in Lanny's
mind. This violated everything Juan had taught him. He was aware that
he wanted Barlow's death not because the old man had tried to betray
the hunters, but because Lanny could not answer Barlow's poisonous
despair in any other way. Lanny was ashamed. But who would know his
real motive if he killed Barlow now? Who--but himself?

Lanny's club touched Barlow's chest. He felt a drain of energy, a
disintegration of structure. The energy Lanny had absorbed from the
missionary's force-field exploded in a fierce, white heat. Barlow
crumbled into dust.

Lanny's awareness of what he had done survived for a fraction of a
second. He stood facing the exploding light and waves of concussion
lashed at his body. A dark chaos, whipped into fury by a floodtide of
guilt, rocked his mind. He willed himself into unconsciousness, a bleak
forgetfulness that sponged the guilt--and the truth--from his mind.

And now he remembered nothing but the explosion and the queasy shadow
of self-accusation.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The settlement," Juan Pendillo said to his sons, "is required to
surrender the hunters at dawn. That gives us forty-five minutes.
We're all heading for different treaty areas. We are to go to the San
Francisco colony."

       *       *       *       *       *

The three men slid along the street, clinging to the shadows. Twice
they passed other hunters in flight, but no one spoke, for the enemy
sound detectors on the Chapel of the Triangle were sensitive enough
to pick up a whisper at a distance of half a mile. Lanny and Gill
discarded their moccasins, in order to be more sure of their footing.
The moccasins were useless except as symbols of status. Juan Pendillo
qualified to give the extra skins to his sons, since before the
invasion he had been a Doctor of Philosophy, and the teachers had
become the governing force in every treaty area.

For two hours Pendillo and his foster sons walked north. Occasionally
they saw enemy spheres overhead, but the ships never came closer. After
they reached the coast, the pounding surf formed a protective sound
barrier when they talked.

"How far is the San Francisco treaty area?" Gill asked.

"Three hundred miles, more or less," Pendillo replied.

"How many days?" Lanny inquired. His father, like all the older
survivors in the settlement, always spoke of distance in terms of
miles--a word that was meaningless to the new generation.

Pendillo laughed, with gentle bitterness. "Once, Lanny, we might
have made it by car in eight hours. Now?--I don't know. The couriers
sometimes do it in a week, when the weather is good. It will take us
longer. I won't be able--" He cut himself short. "It's funny, isn't it?
In the old days I used to gripe about the traffic; right now I'd give
ten years of my life to see a Model-T again."

Gill ground his naked heel into the sand. "The Almost-men took
everything from us. But we're not licked. One of these days we'll be
strong enough--"

"As strong as their machines?" Lanny asked.

Gill swung toward his brother angrily. "That's Barlow's kind of talk,
Lan."

"The weapons and the machines of the Almost-men," Pendillo said, "are
more powerful than anything we ever had. Yet we must defeat them; we
must make ourselves free again. And we shall; I have no doubt of it.
Granted, we have no weapons like theirs, and no chance of building any.
We still don't resign ourselves to defeat. The techniques we used in
the past failed; then we must find new ones. How? I don't know. That's
the problem our generation leaves to yours. Men live by their dreams;
without them we are nothing."

The three men continued to move north along the beach until they came
to the barrier that marked the northern boundary of the Santa Barbara
treaty area. The barrier was a series of widely separated pylons
marching across the land. Each pylon served as a pedestal for one of
the enemy's highly sensitive sound receptors and an automatic energy
gun. Any sound detected within seventy feet of the border became
instantly the focal point for a stabbing beam of disintegration. Yet
men crossed the barriers at will. Couriers traveled freely from one
treaty area to another, and hunters crossed the border because the
animal life in enemy territory was more prolific.

They had two methods for passing the pylon guns. Sometimes they swam to
sea, circling the barrier beyond the range of the sea-coast receptors.
The second technique, used by the inland hunters, was to confuse the
listening machines. The hunters would hurl half a dozen stones into the
barrier area. While the energy guns obediently disposed of the rolling
rocks, the hunters sprinted across the forbidden ground before the guns
could concentrate upon the second target.

Both Lanny and Gill preferred to run the guns. They enjoyed the risk of
defying the enemy machines. But Dr. Pendillo shook his head. It meant
sprinting a distance of a hundred yards in less than nine seconds--the
time it took the guns to reorient their target.

"Before the invasion," Pendillo explained, "the fastest man on Earth
ran a hundred meters in a little over ten seconds. You boys are a new
breed. You've been forced to adapt; I'm too old." Pendillo's eyes were
suddenly serious. "Adaptation," he repeated. "The possibilities are
infinite for a man who is free from convention, free from the inherited
ideas of his past. That is the way we shall defeat the Almost-men. The
human mind has an unmeasured capacity for solving problems--for pulling
itself up by its bootstraps--so long as hope for a solution remains
alive."

They passed the barrier by swimming a quarter of a mile to sea. They
rested briefly when they returned to the beach. Then they resumed their
march north again, through territory ceded to the enemy. They stayed
close to the beach, until their passage was barred by an increasingly
rocky coastline. Since they had seen no enemy police spheres since they
left the treaty area, Pendillo thought it was safe for them to use the
highway which paralleled the beach.

       *       *       *       *       *

After nearly twenty years, the ribbon of asphalt was still in good
repair. Occasional cracks had broken the paving. Grass and weeds choked
the crevices and some culverts had been washed out by spring rains.

The primary change was environmental, but only Juan Pendillo was
aware of that, for his sons took for granted the young forests that
crowded every hillside and the abundant wild game. With no more than
a ten minute interruption in their march northward, Lanny and Gill
ran down a rabbit and a pheasant, killing them with skillfully hurled
stones--the traditional weapons of the hunters. They cleaned the kill
and strapped it to their weapon belts.

Late in the afternoon they entered Santa Maria. The town had not been
large, but it was the first relic of their defeated culture that Lanny
and Gill had ever seen. Sometimes, when their hunting took them south,
they saw the site of Los Angeles, but that told them nothing about the
past, for it was a flat desert scrubbed clean of rubble to make room
for an enemy skyport. Santa Maria had survived the invasion, since it
was too isolated from the major centers of population to have been a
target of the enemy guns.

Lanny and Gill stood in the empty main street and looked with awe at
the deserted stores. Some of the buildings were made of brick; some
were actually two and three floors high. This must, surely, have been
a great city of the old world. They had no point of reference but the
monotonously identical houses of the subdivision which had become their
treaty colony. Here the buildings were all different and by that fact
alone they seemed beautiful.

Lanny and Gill stopped at each store window, to stare in wonder at
the goods still on the shelves. In an automobile agency, a solitary
sedan still stood, on deflated and frayed tires, in the center of the
showroom floor. Here at last was visible proof that men had once built
a machine technology. The automobile was as big and as shiny, beneath
its generation of dust, as any of the spheres of the Almost-men.

"Were they all like that?" Lanny asked in an awed whisper.

"Fundamentally, yes," Pendillo said.

"And they moved over the roads faster than a deer!" Gill's eyes
glistened. "But where are the weapons, father?"

"Our cars weren't armed, Gill; we used them for pleasure. But don't get
me wrong. We had guns--vicious and terrible things; we were no more
civilized than the Almost-men. Our weapons just weren't the equal of
theirs, so our civilization was destroyed."

"You're saying the Almost-men are better--"

"No, Gill. The Almost-men are mirror images of ourselves--man at his
worst. That's why we understand each other so thoroughly," Pendillo
paused before he added, "And that's why we can't destroy them on their
terms; we must make our own."

They pushed open the door of the agency and went into the showroom.
Hesitantly, like children with new Christmas toys, they ran their
fingers over the dusty hood of the sedan. Lanny felt a strange,
electric empathy as he touched the cold metal, as if it were a familiar
part of himself. For a moment he saw in his mind the geometric
structure of the alloy atoms, just as he could visualize the more
complex cell make-up of his own body. Judging from the expression
on Gill's face, he guessed that his brother had perceived the same
relationship.

"And the Almost-men took all this from us," Gill said in a choked
voice. "Why, Juan?"

"In our wars among ourselves, we always had the same motivation.
They came here for resources. Every skyport they have built on Earth
continuously ships out tons of metal and chemicals--oil, coal, ores.
On their home world the Almost-men have exhausted their own resources;
they must have ours to keep their mechanistic civilization going."

Juan opened a door at the rear of the showroom into a large,
cement-floored garage. Except for three automobiles, abandoned twenty
years before in various stages of repair, the room was empty. "We can
spend the night here," Pendillo decided.

Lanny and Gill pried open the door at the back of the garage. Behind
the building tangled shrubs and live oaks choked the half-mile shelf
of land that separated Santa Maria from the coast. They found a ready
supply of dry firewood under the trees.

It was dusk. The setting sun was veiled in a mist. Fingers of fog
reached hungrily for the warm earth, driven inland by the wind. Lanny
and Gill would have been more comfortable outside. They were accustomed
to the chilly night air. They could have burrowed sleeping troughs in
the soil and restored their strength with earth energy.

It had always puzzled them that the older survivors, like Juan, could
not do the same. Pendillo's generation made very poor hunters, too,
often dying of a wheezing sickness if they spent many nights on the
trail.

Pendillo's sons carried wood into the garage, where Juan sat shivering
on a wooden bench with his rabbit-skin jacket hunched around his
shoulders. Lanny and Gill stripped off their jerkins and gave them to
their father.

