Fiction

NOT THIS AUGUST

C. M. KORNBLUTH June 11 1955
Fiction

NOT THIS AUGUST

C. M. KORNBLUTH June 11 1955

“CHRISTMAS EVE,” Billy Justin said as he handed a penny to Croley, the turncoat storekeeper of Norton, N.Y. Though he didn’t know what it meant, Croley figured the password was a sign for him to change sides again and latch onto the Underground movement. This was the first stage of the rebellion against the Communist troops who had occupied North America for the seven months since the capitulation of the United States, the last Western nation to hold out against the combined forces of Russia and Red China.

It was November, 1965. Justin, thirty-seven-year-old commercial artist turned dairy farmer, was the reluctant trigger man for the Chiunga County resistance group led by legless General Hollerith, Betsy Cardew and Gribble, the ex-Pentagon scientist. It was Justin who had undertaken the perilous journey to Washington, masking his mission by posing as the disciple of the eccentric preacher Mr. Sparhawk. Even Russian torture hadn’t forced Justin to reveal the secret he was carrying to national Resistance leaders—the fact that the West’s last weapon, a bombardment satellite that could launch itself into outer space and lay siege to enemy capitals, lay hidden in an Underground factory under Prospect Hill.

Back in Chiunga County, Justin began the dangerous business of rounding up guerrilla troops for a Christmas Eve uprising. He chose as his first recruit loyal, sardonic Gus Feinblatt, the Jewish farmer whom the MVD already suspected of “disloyalty to the North American People’s Democratic Republic.”

“Turn up the road to Prospect Hill, Gus,” Justin said. "There’s something I want to show you. And something I want to ask you.”

The horribly risky job of local recruiting had begun.

THREE

NOVEMBER 18TH . . . The farmer lay trembling with cold on the concrete basement floor of the Chiunga Junior High cellar.

“To your feet, please,” the bored lieutenant said. The farmer tried to get up but his knees betrayed him. He collapsed again and whispered from the floor: “I told you I don’t know what you’re talking about, mister. I told you I just got in the habit because everybody was doing it and I didn’t mean anything.”

“To your feet, please,” said the lieutenant. “Now sit on the stool again.” He took a deep breath and roared in the exhausted man’s face: “Do you think I’m a child to be taken in by fairy stories? The prisoner is lying! The prisoner knows very well that the greeting ‘Christmas Eve’ with the passing of a coin is a symbol of defiance!” He turned down the dazzling light that reddened the farmer’s eyes and equally turned down his voice to a murmur. “You see, Mr. Firstman, we know the truth. Why are you keeping us awake with this stubbornness?

You could be in bed now if you’d just said an hour ago that it’s merely a token of resistance, a sort of game, merely. What do you say, Mr. Firstman; will you be a sport and let us all get some sleep?”

“All right,” the farmer screamed. “All right, I guess maybe it was. I guess we got a kick out of it, it was like a password, something you Reds didn’t know anything about. Call it anything you want to!”

This took the light down another notch. The lieutenant offered him a cigarette and a light and cooed: “Please, Mr. Firstman, what we want is not the point. We hope you’ll help because whoever planted this dangerous seed wishes you and your friends no good. You’re in trouble now in a way, but it’s not your fault; the blame lies with whoever began this silly business. We only want you to help us find him, and certainly you don’t owe him any friendship the way he’s landed you here.”

Firstman swayed on the stool after two deep drags at his cigarette. “I don’t know who started it,” he said stubbornly. “Like I said, everybody started to say it and pass pennies around but that’s all I—.”

The lieutenant plucked the cigarette from his lips and snarled: “There is no need to lie to us, prisoner.” And again the light blazed into his red-rimmed eyes.

Two hours later he signed the confession and tumbled into his cot, snoring.

The lieutenant studied the document with a look of deep disgust; the captain to whom he reported came in and caught him scowling.

“And what’s wrong, Sergei Ivanovitch?”

“Nothing, Pavel Gregorievitch. Also everything. Farmer Firstman has signed an admission of his guilt. In principle, so he should have; his attitude was contumacious and it was clear to me that even if he had not so far engaged in wrecking he certainly would when the occasion presented itself.”

“What about ‘Christmas Eve,’ Sergei Ivanovitch?” the captain asked, beginning to set up the chessmen for their game.

The lieutenant’s lips went tight. “Christmas Eve” was the captain’s discovery, and on the strength of it the captain hoped to be a major soon. “It seems to mean ‘Pie in the sky,’ Pavel Gregerievitch. If you know the phrase?”

“Approximately the same as Nietchevo,” the captain sighed. “I feared as much.” He moved pawn to king four.

Immensely relieved, the lieutenant sat down and played the queen’s pawn gambit. “Administrative disposal?” he asked.

Pawn took pawn. The captain nodded yes.

The lieutenant pursued two trains of thought simultaneously. One concerned the “administrative disposal” of Farmer Firstman: it would be his job to administratively dispose of him with a pistol bullet in the back of the neck; he was wondering which pistol to use . . . his cherished souvenir Colt .45 was far too heavy for the job. The other concerned the margin by which he should lose the chess game to the captain.

The captain said abruptly: “We should sweat a few more of these Christmas-Eve-sayers, Sergei Ivanovitch, but I will understand if results are negative. One cannot be right every time.”

The lieutenant suppressed a smile. The captain felt self-pity, and his course was now clear. It was his duty to be roundly trounced in a dozen moves.

NOVEMBER 20th . . . temperatures seasonably cold with snow flurries over the northeast and light variable winds.

The proclamation left by the corporal in the jeep said the indigenous population was ordered to discontinue the faddish, slangy salutation “Christmas Eve” forthwith. For the said phrase could be substituted any one of the traditional cultural salutations and farewells in the following list:

Ah, good day sir (or madame) !

How are crops (first name of person addressed) ?

And more.

Mr. Croley looked it over word by word in his empty store, then slowly tacked it to his bulletin board and waited.

Lank old Mark Tryon came in after a while and asked, “Got any white bread?”

Mr. Croley took a huge loaf of dark rye bread from its screened box in answer to that.

“Cut me off two pounds,” Tryon said. “I s’pose you couldn’t slice it?” Mr. Croley shook his head once and measured carefully to cut off two pounds. Tryon read the placard meanwhile. He turned from it., dead pan, to pick up his chunk of bread and put down his dollar.

“Christmas Eve,” Mr. Croley said, shoving back a penny change at him.

