"That makes three provisional presidents so far," the Leader said. "I wonder how many more there are?" He handed the flimsy sheet back to the runner, who placed it in his mouth and chewed it up like gum.
"Convoy. Stopped below us." The Leader peered through bushes and down the side of a bluff. The high ground pushed out toward the river here, squeezing the river road between it and the water. The road stretched away to the left, where the valley widened out into farmland, and ran into the outskirts of Barclay ten miles away.
The convoy was directly below them, eight trucks preceded and followed by halftracks. The following halftrack was backing, vortex gun cast loose and ready for trouble. Its commander apparently wanted elbow room against a possible trap.
"I think not. Just a breakdown. They'll be gone soon." He wondered what was in the trucks. Food, probably. His mouth watered. A few weeks ago an opportunity like this would have meant generous rations for all, but the conquerors had smartened up.
There was a flurry below. Guards had slipped down from the trucks and withdrawn from the road when the convoy had stopped, in accordance with an orderly plan for such emergencies. Now two of them returned to the convoy, hustling between them a figure not in uniform.
"There's no real answer to the problem," the Leader said. "You can limit size of units, so that one person can't give away too many—but take a colony like ours. It needs to be a dozen or more to work. That means they all have to be dependable, or they all go down together. So each one has a loaded gun at the head of each other one."
When the convoy had disappeared in the distance, Ed Morgan, the Leader, and his deputy Dad Carter stood up and stretched. The "mockingbird" had announced safety loudly and cheerfully. "Tell Ted to cover us into camp," Morgan ordered.
Dad wheepled and chirruped and received acknowledgment. They started back into the hills. Their route was roundabout and included check points from which they could study their back track and receive reports from Ted. Morgan was not worried about Ted being followed—he was confident that Ted could steal baby 'possums from mama's pouch. But the convoy breakdown might have been a trap—there was no way to tell that all of the soldiers had got back into the trucks. The messenger might have been followed; certainly he had been trapped too easily.
* * *
The base of Morgan's group was neither better nor worse than average of the several thousand other camps of recalcitrant guerrillas throughout the area that once called itself the United States. The Twenty Minute War had not surprised everyone. The mushrooms which had blossomed over Washington, Detroit, and a score of other places had been shocking but expected—by some.
Morgan had made no grand preparations. He had simply conceived it as a good period in which to stay footloose and not too close to a target area. He had taken squatter's rights in an abandoned mine and had stocked it with tools, food, and other useful items. He had had the simple intention to survive; it was during the weeks after Final Sunday that he discovered that there was no way for a man with foresight to avoid becoming a leader.
Morgan and Dad Carter entered the mine by a new shaft and tunnel which appeared on no map, by a dry rock route which was intended to puzzle even a bloodhound. They crawled through the tunnel, were able to raise their heads when they reached the armory, and stepped out into the common room of the colony, the largest chamber, ten by thirty feet and as high as it was wide.
Their advent surprised no one, else they might not have lived to enter. A microphone concealed in the tunnel had conveyed their shibboleths before them. The room was unoccupied save for a young woman stirring something over a tiny, hooded fire and a girl who sat at a typewriter table mounted in front of a radio. She was wearing earphones and shoved one back and turned to face them as they came in.
Morgan glanced over them. The enemy had abolished soap opera and singing commercials but he could not say that radio had been improved. There was an unnewsy sameness to the propaganda which now came over the air. He checked through while wishing for just one old-fashioned, uncensored newscast.
"'New Center, 28 April—It is with deep regret that Continental Coordinating Authority for World Unification, North American District, announces that the former city of St. Joseph, Missouri, has been subjected to sanitary measures. It is ordered that a memorial plaque setting forth the circumstances be erected on the former site of St. Joseph as soon as radioactivity permits. Despite repeated warnings the former inhabitants of this lamented city encouraged and succored marauding bands of outlaws skulking around the outskirts of their community. It is hoped that the sad fate of St. Joseph will encourage the native authorities of all North American communities to take all necessary steps to suppress treasonable intercourse with the few remaining lawless elements in our continental society.'"
* * *
The meeting was in the common room. Morgan called it to order once all were present or accounted for. McCracken arrived just as he had decided to proceed without him. McCracken had a pass for the countryside, being a veterinarian, and held proxy for the colony's underground associates in Barclay.
