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Kane's Odyssey by Jeff
Rufus, wearing skins, stood at the edge of the woods with his friend John. It was cooler in theshade after the heavy work. Rufus took a drink of the cold water from the rusty can and wipedhis forearm across his mouth. He squinted out at the field, harsh and rocky under the pea-greensky. A dozen of his kinsmen remained at work in the field, struggling under the murky sun,shoving their wood plows through the parched brown dirt. This time, the elders said, theplowing would be good because it would rain in time. Rufus doubted it.
"We'd better get back to work," John said beside him. John was twenty, five years younger thanRufus, and not so tall, but with a thick, powerful body. He usually managed to look cheerful,even at times like this, late in the working day. "Come on, Rufus," he smiled.
"One more sip," Rufus stalled.
"We have to hurry, before the rain comes."
"Who said it's going to rain?"
"The elders. You heard them."
"All their arguments were non-sequiturs," Rufus said.
"What?" John said, startled.
"Non-sequiturs," Rufus repeated.
"What's a non-sequitur?"
"It's a logical argument that doesn't follow." John's forehead wrinkled. "Where did you getthat? From The Learner?"
"No. From a book."
John sighed. "Nobody reads books."
"Because reading those books is dangerous ." Rufus got interested in the logic. "Why?"
"Because people will think you're crazy."
"Because nobody reads books any more."
"Non-sequitur," Rufus said.
"I'm getting back to work," John said, "and if you're smart, you will too."
Rufus hung back a moment, watching his friend trudge out into the furrowed field and lift theheavy handles of the push-plow. The murky sun glistened on John's sweaty shoulders as he beganwrestling the awkward wood machine through the earth. John's deerskins, like Rufus's, weresoaked through with perspiration, and hung clammy and dark, tied around the neck and the waist,leaving arms and legs bare. It was a brutal, senseless way to live, Rufus thought suddenly.There was no future, no thought, nothing. A man could work his life away, dripping his sweatand blood into this dead soil, and it would never matter at all. It was insane and there had tobe a better way of life somewhere.
Which immediately made his skull throb with savage pain—a shot of bone-vibrating pain and thenthe dizziness which almost dropped him to his knees.
Rufus quickly changed his line of thought. The pain went away. Why was the pain? What made itcome when you thought certain things?
But even the wonderment made the pain begin again, gnawing like an uncertain little animalinside his skull.
He sighed and stopped thinking about that, too. He immediately felt better. Physically.
He went out to his own plow and shouldered it. The wood blade chunked through the dirt, whichcrumbled to a fine brown powder as he slogged along. The dust became the only reality of yourexistence during the worst days out here: it rose, choking, making fine grit between the teeth,clogging the nostrils, making a dull ache in the lungs; it rimmed the eyes and made them stickyand hurtful, coated the sweat-slippery skin and itched, tugged at bare feet, ankles and legsslipping and sliding through the powdery stuff.
The plow hit a large rock. Rufus stopped and lifted the rock and staggered across the fieldwith it to the edge of the hillside and tossed it down. The drop-off was steep, and he watchedthe rock tumble and bounce down and down, hopping, then flying, then skidding to far belowwhere it looked like thousands of other rocks had been thrown. Was there no end to rocks?
His head warned him that this bordered on being a dangerous thought. Rufus sighed and stole amoment for the view. Slowly but surely he was learning to cheat his head—think thoughtsquietly and not be pained for them—or steal moments like this without punishment.
The field and the woods were on a highland plain of some kind, and the hill down which he hadthrown the rock was a precipice falling toward a lower level of valley hundreds of feet down.The valley looked as parched and lifeless as the highland, but it stretched far. And off to thenorthwest a near-infinite distance were the bluish ghosts of the mountains, craggy, mysterious,unknown.
