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DARD SURVEYED the country over which the 'copter flew. It required only a few minutes to cover the same rugged miles across which he and Dessie had fought their way. And he was sure that he saw traces of that trip left on the snow below.

The machine skimmed over the heights which concealed the cave. And then, for the first time in crowded hours, Dard remembered Sach. It was down this very slope that the messenger had led the chase.

"You've heard from Sach?" He was anxious to be reassured concerning that small, wary man.

But Kimber didn't reply at once. And when he did, Dard was aware of the reservations in his tone.

"No news yet. He hasn't reported at any of our contacts. Which reminds me—"

Under the pilot's control the 'copter swung to the right and headed away from the path Dard had followed into the hills. He was unreasonably glad that they were not going to wing over the charred ruins of the farmhouse.

Instead, within a short space, they were circling another farm, one in much better condition than the farm which had sheltered the Nordis family. In fact, the buildings gave such an air of Pax-blessed landsman prosperity that Dard wondered at Kimber's visiting the place. Only a man with the brightest of prospects under the new rule would dare to keep his buildings in such good repair. And the volume of smoke curling fatly from the chimney spoke of unlimited warmth and food, better conditions than anyone but a staunch supporter of the Company of Pax could attain.

Yet Kimber set the 'copter down without hesitation on a stretch of packed snow not too far from the house. Once down however the pilot made no move to leave the machine.

The house door opened and a man wearing the good farm homespun of an "approved" landsman—another Folley by all outward signs—crossed the yard. For one wild moment Dard was inclined to doubt the man beside him, being still more uneasy when the round plump face of the landsman was thrust close to the window of the 'copter.

Pale blue eyes in a weather-beaten face flicked over them both, and Dard did not miss the fact that they widened a fraction as they passed from Kimber's impassive face to his flashy uniform. The landsman turned and spat at a hound that approached, showing white teeth and growling.

"Time?" he asked.

"Time," Kimber returned. "Get moving on tonight if you can, Harmon."

"Sure we've been packin' some stuff already, Th' boy's got th' road cleared—"

Then those blue eyes slid back to Dard. "Who's th' youngster?"

"Nordis' brother. He got in with the Nordis girl. Lars is dead—raid."

"Yeah. Heard a rumor they all were—that th' roundup got 'em. Glad to know that ain't th' truth. Well—be seein' you—"

With a wave of the hand he headed back to the house. And Kimber took them aloft.

"I didn't think—" Dard began. Kimber chuckled.

"You didn't think a man such as Harmon would be one of us? We have some mighty odd contacts here and there. We have men who drove ground trucks and men who were first rank scientists—before the purge. There's Santee—he was a non-com of the old army—he can read and write his name—and he's an expert with weapons—to us he's as important a part of the Cleft as Tas Kordov, who is one of the world's greatest biologists. We ask only one thing of a man—that he believes in true freedom. And Harmon is going to be more important in the future. We may know how to grow hydro-style—you had a meal or two with us and know that—but an honest dirt farmer will be able to teach us all better tricks. Added to that, Harmon's been our biggest ace in the hole all along. He and his wife, their son, and their twin girls—they've been playing a mighty hard role for more than five years—doing it splendidly, too. But I can well believe that he welcomed my news that it is over. Double lives are tough going. Now, back to work."

The 'copter wheeled and flew due west into a sky now painted with sunset colors. It was warm inside the cabin, and the clothing about his thin body was the finest he had worn in years. Dard relaxed against the padded cushion, but far inside him was a warming spark of excitement, an excitement no longer completely darkened by fear—Kimber's confidence in himself, in the eventual success of their mission was comforting.

Below ran a ribbon of road, and by the churned snow, it was a well-traveled one. Dard tried to identify landmarks. But, never having seen the country from above, he could only guess that they were now being guided to town by that same artery which had tied Folley's holding and the tumbledown Nordis place to the overgrown village which was the nearest approach to a pre-Burn city.

Another farm road, rutted and used, cut into the main road and its curve was familiar. It was Folley's! And it had seen considerable travel since the storm. He thought briefly of Lotta—wondered if she had gone back to the message tree with some food for Dessie as she had promised. Dessie!