Pendillo's sons were naked, then, except for their short, crudely cut
breeches and their leather weapon belts. And only the belts, which
held their stone knives and their clubs, would either of them have
considered essential. The rest was superficial, a mark of status. In
a general way Lanny and Gill were physically alike--sturdy, bronzed
giants, like all the children who had survived in the treaty areas.
They were both nineteen, or perhaps a little older. Dr. Pendillo had
found them abandoned as he fled the final enemy attack. Gill's hair
was yellow and a pale beard was beginning to grow on his chin. Lanny's
black hair curled in a tight, matted mane; his beard was heavy,
already covering much of his face and giving him a sinister, derelict
appearance. Since metal was forbidden in the prison compounds, no man
was clean-shaven. After a fashion they did occasionally trim their
hair, with treasured slivers of glass which foraging hunters brought
back from the ruined cities.

Lanny and Gill made fire in a rusted waste can. Pendillo watched them
with admiration. That was another shortcoming in the older survivors
that puzzled Lanny: they were very clumsy about producing fire, and
almost none of them could hurl a stone accurately enough to kill an
animal. Yet both skills, so essential to the hunters, had been taught
the children by their elders.

On an improvised wooden spit Pendillo's sons roasted the pheasant and
the rabbit which they had killed that afternoon. The three men ate
hungrily, Pendillo with a fastidiousness that secretly amused the
bronzed giants who sat cross-legged beside him. Dr. Pendillo tore the
meat daintily from the bones with his fingers; at intervals he wiped
the grease from his lip with a corner of his jacket.

Pendillo built a bed for himself from a pile of dry, rotting rags close
to the fire. Lanny restoked the can with fresh wood so his father might
be warm during the night. Then Pendillo's sons spread their skins close
to the open door, where they felt more at ease.

Almost at once Lanny was asleep. It was an instinctive process of will.
He ordered his body to rest, and it responded; just as he could be
instantly awake and alert at any energy change that indicated danger.
He had never examined the process consciously, and he considered it
in no way unusual; but he might have recalled, if he had pressed his
memory back into his earliest childhood, that it was part of a pattern
Pendillo had taught his sons.

There was a sputter of sound. Lanny leaped to his feet, his hand
closing on his stone knife. He heard a roar of clanging metal in the
automobile showroom. Then silence.

Lanny sprang through the open door. Dimly he saw Gill sitting in the
sedan, his hands gripping the wheel.

"What happened?"

"It started, Lanny. I just came in to look at it, to touch it again,
and--"

"So you made the motor turn over?" This came from Dr. Pendillo, who was
feeling his way through the door behind Lanny. "How, Gill?"

Gill slid out of the car, backing away from it. "I don't know. I don't
know!"

"You must, Gill."

"I got in. I was--I was pretending it was before the invasion and I was
driving the machine down the road. I could see the matter structure
of the motor in my mind, and how the parts fit together. I must have
touched the starter."

"After twenty years, the battery would be dead and the fuel would have
evaporated. Tell me what you really did, Gill."

Gill clenched his fist against his mouth. "It seemed as if it were
a part of me, like my hand. And then the machinery began to move,
because--because I wanted it to. Maybe there was some fuel left,
father, and maybe--"

"Why are you afraid of the truth, Gill?"

"People don't run machines by wanting them to go!"

"The thinking mind, my son, is capable of--" Pendillo's voice trailed
off, for they all heard the sound outside--the high whine made by the
force-field of an enemy sphere.

Lanny darted to the showroom window. At the end of the street an
opalescent sphere was riding in the fog, three feet above the ground.
Enemy police guards in protective capsules spilled through the open
port, carrying energy guns slung over their shoulders.

"The Almost-men picked up the sound of the motor," Pendillo gasped.

Then he saw the woman in the white uniform of the Triangle. She stood
at the port, spotlighted by the glow of blue light that came from
within the ship.

It was the missionary, Tak Laleen.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the street the tracer light began to dart back and forth over the
empty buildings, responding to the commands of the sound receptors.
Lanny and Gill seized their father and plunged into the choking
darkness of the forest. Dead brush snapped. The tracer light swung
toward the trees, concentrating with smug, mechanical self-assurance
upon the place where the three men had been. Lying flat against the
cold earth, they wormed their way foot by foot toward the coast.

Behind them they saw the force-field capsules of six enemy guards
floating above the trees. Strong tracer lights danced over the upper
branches, but the foliage was too dense for the light to penetrate to
the ground. In their glowing bubbles the enemy police swung back and
forth, trying to find a clearing in the brush. Two of them attempted to
force their way into the trees but their body capsules were too bulky;
the force-field generated by the individual envelopes was not powerful
enough to push through the gnarled branches.

The three fugitives inched steadily forward. The glow of tracer lights
faded behind them. They could hear the wind above the trees and, far
away, the sound of surf breaking on the rocks.

Juan Pendillo was shivering in the cold. His teeth began to chatter.
Hastily his sons pressed his body between theirs, shielding him from
the cold and sharing their body energy until his trembling finally
stopped.

They heard a snapping sound in the brush. An enemy guard appeared
suddenly. He had dissolved his force-field and he was walking warily
on the wet earth. He held an energy gun cradled in his arms. The enemy
walked with cat-like caution--but, in spite of himself, it was the
amateur caution of a man who relied on the protective devices of a
machine.

Slowly Lanny's lips twisted in a sneer. This was the enemy, heavily
armed and invulnerable--but helpless without his mechanical gadgets.
Lanny's hand moved soundlessly over the ground. He grasped a stone. The
enemy was less than twenty feet away; it was a target a child couldn't
miss.

Lanny swung into a sitting position and simultaneously threw his stone.
The guard dropped, a wound torn in his skull. Pendillo and his sons
slid forward again. As they passed the dead Almost-man, Lanny worked
the energy gun out of of the guard's hands.

It took them an hour to reach the cliffs overlooking the sea. They
turned north again, seeking shelter among the rocks. And they came
abruptly upon a wide, bowl-shaped cavity in the earth. Through the fog
they saw the narrow passage between the cavity and the sea. In the
center of the sheltered, artificial pool a metal dome rose some fifty
feet above the quiet water. The dome, protected by a force-field, was
joined to the land by a catwalk. From its waterline a ridged, white
tube snaked upward and disappeared among the trees on the north bank of
the pool. A repair barge swung at anchor under the catwalk. A towering
pylon raised a sound receptor and an automatic energy gun high above
the roof of the dome.

Pendillo whispered, "This must be one of their automatic mining
operations. I've never seen one before."

Gill replied, "Lanny and I have come upon lots of them in the hills.
The domes run themselves. Sometimes the Almost-men come and check over
the machines; that's what the barge is here for, I think."

"The domes dig out minerals or pump oil," Lanny added, "and send it to
the skyports through the white pipes. But you can never get close to
them. The whole operation is protected by the energy guns."

"They have us pinned down here," Gill said, "unless we can use that
barge."

Lanny fingered the energy gun he had taken from the dead guard. "All
we have to do is knock out the pylon." He raised the weapon and aimed
it at the nest of delicate instruments at the base of the pillar. He
turned the firing dial. The flame knifed through the fog. The tower
disintegrated in a blaze of dust.

The three men slid down the rock and plunged through the cold water
toward the barge. In the night sky they heard the whine of an
approaching force-field car.

They leaped aboard the barge, hauling Dr. Pendillo in after them. Gill
knelt in front of the motor in the stern. Lanny watched the sky, with
the energy gun clutched in his hand. He knew the charge in the chamber
was nearly spent. There might be enough left to hold off the enemy for
a moment, but certainly no longer.

Frantically Gill turned the wheels until the motor stirred into life.
As it did the glowing sphere swung down upon them. Lanny raised his
gun and fired. Fear projected something of himself into the leaping
charge of energy--a confusing sensation of screaming joy and chaotic
horror that left his mind limp and numb. It seemed that he had actually
touched the force-field of the sphere; he was physically tearing apart
the tense, strait-jacket of solidified energy.

The sphere lurched upward and away into the night. As it did, the port
broke open and a figure dropped toward the water. It was Tak Laleen.
She reached for the tiny box fastened to her breast, trying to activate
her protective force-field capsule. Lanny knew he had to stop her, or
she might still be able to prevent their escape.

He sprang into the water, clawing for her feet as she fell toward
him. She screamed and her screams died as he dragged her beneath the
surface. He tore the box from her hands and let it fall.

When they broke the surface, his hands were on her throat and all his
lifelong hatred of the Almost-men was in his finger tips as he pressed
his thumbs down upon her windpipe. Pendillo cried out,

"Don't kill her, Lanny! No man has ever taken one of the enemy alive."

Reluctantly Lanny relaxed his grip. Tak Laleen screamed again and
slapped her hands at his face. Abruptly she paused and stared into his
eyes.

"You!" she gasped. "The black savage. No wonder my sphere--In the name
of the All of the Universe, kill me quickly! Kill me now, as civilized
beings have a right to die--not your way. Not your way!"

Then, for no reason Lanny could fathom, Tak Laleen fainted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sheltered by the mist and the darkness, the stolen barge moved rapidly
north along the coast. Tak Laleen lay unconscious in the bottom of the
boat, wrapped in her white uniform; Pendillo sat shivering beside her.
Lanny and Gill stood in the stern. Although the motor was controlled by
an automatic navigator, Gill tore out the flimsy destination tape and
guided the wheel manually.

"Even this the Almost-men can't do for themselves," he remarked to his
brother.

"Do you suppose they really can't read direction from the sun or the
stars?"

"All their brains are in their machines."

"And machines are nothing."

"Juan has always said that," Gill said slowly. "It sounds logical and
reasonable. But I don't know what it means, Lanny!"

