"Didn't know you had an arsenal in here!" cried Slade.
"No one else did, either, except Alfred. Now Doc, think you and Pete had better stay here."
Slade and Goldsmid pulled themselves out of their chairs as one man. Their timing was perfect.
"No, you don't, hero!" growled Slade.
"Warden," Goldsmid said, "perhaps I could talk to the men--"
The warden smiled and walked toward the door. There he stopped and said to Court, "Switch on the speaker system, Alfred. I'll take the portable mike from the next office. While I'm out there, get word to all custodial and operating personnel that they will be permitted to leave tonight. Meantime, I hope they will stay on their jobs. Better phone Mr. Tate, have someone try to locate Mr. Briggs, be sure and call Dr. Slade's staff."
The three men left the office. Court, the gun cradled under one arm, picked up the phone and spoke into it. His voice was a low, crisp monotone. After a while, he replaced the receiver and stood quiet, staring impassively at the others.
"You might say the warden's career has been twenty years of futility," he muttered. Lansing and Knox felt he wasn't actually speaking to them. "Now me, I'm a screw of the old school. Hardboiled, they say. I never expected a thing from a con ... and cons have lied to him, politicians have broken their promises ... but the liars have loved him and the dumbest dope in the legislature has respected him."
"Will he ... be all right?" Lansing asked.
Court shrugged. "Who knows? You handled this very badly," he said dispassionately. "Five minutes after you stepped through the main gate every inmate in the place knew you were here and started wondering. Why didn't you write--make arrangements to see the warden outside?"
"I'm sorry," Lansing said. "We know very little about prisons."
Court laughed shortly. "You'd better learn," he said grimly.
"Anyway we can see what's going on?" rumbled Knox. "And how about that speaker business?"
"There's a window in the next office. Come along."
They crouched at the window, the fat Knox whizzing a little, because Court had ordered them to keep out of sight of the rioters. They saw Halloran, Slade and Goldsmid at his heels, walking out into the small courtyard that lay between them and safety. Over the wall speaker came a sullen roar, something very like the ragged blast of a rocket whose timing is off. A few gray-clad men in the courtyard saw the approaching warden, surged toward him, screaming at their fellows in the big yard behind them.
Halloran ignored the clutching hands. He held the mike up and they heard him say, "There's no point in my talking with you unless you will be quiet and listen." He paused. The roar slowly subsided into an angry mutter. "Thanks. That's better."
Now, they could see Slade's head but both Halloran and the rabbi were hidden by the swirl of gray figures that swept around the three prison officials.
"Now," the warden went on, "it seems that you have something to say to me. Good enough. But why didn't you send word through your council, instead of roughing up guards, damaging property, yelling your heads off and generally behaving like a bunch of spoiled brats. Go on, tell me! Why?"
Someone's scream came clearly over the mike. "The world's coming to an end! They're leaving us here to die!"
"Yeah!" the mike picked up another voice. "How about that?"
Before the wordless, mindless roar could rise again, the warden barked, "Oh, hush up!" And they were quiet.
"My God," breathed Lansing.
"Now," Halloran's voice was easy, assured, "I want to make sure that all of you hear me. So, I'm coming out in the center of the yard. Rabbi Pete Goldsmid and Doc Slade insist on coming with me although," he chuckled, "I understand Squeaker Hanley's screaming for the doc to cut out his gall bladder." A few of the men laughed. "All right, here I come. And you fellows behind me, keep off the wire. I don't want this mike to go dead and have to yell my lungs out."
They saw the eddy of men around him move slowly through the broken gate and out of their sight.
"What will he tell them," muttered Knox.
"Whatever--they'll believe it," Court said. The courtyard before them was now empty. He stared thoughtfully out the barred window, then said, "Think you could get to the gate office pretty soon, now--"
"No!" snarled Knox. "I want to see what happens to that gutty so-and-so!"
Lansing grinned nervously. "Somehow, captain, I feel it won't be necessary for us to sneak out of here."
