Logan nodded dully.
"Then follow me," said the man. Logan's legs were weighted. They were unyielding things which did not wish to obey him. As he followed the guide he kept losing his balance, righting himself, then almost falling again. If he fell he would be blown to pieces. Walking was impossibly difficult, one of the hardest feats he had ever been called upon to perform. Jess, too, was staggering with exhaustion. Finally they were clear of the mined area. They entered a long storage building, passed between high, crated objects.
Logan tried to focus his eyes on the objects. Silvery. Silvery shapes in shimmering white webbing—no, fiber packing. Numerals and letters on the sides:
He knew what they were. Missiles. Crated and stacked and abandoned.
Again into the open. Logan narrowed his eyes. Across an unbroken stretch of tarmac: a tall gantry, supporting a massive gleaming needle.
A passenger rocket!
Logan tried to weave a logical fabric from threads of confused thought. Cape Steinbeck, the space storage center at the tip of the Keys. A dead section. Like Cathedral. Like Molly. Like Washington. All stages on the Sanctuary line. Steinbeck, where the rockets and the missiles were mothballed when space flight was abandoned. Yet they were using a rocket which meant that Sanctuary
must be in space. But how? Where? The planets in this solar system would not
support life. The stars had never been reached. How?
"Keep moving," said the guide. They started toward the waiting rocket.
Steam wisped from its lower stage. Frost condensed and evaporated from liquid oxygen and hyrodgen stored inside, ready to be converted into raw power. Logan felt a darkness sifting down. A darkness within himself; a darkness from the heavy sky above him; and a darkness from a man who wore it. Wore the darkness. Wore black. A tall man, coming. A hunter in the tunic of night. Angerman, the judge and jury… At last, as Logan knew it had to be. At
last—Francis. A sense of doom and despair settled around him; the feeling was crashing, unsupportable. He had never experienced anything like it.
Jess saw the DS man, choked out a small cry. Logan pushed her toward the guide. "Take her. Get her aboard. I'll try to stop him."
The hard-faced man did not hesitate. He gripped Jessica's arm, propelled her toward the racket. She fought to free herself. "No,
Logan! No!" He ignored the fright and the urgency and the entreaty and the pain in her voice and he screamed silently, Hear me, Francis. Hear me. I want to TALK to you. There's so much I have to say to you. A shudder rippled his body; the ground was sponge rubber; he kept sinking into it, tottering, pushing himself. He
slipped to one knee, dragged his body up with clogging slowness. Dark was swimming in at him. He blinked it back.
The DS man was close now. Face set in rigid lines. Eyes cold, flat.
There was so much to say to Francis. That the world was coming apart, that it was dying, this system, this culture. That the Thinker was no longer able to hold it together. A new world would be formed. Living is better than dying, Francis. Dying young is a waste and a shame and a perversion.
The young don't build. They use. The wonders of Man were achieved by the mature, the wise, who lived in this world before we did. There was an Old Lincoln after the young one…Exhaustion hacked at Logan. His breath rattled in his throat. Francis filled the sky. The Gun was in his
Can I speak? Can I tell him? Will he listen? Words. Sound. Logan spoke. Brokenly. In patches.
"World…dying…can't last…I saw…the dead
places…heart of the system
is…rotten…There'll be more…runners…more
of them…You can't stop
them…can't…We…We were wrong, Francis…
death no answer…we must…build, not
destroy…tired of killing…wrong…tired…I—I.."
A roaring. A great humming roar in Logan's head. The rocket leaving without him? Let it go, then. Let it find Sanctuary. The roaring pulsed, intensified. And with it, black. A wave of ruining black that took him, filled his mouth and eyes. Black sound. And Francis, black in black. And the Gun…
Someone was speaking. Someone was commanding him to open his eyes.
Francis stood above him. The DS man leaned over, pulled Logan up. The Gun was in its holster, the homer unfired. Francis began to change. What was this? Am I really conscious?
The skin, the very bones of Francis began to change; the face was being
stripped away. The nose was altered, the jaw, the line of cheekbone. Francis was…
Francis was Ballard!
"I couldn't tell you back in Washington," the tall man said. "I didn't trust you then. Even when you failed to use the Gun I didn't trust you. Now I do."
The logic was suddenly there for Logan. Ballard would need to disguise himself among the young in order to move about in the world. Every few years he'd need a new face, a new disguise. And what better disguise than that of a Sandman?
"I haven't been able to help too many of you," Ballard was saying, "because the only runners I can help are those I can reach. My organization is still a small one."
"But Doyle…back in Cathedral?"
"I gave him a key, told him to go for Sanctuary, but you were too quick for us, and the cubs got him."
"Then—it was you, on the steps at Crazy Horse."
Ballard nodded. "I wanted to stop you then."
"But how…how do you…" Logan tried to frame questions, but his tongue would not function.
"I have only limited access to the Thinker. I control parts of the maze, the dark parts, but I'm learning more each day. The system is dying. The Thinker is dying. Someday you and Jess and the others will be able to come back—to a changed world. A good, strong one. I'm working for that, widening the cracks in the system, doing what I can. There are few I can trust. Mainly I have to work alone."
Ballard was helping Logan toward the rocket.
"Argos," he said. "The abandoned space station near Mars. It's a small colony now, still crude, cold, hard to live on. But it's ours,
Logan. Yours now. The jump for Argos is Darkside—on the Moon."
He drew Logan, stumbling, to the boarding ladder. Jess was there., waiting, tears in her eyes.
Jess…Jess, I love you!
Hands reached for him, gentled him aboard, fastened him into the launch seat. A crisp crackle of voices beginning the countdown. And in the final second, as the port closed,
Logan saw Ballard giving last-minute instructions to the hard-faced guide who had led them through the minefield. The port sealed itself. A great shuddering noise possessed the rocket.
Logan felt himself danced by energies and tremors; Jess was smiling at him; a weight pushed him down. He closed his eyes.
Ballard watched the tide of orange envelop the lower stage of the rocket. The needlecraft poised, rose ponderously, gaining speed as it left Earth. Faster now. A thunder—as it began its long run down the Atlantic Range, safe from the eyes of men.
Ballard turned, a tall, lonely figure blending with the night, and walked back over the cold ground.