*It has been truly stated that those who fail to learn and understand history, are condemned to repeat history!*
[Illustration: For those in the cities, it was the end... ]
For those in the cities, it was the end...
It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Not because man failed to understand his fellow man, but because he failed to understand himself.
There wasn’t much left afterwards--after the golden showers of deadly dust and the blinding flashes that blotted out the light from the sun.
And all because man continued to confuse emotion with reason.
But somehow, as before, man survived...
“Don’t touch!“ Sinzor’s command shot through the chill morning air like an arrow.
The ragged little group of men stopped dead in their tracks and looked questioningly at their leader. He was pointing down to an object lying half-buried in the soil at his feet.
“Another death-thing, maybe,” Sinzor said. “Another ‘thing our ancestors made with which to destroy themselves.” He peered around the semi-circle of men until he spotted the aged one with a leg missing. “Morge! See that this place is marked forbidden.” The hunting party moved on and Morge stayed behind. He hobbled about, collecting sticks and stones, arranging them in the “forbidden-symbol” way to form a barrier around the ‘thing. It was because of such a ‘thing that he’d lost a leg in his youth. He both hated and feared the death-things his ancestors had so carelessly left lying about before they vanished. But that wasn’t right. Morge scratched his grizzly old head and thought hard. According to Builder, wisest of their tribe, their ancestors hadn’t all vanished; some of them had become the tribe--Sinzor, Builder, and even old Morge. Very puzzling. But it was all because of the death-things!
Puffing, Morge completed the barrier, then turned for a last look at the ‘thing gleaming dully in the pale winter sunlight. How strange it looked. In no way did it resemble the usual death-things, most of which were long and round with little wings attached. This one was different, like nothing he’d ever seen before. It was boxlike with strange arms sticking up; and under the arms, half-buried, was a shelf or platform resembling vaguely the upper portion of two legs. The ‘thing terrified Morge for a moment; then, in order to prove his courage to himself, he stepped forward and spat on it. Nothing happened. Sneering, he spat on it again and watched his spittle slowly run down its side over a strange marking like a thunderbolt--
Suddenly Morge fell grovelling to his one good knee. It was Thor, god of thunder and lightning and god of the tribe!
And he had spat on Thor!
For nearly an hour he knelt there praying forgiveness for his sacrilege. Then, trembling, he tore off a piece of his goatskin and wiped the spittle off Thor’s side, carefully began to uncover the remainder of Thor.
Finally he lifted Thor out of the hole and onto level ground. Kneeling once more, he took a small drink-scoop from his belt and placed it before Thor. Then he pulled out his knife and folded his single leg under him; bending over, he cut a gash in his wrist and let the blood flow into the scoop until it was nearly full.
Rising to his knee he said, “Oh, Thor, please take this humble offering to show that I am forgiven.” Almost prostrate now, he picked up the scoop and placed it on Thor’s lap beneath his arms.
Immediately there was a soft rumble and humming. Fearfully old Morge watched Thor’s arms come down, lift up the scoop and carry it inside his huge mouth. There was a sucking noise and the scoop was returned empty to his lap.
Filled with joy, Morge spent another endless time thanking Thor. Then all of a sudden an idea seized him. What if he carried Thor back to the tribe and presented him to the priest, Thougor, for all to worship and give sacrifices to? Would not he, the despised, the looked down upon, be the greatest of heroes? All that was known of Thor were the legends, but at last they would have the actual god!
Painfully, with many grunts and groans, he got Thor under one arm and staggered off towards the village, his crutch kicking up little puffs of dust.
Builder was having trouble with Thougor.
He almost wished now that he’d continued his search a little longer for a segment of humanity. He might have found a group less primitive who would have appreciated and understood his help much better. But this was the best he’d found; as it was, he’d wandered over the continent nearly a lifetime before even finding these poor wretches. But they were at least human--something that couldn’t be said for those others he’d come in contact with all through the past years.
And now, after having been with the tribe--the only human tribe--for over a year, he was being balked by this--priest! Which meant being balked at setting up Truth and Knowledge as the only true gods of humanity, being balked at getting the dam built before the spring rains, so that there would not be another summer drouth followed by a winter of famine such as they had just passed through. The dam was his first big project; without freedom from want, there would be little progress next winter.
Almost savagely he turned on Thougor. “But why must you have this religious festival now?”
“Because of the finding of the god Thor,” came Thougor’s cold answer.
“Why the offerings of blood? Can’t they wait? The dam must be finished before the rains; but the loss of blood already has so weakened the workers that they can no longer work for a full day.”
“Which is more important, worldly or spiritual things?” Thougor replied.
“But there maybe won’t be anyone around to indulge in spiritual things if there’s another drouth this year!”
“Thor will see to it that there is not another drouth.”
“Yes, I know, but wouldn’t it be wiser to be on the safe side? Suppose somebody does something to displease Thor?”
“Nobody will displease Thor! It is my duty to see to that! I tell them what to think, so that they won’t displease Thor.”