For a long time they stood watching the heaving shadow of the sea, each
of them trying in his own way to make sense of the riddle. Suddenly the
motor sputtered. Gill tinkered with the machine until it was purring
smoothly again.

"The power cells are nearly empty," he said. "We'll have to run the
barge aground sometime tomorrow and start walking again."

"Yes, I know." Lanny clenched his fist over his brother's arm. "But how
do we know it, Gill? How can we run this machine, when we have never
seen it before?"

Gill laughed uneasily. "Don't forget, before the invasion our people
were pretty good at building machines, too."

"That doesn't answer the question, Gill. When I fired the energy gun, I
felt as if it were a part of myself--as if I knew all the cells in the
metal just as I know my own."

"That happened to me when I sat in the automobile in the showroom."

"It scares me, Gill. I keep thinking I should remember something but--"

"I was scared last night, too, because I thought I'd made the motor go
by forcing it to move with my mind. And that's absurd. If we had that
much control over machines, as we do over our hunting clubs, how could
the enemy ever have defeated us?"

Tak Laleen opened her eyes, then, and sat up stiffly. The wind struck
her face and swept her hair back. Shivering, she pulled her uniform
tight around her throat.

"Where are you taking me?" she demanded.

"You're our prisoner," Lanny answered.

"The Sacred Triangle will not pay ransom. We volunteered to serve here
on the earth; we knew the risks."

Lanny moved toward her. Fearfully she slid away from him until her back
was against the gunwale. "Don't touch me!" she begged.

He shrugged and dropped on the deck close to her feet. "When you came
out of the Triangle to take care of our sick, you never were repulsed
by--"

"Not the normal ones, no."

"Your aversion applies only to me?"

"Don't pretend." She twisted her hands together. "What kind of a--a
thing are you?"

Juan Pendillo intervened, "We dragged you aboard rather
unceremoniously, Tak Laleen. Let me introduce my sons, Lanny and Gill."

"You're lying. Where did you get the metals to make him?"

Lanny stared at his father. "Is she--has her mind been affected--"

"All this beating around the bush is so foolish." Suddenly she seized
Lanny's arm and dug her nails, like claws, into his skin. "But--but it
is real! You're not a machine." Her eyes glazed and she fainted again.

By dawn the motor of the barge was missing continuously and the speed
had been reduced to a relatively slow forty knots. The sun rose,
dispelling the fog, and the wind on the sea became a little warmer.
Juan Pendillo tried to pace the tiny deck, flaying his arms to restore
the circulation. Tak Laleen, having recovered from her second faint,
sat brooding with her uniform clutched tightly over her throat.

Periodically the missionary talked to Pendillo. She asked again and
again what they were going to do with her. Either ransom or murder were
the only possibilities that occurred to her. That point of view was a
fair index to the attitude the Almost-men held toward the survivors
on the planet they had conquered. Mankind they considered filthy,
illiterate barbarians; the primitive squalor of the prison compounds
was their proof.

Lanny understood enough of the religion of the Triangle--that noble
abstract of God which the enemy called the All of the Universe--to
know why the conquerors had to use a semantic device to define their
superiority. The Almost-men were a liberty-loving society. Their
government decrees and their religious poetry abounded with vivid words
of freedom. They could not have maintained an integrated social soul
and enslaved a culture of their peers; therefore, they had to invent a
verbal technique for reducing man to the status of a savage.

"As we have always done ourselves," Pendillo told Lanny when he first
became aware of the inconsistency as a child. "But don't condemn
the enemy for it, my son. Words have the peculiar habit of becoming
anything we want them to be. If we set our minds to it, we can make
anything true. The Almost-men are not merely alien invaders; they are
like man himself--the most tragic distortion of our worst traits.
Someday we shall make war on them, yes, but before we do we must learn
how to conquer ourselves."

       *       *       *       *       *

Early in the afternoon the power cells in the barge were exhausted.
Gill drove the ship up on a desolate beach, at the place where Monterey
had once stood. Nothing survived but an occasional piece of debris,
buried in the drifted sand, for Monterey, close to a military camp, had
been heavily bombed by the invaders.

"We must find a place to camp," Pendillo advised. "I don't believe
either Tak Laleen or I have the strength to go any farther today."

They found it necessary to hike eight miles north of Monterey before
they were beyond the area of total destruction. The ruins, scattered
among the encroaching trees, became recognizable as skeletal relics of
things that might once have been homes. They found one frame cottage
still whole because it had been built close to a hillside. The battered
walls would provide shelter for Pendillo and the missionary. Further,
the house had a stone fireplace where they could cook their food, and
close by a shallow spring bubbled from the dark earth.

Gill and Lanny trapped a deer and carried the carcass back to the
cottage. Both Tak Laleen and Pendillo were struggling to make a fire.
Lanny took over the chore and in seconds flames leaped through the dead
brush heaped on the hearth. It had always puzzled him that Pendillo
could have taught him the techniques, and still not be able to make the
fire himself. Tak Laleen was just as helpless. Without their machines
the Almost-men were nothing: again and again that became apparent.

Gill stripped off the deer hide carefully so it could be made into
a second jacket for Pendillo. While he stretched the skin in the
afternoon sun, Lanny turned the meat over the fire. When they began
to eat, both Lanny and Gill were amused that Tak Laleen had manners
as fastidious as Pendillo's. The missionary nibbled delicately at her
food, as if she thought the grease would soil her lips. Afterward
she and Pendillo washed in water which they heated over the fire.
Pendillo's sons stripped and swam in the ocean, as a man properly
should to make himself clean.

They made beds for their father and the missionary in front of the
fire. Lanny and his brother would have been willing to continue the
march north until nightfall; the food had restored their balance of
energy, as it always did. But they knew the other two had to rest.

Lanny and Gill dug burrows in the warm sand outside the cottage, where
they felt more comfortable. They were consciously an integrated part
of their world, nurtured by the earth and the sun. To them it seemed
absurd to build walls of wood or stone to separate themselves from
a part of their own being. None of the younger generation had ever
understood the need of their elders for artificial shelter. That
feeling, too, was a product of of their education, though neither they
nor their teachers grasped what it implied. The children of the prison
camps lived in a new universe, not yet defined.

Lanny and Gill were immediately asleep. It did not occur to them that
Tak Laleen might try to escape. They assumed she had read the signs of
the plentiful game in the forest: they were a long way from any enemy
installation.

Yet four hours later they were jerked awake by the sound of her
screams, faint and terrified in the night shadows of the forest. They
found her a thousand yards from the cottage. Her back was against a
wall of boulders and with her frail, white hands she was trying to beat
off a snarling cougar which had already clawed her uniform to shreds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanny drew his knife and leaped at the animal. Gill threw a stone which
might have broken the skull with bullet force, but at that moment the
cougar whirled toward them. Its claw slashed at Lanny. He bent low,
driving his knife upward. Momentum carried the big cat forward. As the
tearing fury struck his chest, Lanny plunged his knife again into the
thick hide.

The cougar fell, writhing and howling. Gill smashed a broken tree limb
into the yawning jaws, and the big cat died. Tak Laleen stumbled
toward them. She tried to speak. The words of gratitude choked in her
throat and she fainted.

Again! Lanny thought, with disgust. The Almost-men--or at least their
missionary women--had a limited gamut of emotional reactions. It seemed
an inadequate way to solve a problem.

They left Tak Laleen where she lay. Gill expertly stripped off the skin
of the animal they had killed, another hide they could fashion into a
jacket for Juan Pendillo. Lanny had been superficially wounded--a long,
shallow scratch across his chest. He examined it carefully, feeling
through the severed body cells with his mind and directing the blood
purifiers to seal off the few germ colonies which were present. When
the skin seemed to require no healing exposure to the sun, he allowed
the scratch to heal at once.

Gill shouldered the cougar hide, still warm and dripping blood. Lanny
picked up the missionary and they returned to the cottage. Tak Laleen's
uniform was torn and useless, but the material was a tough plastic
which had protected her from any serious wound. Her chest and arms were
criss-crossed with scores of tiny abrasions. It puzzled Lanny that
she had made no effort to repair her body. It occured to him, with
something of a shock, that the Almost-men might use machines to do
that, too.

Tak Laleen regained consciousness when Lanny put her on the bed in
front of the fire. Pendillo tore off her battered uniform and bathed
the scratches with hot water.

"You saved me; you risked your own life!" She said it with a peculiar
fervor. Lanny couldn't understand why she thought an element of risk
had been involved. A hunter with half his skill and experience could
have done as much.

"I won't try to run away again," she promised. Not much of a
concession, Lanny thought, suppressing a grin.

Pendillo said they would have to spend the next day in the cottage, to
give the missionary a chance to rest. She was suffering, he said, from
something he called shock. Precisely what that was neither of his sons
knew, but they supposed it was an obscure ailment that beset the enemy.
The more they learned about Tak Laleen, the stranger it seemed that
such a weak people could have conquered the earth.

During the interval of waiting, Lanny and Gill dried the two hides they
had taken. They cut breeches and a jacket for Tak Laleen, to replace
the uniform she could no longer wear.

       *       *       *       *       *

After they resumed their trek north, it took them four days more to
reach the pylon barrier south of the San Francisco treaty area. Tak
Laleen became more and more exhausted. She shivered constantly in
the cold air. Her nose began to run--a phenomenon Pendillo called a
cold--and the wounds in her chest stubbornly refused to heal. When she
saw the towered guns on the barrier, she dropped to the ground and wept
hysterically.

"We can't pass that," she whispered.

