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´╗┐Title: The Chasm
Author: Walton, Bryce
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 Chasm" ***

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



                               THE chasm

                            BY BRYCE WALTON

                  _It was a war of survival. Children
                   against old men. And not a chance
                      in the world to bridge_----

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, December 1956.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The old man's face was turning gray with fatigue under the wrinkled
brown. He was beginning to get that deadly catching pain in his left
chest. But he forced himself to move again, his ragged dusty uniform
of the old Home Guard blending into the rubble the way a lizard merges
with sand.

He hobbled behind a pile of masonry and peered through the crack.
He angled his bald head, listening. His hands never really stopped
quivering these days and the automatic rifle barrel made a fluttering
crackle on the concrete. He lowered the barrel, then wiped his face
with a bandanna.

He'd thought he heard a creeping rustle over there. But he didn't see
any sign of the Children.

He'd been picked to reconnoiter because his eyes were only
comparatively good. The truth was he couldn't see too well, especially
when the sun reflecting on the flat naked angles of the ruined town
made his eyes smart and water and now his head was beginning to throb.

A dust devil danced away whirling a funnel of dust. Sal Lemmon looked
at it, and then he slid from behind the rubble and moved along down
the shattered block, keeping to the wall of jagged holes and broken
walls that had once been the Main Street of a town.

He remembered with a wry expression on his face that he had passed his
ninety-fourth birthday eight days back. He had never thought he could
be concerned with whether he lived to see his ninety-fifth, because
there had always been the feeling that by the time he was ninety-four
he would have made his peace with himself and with whatever was outside.

He moved warily, like a dusty rabbit, in and out of the ruins,
shrinking through the sun's dead noon glare.

He stopped, and crouched in the shade behind a pile of slag that had
once been the iron statue of some important historical figure. He
contacted Captain Murphy on the walkie-talkie.

"Don't see any signs of Children."

"Max said he saw some around there," Murphy yelled.

"Max's getting too old. Guess he's seeing things."

"He saw them right around there somewhere."

"Haven't seen him either."

"We haven't heard another word from Max here, Sal."

The old man shrugged. "How could the Children have gotten through our
post defenses?" He looked away down the white glare of the street.

"You're supposed to be finding out," Murphy yelled. He had a good voice
for a man two months short of being a hundred. He liked to show it off.

Then Sal thought he saw an odd fluttery movement down the block.

"I'll report in a few minutes," he said, and then he edged along next
to the angled wall. A disturbed stream of plaster whispered down and
ran off his shoulder.

Near the corner, he stopped. "Max," he said. He whispered it several
times. "Max ... that you, Max?"

He moved nearer to the blob on the concrete. Heat waves radiated
up around it and it seemed to quiver and dance. He dropped the
walkie-talkie. There wasn't even enough left of Max to take back in or
put under the ground.

He heard the metallic clank and the manhole cover moved and then he
saw them coming up over the edge. He ran and behind him he could hear
their screams and cries and their feet striking hard over the blisters,
cracks, and dried out holes in the dead town's skin.

He dodged into rubble and fell and got up and kept on running. The
pain was like something squeezing in his belly, and he kept on running
because he wanted to live and because he had to tell the others that
the Children were indeed inside the post defenses.

He knew now how they had come in. Through the sewers, under the
defenses. He began to feel and hear them crawling, digging, moving
all over beneath the ruins, waiting to come out in a filthy screaming
stream.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sal was still resting in the corner of the old warehouse by the river.
A lantern hung on a beam and the dank floor was covered with deep
moving shadows.

Captain Murphy was pacing in a circle, looking like something sewn
quickly together by a nervous seamstress. Doctor Cartley sat on a
canvas chair, elbows on knees, chin in his hands. He kept looking at
the floor. He was in his early eighties and sometimes seemed like a
young man to Sal. His ideas maybe. He thought differently about the
Children and where things were going.

"We're going to get out tonight," Captain Murphy said again. "We'll get
that barge loaded and we'll get out."

Sal sat up. The pills had made his heart settle down a bit, and his
hands were comparatively calm.

