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DARD LAY ON HIS back staring up into unfamiliar gray reaches. Then a pinkish globe swam into position over him and he concentrated upon it. Eyes, nose, a mouth that was opening and shutting, took proper place.

"How is it, fella?"

Dard considered the question. He had been face down in the snow, there had been Peacemen creeping after him and—Dessie! Dessie! He struggled to sit up and the face of that figure above him moved.

"The little girl, she's all right. You're both all right now. You are the Nordis kids?"

Dard nodded. "Where is here?" he formed the inquiry slowly. The face crinkled into laughter.

"Well, at least that's a variation on the old 'where am I?' You're in the Cleft, kid. We saw you trying to make it across the river valley with that 'copter after you. You managed to delay them long enough for us to lay down the fog. Then we gathered you in. Also we're a 'copter and some assorted supplies to the good, so you've more than paid your admittance fee—even if you weren't Lars Nordis' kin."

"How did you discover who we are?" Dard asked.

Dark brown eyes twinkled. "We have our little ways of learning what is necessary for us to know. And it is a painless process—done while you're asleep."

"I talked in my sleep? But I don't!"

"Maybe not under ordinary circumstances. But let our medico get the digester on you and you do. You've had a pretty hard pull, kid, haven't you?"

Dard levered himself up on his elbows and the other slipped extra support behind him. Now he could see that he was stretched out on a narrow cot in a room which seemed to be part cave, for three of its walls were bare rock, the fourth a smooth gray substance cut by a door. There were no windows, and a soft light issued from two tubes in the rock ceiling. His visitor perched on a folding stool and there was no other furniture in the cell-like chamber.

But there were coverings over him such as he had not seen for years, and he was wearing a clean, one piece coverall over a bathed body. He smoothed the top blanket lovingly. "Where is here—and what is here?" he expanded his first question.

"This is the Cleft, the last stronghold, as far as we know, of the Free Men." The other got to his feet and stretched. He was a tall, lean-waisted man, with dark brown skin, against which his strong teeth and the china-white of his eyeballs made startling contrast. Curly black hair was cropped very close to his round skull, and he had only a slight trace of beard. "This is the gateway to Ad Astra—" he paused, eyeing Dard as if to assess the effect those last two words had on the boy.

"Ad Astra," Dard repeated. "Lars spoke of that once."

"Ad Astra means 'to the stars.' And this is the jumping off place."

Dard frowned. To the stars! Not interplanetary—but galactic flight! But that was impossible!"

"I thought that Mars and Venus—" he began doubtfully.

"Who said anything about Mars or Venus, kid? Sure, they're impossible. It would take most of the resources of a willing Terra to plant a colony on either of them—as who should know better than I? No, not interplanetary flight—stellar. Go out to take our pick of waiting worlds such as earth creepers never dreamed of, that's what we're going to do! Ad Astra!"

Galactic flight—his first wild guess had been right.

"A star ship here!" In spite of himself Dard knew a small thrill far inside his starved body. Men had landed on Mars and Venus back in the days before the Burn and the Purge, discovering conditions on both planets which made them almost impossible for human life without a vast expenditure which Terra was not willing to make. And, of course, Pax had forbidden all space flight as part of the program for stamping out scientific experimentation. But a star ship—to break the bounds of Sol's system and go out to find another sun, other planets. It sounded like a very wild dream but he could not doubt the sincerity of the man who had just voiced it.

"But what did Lars have to do with this?" he wondered aloud. Lars' field had been chemistry, not astronomy or the mechanics of space flight. Dard doubted whether his brother could have told one constellation from another.

"He had a very important part. We've just been waiting around for you to wake up to get the report of his findings."

"But I thought you got the full story out of me while I was unconscious."

"What you personally did in the past few days, yes. But you do carry a message from Lars, don't you?" For the first time some of the dark man's lightheadedness vanished.

Dard smoothed the blanket and then plucked at it with nervous fingers. "I don't know—I hope so—"

His companion ran his hands across his tight cap of hair.

"Suppose we have Tas in. He's only been waiting for you to come around." He crossed the room and pushed a wall button.

"By the way," he said over his shoulder, I'm forgetting introductions. "I'm Simba Kimber, Pilot-astrogator Simba Kimber," he repeated that title as if it meant a great deal to him. "And Tas is First Scientist Tas Kordov, biological division. Our organization here is made up of survivors from half a dozen Free Scientist teams as well as quite a few just plain outlaws who are not Pax-minded. Oh, come in, Tas."

