Authors: Alexander Key
“Humph! Between you and what?”
“Between me and that well of knowledge that some call God.”
She snorted again. “Here we go with that God stuff! Only now we've got souls and spirits thrown in. Do you really believe that you have such a thing as a spirit or a soul, old man?”
“Certainly. It's the only important and lasting part of me.”
She laughed heartily. Abruptly she pointed a finger at him and said harshly, “Listen to me. I am not just a doctor. I am a surgeon, and a good one. In surgery, I have cut into every part of the bodyânot once, but countless times. And never have I found anything resembling a soul, or even a spot where one could hide.”
Teacher laughed. “And you never will, Doctor.”
“Why do you laugh at me?”
“Because you've been searching in one dimension for something that exists in another.”
“It doesn't exist at all! I defy you to prove it!”
Teacher spread his hands. “What are you living for, Doctor?”
“I didn't ask to be born,” she snapped. “But I'm here, and I've tried to make the best of it. But I know I'm just so much perishable flesh with a brain. Anyway, I'm not important. Only the New Order is important.”
important,” the old man insisted. “Don't you realize there's purpose in your very existence?”
“Ha! Name it!”
“You are here to help others, and to learn.”
She glanced at Conan. “Do you believe all this rot?”
“He's sure sold you a bill of goods. Is that why you call him âTeacher'?”
“I call him that,” Conan said slowly, “because that's the name he's always been known by.”
“So! And how long have you known him?”
“All my life.”
“All your life!” She stared at him. At last she said, “And he's the man who was known to the world as Briac Roa?”
“I might be willing to believe it,” she muttered, “but for two things. Patch doesn't even resemble the pictures I've seen. And the great Briac Roa was
too intelligent to ever believe in any such nonsense as God.”
At the moment, Conan didn't care what she believed in. It was almost dark. The wind had died, and the sail had gone slack. If he had had any remote sense of direction, it had left him in the past few minutes. The stark truth was something he hated to face.
They were lost. They were drifting in a void, and if they had strayed into the region of the great fog, they could go on drifting like this forever.
Dr. Manski seemed to realize their predicament almost at the same time.
“We're lost, aren't we?” she said.
“We are now,” said Teacher.
“I thought so. I've been through the edge of this region in the survey ship. We got out of it because we had the only gyrocompass in existence. But there's no hope of getting out of it now.”
“There's hope, Doctor. There's always hope.”
“Bah! Why don't you face facts? Or are you afraid to die?”
“I am not concerned for myself, Doctor.”
“Nor am I. So let us accept the truth. We will die on this foolish contraption. One by one, we will die.”
“I doubt it. I have a feeling we will live to see High Harbor.”
She laughed coldly. “You believe in miracles, do you?”
She laughed again. “Then, if a miracle happens, I will eat crow, as they say. I will accept this silly God of yours.”
“You don't have to. You must never pretend.”
“I won't have to. We will drift until we die. All three of us.”
NLY ONCE SINCE THE CHANGE HAD LANNA CLIMBED THE
curving steps to the tower's upper story. That was when she had taken Tikki up and ordered him to find Conan. Possibly Tikki could have succeeded just as easily without using the tower as a starting point, but she did not think so. The tower was ancient, and it had been a landmark long before the sea crept so close. There was something mystic about it, and it was only natural to use it as a point of departure. And wasn't it the only spot where Mazal could get in touch with Teacher?
It was still early in the evening when she hurried up the crumbling steps with Tikki cradled in one hand. Upon reaching the small open area under the thatched roof, she stopped suddenly, clutching the coping for support while she fought back her terror of that threatening vastness spread before her. Finally she forced herself to go on and stand at the place where Mazal stood every evening.
“Tikki,” she whispered, holding the bird above the protecting wall. “Tikki, you must find Conan againâbut this time you must guide him home. Understand? Conan is way out yonder somewhere in the mist, and he is lost. Go, Tikki, and find him and show him the way here.”
The tern spread its slender, black-tipped wings, rose from her hand, and began circling upward. When it passed from her sight above the thatch, she closed her eyes and prayed, then turned to flee down the steps.
She almost ran into Mazal coming up.
“Youâyou've sent Tikki?” Mazal asked.
“He's on his way.”
“Do you really think he can find them?”
“Of course he can! He found Conan, didn't he?”
Mazal nodded. “But I don't see how. I don't understand how he can possiblyâ”
“Oh, if I were Tikkiâor any birdâI'm sure I could do it. It's all in how youâ”
Lanna turned suddenly, almost gasping, “I can't stand it up here. Let me down.”
She fled down the steps.
Her aunt followed. In the garden, Mazal said, “Sometimes I think I know you, then I realize I don't. Nothing could have made me go to Orlo's camp and do what you did. Yet you can't even stand the sight of the open sea.”
“It's a horror. Don't you
the danger in it?”
“No. I mean, I'm not ignoring Teacher's warning about another one of those waves. But, heavens, he doesn't seem to realize we've had nine of the things since the Change. They
dangerous, of course, and I suppose a really big one could do some damage down in the harbor. But I always keep one eye on the horizon when I go fishing, or watch how the tide runs out when it's foggy. It sucks out suddenly, you know. I've seen two of the things coming and had plenty of time to scramble up to a safe height.”
Mazal paused, then went on, “But to come back to Tikki. I'm so worried I'm sick. Do you think the fog is going to make it hardâ?”
“Mazal, when you're able toâto sort of
where they are, the fog shouldn't make any difference. Don't you see? As I started to tell you, the right direction is like a light in the dark. The only thingâ”
“What is it? What worries you?”