A crafty devil you are, Builder thought. Manipulating this image of Thor you talk about, so that it will take the blood offerings of the people and even you and that half-baked discipline of yours, Morge. I must look at your god Thor one of these days--
He suddenly felt very weary and sat down on the floor; looking up at Thougor, he said, “But that is not part of being civilized, to tell the people what to think. You must make them think without telling them what to think. And with the dam, next winter there will be freedom from want for the first time. The tribe will have a chance to think and be on the road to civilization.”
“The tribe has already found civilization in finding Thor. By worshipping Him as a group they have already ceased their bickering and quarreling. Does not that fit in with your definition of civilization, the one you gave my people when you first came to us? Since the coming of Thor we have begun to cooperate, have we not?”
“No, hardly at all. I said civilization is cooperation among men in adapting to environment--which includes man.”
The two men stared at each other, and for awhile there was silence.
“Nevertheless,” Thougor finally said, “Thor and blood offerings continue!”
Builder watched Thougor turn and stalk out of the tiny hovel that housed his plans and his work, himself and his dreams. What could he do? He could only appeal to the tribe’s reason; Thougor could appeal to their emotions which were far stronger. But unless emotion was controlled, used wisely, there could never be any reason.
Builder realized, with a sinking heart, that he was much too old for the job he’d undertaken. Too late in life had he discovered these people. Almost all his energy since youth had been sapped just looking for a segment of humanity. His mother and father had told him there might be failure, but still they had taught him everything they could in the short time before death had overtaken them. They had been the only humans living in that towering jungle of concrete and steel. How they had gotten there was never explained to him. It didn’t matter, though.
Suddenly Builder shook himself. Here he was recollecting his youth instead of concentrating on the task at hand. He must really be getting old.
He was glad of Thougor’s visit. At least he was now fully aware of the problem to be solved. In spite of the priest, he had to find a way of getting that dam finished and soon. Or maybe next year there wouldn’t be any people, for game was getting scarcer each winter.
Very little work was done that day in spite of Builder’s managing to round up his full crew. The blood offering each worker had given the night before had left them tired and listless. Only four of the fifty-four molds running across the river were filled with sand and gravel that morning and afternoon--there were still nearly fifty to be filled. Builder was very depressed--
But he was even more depressed when, at the close of day, two workmen grew careless and slipped into the last mold being filled; their ear-splitting shrieks brought half the tribe up over the hill above the village and down to the dam sight.
After Builder explained what had happened, there were angry mutterings to the effect that Thor was displeased with the dam and therefore had taken lives. Nothing Builder could say would dissuade them from this notion, so well had Thougor indoctrinated them with religious fear of anything used to control nature. Builder hadn’t realized until that moment just how much the people were against the dam.
Then he saw Thougor, tall and ominous in his cloak of black skins, come striding through the crowd.
For a moment he stood facing them with his hands on his hips. There seemed to be a silent understanding between them. Slowly the crowd turned and disappeared over the hill.
Then Thougor strode over to Builder and said simply, “There will be no more dam.” Turning he followed the rest of the tribe back to the village.
Builder was thunderstruck. He knew there was no use arguing or trying to reason with either Thougor or the tribe. It was too late for that; only some drastic measure would complete the dam now.
He walked tiredly over the black hill and down to his shack, wondering how he could compete with an idol. He realized now, it had been foolish of him to have overlooked the possible effect Thor might have upon the tribe. When it had been found three months ago, he never dreamed they would spend all their leisure in rituals.
The god was his problem; therefore he must get it out of the way, himself, without expecting help from anyone. Each evening the clouds on the northern horizon were darkening and drawing closer.
It was night when Builder finally stumbled into his quarters. After lighting a pine torch he sat down by his workbench and buried his head in his hands. He was too tired and upset to eat, which was just as well--
Outside of deliberately killing Thougor, there was only one thing he could do--that was to kidnap Thor. With this realization, in spite of the risk involved, came some peace of mind. He hadn’t the vaguest idea just how he was to go about it, especially since his strength was failing him, but do it he would. First, though, he would have to wait until sometime before dawn when everybody--even Thougor--was sure to be asleep.
The hours dragged heavily between then and his chosen time. Many were the times when he longed for something to read, although he supposed that by this time he’d forgotten how. Like wisps of smoke, memories of his youth in the concrete jungle drifted through his mind. How long ago that all seemed now. Sometimes he wondered if any of it had been real. But here he was, as his parents had wished him to be, trying to help what was left of humanity back up the trail. To what, he wondered? To destruction again--this time, probably complete and final?
He shook his old head and ran a trembling hand through his white shaggy hair. He’d gotten this far; somehow he would get the rest of the way.
Builder got up and crossed over to his sleeping pile. After tying several skins together, he folded them under his arm and walked out into the pre-dawn night. His bones felt the crackling cold of early spring as they had never felt it before. Slowly he made his way around the village to where Thor was housed under a huge slanting roof of bark and scraped skins. He’d never seen Thor, and now wished he’d paid at least one visit to the god.