There were other people out there somewhere. There was even a city. Rufus knew this. He hadonly the vaguest idea of what a city was like—except that it was very bad, of course—and hehad not even been as far from home as the valley floor. But at times like this he felt asupreme yearning. He wanted to go, to discover, to find out for himself . There were
times—such as now—when he knew he would never respect himself or have anything like happinessunless he could accomplish this. His head stabbed pain.
He had made the mistake of thinking too directly about what was on his mind.
He went back to his work, joining the other men of varying ages, tearing up the dead earth.
* * *
THE TRUE CITIZENS numbered about three hundred. Rufus, at 25, was about the average age for thecommune. Fewer than twenty of the citizens were over 50, and there were, of course, no childrenat all. They lived in the woods on the highland plain near what had been a small town, but onlya few of the strongest old buildings had withstood the ages and it was forbidden to go there
any more. The True Citizens lived in earthen or stone huts, usually fifteen or twenty to a"family," and the customs decreed that everyone gather in the evenings in the big clearing nearthe cliff for food and comradeship.
It usually got very cold after dark, and there were people who said the darkness away from thecampfire was magic, and to be feared. But Rufus found his best friend Joseph hunkered against atree on the very fringe of the light from the great bonfire, as he expected. A few other hardysouls, and some lovers, had also chosen places well away from the center of things, where womenserved food from steaming pots and some of the men so assigned were busy sewing skins andstripping the carcasses of animals slain for future food. It was not really consideredantisocial to linger this far from the fire as long as one didn't make it a regular habit.Rufus squatted beside Joseph, who was not more than 18 and very thin and silver-haired. Beingone of the student hunters, Joseph had a dish of meat, while Rufus had his usual heavy cup ofsoup and several slices of thick bread.
"Hello," Rufus grinned. "How was the hunt?"
"One deer," Joseph smiled back. "I helped drive him."
"Did you make the kill?"
Joseph chuckled bitterly. "Patrick made the kill. You know that. Patrick always makes thekill."
"You'll get to make a kill."
"Not as long as Patrick is around. Patrick enjoys killing. Patrick would kill anything oranyone. I suppose that's why all the women love him. He's a pig."
Rufus drew in his breath sharply and watched to see his friend's face contort with pain. Butthere was no sign of pain; Joseph's expression remained one of mere frustration and anger.
"What's the matter?" Joseph asked, seeing the way Rufus was eyeing him.
"Did that hurt?" Rufus asked.
"Of course not. Are you back on pain again, Rufus? —When are you going to explain to me whatit is you mean when you ask if words hurt me?"
"It's nothing," Rufus said quickly.
"Here," Joseph grunted, and handed him a piece of meat.
"No, that's yours. You earned it."
"Take it," Joseph growled in mock anger, "or I'll practice my killing on you."
It was good meat, seared in the fire, still bloody in-side near the bone, and very strong andpowerful. Rufus tore at it eagerly.
Joseph leaned closer to him. "Did you know there's a place where there are books?"
"Of course," Rufus said, surprised. "The cave near the Oracle."
"No, no," Joseph said impatiently. "In town."
" In town ? How would you know about—" Rufus stopped, seeing Joseph's little grin of recklesspride. "Joseph, did you go into town?"
"Today," Joseph replied. "The hunt was near the town. They told me to scout around the farside, and they went through the ravines. I was alone. There was the town. I went into it. Ilooked around." Rufus was stunned. "It's dangerous in the town. You could have been killed.What would the elders do if they found out?" Joseph's lips curled in a sneer. "There's nodanger in that town. I've been there four times before. This was my fifth visit. No one goesthere. But I go there. I'll take you with me the next time."
"No," Rufus said quickly.
"Afraid?" Joseph taunted.
"We're not supposed to go there."
"Well, I've been there and I'm all right. And I'll go again. It's not dangerous. It's just oldwrecked buildings and rubble and a few places standing, and today in one of them I found thebooks."
"In the town?" The question was dragged out of Rufus despite the twinge of pain it cost.
