It didn't take long. Without taking her eyes from him, she moved like an animal to the food and stooped slowly, keeping alert for any sudden move on his part, and picked up the food. She stood up, and stepped back a couple of steps.
She ate with her fingers, dipping them in and extracting hot food, with no apparent concern for the heat. She pushed the food into her mouth and licked her fingers carefully of clinging food. She ate rapidly, as if for the first time in weeks. And she kept her eyes, all the time, on Nelson.
Nelson didn't care, now; he wouldn't have jumped her, or done anything to scare her at all, even if her guard were to be let down for a moment.
He let her finish her meal, then smiled at her when she looked at him. She still held the empty can, and she was wiping her mouth with her free hand. She stared at him for almost half a minute before he said slowly, "You like that food. Don't you?" She said nothing. She looked at him and at the can she held. He knew what was going on in her mind and he believed that he was winning. "You know we'll both be needing someone out here, don't you?" But her answer was an uncertain expression on her face as she stared at him.
"Loners don't last too long out here. Being alone gets to you sooner or later," he said. "You go mad or you get careless and the patrol gets you."
The girl opened her mouth and glanced around quickly, then back at Nelson. She bent over, still watching Nelson all the time, and put the can down. Then she stepped backwards, toward the edge of the clearing, feeling the way with her feet and a hand held back to tell her if she were backing into a tree or rock. When she was almost to the edge of the clearing, almost to the trees, she stopped and stared at him. There were shadows now; it was almost night, and night came quickly in this country. Nelson could not see her face as she looked at him. She turned suddenly and ran into the trees. He made no effort to stop her or call her back; any such effort would have been futile and for his purposes, disastrous. No such effort was necessary.
He spent the night sheltered between some boulders and awoke the next morning rested by an undisturbed sleep.
He found a small creek near by and washed his face to awaken himself. It was a clear morning, with a warm sun and a cool wafting breeze. He felt good; he felt alive and ready for whatever the day had to offer. And he felt ready for breakfast.
He found another can of pork and beans in his pack and opened it. It was, he noted, almost the last. His supplies were getting low. He considered the situation as he slowly ate his breakfast.
Of course there was only one thing to do. He supposed that he could have gotten by simply by hunting his food, but hunting was at best seasonal and required that he keep more or less to a specific area; agriculture was about the same, only worse. A farm meant a smaller area than a hunting preserve and it also meant sticking to it more. It meant buildings to store food against winter. It meant inevitable--and almost certainly prompt--capture by a patrol. No, all things considered, there was only one answer and he knew the answer from long experience. Find a patrol warehouse and steal your food there.
The question of course, was where and when. There was a patrol station near where Nelson now was, and that was the natural target. He had a few furnace beam guns--three, to be exact--and since the patrol could detect the residue from a furnace beamer a mile away even at low force, the only safe thing to use one on was the patrol. And to be frank, he rather enjoyed his brushes with the patrol. Like him, they were wakers--people who had never known the electronic dreams which were fed to all but a few of Earth's peoples. People who had never lain asleep in nutrient baths from their seventeenth birthday living an unreal world built to their own standards. Of the billions on earth, only a few hundred were wakers. Most of those were patrol, of course, but a few were rebels.
That was he, and also the girl he had seen yesterday. And it had been Edna and Sammy and Jeanne and Gardner; and maybe a dozen other people he had known since he had escaped from the Commune, when he had been just a kid--but when he had seen the danger.
For the past two and a half centuries or so, almost everyone raised on Earth had been raised in a commune, never knowing his or her parents. They had been raised, they had been indoctrinated and they had mated in the communes--and then gone into Sleep. More than likely, Nelson's parents were there still, dreaming in their trance, having long ago forgotten each other and their son, for those were things of a harsher world over which one could have no control. In Sleep one dreamed of a world that suited the dreamer. It was artificial. Oh, yes, it was a highly personalized utopia--one that ironed out the conflicts by simply not allowing them. But it was artificial. And Nelson knew that as long as the universe itself was not artificial nothing artificial could long stand against it. That was why he had escaped the commune without letting them get him into the nutrient bath in which the dreamers lived out their useless lives. His existence gave the lie to the pseudo-utopia he was dedicated to overthrowing. The called it individualism, but Nelson called it spineless.
Above him was sky stretching light blue to the horizons--and beyond the blueness of stars. He felt a pang of longing as he looked up trying to see stars in the day sky. That was where he should be, out there with the pioneers, the men who were carving out the universe to make room for a dynamic mankind that had long ago forgotten the Sleepers of the home world. But no, he decided. Out there he would not be giving so much to mankind as he was here and now. However decadent these people were, he knew that they were men. Nelson knew that somehow he had to overthrow the Sleepers.