"If you're afraid to run the guns," Lanny told her, "we can swim around
them."

"I don't know how."

"There's no other way into the treaty area," Gill said brutally.

She sniffled. "If I could just feel warm again--if you would build a
fire and give me a chance to rest--"

"Not until we're inside the barrier. The police would spot a fire out
here."

Gill picked her up and began to carry her toward the beach. She
screamed in terror and beat her fists against his naked back. When he
did not stop, she cried out,

"I can tell you how to break the circuit on the pylons!"

Gill paused. "Yes?"

"If we could knock out just one of the guns, we could walk through the
barrier, couldn't we?"

Gill set her on her feet. She ran back to Lanny, stumbling over the
rough ground and wiping her nose with the back of her hand. "Lanny, you
and your brother can hit anything with a stone. Couldn't you knock out
the power unit in a pylon?"

"Sure, if we knew where it was. We've tried for years to find that out,
but we can't get close enough to examine the towers."

She pointed eagerly. "It's the criss-crossed framework, just under the
sound receptor at the top."

He measured the distance critically. "It will take careful marksmanship
to hit anything so small. Think we could do it, Gill?"

"We'll have to try; the lady's afraid to get her feet wet."

Gill threw the first stone. It fell short of the target. The automatic
energy guns swung on the stone, efficiently disintegrating it before it
touched the ground. Lanny tried; and his brother threw again. It was
Lanny's fourth missile that struck the tiny mechanism. A puff of smoke
filled the air and the top of the pylon became a mass of twisted, metal
girders.

Lanny grinned at the missionary. She was a fool, he thought; for the
sake of her own comfort, she had given away one of the most valuable
secrets in the arsenal of enemy weapons. When the treaty areas knew
it, the barriers would go down; men would be free when they chose. And
Tak Laleen was so grateful to have escaped a cold swim in the sea, she
seemed unaware of the extent of her betrayal.

They walked across the barren ground. The missionary clung with
feverish hands to Lanny's arm. Half a mile beyond the barrier, they
ascended a steep hill. From the crest they looked down upon the
peninsula and the sprawling arms of the bay in the background.

Except for the jumbled ruins of downtown San Francisco, at the point
of the peninsula, the land from the ocean to the bay was crowded with
closely packed rows of dwellings. Some were flat-roofed, whitewalled
houses similar to the subdivision settlement where Lanny and Gill grew
up. Others, built since the surrender, were ugly hovels made from clay
and grass.

       *       *       *       *       *

The San Francisco treaty area was the largest on Earth, perhaps because
it was the city where the invasion had begun. Lanny had always known
it was big, but he was awed to see so many men, so many of his own
kind, assembled in one place.

Across the bay, on a flat, white plain where Oakland had once stood,
was the crowded, multi-tiered skyport of the enemy. From all the
surrounding hills the pliable, white tubes poured an endless stream
of resources into the port. Automatic machines, working ceaselessly
day and night, loaded the plunder into machine-navigated, pilotless
spheres; at five minute intervals an endless parade of spheres lifted
from the field beyond the skyport and headed toward the stars, while a
second parade of empties came in for a landing.

From a distance the skyport, under its opalescent dome of a
force-field, looked like an enormous spider with its sprawling, white
tentacles clutching the green earth. The San Francisco skyport was the
largest the enemy had built, and the seat of the territorial government
they had set up to rule the captive planet.

Grotesque relics of man's bridges still spanned the bay and the Golden
Gate; columns of rusted steel held up the graceful loops of a single,
rusted cable. An enemy bridge, like a fairy highway supported by nearly
invisible balloons of de-grav spheres, joined the skyport and the
treaty area.

As the three men and their captive descended the hillside, they were
stopped by four nearly naked youths who mounted guard on the southern
fringe of the settlement. Though still boys in their teens, they were
physical giants like Lanny and Gill. Pendillo told the boys why they
had fled from the Santa Barbara settlement; he asked to be taken to the
home of Dr. Endhart.

"Our chief teacher?"

"Dr. Endhart and I are old friends. We knew each other before the
invasion."

One of the boys clapped Lanny on the back. "So you brought your woman
with you; they must be snappy lookers down your way."

Tak Laleen shrank against Lanny's side, holding his hand in terror.

"Not much for size, though," the boy added critically. "How much do you
weigh, girl?"

The boy put his arm around the missionary's shoulder. She gave a squeal
of fear and, in her eagerness to shrink still closer to Lanny, she
forgot to hold her crudely cut jacket closed across her breast. The
hide fell free. The boy saw her white, scratched shoulder and her thin,
frail arm.

He whistled. "So you caught one of the Almost-men. A missionary? I
never saw one without the uniform. Let's see the rest of it."

He snatched the jacket from Tak Laleen. She gave another wail and
fainted. Lanny sighed and picked her up.

"She has a habit of doing this," he explained wearily. "She hasn't
pulled one for nearly four days; I guess this was overdue."

The boy inspected her with a sneer. "Scrawny, aren't they?"

"Take away their machines," Lanny replied, "and this is all you have
left."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanny and his brother made an easy adjustment to the new community.
The social stratification was an uncomplicated division of men into
three types: the teachers, the old ones who had survived the invasion,
and the children who had grown up since the war--by far the largest
group. The classification was logical and unobtrusive; it produced no
frustrating social pressures. Since the children had known no other
form of society, they assumed that men had always organized their
culture with such understandable simplicity.

The chief occupation of the community was always the education of the
young. That, too, Lanny and Gill assumed to be the normal activity
of man. The teachers were the real government of every treaty area.
Their control was subtle, engineered through an unofficial--and
illegal--representative body, usually called the resistance council.

Since Pendillo had been a teacher in his home settlement, he took up
residence with Dr. Endhart. They kept Tak Laleen with them, a prisoner
confined to the house. For nearly a week she lay on a pallet suffering
the miseries of a cold. Lanny knew that older survivors in every
settlement sometimes had the same malady. Pendillo had taught his sons
that sickness happened because some of the survivors of the invasion
had been so demoralized by defeat they had lost the mental ability to
control their own physical processes. But Tak Laleen was one of the
conquerors; nothing had demoralized the Almost-men. There was only one
possible conclusion Lanny could reach: the invaders had never learned
to control the energy units in their body cells.

A hunter's assignment, Lanny found, was easier than it had been in the
smaller Santa Barbara settlement. The Almost-men had set up a vast
hunting preserve north and east of the bay; it was kept well-stocked
with game. There was no need for the hunting parties to break through
the pylon barrier and raid territory ceded to the invaders. The hunters
simply crossed the skyport bridge, circled the opalescent dome, and
entered the forest, where broad trails had been conveniently laid out
under the trees.

This generous provision came about because the enemy considered the
San Francisco compound something of a showplace, an experimental
laboratory for improving relations with the conquered. A steady stream
of tourists, sociologists, politicians and religious leaders poured
into the San Francisco skyport from the mechanized home world of the
Almost-men. They came to satisfy their curiosity, to purchase tourist
relics, to examine and sometimes criticize the occupation policy.

Frequently, when Lanny was hunting in the forest, he saw Almost-men who
were recent arrivals in the skyport. Usually they floated above the
trees in their individual, degravitized, force-field capsules, watching
the hunt and eagerly recording the activity with their expensive
cameras. Sometimes they whipped up enough courage to descend to the
forest trails and talk to their captives.

Several times Lanny was interviewed by the enemy, and slowly he began
to flesh out a more realistic definition of the Almost-men. They were
no longer a clear-cut symbol for something he hated, but suddenly more
human and more understandable. They were physically weak, just like the
older survivors in the treaty settlements. They were timid and unsure
of themselves. They were hopelessly caught in a mire of pretty words,
which they seemed to believe themselves. And without their machines
they were helpless.

       *       *       *       *       *

After Lanny and his brother had been in the San Francisco area for
nearly two weeks, they were invited to a formal session of the local
resistance council, where they were accepted as new citizens of the
community. The delegates met at night in the rubble of the old city. A
narrow passage tunneled through the ruins to an underground room which
had once been the vault of a bank and had, therefore, survived the
bombing and the slashing fire of the energy guns.

Gill did not stay with his brother in the rear of the vault. Instead
he joined the young hotheads who formed the war party in the local
council. At home Gill had dominated the same element.

The men in every treaty area were split between two points of view. One
group wanted to organize an immediate attack upon the invader, in spite
of the inequality in arms. The others counciled caution, until they had
the strength to strike a real blow to free the Earth.

Since men had no weapons and no metals from which to make them, the
obvious basis for any successful attack had to be a scheme for seizing
arms from the enemy. "We can only destroy the Almost-men if we use
their own machines." Again and again the San Francisco war party
repeated that fact; it seemed an argument so self-evident that it was
beyond any rational challenge. "The machines have no intelligence, no
sense of values; they will obey us just as readily as they obey the
enemy."

"More so." Gill spoke clear and loud, in crisp self-confidence. "I do
not believe the enemy knows how to feel the structure of matter."

This statement created a minor sensation. The heads of the delegates
turned slowly toward Gill. Gill was smiling, his mane of blond hair
shimmering like gold in the flickering light. Lanny felt, as always, a
tremendous admiration for his brother. Gill was so sure of himself, so
certain that he was right. Gill's mind would never have been plagued by
shadowy fears he couldn't understand.

"I have seen an enemy bleed," Gill went on. "They do not know how to
heal a wound."

"That might be true of some," one of delegates answered. "Some of
our old ones have forgotten, too. But you spoke as if the individual
community of cells could be extended to include integration with all
external matter."