Tryon blinked, said furtively: “Christmas Eve,” glanced at the placard and scuttled out with the bread under his arm.

Mr. Croley looked after him for a moment and then turned to check through the credit books on the widespread rack. He worked through the A’s noting who was over five dollars, who over ten, who over fifteen. “Sir or madame!” he snorted to himself silently.

November 23rd . . . Stan Potocki and his wife were out in the crisp cold butchering hogs. A huge fire roared and stank, for as they boned the meat they threw bones and gristle onto the blazing chunks. It was a funny way to butcher. Stan sawed and sliced, his wife dragged cuts away to hang in the barn and between times kept herself busy digging in a row of barrels. When she finished the barrels would be flush with the ground, filled with brine and pork, covered with the winter woodpile.

Mrs. Potocki leaned on her shovel for a moment, stamping her feet in the powdery snow. “Mrs. Winant didn’t say anything when I met her,” she said.

“Henry Winant’s yellow,” Potocki grunted. “Killing ten sheep. ‘Maybe more later, Stan, but I can’t tell him hog cholera got my sheep, ya know.’ ” He was imitating Henry Winant’s nasal twang. “I told him wild dogs could just as easy kill twenty as ten, but he’s yellow. Got to face up to the Agro man anyway, why not do it for twenty sheep?” He whetted his butcher knife and stuck another pig in the throat. Inside he was already rehearsing his story for the Agro man. Hog cholera, sudden outbreak. Had to slaughter and burn ’em fast, lieutenant, you being an Agro man know how it is with cholera. Wanna see the bones and ashes? I’ll get a shovel, buried ’em right here . . .

“Stan,” his wife said.

He stopped and patiently began to whet his butcher knife.

“Stan, what’s gonna happen on Christmas Eve?”

He said slowly: “I don’t know. I wish to hell I did. Whatever happens, we’ll take it as it comes.”

“I guess,” she said, “hiding the pork’s got something to do with it?”

“I guess,” he said shortly, and laid down his whetstone and tried his butcher knife on his thumb carefully.

November 23rd . . . The old phenomenon of persecution, the one that persecutors never learn, was working itself out again. The Feinblatts were getting ready for dinner. In a bungling way it was as kosher as they could manage, considering that they had not kept a ritual kitchen since Gus’ father died years before.

Mrs. Feinblatt was worrying over which dish towel was which. Did the red band mean meat dishes and the blue band mean milk dishes, or was it vice versa? She had forgotten; she’d have to write it down somewhere. Kosher was a nuisance, no denying it, but a nuisance with compensations. Nowadays when they had so little they had at least this feeling that they were a link in a chain through fifty centuries . . .

Gus was finishing a report on a lost heifer. “Condition of fence, time last see, direction of hoofprints ...” It had to be turned in to the Agro man when he made his rounds. He washed his hands and went through the sliding double doors to the dining room. Before sitting down he went to the sideboard where the canister set stood and scooped half a cup of flour and a small handful of beans out. He lifted a loose floor board and dumped them into flat cans waiting there between the joists.

Mrs. Feinblatt complained: “You’re getting awful queer, Gus. Why do you put the stuff away? Why ask for trouble? They shot the Wehrweins for hoarding, didn’t they? And the heifer! Maybe you’ll get away with it but my heart stops every time I think of the man looking in the barn, walking over the barrel—Gus, I was talking to Mrs. Potocki in the store when there wasn’t anybody around and she knows about it. Gus, did you tell Stan?”

“I told him, I told him,” he said wearily. “He’s doing the same with his hogs. And if your heart stops, your heart stops. Sit down.”

She sat.

Gus put on a hat and thought. He was vaguely aware from a novel he had read once that the fifty centuries of Jewish sacred literature provided blessings for every occasion—tasting a perfect melon, seeing purple clouds at sunset, hearing that a relative had been ransomed from heathen captivity. Presumably there was one for sitting down to a thin stew of turnips and beef in the first year of a pagan conquest, but he didn’t know it. He sighed and recited the only prayer he did know, the “Hear, O Israel,” and they began to eat.

December 5th ... A mass of cold Canadian air had bulged through the western Great Lakes area, bringing snow mixed with freezing rain to much of the northeastern NAPDR. Hospitals were already filled to capacity with old people coughing their lives away, and they called it virus epidemic. The truth of the matter was that it was cold and starvation.

Betsy Cardew, red-eyed and dog-tired from last night’s Young Communist League meeting and the subsequent hours of volunteer work unloading at the freight yards, made her first stop of the day at the Chiunga County Country Club that was. The MVD Agro detachment had plowed it up for an experimental station.

She blinked at a new sign nailed to the archway over the driveway. It said: “Collective Farm ‘Pride of Susquehanna’ (EXP CC 001)” in ugly Russian-looking letters. She drove under it to the administration building, noting on the way other strange things going on at what used to be the first tee. Red army trucks were arriving. Tents were being erected. Bewildered farm-looking couples were being unloaded from the trucks and guided to the tents. There was a kitchen tent with fat cooks boiling up breakfast; a chow line of farmers was shaping up.

Lieutenant Sobilov was waiting for her at the foot of the administration building’s steps as usual. He was trying to make her and simultaneously polish his English. He wore the MVD green, but as an Agro scientist he was only nominally in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

She handed the mail through the window to him. “What’s going on, lieutenant?” she asked.

Sobilov looked around first. The coast was clear. “We are setting up a pilot farm,” he grinned. “We are anticipating the problems of next year.”

“Problems?”

After another look around Sobilov ventured an amused laugh. “My dear girl,” he assured her, “peasants are peasants, the world over. Surely it can be no secret to you that your countrymen have turned obstinate?”

She looked ashamed. “But our YCL program, ‘Every Farmer a Shock Worker of the Revolution,’ ”—she began to argue.

“Na, na, na! The time is past. There are cycles of behavior, and the secret is to anticipate them. There was first the cycle of shocked apathy, which we countered by occasional salutary executions for the good of all. There is now in effect a new cycle of sullen resistance. Your countrymen think they can— put one over, is the phrase?—on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

He offered her a cigarette and lit one himself. “It is amusing. It is what happened in the Ukraine in 1933. The peasants came out of shock and decided that they would put one over. They neglected to cultivate. They butchered their livestock rather than turn in the stated amount. They raised only enough grain for themselves. How is your history? What did the great Stalin do?” He chuckled affectionately at the thought of the shrewd old man.