"All right." Morgan turned back to the group. "First item—we got a message today, passed by hand and about three weeks old, setting up another provisional government. The courier was grabbed right under our noses. Maybe he was a stooge; maybe he was careless—that's neither here nor there at the moment. The message was that the Honorable Albert M. Brockman proclaimed himself provisional President of these United States, under derived authority, and appointed Brigadier General Dewey Fenton commander of armed forces including irregular militia—meaning us—and called on all citizens to unite to throw the Invader out. All formal and proper. So what do we do about it?"
The Leader shook his head. "It's not that simple, Ted. We can't assume that he's no good. Napoleon might have been a minor clerk under different circumstances. And the Honorable Mr. Brockman may be a revolutionary genius disguised as a bureaucrat. But that's not the point. We need nationwide unification more than anything. It doesn't matter right now who the titular leader is. The theory of derived authority may be shaky but it may be the only way to get everybody to accept one leadership. Little bands like ours can never win back the country. We've got to have unity—and that's why we can't ignore Brockman."
"No use getting in a sweat about it," Morgan told him. "It's easy to see the government's mistakes now, but just the same I think there was an honest effort to prevent war right up to the last. It takes all nations to keep the peace, but it only takes one to start a war."
"No, no, no—I don't mean that, Captain," McCracken answered. "I don't mean the War could have been prevented. I suppose it could have been—once. But everybody knew that another war could happen, and everybody—everybody, I say, knew that if it came, it would start with the blasting of American cities. Every congressman, every senator knew that a war would destroy Washington and leave the country with no government, flopping around like a chicken with its head off. They knew—why didn't they do something!"
"Do? Why, they could have made plans for their own deaths! They could have slapped through a constitutional amendment calling for an alternate president and alternate congressmen and made it illegal for the alternates to be in target areas—or any scheme to provide for orderly succession in case of disaster. They could have set up secret and protected centers of government to use for storm cellars. They could have planned the same way a father takes out life insurance for his kids. Instead they went stumbling along, fat, dumb, and happy, and let themselves get killed, with no provision to carry out their sworn duties after they were dead. Theory of 'derived authority,' pfui! It's not just disastrous; it's ridiculous! We used to be the greatest country in the world—now look at us!"
"Okay. I propose to send somebody to backtrack on the message and locate Brockman—smell him out and see what he's got. I'll consult with as many groups as we can reach in this state and across the river, and we'll try to manage unanimous action. I was thinking of sending Dad and Morrie."
"I am afraid Cathleen is right," McCracken commented. "They shipped twelve-year-old boys and old men who could hardly walk for the Detroit project. They don't care how soon the radiation gets them—it's a plan to thin us out."
Morgan paused, then said suddenly, "Mrs. Carter will contact Brockman. It is so ordered. Next order of business," he went on briskly. "You've all seen the news about St. Joe—this is what they posted in Barclay last night." He hauled out and held up the paper McCracken had given him. It was a printed notice, placing the City of Barclay on probation, subject to the ability of "local authorities" to suppress "bands of roving criminals."
"I guess you're waiting for me," McCracken began. "We held a meeting as soon as this was posted. We weren't all there—it's getting harder to cover up even the smallest gathering—but there was no disagreement. We're behind you but we want you to go a little easy. We suggest that you cut out pulling raids within, oh, say twenty miles of Barclay, and that you stop all killing unless absolutely necessary to avoid capture. It's the killings they get excited about—it was killing of the district director that touched off St. Joe."
"Let me finish, Benz. We don't propose to let them scare us out and keep us enslaved forever. But casual raids don't do them any real harm. They're mostly for food for the Underground and for minor retaliations. We've got to conserve our strength and increase it and organize, until we can hit hard enough to make it stick. We won't let you starve. I can do more organizing among the farmers and some animals can be hidden out, unregistered. We can get you meat—some, anyhow. And we'll split our rations with you. They've got us on 1800 calories now, but we can share it. Something can be done through the black market, too. There are ways."
Morgan shook his head. "You've got it wrong. Even if we hadn't had it forced on us, we would have been moving into this stage anyhow. The Free Companies have got to quit drawing attention to themselves. Once the food problem is solved we've got to build up our strength and weapons. We've got to have organization and weapons—nationwide organization and guns, knives, and hand grenades. We've got to turn this mine into a factory. There are people down in Barclay who can use the stuff we can make here—but we can't risk letting Barclay be blasted in the meantime. Easy does it."