"By touch; I have done it myself."

"You mean the extension into the energy units of your hunting club."
The delegate smiled depreciatingly. "We all understand that. But a
wooden club was once a living thing. Community control over other forms
of matter is entirely different."

"No, the machines respond the same way. I made a motor turn over, when
it had been idle and without fuel for twenty years. It frightened me
when it happened. The energy in the metal was something new, and I
couldn't understand the structure at first. But I've thought about it
since, and I'm sure--"

"We'll look into the possibilities--after we capture the enemy
machines. Our problems at the moment is to get the machines."

The delegates returned to their discussion. They had agreed, long ago,
that the only way to attack the skyport was from inside the protective,
force-field dome. For years the Almost-men had tried to encourage trade
between the skyport and the treaty area, and the resistance council had
turned that to their advantage.

Gradually they had increased the number of young men who went to the
city with necklaces of animal teeth and meaningless gee-gaws for the
tourist trade. The Almost-men had grown used to seeing a mob of men
milling on the bridge and in the lower tiers of the city. The council
had regularly altered the trading parties, so that every man in the San
Francisco colony had been under the dome half a dozen times. They knew
their way around in the skyport; they knew the location of the power
station and the city arsenal. When the attack came, fifty men in the
city would seize the power plant and the rest would attempt to take the
arsenal.

One of the hotheads arose from his place beside Gill. "We have
discussed this and argued it for almost as long as I can remember," he
said. "There is nothing more to be said, for it or against it. Hasn't
the time come to take a vote?"

A moderate protested mildly, "But have we weighed all the risks? If we
make a mistake now--"

"Can you suggest a better way to get weapons?"

And the moderate admitted, "True, we can't defeat the enemy unless we
have weapons comparable to theirs."

It was the last gasp of an old argument. Everything that could be said
had already been said; every delegate knew both sides to the debate,
and every delegate was driven by the same instinct to make a fight
to reclaim his lost world. When the vote was counted, a majority of
the council favored war. A committee was appointed to make the final
disposition of forces and to set the time for the attack. Lanny was not
surprised when Gill was named a member of the committee.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the afternoon following the meeting, Lanny was assigned to a group
of traders so he might learn the geography of the skyport before the
attack. As the enemy capital on Earth and a tourist attraction, the
San Francisco skyport was a miniature replica of an enemy city. Under
the dome were tiers of streets and walkways, interwoven in complex
patterns, and the battlement spires of luxury hotels, theatres,
cabarets, public buildings. The streets overflowed with a flood of
jangling traffic, and the air was filled with the well-to-do riding
their de-grav cars in the enviable security of their private capsules.

Lanny's overall impression was a place of intolerable noise and
glitter. The Almost-men seemed to make a fetish of their machines. They
found it necessary to use their clattering vehicles even though their
destination might be a building only one tier away. The air under the
dome was fetid with the stench of vehicle fuels.

The trading area was confined to a small, metal-surfaced square on the
lowest level of the city, close to the narrow, neutralized vent through
the force-field dome. Tall buildings swarmed above the trading booths,
blotting out the sun. Lanny felt boxed in, imprisoned by the high
walls, choked by the artificial, filtered air.

He sold a satisfactory quota of trade goods to the tourists who had
adventured down to the booths. And he dutifully noted the location of
the walkway to the power center and the arsenal. But he gave a sigh
of relief when his duty was done and he was free to go back across
the bridge to the treaty area. He filled his lungs with the crisp,
damp air, unsterilized by the fans of the enemy city. How could the
Almost-men survive, he wondered, how were they capable of clear-headed
thinking, in such seething confusion?

In the treaty areas, where men could put their naked feet upon the
soil and feel the life-energy of the earth, where men breathed the
fresh wind and held sovereignty over their environment--only there were
men really free. Would he trade that for the city walls that blotted
out the sun, and the monotonous throbbing of machines? The victor was
the slave; the conquered had found the road to liberty. For the first
time in his life Lanny understood the paradox. Stated in those terms,
what did men actually have to fight for?

As he always did when he had a problem, Lanny went to Juan Pendillo. It
was late in the afternoon. Already the cooking fires were being lighted
on the small rectangles of earth in front of the houses where the
older survivors lived. But Pendillo and Dr. Endhart were still inside,
packing away the models which Endhart had used to teach his last class
for the day. They usually waited for Lanny or Gill to make their night
fire, since Pendillo's sons did the work so effortlessly. Tak Laleen
was with the teachers. She sat on the only chair in the room, playing
abstractly with one of Endhart's teaching tools--a crude mock-up of the
structure of a living energy unit. It was the same sort of learning-toy
Lanny himself had been given when he was a child.

Lanny burst in on them excitedly. He began to talk at once, trying to
put in words the conviction that had come to him as he stood on the
bridge. Suddenly the words were gone. In his own mind it was clear
enough, but how was he to explain it? How could he tell them it would
be self-destruction to capture the city of the Almost-men?

"You wanted to talk to us?" Pendillo prompted him.

"It--it's this vote we've taken for war, father." Lanny glanced at Tak
Laleen. His father and Endhart smiled disarmingly.

"You can talk quite freely," Endhart said. "Tak Laleen knows the vote
has been counted. She knows what it means."

"Unarmed men are going to attack the city," the missionary said without
expression. "You are very courageous people. But you are certain you
will win--against our machines and our energy guns." With a frown, she
put aside the model she had been holding. Her face was drawn and tense;
there was doubt and fear in her eyes.

"Of course we'll take the skyport," Lanny assured her. "That doesn't
worry me. It's what happens afterward--what we do when we have your
guns and your machines."

Endhart and Pendillo exchanged glances, in subtle understanding. "The
city will belong to us," his father said.

"Why do we want it? The city is a prison!"

The eyes of the elders met again. "We need guns to protect ourselves.
Haven't you always said that, Lanny? You've heard all the discussions
in the council meetings."

"But do we, father? Answer me honestly."

"You can answer that better than I, my son."

Tak Laleen stood up, wringing her hands. "You will face the
force-field and our guns--but you wonder if you need weapons." With
an effort she checked the hysterical laughter bubbling in her throat.
"My people would say you had gone mad; but who knows the meaning of
madness?"

Pendillo took the missionary's hand firmly in his. "She's tired, Lanny.
Our ways are still new to her."

"And we've had her cooped up in the house too long," Endhart added.

Pendillo glanced sharply at his friend. Endhart nodded. "It is time,"
he said cryptically.

Pendillo turned toward his son. "A walk outside would do her good,
Lanny."

"Is it safe?"

"She won't try to escape; you and I will go with her."

Pendillo led her toward the door. Her face glowed with hope. She
glanced eagerly down the long street, lit by the evening fires. Lanny
was sure she was looking for the nearest Chapel of the Triangle,
calculating her chances of escape. She was the enemy. What reason did
his father or Endhart have to trust her so blindly?

At the door Pendillo turned for a moment toward Endhart. "You'll make
sure Gill knows?"

"At the proper time; leave it to me."

"Knows what?" Lanny demanded.

"That we may be a little late for dinner," his father answered blandly.
He nodded toward Tak Laleen and Lanny understood.

Lanny walked on one side of Tak Laleen and slid his arm firmly under
hers. She kept running her fingers nervously over his arm. She tripped
once, when her foot caught in a shallow hole; her nails tore a deep
gash in Lanny's flesh as he reached out to keep her from falling. He
healed the wound at once, except for a small area where the germ colony
needed exposure to the life-energy of the sun. She looked at his arm.
Her lips were trembling; her face was white.

"So you can do it, Lanny."

For a moment he had forgotten her remarkable inability. "You mean the
healing? All men do that; we always have. A rational mind controls the
structure and energy of organized matter."

"I've listened to Dr. Endhart teaching that to the small children," she
replied. "It--it is difficult to believe." She began to laugh again;
waves of hysteria swept her body. "I'm sorry, Lanny. I've thought,
sometimes, that I'm losing my mind. We're never really certain of
ourselves, are we? Two plus two doesn't have to make four, I suppose;
it's just more convenient when it does."

"I could show you how to heal yourself, Tak Laleen."

"Ever since I came here I've been learning, Lanny. But it does no good
unless I'm willing to learn first. My mind is tied down by everything I
already know. I can put my two and two together as often as I like, and
I still come up with four. Any other answer is insanity."

Twice, as they walked through the streets, Pendillo took a turn
which led toward one of the enemy chapels. Lanny swiftly guided the
missionary in another direction. The third time they came upon the
Chapel of the Triangle suddenly, and before he could pull Tak Laleen
back she broke free and fled toward the glowing Triangle, crying for
help in her native tongue.

Lanny sprinted after her. Tak Laleen beat with her fists on the metal
door. From the air above them came the high whine of a materializing
force-field. Capsules swung down upon them. The missionary was
swallowed within the church. Lanny and his father were enveloped in a
single bubble.

It rose on an automatic beam and arched toward the skyport. In panic
Lanny glanced down through the opalescent field at the settlement
rolling by beneath them, and the choppy water of the bay, turned
scarlet by the setting sun. Pendillo leaned calmly against the curved
wall of their prison.

"She betrayed us!" Lanny cried.

"I expected her to, my son."

"You--you knew this would happen?"

"A teacher must sometimes contrive a unique--and possibly
painful--learning situation. It's one of the risks of our profession."

"Why, father? She'll tell the Almost-men about the attack on the
skyport; she'll tell them--"

Pendillo tapped the curved wall of force. "We're in a tight spot,
Lanny. It's up to you to get us out--without a gun and without any of
the enemy machines. All you have to work with are your brains and what
we've taught you for the past twenty years. I think you can count on
some help from Gill later on. He'll have to attack the skyport tonight,
without working out all his fine plans for seizing the arsenal. And
Gill won't have any guns, either."

