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"It's been bad since then," Jed continued. "Seems like once they got the wind up, the whole thing hit them all over again. Like cattle in a stampede, they didn't have a lick of sense. They didn't even stay together. They scattered in all directions, hid out in the bushes from each other.
"You could hunt for 'em, call for 'em, yell your lungs out. You could pa.s.s within ten feet of one of 'em, callin', pleadin', and they wouldn't say a word. Just stand there and watch you like a hunted animal, not even breathin' lest you discover them.
"After a couple of days, some of us kind of pulled ourselves together--me and Martha, Ahmed and Dirk here. Maybe a dozen of us now have got together again. Funny thing though, even so, all we want is to hide. Can't get over hidin', somehow. That's why you didn't see us from the air. We was hidin' from you.
"Martha, couple other womenfolks, they practically had to push us out of the woods to come greet you, lead you to us. They wouldn't come themselves, being naked and all. They told us, first thing was to get some clothes for them from the s.h.i.+p.
"We was countin' on the arrival of your s.h.i.+p to bring the rest of the colonists back to their senses. Some ain't been found yet, not since the footprint thing. If they were watchin' you from hidin' places, if they also saw your s.h.i.+p disappear--well now, I just don't know."
"There'll be another s.h.i.+p from Earth," Cal said. "In a matter of fifteen or twenty hours at most. We were communicating at the time. They'll know we didn't cut out through choice."
"Yes," Tom Lynwood confirmed. "As I remember, I got cut off in the middle of a sentence. They'll know something was wrong."
"There's another s.h.i.+p out there right now," Cal added. "Not an E.H.Q.
s.h.i.+p, but one that would have seen what happened. We'll not count on anything from them, but an E.H.Q. s.h.i.+p will be here soon, probably with an E on board--McGinnis."
"Don't know what good it would do," Jed said despondently. "That s.h.i.+p might disappear, too, soon as it landed. And the next, and the next."
"I don't plan to let it land," Cal told them. "You'll notice nothing happened to us until we touched ground. I'll find a way to talk to the s.h.i.+p, keep it from landing until we've got a line on whatever this is."
"You figger to solve this one?" Jed asked curiously, unbelieving.
"I'm going to try," Cal said with more confidence than he felt. "It's what I'm here for. Maybe I can't solve it, but I can try."
"I don't know how you're going to start," Dirk spoke up. "We're just like animals here. We can't use tools."
"But animals do use tools," Cal answered after a moment. "Materials, anyway. Birds build nests using sticks, gra.s.s, clay. Monkeys and apes throw sticks and stones. Even insects use materials. Basic difference between man and the rest is that man gives special shapes to tools, where mainly the rest use whatever falls to hand. But all higher, organized protoplasmic life uses tools in one form or another."
"We ain't allowed to," Jed said emphatically. "Not even what's at hand.
Somebody, or somethin', is bound and determined we ain't goin' to."
At that moment Cal felt close to a solution, or at least an understanding of the nature of the problem, which is the first step toward solution. But like the specter seen in twilight from the corner of the eye, as soon as he tried to focus on the problem, the concept disappeared. Something about protoplasmic life using materials.
Non-protoplasmic life? Could there be, and still meet the definitions of what const.i.tute life? As compared with our evolution, from its earliest beginning finding some other approach to the manipulation of the physical universe? A totally alien kind of science? Come to think of it, the use of material to affect other material was a c.u.mbersome, indirect, awkward way of going about it, as compared with ...
Compared with what?
The concept would not yet allow him full focus upon it. He filed it away for future contemplation.
He saw Dawkins and the other colonists looking at him defiantly, as if interpreting his silence to be doubt of their veracity about the taboo on tools. Their eyes challenged him to disbelieve them, to find out for himself.
"Other than the feeling of being watched," he said carefully, "have you had any sign, any other evidence or indication of somebody, or something? I know about the feeling, because I feel it too. And very strongly, right now. But any specific evidence?"
Jed Dawkins looked relieved at the confession.
"Everything's the evidence. Everything that's happened. What more evidence would you want?" he said.
"One of the strongest arguments in favor of something, or some kind of intelligence," Cal said slowly, "is that n.o.body's been hurt. All natural law hasn't been canceled. We still have light radiation, heat radiation, gravity, water still flows, the planet still turns. Trees still grow and fruit still ripens. We can talk and be understood, using our tongues and minds as tools. We can still eat and drink. We can still know.
"This is no chaotic co-ordinate system that defies all natural law. This is a deliberate manipulation of some natural laws to get a result. Man manipulates natural laws by the use of tools and materials, but he doesn't suspend them. Here, apparently without tools, at least tools we can perceive, natural law is manipulated, but not suspended.
