Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 3

  • The stockaded village became larger, details grew plainer, as the helicopte_ame slanting down and began spiraling around it.
  • It was a fairly big place, some forty or fifty acres in a rough parallelogram, surrounded by a wall of varicolored stone and brick and concrete rubble fro_ld ruins, topped with a palisade of pointed poles. There was a small jett_rojecting into the river, to which six or eight boats of different sorts wer_ied; a gate opened onto this from the wall.
  • Inside the stockade, there were close to a hundred buildings, ranging fro_mall cabins to a structure with a belfry. It seemed to have been a church, partly ruined in the war of two centuries ago and later rebuilt.
  • A stream came down from the woods, across the cultivated land around th_ortified village. There was a rough flume which carried the water from a da_lose to the edge of the forest and provided a fall to turn a mill wheel.
  • "Look, strip farming," Loudons pointed. "See the alternate strips of grass an_lowed ground. These people understand soil conservation.
  • "They have horses, too."
  • As he spoke, three riders left the village at a gallop. They separated, an_he people in the fields, who had all started for the village, turned an_egan hurrying toward the woods. Two of the riders headed for a pasture i_hich cattle had been grazing and started herding them also into the woods.
  • For a while, there was a scurrying of little figures in the village below.
  • Then, not a moving thing was in sight.
  • "There's good organization," Loudons said. "Everybody seems to know what t_o, and how to get it done promptly. And look how neat the whole place is.
  • Policed up. I'll bet anything we'll find that they have a militar_rganization, or a military tradition at least.
  • "We'll have a lot to find out: you can't understand a people until yo_nderstand their background and their social organization."
  • "Humph. Let me have a look at their artifacts: that will tell what kind o_eople they are," Altamont said, swinging the glasses back and forth over th_nclosure. "Water-power mill, water-power sawmill—building on the left side o_he water wheel, see the pile of fresh lumber beside it. Blacksmith shop, an_rom that chimney, I'd say a small foundry, too.
  • "Wonder what that little building out on the tip of the island is, it has _ater wheel too. Undershot wheel, and it looks like it could be raised o_owered. Now, I wonder… ."
  • "Monty, I think we ought to land right in the middle of the enclosure, on tha_pen plaza thing, in front of the building that looks like a reconditione_hurch. That's probably the Royal Palace, or the Pentagon, or the Kremlin, o_hatever."
  • Altamont started to object, paused, and then nodded. "I think you're right, Jim. From the way they scattered, and got their livestock into the woods, the_robably expect us to bomb them. We have to get inside and that's the quickes_ay to do it." He thought for a moment. "We'd better be armed, when we go out.
  • Pistols, auto-carbines, and a few of those concussion-grenades in case we hav_o break up a concerted attack. I'll get them."
  • The plaza, the houses and the cabins around it, the two-hundred-year-ol_hurch, all were silent and apparently lifeless as they set the helicopte_own. Once Loudons caught a movement inside the door of a house, and saw _etallic glint.
  • "There's a gun up there," he said. "Looks like a four-pounder. Brass. I kne_hat smith-shop was also a foundry. See that little curl of smoke? That's th_unner's slow-match.
  • "I'd thought maybe that thing on the island was a powder mill. That would b_here they'd put it. Probably extract their niter from the dung of thei_orses and cows. Sulfur probably from coal-mine drainage.
  • "Jim, this is really something!"
  • "I hope they don't cut loose with that thing," Loudons said, lookin_pprehensively at the brass-rimmed black muzzle that was covering them fro_he belfry. "I wonder if we ought to—Oh-oh, here they come!"
  • Three or four young men stepped out of the wide door of the old church. The_ore fringed buckskin trousers and buckskin shirts and odd caps of deerski_ith visors to shade the eyes and similar beaks behind to protect the neck.
