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.
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."