When the Confederation forces reformed, they came on with a crash. Dodd had heard for months that Fruyling’s World could never stand up to a real assault: he had even thought he believed it. But the first attack had bolstered his gloomy confidence, and the results of the second came not only as a surprise but as a naked shock.
The Alberts in spite of a few fearful masters, had been issued Belbis tubes and fought valiantly with them; the batteries did everything expected of them, and the sky was lit with supernal flashes of blinding color throughout one hard-fought night. Dodd himself, carrying a huge Belbis beam, braced himself against the outer wall of Building One and played the beam like a hose on any evidence of Confederation ships up there in the lightning-lit sky: he felt only like a robot, doing an assigned and meaningless job, and it was only later that he realized he had been shivering all the time he had used the killing beam. As far as he could tell he had hit nothing at all.
The battle raged for six hours, and by its end Dodd was half-deafened by the sound and half-blinded by the sporadic rainbow flashes that meant a hit or a miss or a return-blow, lancing down from the ships to shake buildings and ground. At first he had thought of Norma, safe in the bunkers below Building One. Then she had left his mind entirely and there was only the battle, the beginning of all things and the end (only the battle and the four constant words in his mind): even when the others began to retreat and Dodd heard the shouted orders he never moved. His hands were frozen to the Belbis beam, his ears heard only battle and his eyes saw only the shining results of his own firing.
There was a familiar voice—Albin’s: “ ... get out while you’ve got a chance—it’s over...”
Another voice: “ ... better surrender than get killed...”
The howls of a squad of Alberts as a beam lanced over them, touching them only glancingly, not killing but only subjecting them to an instant of “punishment”; and the howls ceased, swallowed up in the greater noise.
A voice: “ ... Johnny...”
It meant nothing. Dodd no longer knew he had a name: he was only an extension of his beam, firing with hypnotized savagery into the limitless dark.
He heard his own voice answering. “Get back to the bunker. You’ll be safe in the bunker. Leave me alone.” His voice was strange to his ears, like an echo of the blasts themselves, rough and loud.
Dawn was beginning to color the sky, very slightly. That was good: in daylight he might be able to see the ships. He would fire the beam and see the ships die. That was good, though he hardly knew why: he knew only that it pleased him. He watched the dawn out of a corner of one eye.
“Johnny, it’s all over, we’ve lost, it’s finished. Johnny, come with me.”
Norma’s voice. But Norma was in the bunker. Norma had caused the battle: she had made the slaves. Now she was safe while he fought. The thought flickered over his mind like a beam blast, and sank into blackness.
“Johnny, please ... Johnny ... come on, now. Come on. You’ll be safe. You don’t want to die...”
No, of course he didn’t. He fired the beam, aimed, fired again, aimed again. He could die when his enemies were dead. He could die when everyone who was trying to kill him was dead. Then he could die, or live: it made no difference.
He fired again, aimed again, fired...
“Johnny, please...” The voice distracted him a little. No wonder he couldn’t kill all the ships, with that voice distracting him. It went on and on: “Johnny, you don’t have to die ... you’re not responsible ... Johnny, you aren’t a slaver, you just had a job to do ... Killing isn’t the answer, Johnny, death isn’t the answer...”
The voice went on and on, but he tried to ignore it. He had to keep firing: that was his job, and more than his job. It was his life. It was all of his life that he had left.
Dr. Haenlingen had told her she was too close to see properly, and, of course, she was. Perhaps she knew that, in the final seconds. Perhaps she never did. But that Dodd, who wanted to die and who considered death the only proper atonement for his life, could have displaced that wish onto the Confederation, onto his “enemies,” and so reached a precarious and temporary balance, never occurred to her. And if it had, perhaps she could have done nothing better ... time had run out.
Time had run out. Johnny Dodd’s enemies wanted him dead, and so he had to kill them (and so avoid killing himself, and so avoid recognizing how much he himself wanted to be dead). But the balance wasn’t complete. There was still the guilt, still the terrible guilt that made it right for the Confederation to kill him.