  • They had powder horns and bullet pouches slung over their shoulders, and lon_ifles in their hands. They stepped aside as soon as they were out. Carefull_voiding any gesture of menace, they simply stood, watching the helicopte_hich had landed in their village.
  • Three other men followed them out. They, too, wore buckskins and the od_ouble-visored caps. One had a close-cropped white beard, and on the shoulder_f his buckskin shirt, he wore the single silver bars of a first lieutenant o_he vanished United States Army. He had a pistol on his belt. The pistol ha_he saw-handle grip of an automatic, but it was a flintlock, as were th_ifles of the young men who stood so watchfully on either side of the door.
  • Two middle-aged men accompanied the bearded man and the trio advanced towar_he helicopter.
  • "All right, come on, Monty."
  • Loudons opened the door and let down the steps. Picking up an auto-carbine, h_lung it and stepped out of the helicopter, Altamont behind him. They advance_o meet the party from the church, halting when they were about twenty fee_part.
  • "I must apologize, lieutenant, for dropping in on you so unceremoniously."
  • Loudons stopped, wondering if the man with the white beard understood a wor_f what he was saying.
  • "The natural way to come in, when you travel in the air," the old man replied.
  • "At least, you came in openly. I can promise you a better reception than tha_ou got at the city to the west of us a couple of days ago."
  • "Now how did you know that we had trouble the day-before-yesterday?" Loudon_emanded.
  • The old man's eyes sparkled with child-like pleasure. "That surprises you, m_ear sir? In a moment, I daresay you'll be surprised at the simplicity of it.
  • "You have a nasty rip in the left leg of your trousers, and the cloth aroun_t is stained with blood. Through the rip, I perceive a bandage. Obviously, you have suffered a recent wound. I further observe that the side of you_lying machine bears recent scratches, as though from the spears or throwin_atchets of the Scowrers. Evidently, they attacked you as you were landing. I_s fortunate that these cannibal devils are too stupid and too anxious fo_uman flesh to exercise patience."
  • "Well, that explains how you knew that we'd recently been attacked," Loudon_old him. "But how did you guess that it had been to the west of here, in _uined city?"
  • "I never guess," the oldster with the silver bar and the keystone-shaped re_atch on his left shoulder replied. "It is a shocking habit—destructive to th_ogical faculties. What seems strange to you is only so because you do no_ollow my train of thought.
  • "For example, the wheels and their framework under your flying machine ar_plashed with mud which seems to be predominantly brick-dust, mixed wit_laster. Obviously, you landed recently in a dead city, either during or afte_ rain. There was a rain here yesterday evening, the wind being from the west.
  • Obviously, you followed behind the rain as it came up the river. And now tha_ look at your boots, I see traces of the same sort of mud, around the sole_nd in front of the heels.
  • "But this is heartless of us, keeping you standing here on a wounded leg, sir.
  • Come in, and let our medic take a look at it."
  • "Well, thank you, lieutenant," Loudons replied. "But don't bother your medic.
  • I've attended to the wound myself, and it wasn't serious to begin with."
  • "You are a doctor?" the white-haired man asked.
  • "Of sorts. A sort of general scientist. My name is Loudons. My friend, Mr.
  • Altamont, here, is a scientist, too."
  • There was an immediate reaction: all three of the elders of the village, an_he young riflemen who had accompanied them, exchanged glances of surprise.
  • Loudons dropped his hand to the grip of his slung auto-carbine and Altamon_idled away from his partner, his hand moving as if by accident toward th_utt of his pistol. The same thought was in both men's minds, that thes_eople might feel, as the heritage of the war of two centuries ago, _ostility to science and scientists.
  • There was no hostility, however, in their manner as the old man came forwar_ith outstretched hand.
  • "I am Tenant Mycroft Jones, the Toon Leader here," he said. "This is Stamfor_awson, our Reader, and Verner Hughes, our Toon Sarge. This is his son, Murra_ughes, the Toon Sarge of the Irregulars.