Hoping he could keep from revealing to Kimber his own secret problem, the one which had gnawed at him ever since he had seen the star ship, he asked a question:

"I didn't see any children in the Cleft."

Kimber was intent upon flying; when he answered it was with a faint touch of absent-mindedness.

"There're only two. Carlee Skort's daughter is three and the Winson boy—he's almost four. The Harmon twins are—ten, I think—but they don't live in the Cleft."

"Dessie is six—almost seven."

Kimber grinned. "Bright little trick, too, isn't she? Took to Carlee right away—after we had persuaded her you were going to recover. Last I heard she'd taken command in the nursery quarters, Carlee was surprised at how sensible she was."

"Dessie's a pretty big person," Dard said slowly. "She's old for her years. And she has a gift, too. She makes friends with animals—not just tame ones—but the wild things. I've seen them come right up to her. She insists that they talk."

Had he said too much? Had he labeled Dessie as one so far outside the pattern that she would not "fit" into a ship's company where a farmer was considered important? But surely, a child's future was worth more than an adult's! Dessie must be considered—she must be!

"Carlee thinks she is quite a person, too." That was certainly noncommittal enough. But, although he did not know Carlee, her approbation was comforting to Dard. A woman, a woman with a little girl of her own, would see that another little girl would get a fair break. As for himself—resolutely he refused to think ahead for himself. Instead he began to watch the twilight-cloaked road and think of the problem immediately before them.

"The 'copter park is at the back of the Temple. And you can't fly over the building—nothing crosses the sacred roof."

"Then we circle. No use taking chances. Park well guarded?"

"I don't know. Only Peacemen get inside. But I'd think that in the dark, and with this machine—"

"We could brazen it out? Let us hope they don't ask for any recognition signals. I'm going to try to land as close to the edge as I can and in the darkest part—unless they have floodlights—"

"Town lights!" Dard interrupted, intent on the sparks of yellow. "The Temple is on that rise to the south. See!"

It was easy enough to see. The lights of the town houses were small and sickly yellow. But above and beyond them were concentrated bars of vivid blue and startling white, somehow garish and out of place against the purple-blue of the sky. Kimber circled.

The Temple occupied about a third of the rise which had been leveled off to form a wide platform. Behind the building itself was a floodlit space in which they could see a row of 'copters.

"Ten down there," Kimber counted, the lighting of the instrument panel showing the planes and hollows of his face. "You'd think they would have more. This is a center for their control and they don't do much raiding by night. Or at least they haven't in the past."

"They may now. They struck our place at night."

"Anyway, the fewer the better. Look, that's a nice long shadow—one of their floods must have burnt out. I'm going to see if I can bring us down in it!"

They lost speed, it was something like coasting, much like floating, Dard decided. Then the lights arose about them and a second later the undercarriage made contact. They didn't bounce. Kimber shook hands with himself vigorously, in congratulation.

"Now listen, kid," the pilot's voice was a faint murmur. "That's a stun gun you have in your belt. Ever use one?"


"It doesn't require training to point it and push the button. But you're not to do that unless I give the word, understand? You have only two charges and I have the same in mine—we can't afford to waste them. Nothing—absolutely nothing must happen to prevent our interview with the Voice!" There was a passionate determination in that. It was an order, delivered not only to Dard, but to Destiny or Fortune herself. "Afterward we may have to fight our way out—though I hope not. Then the stun guns will be our hope. But we've got to use bluff to get us in!"

The Peacemen hoarded the remains of pre-purge invention, Dard noted as he matched his steps to Kimber's across the park at an unhurried pace, but their maintenance of such appliances was not promising. Several of the floodlights were out and there were cracks in the concrete under his boots. There couldn't be too many techneers left in the slave-labor camps of the Temple gangs. Some day no 'copter would rise from this park, no light would burn. Had the leaders of Pax thought of that, or didn't they care? The old cities built by the techneers were rubble fit only for bats and birds. Now there were only grubby villages slipping back and back, with the wilderness edging down across the field to nibble at man's building.

So far they had not met anyone, but now they approached the western gate of the Temple and there was a guard. Dard straightened his shoulders, lifted his chin, summoned that arrogance of bearing which cloaked a Peaceman as rightly as the gaudy uniform. Kimber had the right presence. He strode along with a damn-devil air suitable to a Laurel Wearer. Dard did his best to copy that But the boy couldn't quite suppress a half-sigh of relief when the guard did not attempt to stop them and they crossed the threshold unchallenged.