Before something happened while they lay helpless in their coffins, dreaming dreams that would go on and on until reality became harsh enough to put them down.
What if the spacefarers should return? What if some alien life form should grow up around some other solar type star, develop space travel, go searching for inhabitable worlds--solar type worlds--and discover Earth with it's sleeping, unaware populace? could dreams defend against that?
Nelson shuddered with the knowledge that he had his work cut out for him, and awoke to his own hunger. He fished out a can and started to open it before he remembered, and fished out another can as well. He pressed the release on both and the tops flew off, releasing the odor of cooking food.
He leaned over and set one can on a flat rock that was just inside his reach, then scooted back about a foot and using his fingers, scooped up a mouthful of his own breakfast. Half turning his head, he caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye, about fifteen feet away, tense and expectant but ready to spring away if she thought it was necessary. He turned back and concentrated on eating his own breakfast.
"This sure is good after all night," he said, after a few minutes, making a show of gulping down a chunk of stew beef, and sucking the gravy from his fingers. He did not look back.
"My name is Glynnis," he heard abruptly. He sensed the uncertainty in her voice, and the--distant--hint of belligerence, but even so he could tell it was a soft voice, musical and clear--if he could judge after not having heard a woman's voice in so long.
"Glynnis," he said slowly. "That's a pretty name. Mine's Hal Nelson. Like I told you last night."
"I haven't forgotten. Is that for me?" She meant the food, of course. Hal Nelson looked around. She was still standing by the tree. She was trying to seem at ease and making an awkward show of it.
"Yes," he told her. She took a step closer and stopped, looking at him. He turned back to his own eating. "No need to be scared, Glynnis, I won't hurt you." He became uncomfortably aware that she had not spoken his name yet and he wanted her to very much.
"No." Then a brief pause before she said, "I'm not used to anybody."
"It isn't good to be alone out here with the animals and food so hard to come by--and the patrol searching for wakers. You ever have any brush with the patrol?"
She had come up and was eating now; her answer came between eager mouthfuls. "I seen them once. They didn't know I saw them--or they would have caught me and taken me back with them."
"Where're you from? What are you doing out here?"
For a moment he thought she had not heard him. She was busy eating, apparently having classified him as a friend. Finally, she said, "My folks were out here. They were farmers for a while. I was born out here and we moved around a lot until my daddy got tired of moving. So we built a farm. He built it in a place in a valley off there"--She vaguely indicated south--"And they planted some grain and potatoes and tried to round up some kind of livestock. We had mostly goats. But the patrol found us."
Nelson nodded, bitterly, he knew what had happened. Her father had gone on as long as he could until at last, broken and uncaring he had made one last ditch stand. More than likely he had half wanted to give up anyway, and had not only because of the conflict of his family and saving face. "You were the only one who got away?" he asked.
"Uh-huh. They took the others." She spoke without emotion, peering into her food can to see if there was any left. "I was out in the field but I saw them coming. I hid down low behind some tall grain and got to the forest before they could find me." She examined the can again, then decided it was empty and put it down.
"Do you know what they do to people they take?" Nelson asked.
"Your daddy tell you? What did he say?"
"He said they take you back to the Mausoleum and put you to sleep in a coffin." She looked up at him, her face open, as if that was all there was to it. Nelson decided that she was as guileless as he had expected her to be, and reflected absently on that factor for a moment.
A light breeze was up and the air was full of the scents of the forest. Nelson liked the pungent smell of the pines and rich odor of chokeberries and bushes; and the mustiness that could be found in thickly overgrown places where the ground had become covered with a brown carpet of fallen pine needles. Some days he would search places in the forest until he found one or another brush or tree whose leaves or berries he would crush in his fingers simply so that he could savor the fragrance of them. But not this morning.
He rose to his feet and reached over to pick up Glynnis' discarded food container. She drew away from him, bracing herself as if to leap and run. He stopped himself and froze where he stood for a moment, then drew back.
"I didn't mean to scare you," he said. "We can't stay here, because if you stay somewhere they find you. We can't leave the containers here, either, because if they find them it might give them a clue in tracking us."
She looked ashamed, so he reached over, ready to draw back his hand if she acted as if she were scared. She tugged at her lower lip with her teeth and stared at him with eyes that were wide but she did not spring to her feet. Somehow Nelson knew that the girl was acutely aware of how much she needed help out here. Suddenly, her right hand darted out and for a split second Nelson feared he had lost after all. But she reached over for the discarded can, picked it up and handed it to him. He reacted a little slowly, but he smiled and took the container. Their hands touched briefly and the girl drew hers away, immediately looking ashamed for so doing. Nelson continued to smile at her, and rather stiffly, she answered with a smile of her own. He put the container into the knapsack with the others and then slipped into the armstraps. Glynnis helped him.
