Slave Planet
Chapter 16

Public Domain

The room had no windows.

There was an air-conditioning duct, but Cadnan did not know what such a thing was, nor would he have understood without lengthy and tiresome explanations. He didn’t know he needed air to live: he knew only that the room was dark and that he was alone, boxed in, frightened. He guessed that somewhere, in another such room, Dara was waiting, just as frightened as he was, and that guess made him feel worse.

Somehow, he told himself, he would have to escape. Somehow he would have to get to Dara and save her from the punishment, so that she did not feel pain. It was wrong for Dara to feel pain.

But there was no way of escape. He had crept along the walls, pushing with his whole body in hopes of some opening. But the walls were metal and he could not push through metal. He could, in fact, do nothing at all except sit and wait for the punishment he knew was coming. He was sure, now, that it would be the great punishment, that he and Dara would be dead and no more. And perhaps, for his disobedience, he deserved death.

But Dara could not die.

He heard himself say her name, but his voice sounded strange and he barely recognized it. It seemed to be blotted up by the darkness. And after that, for a long time, he said nothing at all.

He thought suddenly of old Gornom, and of Puna. They had said there was an obedience in all things. The slaves obeyed, the masters obeyed, the trees obeyed. And, possibly, the chain of obedience, if not already broken by Marvor’s escape and what he and Dara had tried to do, extended also to the walls of his dark room. For a long time he considered what that might mean.

If the walls obeyed, he might be able to tell them to go. They would move and he could leave and find Dara. Since it would not be for himself but for Dara, such a command might not count as an escape: the chain of obedience might work for him.

This complicated chain of reasoning occupied him for an agonized time before he finally determined to put it to the test. But, when he did, the walls did not move. The door, which he tried as soon as it occurred to him to do so, didn’t move either. With a land of terror he told himself that the chain of obedience had been broken.

That thought was too terrible for him to contemplate for long, and he began to change it, little by little, in his mind. Perhaps (for instance) the chain was only broken for him and for Marvor: perhaps it still worked as well as ever for all those who still obeyed the rules. That was better: it kept the world whole, and sane, and reasonable. But along with it came the picture of Gornom, watching small Cadnan sadly. Cadnan felt a weight press down on him, and grow, and grow.

He tried the walls and the door again, almost mechanically. He felt his way around the room. There was nothing he could do. But that idea would not stay in his mind: there had to be something, and he had to find it. In a few seconds, he told himself, he would find it. He tried the walls again. He was beginning to shiver. In a few seconds, only a few seconds, he would find the way, and then...

The door opened, and he whirled and stared at it. The sudden light hurt his eye, but he closed it for no more than a second. As soon as he could he opened it again, and stood, too unsure of himself to move, watching the master framed in the doorway. It was the one who was called Dodd.

Dodd stared back for what seemed a long time. Cadnan said nothing, waiting and wondering.

“It’s all right,” the master said at last. “You don’t have to be afraid, Cadnan. I’m not going to hurt you.” He looked sadly at the slave, but Cadnan ignored the look: there was no room in him for more guilt.

“I am not afraid,” he said. He thought of going past Dodd to find Dara, but perhaps Dodd had come to bring him to her. Perhaps Dodd knew where she was. He questioned the master with Dara’s name.

“The female?” Dodd asked. “She’s all right. She’s in another room, just like this one. A solitary room.”

Cadnan shook his head. “She must not stay there.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Dodd said. “Nobody’s doing anything to her. Not right now, anyhow. I—not right now.”

“She must escape,” Cadnan said, and Dodd’s sadness appeared to grow. He pushed at the air as if he were trying to move it all away.

“She can’t.” His hands fell to his sides. “Neither can you, Cadnan. I’m—look, there’s a guard stationed right down the corridor, watching this door every second I’m here. There are electronic networks in the door itself, so that if you manage somehow to open it there’ll be an alarm.” He paused, and began again, more slowly. “If you go past me, or if you get the door open, the noise will start again. You won’t get fifteen feet.”

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