The man who entered was short and almost as broad as he was tall. But sturdy muscle, not fat, thickened his shoulders and pillared his arms and legs. He wore the faded uniform of a Free Scientist with the flaming sword of First Rank still to be picked out on the breast. His eyes and broad cheek bones had Tartar contour and Dard believed that he was not a native of the land in which he now lived.

"Well, and now you are awake, eh?" he smiled at Dard. "We have been waiting for you to open those eyes—and that mouth of yours—young man. What word do you bring from Lars Nordis?"

Dard could hesitate about telling the full truth no longer. "I don't know whether I have anything or not. The night the roundup gang came Lars said he had finished his job—"

"Good!" Tas Kordov actually clapped his hands.

"But when we had to clear out he didn't try to bring any papers with him—"

Kordov's face was avid as if he would drag what he wanted out of Dard by force. "But he gave to you some message—surely he gave some message!"

"Only one thing. And I don't know how important that may be. I'll have to have something to write on to explain properly."

"Is that all?" Kordov pulled a notebook out of his breeches' pocket and flipped it open to a blank page, handing it to him with an inkless stylus. Dard, equipped with the tools, began the explanation which neither of these men might believe.

"It goes way back. Lars knew that I imagine words as designs. That is, if I hear a poem, it makes a pattern for me—" he paused trying to guess from their expressions whether they understood. Somehow it didn't sound very sensible now.

Kordov pulled his lower lip away from his yellowish teeth and allowed it to snap back. "Hmm—semantics are not my field. But I believe that I can follow what you mean. Demonstrate!"

Feeling foolish, Dard recited Dessie's jingle, marking out the pattern on the page.

"Eesee, Osee, Icksie, Ann; Fullson, Follson, Orson, Cann."

He underlined, accented, and overlined, as he had that evening on the farm and Dessie's kicking legs came into being again.

"Lars saw me do this. He was quite excited about it. And then he gave me another two lines, which for me do not make the same pattern. But he insisted that this pattern be fitted over his lines."

"And those other lines?" demanded Tas.

Dard repeated the words aloud as he jotted them down.

"Seven, nine, four and ten; twenty, sixty and seven again."

Carefully he fitted the lines through and about the numbers and handed the result to Kordov. To him it made no possible sense, and if it didn't to the First Scientist, then he would not have had Lars' precious secret at all. When Tas continued to frown down at the page, Dard lost the small flicker of confidence he had had.

"Ingenious," muttered Kimber looking over the First Scientist's shoulder. "Could be a code."

"Yes," Tas was going to the door. "I must study it. And look upon the other notes again. I must—"

With that he was gone. Dard sighed.

"It probably, doesn't mean a thing," he said wearily. "But what should it be?"

"The formula for the 'cold sleep,'" Kimber told him.

"Cold sleep?"

"We go to sleep, hibernate, during that trip—or else the ship comes to its port manned by dust! Even with all the improvements they have given her—the new drive—everything—our baby isn't going to make the big jump in one man's lifetime, or in a number of lifetimes!" Kimber paced back and forth as he talked, turning square corners at either end of the room. "In fact, we didn't have a chance—we'd begun thinking of trying to make a stand on Mars—before one of our men accidentally discovered Lars Nordis was alive. Before the purge he'd published one paper concerning his research on the circulatory system of bats—studying the drop in their body temperature during their winter sleep. Don't ask me about it, I'm only a pilot-astrogator, not a Big Brain! But he was on the track of something Kordov believed might be done—the freezing of a human being so that he can remain alive but in sleep indefinitely. And since we contacted him, Lars has continued to feed us data bit by bit."

"But why?" Why, if Lars had been working with this group so closely, hadn't he wanted to join them? Why had they had to live in a farmhouse on a starvation level, under constant fear of a roundup?

"Why didn't he come here?" It was as if Kimber had picked that out of Dard's mind. "He said he wasn't sure he could make the trip—crippled as he was. He didn't want to try it until the last possible moment when it wouldn't matter if he were sighted trying—or traced here. He believed that he was under constant surveillance by some enemy and that the minute he, or any of you, made a move out of the ordinary, that enemy would bring in the Peacemen, perhaps before he had the answer to our problem. So you had to live on a very narrow edge of safety."

"Very narrow," Dard agreed. There was logic in what Kimber said. If Folley had been spying on them, and he must have or else he would not have appeared in the barn, he would have suspected something if any of them had not shown around the house as usual. Lars could never have made the journey they had just taken. Yes, he could see why his brother had waited until it was too late for him.