They listened again while assorted thieves, murderers, rapists, men--save for an innocent few--whose hands were consistently raised against their fellows' peace and property, heard their jailor tell them that the end of their world, a world that many of them remembered but dimly, was coming to an end. The screaming broke out again when Halloran spoke of the Mars-bound ships, and, for a moment, the three in the office thought he had lost control. But the amplifiers prevailed and Halloran laughed and said, "Anyway, we're not going to Mars--"
"You can go!"
The man who yelled that was apparently very close to the warden within his view, for they heard him say: "Chrisman, you're a fool--as usual! Would I bother to come out here and talk to you if I could go?"
That got them. That, they understood. If a guy didn't scram from a hot spot when he could ... well, then, he couldn't scram in the first place. So, the warden was stuck, just like they were.
Later, perhaps, a few of them might figure out why.
"Now, let's have no more interruptions," Halloran said. "I don't think there's any need to go. Neither does the doc, here, or the rabbi. We're all staying--because the desert to the south of us has stopped the spread of this dust and it seems it can't cross the rivers, either. So, we're safe enough."
"But that's not true," groaned Lansing.
Court glanced at him. "Would you tell them different?" he said coldly.
Halloran said, "Well, that's that. Life is a little difficult outside and so the people out there want to try to get to Mars. Believe me, that's a trip I want someone else to make first. But if they think life will be easier on those deserts--why, let them go. But God help them--they'll need it."
He paused. Knox tried to catch Lansing's eye, but the scientist's face was blank, unseeing.
"What do we do?" This voice was not hysterical, just seriously questioning.
"You should do darned well. Life should be easy enough for you. You've got your own farms, your livestock, laundry, hospital, shops--everything a man can need. So, take over and run things to suit yourselves."
A unanimous gasp whistled over the speaker. Then, they all cried just one word.
"Why not? Don't you think you can?"
Silence, broken by strange, wistful mutterings.
"I'd suggest this," Halloran said. "Let's follow our normal routine tonight--no lock-ups, of course--and tomorrow, you fellows take over. I'll help you in any way I can. But it will be your job. Perhaps after breakfast tomorrow, you ought to have a mass meeting. Under the supervision of your council, I'd say. You can't keep going without some kind of order, you know."
"My God," whispered Lansing, "he makes it all sound so real."
"Any questions?" Halloran asked.
"Hey, warden! How about the dames?"
"The ladies will join you tomorrow morning." He chuckled. "I imagine they'll be able to handle you all right!"
A joyous roar.
"However," Halloran raised his voice, "I'd like to remind you fellows that a successful community needs ... families!"
There was a long quiet, then, broken finally by an inmate who asked, "Warden, how about the guys up on the Row?"
"Well," Halloran's voice lost all humor, "you can start ripping out the gas chamber whenever you're ready to. I'll see that you get the tools."
The swell of applause was so loud in the office that Court hastily turned down the speaker's volume.
"All right," Halloran said when they had quieted down, "that's about it. You're free now, till supper-time. I'd suggest all of you start right now, thinking about your future--"
Outside the main gate, first Knox, then Lansing shook hands with the gray-faced warden.
"Trucks'll be in town at seven for your people," Knox muttered. He gave a windy sigh. "It's all fouled up. As usual. Damn it, we need people like you, sir!"
Lansing looked at Halloran for a long time, trying to see behind the mask of exhaustion. "I'm a mannerless fool," he said at last. "But Mr. Halloran, would you tell me what you're thinking? I mean, really thinking? Even if it's rough on us!"
Halloran laughed softly. "I wasn't thinking about you at all, Dr. Lansing. I was--and am--regretting that what I told the men couldn't be the truth. It's too bad they'll have so short a time. It would be very interesting to see what they would do with--life."
Knox scowled. "Seems like they haven't done much with it so far."
"Come along, general," Lansing said quietly. "You don't understand. None of us do. We never did."
GEORGE LOVES GISTLA.
By James McKimmey, Jr.
"Why don't you find yourself some nice little American girl," his father had often repeated. But George was on Venus ... and he loved pale green skin ... and globular heads and most of all, George loved Gistla.