"Part of the roof is down," Joseph told him eagerly. "There must have been thousands andthousands of books once. Most of them are ruined, buried under trash or wrecked by the rain andsnow. But there's a basement. I found it and went down there. The books are still all right inthe basement."
"What kind of books?" The pain was worse, but Rufus had to know.
"I didn't have time to look. But I'm going back. Maybe tomorrow." Nearby, a couple making lovehad reached the stage where the girl's gasps of pleasure caused heads to turn idly. Rufusturned too, and watched for a moment. The girl's name was Sandra and he had made love to her afew times also. She was very good and very passionate. Rufus turned back to Joseph. "Tell mewhere the books—" Joseph hissed and silenced him with a look. Someone was coming. Turning,Rufus saw three people, two men and a woman, approaching with their plates.
"We've been looking for you," the girl said. She was slender and dark-haired, and the distantfirelight gleamed seductively on her strong legs. She bent and kissed Rufus half-playfully onthe lips, then sat close beside him on the ground.
"Hello, Mari," Joseph said to her easily. "Hello, John. Hello, Fred. Join us."
The two men sat facing Rufus and Mari so that the group formed a rough circle on the ground.John, Rufus' friend from the field crew, started eating without a word of greeting. Fred, asomewhat older man whose hair hung down his back although he was bald on top, smiled and winkedat Rufus.
"The two of you look like conspirators," he said.
"Mari and me?" Rufus said innocently.
"I know about Mari and you," Fred chuckled in a way that wasn't quite decent. "I meant youand the mighty hunter, here." Joseph gave Fred a cool smile. "We were plotting your overthrow,Fred."
"Really? Would you like to tell me about it?"
"I thought so. Well, we'll catch you one day, my young friend." Joseph smiled blandly. "Catchme doing what?"
Fred winked. "Something."
It was all a joke, of course, but Rufus felt a twinge of discomfort. He did not trust Fred.Fred was an adviser to the elders. He did not work in the usual sense. He was a planner. He wasalways friendly. But Rufus didn't like some of the jokes, he didn't like the streak ofpotential cruelty that seemed to lie behind the veneer of joking, and he didn't like the waythe older man had stayed near Mari lately.
Mari… He turned to her and watched her as she ate. Her head was down, her face partly averted,her dark hair hiding her expression. The firelight made her lithe legs and the deep valley ofher fine breasts the color of newly burnished copper, and he felt the softly choking rise ofneed for her.
She caught him watching her, and made a little face at him. "Eat your food!" she murmured in amock-scolding tone.
"Can we walk later?" Rufus asked. His throat was constricted. She smiled at him. "Yes. I'd likethat."
He felt better, as if a band had been released from his chest. They were all a family, ofcourse. No woman belonged to any man, no man to any woman. All shared and loved alike becauseit was the only logical way to have harmony. But there were times when Rufus hated the rule. He
wanted Mari for himself, and no one else, wished she could handle situations so she could saveherself for him, as a few women secretly saved themselves for their favored man.
Dull shaft of pain. Stop thinking.
Fred was talking to Joseph again. "You enjoy the hunting?"
"Most days," Joseph said, finishing his food.
"What do you like about it most?" Fred asked.
"The chase?" Fred persisted.
Joseph met his eyes. "I suppose I like getting out of the commune best of all."
Rufus bit his tongue at the danger of the statement.
Fred, however, held the same casual smile. "You like to range the countryside, then."
"Yes," Joseph said, seemingly intent on angering the older man. "I like to get away from peoplewho watch and ask questions." Rufus felt near panic. He tried to help Joseph. "He was saying,Fred, just as you walked up, that it's good to provide for the family."
"I see," Fred said, glancing sharply at him.
"I like the moving around," Joseph insisted, angry with Rufus now. John looked up from hisfood. "Why would you want to move around?"
"To see new things," Joseph told him. "To learn. To feel more free. To move into newterritory."
