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The nightmare began when he was still five miles from the campus. For as long as he lived it would be the nightmare to him, never far from his unguarded moments. But then his life expectancy, at that moment, was not long.

The burning of the law building started it. The building was old and dry; it burned briskly, the flames leaping and dancing on the hill like malicious demons, spearing upward into the night, painting the other buildings with scarlet fingers.

There's been an accident, he thought, and poured kerosene to the old turbine under the hood. It responded nobly; the '09 Ford lunged forward.

An instant later he realized that the other buildings were burning, too; the scarlet fingers were their own.

When he reached the edge of town, the hill was a vast bonfire. The town sprawled under it, bathed in a sullen glare, dark-shadowed and lurid like a village in hell.

As he got closer to the campus, the streets became jammed with cars. He drove as far as he could, and then he got out and ran. Before he reached the top of the hill, some instinct of self-preservation made him strip off his tie and turn up his coat collar.

There were no fire trucks, no police cars. There was only the silent crowd, its dark face reddened occasionally by a leaping flame, its ranks impenetrable, its hydra-heads impassive. Only its eyes, holding within them their own small flames, seemed alive.

The law building was a crumbled ruin of stone and glowing coals. Beyond it was a tossing sea of fire, melting islands within it the political science building, the library, the behavioral science building, the Union, the journalism school, the fortress-like humanities building, the auditorium . . . . For a moment he thought the administration building was untouched. But that was illusion; it was a shell of blank windows reddened by a dying glow.

It was summer, and the night was hot. The fiery death of what had been one of the Midwest's loveliest and finest universities made it hotter. But he was cold inside as he watched the labor and devotion of a hundred years burning, burning . . . .

A man ran toward the waiting crowd, a torch flaring in his hand, his face dark and unreadable, yelling, "Come on! They're running the eggheads now!"

For a moment longer the crowd waited and then, silently, it surged forward. For a few hundred yards he was carried with it, unable to fight free. At the brink of the hill, it dropped him. He stood there, unmoving, jostled by people who pushed past, not feeling them.

Beyond the hill were the physical science building, the experimental biology building, the building for business and economics. They were more isolated, more secure than those on top of the hill. Or so it may have seemed.

Now they, too, were burning. They were fire resistant and they burned less readily, but they burned. The flames roared in the night, and between the flames the forked, black figures ran back and forth. At every exit, the silent crowd waited for them with clubs and pitchforks and axes. Some of the black figures turned back into the flames.

The flames behind him and the flames in front, he watched, and all he could think about was that his papers were gone, charred and irretrievable, and the intolerable waste of five long years of labor and research. Even the Tool was gone.

Then, like a wave of nausea, the truth hit him. The black figures down there were people, people he knew and liked and respected, professors and their wives and their children. He turned aside and was sick.

As he straightened, he fought the impulse to run down the hill, to scream at the mob: "Stop it, stop it, stop it! These are people like you. They live, they work, they love, they obey the laws! They're the best you have and you're killing it, and you're killing your country! Stop before it's too late!

But it was already too late. It was futile. If he tried to help those black figures running below, he would only die himself. He wasn't important, but what he knew and the promise that knowledge held—that was important.

Too many good men had died there already.

He closed his eyes and thought of Sylvia Robbins, who was intelligent, beautiful, as good a friend as any man ever had and might have been more in time, and who now was dying there. He thought of Dr. William Nugent, that tall, lean, iron-gray man of quick intuitions and relentless determination in his search for the truth. He thought of Dr. Aaron Friedman and Professor Samuel Black and a dozen others . . . .

And he thought: If you are down there in that hell, my friends, forgive me. Forgive me, all of you, for being logical while you are dying . . . .

And forgive them, the logicless, murderous mob.

He knew the people that formed this mob, their fears, their passions. He knew the savagery that moved them, the frustrations that demanded a scapegoat, the consciousness of guilt, of wrongdoing, of failure that cried out for an external soul to punish, that created one on demand.

They were unable to face the realization of "I was wrong. I made a mistake. Let's try a new line" that every scientist, every creative thinker must face daily. They needed the age-old, pain-killing drug of "He did it, the Other Guy. He's Evil. He made me Fail."

And yet, knowing them so well, he did not know enough to stop them. He was five years, perhaps ten years away from the knowledge that he could take down the hill with him into their midst and find the right words and the right actions to make them stop, to turn them back into sane human beings.

The intuitive psychologists like the Senator were more capable than the scientists. But it is always easier to drive men insane than to lead them into sanity.


