Authors: Alexander Key
Conan was more than halfway to his destination when suddenly, for seemingly no reason, he began thinking of the miles of towering cliffs beyond Industria. Why had they seemed so threatening? Was it because the fracture under the city extended all the way up to the break where they had rigged the boat? All at once, remembering the things Teacher had said, he was sure of it.
What would happen when the fracture gave way and that whole stretch of coast slipped down into the sea?
Teacher had mentioned a tsunami, and had tried to hide his concern about it. A tsunami was a wave, caused by a shock. A deep shock in the earth's crust, making a sort of tidal wave.
Conan missed a stroke, and a dollop of seawater caught him in the face. He had just remembered something he had read years ago, something he almost wished he could forget.
Shock waves were huge. They could be mountainous things, great roaring cliffs of water that traveled at incredible speed. They could cross an ocean in very little time, and bring devastation to places thousands of miles away.
The vision stayed with him, and almost spoiled his feeling of accomplishment when he finally stumbled ashore, hungry and exhausted, upon the walled and fortresslike islet that had been his home.
More birds met him here, joining those which had followed him across. He was obliged to pause and greet each in turn before he could hasten to the pile of salvage he had gleaned through the years and dig down through the protecting rocks to make sure that certain priceless objects were safe. They were. Reassured, he peered around almost fondly at his domain. It was hard to believe that only a few weeks had passed. It seemed as if he'd been away for years. The storm had done some damage to the outer wall and one of the fish traps, but that was to be expected. An hour's work would repair it.
Suddenly aware of his hunger, and at the same moment remembering what had happened here the day he was taken away, he crawled hastily into the storage hut and began clawing at a pile of dried seaweed and wood chips in one corner. Then he went limp with relief. Dr. Manski and the ship's captain, who had so enjoyed his smoked fish, had overlooked the main pile of it. He wolfed down several pieces, and stretched out gratefully upon the seaweed to rest.
It was perhaps two hours later when he crawled out, feeling much better, and searched for the sun behind the constant overcast. When he found it he was astonished to discover that it was only a little way beyond its noon position. Could he have made the swim from the pinnacle in only half a morning? Unquestionably he had.
Most of the afternoon lay before him. If conditions were right, there was all the time he needed to bring Teacher here before dark.
Conan spent several minutes in a careful study of the weather and the sea, then hurriedly unearthed the old and battered surfboard that had been his greatest treasure, and the last one he had found. In seconds he had it in the water and was standing upon it, using a crude paddle fashioned from a board to send him swiftly in the direction of the pinnacle.
He returned late that afternoon, with Teacher trussed like a mummy in the bag and securely lashed to the board.
Ashore, the old man, though still extremely weak, lay back against one of the many protective walls and peered about with a sort of bemused wonder. “So,” he murmured. “This is how you developed that set of sculptured muscles! To have shifted so many tons of rock, you must have been busy nearly every daylight hour from the time you arrived here.”
“Just about, sir.”
Teacher adjusted his piratical patch, which miraculously had survived all the recent violence to which he had been subjected. He squinted at the curved log in the lee of a wall, and said, “That, I presume, will form the main body of the craft you have in mind to take us to High Harbor.”
“Y-yes, sir.” Try to hide anything from Teacher!
“And the surfboard, on edge, will be used for the outrigger.”
“That's what I thought, sir.”
“And that cloth we still haveâhow fortunate we didn't use it for the other sail! But we must have needles to sew it with. Needles can be made of this and that, but there are good ones in the tool chest, if it can be found. Needles alone can save us time, and there are chisels and other tools in the chest that can save us weeks in shaping the log. Right now time is rather important on several counts. Every hour we can saveâ”
Not a word about the tsunami. But there was no need to mention it. Teacher knew that he understood about it now. It hung over them, a threat that would increase with every passing day. It was just one threat of many, for there was the survey ship that was still searching for them somewhere, and the helicopters that were surely able to fly this far from base. And, if they escaped all those, there were the great mists to worry about if they got away from here too late. How could they navigate the mists when their only compass was lost? Every hour saved â¦
Conan said, “I'm going back to the rock at dawn. The tide will be low then, and I can look around in the deeper water where we hit. That chest is bound to be around there somewhere.”
Dawn was only a vague promise behind him when he started out in the morning, but it was all the guide he needed to paddle to the rock again. The tool chest eluded him, though he returned with food packets and water bottles lashed to the board, along with the can of cement and an assortment of plastic scraps which they had intended to use as strengthening for the lost vessel.
“Never mind,” said Teacher, who had spent the morning chipping away at the log with one of Conan's old stone tools. “The chest is there, and you'll find it at the next low tide. I'm sure of it.”
Teacher was right. He found the tool chest intact with all its contents the next morning. And on the way back to the islet with it he found something else. The circling birds called his attention to it first, and he had to paddle hard a quarter of a mile out of his way to overtake it before wind and current would carry it out of sight.
It was a life raft containing the limp figure of a man sprawled facedown on the bottom.
Conan did not waste time in an attempt to give aid to the man. Swiftly he attached a towline to the raft and began paddling furiously for the islet, which already was fading in the distance. Tool chest and bobbing raft slowed his pace to a crawl. It became a long, exhausting battle against the wind before he reached the narrow beach where Teacher stood anxiously waiting.
“I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't see far enoughâ” Teacher began, then exclaimed, “Good heavens, what have we here?”
Wearily Conan hauled the raft up on the beach, then stooped to lift the occupant. He'd thought it was a man, but now he saw it was a woman. Suddenly he gasped in astonishment. “Why, it's Dr. Manski!”
“So it is,” Teacher murmured. “And this means the survey vessel must have gone down in the same storm that wrecked us. Ah me, the curious ways of fate.â¦ Conan, take her into the little hut, and I'll bring a bottle of water and a blanket. She's suffering from exposure and thirst.”