The dangerous words lay there a moment, making their group seem very silent amid the tinkle ofvoices around the big clearing and the fire, now smoking up against a cloudy sky highlighted bya brown, crusty old moon.
"Why would anyone want to go anywhere else?" John asked blankly.
"Have you ever been anywhere else?" Joseph retorted.
"Of course not."
"Then how can you say no one should want to see new things?" John chewed his food and blinked awhile. Finally he said, "Everywhere else is bad, Joseph. You know that."
"Have you ever been anywhere else to know that?" Joseph repeated.
"Of course not. It's bad."
"How do you know it's bad?" Joseph insisted.
"Because if it was good it wouldn't be so different."
"How do you know other places are so different?" John looked frightened. "I don't know. Mymother told me."
"I wonder why she told you that."
"Because it's true, I suppose."
"I don't believe she even told you that," Joseph said. John looked startled. "Who?"
"Well, maybe she didn't."
Joseph looked at Rufus and spread his hands in resignation.
"Easy," Rufus pleaded.
Fred leaned forward toward Joseph. "You seem very troubled." Joseph grinned. "No. I'm kidding.I'm fine."
"Yes. I was only kidding."
"I hope so," Fred said with a gentle smile. "You know that people who become maladjusted canonly cause trouble for themselves."
"It's a safety outlet," Joseph said, smiling wider and looking truly boyish and innocent now. Itease a lot." He was a good actor. Fred mopped up his plate with his last crumb of bread."Well," he sighed, "I'll have to attend another meeting shortly. I'd better move along." He gotto his feet and looked down at Rufus and Mari. "Take good care of them, Mari."
Again there was that sickly sexual connotation somewhere behind the words. But Mari chuckledeasily and shook her head as if to say Fred was a hopeless case, and not to be consideredseriously. Fred grinned at her for another moment, let his hand rest on Rufus's bare shoulderfor an instant, then walked away toward the campfire.
Joseph watched his figure walk away. "Pig," he said softly.
"Shut up!" Rufus hissed. "He might hear you!"
"I'm sick of being afraid!" Joseph flared.
Rufus saw the placid surprise in John's dull eyes. "Be quiet, Joseph," he pleaded.
"I'll be quiet now," Joseph snapped. "But—"
"All right," Joseph sighed. "All right." Mari touched Rufus's hand. "Shall we walk now?" Rufushesitated. He wanted to, but he was very worried about Joseph in this mood.
"Go ahead," Joseph smiled. "I'll be a good little boy." Rufus got to his feet and took Mari'shand. It was soft and warm. He felt excitement again.
"You're sure you're okay?" he asked Joseph.
"Sure," Joseph said. John and I will sit here and talk about the successful winter enjoyed byour commune."
"Rufus," Mari murmured crossly, "come on." Reluctantly Rufus went with her, first going nearerthe fire and then away from it on the far side. Most of the commune family was here, young mentearing at their food while the women sewed skins or did the cleanup work. Many of the youngwomen, Rufus noted idly, were as thin from the long winter as most of the men. Mari was one ofthe few who had somehow come through rounded and in glowing good health. He felt proud of heras they walked, and it crossed his mind that he was a fool to be curious about things he didn'tunderstand, or impatient with a future that seemed as faceless as the river under ice.
They walked through the woods and up the slant of the hill toward the area where the Cave ofthe Oracle was, but were careful to stay the required distance from it. Throughout the walkthey were silent, and it was not until they paused that Mari broke the silence.
"You're upset," she said, reclining on the grass in a little grotto formed by huge boulders."Why?"
"I'm just tired," Rufus said, sitting beside her.
"It's more than that," she said.
"Yes," he admitted.
"I feel… uneasy. I'm worried about Joseph."
"Is that all?" Her hand stroked his thigh.
"Joseph is a good friend."
"I know. But you take care of yourself first. We all know that."
"I wonder what else there is," Rufus burst out.
"There's nothing else," she said calmly. "Just the Wildies—the people who exist in the oldcities, far away. And you know what they're like."