"Is the barge almost loaded now? It better be," Sal said. "They'll
attack any minute now. I know that much."

"Another hour's all we need. If they attack before then we can hold
them off long enough to get that barge into the river. Once we get into
the river with it, we'll be safe. We can float her down and into the
sea. Somewhere along the coast we'll land and wherever it is will be
fine for us. We'll have licked the Children. They know we've found the
only eatable food stores in God knows how many thousands of miles in
this goddamned wasteland. They can't live another month without this
stuff, and we're taking it all down the river. That's right isn't it,
Doc?"

Cartley looked up. "But as I said before, squeezing a little more life
out of ourselves doesn't mean anything to me. What do we want to get
away and live a little longer for? It doesn't make sense, except in a
ridiculous selfish way. So we live another month, maybe six months, or
a year longer? What for?"

Sal glanced at Murphy who finally sat down.

"We want to live," Murphy said thickly, and he gripped his hands
together. "Survival. It's a natural law."

"What about the survival of the species?" Cartley asked. "By running
out and taking the food, we're killing ourselves anyway. So I don't
think I'll be with you, Murphy."

"What are you going to do? Stay here? They'll torture you to death.
They'll do to you what they did to Donaldson, and all the others
they've caught. You want to stay for that kind of treatment?"

"We ought to try. Running off, taking all this food, that means they're
sure to die inside a few weeks. They might catch a few rats or birds,
but there aren't even enough of those around to sustain life beyond
a few days. So we kill the future just so we can go on living for a
little longer. We've got no reason to live when we know the race will
die. My wife refused to fight them. They killed her, that's true,
but I still think she was right. We've got to make one more attempt
to establish some kind of truce with the Children. If we had that,
then we might be able to start building up some kind of relationship.
The only way they can survive, even if they had food, is to absorb
our knowledge. You know that. Without our knowledge and experience,
they'll die anyway, even if they had a thousand years of food supplies."

"It can't be done," Murphy said.

Cartley looked at the shadows for a long time. Finally he shook his
head. "I don't have any idea how to do it. But we should try. We can't
use discipline and power because we're too weak. And too outnumbered.
We'd have to do that first in order to teach them, and we can't. So
there has to be some other way."

"Faith?" Sal said. He shook his head. "They don't believe in anything.
You can't make any appeal to them through faith, or ethics, any kind of
code of honor, nothing like that. They're worse than animals."

Cartley stood up wearily and started to walk away. "They hate us," he
said. "That's the one thing we're sure of. We're the means and they're
the ends. We made them what they are. They're brutalized and motivated
almost completely by hatred. And what's underneath hatred?" He fumed
back toward Murphy. "Fear."

Sal stood up. "I never thought of them as being afraid," he said.

"That doesn't matter," Murphy said. "It's the hate and vicious
brutality we have to deal with. You do whatever you want to do,
Cartley. We've voted, and we've voted to move the stuff out tonight on
the barge. The world we helped make is dead, Cartley. The Children grew
up in a world we killed. We've all got bad consciences, but we can't do
anything about it. The chasm between them and us is too wide. It was
wide even before the bombs fell. And the bombs made it a hell of a lot
wider. Too wide to put any kind of bridge across now."

"Just the same, we ought to die trying," Cartley said. When he went
outside, Sal followed him.

The barge was about loaded. All outer defense units had been pulled in
and were concentrated on the head of the pier behind walls of sandbags.
Burp guns and machine guns were ready, and the barge lay along the side
of the pier in the moonlight like a dead whale. There were several
sewer openings near the head of the pier. Men were stationed around
these sewers with automatic rifles, hand grenades and flame throwers.

Sal walked to where Cartley stood leaning against the partly closed
door of the rotting warehouse. Jagged splinters of steel and wood
angled out against the sky.

After a while, Sal said softly, "Well, what could we try to do, Doc?"

Cartley turned quickly. Some of the anguish in his eyes had gone away,
and he gripped Sal's shoulders in hands surprisingly strong for so old
a man. "You want to help me try?"

"Guess I do. Like you said, we only have a little time left anyway. And
if we can't help the Children, what's the good of it?"