“Oh, nothing. IâI just wish we could have known earlier the trouble they were having. But I'm sure it will be all right now.â¦”
She wasn't at all sure. In fact, deep down, she had a dreadful feeling that she was sending Tikki too late. The mist veils were already creeping along the coast, a sure indication that the great fogs were not far behind. When the fogs came, they could be so dense at times that even the birds refused to leave their perches.
It might take more than Tikki to guide Teacher and Conan here.
There was no longer any doubt in Conan's mind that the great fogs had come early, and that they'd been caught in the worst part of them. This morningâif you could call this choking grayness morningâhe could hardly see Teacher, swaddled in bag and blanket, a few feet away. Dr. Manski was only a disembodied voice at the forward end of the life raft.
It seemed impossible that their craft could actually be in movement. But the sail was drawing and they were moving swiftly, a fact that always surprised him whenever he reached down and tested the water with his fingertips.
But in what direction were they going?
“Wouldn't it be better,” he asked Teacher, “to come about once in a while and try another tack?”
“I doubt it. Keep the wind abeam. We'll be less likely to sail in circles.”
“Circles!” said Dr. Manski. “Ha! What difference does it make? We'll be moving like ghosts in this haunted place for the rest of eternity.”
Teacher gave a little chuckle. “My dear Doctor, I didn't know your philosophy admitted such immaterial things as ghosts.”
“Just a figure of speech,” she snapped.
“Well, suppose we find our way out of this. Supposeâ”
“Ha! Who'll show us the way out? One of your voices?”
“I rather had a bird in mind,” Teacher murmured.
“Bird!” she spat.
“Birds have a certain affinity with angels,” he said mildly. “But I was wondering, if we reach High Harbor, how you will continue to feel about the New Order.”
“I am a servant of the New Order!
“But suppose the New Order dies?”
“Don't be ridiculous!”
“But how can it live without followers? In my years in Industria, I saw almost no young people. Practically everyone there is an oldster who lost all his family in the war. Like you, for instance.”
She remained silent.
“Without children, the New Order is bound to die. You've been dedicating yourself to nothing.”
“You're wrong!” she cried. “We'll have followers. Commissioner Dyce will take care of that. He has his instructions.”
“Were his instructions to spread a virus that endangered every life in High Harbor? For that is what he did. He let one little girl die so he could prove the deadliness of the virus, all so he could make a profitable deal to stop it.”
“You old fool, why are you telling me such a lie?”
“It is the truth, Doctor. I am a communicator, and I have been in constant touch with my daughter ever since the Change. Her husband is the doctor I put in charge at High Harbor. One thing I did not want to have fall into the hands of people like Dyce was a new power unit I had developed. It's the simplest of things, and we all need it to save us from the drudgery we face today. But the commissioners of the New Order want it for another reason. And now they've got itâor at least, Dyce has it. It's the price we've had to pay to that fellow before he would lift a finger to save anyone.”
There was a strangled sound from Dr. Manski. Teacher said, “Is that the way to gain followers for the New Order, Doctor? And when you rebuild the world, do you want to pattern it after the monstrosity we destroyed? Or do you think a simpler approach, with neighbor helping neighbor, would be a little better?”
Conan could hardly hear her voice when she finally replied. “Youâyou really
Briac Roa, aren't you?” she asked.
“What difference does it make now, Doctor?”
“A lot of difference,” she whispered. “All the difference in the world.” Then abruptly she gasped, and cried, “A bird! A bird just flew past my face!”
“Tikki!” Conan burst out. “Tikki, where are you?”
The tern materialized out of the mist and alighted on his shoulder.
Tenderly Conan lifted the bird in one hand. “I'm so glad to see you again, Tikki! Are you too tired to show us the way? We're lost, Tikki. Which way is High Harbor?”
Tikki rose slowly, and almost immediately vanished in the enveloping mist.
In dismay, Conan remembered the bird's habit of rising high and circling before choosing its direction. He called it back and tried again, and then again. But it was no use. They were defeated by the mist.
It seemed to Lanna, after hearing Jimsy's latest report, that the world was again coming to an end. Not that it had ever really got started again after the Change. But there had been a chance, and if Teacher and Conan had only been here during the past few months, everything could have been so different.
Not once had she ever longed for the life that had vanished. In spite of all the hardships, this was better. Or it would be better, a thousand times better, if only greedy people would leave things alone.
Sick at heart, she paused and clutched a tree for support while Jimsy's message ate through her mind. The long-delayed meeting would be held this evening. The outcome was assured, for the trade commissioner had been passing out gifts to all the group leaders. “They're all set to kick Doc out,” Jimsy had said. “Orlo's to be the boss. An' you know what Orlo an' the commissioner plan to do?”
“Take over your house. Doc an' his wife, they gotta move. But Orlo says he'll make you stay. That's how he figgers on getting even for what you done.”
Had it not been for her growing anxiety over Conan and Teacher, she might have raced home in a cold fury and made plans to defend the cottage. But in her despair of the moment, she felt helpless and defeated. She almost failed to hear Mazal calling her.
Then she became aware of Mazal's voice in the distance. Some quality in it sent her homeward on the run.
Her aunt met her in front of the office. “I've just talked with Teacher,” she said in a rush, her face tight with strain. “You've got to help us!”
Lanna stared at her. It was still morning. Never in her memory had Mazal been able to communicate with Teacher at this hour. “Whatâ?”
“Something made me go up in the tower,” Mazal hastened to explain. “Strangest thingâI picked up his thoughts immediately.â¦ Tikki's with them already, but the fog's so thick they lose him every time he tries to show them.â¦ Teacher saidâ” Mazal stopped for breath, then repeated, “Teacher said you'd know what to do.”
Lanna could feel the blood draining from her face. “But IâI can't do anything!”
to!” Mazal cried, and shook her fiercely. “You
know how to do somethingâTeacher said you did. Now you do it!”