"I've never seen them."
"Why would you want to see them? You know they're beasts!"
"I remember something," Rufus suddenly realized. "I don't know where the memory comes from. Iwas on a hill and I looked up and there in the sky—very high and far away—there was a thing
." Mari's pretty face clouded. "A thing?"
"It was far away. It had wings, but they didn't move. But the thing was—flying along. It had along stream of smoke coming from it. And it made no sound, or else it was too far away and toohigh for me to hear it, and then it went out of sight."
Mari shivered and looked afraid. "An omen."
"I think it was from the cities," Rufus said.
"I don't know. But it was from somewhere— somewhere else . I wanted to know about it, Mari. I
wanted to go and find out what it was, what the cities are like— everything."
"You mustn't," Mari whispered, worry in her dark eyes. The words had caused Rufus' brain tocrash with pain, and he nodded quickly. "I know," he said, making the top level of his thinkinglie about what was underneath in his secret thoughts, as he had learned to do to make the painstop swiftly. "I know it's crazy."
"It's beautiful tonight," Mari said, stroking him again. "And I've missed you. Lie down with menow."
Rufus stretched out beside her, and she was all softness and warmth. He trembled, needing her."I wish—" he began passionately, and broke off.
"What?" she whispered, nestling closer.
"I wish I could have you all to myself forever. I wish it could be just the two of us,alone—no one else."
Mari chuckled softly. "Darling, where do you get all these atavistic impulses?"
"I don't know," he groaned, as she arranged her clothing to admit him.
"You should stop worrying so much, you know."
"Yes. I know that."
"You know there's no one else. Why worry about possibilities? Love me. Now. Here. Do this. Yes.Just keep doing that and don't think, my sweet Rufus."
Yes, he thought distantly, and of course she was right. But it was all right to lie; the rulessaid so. And loyalty came first to the family; the rules said that, too. So there was no way hecould ever know, ever be sure … of her, of himself, of anything.
It was known that there had been another family in the same general area years earlier. Becausethere was no written history, the details were known only vaguely, by oral tradition. It wassaid that three battles had been fought with the other family, and that the True Believers, orTrue Citizens, of whom Rufus was a member, had lost the first two encounters. The third battlehad lasted for three days and three nights, and at its conclusion, the True Citizens had notonly killed the last man of the other family, but had torn the bowels out of their women,leaving no person alive to plot further violence. There had been, after that historic war, alater and smaller one. A band of men and women following a strange, nomadic path had happenedthrough the valley which the stronghold mountain overlooked. The True Citizens had mounted awar party, gone into the valley, and slain the interlopers in their sleep. None of this wasrecorded in the Learner, the device which young persons visited regularly for their education.The Learner taught the language as spoken to all, provided elementary methods of counting andcalculation, and taught a select few how to put these calculations into numbers and the ideasinto words. But the knowledge within the Learner contained no history, and except for rules andprocedures to be followed by the family for its survival, included nothing else at all. A few
members of the family continued to visit the Learner after their youthful education wasconcluded. Rufus was one of these. He did not know why, but it was decreed that each full moonhe was to report to Fred, who took him to the cave where the Learner was kept. Fred activatedthe Learner, and Rufus submitted to it for a few minutes. Submission involved grasping two coldtubes, attached to cords like slippery ropes, which extended from the sheer face of theLearner, which itself looked like nothing so much as a very fine door fitted into a wall ofrock. Rufus was to grasp the tubes and wait. Customarily he would experience a slight tinglingwhich was not unpleasant; when the tingling subsided, he was finished.
He had no idea what it was all about, but he had always submitted without really thinking aboutit.
It was a few days after Joseph first admitted going into the town that the matter of theLearner came up.
Joseph had been back to the town repeatedly. He had told Rufus this, but had refused to provideany details, angrily insisting that Rufus should come along himself if he was that curious. ButRufus had declined, frightened.