“I don’t know,” she said faintly. “We’re working more on the origins and early heroes of the class struggle in North America—.”

“And quite rightly! I will tell you what the great Stalin did. He waited. He smiled and waited. And then in the late fall of 1933, after months of the Ukrainian nonsense, he confiscated all grain and livestock. The foolish peasants died by the millions through the winter. In the spring their broken remnants were easily placed in collective farms where an eye could be kept on them and no foolishness allowed.” He dragged deeply on his cigarette and shrugged. “If your countrymen too must learn the difficult way, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will be a cheerful schoolteacher.”

“You make it all so clear, lieutenant,” Betsy said, and Sobilov smiled proudly.

As she drove on she reflected that the Ukrainians of 1933 had neither a war plan nor a bombardment satellite.

DECEMBER 14th ... The cold did not penetrate the cavern under Prospect Hill, to Mr. Sparhawk’s faint regret. He thought: one really ought to be in that much communication with nature that one was aware of the seasonal cycle, the great rhythm we all echo in our small hurried bodily tick-tocking.

He was serving stewed prunes in the cafeteria to Lieut.-Colonels Byrne and Patri, and he thought it was a good time to tell them about it.

“Sure,” Byrne said, eating his stewed prunes. He was a small dark man and Patri was a small fair man. They had arrived separately ten days ago, Byrne the pilot comfortably in a telephone repair truck and Patri the bombardier blue with cold after a ride in an unheated freight car and Betsy’s unheated sedan.

“Got any more of these prunes, Pop?” Patri asked. He had gobbled his dish. He was getting a little fat, overdoing his catching up on the scanty meals when he was under cover as a moronic paint sprayer in a Detroit auto plant. Byrne, a Tuskegee graduate, hid out as a Black Belt saloonkeeper in Memphis and had missed no meals.

Mr. Sparhawk brought seconds on prunes. “You young men,” he said, “really ought to make some time for a study of Zen. Japanese archers, you know, practice Zen, and it makes them the best archers in the world. Qualitatively there’s no difference between the —ah—task ahead of you and archery. The great thing is to divorce oneself from the action, not to will. Let the bow shoot the arrow, not the bowman. Now—.”

Patri wiped his mouth and got up. “Pop,” he said kindly, “we’d be in a helluva mess if we let that thing fly us instead of vicey versey.”

“Amen, brother,” Byrne said. “Just don’t you worry, Pop; we’ll fly it okay when the time comes. The prunes were swell. I really like prunes.”

Mr. Sparhawk should have done the dishes; instead he trailed them forlornly to the hangar room. There they firmly said good-by and climbed into G-suits. A whining hoist descended from the jutting crane arm of Stage I and they hooked on and signaled. It lifted them like two drowned trout on a line, turning and swinging a little, into the dim upper reaches of the cavern. Time for another of their interminable dry runs.

Mr. Sparhawk sighed and buttonholed Dr. Dace as the white-haired little engineer hurtled past, his arms full of diagrams. Dr. Dace cursed him efficiently for thirty seconds and ordered him back to the kitchen where he was of some use. “And furthermore,” Dace snarled in conclusion, “leave my technicians alone, do you understand? There’s approximately thirteen hundred man-hours of work left to squeeze in. We’re still lacking components. We have no time for your drivel!”

Dr. Dace turned and hurtled on his way.

Mr. Sparhawk said a prayer for him and went to do the dishes.

DECEMBER 20th . . . dark and drafty in the Wehrwein’s barn at 11.30. The meeting was to begin at midnight. Justin had arrived early to give Hollerith......who used to be Rawson —some bad news.

“It came over the dry wires,” he said. “The ticket man got it and passed it to Betsy. She gave it to me in a fake letter. Decoded, no bomb for Chiunga County. And you’re reprimanded for requesting one.”

Hollerith’s face went red in the lamplight. He struggled with and gave way to the impulse to curse and rail, even in front of a civilian. “I’m supposed to make a fight,” he said softly. “I’m supposed to make a fight, and cover the bombardment satellite with fifty farmers, some homemade firecrackers and a few .22's. Those fatheaded--!"

“There’ll be the last-minute roundup,” Justin said unsympathetically. “And at least we have trucks. And the stuff they’re making in the drugstores they don’t use in firecrackers.”

“How’s she making out with the druggists?” Hollerith snapped.

“Winkler’s making thermit. He says he doesn’t know how to make nitro, but the fact is he’s scared to try in this weather. Farish is going to make nitro.”

“Going to make?”

Justin reflected that General Hollerith had been spoiled by having neatly packaged dynamite and TNT to play with too long. “The fact sheet explained all that. It doesn’t keep in the cold, general. Turns into crystals and if one crystal gets nicked—wham. End of drugstore. Don’t worry. We’ll have the stuff unless they blow themselves up making it fresh which I understand is also a distinct possibility.”

A couple of men came in and headed for the lantern light.

“Christmas Eve,” they said.

When the rest arrived the barn began to grow almost comfortable with their body warmth.

Hollerith leaned forward in his gocart and began to speak. “We’ll have a report later from each of you on his neighbors,” he said. “Tonight I want to make absolutely sure you know what we’ll be doing on Christmas Eve. We’ll be forcing the Reds to eat their soup with a knife ...”

II

ON Christmas Eve, December 24th, 8 p.m., Justin was wrinkling his face against a drizzle of sleet and pounding on Croley’s locked door. The town of Norton was dark.

Mr. Croley’s feet eventually sounded on the stairs from his apartment above the store; the door rattled and opened. The storekeeper stood there and waited.

Justin said: “Christmas Eve,” and passed him a penny.

“Christmas Eve,” Croley said.

Justin took out Hollerith’s army .45 and stuck it in the storekeeper’s ribs. He said: “I need a steady man with a central location. Open your storeroom. I want the local people’s guns and ammunition.”

Croley shrugged and said: “I’m bein’ forced,” and walked to the storeroom. He winced when Justin ripped off the Red Army seal, but unlocked the door.

“We load these in your truck, Croley,” Justin said. From upstairs came a querulous voice. “Tell her it’s all right,” Justin said.

Croley called back upstairs that it was all right and, moving like a rusty robot, loaded rifles and boxes of ammunition in his truck outside. He broke silence only once to say: “They’ll kill you for this, Justin. Don’t be crazy.” Justin didn’t answer.

The storekeeper’s eyes widened when Justin told him to get behind the wheel and drive. “Crazy,” he spat. “Checkpoint on the highway’ll see us go up the hill. They’ll phone the road patrol. Next thing, jeeps and armored cars all up and down the farm roads.”