They walked for an hour, that first day together, neither speaking. Glynnis stayed close by his side and Nelson could feel her proximity to him. He felt good in a way he had not felt in along time. When the silence was finally broken, it was Nelson who broke it. They were topping a small hill in a section of wilderness that was not as heavily wooded as most and the sunlight was warm against Nelson's face. He had been thinking the matter over off and on all morning, and now he asked, "Have you ever raided a patrol depot?"
"No," she answered, a trace of apprehension in her voice.
They topped the hill and began moving down the other side. "Sometimes it's a pushover, when nobody is there. Other times it's mortal hell. The patrol is always anxious to get their hands on wakers, so they try to keep an eye out for them at the depots. That means a fight unless we're very lucky. If the depot we pick is too heavily manned--"
"What do you mean, 'Depot we pick'?"
"We need more food. We either shoot some, raise some, or steal some."
"Oh," she said, but there was apprehension in her voice.
"We don't have any choice. We'll wait until almost dark. If the depot is guarded by too many men, or for some reason an extra number is there for the night, then we're in trouble unless we play our cards just right. You just do as I tell you and we'll be all right." He reached back and fumbled with the side pouch on his pack. "You know how to use one of these? Here, catch." He tossed her in his spare furnace beamer.
She almost missed it. She caught it awkwardly and held it gingerly with both hands, looking first at the gun and then him. Then, still gingerly, but with a certain willingness, she took the gun by the grip and pointed it to the ground, her eyes shut hard. Then, suddenly, her expression changed and she glanced up at him, worriedly.
"Oh, you said they could tell if we fired one of these."
"Don't worry," Nelson said. "The safety is on. Let me show you." He took the gun and explained to her how to use it. "Now then," he concluded. "When we get to the depot you stay outside the alarm system. I'll go in, leaving you to guard. Try not to use this unless you have to, but if it is necessary, don't hesitate. If you fire it, I'll know. My job will be to slip past the alarm and get inside to the food. If you fire, that'll be a signal that you've been discovered by the guards and we have to get out of there."
"Won't this give us away the same as shooting game?"
"Sure, but we get more food this way and maybe some other stuff. Especially reloads for the furnace guns. And, if we're lucky, we can ground the patrol. One more thing, Glynnis," he added. "Are you sure you can kill a man?"
"Is it hard?" she asked innocently. Nelson was rattled only for a second.
"No, it isn't hard, except that he'll probably be trying to kill you, too."
"I've hunted some game with this." She held up her hunting knife so that the blade caught the sunlight. She had kept it clean and sharp. Nelson could see, but there were places where the blade had been chipped.
"Well, maybe there won't be any need to kill anyone at all," he said, a little more hastily than he intended. "I guess you'll do fine, Glynnis, I'll feel a lot safer knowing you're out there." He would feel as he had felt when Edna had gone with him on raids.
Toward evening they came to the depot Nelson had picked out. They were on a high although gently sloping hill, among the trees that crested it, looking down at the depot about a quarter of a mile away. There was still enough light to see by, but the sky was darkening for night. For the past two or three hours, Nelson had been repeatedly drilling Glynnis over her part. It was simple, really, and she knew it backwards, but she patiently recited her role when he asked her, whether out of regard for his leadership or an instinctive realization of his pre-raid state of nerves, he did not know. He made her recite it again, one last time. She spoke in low tones, just above a whisper. Around them the gathering of dusk had quieted the world. He waited for it to get a little darker, then he touched her shoulder and clasped it for a second before beginning his way to the depot.
He kept close to the bushes as far down as he could and crouched low over the ground the rest of the way even though he knew it was too dark for ordinary optics to pick him up. He had an absorber in his pack that would take care of most of the various radiations and detectors he would come into contact with, and for the most part, unless the alarms were being intently watched, he didn't expect to be noticed on the control board. And you couldn't watch a board like that day after day with maximum efficiency. Not when the alarms were set off only by an occasional animal or falling tree limb. Mostly he had to keep watch for direct contact alarms and traps; he was an accomplished thief and an experienced burglar. At last he found himself at the fence surrounding the depot.
In a clump of bushes a few feet from the fence he hid the containers; it saved him the job of having to bury them, and they would be deadweight now, anyway. Then he turned his attention on the fence.