"Okay, I volunteered. It was all because you were so filled with fire and vinegar about how we would throw the enemy back into the ocean. You talked about France and Poland and how the Filipinos kept on fighting after they were occupied. You sold me a bill of goods. But there was something you didn't tell me—"
The boy looked at him doggedly. "You don't know that. We only know what they chose to tell us. And there aren't enough of them to hold down the whole world, everybody, everywhere. We never managed to lick the Yaquis, or the Moros. And they can't lick us unless we let them. I've read some history too."
"We have free speech here, don't we? What I want to know is: How long does this go on? I'm getting tired of competing with coyotes for the privilege of eating jackrabbits. You know I've fought with the best of them. I've gone on the raids. Well, haven't I? Haven't I? You can't call me yellow."
"That tears it," Benz said slowly. "I was hoping you could offer some reasonable plan. Wait and arm ourselves—that's a pretty picture! Homemade hand grenades against atom bombs! Why don't you quit kidding yourselves? We're licked!" He hitched at his belt. "The rest of you can do as you please—I'm through."
Dad Carter went scurrying in the other direction as soon as Benz no longer covered them. He reappeared at once, carrying something. "Heads down!" he shouted, as he passed through them and took out after Benz.
"The rest of you get ready to carry out withdrawal plan—full plan, with provisions and supplies. Jerry, don't disconnect either the receiver or the line-of-sight till I give the word. Margie will help you. Cathleen, get ready to serve anything that can't be carried. We'll have one big meal. 'The condemned ate hearty.'"
When Art reported Morgan said, "You and Cleve go out and find Benz. Assume that he is heading for Barclay. Stop him and bring him in if you can. Otherwise kill him. Art is in charge. Get going." He turned to McCracken. "Now for a message." He fumbled in his pocket for paper, found the poster notice that McCracken had given him, tore off a piece, and started to write. He showed it to McCracken. "How's that?" he asked.
The message warned Hobart of Benz and asked him to try to head him off. It did not tell him that the Barclay Free Company was moving but did designate the "post office" through which next contact would be expected—the men's rest room of the bus station.
"Better cut out the post office," McCracken advised. "Hobart knows it and we may contact him half a dozen other ways. But I'd like to ask him to get my family out of sight. Just tell him that we are sorry to hear that Aunt Dinah is dead."
"Okay, boss." Margie had no knowledge of cryptography. Instead she had command of jive talk, adolescent slang, and high school double-talk which would be meaningless to any but another American bobby-soxer. At the other end a fifteen-year-old interpreted her butchered English by methods which impressed her foster parents as being telepathy—but it worked.
Art and Cleve had no trouble picking up Benz's trail. His tracks were on the tailings spilling down from the main entrance to the mine. The earth and rock had been undisturbed since the last heavy rain; Benz's flight left clear traces.
Art picked it up where Benz had left the tailings and followed it through brush with the woodsmanship of the Eagle Scout he had been. From the careless signs he left behind Benz was evidently in a hurry and heading by the shortest route for the highway. The two followed him as fast as they could cover ground, discarding caution for speed.
Nine miles and two and a half hours later—one hundred and fifty minutes of dog trot, with time lost lying in the roadside brush when convoys thundered past—they were in the outskirts of Barclay. Around a bend, out of sight, was the roadblock of the Invaders' check station. The point was a bottleneck; Benz must come this way if he were heading for Barclay.
A horse-drawn hayrack lumbered up the road. Cleve studied it. Americans were permitted no power vehicles except under supervision, but this farmer and his load could go into town with only routine check at the road block. "Maybe we ought to hide in that and look for him in town."
"How?" Art objected. "Take it easy. Follow me." They faded back two hundred yards, to where they could cross the road on hands and knees through a drainage pipe. Then they worked up the other side to where Benz had disappeared in weeds.
They found the place where he had been; grass and weeds were still straightening up. The route he must have taken was evident—down toward the river bank, then upstream to the city. There were drops of blood. "Dad must have missed stopping him by a gnat's whisker," Cleve commented.
"Another thing—he said he was going to give himself up. I don't think he is, or he would have stayed with the wagon and turned himself in at the check station. He's heading for some hideout. Who does he know in Barclay?"
"Wait a minute. If he touches off an alarm, they'll shoot him for us. If he gets by the 'eyes,' we've lost him and we'll have to pick him up inside. Either way, we don't gain anything by blundering ahead. We've got to go in by the chute."