“Don’t argue. Just drive. To the Medford place first.”

Long horn-tooting brought out the Medfords. In the headlight’s glare Justin handed the old man and his sixteen-year-old boy each a good 30-30 and ammunition.

“These ain’t our guns, Billy, we just had little varmint rifles, and anyway what’s all this—?”

“We haven’t got time to sort them out,” Justin lied. “Wait inside. Have a hot meal. A truck’ll come by for you.” The boy said joyously: “You mean ---."

“Christmas Eve,” Justin said. “What did you think it meant?”

At the Lymans’ place up the road Henry Lyman was nothing but trouble. First he didn’t want a gun. Next he wanted his own gun, not the .22 that was all Justin thought he rated. Lastly he said he wasn’t at all sure he’d come when somebody came in a truck for him; he had himself to think about. Justin told him: “Mr. Lyman, you’ll be called on to fight for the United States of America tonight. If you refuse to fight, the United States has every right to shoot you for cowardice and every intention of doing so as soon as it has a free moment. Get in your house, have a hot meal and wait for the truck.”

 “Crazy,” Mr. Croley muttered as they drove to the next farm.

AT 9 p.m. on Main Street, Chiunga .Center, Betsy Cardew slipped into the drugstore by the back way. Bald young Harry Farish, R.Ph., started violently over his prescription counter when she spoke. “Got them, Harry?” 

“The nitro, yes. I’m finishing the thermit. There was a surprise inspection before I closed up. Went fine. What’s to inspect? Nitric acid and glycerol—standard reagents. In the trash can some rust, some dust and some beer cans.” He gave her a thin, terrified smile and went on with his work.

Cappable beer cans stood in a row on his counter. He had filled them with “rust and dust” — iron oxide and powdered aluminum. With deft druggist’s fingers he was filling gelatin capsules with barium peroxide and powdered magnesium; into each capsule he slipped a trailing tail of magnesium ribbon. He finished a dozen capsules, slipped them into a dozen beer cans and passed them to Betsy. She had a shopping bag ready for them.

“And the other stuff?”

He took a newspaper from a shelf; beneath it was a flat box partitioned into nests padded with cotton wool. The eggs in the nests were bottles filled with something that looked like yellow oil. Nitroglycerine.

Farish gave her his terrified smile again and said abruptly: “I’m coming along, Miss Cardew. I’ll carry— them.” He methodically got into his overcoat and wound a scarf around his neck and tucked the padded box under the coat. “Mustn’t let them get cold,” he said with a near giggle. And: “I used to pitch in the Little League, Miss Cardew. Between attacks of asthma. Maybe ...” He trailed off.

They went out the back way, she leading with her shopping bag through the dark winter street, he following at a good distance. They were heading for the north end of town, the reservoir and pumping station.

AT 9:15 in the garage of the satellite cavern Gus Feinblatt lifted General Hollerith out of his gocart and heaved him up into the cab of a red gravel truck. Straps were sewn into the leather seat; Hollerith buckled himself in. Feinblatt climbed in and started the motor. It was the signal for fifty motors in fifty trucks driven by fifty hard-core regulars of two weeks’ training to start.

Dr. Dace came running to the red gravel truck and called up to Hollerith: “Give ’em hell, general!”

Hollerith, like a good general, boomed with confidence: “The old one-two, Doc!” His eyes were haunted.

He raised his arm and dropped it; the exquisitely counterpoised trap door in the good-bad road hoisted up and a drizzle of freezing rain whispered down the tunnel. The trucks began to roll out.

AT 9.30 the two NKVD guards were pacing their slow patrol before the Chiunga Center Pumping Station—a red-brick scaled-down castle with false crenelations and two towers that looked like chess pieces. Behind it the solid wall of the reservoir.

Betsy Cardew and Harry Farish watched from the shadows. Farish’s teeth were chattering. “We better not get any closer,” he said. “The machine guns on the roof—.”

It was about fifteen yards from the board fence where they crouched to the little castle. “They ought to be heavier,” Betsy said fretfully. “You should have put them in heavy bottles or wrapped them with wire or something. The pamphlet said all that.”

“I forgot,” Farish said miserably. “I can go back and—.”

“No,” she said. “There’s no time.” And she wrinkled her face, trying to think, trying not to cry. The pamphlet assumed the bottles would be heavy enough for a solid throw; the pamphlet assumed the druggist would have nerves of steel and the soul of a punch card, omitting not one step of the twenty it listed. The pamphlet had to assume so, and the pamphlet was wrong. Many things would go wrong that night, Betsy suddenly realized. She stood in paralysis watching the sentries pace, realizing that every mistake would be paid for to the last penny.

"Try throwing one,” she said to Farish.

He eased a small bottle from its nest and pulled off his right glove with his teeth. He went into a rusty windup and hurled the bottle.

It made a very sharp, loud noise that rocked them back and made the board fence ripple against them. It wasn’t at all the dull reverberating boom Betsy had prepared herself for but more like the crack of a gigantic whip.

There didn’t seem to be a second’s pause before the reaction from the pumping - station guard detachment came. Floodlights glared out and in the frosty air they heard clanks from the roof as the section of machine guns was full-loaded and unlimbered. The two guards shouted at each other and crouched, unslinging their tommy guns and moving right across the little plaza to the edge of shadow.

The nitro bottle had pocked up the pavement yards from the door. Total failure. The sentries, ready to fire from the hip, were almost upon the fence that sheltered them.

Farish said abruptly: “Good-by, Betsy,” which was the first time the bald young man had dared call Miss Cardew from up the hill by her first name. In floodlight filtering through cracks in the fence she saw the silly, terrified grin on his face. He vaulted the fence into the light and cried, his hands up: “I surrender! I give up!”

There was a wild burst of shots from one of the startled guards; they stitched the fence not far from Betsy’s head. Through a crack she saw Farish talking earnestly to the guards. His hands up high, they were marching him to the pumping station. She stayed there shivering with the cold for two minutes. If nothing happened she’d have to make a try with her thermit . . .

But there was the whipcrack again, enormously louder this time, and the floodlights went out and fragments rained about her. One brick smashed through the fence like an artillery shell, whistling.

Perhaps, she thought, he swung one of them so they’d shoot, or perhaps he fell forward and broke the bottles next to his chest—or perhaps he repented of the whole thing, perhaps he had been frantically undressing to ease the bottles to a table somewhere and his nervous hand and the cold detonated them all.