Dr. Manski was conscious enough to drink greedily from the bottle Conan held for her. But it was some time before she recognized him, and the day was almost gone before she found the strength to crawl from the hut.
With one hand clutching the blanket about her, she peered curiously around and slowly approached the log where Conan was working. “What a crazy thing this is!” she began, her harsh voice little more than a croak. “Who would have thought, when I rescued you a few weeks ago, that I would find myself back hereâ”
Dr. Manski stopped, and Conan saw that she was staring at Teacher, whose presence she evidently had not been aware of before. “You!” she cried. “You! You scheming old rascal! What kind of mad tale did you tell the commissioners to make them send my ship after you?” She was trembling now, her voice rising with fury. “The ship's lost nowâand you're to blame for it! And every man aboard was lost, all because of some mad taleâ”
“Hey,” said Conan. “Just a moment. Who do you think he is?”
know who he is!” Dr. Manski cried. “He's that old devil, Patch, and why he wasn't disqualified years agoâ”
Patch,” Conan told her. “I mean, his real name is Briac Roa.”
“Briac Roa!” She laughed harshly. “Is that what he told you? And you're fool enough to believe it?”
“But you don't understandâ” Conan began, and stopped when he saw Teacher shake his head.
“Dr. Manski,” Teacher said, “if you want to call me Patch, by all means do so. But I suggest that you go back and get some rest. You've had a very bad experience, and you're still feeling the effects of shock and exposure.”
She glared at him a moment, turned angrily away, took several faltering steps, and suddenly began to crumple.
Conan caught her before she fell and carried her to the hut.
When he returned to the log and picked up the hatchet he had been using, he said bitterly, “Of all things to happen! Why did it have to be her we're stuck with?”
“I can think of far worse,” Teacher said mildly. “Besides, she may be of help to us.”
“Help, my foot! I don't want anything to do with her. I hate her.”
“You don't really. You just hate the ideas she reflects.”
“Maybe so, but it makes me hate her. I hate everything about the New Order. Don't you?”
“No, I don't feel that way.”
Conan dropped his hatchet. “Butâbut you were their prisoner for four years!” he exclaimed. “You
“Son, I can't hate them. I have only admiration for most of them.”
“But how can you? They branded you and beat you and made slaves of I don't know how many and killed I don't know how many more. They're warped and twisted, and absolutely mercilessâ”
“Yes, Conan,” Teacher interrupted. “All you say is true. But you forget that they were fighting a terrible battle for survival, and had nothing but a few machines to do it with. Industria was paralyzed, and it still is, largely. It took the sternest of measures to stay alive and keep their few machines going. And in such circumstances it's usually the toughest ones, with the least to offer, who grab the power.” Teacher paused, then said, “Don't judge the many by the few. There are some fine people in Industria, and they deserve only praise for what they've done. Those are the ones the world can't afford to loseâthat's why I had to go back and warn them. As for the othersâ”
“What about the others?”
Teacher shrugged. “The deadliest drug in the world is power. The commissioners who are running things are going to lose it unless they can expand and get more power. Taking over High Harbor will help. But it will help them more to regain other powers that were lost with the Change. Now do you understand?”
“IâI think I do, sir.”
The old man glanced at the smaller hut. “As for her, let her go on believing I'm old Patch. It will be easier. She's dedicated to the New Order, because that's all she has left. You'll never change how she thinks by appealing to her reason. Let her come to her own conclusions without any aid from us. In the meantime she can be of immense help to us.”
“By sewing the sail. By catching and smoking the fish we'll have to take with us to eat. By doing a hundred things that will save us time. For we've got to do the impossible. We must build our new craft, and get away from here, in little more than a week.”
“A week!” Conan swallowed. “But you
“We can. And we must. Or we'll be caught in the mists and never see High Harbor again. Now get busy. We've good tools to work with. You'll be surprised how fast we can chip out this log and turn it into a sailing canoe.”
HEY WORKED LIKE DEMONS FROM EARLIEST LIGHT TILL
dark. In two more days the log was actually hollowed and shaped, and before the next evening the outrigger as well as the sail had taken form. After she had been told how matters stood, Dr. Manski went grimly about her tasks and spoke only when necessary. But Conan, noting the hard glances she gave Teacher, was aware of the many unanswered questions that were troubling her.
Suddenly, on the fourth evening, she demanded harshly, “Patch, what monstrous tale did you tell the commissioners? And don't give me any more of your evasions. I'll have the truth this time.”
“I told them,” said Teacher, “about the fracture under Industria.” He hardly looked at her as he spoke, and went on working without a pause. He was helping Conan splice two of the poles from the salvage pile to make a spar for the sail she was sewing.
“Well?” she said. “What about this fracture?”
“I explained what would happen when it gives way, and urged them to warn everyone and begin moving their food machinery immediately. I can only hope they did. Half the city is on the point of sliding into the sea.”
“What utter nonsense! Don't tell me they believed you!”
“They must have believed me. Otherwise they wouldn't have started such a search for us when Conan and I escaped.”
A baffled look came into her hard black eyes. “I don't understand this. I don't understand it at all. Why would they believe such an impossible tale? And from you, of all people? There has to be a reason. What is it, Patch?”
Teacher shrugged. “I convinced them I was Briac Roa.”
She glared at him. Suddenly she burst out wrathfully, “What kind of fools have we got running the New Order?”
“Blind fools,” Teacher said mildly. “They've wasted years searching for a man who wouldn't have done what they wanted if they'd found him. They've been thinking of him as a kind of scientific god they could force to do anything and solve every problem. If they had had any faith in a real God, they would have gone ahead on their own, and they'd be better off today.”