Let There Be Light, p.1H. B. Fyfe
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Let There Be Light
By Horace B. Fyfe
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of ScienceFiction November 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidencethat the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: _No matter what the future, one factor must always bereckoned with--the ingenuity of the human animal._]
The two men attacked the thick tree trunk with a weary savagery. In thebright sunlight, glistening spatters of sweat flew from them as the oldaxes bit alternately into the wood.
Blackie stood nearby, on the gravel shoulder of the highway, rubbing hisshort beard as he considered the depth of the white notch. Turning hisbroad, tanned face to glance along the patched and cracked concrete towhere squat Vito kept watch, he caught the latter's eye and beckoned.
"Okay, Sid--Mike. We'll take it a while."
The rhythm of the axe-strokes ceased. Red Mike swept the back of aforearm across the semi-shaven stubble that set him as something of adandy. Wordlessly, big Sid ambled up the road to replace Vito.
"Pretty soon, now," boasted Mike, eyeing the cut with satisfaction."Think it'll bring them?"
"Sure," replied Blackie, spitting on his hands and lifting one of theworn tools. "That's what they're for."
"Funny," mused Mike, "how some keep going an' others bust. These mustabeen workin' since I was a little kid--since before the last blitz."
"Aw, they don't hafta do much. 'Cept in winter when they come out toclear snow, all they do is put in a patch now an' then."
Mike stared moodily at the weathered surface of the highway and edgedback to avoid the reflected heat.
"It beats me how they know a spot has cracked."
"I guess there's machines to run the machines," sighed Blackie. "Idunno; I was too young. Okay, Vito?"
The relieving pair fell to. Mike stepped out of range of the flyingchips to sit at the edge of the soft grass which was attempting anotherinvasion of the gravel shoulder. Propelled by the strength of Vito'spowerful torso, a single chip spun through the air to his feet. Hepicked it up and held it to his nose. It had a good, clean smell.
When at length the tree crashed down across the road, Blackie led themto the ambush he had chosen that morning. It was fifty yards up the roadtoward the ruined city--off to the side where a clump of trees andbushes provided shade and concealment.
"Wish we brought something to eat," Vito said.
"Didn't know it would take so long to creep up on 'em this morning,"said Blackie. "The women'll have somethin' when we get back."
"They better," said Mike.
He measured a slender branch with his eye. After a moment, he pulled outa hunting knife, worn thin by years of sharpening, and cut off astraight section of the branch. He began whittling.
"You damn' fool!" Sid objected. "You want the busted spot on the tree toshow?"
"Aw, _they_ ain't got the brains to notice."
"The hell they ain't! It stands out like one o' them old street signs.D'ya think they can tell, Blackie?"
"I dunno. Maybe." Blackie rose cautiously to peer over a bed ofblackberry bushes. "Guess I'll skin up a tree an' see if anything's insight."
He hitched up his pants, looking for an easy place to climb. His bluedenims had been stoutly made, but weakened by many rips and patches, andhe did not want to rip them on a snag. It was becoming difficult to findgood, unrotted clothing in the old ruins.
* * * * *
Choosing a branch slightly over his head, he sprang for it, pulled,kicked against the trunk, and flowed up into the foliage with noapparent effort. The others waited below. Sid glanced up occasionally,Vito idly kicked at one of the clubs made from an old two-by-four.
The other lay beneath the piled jackets; but enough of the end protrudedto show that they had been chopped from the same timber, gray-painted onone side, stained and gouged on the other where boards had once beennailed. A coil of rope lay beside the axes.
High in the upper branches, Blackie braced himself with negligentconfidence and stared along the concrete ribbon.
_From here_, he thought, _you'd almost think the place was still alive,instead of crumbling around our ears._
The windows of the distant houses were dark, unglassed holes, but thesunlight made the masonry clean and shining. To Blackie, the ragged topsof most of the buildings were as natural as the tattered look of the fewpeople he knew. Beyond, toward the center of the city, was real evidenceof his race's bygone might--a vast jumble of shattered stone and fusedmetal. Queer weeds and mosses infected the area, but it would becenturies before they could mask the desolation.
Better covered, were the heaps along the road, seemingly shoved justbeyond the gravel shoulders--mouldering mounds which legend said wereonce machines to ride in along the pavement.
Something glinted at the bend of the highway. Blackie peered closer.
He swarmed down the tree from branch to branch, so lithely that the triobelow hardly had the warning of the vibrating leaves before he dropped,cat-footed, among them.
He shrugged quickly into his stained jacket, emulated in silent haste bythe others. Vito rubbed his hands down the hairy chest left revealed byhis open jacket and hefted one of the clubs. In his broad paws, itseemed light.
They were quiet, watching Sid peer out through narrowly parted brush ofthe undergrowth. Blackie fidgeted behind him. Finally, he reached out asif to pull the other aside, but at that moment Sid released the bushesand crouched.
The others, catching his warning glance, fell prone, peering throughshrubbery and around tree trunks with savage eyes.
The distant squawk of a jay became suddenly very clear, as did thesighing of a faint breeze through the leaves overhead. Then a new,clanking, humming sound intruded.
A procession of three vehicles rolled along the highway at an unvaryingpace which took no account of patches or worn spots. They jounced inturn across a patch laid over a previous, unsuccessful patch, and haltedbefore the felled tree. Two were bulldozers; the third was a light truckwith compartments for tools. No human figures were visible.
A moment later, the working force appeared--a column of eight robots.These deployed as they reached the obstacle, and explored like colossalants along its length.
"What're they after?" asked Mike, whispering although he lay fifty yardsaway.
"They're lookin' over the job for whatever sends them out," Blackiewhispered back. "See those little lights stickin' out the tops o' theirheads? I heard tell, once, that's how they're run."
Some of the robots took saws from the truck and began to cut through thetree trunk. Others produced cables and huge hooks to attach the obstacleto the bulldozers.
"Look at 'em go!" sighed Sid, hunching his stiff shoulders jealously."Took us hours, an' they're half done already."
They watched as the robots precisely severed the part of the tree thatblocked the highway, going not one inch beyond the gravel shoulder, andhelped the bulldozers to tug it aside. On the opposite side of theconcrete, the shoulder tapered off into a six-foot drop. The log wasjockeyed around parallel to this ditch and rolled into it, amid athrashing of branches and a spurting of small pebbles.
"Glad we're on the high side," whispered Mike. "That thing 'ud squash aguy's guts right out!"
"Keep listenin' to me," Blackie said, "an' you'll keep on bein' in theright place at the right time."
Mike raised his eyebrows at Vito, who thrust out his lower lip andnodded sagely. Sid grinned, but no one contradicted the boast.
Someone thrust it into his hands. Still squinting at the scene on thehighway, he fumbled for the ends and held one out to Mike. The othersgripped their clubs.
"Now, remember!" ordered Blackie. "Me an' Mike will trip up the last onein line. You two get in there quick an' wallop him over the head--butgood!"
"Don't go away while we're doin' it," said big Sid. "They won't chaseya, but they look out fer themselves. I don't wanna get tossed twentyfeet again!"
The eyes of the others flicked toward the jagged white scar running downbehind Sid's right ear
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