She would never know the answer, she thought, but the results were coming thick and fast. Lights were blinking on in windows, the strident ringing of telephones had already begun. Neighbors were calling from porch to porch.

And the reservoir was cracked.

It was nothing spectacular. It was just water beginning to rill from the crack in the face, bubbling into the gutters, slopping over a little onto the sidewalks, bubbling and racing on its way through town to the storm sewers of the business section which would convey it harmlessly into the river.

Betsy got up creakily and walked a block into the darkness. She found a big frame house where lights shone upstairs as some family—whose?—chattered about the explosion and wondered if it should call up or go out and see or what. She took a beer can from her shopping bag and snapped her lighter. The twist of magnesium ribbon trailing from the can caught suddenly and with almost explosive violence; burning metal sputtered and seared the fork of her hand. She hissed with the pain and flung the star-bright flare under the big wooden porch. She should have moved on at once. Instead she dubiously watched and wondered. The ignited capsule caught, then, slowly, the iron aluminum reaction began. In twenty seconds the beer can melted into a puddle of orange-white brilliance that crawled in an amoeboid fashion. The porch flooring above it caught, then the porch posts, then the siding of the house.

Betsy moved on amid screams from windows. At the next block she went down an alley and lobbed a beer can against a smaller house. At the next block she laid one against the foundation of a row of shops and ignited it and walked away, not looking back. Chiunga Center was beginning to wake up screaming. The streets were filling with people wearing coats over pyjamas. The fires were spreading, of course, even though the volunteer hose company had come zooming from its garage; there was no pressure at the hydrants. Harry Farish had seen to that. Betsy Cardew became one among hundreds, a dazed - looking woman wandering through blazing streets with a shopping bag in her hand, here and there stopping to do something with a can from the bag.

When she saw a wall of flame ahead of her she knew that Mr. Hosmer, the railroad ticket man, had done his job too, working his way north with the other druggist’s thermit. She headed for the post office, her face streaked with tears and soot.

BY 10.45 Justin, in Croley’s truck, had met the convoy and passed over the rest of his rifles. There was almost murder done when some of the men saw Croley driving. The old storekeeper put on his accustomed contemptuous silence in the face of their threats. Justin told the men to leave him alone and they almost backed away, but it was Hollerith who acted like a general and saved Croley’s life. “You men,” he roared at the loudest of them, “are in the army!” In retrospect, thought Justin, it was a silly thing to say. It was even demonstrably untrue; they were bandit-terrorists according to the prevailing law of the land; by a generous construction of the rules of warfare, irregular partisans at the most. But somehow the word army from Hollerith’s mouth canceled all that . . .

So it was that Hollerith’s truck and Croley’s stood abreast at the intersection of the highway and the Norton road, and down the highway gleamed the light in the roadblock that used to be a truck-weighing station. They were waiting for the rest of the convoy to rendezvous, each truck with its load of hastily awakened, hastily armed farmers who knew only that it was Christmas Eve and that their neighbors were telling them: “Fight or die now.” Hollerith was twiddling the dials of a command radio set in the cab of his truck, loot from the cavern. It crackled Russian wherever he turned it. Croley complained to Justin: “My feet’re freezing. Whyn’t you drive for a spell?”

“All right,” Justin said and they shifted seats. Croley stamped his feet against the floor boards and grumbled: “Damn foolishness. Get us all shot.” 

Justin said: “If you can’t stand the suspense, get out and start running. You’ll get shot that much sooner. By me.”

Croley was loquacious. “Young snots,” he muttered. “What I can’t see is a steady man like that Rawson chargin’ around. Him you call Hollerith now.”

Justin repeated his suggestion.

“Don’t talk foolish,” Croley said testily. “Think I’m a nut? I’ll go along. I’ll go along with anybody. Doesn’t matter who.”

And, Justin sensed, Croley did not realize he was degrading himself below the level of mankind to say such a thing, to be such a thing as he was . . .

The sky lightened glaringly to the north, then subsided to a dimmer glow.

“General!” Justin yelled. He cranked down his window, reached over and jabbed Hollerith. “Look!”

Hollerith turned from his radio, blinking, and awakened to the north sky. He whipped out a compass, took a bearing on the centre of the lightness. His face broke out into a sunny grin. “Elmira!” he breathed. “Elmira! The air base and the gas depot. No Stormoviks tonight, Billy! They got Elmira !”

They—what handful of desperately frightened men?—had got Elmira and solved General Hollerith’s pressing problem of air attack. And elsewhere? Justin asked.

“The radio’s pretty hot,” Hollerith said, indulging the civilian situation. “Every command’s yelling for Washington, but Washington doesn’t come in at all. They should be transmitting in code,” he said with a momentary frown. “It’s elementary that modern guerrillas will have an RT intercept service. I’m surprised at them.”

Justin begged for detail. Hollerith genially translated snatches. “Tank park in Rochester says its vehicles are out—sugar in the gas tanks. Speaking of sugar, did Gribble get off?”

“He got off,” Justin said as if to a child. “Betsy delivered the uniform, he filled his pockets and away he went. What else is going on?”

“Well, a smug MVD general in New Orleans says the situation’s under control, ‘brief and petty insurrection well in hand’—but they were supposed to get two suitcase bombs. I wonder who goofed? Never occurred to me that New Orleans would be under the MVD, but I suppose it’s only natural. They’re a stiff-necked people; it took old Silver Spoons Butler to handle them in the Civil War. And let’s see, the Transport Overcommand is pulling rank from Pittsburgh. They want all units to furnish via their own trucks twenty percent of their strength for immediate and vital rail, highway, and harbor repair. And there’s some Chinese coming in from the west, but I don’t know the language.”

“What about the satellite?” asked Justin.

The general said with elaborate detachment: “Not my baby. Couldn’t say, Billy.” He glanced at his watch. “Where are the rest of the trucks? Billy, run and take a look up Oak Hill Road, see if there’s any headlights coming our way. We have to take the blockhouse sooner or later.”

Justin saw no headlights.

“I guess they’re held up a little,” Hollerith said. “Let’s go get that roadblock now.”

Justin was speechless for a long moment. He said at last: “You mean us?”