They stood there in the shadows a while, not saying anything.

"This way," Cartley said. He led Sal down away from the pier and along
the water's edge. Dry reed rustled, and mud squished under their shoes.

"Here," Cartley said. There was a small flat-bottomed rowboat, and in
it were several cartons of food supplies, all in cans. There were also
several large tins of water.

"We'll need a little time," Cartley said. "We'll have to wait. I figure
we'll row upstream maybe a few hundred yards, and hole up in one of
those caves. We can watch, Sal. We can watch and wait and try to figure
it out."

"Sure," Sal said. "That seems the only way to start."

Cartley sat down on the bank near the boat, and Sal sat down too.

"The Children," Cartley said, "never had a chance to be any other way.
But we're the oldsters, and we've got this obligation, Sal. Man's a
cultural animal. He isn't born with any inherent concepts of right,
or wrong, or good or bad, or even an ability to survive on an animal
level. We have to be taught to survive by the elders, Sal. And we're
the elders." He hesitated, "We're the only ones left."

A flare of horrid light exploded over the warehouse down river and it
lit up Cartley's face and turned it a shimmering crimson. His hands
widened to perfect roundness and he raised his hands in a voiceless
scream to stop the sudden explosions of burp guns, grenades, machine
guns, and rifles.

Looking down river then, Sal could see the flames eating up through the
warehouse. The pier, the barge, everything for a hundred square yards
was lit up as bright as day, and the flare spread out over the river
and made a black ominous shadow of the opposite bank.

"They're getting away," Cartley said.

Sal watched the barge move out. The Children came screaming out of the
blazing warehouse, overran the pier, streamed into the water. But a
steady blast of fire from the barge drove them back, and in a few more
minutes the barge dissolved downriver into darkness.

Cartley's hands were shaking as he gripped Sal's arm. "Let's go now. We
need time. Time may help us a lot, Sal. We can wait and watch. We can
figure something out."

Sal heard the screams and mocking savage cries coming up over the
water, and then the jagged cries of some oldsters who hadn't managed to
get away.

Still looking downstream toward the blazing pier, Sal pushed Cartley
into the rowboat, and they shoved off. Sal started rowing, but he kept
looking back.

"They should have put them in the same shelters with us," Sal said,
"that would have made a difference. But they put us in separate
shelters."

Only the oldest and the youngest had been saved. The old out of
pity and because they were helpless, had been granted the safety of
shelters. The young because they were the symbols of hope had been
granted shelters, too.

"No," Cartley said. "It started long before that. The chasm was
building up long before the war. This alienation between the young and
the old. Between the sun and the seed. That's what we've got to bring
back, Sal. Between us, we have stored up a hundred and seventy-nine
years of human culture. There isn't a kid back there, Sal, more than
twelve years old."

"We'll find a way," Sal said.

The rowboat was about fifteen feet away from the thick reeds growing in
the marshy ooze of the bank.

Cartley heard the sound first and turned, his face white. When Sal
looked toward the bank, he saw the girl. She came on out from the
curtain of reeds and looked at them. She was perfectly clear in the
moonlight standing there. She wore a short ragged print dress and she
had long hair that seemed silken and soft and golden in the moonlight
even though it, her dress, her little legs and her face were streaked
with mud.

Sal hesitated, then pulled heavily on his left oar and the boat nosed
toward her. Up close, Sal could see her face, the clear blue eyes wet,
and the tears running down her cheeks.

The girl reached out and asked in a sobbing breath,

"Granpa? Is that you, Granpa?"

"Oh God, Oh God," Cartley said. He was crying as he picked her up and
got her into the boat. He was rocking her in his arms and half crying
and half laughing as Sal rowed the boat upstream.

"Yes, yes, honey," Sal heard Cartley say over and over. "I'm your
granpa, honey. Don't cry. Go to sleep now. I'm your granpa and I've
been looking for you, honey, and now everything's going to be all
right."

It's funny, Sal thought, as he kept on rowing upstream. It's a funny
thing how one little girl remembered her granpa, and how maybe that was
the beginning of the bridge across the chasm.





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