George Kenington was sixteen, and, as he told himself, someone who was sixteen knew more about love than someone who was, say, forty-two. Like his father, for instance. A whole lot more probably. When you were forty-two, you got narrow-minded and nervous and angry. You said this is this, and that is that, and there is nothing else. When someone thought and felt and talked that way, George thought bitterly, there was not enough room inside that person to know what it was like, loving a Venusian.
But George knew. He knew very well.
Her name was Gistla. She was not pretty in standards of American colonists. She had the pale greenish Venusian skin, and she was too short and rather thick. Her face, of course, was not an American face. It was the face of native Venus. Round and smooth, with the large lidless eyes. There were no visible ears and a lack of hair strengthened the globular look of her head.
But she was a person. The beauty was inside of her. Did you have to point to a girl's face and say, "Here is where the nose should be, here is where the ears should be?" Did you have to measure the width between eyes and test the color of the skin? Did you have to check the size of the teeth and the existence of hair? Was all of this necessary to understand what was inside someone?
George snapped a leaf from an overhanging vine and threw it angrily to the ground. He was walking along a thin path that led from the colony to the tangled hills beyond, where hues of red and yellow and purple reflected like bold sweeps of watercolor. In a moment he would see Gistla, and with the color before his eyes and the sweet perfume of the flowers in his lungs, he felt again the familiar rise of excitement.
George had not always lived on Venus. The Colony was very new. By 2022, most of the Earth countries had sent colonizers to Mars. But as yet, in June of that year, Venus had been touched by only the sparsest invasion of American civilization. George had arrived just three years ago, when his father had been appointed Secretary of the colonizing unit.
And that was the whole trouble, really. Father was the Secretary, Mother was the Secretary's wife, Sister was the daughter of the Secretary. Everybody was wrapped up in it. Except George.
George loved Gistla.
"Why don't you find yourself some nice little American girl?" his father had said. "Say like Henry Farrel's little daughter?"
Henry Farrel's little daughter was a sweet sickening girl with a nasty temper and a nasty tongue. Her father was Governor of the Colony. She told you about it all the time.
"Or," his father had told him, "why not little what's-her-name, Doug Brentwood's daughter?"
Little what's-her-name's father was the President of the Council. "My father is President of the Council," she said. Over and over, as though in a settlement the size of the Colony, there would be anyone who wouldn't know her father was the President of the Council.
It was all a very tight and careful circle, chosen on Earth with a great deal of "common sense."
There were the ordinary settlers, of course. They had daughters. Some of them were very pretty and long-limbed. And George had thought about that.
Certainly there wasn't a decent-looking girl in the whole Governing circle, and the sight of a girl with flashing eyes and a nice red mouth, who was shaped a little like something besides a tree stump, was indeed an exciting sight.
But there were limitations to the settler girls.
They had no background to speak of, and though that didn't make any difference, George assured himself, they knew nothing about art, music, poetry, or anything really worth while. And, too, while George's father had said, "Now, George, we're all one here. Each of us is as good as another. Joe Finch, who cares for the flowers outside, is every bit as good a man as I am"--still George knew, if he told his parents he was going to marry Joe Finch's daughter someday, there would be hell to pay.
So as long as the restrictions had been bound around him, there was no reason to go just half-way. George was not an ordinary boy. He did things in extreme. He was now in love with a Venusian girl, and his family was already starting to make him pay.
George turned off the path, just beyond an arch of thick purple-green vines that always reminded him of a gate to a garden. There was a quiet simplicity to this small clearing where he and Gistla met. There was an aloneness to it, and only the sound of the flat shiny leaves sliding together and the high, trilling sound of the small Venusian birds broke the peaceful silence. They had always met here, nowhere else.
Now, as George found himself in the clearing, he began to wonder what Gistla would say or do when he told her he was taking her home to meet his family. It had been a sudden decision, brought out of anger and indignation.
George sat down upon the flat hollow of a large vine. The sky was murky as usual, but the soft warm feel and smell of the growth around him, with its color and brightness, made up for a sunless sky.
As he waited, he remembered what his mother had said: "Oh, George, you're really not serious about bringing a Venusian into our home!"
And his sister, Mari, had said, "My God!" Mari, who was eighteen, said this to most anything.