"So you and Endhart planned this."

"That's why I insisted on keeping Tak Laleen alive. I thought we
might need her as--as a catalyst. The vote of the resistance council
rushed things a little, but on the whole I think it worked out quite
satisfactorily. Your education is finished, Lanny--for all of you who
are the new breed. Now start applying what we think you know."

       *       *       *       *       *

For a brief time the prison sphere that held Lanny and Juan Pendillo
was suspended above the teeming tiers of skyport streets. Enough time,
Lanny guessed, for the enemy to question Tak Laleen and to reach some
decision based upon what she had to tell them. Abruptly the capsule was
hauled down. Lanny and his father were dumped into barred cells buried
somewhere in the bowels of the city.

"What will they do with us?" Lanny asked.

From the adjoining cell his father answered placidly, "It depends on
Tak Laleen's statement--and how much of it they believe."

"Will they condemn us to readjustment?"

"Undoubtedly, unless you solve our problem first--and these bars seem
thoroughly solid to me."

Lanny drew in his breath sharply, suddenly afraid. "What's it like,
father--the readjustment?"

"No one knows, really. A machine tears your mind apart and puts it
together again--differently."

Lanny shivered as he remembered the half-dozen readjustment cases he
had seen in the Santa Barbara treaty area--living shells, with all
initiative and individuality drained from their souls. He moved to
the barred door of his cell. For a split-second of panic he seized
the bars and futilely tried to pry them apart. Slowly edging into his
consciousness came a vague awareness of the structural pattern of the
energy units in the metal. It was the same extension of his integrated
community of cells which he had with his hunting club. His panic
vanished; he felt a little ashamed because he had been afraid. It would
be no problem to escape.

He held the bars and allowed his mind to feel through the pattern of
energy organization. The metal was very different from any of the
familiar substances Lanny knew, but far less complex because the
arrangement was so rigidly disciplined. There were two things that
Lanny might do. He could fit the energy units of his own body past
the space intervals of the metal--in effect, passing through the metal
barrier. But that would be slow and exacting work. It would require a
considerable concentration to move the specialized cells of his body
across the metal maze. The second method was easier. As he extended his
cerebral integration into the metal, he could rearrange the energy unit
pattern. The bars should fragment and fall apart.

Lanny was amazed how rapidly the change took place. Before he could
adjust the pattern of more than half a dozen energy units, a chain
reaction began. Lanny found he had to absorb an enormous flow of
superfluous energy to prevent an explosion.

As soon as he crossed into the corridor, watching photo-electric cells
sent an alarm pulsing into the guard room on the tier above. The
metal-walled corridor throbbed with the deafening cry of a siren.

Lanny darted toward his father's cell. "Hold the metal and make it over
with your mind--just as we integrate with our clubs. It's the same
principal, father."

Pendillo shrugged. "I can't, Lanny. I don't know how."

Lanny had no time to weigh the significance of what his father said
for the scream of the siren stopped and a guard appeared at the head
of the corridor. The guard wrapped himself hastily in the shell
of a force-field capsule. He fired his energy gun. The knife of
flame arched through the corridor and struck Lanny's face. His body
reacted instinctively, absorbing and storing part of the charge and
re-constructing the rest so that it became a harmless combination of
inert gasses.

But as the blinding flame splashed bright in Lanny's eyes--the way it
had once before, when he murdered old Barlow--Lanny's mind faced the
traumatic shock of remembering. Lanny had murdered Barlow--he knew
that, now--murdered him with a blaze of energy which he had stored when
he brushed against the force-field capsule surrounding Tak Laleen.

It was not the fact of murder that had clamped the strait-jacket of
forgetfulness on Lanny's mind and allowed him to think Tak Laleen had
killed Barlow. He had known, for one split-second, the full maturity of
the education Pendillo had given his sons. Known it too soon, with too
little preparation. Now he understood why he had felt ashamed, why he'd
retreated deliberately from the truth: because he had killed Barlow
to resolve an old argument, not to be rid of a traitor. The method of
murder had, ironically, given him the answer to Barlow's poison of
despair; but because the two had happened simultaneously, the emotional
shock of one had affected the other.

The bursting charge of energy washed away his absurdly exaggerated
sense of guilt. He achieved the mature integration he had lost before;
his mind was whole again. The integration was nothing new--merely
a restatement of what Pendillo had taught him, what all the treaty
area teachers taught the new children. The mind of man could control
the energy structure of matter. Pendillo called that rationality.
But matter and energy were synonymous. The teachers had implied that
without teaching it directly. A mind that could heal a body wound was
also able to control the energy blast from an enemy gun.

       *       *       *       *       *

From his father's cell Lanny heard a stifled groan. He looked back.
The bars of the cell had been twisted by the blast; Pendillo was badly
hurt. His wounds seemed to be extensive, but Lanny was sure his father
would heal himself quickly.

Lanny sprang at the guard. The Almost-man had enough courage to hold
his ground, still sure of his impregnable machines. He was aiming his
energy gun again when Lanny touched the opalescent capsule. That, too,
was nothing now; Lanny had found his way into the new world. The field
of force was simply energy in another form. Lanny could have reshaped
the field, intensified it, or dissolved it as he chose.

He shattered the capsule, like a bubble of glass. He smashed the gun
aside. The guard stood before him, stripped of his mechanical armor--a
man, facing his enemy as a man.

As the guard turned to run, Lanny reached out for him leisurely. Weakly
the guard swung his fist at Lanny's face. Lanny laughed and slapped at
the ineffectual, white hand. The guard howled and clutched the broken
fingers against his mouth. Desperately he kicked at Lanny with his
metal-soled boots. Lanny dodged. The unexpected momentum sent the
guard reeling and he had no efficient capsule to hold him up.

He sprawled on the metal floor close to his energy gun. He grasped
for the weapon as Lanny leaped toward him. For one brief moment Lanny
saw madness film his enemy's eyes. Then the guard began to scream. He
thrust the muzzle of the energy gun against his own chest and pressed
the firing stud.

Lanny turned away from the smoldering heap of charred flesh and went
back to his father's cell. He disorganized the energy units of the
tormented knot of metal bars and knelt beside Pendillo. Lanny was
amazed that his father had made no effort to heal his wounds. Juan
was bleeding profusely; his eyes were glazed with pain. Lanny lifted
Pendillo tenderly in his arms.

"Father! You must begin the healing--"

"I do not know how, Lanny."

"All men control their own body cells!"

"So you were taught, and what a man believes is true--for him."

Cautiously Lanny extended his energy integration into his father's
body. It was something he had never done before with a living man. The
weak disorganization of cells frightened him. Clearly Pendillo was
telling the truth; he was incapable of ordering his own healing. Then
how had he taught his sons so well, if he could not use the technique
himself?

Hesitantly Lanny released into his father's body some of the energy he
had stored. He wasn't sure what the effect would be, but it seemed to
help. Pendillo tried to smile; his eyes became clearer.

"Thanks, Lanny. But you can't save me, my son. I've lost too much
blood; I have too many internal injuries."

"But you could do it for yourself, Father." Lanny shook his head. "I
don't understand why--"

"You wouldn't, Lanny. You're the new breed."

"You say that so often."

"In my time that might have meant a new species--supermen we created by
genetics in a biological laboratory. But we've done more than that. You
aren't freaks; you're our children in every sense of the word. We have
made you men; we've taught you how to think."

"You deliberately made us as we are?"

"Every man who lived before your time was an Almost-man, Lanny. He had
your same potential, but he hadn't learned how to use it."

"How are we different?"

Pendillo was seized with a sudden spasm of coughing; blood trickled
from his lips. Once again Lanny released a shock wave of energy into
his father's body, and Pendillo's strength was partially restored.

"I will tell you as much as I can," Pendillo promised, but his voice
was no longer as clear as it had been. "I don't have much time left.
The idea for our new breed of men began at the time of the invasion.
Lanny, there wasn't much to choose from between our people and the
enemy. Our cities were like theirs; we were enslaved by machines--by
the technological bric-a-brac of our culture--as they are. Only our
science was different. We had exploited the energy of coal and oil and
water-power; we were beginning to accumulate a good deal of data about
the basic atomic structure of matter.

"But we would have ridiculed any serious consideration of
degravitation, or the magnetic energy of a field of force. These were
the trappings of our escapist fiction, not of genuine science. We had
a more or less closed field allowed to legitimate scientific research;
any data beyond it was vigorously ignored.

"Then, from nowhere, we were invaded and utterly defeated by an
alien people who used the precise laws of science we had scorned.
Furthermore, we saw them ridicule our principles as semi-religious
rituals of a savage culture. In the invasion less than a tenth of
mankind survived. We were herded into the treaty areas, with no
government and no real leadership. Some of us had been teachers before
the war; the survivors looked to us to preserve the spirit and the
ideals of man.

"We had to make a selective choice, Lanny. We had no books, no written
records, no way to preserve the whole of the past. The teachers in all
the treaty areas quickly established contact by courier. The lesson of
the invasion had taught us a great deal. Men had been imprisoned by one
scientific dogma, which had produced a mechanized and neurotic world.
The Almost-men were trapped by another that had produced the same end
result.