The guilt had to be displaced, too.
Norma did what she could, did what she thought right. “You don’t have to die,” she told him. “You’re not responsible.”
That was what he heard, and it was enough. He hadn’t made the Alberts into slaves. He hadn’t made the Alberts into slaves.
But he knew who had. Long before, it had all been carefully explained to him. All of the tricks that had been used...
Of course, Dodd thought. Of course he wasn’t responsible.
He felt an enormous peace descend on him, like a cloak, as he turned with the beam in his hand and smiled at Norma. She began, tentatively, to return his smile.
The beam cut her down where she stood and left a swathe of jungle behind her black and smoking.
Dodd, his job completed, dropped the beam. For one instant four words lit up in his mind, and then everything went out into blankness and peace. The body remained, the body moved, the body lived, for a time. But after those four words, blinding and bright and then swallowed up, Johnny Dodd was gone.
He had found what he needed.
This is the end.
PUBLIC OPINION SIX
From A Cultural Record of Fruyling’s World
Personal Histories of the Natives (called Alberts)
As Dictated and Preserved on Tape by Historical Commission HN3-40-9
Subject (called) Cadnan
... Dara is dead in the returning, when new masters come to us and say the fighting is over. It is an accident which kills her, a stumble, they say, against a plant which is dangerous to animal life and to our kind. The accident is over and Dara is dead, and we return.
I find Marvor after the fighting, once only, and I ask him what it is that is so important about this fighting. The Confederation—the masters we now have—are only masters like the ones we know. Marvor looks at me with a look as if he, too, is a master.
“Freedom is that important,” he says. “Freedom is the most important thing.”
I know that Marvor is not right, because I know the most important thing: it is the dead. For me Dara is most important, and I remember Puna, who is dead in the fighting: the rest does not matter. I say this now, knowing that the talk-machine hears me and that the Confederation hears me.
I say: “Can freedom make me feel happy?”
Marvor looks more like a master. “Freedom is good,” he says.
“And yet Dara is dead,” I say. “And others are dead. How do I feel happy when I know this?”
“In freedom,” Marvor tells us, “Dara would be safe, and the others.”
“Yet it is freedom that kills them,” I say.
Marvor says: “Not freedom but the war. The fight against our masters here, the old masters, to make them give us freedom.”
I say: “Do not our old masters have freedom?”
“They do,” Marvor says, “now.”
This puzzles me. I say: “But they have freedom at all times. They have what they want, and if freedom is a good, and they want it, then they have it.”
Marvor says: “It is true. They have freedom for themselves.”
“Yet these other masters tell them what to do,” I say, “and fight them to make them do it. This is not the freedom you tell of.”
Marvor says: “There is a difference.”
I do not see this difference, and he can not tell it to me though he tries hard. But I think maybe the new masters can tell me what it is. Marvor is going to what they call a school and I also go. This is a place where masters tell things, and we must remember them. Remembering is not hard, but we must think also, and do work. It is not enough to ask a question and find an answer. It is necessary to find our own answers.
A master asks us to count, and then to do things with the numbers we use in our counting. This is called arithmetic. We must do things with the numbers every day, and if we do not the masters are not happy with us. This arithmetic is hard: it is all new. Yet if I do it right I do not find more food or a better place or any thing I want. I do not see what is the use of this arithmetic.
But the use does not matter. The master tells me a use. He says arithmetic and all of the things in the school raise the cultural level. I do not know what a cultural level is or if it is good to be raised. The masters do not care whether I know this. They make me do what they want me to do.
And it is not simple like pushing buttons and watching a machine. It is not simple like all the things I do since I am small Cadnan. It is hard, very hard, and all the time it is more hard.
Every day there is a school. Every day there is hard work. Marvor says that freedom means doing for yourself what you want and deciding right and wrong. I say freedom is bad because the masters know right and wrong and we do not. Others say with me: there are some who know the old truths and think it is better when we, too, can understand right and wrong.