"We could go in there tonight," Joseph said on this occasion, as they both carried firewoodthrough the clearing.
"No," Rufus muttered. "I don't want to. Besides. Tonight I visit the Learner."
"You still visit that thing?" Joseph asked sharply.
"Yes. You know that. Once each moon."
"Rufus," Joseph said even more sharply, "don't do it any more."
"Don't visit the Learner?" Rufus asked, astonished. "Why?"
"Don't do it, that's all!"
"But I report to Fred, and he goes there with me. He'd know if I failed to followinstructions."
"Oh, God," Joseph groaned. "Rufus, listen to me. Have you ever failed to go to the
Learner—for even a single month?"
"Once I was sick…"
"And did failing to go to the Learner cause any problem for you? Did you fall ill? Did youstart forgetting things?"
"No," Rufus said, bewildered. "As a matter of fact, I felt very well all that month. It was thenext month that the headaches came back."
" After you visited the Learner again?"
"Yes, but—" Rufus tumbled. "Are you saying the Learner causes my headaches?"
"I don't know," Joseph snapped, as someone was approaching. "I don't know enough yet. But stay away from it . Fool Fred somehow."
"I don't know.—Don't grasp both handles at once. Pretend, but don't ." They had no
opportunity for more talk. The few words baffled Rufus and unsettled him. They built theevening fire, and the grayish sun went down and the disc of a brownish moon peered over distantcraggy peaks. The family gathered, and voices filled the darkening meadow. Rufus tried to thinkabout what Joseph had said—tried to penetrate the puzzle with some kind of logic. But everytime he thought he saw a
glimmering—whenever the pieces began to fit—one of those shafts of pain threatened to drophim to his knees.
He saw Mari at the meal. She already knew it was his night with the Learner. He wanted badly totell her what Joseph had said, but something warned him against this. Joseph, he thought, wasin grave danger. It was too risky to tell anyone. Even Mari.
It was later in the evening that he reported to Fred. The leader was seated in a group of ahalf-dozen men and women, and they were telling stories of the olden days and the battles. Fredlooked up with something like irritation in his eyes.
"Yes, Rufus," he said, getting to his feet. "We have that work." They left the group andstarted up the hill under the trees.
"Tell me how you've been feeling," Fred suggested as they walked.
"Very well," Rufus lied.
"Any more of those headaches?"
"No," Rufus lied.
"Good," Fred smiled in the dimness. "And you like your work?"
It had been this way, Rufus realized, for a long time. He had lied for many months. Why had helied? He didn't know. He thought it had begun from fear. But of what? Did he have anything tofear from Fred—or the Learner?
"We have every prospect of good rain soon," Fred was telling him. "The crops will be good.Animals will abound. Our stores will be filled and we will have days of playing and games, withno work at all. We have no enemies and surely our place is the most beautiful and serene in theuniverse."
"What is the universe?" Rufus asked carelessly. Fred glanced sharply at him. "What?"
Fear. "I only asked, what is the universe?"
"You read, but you don't know the term?"
"I'm sorry. No."
"The universe," Fred said, "is this land we live in. It is all there is. You understand that."
"Yes," Rufus smiled.
"And of course you believe it, as we all do."
"Yes. Oh, yes."
Fred seemed to relax. They were well up the hill now, where the trees were fewer. The night airbit coldly into Rufus's skin. The moon sailed. It was not far now, and Rufus's skull wasdazzled with pain as he wondered if he would dare do as Joseph had said.
"Tell me," Fred suggested, "about our friend Joseph." Rufus almost gasped, thinking Fred hadseen his thoughts. "What is there to tell?"
"Is he happy, do you think?"
"Of course. Isn't everyone happy here?"
"Of course that's so. And yet I worry about Joseph." Rufus said nothing. His teeth chatteredwith fear, and he hoped the cold would be blamed.