As he turned his face away from the scene of wanton murder and destruction, the knowledge that he was helpless was acid in his throat. A boy ran past, scarcely into high school, surely. He had a .22 rifle swinging in his hand. "Am I too late?" he shouted.

He didn't wait for an answer. Seeing the burning buildings and the black figures that ran between them, he swung his rifle to his shoulder and snapped off a shot. "Got one!" he exulted, his voice breaking with excitement. "Egghead!"

And John Wilson, egghead, slipped away. As soon as he had passed the fire's reflection, he hugged the shadows and made his way cautiously down the hill. He didn't go near his car. When he reached level ground, he walked briskly toward town.

Downtown was a half-dozen blocks of Massachusetts Street. It was deserted. Stores and restaurants and theaters were closed, their doors and windows protected behind metal gratings. The streets and sidewalks were cracked and rough; they hadn't been repaired for a long time.

Wilson reached the broad driveway of the bus depot. An old bus, its top battered, windows cracked, paint peeling, waited empty beside a side entrance.

The bus door was open; Wilson climbed aboard and slumped wearily into a back seat. Behind the driver's seat, the flat television screen was on. In the background was a picture of a university burning, Harvard or Cal Tech. As the camera shifted positions, Wilson saw that it was Harvard.

Senator Bartlett was superimposed on the flames. He was in his uniform, a worn, old, gray suit, a ragged blue shirt open at the throat. His unruly hair tumbled down over his forehead, and he brushed it back with a boyish gesture.

The burning university behind him gave him an aura of power to which he had only pretended until now. He seemed like an Old Testament prophet, as if he commanded the thunderbolt of the Lord and had directed it to strike here and there, to cleanse with fire the citadels of treason and immorality.

"My friends," said the Senator, sincerity ringing in his voice, the flames behind him like a halo, "news reaches us within the hour of another university in flames, and I say to you it is a regrettable thing. It is a tragedy. It is a fearful decision that has been forced upon this nation.

"But I say to you that they are not to blame who have thus taken justice into their own hands. They are not to blame who have carried destruction to the home of treason and brought death to traitors.

"They are to blame who have driven the people to this desperate end. And they are paying the price for placing themselves above the people and above the welfare of their country.

"Know now and always that this is not my doing. My only suggestion was that local committees should be formed to decide what your children should be taught and to report any instances of Un-American teaching to my subcommittee on academic practices. "But if traitors must die that their country live, then let them die . . . ."

Wilson stopped listening. He thought: If they'd given us a few years more, a few months even . . . . We were on the right track at last; we could see light ahead . . . .

His guess about the car had been accurate. There was a roadblock on the highway. All cars were being stopped; credit cards were being checked. In the bus, the vigilante group made only a visual check; no one thought an egghead would ride the bus.

A curious thing happened as the bus waited to get through. A blue ball of fire drifted down the highway, passing close to the self-appointed committee on credentials. It was closely followed by a red ball. At the roadblock men cringed in fear or fell to the ground or turned and ran.

Wilson knew what it was: St. Elmo's fire, a brush discharge of electricity, red when positive, blue when negative, most often seen at sea in stormy weather. Ball lightning.

Sometimes it was called witch fire.


At the bus depot in the city, Wilson picked out a phone booth behind a crackling neon sign, to foil the tappers, and, shielding the dial with his body, dialed quickly, nervously. At the other end the phone buzzed twice before it was lifted.

"Mark?" Wilson said quickly. "Is this Mark?"

There was a moment of silence through which came clearly the sound of someone breathing into the other mouthpiece. Then a woman's voice said: "John?"

"Is that you, Emily?" Wilson said. "What's the matter? Is Mark there?"

"Mark's gone—" she said flatly, "—on business. John—we didn't expect—we thought you would be—"

"No. It was almost over when I got there. I missed it."

"I'm glad," Emily said. "What do you want, John? I can't talk very long. I'm afraid this phone is tapped."

"Why should your phone be tapped?"

"We knew you." A pause. "Why did you call?"

"I need help, Emily. All I've got is the clothes I'm standing in. I thought you might be glad to hear I'm alive. I thought—you and Mark—" His voice trailed away into silence; the silence drew out painfully.

Emily took a breath; it rasped in the phone. "I'm sorry, John. We can't. You'll have to try somewhere else. We're in enough danger without running more risks. For all we know a neighbor or someone may have turned us in to the local Committee as intellectuals. We can't afford the disgrace or maybe worse. We've got to think of the children."