He took a small plastic box out of his pack and pressed a panel in its center with his thumb. Silently, smoothly, two long thin rods shot out from each end of the box until they were each about a foot long. There was a groove on the box and Nelson fitted it to the lower strand of the fence wire. He let go of the gadget and it balanced of its own accord, its antenna vibrating until they blurred, then ceasing to vibrate as the gadget balanced. Nelson went down on his back and pulled on gloves. He grabbed the fence wire and lifted it so that he could slide under. When he was inside he picked the gadget off the wire by one antenna and shut it off. The antennae pulled back inside. Gardner had made this gadget; Gardner had been handy with things like this. And there would be no other when Nelson lost this. He didn't want to leave it where it could be found or where he might have to abandon it to save his neck in an emergency.
He turned to the problem of getting across the open field. He had little fear of being picked up by radiation detectors, thanks to his absorber. But direct contact could give him away. But most of those had to be buried. That meant that he could keep close to the bushes and not have to worry. The roots of the bushes fouled up the detection instruments if they got to them. He made his way, judging each step before he took it and at last stood by the door.
It was dark by then. He could see the stars in the clear darkness of the sky. They seemed somehow brighter than they had before. Nelson fished through his pack until he felt the familiar shape of the gadget he wanted. It was smaller, more compact than the one he had used to get over the fence; but it was more complex. He felt along the door frame for the alarm trip and found it. He placed the gadget there and switched it on. There was a short, low, buzzing sound as the gadget did its job and Nelson glanced around nervously, in fear it had been heard. The door's lock clunked back and Nelson released air from his lungs. He pushed the door open and found himself in darkness.
He was in a corridor with doors facing off from it. He could see light coming under two of the doors, meaning patrolmen behind them. He moved cautiously by the two doors, almost opposite each other, to a door at the end of the corridor. He grasped the handle and opened the door, realizing too late that the door should have been locked.
But by that time the door was open. His hand darted to his holstered furnace beamer and unlocked the safety. It was almost pitch dark in the room but he heard the room's occupant turning over on the bunk and mumble low, incoherently, in his sleep. Nelson waited a minute but the man didn't wake up.
Nelson closed the door.
He tried another door; this time, one that was locked. He had no trouble forcing the lock pattern; less than a minute later he was inside, with the door shut behind him. He took out a flashlight.
This was the storeroom, all right. It was piled with boxes mostly unopened. Nelson read the labels on the boxes and opened those which contained food he needed and supplies. He found another pack in an opened box in one corner and began outfitting it like his own. Or as nearly like his own as possible; he know that he could never duplicate or replace the gadgets Gardner had designed, and in a way he was bitter about it. He found the ammunition stores and took as many capsules for the furnace beamers as he could carry. He went to the door but slipped the furnace beamer out of his holster before opening the door.
The corridor was still dark. He stepped into it, alert for any sound or movement that might mean danger or herald discovery. His nervousness had given way to cool, detached determination. He almost made it to the door before he heard the footsteps.
His reaction was unconscious and reflexive. He turned, leveling his gun. He had passed the two doors light had shown under. One of them was opening and Nelson saw the shadow of the man who had opened it; then the man. The man saw Nelson at about the same time and stood gaping at him. Without realizing that he had fired, Nelson felt the recoil of the gun; the roar of the beam against the close walls hurt his ears, parts of the wall blistered and buckled, other parts of it charred black, some parts vaporizing in thin patches. The patrolman had flared instantly, never really knowing what had hit him. Smoke and heavy odors filled the corridor as Nelson slid out into the open. The patrol depots were fireproof, but the area Nelson had blasted would be far to hot to pass through for the rest of the night.
Nelson toned down the volume of his beamer and fired at a fence post. The tough plastic burst into splinters with a sudden explosion. A snapping wire whipped to within inches of Nelson's face but he didn't have to think about it. He was running up the hillside a short while later--he had lost track of time as such--hoping that Glynnis would use her gun if any patrolmen were following him.
He reached the hilltop in darkness, afraid to use his flashlight. Suddenly, he stumbled; was falling over something soft, like an animal or a man. Cursing low and involuntarily, he managed to roll over so that he fell on his back. He saw the form, a patch of irregular blackness in the darkness around him and knew it for a body. He got to his feet glancing around, not knowing what this meant. He bent over the form, keeping the furnace beam's muzzle only a few inches from it, but too far back to be grabbed suddenly. He couldn't see the man's clothing very plainly but he could tell it was a patrolman's uniform. Nelson reached down to feel for a heartbeat and drew his hand away sticky with what he knew must be blood. Nelson was shaken for a moment; but he put aside the strange kinship he so often felt for patrolmen because they were also wakers and drew back, peering round into the darkness, pretty certain that he knew what had happened to this patrolman.