Of course, they were still far from the sanctuary of the Voice. And Dard's knowledge of the place would not take them farther than the second court.

Kimber stopped and touched his companion's sleeve. Together they slipped out of the direct path of the light up to the shadowed obscurity behind one of the massive pillars.

Before them lay the inner court where the commoners might gather—in fact were expected to gather—to hear words of wisdom as mouthed from the August Sayings of Renzi by one of the Laurel Wearers. It was now deserted. After dark none of those not "Wedded to the Inner Peace" dared enter the Temple. Which would make the venture more precarious since they would be alone among the Peacemen and might betray themselves by ignorance of custom. Dard's hand twitched, but he kept it off the stun gun.

"The Voice?"

Dard pointed to the archway at the other end of the inner court. What they sought lay beyond that, but where—he wasn't sure. Kimber went on, flitting from pillar to pillar, and Dard followed on a woodman's sure, silent feet. Twice they stiffened into inanimateness as others tramped into the open. Peacemen, two Laurel Wearers and, just as they had almost reached the archway, a third party—two shuffling labor slaves carrying a box under the malicious eye of a single lounging guard.

Kimber leaned back behind a pillar and drew Dard in beside him.

"Lots of traffic." The whispered comment was tinged with laughter and Dard saw that the pilot was smiling, an eager fire in his eyes.

They waited until slaves and guard were gone and then stepped boldly into the open and through the archway. They were now in a wide corridor, not too well lighted, broken at regular intervals with open doorways through which came solid blocks of illumination to trap the passerby. But Kimber went on with the assurance of one who had a perfect right to be where he was. He did not attempt to steal a look at any of the rooms—it was as if he had seen their contents a thousand times.

Dard marveled at his complete confidence. The Voice—where was it housed in this maze? He never suspected all this to lie beyond the inner court They had neared the end of the corridor before Kimber slackened pace and began glancing from right to left With infinite caution he tried the latch of a closed door. It gave, swinging silently open to disclose a flight of stairs leading down. Kimber's grin was wide.

"Down here! It has to be down—" his lips shaped the words.

Together they crept close to the edge of the stairway and peered over into a cavern where the best lighting arrangements of the Temple made little headway against a general gloom. The hollow went deep, it was the heart of the eminence upon which the Temple stood. And on the floor far below was the Voice—a bank of metal, faceless, tongueless, but potent.

Two guards stood at the bottom of the stairs, but their attitudes suggested that they had no fear of being called upon to carry out any duties. And on a curved bench before a board of dials and levers lounged a third man wearing the crimson and gold tunic of a second circle Laurel Wearer.

"The night shift," mouthed Kimber at Dard's ear, and then he sat down on the platform and proceeded to remove his boots. After a moment of hesitation Dard followed the pilot's example.

Kimber, boots swinging in one hand, started noiselessly down the staircase, hugging the wall. But he did not draw the gun at his belt and Dard obediently kept his own weapon sheathed.

It was not entirely quiet in the chamber. A drowsy hum from the internals of the Voice was echoed and magnified by the height and width of the place.

Kimber took a long time—or what seemed to Dard a very long time—to descend. When they were still on the last flight of steps above the guard the pilot reached out a long arm and pulled Dard tight against him, his lips to the boy's ear.

"I'll risk using my gun on that fellow on the bench. Then we jump the other two with these—"

He gestured with the boots. Four steps—five—side by side they crept down. Kimber drew his stun gun and fired. The, noiseless charge of the ray hit its mark. The man on the bench twisted, turning a horribly contorted face to them before he fell to the floor.

In that same instant Kimber hurled himself out and down. There was one startled shout as Dard went out into space too. Then the boy struck another body and they went to the floor together in a kicking clawing fury. Dodging a blow Dard brought his boots down club fashion in the other's face. He struck heavily three times before hands clutched his shoulders and wrenched him off the now limp man. Kimber, a raw and bleeding scrape over one eye, shook him out of the battle madness.

Dard's eyes focused on the pilot as the terrible anger drained out of him. They tied the limp bodies with the men's own belts and lacings before Kimber took his place on the bench before the Voice.