"But there's something else." Kimber sat down on the stool again, his elbows resting on his knees, his chin supported by his cupped hands.

"What do you know about the Temple of the Voice?"

Dard, still intent upon the problem of the cold sleep, was startled. Why did Kimber want to know about the innermost heart of the neighboring Pax establishment?

The "Voice" was that giant computer to which representatives of Pax fed data—to have it digested and to receive back the logical directives which enabled them to control the thousands under their rule. He knew what the "Voice" was, had had it hazily described to him by hearsay. But he doubted whether any Free Scientist or any associate of such proscribed outlaws had ever dared to approach the "Temple" which housed it.

"It's the center of the Pax—" he began, only to have the pilot interrupt him.

"I mean—give me your own description of the place."

Dard froze. He hoped that his panic at that moment was not open enough to be marked. How did they know he had been to the Temple—through that mysterious digester which had picked over his memories while he was unconscious?

"You were there—two years ago," the other bored in relentlessly.

"Yes, I was there. Kathia was sick—there was just a chance of getting some medico to attend her if I could show a 'confidence card.' I made a Seventh Day visit but when I presented my attendance slip to the Circle they asked too many questions. I never got the card."

Kimber nodded. "It's okay, kid. I'm not accusing you of being a Pax plant. If you had been that the digester would have warned us. But I have a very good reason for wanting to know about the Temple of the Voice. Now tell me everything you can remember—every detail."

Dard began. And discovered that his memory was a vivid one. He could recall the number of steps leading into the inner court and quote closely enough every word that the "Laurel Crowned" speaker of that particular Seventh Day had spouted in his talk to the faithful. When he finished he saw, that Kimber was regarding him with an expression of mingled amazement and admiration.

"Good Lord, kid, how do you remember everything—just from one short visit?"

Dard laughed shakily. "What's worse, I can't forget anything. I can tell you every detail of every day I've lived since the purge. Before then," his hand went to his head, "before then for some reason it's not so clear."

"Lots of us would rather not remember what happened since then. You get a pack of fanatics in control—the way Renzi's forces have taken over this ant hill of a world—and tilings crack wide open. We've organized our collective sanity to save our own lives. And there's nothing we can do about the rest of mankind now—when we're only a handful of outlaws hiding out in the wilderness. There's a good big price on the head of everyone here in the Cleft. The whole company of Pax would like nothing better than to round us up. Only we're planning to get away. That's why we have to have the help of the Voice."

"The Voice?"

Kimber swept over the half interruption. "You know what the Voice is, don't you? A computer—mechanical brain they used to call them. Feed it data, it digests the figures and then spews out an answer to any problem which would require months or years for a human mind to solve. The astrogation course, the one which is going to take us to a sun enough like Sol to provide us with a proper world, is beyond the power of our setting up. We have the data and all our puny calculations—but the Voice has to melt them down for us!"

Dard stared at this madman. No one but a Peaceman who had reached the rarified status of "Laurel Wearer" dared approach the inner sanctuary which held the Voice. And just how Kimber proposed to get there and set the machine to work on outlawed formula, he could not possibly guess.

Kimber volunteered no more information and Dard did not ask. In fact he half forgot it during the next few hours as he was shown that strange honeycomb fortress, blasted out of the living rock, which served the last of the Free Scientists as a base. Kimber was his guide and escort along the narrow passages, giving him short glimpses of Hydrogardens, of strange laboratories, and once, from a vantage point, the star ship itself.

"Not too large, is she?" the pilot had commented, eyeing the long silvery dart with a full-sized frown. "But she's the best we could do. Her core is an experimental model designed for a try at the outer planets just before the purge. In the first days of the disturbance they got her here—or the most important parts of her—and we have been building ever since."

No, the ship wasn't large. Dard frankly could not see where all the toiling inhabitants of the Cleft were going to find berths on her, whether in the suspended animation of hibernation or not. But he didn't mention that aloud. Instead he said:

"I don't see how you've been able to hide out without detection this long."

Kimber grinned wickedly. "We have more ways than one. What do you think of this?" He drew his hand from his breeches' pocket. On his dark palm lay a flat piece of shining metal.