"When the village disappeared, no one was hurt. A lot of people were caught in awkward positions and fell, some of them several feet. There should have been at least a few broken bones, pulled ligaments. There weren't. Our s.h.i.+p landed safely. We were a long time in the atmosphere of Eden, and for a few minutes there on the ground we were still using tools of a high order. It was only when danger of real harm to us was past that the s.h.i.+p disappeared."
"I reckon it's comfortin' to know we ain't meant to be hurt," Jed said, and looked at his two companions. "I guess it is," he repeated doubtfully. "Maybe it ain't something as nice and familiar as a cyclone, or a den of rattlesnakes, something you could understand, but you got to admit we ain't been hurt yet." It was as if he were arguing the point with his companions.
"Something I've been noting, Jed," Ahmed spoke up. "A discrepancy of a sort that has me puzzled. Sun reckoning, we've been able to keep our minds on this subject for over two hours now. As if, whatever this is manipulating natural laws can also manipulate the way our minds work."
"Yeah," Jed admitted slowly, his face thoughtful. He turned to Cal.
"Like I said at the start. Our minds have sort of wandered of late.
Start to do something, and first thing y'know, we're doin' something else. Can't keep our minds on one thing very long--like animals."
"That might be no more than the aftermath of deep shock," Cal said.
"It's for a purpose!"
Startled at the outburst, they all turned and looked at Louie.
"It's for a purpose," Louie repeated in a kind of rapture. "They want us to understand we are being watched over, cared for. That colonist you all laughed at was right. This is the first Garden of Eden, where man lived in complete innocence. Now man has been returned to it, to live again in complete innocence. You do not think straight because there is no reason. You will be cared for. Woe unto him who seeks to despoil it again by seeking vain knowledge!"
His eyes were wild, his face contorted with a mixture of exaltation and condemnation.
"Shut up, Louie," Tom said in a low, firm voice.
"We understand," Jed said tolerantly. "Some of the colonists are talkin'
the same way. He's got plenty of company."
All the rest of that day, and throughout the following, Cal and Tom worked with Jed in trying to round up the colonists, get them living together again.
By agreement, Ahmed and Dirk stayed with the small band of colonists that had overcome their fears enough to mingle together again. Louie frankly deserted his s.h.i.+pmates, and spent all his time with the colonists. Frank, as if reverting to his childhood farming days, occupied himself with trying to round up the stock. He tried to keep the cows separated from their calves so the colonists would have milk to drink, but without ropes or corrals it was hopeless. He finally gave up his attempt to husband the stock, and he too seemed content then to mingle with the colonists.
The marked change in Louie could not be ignored, for he was not idling away his time in lazy feeding and sleeping. He had dropped his lifelong pose of superficial complaint that the fates always gave him the dirty end of the stick, and now he spent his time preaching to the little band of colonists. Or wandering through the forests and undergrowth calling, praying, comforting.
Cal felt no condemnation for him. He was not the first man, seemingly dedicated to science, who, confronted with mysteries beyond his power to comprehend, reverted to childlike superst.i.tious awe for an explanation.
In the face of mystery or catastrophe, it takes a faith beyond the capacity of most to continue believing that the universe has a rational order to its laws that can be comprehended if man persists. It is temptingly easy for man to revert back to the irresponsibility of childhood, a.s.suming that the control of phenomena is in the hands of those stronger, wiser than he. It takes a strength, in the face of this temptation, to go on believing that man _can_ know, that it is not morally wrong for him to know.
No blame then for Louie.
Tom was torn in his loyalties. He frequently remembered that away from E.H.Q. the crew become the E's attendants, and that their first duty is always to the E. But separation from the other two men of his crew was like the loss of a part of himself. To these also he had a duty. He tried to solve his problem by alternating his time, spending part of it with Cal, the remainder with his crew.
Cal and Jed made a trip the following morning across the ridge, and found the dissident group huddled together in abject terror. They had seen the s.h.i.+p coming down through the atmosphere and, all together, they had climbed the ridge, where one of their scouts had recently gone, to watch the s.h.i.+p's landing--and its disappearance.
Once they were found, it took little persuasion to convince them they should return to the other colonists, that differences of opinion meant nothing now as against the need of human beings to cling together in the face of catastrophe.
But they too were having trouble thinking in a straight line, and even though they first appeared eager to join the other colonists, it took some doing to keep them all together and moving forward to cross the ridge, to come down the other side, to a.s.semble again at the site of the village with the others.