  • "But come into the Aitch-Cue House, gentlemen. We have much to talk about."
  • By this time, the villagers had begun to emerge from the log cabins an_ubble-walled houses around the plaza and the old church. Some of them, mostl_he young men, were carrying rifles, but the majority were unarmed. About hal_f them were women, in short deerskin skirts or homespun dresses. There were _umber of children, the younger ones almost completely naked.
  • "Sarge," the old man told one of the youths, "post a guard over this flyin_achine. Don't let anybody meddle with it. And have all the noncoms and tech_eport here, on the double." He turned and shouted up at the truncate_teeple: "Atherton, sound 'All Clear!'"
  • A horn up in the belfry began blowing, apparently to advise the people who ha_un from the fields into the forest that there was no danger.
  • They went through the open doorway of the old stone church and entered the bi_oom inside. The building had evidently once been gutted by fire, tw_enturies ago, but portions of the wall had been restored. The floor had bee_eplaced by one of rough planks, and there was a plank ceiling at about te_eet.
  • The room was apparently used as a community center. There were a number o_enches and chairs, all very neatly made; and along one wall, out of the way, ten or fifteen long tables had been stacked, the tops in a pile and th_restles on the tops.
  • The walls were decorated with trophies of weapons—a number of M-12 rifles an_-16 submachine-guns, all in good, clean condition; a light machine rifle; tw_azookas. Among them were cruder weapons, stone-and metal-tipped spears an_lubs, the work of the wild men of the woods.
  • A stairway led to the second floor, and it was up this stairway that the ma_ho bore the title of Toon Leader conducted them, to a small room furnishe_ith a long table, a number of chairs, and several big wooden chests boun_ith iron.
  • "Sit down, gentlemen," the Toon Leader invited, going to a cupboard an_roducing a large bottle stoppered with a corncob and a number of small cups.
  • "It's a little early in the day," he went on, "but this is a very specia_ccasion.
  • "You smoke a pipe, I take it?" he asked Altamont. "Then try some of this, o_ur own growth and curing."
  • He extended a doeskin moccasin, which seemed to be the tobacco container.
  • Altamont looked at the thing dubiously, then filled his pipe from it.
  • The oldster drew his pistol, pushed a little wooden plug into the vent, adde_ome tow to the priming, and, aiming at the wall, snapped it. Evidently, a_ime the formality of plugging the vent had been overlooked: there were _umber of holes in the wall there.
  • This time, however, the pistol didn't go off. The old man shook out th_moldering tow, blew it into flame, and lit a candle from it, offering th_ight to Altamont.
  • Loudons got out a cigar and lit it from the candle; the others filled an_ighted pipes. The Toon Leader reprimed his pistol, then holstered it, too_ff his belt and laid it aside, an example the others followed.
  • They drank ceremoniously, and then seated themselves at the table. As the_id, two more men entered the room. They were introduced as Alexander Barrett, the gunsmith and Stanley Markovitch, the distiller.
  • The Toon Leader began by asking, "You come, then, from the west?"
  • "Are you from Utah?" the gunsmith interrupted, suspiciously.
  • "Why, no, we're from Arizona. A place called Fort Ridgeway," Loudons said.
  • The others nodded, in the manner of people who wish to conceal ignorance. I_as obvious that none of them had ever heard of Fort Ridgeway, or Arizon_ither.
  • "You say you come from a fort? Then the wars aren't over yet?" Sarge Hughe_sked.
  • "The wars have been over for a long time. You know how terrible they were. Yo_now how few in all the countries were left alive," Loudons said.
  • "None that we know of, beside ourselves and the Scowrers, until you came," th_oon Leader said.
  • "We have found only a few small groups, in the whole country, who have manage_o save anything of the Old Times. Most of them lived in little villages an_ultivated land. A few had horses or cows. None, that we have ever foun_efore, made guns and powder for themselves. But they remembered that the_ere men, and did not eat one another.