Like all cities the Invader had consolidated, Barclay was girdled by electric-eye circuits. The enemy had trimmed the town to fit, dynamiting and burning where necessary to achieve unbroken sequence of automatic sentries. But the "chute"—an abandoned and forgotten aqueduct—passed under the alarms. Art knew how to use it; he had been in town twice since Final Sunday.
They worked back up the highway, crossed over, and took to the hills. Thirty minutes later they were on the streets of Barclay, reasonably safe as long as they were quick to step off the sidewalk for the occasional Invader.
The first "post office," a clothesline near their exit, told them nothing—the line was bare. They went to the bus station. Cleve studied the notices posted for inhabitants while Art went into the men's rest room. On the wall, defaced by scrawlings of every sort, mostly vulgar, he found what he sought: "Killroy was here." The misspelling of Kilroy was the clue—exactly eighteen inches below it and six to the right was an address: "1745 Spruce—ask for Mabel."
He read it as 2856 Pine—one block beyond Spruce. Art passed the address to Cleve, then they set out separately, hurrying to beat the curfew but proceeding with caution—at least one of them must get through. They met in the backyard of the translated address. Art knocked on the kitchen door. It was opened a crack by a middle-aged man who did not seem glad to see them. "Well?"
"Yes, yes," Hobart said impatiently. "He got in about an hour ago and he's holed up with a character named Moyland." As he spoke he removed a half loaf of bread from a cupboard, cut four slices, and added cold sausage, producing two sandwiches. He did not ask if they were hungry; he simply handed them to Art and Cleve.
Hobart took them over his back fence, across a dark side street, through a playground, where they lay for several minutes under bushes because of a false alarm, then through many more backyards, back alleys, and dark byways. The man seemed to have a nose for the enemy; there were no more alarms. At last he brought them through a cellar door into a private home. They went upstairs and through a room where a woman was nursing a baby. She looked up, but otherwise ignored them. They ended up in a dark attic. "Hi, Jim," Hobart called out softly. "What's new?"
The man addressed lay propped on his elbows, peering out into the night through opera glasses held to slots of a ventilating louvre. He rolled over and lowered the glasses, pushing one of a pair of earphones from his head as he did so. "Hello, Chief. Nothing much. Benz is getting drunk, it looks like."
* * *
Benz arrived at Moyland's house in bad condition. The wound in his shoulder, caused by Carter's grenade, was bleeding. He had pushed a handkerchief up against it as a compress, but his activity started the blood again; he was shaking for fear his condition would attract attention before he could get under cover.
Moyland stared at him, his bland face expressionless, then smiled. "You've got no troubles we can't fix. Sit down." He stepped to a cabinet and took out a bottle of bourbon, poured three fingers in a water glass, and handed it to Benz. "Work on that and I'll fix you up."
Three drinks later Benz was feeling better. Moyland seemed willing to sit and drink with him and to soothe his nerves. "You did well to come in," Moyland told him. "There's no sense hiding like a scared rabbit. It's just butting your head against a stone wall. Stupid."
"Look, Joe, you don't have to kid me. I'm your friend. Even if you did tell me it wouldn't matter. In the first place, I wouldn't have any proof. In the second place, I'm sympathetic to the Underground—any American is. I just think they're wrong-headed and foolish. Otherwise I'd join 'em myself."
The level of the bottle dropped while Moyland explained current events as he saw them. "It's a shame we had to take such a shellacking to learn our lesson but the fact of the matter is, we were standing in the way of the natural logic of progress. There was a time back in '45 when we could have pulled the same stunt ourselves, only we weren't bright enough to do it. World organization, world government. We stood in the way, so we got smeared. It had to come. A smart man can see that."
"Like it? Of course not. But it was necessary. You don't have to like having a tooth pulled—but it has to be done. Anyhow," he went on, "it's not all bad. The big cities were economically unsound anyway. We should have blown them up ourselves. Slum clearance, you might call it."
"Take it easy, Joe," Moyland said, filling his glass, "you're talking abstractions. The cop on the corner could push you around whenever he wanted to. Is that freedom? Does it matter whether the cop talks with an Irish accent or some other accent? No, chum, there's a lot of guff talked about freedom. No man is free. There is no such thing as freedom. There are only various privileges. Free speech—we're talking freely now, aren't we? After all, you don't want to get up on a platform and shoot off your face. Free press? When did you ever own a newspaper? Don't be a chump. Now that you've shown sense and come in, you are going to find that things aren't so very different. A little more orderly and no more fear of war, that's all. Girls make love just like they used to, the smart guys get along, and the suckers still get the short end of the deal."