"So we had our first objective: to teach our children the supreme
dignity, the magnificent godliness, of the rational mind. We didn't
tell you what to think--which had been our mistake in the past--but
simply the vital necessity of rational thought. We taught you that
the mind was the integrating factor in the universe; everything else
was chaos, without objectivity or direction, until it was controlled
by mind. After that, we jammed your brains with data from every
field of knowledge that had ever been explored by man. That's why
we interchanged couriers so frequently. In our world we had been
specialists; we had to share the facts among ourselves so the new breed
might have them all."

Far away they heard the dull thunder of an explosion. Lanny's head
jerked up. Pendillo coughed up blood again, but there was a satisfied
smile on his lips. "That will be Gill and the boys from the treaty
area," he sighed. "Arriving right on schedule. We've forced them to
attack the city without weapons; to survive, they'll have to make the
same mental reintegration that you did, Lanny."

"How could you have been so sure, father, that we would be able to--to
handle the matter-energy units the way we do?"

"We weren't, my son. We were sure of nothing. We only knew that you
were the first generation whose minds had been set completely free.
Nobody had done any of your thinking for you. If any man is equipped
to solve problems, you are--you of the new breed."

"But why couldn't you learn the same techniques yourselves? Why can't
you save yourself now, father?"

"Because we belong in the old world. Because the technique is only
an application of the data you know, Lanny; that is something you
have worked out for yourselves. We could give you the theory; we were
incapable of following it through your minds."

Pendillo gasped painfully for breath. He closed his hand over his
son's. "The old survivors are still imprisoned by beliefs carried over
from the world we lost. We teach, Lanny, but we cannot believe as
you do, even when we see our own children--our own sons--" His voice
trailed away, and he slumped against Lanny's chest.

A series of explosions rocked the metal walls; Pendillo opened his eyes
again. His dying whisper was so soft, so twisted by pain, the words
were almost inaudible. "One more thing, son. We did more--more than
we thought. Don't retreat to our world; make your own. Without the
machines and the city walls and the uproar--"

Juan Pendillo grasped his son's hand. His fingers quivered for a moment
of agony. And then he died.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lanny stumbled away from the cell, his eyes dim with tears. The
repetitive explosions continued outside in the domed city. Lanny
discovered the origin of the sound when he made his way up the
incline to the upper level. The parade of gigantic freight spheres
was swinging in from the void of night, but the port machines, which
handled the landings, were idle. The spheres were crashing, one upon
the other, into the field just beyond the city. From disengaged,
pliable tubes, jerking with the spasmodic torment of mechanical chaos,
the raw materials plundered from the earth poured out upon the ruin.
Fire licked at the wreckage, probing hungrily toward the city of the
Almost-men.

Lanny ran through the deserted guard rooms. Beyond the walls he heard a
babble of panic on the city streets. The first exit that he found led
up to the second level, where no man had ever been.

He emerged on an ornate balcony, which overlooked the square where the
trading booths stood. The force dome that had sheltered the city was
gone. Lanny could look up and see the stars--and the endless parade of
glowing freight spheres descending toward the earth. The air was clean,
cold and wet with the sea mist.

In a sense the depressing, stifling city he had seen that afternoon was
already gone--except for the bleak walls and the clatter of machine
sounds. And, in the agony of its death, the city noise had become the
scream of mechanized madness. A seething mass of vehicles choked every
tier, fighting for space, grinding each other into rubble. Vehicles
careened from the upper roads and plunged into the mass beneath.

At first it seemed a panic of machines. The people were trivial
incidentals--bits of fluff which had been unfortunate enough to get in
the way of the turning wheels. Then Lanny saw the walkaways, as crowded
as the roads. A mass of humanity spewed through the doors of the luxury
hotels, like run-off streams swelling the floodtide of a swollen river.
Where were the Almost-men going? How could they escape? They had given
their will and initiative to their machines; they could do nothing to
help themselves.

Lanny saw an occasional opalescent bubble rise in the air. But
inevitably, before it could move beyond the city, a force of blazing
energy shot up from the lowest tier and brought the capsule down. Here
and there in the darkness Lanny saw the furious blast of an energy gun,
probing futilely into the chaos.

As the fire rose higher in the port wreckage, Lanny saw men fighting
on the lower tier. They held the bridge and the trading square and
they had taken the power center, which explained why the city was dark
and why the force dome was gone. But they were still fighting to take
the arsenal. A squad of guards held them off with energy guns; the men
fought back from the darkness with weapons they had captured elsewhere.

Even now they hadn't discovered the truth; they still feared the enemy
weapons. They still thought they must have guns of their own--machines
of their own--in order to be free. Build your own world, Pendillo had
said; don't go back to ours.

Lanny pushed through the throng on the walkway, trying to find an
incline to the lower tier. Once or twice people in the mob saw him, in
the shuddering light reflected by the energy guns, and recognized him
as a man--a half-naked, black-bearded savage. They screamed in terror.

       *       *       *       *       *

This was the hour of man's revenge, yet Lanny felt an inexpressible
shame and sadness. Was this the way man's cities had died a generation
ago, in a discord of mechanical sound, without courage and without
dignity?

At last he found the incline to the lower level. It was jammed with a
mass of Almost-men, fighting and clawing their way down so they might
flee into the hunting preserve beyond the city. The tide swept Lanny
with it. At the foot of the incline he circled the arsenal to join the
men, still confined in the trading square.

Gill was directing the fire of his men as they inched forward. He
clapped Lanny on the back, grinning broadly.

"I knew you'd get out, Lan. Is Juan all right?"

"He's dead, Gill. He was wounded and he didn't know how to heal
himself."

"He had to know, Lanny; he taught us."

"They all taught us. They made us--" Lanny's voice choked a little
as he used his father's familiar phrase. "--a new breed. Gill, we're
acting like fools; we're fighting for something we don't want or need."

"We have to have weapons, Lan."

"We need nothing but what we've been taught. The mind interprets and
commands the chaos of the universe. Matter and energy are identical."

Lanny turned and walked, erect and unafraid, toward the arsenal.
The energy fire from the guards' guns struck him and exploded. He
reorganized the pattern into harmless components and stood waiting for
the charge to die away.

In a moment Gill was beside him, beaming with understanding as he met
and transformed a second blast from the guns. "Of course matter and
energy are the same!" he cried. "It should have been obvious to us. We
have been prisoners twenty years for nothing."

"We needed those twenty years to discover our new world. We have only
finished our education tonight."

As a third blast of energy came from the arsenal, other men slid out of
the darkness and faced the guns. Lanny and Gill walked away, ignoring
the screaming machines and the stabbing knives of fire.

"Yesterday," Gill said slowly, "if I had known that I could direct a
flow of energy just as easily as I integrate with my hunting club, I
would have stood here cheerfully and slaughtered the Almost-men, just
to watch them die. Now, I'm sorry for them."

"There's no reason why they must all die in panic, Gill. Isn't there
some way--"

Behind them they heard a burst of ragged cheering. The arsenal guards,
having seen their weapons fail, had deserted their posts and fled. Men
stormed into the building, shattering the metal doors by re-organizing
the energy structure. Slowly they wheeled out the great machines--the
symbols of enemy power.

"We fought for this," one of the men said. "And now we have no use for
them."

       *       *       *       *       *

Gill called a meeting of the resistance council in the deserted
trading square, while the city around them throbbed in the chaos of
disintegration. The men were entirely aware of the problem created by
their liberation. The new breed was free, on the threshold of a new and
unexplored world. They could carry the message to other treaty areas;
they could show other men the final lesson in reorientation. That much
was simple. But what became of the enemy?

"It would be absurd to kill them all," Gill said. He added with
unconscious irony, "After all, they do know how to think on their own
restricted level. They might be able, someday, to learn how to become
civilized men."

"The worst of it," one of the others pointed out, "is that their home
world is bound to know something's wrong. The delivery of resources has
already been interrupted. They will try to reconquer us. It doesn't
matter, particularly, but it might become a little tiresome after a
while."

"Ever since I understood how this would end," Lanny said, "I've
been wondering if we couldn't work out some way for them to keep the
skyports just as they are. Let the Almost-men have our resources. They
need them; we don't."

The council agreed to this with no debate. Lanny was delegated to find
someone in authority in the skyport and offer him such a treaty. Lanny
asked Gill to go with him. The others split into two groups, one to put
out the fires and clear away the port wreckage; the second to herd the
enemy refugees together in the game preserve and protect them from the
animals.

Lanny and Gill pushed through the mob toward the upper levels of the
city. The crowd had thinned considerably as more and more of the enemy
fled into the forest. The brothers, barefoot giants, had an entirely
unconscious arrogance in their stride. They passed the rows of luxury
hotels and entered the government building. Here, apparently, there was
an emergency source of power, for the corridor tubes glowed dimly with
a sick, blue light. Room after room the brothers entered; they found no
one--nothing but the disorderly debris of haste and panic.

Methodically they worked their way to the top floor of the building. In
a wing beyond the courtroom were the private quarters of the planetary
governor.

       *       *       *       *       *

He sat waiting for them in his glass-paneled office overlooking the
tiers of the city. He was a tall man, slightly stooped by age. He
had put on the full, formal uniform of his office--a green plastic,
ornamented with a scarlet filagree and a chest stripe of jeweled
medals. He was behind his desk with the wall behind him open upon the
sky.

"I expected a stampeding herd," he said.

"You knew we were coming?" Lanny asked.

"It was obvious you'd try to force us to sign a new treaty."

"Call it a working agreement," Gill suggested. "We intend to let you
keep the--"

"You have panicked the city by taking advantage of our kindness. But
you won't pull this stunt again; I've already requested a stronger
occupation force from parliament."