"A man must be protected from wrong thoughts," Fred persisted as they clambered up through therocks. "If Joseph—or anyone else—had wrong thoughts, it would be the duty of the familymember who knew about it to tell us so we could help the ailing one."
"Yes," Rufus said. "I understand that."
"Tell me. Has Joseph ever mentioned the town to you?"
"The t-town? No! No one goes to the town!" Dazzling pain.
"Yes," Fred said, watching him closely. "Well. Here we are." They had reached the cave. Thefamily member standing guard recognized Fred and raised his arm in a smart greeting. Fredreturned the signal. He let Rufus walk ahead of him into the cave.
It was low and long. Light seemed to glow from behind the rock walls in a way that could onlybe magical. It was always the same temperature in the cave, so that in the summer it feltchill, but on a night like this, with the wind cool outside, it felt warm and cozy. The floor
of the cave was perfectly smooth, the way no rock Rufus had ever seen could possibly be. Alongone wall of the cave were several of the things that Rufus thought of as cold doors. From themextended sets of slippery ropes with handles, as Joseph had called them.
"All right, Rufus," Fred said amiably. "You know what to do." He leaned against the wall.
Rufus shuffled forward to the door that was his. He picked up one of the handles, with itsattached cord. He reached for the other, held in a shiny metal clasp. As he grasped it, heheard a distant humming, as of wind in a cavern, and the tingling began.
Perhaps it was fear, but this time the tingling seemed to hurt. He glanced back at Fred, whowas leaning back with his eyes closed. On impulse, Rufus slid the handle through his hand sothat he grasped instead the slippery covering of the attached cord. The tingling stopped. Athunderbolt of pain shot through him.
He clung, gasping for breath, his back to Fred.
The moaning behind the door continued. But there was no tingling, and Rufus managed by supremeeffort to make himself think of Mari—of the fields, of anything but what he was doing. He wasterrified, but he intended for reasons he did not fully comprehend to hang on, to fool theLearner.
A long time passed. The pain dazzled him, but he had learned well to deal with it, and somehowhe managed. He waited long past the time he felt the lesson was ordinarily completed. Usuallyhe quickly fell to daydreaming with the Learner, and this time there was none of the soothingsensation, so he gave himself much more time.
Finally he detected a change in the humming behind the door. With a little gasp of relief, heplaced the handles back in their sockets. He turned to Fred.
Fred smiled. "Finished?"
"Yes," Rufus managed.
"How do you feel?"
"Good." It was what he always said. Always before it had been true. The pain was a torrentthrough his mind.
"Come, then," Fred said.
They walked outside together, into the cold. They started down the hill.
"Will you join us in our talk?" Fred asked him politely, seemingly with new warmth in his tone.
"I—I need to meet someone," Rufus said. "A girl." Fred chuckled. "Of course. All right,Rufus." He clapped Rufus on the shoulder and turned away, heading on down the hillside alone.Rufus watched him for a long moment, then turned and staggered off the trail. He was alone andit was black. The pain engulfed him and he fell to hands and knees, retching.
The paroxism slowly passed. Gasping for air, he got back to his feet. The wind was icy on thesweat coating his body. But he felt a surge of triumph, too.
He had fooled Fred and he had fooled the Learner. And he was still alive. He would never, hepromised himself, submit to the Learner again. He did not need it. He was Rufus.
The elders clearly considered it odd for anyone to study the allowed books. Only a handful ofthose in the family considered the books worth any consideration whatsoever, and the majorityhad never seen them. But Rufus had seen them many times, and in the weeks following his firstfooling of the Learner, he found himself going to the square rock building which housed themmore and more often.
There were nineteen books in the building. Six told of how to count with numbers and do otherpractical things which the Learner had already taught everyone. Four were in a language Rufuscould not understand. Of the remaining nine, Rufus had read four by the end of the next mooncycle. One was a story about a man who lived in a faraway place of great buildings, and hisfather had died and came back to haunt him about the marriage of his mother and his uncle.