Moyland sidestepped, put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him down into the chair. "Sit down, sucker," he said pleasantly. "You don't expect me to get A-bombed just for you and your pals, do you?" Benz shook his head, then began to sob.
* * *
Cleve took the outside; Art went in. The back door was locked, but the upper panel was glass. He broke it with the hilt of his knife, reached in and unbolted the door. He was inside when Moyland showed up to investigate the noise.
Art kicked him in the belly, then let him have the point in the neck as he went down. Art stopped just long enough to insure that Moyland would stay dead, then went looking for the room where Benz had been when the shade was drawn.
He found Benz in it. The man blinked his eyes and tried to focus them, as if he found it impossible to believe what he saw. "Art!" he got out at last. "Jeez, boy! Am I glad to see you! Let's get out of here—this place is 'hot.' "
Benz looked amazed. "Hey, Art! Art! You're making a mistake. Art. You can't do this—" Art let him have the first one in the soft tissues under the breast bone, then cut his throat to be sure. After that he got out quickly.
Thirty-five minutes later he was emerging from the country end of the chute. His throat was burning from exertion and his left arm was useless—he could not tell whether it was broken or simply wounded.
* * *
He stopped to consider the matter. If Morgan had got them out safely, he knew where to rejoin. If they were still inside, he had to figure out some way to help them. The futility of his position depressed him—one man, with a knife and a bad arm, against a helicopter.
Art signaled that he would wait where he was. He considered himself well hidden; he expected to have to signal again when Ted got closer, but he underestimated Ted's ability. A hand was laid on his shoulder.
Art followed Ted in, by a circuitous and, at one point, almost perpendicular route. He found the Company huddled under a shelf of rock which had been undercut by a stream, now dry. Against the wall Morgan was on his back, with Dad Carter and Dr. McCracken squatting beside him. Art went up and made his report.
Morgan nodded, his face gray with pain. His shirt had been cut away; bandaging was wrapped around his ribs, covering a thick pad. "You did well, Art. Too bad about Cleve. Ted, we're getting out of here and you're going first, because you're taking the kid."
They crowded in, shoulder to shoulder. Morgan looked from one troubled face to another and smiled. "The Barclay Free Company, a provisional unit of the United States of America, is now in session," he announced, his voice suddenly firm. "I'm resigning the captaincy for reasons of physical disability. Any nominations?"
"Any other nominations?" He waited, then continued, "All right, all in favor of Doc make it known by raising your right hand. Okay—opposed the same sign. Dr. McCracken is unanimously elected. It's all yours, Captain. Good luck to you."
McCracken stood up, stooping to avoid the rock overhead. "We're evacuating at once. Mrs. Carter, give the baby about another tablespoon of the syrup, then help Ted. He knows what to do. You'll follow Ted. Then Jerry. Margie, you are next. I'll assign the others presently. Once out of the canyon, spread out and go it alone. Rendezvous at dusk, same place as under Captain Morgan's withdrawal plan—the cave." He paused. Morgan caught his eye and motioned him over, "That's all until Ted and the baby are ready to leave. Now back away and give Captain Morgan a little air."
"You might at that. I'm going to leave you bundled up warm and plenty of water within reach. I'll leave you some pills, too—that'll give you some comfort and ease. Only half a pill for you—they're intended for cows." He grinned at his patient.
"That's the most important thing we've got to worry about, Doc. We've got to have unity, and one plan, from coast to coast. I look forward to a day when there will be an American assigned, by name, to each and every one of them. Then at a set time—zzzt!" He drew a thumb across his throat.
"I don't know. I don't think about 'how long.' Two years, five years, ten years—maybe a century. That's not the point. The only question is whether or not there are any guts left in America." He glanced out where the fifth person to leave was awaiting a signal from Carter, who in turn was awaiting a signal from Art, hidden out where he could watch for the helicopter. "Those people will stick."
Presently Morgan added, "There's one thing this has taught me: You can't enslave a free man. Only person can do that to a man is himself. No, sir—you can't enslave a free man. The most you can do is kill him."