The governor stood up; he held an energy gun in his hand. "This
frightens you, doesn't it? You should have expected one of us to keep
a level head. I've handled savages before. You're very clever in
creating believable illusions, particularly when there seems to be some
religious significance. I should have known it was a trick when you
sent that addle-witted missionary back to us."

"Tak Laleen?"

"Of course none of my men tell me what's going on until it's too late.
They took her to the Triangle first. She talked to the priests, and
they filled the city with all sorts of weird rumors about men who could
control the energy pattern of matter." The governor's lip curled; he
nodded toward a side door. "She's here now, under house arrest. She'll
be expelled from the territory on the first ship out after the port is
reopened."

"She's wasn't lying," Lanny said. "She understood more than we did
ourselves. Maybe Juan told her--"

The governor laughed and motioned with his gun. "Will you join her, or
do you want to force me to spoil your pretty illusion?"

Gill walked unhurriedly toward the desk. "You must listen to us. Fire
the gun, if you insist on that much proof. We want to save your world,
not destroy it."

The governor backed toward the open wall panel. "Stand where you are,
or I'll fire!"

"Just give us a chance to explain--"

"The whole business is drivel. Superstitious nonsense. No man can
violate the established laws of science."

"Why not, since men made the laws originally?"

The shell of dignity in the governor's manner began to crack away,
revealing the naked hysteria that lay beneath. Gill moved again. The
governor punched the firing stud of his energy gun. The fire lashed
harmlessly at Gill's chest.

"It's a lie!" the governor screamed. He fired the gun again at Lanny;
then at Gill. His mouth quivered with terror. He was an intelligent
man; he looked upon the evidence of a fact that overturned everything
he believed. In the clamor of a dying city, still throbbing far below
his open wall panel, he heard the testimony of the same discord. He
lost his rational world in the chaos, and he hadn't the ability to find
another.

For a moment the governor stood looking at the half-naked giants he had
been unable to kill. Then he flung the weapon away and leaped through
the open panel into the mechanical clatter of the dying city.

"Once I wouldn't have cared," Gill told his brother. "Now I do. Lanny,
must we destroy their world in spite of ourselves?"

They heard a faint voice behind them. "Not all of us, Gill." The
brothers turned. They saw Tak Laleen, dressed again in the white
uniform of the missionary. She came slowly through the metal panel of a
door.

"You see, it is possible for us to learn," she said when she stood
within the room. "I have."

"Then all your people--"

"Not all of them. A few, if they're fortunate."

"You did it, Tak Laleen; most of our older survivors haven't."

"They watched you grow up. The change was so gradual, they weren't
aware of it. I fell into your hands at the moment when you were
yourselves discovering your potential capabilities. I followed the
three of you when you ran away from the sphere police in Santa Barbara.
One of you had touched my force-field capsule and drained away its
power. I had to know how you did it. By intuition I guessed something
very close to the truth, but even so it could have unhinged my mind
if it hadn't been for Juan Pendillo. He taught me what he had taught
you--a new point of view, a new way of looking at the world. He was so
gentle and so patient, so easy to understand."

"And after all that, you ran away from the skyport and betrayed him."

"It was a put up job." She smiled. "Juan and I worked it out together.
He wanted to force the city guards to attack the treaty area; but, if
my people refused to believe what I told them, at least Gill would
try to rescue his father and Lanny. We had to make the conflict begin
before you were armed. If you won by using a machine, you might put
your faith in machines again instead of yourselves. It was a risk for
Juan and myself, but more so for you. No one really knew what you might
be able to do, or what your ultimate limitations were."

"There are none," Gill said.

"I know that now, because I've made the reorientation myself. I didn't
then. The rational mind is the only integrating factor in the chaos of
the universe--Juan told me that. It is literally true. Mind creates the
universe by interpreting it." She put her hand in Lanny's and looked
up at the stars patterning the void of night. "I wish I might say that
to my people and have them understand; but the clatter of our machines
closes us in. Our world will die in violence and madness, the way the
skyport died tonight. We may be able to help the survivors afterward;
we can do nothing now."

"But we must do it now," Lanny persisted stubbornly. "We don't want
revenge, Tak Laleen; we've outgrown our reason for that."

"Can you teach my people any differently than you learned yourself? It
took an invasion and twenty years of imprisonment before you were able
to break free from your old patterns of thinking."

"But you did it in a day."

"In the beginning, your teachers didn't know what their goal was; they
only knew they had a problem and it had to be solved. I came in at the
end, when their job was nearly finished and they were pretty sure where
they were headed. That's why it was so easy for me."

"And your world does that, too."

Gill fingered his lip. "The trouble is, Lanny, it isn't simply a matter
of giving them the facts. To us they are obvious, but you saw what
happened to the governor. How can we make a man believe a new truth,
when it means giving up all the science he has always believed?"

"We failed with the governor because we threw the end result in his
face without giving him a logical reason to accept it."

Tak Laleen shook her head. "And so we're back where we started. We
have to let my world fall apart before we can save it." She moved
impatiently toward the door. "This building is a tomb. I want to walk
on the soil and smell the wind and taste the energy of the earth."

       *       *       *       *       *

In an uncomfortable silence they left the government building. Gill
integrated with the power in the lift, and they rode the elevator to
the ground level. As the cage slid past the empty floors, Gill broke
the silence abruptly.

"If all we want is to prevent chaos on your world, Tak Laleen, it won't
be hard. We'll just go through with the treaty we intended to offer to
the governor. We can put things back as they were and go on delivering
resources to the Almost-men. The only people who know the truth will
be our prisoners. We can keep them out of sight and ourselves play at
being Almost-men to satisfy any tourists who come to the skyport."

"We'll have to do that for a while, until we work out something better;
but it's only a stopgap. We have a problem," Lanny said doggedly. "We
know it can be solved, because it has been for ourselves and for Tak
Laleen. All we have to find is the method."

"Learning begins with a need," the missionary said. "For you, it was
twenty years of despair: invasion, humiliation, surrender. Your old
ideas didn't work. You either had to accept status as second-raters
or work out a new way of thinking. As for me--" She shrugged her
shoulders. "I suppose I couldn't help myself. I did try to run away,
remember. I tried every possible answer in terms of our logic first.
I even thought, for a while, that Lanny was a robot. Anything but the
truth."

Gill asked, "When did you first begin to understand? What happened that
made you willing to believe the truth?"

"It was an accumulation of many things, I suppose."

"That isn't specific enough. There must have been one instant when you
were willing to give up what you believed and start learning something
new."

"I don't know when it was."

They left the government building and walked through the lower
courtyards of the city. Groups of Almost-men were being herded back
into the city from the game preserve. They clung together, hushed and
terrified. The city lights were in working order once more and the
flashing colors turned their faces into gargoyle masks. Three guards,
in torn and bloodstained uniforms, stood looking at the machines which
men had hauled out of the arsenal. Suddenly one of the soldiers began
to kick at an abandoned gun, screaming in fury while tears of rage
welled from his eyes.

Lanny turned away. It was painfully embarrassing to watch the
dissolution of a human personality, even on the relatively immature
level which the machine culture of the Almost-men had achieved. But as
Tak Laleen watched the spectacle of childish rage, sudden hope blazed
in her eyes. She grasped Lan's arm.

"He's blaming the machine for our defeat," she said. "Now I remember
what happened to me; now I know! When you were running away from Santa
Maria, Lanny, you fired an energy gun at my sphere. It destroyed the
force-field and I fell out of the port. I was terrified--not so much of
you, but because my machine had failed. All night while I lay in the
launch, I faced that awful nightmare. For the first time in my life, I
began to doubt the system I had trusted. I lost faith in my own world.
I felt a need for something else."

Lanny repeated slowly, "Loss of faith in the status quo--"

"Could we duplicate that for all your people, Tak Laleen?" Gill asked
doubtfully.

"Yes, I'm sure we could, Gill. We have a clue; we know what has to be
done. And we have an experimental laboratory." The missionary nodded
toward the mob of cringing Almost-men coming in from the preserve. "We
have a city of people, disorganized by panic, with their faith in the
machine already shattered. While we teach these people how to make the
reorientation, we'll learn the methods that will work most effectively
with my world."

       *       *       *       *       *

They left the city and began to cross the bridge toward the treaty
area. Tak Laleen passed her arms through theirs. She said, with sorrow
in her voice, "No matter what we do, no matter how carefully we try
to cushion the panic, we still have no way of being entirely sure of
the results. Something that works with our prisoners or with us might
destroy my world; it could send a planet into mass paranoia."

"That risk is implied in all learning, Tak Laleen," Lanny answered.
"We can never escape it. I'm not sure we ought to try. The individual
who lives in a closed world of absolutes--shut in by prison walls of
his own mind--is already insane. The sudden development of a new idea
simply makes the condition apparent."

"In a sense," Gill added, "there is no such thing as a teacher. There
are people who expose us to data and try to demonstrate some techniques
we can use, but any learning that goes on must come from within
ourselves."

"We will develop the most effective method we can," Lanny said. "Then
we will apply it to your world, Tak Laleen. The rest is up to them.
That's as it should be--as it must be."

Arm in arm they crossed the bridge--two men and a missionary from
an alien world. They had been enemies, but during a night of chaos
and death they had learned to become men--the first men to catch the
vision of the new world of the mind. Each of them was soberly aware
that the discovery was not an end, but a beginning. And they faced
that beginning with neither fear nor regret, because they had the
confidence that comes of maturity. The unknown was not a god-power or a
devil-power, but a problem to be solved by the skill of a rational mind.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Almost-Men" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home