  • "Whenever we find a group of people like this, we try to persuade them to le_s help them."
  • "Why?" the Toon Leader asked. "Why do you do this for people that you hav_ever met before? What do you want from them—from us—in return for your help?"
  • He was speaking to Altamont, rather than to Loudons. It seemed obvious that h_elieved Altamont to be the leader and Loudons the subordinate.
  • "Because we are trying to bring back the best of the Old Times," Altamont tol_im. "Look, you have had troubles, here. So have we, many times. Years whe_he crops didn't … didn't… ." He looked at Loudons, aware that his partne_hould be talking now, and also suddenly aware that Loudons had recognized th_ituation and left the leadership up to him… .
  • "… years that the crops failed. Years of storms, or floods. Troubles wit_hose beast-men in the woods.
  • "And you were alone, as we were, with no one to help.
  • "We want to put all men who are still men in touch with one another, so tha_hey can help each other in trouble, and work together.
  • "If this isn't done, everything that makes men different from beasts will soo_e no more."
  • "He's right. One of us, alone, is helpless," the Reader said. "It is only i_he Toon that there is strength. He wants to organize a Toon of all Toons."
  • "That's about it. We are beginning to make helicopters, like the one Loudon_nd I came in. We'll furnish your community with one or more of them. We ca_ive you a radio, so that you can communicate with other communities. We ca_ive you rifles and machine guns and ammunition, to fight the—the Scowrers, did you call them? And we can give you atomic engines, so that you can buil_achines for yourselves."
  • "Some of our people,—Alex Barrett here, the gunsmith, and Stan Markovitch, th_istiller, and Harrison Grant, the iron-worker—get their living by makin_hings. How'd they make out, after your machines came in here?" Verner Hughe_sked.
  • "We've thought of that. We had that problem with other groups we've helped,"
  • Loudons said. "In some communities, everybody owns everything in common and s_e don't have much of a problem. Is that the way you do it, here?"
  • "Well, no. If a man makes a thing, or digs it out of the ruins, or catches i_n the woods, it's his."
  • "Then we'll work out some way. Give the machines to the people who are alread_n a trade, or something like that. We'll have to talk it over with you an_ith the people concerned."
  • "How is it you took so long finding us?" Alex Barrett asked. "It's been tw_undred or so years since the Wars."
  • "Alex! You see but you do not observe!" The Toon Leader rebuked. "These peopl_ave their flying machines, which are highly complicated mechanisms. The_ould have to make tools and machines to make them, and tools and machines t_ake those tools and machines. They would have to find materials, often goin_n search of them. The marvel is not that they took so long, but that they di_t so quickly."
  • "That's right," Altamont said. "Originally, Fort Ridgeway was a militar_esearch and development center. As the country became disorganized, th_overnment set this project up to develop ways of improvising power an_ransportation and communication methods and extracting raw materials. I_hey'd had a little more time, they might have saved the country.
  • "As it was, they were able to keep themselves alive, and keep something lik_ivilization going at the Fort, while the whole country was breaking apar_round them.
  • "Then, when the rockets stopped falling, they started to rebuild. Fortunately, more than half the technicians at the Fort were women, so there was n_uestion of them dying out.
  • "But it's only been in the last twenty years that we've been able to mak_uclear-electric engines, and this is the first time any of us have gotte_ast of the Mississippi."
  • "How did your group manage to survive?" Loudons asked. "You call it the Toon.
  • I suppose that's what the word platoon has become, with time. You were, originally, a military platoon?"
  • "Pla-toon!" the white-bearded man said. "Of all the unpardonable stupidities!
  • Of course that's what it was. And the title, Tenant, was originally lieu- tenant. I know that, though we have dropped all use of the first part of th_ord. But that should have led me, if I had used my wits, to deduce platoo_rom toon."
  • The Tenant shook his head in dismay at his stupidity and Loudons found himsel_orced to say, "One syllable like that could have come from many words."