The Complete Stories (Page 48)
"Millions of ’em. First the tribes we fought and licked and then tribes who ain’t never seen a white man. They’ll all come back to life. I’ll need my old buddies. You city fellers ain’t no good at it. … Ever seen an Injun?"
R.E. said, "Not around here lately, no."
Zeb looked his contempt, and tried to spit to one side but found no saliva for the purpose. He said, "You better git back to the city, then. After a while, it ain’t going to be safe nohow round here. Wish I had my musket."
R.E. rose, thought a moment, shrugged and faced back to the city. The headstone he had been sitting upon collapsed as he rose, falling into a powder of gray stone that melted into the featureless ground. He looked about. Most of the headstones were gone. The rest would not last long. Only the one under Zeb still looked firm and strong.
R.E. began the walk back. Zeb did not turn to look at him. He remained waiting quietly and calmly-for Indians.
Etheriel plunged through the heavens in reckless haste. The eyes of the Ascendants were on him, he knew. From late-born seraph, through cherubs and angels, to the highest archangel, they must be watching.
Already he was higher than any Ascendant, uninvited, had ever been before and he waited for the quiver of the Word that would reduce his vortices to non-existence.
But he did not falter. Through non-space and non-time, he plunged toward union with the Primum Mobile; the seat that encompassed all that Is, Was, Would Be, Had Been, Could Be and Might Be.
And as he thought that, he burst through and was part of it, his being expanding so that momentarily he, too, was part of the All. But then it was mercifully veiled from his senses, and the Chief was a still, small voice within him, yet all the more impressive in its infinity for all that.
"My son," the voice said, "I know why you have come."
"Then help me, if that be your will."
"By my own will," said the Chief, "an act of mine is irrevocable. All your mankind, my son, yearned for life. All feared death. All evolved thoughts and dreams of life unending. No two groups of men; no two single men; evolved the same afterlife, but all wished life. I was petitioned that I might grant the common denominator of all these wishes-life unending. I did so."
"No servant of yours made that request."
"The Adversary did, my son."
Etheriel trailed his feeble glory in dejection and said in a low voice, "I am dust in your sight and unworthy to be in your presence, yet I must ask a question. Is then the Adversary your servant also?"
"Without him I can have no other," said the Chief, "for what then is Good but the eternal fight against Evil?"
And in that fight, thought Etheriel, I have lost.
R.E. paused in sight of town. The buildings were crumbling. Those that were made of wood were already heaps of rubble. R.E. walked to the nearest such heap and found the wooden splinters powdery and dry.
He penetrated deeper into town and found the brick buildings still standing, but there was an ominous roundness to the edges of the bricks, a threatening flakiness.
"They won’t last long," said a deep voice, "but there is this consolation, if consolation it be; their collapse can kill no one."
R.E. looked up in surprise and found himself face to face with a cadaverous Don Quixote of a man, lantern-jawed, sunken-cheeked. His eyes were sad and his brown hair was lank and straight. His clothes hung loosely and skin showed clearly through various rents.
"My name," said the man, "is Richard Levine. I was a professor of history once-before this happened."
"You’re wearing clothes," said R.E. "You’re not one of those resurrected."
"No, but that mark of distinction is vanishing. Clothes are going."
R.E. looked at the throngs that drifted past them, moving slowly and aimlessly like motes in a sunbeam. Vanishingly few wore clothes. He looked down at himself and noticed for the first time that the seam down the length of each trouser leg had parted. He pinched the fabric of his jacket between thumb and forefinger and the wool parted and came away easily.
"I guess you’re right," said R.E.
"If you’ll notice," went on Levine, "Mellon’s Hill is flattening out."
R.E. turned to the north where ordinarily the mansions of the aristocracy (such aristocracy as there was in town) studded the slopes of Mellon’s Hill, and found the horizon nearly flat.
Levine said, "Eventually, there’ll be nothing but flatness, featurelessness, nothingness-and us."
"And Indians," said R.E. "There’s a man outside of town waiting for Indians and wishing he had a musket."
"I imagine," said Levine, "the Indians will give no trouble. There is no pleasure in fighting an enemy that cannot be killed or hurt. And even if that were not so, the lust for battle would be gone, as are all lusts."
"Are you sure?"
"I am positive. Before all this happened, although you may not think it to look at me, I derived much harmless pleasure in a consideration of the female figure. Now, with the unexampled opportunities at my disposal, I find myself irritatingly uninterested. No, that is wrong. I am not even irritated at my disinterest."
R.E. looked up briefly at the passers-by. "I see what you mean."
"The coming of Indians here," said Levine, "is nothing compared with the situation in the Old World. Early during the Resurrection, Hitler and his Wehrmacht must have come back to life and must now be facing and intermingled with Stalin and the Red Army all the way from Berlin to Stalingrad. To complicate the situation, the Kaisers and Czars will arrive. The men at Verdun and the Somme are back in the old battlegrounds. Napoleon and his marshals are scattered over western Europe. And Mohammed must be back to see what following ages have made of Islam, while the Saints and Apostles consider the paths of Christianity. And even the Mongols, poor things, the Khans from Temujin to Aurangzeb, must be wandering the steppes helplessly, longing for their horses."