Hollerith lost his temper. “And just who in hell did you think I meant, the Fighting Sixty-Ninth? I mean us. Feinblatt and I will roll up with our lights on. You and Croley ride in the back. Drop off and walk the last hundred feet. Feinblatt’ll gun the motor and I’ll keep ’em busy with small talk in broken Russian. Then you shoot ’em from the dark. Croley, you got a rifle? Take my carbine.”

“I don’t trust Croley,” Justin said flatly.

“Billy,” said Hollerith, “I’ve had considerable experience with both turncoats and reorganizing a war-disrupted area. We’re going to need Croley and we can trust him. He’ll stay bought.” Croley snorted in the dark. Justin and he got out and climbed into the back of the other truck.

The little raid went like clockwork. The two Russian soldiers, gesticulating in the light, collapsed like puppets with cut strings under the murderous fire of Justin and Croley from twenty feet away.

It was Justin’s first personal killing. Like most front-line soldiers of the twentieth century he had done his firing at two to three hundred yards, aiming at impersonal specks which usually dropped when he fired, giving him no clue at all as to whether they were killed, wounded or taking cover.

He felt sick and shaken. Not so Croley. The old man inspected the two Russians and said: “Dirty skunks.”

“You did business with them,” Just in said faintly.

“I can do business with anybody. But you think I liked them going over the books, bothering a man all the time? Things are going to be better if we get away from this.”

It was as tepid a revolutionary manifesto, perhaps, as was ever spoken.

Hollerith was eased down from the truck and into his gocart by Feinblatt and Justin. He muscled himself into the blockhouse and called to Gus to bring the radio in and then stay outside on guard.

“Rank has its privileges,” he said, gratefully turning up a kerosene heater. “And I see they had a pot of tea brewing. Croley, pour me a cup and help yourself.”

Feinblatt popped in. “Headlights,” he said. “It’s either our boys or the whole Red Army.”

“Detruck them, Billy,” said Hollerith. “Get ’em into some kind of formation. Yell ‘Attention!’ when I come out to talk.”

Practically every man in the fifty trucks had gone through military training; there was little confusion. There seemed to be about two hundred gathered by scouring the hills for all males of sixteen and over. Justin got them into ranks grouped on the fifty men who had received some briefings over the past two weeks.

Hollerith’s speech went like this: “Christmas Eve. It’s here. I’m General Hollerith. And you, my friends, are the Army of the United States. See the sky to the west? That’s Chiunga Center, burning to the ground. You heard some thunder a while ago? It wasn’t thunder; it was the Susquehanna bridges being blown.

“The Red troops in the Center have got to pull up and march. Their food dumps have been burned. We’ve destroyed their water supply. We’ve cut their highway and rail lines so they have no way of getting any more. Right through here is the only way they can march.

“We have to knock out their trucks and kill their commanders. We have to leave them starving, frozen stragglers in our hills where we can kill them on our own terms. They are a regiment— about a thousand of them. There are about two hundred of you. You have rifles and an average of two dozen rounds apiece. For you crow-shooting, deer-hunting SOBs that should be plenty. Leaders, take your groups and move out.”

He wheeled his gocart about and rolled into the blockhouse. Justin followed and closed the door.

The general said, not looking around, in a hoarse whisper: “But will they?”

Justin looked and said: “Sure. There they go. Whooping and yelling, too.”

The general said: “They must be nuts,” and turned on the radio.

AT 11.30 p.m. in the vehicle park of the MVD detachment in Chiunga Center, the man called Gribble was doing the job he had demanded, fought, even brokenly wept for.

The park was the drill field back of the high-school building, and it was in ordered confusion. The vicious incendiary fires lapped at the rim of the field, dying now as century-old houses crumbled into orange-flecked charcoal. A tide of people surged against the field also and was turned back repeatedly by soldiers who clubbed and jabbed with their rifles. Within the line of troops the MVD regiment was forming for motor convoy. Their colonel was doing the obvious, inevitable thing. Without food and water soldiers cannot live; therefore the regiment must go to food and water.

The trucks were ready and waiting.

Somebody shouted something at Gribble; he said, “Da,” saluted and hurried on. He was wearing a homemade imitation of the MVD green uniform. The green would never pass by daylight, nor would the linoleum imitations of leather belt and puttees, but it was not necessary for them to pass by daylight.

Gribble was looking for the field kitchen and found it. The cooks, overcoats on top of their whites, were serving one for the road to the troops; hunks of solid black bread and dippers of tea from great boilers. Against the blazing background of the school building the men filed past, one hand out for the bread, canteen cup out for the tea. There were five boilers left when Gribble found the tent; he didn’t know how many had already been emptied. As he watched the cooks came to the bottom of one boiler; they yanked it back into the tent and shoved another into place at the serving counter. As he watched the rear fly of the tent was pulled, folded and hurled aboard the mess truck; the tent was disintegrating from the rear under the practiced attack of the cooks. Gribble drifted among them, among the three boilers of tea in reserve, despite their warning shouts. When they were all struggling with a big side fly he impartially sweetened the boilers of tea with white powder from his pockets.

He had morbidly asked about it and learned that the stuff was arsenious trioxide, procured from the remelt shop of Corning Glass.

He wandered off foggily. There was a spark in the fog which wanted him to run screaming to the cooks and tell them he had poisoned the good tea, that they must stop serving it to the soldiers —he saw them drain the boiler at the counter, hurl it hack and drag forward the next.

He knew by then that he was a monster. Who but a monster could do what he had done, slaying five thousand devoted scientists and engineers by the simple closing of a door? Now causing the horrible death of how many young soldiers he did not know?

He screamed and began to run away from himself, hurtling into tents, trucks, soldiers. Somebody seized him by the front of his coat and slapped his face sharply; he broke loose and ran again. Then there was a brief interlude under a flashlight during which sharp questions rang in his ears and he could answer them only by weeping.

It ended with a tremendous padded blow on the back of his neck, which was all he felt of the lieutenant’s pistol bullet destroying his brain. He never knew hundreds of soldiers squirming themselves settled in the trucks were at that very moment complaining about food as soldiers always do; they said their tea was too sweet.

Ill

AT 11.30 Justin was establishing the first roadblock in the path of the MVD motor convoy, five miles east of the highway from Chiunga Center. Heading a commando of five untrained men and boys whom he didn’t know, he steered his truck athwart the two-lane concrete strip and ordered them out. The six of them grunted and strained in the icy night air rocking the truck on its springs, trying to tip it over. It swayed farther and farther with each shove; on the twentieth it almost heeled but then crashed back solidly on its four wheels while the six men stood panting and beaten.