He pushed himself erect and turned to see Glynnis, a dark figure but obviously her, standing near a clump of trees a few feet off.
"You move quiet as a cat," he said. "You do this?"
"Uh-huh." She came forward and stared down at the corpse. Nelson was glad he couldn't see her face in the darkness. "There were two of them. They split up and I followed after this one and came up behind him. I slit his throat. Then I went and got the other one the same way."
And it had been so simple, thought Nelson. He handed Glynnis the extra pack. "Take this." She accepted it wordlessly and slipped her arms into the straps. "Oh," he added, as an afterthought. "Let me show you something." He reached into the pack and drew out a knife. A good one with a long plasteel blade that would not chip or corrode like hers. He handed it to her and imagined her smiling face in the darkness.
"It doesn't feel like metal," she said, after she had taken the knife from its scabbard.
"It isn't. It's a kind of plastic, stronger than most metals. Do you like it?" He was wasting time, he knew, and he cursed himself for it. But it didn't matter.
"It's real nice," she answered.
"I'm glad you like it," he said, taking her elbow in his hand. "We'd better go now. They'll be after us."
They ran most of the night, although it wasn't always running. Nelson picked a lot of terrain that was too uneven or too thickly covered with growth for running. They kept to rocks and creekbeds as much as they could, and they stopped only a few hours before dawn to get a few hours sleep they were too exhausted to postpone any longer.
When Nelson awoke the sun was a little higher than he had wanted it to be. He got to his feet and scanned the morning sky but saw nothing to indicate sky patrol robots. He felt uneasy about not having made more territory; but the way had been erratic and uneven. A thorough search pattern could find him easily; the further away he got from the depot the better chance he stood of not being discovered by a robot. He wondered, briefly, just how many would be called out, but there was no reason to wonder. Three patrolmen dead meant a lot of searching to find the killers. He and Glynnis couldn't waste much time.
He nudged the still sleeping girl with his foot to wake her. She awoke suddenly, her hand darting toward her new knife and a low but startled cry came from her.
"Quiet." He had dug two cans out of his pack and handed one to her. "We overslept. Eat in a hurry."
She opened her breakfast. "We'll be traveling most of the day?" she asked. When he nodded, "yes," she said, "I can take it."
"I know you can; but they'll have a search out for us by now and a thorough one. If we hadn't met when we had they'd have picked you up for sure after I raided that depot--if I could have pulled it off alone."
"You ever see an air robot?" he asked.
"I hope you never do. They'll fly out a search pattern, and they have equipment that can detect a human being. They can send back signals to tell where we are if they spot us. Our only hope is to get away before the search pattern gets this far. If we can get far enough away, we stand a better chance, because they'll have to spread out more thinly. We'll have to run for a long time, but eventually they'll give up. Until then--Well--" He let it hang. But Glynnis caught on.
The rest of the day they traveled, stopping only briefly to eat and once during the afternoon when they came to a small river. Nelson's admiration for Glynnis increased. She responded intelligently to his commands, and learned quickly. She was strong and athletic, with the reflexes of an animal.
They made good time. When darkness came Nelson estimated they had made almost fifty miles since the raid, even over rough terrain. He hoped that that would be enough. He was tired, and though the girl attempted to hide her own fatigue, her attempts were becoming more and more exaggerated. He searched out a camp site.
He found one on a hill, overlooking a river. There was protection from the wind. The moon was up and there was plenty of light from it; but Nelson didn't think the searchers would be out at night.
After they had eaten, Nelson leaned back against the thick bole of a tree and found himself studying the girl. Her features were even enough, but she was not a classically beautiful girl. Nor an unattractive one. It was her eyes, he decided. She was staring off into the sky and forest. Her eyes were large, dark, enigmatic eyes that expressed much; expressed it eloquently. But he had the feeling there was much in the girl that those eyes hid. Her body was lean, but whether from exercise or undernourishment he couldn't be sure. Her figure was full, for all the leanness, and ample. She was strong, though she hardly looked muscular. She had been toughened by her environment. Edna had not been as tough as Glynnis.
With sudden embarrassment, he realized he had been comparing Glynnis and Edna frequently. He didn't want to do that--but he couldn't help himself.
"Something wrong?" Glynnis asked anxiously.
She was returning his stare. "No," he said. "I was ... looking at you." For a long moment, neither spoke. Then he said, "We'll be together for a long time."
"I know. We'll have to be."