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Circle of flight, p.1
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       Circle of Flight, p.1

           Richard Stockham
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Circle of Flight

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Dianna Adair and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  _Thorus, the vengeful, had determined_ his _way. Aria, the healer, had determined_ her _way. Which determined this classic meeting of the twain._



  By Richard E. Stockham

  Illustrated by Ed Emsh

  It seemed they had argued for years as they were arguing tonight. Theman paced back and forth chain-smoking cigarettes; the woman satmotionless, watching him. They glanced at their watches with fearfuleyes. They heard, with acutely alert ears, the goings and comings ofpeople in the hall; heard the shattering blast of rockets in the skyabove the city. And they argued.

  "So you're going through with it tonight," he said heavily, "in your ownway."


  "Perhaps I should stop you." He crushed out his cigarette. "If thepolice were to hear--"

  "No!" The word was thrown at him. "I know you don't mean that. But it'sunworthy of you even to say it." She covered her face with nervoushands. "After all I _am_ your wife."

  He stood over her, his lips tight. There was something of the fragile,finely made puppet about her, he thought, as though she had beenrefashioned a hundred times by some artisan seeking after perfectdelicacy and precision. He softened momentarily.

  "Come with me then," he said.


  "Why? Why?"

  "Your way is _wrong_."

  "We're the last two leaders of the opposition alive." His voice cameswiftly and low. "The authority's beaten us. Their setup for killing,imprisonment, bribery and blackmail functions too well. Our wholeorganization's been scattered like matchsticks. The police are closingin on us. We're finished here on earth. We'll be lucky if we're killedquickly." He waited a moment for his words to take effect. "We go alongtogether that far."

  She stood, clasping her hands. "Of course. Of course."

  "Look. I know you've finished that damned contraption of yours that'lltake you into the atoms. I know you've been working on it for years. ButI've been working too. My ship's been ready to take off into super-spacefor two days. But I haven't gone. I've been waiting for you. To wait ata time like this is to ask for death or worse. Now I demand you give upthis insane idea of going into the atoms. You've got to come with me."

  "I've told you I can't escape with you out into the macrocosm. It's notmy _way_!"

  "The word 'escape' doesn't apply," he snapped, "to what I'm doing._You're_ escaping. You'll creep into the microcosm and sit there like aseed that won't grow. You can't fight the Authority from the microcosm.That way is utter passivity and death. _My_ way is fighting back. I'mgoing into hyper-space. My ship and I'll become so huge and powerfulI'll throw suns around like snowballs. I'll toss meteors around likegrains of corn. I'll upset gravities and warp time. I'll stretch andstraighten space. I'll turn dimensions inside out--"

  "Yes. You'll destroy. You'll ruin everything, you'll break the innocentas well as the guilty."

  "I'll have to take that chance," he said grimly. "But I'll destroy theAuthority and everything that goes with it."

  She pulled from his grasp. "Violence and destruction are not my way.They never have been." Slowly now she sank into the chair, looked pasthim as she spoke. "You've always worshipped spaces and vacuums andvoids. I've always been happy working with flowers and trees, the lifeof the meadow and valley, the rain and the new, small buds inspringtime. We have always gone in opposite directions."

  She paused and smiled a bit wistfully. "It's funny. Now we find, toolate to help our marriage, that there's a whole universe between us. Yourefuse, or perhaps you're afraid, I don't know, to go to the source ofeverything--this table, this chair, this gown, your own flesh. You don'twant to understand life; any more than you want to understand me. Youmust conquer it--or destroy it. You must be a giant that can kick theearth around like a football. But I _do_ want to understand, for inunderstanding lies the cure. My machine will take me into the atoms.I'll become part of the fabric and tapestry of the very warp and woof ofour world. By becoming a _part_ of it, I will _know_. I'll find thesecret of life in inner space and I'll return and release our peoplefrom the Authority. And you? You'll never _really_ understand anything.You'll be a wild comet, yes, but I'll be a raindrop in a deep well,learning patience. I'll be a true healer."

  For a moment sadness rose and softened his face. "There's nothing moreto say, is there."

  "I'm afraid not."

  "We'll make the goodbys quick." He came to her. "At least we're beinghonest with each other. No lies. No pettiness. We've developed prettypowerful ideals. And they just won't fit together. It's that simple--andthat good."

  She looked up at him and smiled. "At least I haven't lost you to anotherwoman."

  He returned her smile. "We're getting sentimental. This isn't good. It'sweakening." He bent and lightly kissed her hair. For an instant herbreathing stopped.


  "Goodby," she whispered.

  He strode to the door and opened it. His body snapped taut.

  * * * * *

  Confronting him with a drawn blaster, stood a man in the shining redgarb of the police command. He resembled Mephisto with his flowing capeand snug trousers. His face was dark, his nose thin, his eyes black andvery bright.

  "You seem surprised," said the man in red.

  Aria had half risen from the chair. As the eyes of the policeman turnedon her, she sank back.

  "How opportune," the policeman continued. "The eve of your departures."The smile set on his mouth. His gun snapped up on a line with Thorus'heart. "No sudden moves, or you'll be burnt to a cinder. But no. That'swhat you want--a quick death. So let me threaten you with merely burningyour legs off." The blaster lowered. "It may interest you to know wehave a recording of your whole conversation. But there's somethingelse."

  His eyes holding Thorus, he gave a sharp command to two burly,bullnecked policemen. They stepped from the shadows and stood behind thecommander. One held a small, black box.

  "I see," the commander said, "You've had experience before with thetruth clamps. You're frightened."

  Thorus motioned the commander inside. "A little fear trickles through myhate."

  The door swung shut behind the three policemen. Thorus glanced at Aria.Her fingers clutched the arms of the chair. He knew she was thinking ofthe blocks that had recently been installed in their minds by X-rayhypnosis. Would the blocks hold after three days? Three days, they bothknew was the limit.

  "It's your methods of escape we must have," said the commander. Hemotioned to one of the policemen.

  Thorus watched the man step in front of him and raise the clamps to hisforehead. He saw features that were thick and heavy, as though they hadbeen roughly moulded out of too wet clay.

  "You can see," the commander went on, "the tremendous advantage to us ofbeing able to go into the macrocosm and toss meteors around like bits ofcorn, as you say." He glanced at Aria, who sat huddled in the chair,like a porcelain doll. "And then into the microcosm. Unlimited power. Awhole new universe to conquer and colonize."

  Aria did not move or speak.

  "I see she refuses to face reality." He turned to Thorus. "But _you_will face reality--and so will she when we've finished. Had youconducted your experiments in behalf of the Authority, you would havebeen well rewarded. But no, you have been working against us--however,it has been _for_ the Authority after all."

  Thorus felt the clamps tight on his temples, like two steel fingers.Sitting stiffly on a chair, he felt sweat on his back and chest, felt itseep from his forehead down into his eyes, felt the burn of salt. There
was tightness all through him as he waited for the first shock. Hisfingernails cut his palms. His breath stopped. His shoulders and armshardened, stretched tight his tunic.

  The commander flicked his finger at the one kneeling before the littleblack box. This one tripped a lever. A soft hum seemed to rise from thebox and fill the room.

  Thorus listened to the hum grow until it was a soft, high pitchedscream. He
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