“Lights,” said a sixteen-year-old boy named Sheppard. The aura of headlights was just becoming visible over a rise to the east. They scrambled for the roadside and into the brush about ten yards.

“Remember what I told you,” Justin whispered. “Don’t look at their headlights at all. Officers first. When they come after us, fall back and snipe the main body of the convoy.”

“Yeah,” the Sheppard boy whispered, fascinated.

The aura of light became beams and then blazing pairs of eyes. “Don't look," said Justin.

The lights snapped out fast when they picked up the truck. The advance guard—it was six jeeps—knew a roadblock wasn’t a roadblock unless it was defended. By starlight and a little moon the commando saw MVD men scambling out and flattening on the road. One soldier talked loudly into a radio before getting out. Justin discovered that he couldn’t tell insignia.

“Forget what I said about officers,” he said. “Fire and fall back, then west.”

He aimed into a clump of three men who were belly down on the road, peering off the roadside and whispering. At least one had to be an officer or noncom giving orders. He fired six shots from his carbine; at the range he couldn’t miss. All three men floundered and yelled.

Around him blazed the rifles of his men, firing at what he didn’t know.

A command in Russian from the road and the MVD men uncertainly began to fire in their general direction; somebody had seen muzzle-flash from one of the old guns. The bullets whistled above them (people fire high in the dark) except for one that stopped with a meaty chunk in young Sheppard’s head. Justin scooped up the boy’s varmint rifle and box of ammunition. “Fall back,” he said.

They clustered tight behind him, tramplin' and talking until he cursed them. He headed right, guided by glimpses of the white road in starlight seen through ragged trees until there were the brighter lights of the convoy to guide them. They had stopped on radio word from the point, but had not yet blacked out. Justin fell farther back into the woods, saw the black hump of a little rise and crawled up it on his belly.

“Don’t fire,” he whispered. “Something’s going on.”

One truck was emptying; that would be a platoon sent forward to reinforce the point and get the truck off the road. In the headlights half the platoon seemed to be drunk; they were lurching and holding their stomachs. Justin could barely make out features when they swayed across a headlight’s beam. They were in agony, and Justin knew what it meant. Gribble had made it with his white arsenic. Good-by, Gribble, insurance executive, security officer, hatchet man, poisoner, child of self-torment . . .

Some men were hanging from the other trucks, vomiting.

“Fire off your rounds,” Justin said. “Officers and noncoms. Then we get out of here and back to the roadblock.” They spread out along the rise and began to squeeze off careful shots. Justin fired four times at a shouting, waving captain and missed all four times. Grinding his teeth he hurled his carbine aside and blazed away wildly with young Sheppard’s .22; just before the convoy lights went out he dropped his man.

They had lost their night vision watching the convoy; they stumbled and crashed their way east along the roadside until it slowly returned. They heard shots behind them and then machine-gun fire. It was probably another commando sniping the convoy from its left flank and getting worse than it gave.

They hugged the roadside passing other roadblock trucks, some successfully toppled, on their way back to the weighing-station commando post.

Justin went in and told Hollerith: “We lost one man and wasted a lot of ammunition but our truck stopped them temporarily five miles out of town. Gribble got through with his sugar; my guess is one man in four affected.”

“Good,” Hollerith said. “Have some tea.”

Justin gulped a tin cup of scalding tea from the top of the kerosene heater. “What about the satellite?” he asked.

Hollerith said tightly: “One man said he believes he saw it take off at 11.45 but he wasn’t certain. I was busy at the time.”

One of the trained men came in, wild-eyed and bleeding from a crudely wrapped wound in his left hand. “Hi, Rawson,” he said. General Hollerith looked annoyed. “We got there second,” the man said. Some other gang was banging away and they blacked out. They fired at us a lot and a machine gun killed both my brothers. With the same burst.”

“What did you see?” Hollerith urged.

The man rambled: “They looked sick, lots of them. They unloaded a lot of their men and their medics with the bands and a lot of blankets. Left ’em right there in the road and the trucks moved on up with their lights out and soldiers out beating the bushes on each side of the road.”

“That’s fine,” Hollerith said quietly. “About five miles an hour in low gear?”

“That’d be about right,” the man said. “Did I tell you they killed James and Henry? My brothers.”

Hollerith said: “Have some tea, Hanson. Take it outside with you.” He nodded to Justin who put a mug of tea in the man’s unwounded hand and gently steered him from the little house. Hanson sat down and began to cough. Justin walked away when the coughs turned into sobs.

THERE were headlights coming down Oak Hill Road off the highway. The car made the turn and headed for the command post, stopping a hundred feet away. Justin didn’t know how he knew, but he was sure it was Betsy. She was soot-stained and bedraggled and silent; she carried a bulging shopping bag. He took her in to Hollerith. She laid down the shopping bag carefully and began to unpack it on the general’s table. She said: “Winkler had a sudden rush of courage. He met me at the post-office garage with this stuff. Extra thermit he turned out and some nitro in flat bottles.”

“How’s the Center?” snapped Hollerith.

“Still burning, I guess,” she said listlessly. “What about the satellite?”

Hollerith said in a low, venomous voice: “To hell with the satellite. How am I supposed to know about the satellite? Maybe it’s crashed in Nebraska or the Atlantic by now. Maybe it never got up. Maybe it’s on its way into the sun. I’m no mind reader, Miss Cardew, so kindly shut up about the satellite.”

Stan Potocki came in and looked apologetic. “Gus got killed,” he said. “One of their patrols tossed grenades when they heard us. Blown in half— but I guess you want a report. The convoy is proceeding east on the highway under blackout with flank patrols. They are stopping from time to time to move our roadblocks. They are averaging maybe three miles an hour I figure because their walking patrols aren’t having any trouble keeping up. I don’t know whether our sniping’s having any real effect on them except to kill a few of their people. They’re going to get through, general.”

“Thanks, Potocki,” Hollerith said. “We’ve got some stuff here for you to lay in their path. It’s nitroglycerine; handle with care. Mass all these together; maybe we can crater the road. Put it where one of our roadblock trucks’ll run over it when they move it. And send in anybody outside who wants a job.”

Two exhausted men came in; one saluted shamefacedly. Hollerith gave him the thermit bombs. “Take these to the top of the old Lehigh cut. They’re incendiaries; you just light them. Got matches? Here, take mine. You ought to get some fine results from dropping them into open personnel trucks.”