He pulled a much-creased sheaf of papers from the breast of his blouse and spread them out on the sloping board beneath the first rank of push buttons. Dard fidgeted, thinking the pilot was taking entirely too long over that business.

But the boy had sense enough to keep quiet as Kimber rubbed his hands slowly together as if to clear them of moisture before raising his eyes to study the row upon row of buttons, each marked with a different symbol. Slowly, with a finicky touch and care, the pilot pressed one, another, a third. There was a change in the hum of the Voice, a faster rhythm, the great machine was coming to life.

Kimber picked up speed, stopping only now and again to consult his scrawled notes. His fingers were racing now. The hum deepened to a throb which, Dard feared, must certainly be noticeable in the Temple overhead.

The boy withdrew to the stairway, his attention as much on the door at the top as on Kimber. He drew his gun. As Kimber had said, the mechanism of the arm was childishly simple—one pointed it, pushed the button on the grip—easy. And he had two charges to use. Caressing the metal he looked back at the Voice.

Under the light Kimber's face displayed damp drops, and now and again he rubbed his hand across his eyes. He was waiting—his part of the job finished—waiting for the Voice to assimilate the data fed it and move in its ponderous way to solve the problem. But every minute they were forced to linger added to the danger of their position.

One of the captives rolled over on his side, and, over the gag they had forced into his jaws, his eyes blared red hate at Dard. The hum of the Voice faded to a lulling murmur. There was no other sound in the cavern. Dard crossed to touch Kimber's shoulder.

"How long?" he began.

Kimber shrugged without taking his eyes from the screen above the keyboard. That square of light remained obstinately empty. Dard could not stand still. He had no timekeeper, and he believed that they had been there too long—it might be close to morning. What if another shift of watcher and guards was due to come on presently?

A sharp demanding chime interrupted his thoughts. The screen was no longer blank. Across it slowly crawled formula, figures, equations. And Kimber scrambled to write them down in frantic haste, checking and rechecking each he scribbled. As the last set of figures faded from the screen the pilot hesitated and then pushed a single button far to the right on the board. A moment of waiting and five figures flashed into being on the screen.

Kimber read them with a sigh. He thrust the sheets of calculations back into safety, before, with a grin playing about his generous mouth, he leaned forward and pushed as many buttons as he could reach at random. Without pausing for the reply, though the Voice had gone into labor again, he joined Dard.

"That will give them something to puzzle out if they try to discover what we were after," he explained. "No reading that back. Not that I believe any of these poor brains would have the imagination to guess what brought us here. Now—speed's the thing! Up with you, kid."

Kimber took the steps at a gait Dard had a hard time matching. It was not until they stood directly before the corridor door that the pilot stopped to listen.

"Let us hope that they've all gone to bed and are good sound sleepers," he whispered. "We've, had a lot of luck tonight and this is no time for it to run out"

The corridor was as empty as it had been on their first trip. Some of the blocks of light from the rooms were gone. They had only three such danger spots to cross now. Two they negotiated without trouble, but as they stepped into the third, it was broken by a moving shadow, a man was coming out of the room. He wore a scarlet and gold tunic, with more gold on it than Dard had ever seen before—plainly one of the hierarchy. And he stared straight at them with annoyance and the faint stirrings of suspicion.

"Pax!" the word was hardly the conventional and courteous greeting, it carried too much authority. "What do you here, brothers? These are the night watches—"

Kimber drew back into the shadows and the man unconsciously followed him, coming out into the corridor.

"What—" he began again when the pilot moved. Both his dark hands closed about the other's throat, cutting off voice and breath.

Dard caught the hands clawing at Kimber's hold and together they dragged the struggling captive through the archway into the dimly lighted inner court.

"Either you come quietly," Kimber fussed, "or you don't come at all Make your choice quick."

The struggles ceased as Kimber pulled him on.

"Why try to take him?" Dard wanted to know.

Kimber's grin was no longer pleasant, it was closer to a wolfish snarl. "Insurance," he returned concisely. "We aren't out of this place yet Now move!" He gave the captive a vicious shove, keeping one hand clamped on the nape of the other's neck, as the three moved on toward the outer door and freedom.

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