"That, my boy, is gold! There's been precious little of it about for the past hundred years or so—governments buried their supplies of it and sat tight on them brooding. But it hasn't lost its magic. We have found many metals in these mountains and, while this is useless for our purposes, it still carries a lot of weight out there." He pointed to the peak which guarded the entrance to the Cleft. "We have our trading messengers and we fill hands in proper places. Then this is all camouflaged. If you were to fly across this valley in a 'copter, you'd see only what our techneers want you to. Don't ask me how they do it—some warping of the light rays—too deep for me." He shrugged. "I'm only a pilot waiting for a job."

"But if you are able to keep hidden, why "Ad Astra'?"

Kimber rubbed the curve of his jaw with his thumb. "For several reasons. Pax has all the power pretty well in its hands now, so the Peacemen are stretching to wipe out the last holes of resistance. We've been receiving a steady stream of warnings through our messengers and the outside men we've bought. The roundup gangs are consolidating—planning on a big raid. What we have here is the precarious safety of a rabbit crouching at the bottom of a burrow while the hound sniffs outside. We have no time for anything except the ship, preparing to take advantage of the thin promise for another future that it offers us. Lui Skort—he's a medico with a taste for history—gives Pax another fifty to a hundred years of life. And the Cleft can't last that long. So we'll try the chance in a million of going out—and it is a chance in a million. We may not find another earth-type planet, we may not ever survive the voyage. And, well, you can fill in a few of the other ifs, ands, and buts for yourself."

Dard still watched the star ship. Yes, a thousand chances of failure against one or two of success. But what an adventure! And to be free—out of this dark morass which stunted minds and fed man's fears to the point of madness—to be free among the stars!

He heard Kimber laugh softly. "You're caught by it, too, aren't you, kid? Well, keep your fingers crossed. If your brother's stuff works, if the Voice gives us the right course, if the new fuel Tang concocted will really take her through—why—we're off!"

Kimber seemed so confident that Dard dared now to ask that other question.

"She isn't very big. How are you going to stow away all the people?"

For the first time the space pilot did not meet his eyes. With the toe of his shabby boot Kimber kicked at an inoffensive table savagely.

"We can stow away more than you would believe just looking at her, if we are able to use the hibernation process."

"But not all," Dard persisted, driven by some inner need to know.

"But not all," Kimber agreed with manifest reluctance.

Dard blinked, but now there was a veil between his eyes and the sleek, silver swell of the star ship. He was not going to question farther. There was no need to, and he had no desire for a straight answer. Instead he changed the subject abruptly.

"When are you going to try to reach the Voice?"

"As soon as I hear from Tas—"

"And what do you wish to hear from Tas?" came a voice from behind Dard. "That he has succeeded in making sense of gibberish and 'kicking legs' and all the rest of the fantastic puzzle this young man has dumped into his head? Because if that is what you wait for, wait no longer, Sim! The sense has been made and thanks to Lars Nordis and our messengers," Kordov's big paw of a hand reached up to give Dard's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, "we can now take off into the heavens at our will. We wait only for your part of the operation."

"Good enough." Kimber started to turn when Dard caught his arm.

"Look here. You've never been to the Temple of the Voice."

"Of course not," Tas cut in. "Is he completely crazy? Does one thrust one's hand into raw atomic radiation?"

"But I have! Maybe I can't work your computations but I can guide you in and out And I know enough about the official forms to—"

Kimber opened his mouth, plainly to refuse, but again the First Scientist was too quick for him.

"Now that makes very good sense, Sim. If young Nordis has already been there—why, that is more than any of the rest of us have done. And in the disguise you have planned the risk is less."

The pilot frowned and Dard prepared for an outright refusal. But at last Kimber gave a half-nod. Tas pushed Dard after him.

"Go along with you. And mind you bring him back in one piece. We can do many things among us, but he remains our only space pilot, our only experienced astrogator."

Dard followed Kimber along rock passages, back through the maze of the Cleft dwelling to a flight of stairs crudely hacked from the stone. The stairs ended in a large room holding a 'copter which bore all the markings of a Pax machine.

"Recognize it? This is the one which you played tag with out in the valley. Now—get into this and hurry!"

From the 'copter he took a bundle of clothing which he pitched over to Dard. The boy put on the Peaceman's black and white, buckling around him as a finishing touch a belt supporting a hand stun gun. Although the clothes were large the fit was good enough to pass in the half-light of evening. And they had to visit the Voice at night to have any chance at all.

He took his place gingerly beside the pilot inside the 'copter. Overhead a cover had rolled back so that the sky was open to them. As Dard secretly gripped the edge of his seat Kimber took the controls. And Dard continued to hold on as the machine started the slow spiral up into the air.

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