The man grinned, took the shopping bag and left. “Young Joe Firstman. They killed his father a few days ago,” Hollerith told Justin in an aside. To the other man he said: “Take those dinner plates out of that cabinet there. Yes, that’s what I said! I want you to lay ’em face down in the road between Truck Six and Truck Seven.”

“Aw,” the man said incredulously.

“Listen,” Hollerith said patiently. “I mean what I say. It’ll cost them ten minutes and thirty men if our shooting is any good. They’ll see them, they’ll know they’re plates and still won’t dare roll over them until their bomb-disposal men have come up and removed them. Is that clear?”

“I guess so,” the man said doubtfully, and took the plates and went out.

“Five to one he goofs off,” said Hollerith looking after him dismally.

Mr. Sparhawk entered and came "to a heel-clicking, palm-out British salute before Hollerith. “Sir,” he said. “I have the honor to report that the satellite vessel was launched at 11.45 hours. Dr. Dace said that all appeared to be well on radar track. He instructed me to take a recon car and report.”

“Thank you,” Hollerith said. “Now everybody be quiet and let me think. Very shortly the Reds will decide they won’t be made to eat soup with a knife. They’ll pull in their flank guards, turn on their lights and go barreling through, taking their losses and consoling themselves with thoughts of coming back and killing us bandit-terrorists an inch at a time. I think they’ll reach the decision at about oh-oh-one-five. Justin, sound the recall, check the wind and give ’em gas.”

Justin went outside, Betsy trailing after, and cranked a siren on a truck loaded with long cylinders from the satellite cavern. “Betsy,” he said, “this stuff is chlorine. I’m going to drive east to the cut about three miles from here. If the wind is right, I open the valves for the Red convoy to run into a cloud of the stuff. Will you tail me in your car so I can hop in and get back here? By then the command post will be dismantled and we’ll all be heading for high ground.”

“All right,” she said.

IV .

ON Christmas morning at 12.30 a.m. General Hollerith, Justin, Betsy, Mr. Croley, and Mr. Sparhawk were in Sparhawk’s recon car on the ridge road with a view of the chlorine-filled cut below.

“I was right,” Hollerith said abstractedly. “Here they come.”

With headlights on, the convoy was rolling eastward at fair speed. Into the chlorine.

It was easy to imagine the hellish confusion below. Headlight beams angled crazily as drivers found themselves retching over their wheels; in the trucks dazed soldiers must have been scratching wildly under useful blankets, mess gear and overcoats for long-forgotten gas masks. Some trucks butted into the walls of the cut. But slowly, slowly, the convoy reformed and limped on.

Hollerith was swearing under his breath. At last he said: “We didn’t smash them locally.” The radio in the recon car squawked in Chinese. “What’s happened elsewhere we don’t know yet. Compared to what I privately expected, it’s been a howling success. If it could be followed up—but of course it can’t be followed up. It was a one-punch affair. If the Reds had broken and scattered it would have been ...” He sighed. “But they’re going to make it through to Rochester or Syracuse or wherever they’re headed, and they’ll regroup and ...” He sighed again.

The radio switched from Chinese to Russian. The general’s head snapped sharply toward the speaker and he said at last: “That was it. English next.”

The radio said: “M.S. One to Earth. To the peoples of Russia and China. This is Military Satellite One of the United States Armed Forces broadcasting. We hereby deliver the following ultimatum: Your occupation troops in North America must surrender within twenty-four hours. Repatriation of North American prisoners of war must begin within twenty-four hours. Unless these demands are met the cities of Moscow and Peiping will be destroyed. If the demands are still not met within a further twenty-four hours the cities of Leningrad and Hong Kong will be destroyed. If our demands are not met, we shall continue destroying Russian and Chinese cities at twenty-four-hour intervals until our stock of hydrogen weapons is exhausted. We shall then drop cobalt bombs on Russia and China which will wipe out all life in those areas. Peoples of Russia and China, make your voices heard while you can. It is your rulers alone who condemn you to certain death if they refuse our ultimatum.”

The voice switched to Chinese again.

They stood in utter silence through a complete replay of the ultimatum in three languages. The general reached out at last and gently turned a switch and the radio fell silent. “That will do it,” lie said softly. “Feng and Novikov are stubborn, but when their cities , begin to go they’ll come around—or be deposed by rulers who will come around.”

“So it's all over,” Betsy said wonderingly.

Hollerith’s face was a mixture of bitterness and defiant pride. “No,” he said. “We've got to start work on people immediately. They mustn’t make that mistake, not ever. It isn’t over and it’ll never be over. What happens next is, the Reds build a bombardment satellite of their own secretly, in spite of all the controls we clamp on them. It’ll take them a few years. We use these years to build a better satellite that’ll shoot them out of the sky—but they’ll know that, so theirs will be armed and steerable . . . don’t ever think it’ll be over. There’s always going to be work for people like me.”

Sparhawk was down on his knees talking quietly: “Deliver me O Lord from the evil men, preserve me from the violent men which imagine wickedness in their hearts; continually are they gathered together for war ...”

Justin noted that he was praying not to Annie Besant or the Zen Patriarchs or to Vishnu but to the God of his Sunday school and regimental worship. He wondered if somehow the past night had burned away a great deal of wordy nonsense from Mr. Sparhawk’s brain and left the pure metal of worship.

“Croley,” General Hollerith was saying, “this is where you come in. We now have hell’s own problem of supply and housing. I suppose I’m the government hereabouts now, but I’m going to he a very busy man making the Reds decent prisoners of war, not turning into, bandits and scavengers. I’m going to delegate food supply to you; you know rationing procedures from your business and you know where and who the jobbers and wholesalers are. Think you can handle it?”

“Might,” said Croley.

“Billy,” the general said, “you’re a good man and we need you. You can be my right arm in this prisoner-of-war roundup deal or you can work with Croley here getting the food lines in operation again—what’s the matter?”

Billy Justin, once a commercial artist, thirty-eight years old, a pensioned veteran of Korea, for years a dairy farmer and one year a conspirator, trigger man of the weapon that held Earth hostage, newly and suddenly seeker of Cod, said over his shoulder ; to Hollerith: “Nothing’s the matter, general. I just decided I couldn’t work with you or Croley. No offense, I hope.”

He knelt beside Mr. Sparhawk, who was praying: “Put up again the sword into his place for they that take the sword shall perish from the sword. Ye lust and have not; ye kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war because ye ask not ...”

They stared at Billy Justin but after a while Betsy came and joined him. 

THE END