Slave Planet - Cover

Slave Planet

Public Domain

Chapter 19

For Cadnan, the time passed slowly.

Consciousness came back, along with a thudding ache in the head and a growing hunger: but there were no leaves on the smooth metal of the floor, and the demands of his body had to be ignored. His mind began to drift: once he heard a voice, but when he told himself that the voice was not real, it went away. He found his hands moving as if he were pushing the buttons of his job. He stopped them and in a second they were moving again.

Then the room itself began to shake.

Cadnan had no doubts of his sanity: this was different from the imaginary voice. The room shook again and he wondered whether this were some new sort of punishment. But it did not hurt him.

The rumbling sound of the bombardment came to him only dimly, and for brief seconds. To Cadnan, it sounded like a great machine, and he wondered about that, too, but he could find no answers.

The rumbling came again, and sounded nearer. Cadnan thought of machines shaking his small room, perhaps making it hot as the machines made metal hot. If that happened, he knew, he would die.

He called: “Dara.” It was hard to hear his own voice. There was no answer, and he had expected none: but he had had to call.

The rumbling came again. Surely, he told himself, this was a new punishment, and it was death.

There was only one thing for him to do. He sat crosslegged on the smooth floor as the rumble and the other sounds continued, and in opposition to them he made his song, chanting in a loud and even voice. He had learned that a song was to be made when facing death: he had learned that in the birth huts, and he did not question it.

The song was necessary, and his voice, carrying over the sounds that filtered through to him, was clear and strong.

“I am Cadnan,
I am Cadnan of Bent Line Tree,
I work for the masters,
I push buttons and the machine obeys me,
I push buttons when the masters say to do it.
My song is short. I am near the dead.
I have broken the chain, the chain of obedience.
I do not want to break this chain.
I must break it. Dara says I go.
If I do not go then Dara does not go.
Dara must go. I break the chain.
For this I am near the dead and the room shakes.
It is my death and my song.
I am Cadnan and Bent Line Tree and I work.”

After the song was over, he remained sitting, waiting for what had to come. The rumbling continued, and the room shook more strongly. For some seconds he waited, and then he was standing erect, because he could see.

The door, sprung from its lock by the shaking of the building, had fallen a little open. As Cadnan watched, it opened a bit more, and he went and pushed at it. Under a very light shove, it swung fully open, and the corridor, lights flickering down its length, stood visible. As Cadnan peered out, the lights blinked off, and then came on again.

The rumbling was very loud now, but he saw no machines. He went into the corridor in a kind of curious daze: there were no masters anywhere, none to watch or hurt him. He called once more for Dara, but now he could not hear himself at all: the rumbling was only one of the sounds that battered at him dizzily. There were bells and buzzes, shrieks and cascades of brutal, grinding sounds more powerful than could be made by any machine Cadnan could imagine.

He started down the corridor: the masters had taken Dara in that direction, opposite to his own. Suddenly, one of his own kind stood before him, and he recognized a female, Hortat, through the dusty air. Hortat was staring at him with a frozen expression in her eye.

“What is it?” she asked. “What happens?”

Cadnan, without brutality, brushed her aside. “I do not know. The masters know. Wait and they tell you.” He did not consider whether the statement were true, or false, or perhaps (under these new circumstances) entirely meaningless: it was a noise he had to make in order to get Hortat out of his way. She stood against the corridor wall as he passed, watching him.

He went on past her, moving faster now, into the central room from which corridors radiated. The lights went off again and then came on: he peered round but there were no masters. Besides, he thought, if the masters found him the worst they could do would be to kill him, and that was unimportant now: he already had his song.

In a corridor at the opposite side of the central room he saw a knot of Alberts, among whom he recognized only Puna. The elder was speaking with some others, apparently trying to calm them. Cadnan pushed his way to Puna’s side and heard the talk die down, while all stared at the audacious newcomer.

“I am looking for Dara,” Cadnan said loudly, to be heard over the continuous noise from elsewhere.

Puna said: “I do not know Dara,” and turned away. Another shouted:

“Where are the masters? Where is work?”

Cadnan shouted: “Wait for the masters,” and went on, pushing his way through the noise, through the babbling crowd of Alberts. There were no masters visible anywhere: that was a new thing and a strange one, but too many new things were happening. Cadnan barely noticed one more.

At the front of his mind now was only the thought of Dara. Behind that was a vague, nagging fear that he was the cause of all the rumbling and shaking of the building, and all else, by his breaking of the chain of obedience. Now, he told himself, the buildings even did not obey.

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