After a moment, Wilson said, "I see. You're thinking about the tappers. I'll come out."

"Don't do that!" Emily snapped. "Don't come near the house. They'll be after you now. We can't afford to be connected with you in any way. We aren't intellectuals! We graduated from college, but so did millions of other people. It's the scientists they're after and the teachers. Stay away from us, John!"

"I'm not hearing you right," Wilson said. "You and Mark—you're my best friends. It was just a few hours ago we were talking together, drinking together, laughing—"

"Forget that!" Emily said harshly. "Forget you ever knew us." She paused. "Try to understand. You've got a plague, John, and it makes no difference how innocent or how right you are. You infect everyone you touch. If you were our friend, as you say, you would want to stay away from us."

"Is that Mark's attitude, too?


"You mentioned your children," Wilson said softly. "You've got to think of them, you said. Think about them a little more; think about Amy and Mark, Jr. I'm not talking about the world they'll grow up to; you know what that will be as well as I. But when will you be able to look into their eyes, Emily? When will you be able to touch them without guilt, kiss them without feeling like Judas?"

"There are times when a person doesn't have a choice how he will live—it's be a coward and live or a hero and die. Women aren't heroes." There was another pause; Wilson was afraid she would hang up, but he couldn't think of anything to say. "Your best bet, John, is to head for the coast, either one," she continued finally. "I hear that some foreign governments are recruiting scientists and smuggling them out of the country."

"So that's the way it is?" Wilson said gently.

"That's the way it's got to be."

Wilson's voice turned as cold as hers. "I'll need money, Emily." With one hand he slipped his billfold out of his hip pocket, spread it open, and thumbed through the bills. There were only eight: four twenties, two tens, a five, and a one. "I'll need at least a thousand. I've got more than five thousand in the bank, but I can't touch it now. Send me the thousand and I'll mail you a blank check. You can cash it when things quiet down."

"No!" Emily said quickly. "Don't mail us anything. It might be intercepted or traced. We'll send you the money—call it a loan. How do you want it?"

"Cash," Wilson said grimly, feeling like a blackmailer, not caring. "Small bills. Send it to general delivery, downtown postoffice, addressed to me. My name's common enough, and they won't be hunting me so soon. Mail it tomorrow, Emily, as soon as the banks open. I can't stay here more than a day or two."

"All right, John." Emily's voice was dry and distant. She had said her last word to him. No, there was one more. "Good-by."

Wilson hung up and leaned back wearily in the booth. He could try to reach Mark, but it would be difficult. Emily wouldn't let him talk to Mark at home, and the office was too dangerous. And he was half-certain that Mark was at home now, letting Emily cut him away.

Cross them off.

The depot was part of a block-long hotel. Wilson watched the depot and the hotel lobby for a few minutes. The parabolic mike on the wall was swinging hesitantly from conversation to conversation, but that was all right. You can't eavesdrop through glass; you have to bug or tap. No one seemed to be watching. But then he wasn't good at that sort of thing.

He dreaded leaving the booth, but it was a false security. He walked quickly to the hotel registration desk. "I'm—ah—nervous about fires," he said to the clerk. "Could you give me a room opening onto a fire escape."

The clerk looked at him curiously, but there was no help for that. "I guess so," he said. "Yes, here's one." He pushed a registration form toward Wilson.

Wilson picked up a pen and without perceptible hesitation wrote: "Gerald Perry." For hometown, he put: "Rochester, N.Y." For business: "Salesman." For firm: "G.E." For party affiliation: "Democrat." It was still safe enough to be a Democrat; the unaffiliated were the ones under suspicion, the independent voters who swung elections one way or the other. He didn't dare write: "Lowbrow." A precinct worker might visit him, or the clerk might ask for his party card.

"Salesman, eh?" the clerk said, studying the card. "How's business?"

"Lousy," Wilson said.

"That'll be six dollars."

"Sure," Wilson said. "Sure." He put down three of his twenty-dollar bills.

The clerk gave him his change and rang for a bellboy. The bellboy was a spry, old man of about seventy. The clerk gave him the room key. "Good night, Mr. Perry."

This time Wilson's reaction was slow. He took a step away before he swung his head back and said, "Good night."

He got into the creaking, old elevator and turned around. A thin, dark-haired man was staring at something on the registration desk. As the elevator doors slid shut, he looked up. He stared straight at Wilson.

Wilson had never seen him before.

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