The Men of Boru
THE MEN OF BORU
BY JACK A. NELSON
There is always a breed immune to mass
hypnosis, and to them falls the duty of
rebellion.... The story, by a Brigham Young
University senior, that won the second award
of $500 in IF's College Science Fiction Contest
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
A swirl of dust licked at the grass sandals of the men standing onthe hill. There were eight men, and they stood looking west over theburned, gutted land that lay barren before them—barren except for aseries of huge mounds that lay in a depression far out from the hillson the rocky plains.
"Do you still think we can make it?" asked a stocky man with a lividscar that ran from his upper lip to his forehead. "I for one wouldrather live alone and meagerly than not live at all."
The speaker received a stern glance from a tall hawk-nosed man wearinga finely-worked leather belt, apparently a symbol of leadership.
"We have already agreed, remember, Franz? We have to succeed ordisappear off the face of the Earth. You may turn back if you wish. Weare going on."
Franz scowled, rubbed his scar and contemplated the mounds in thedistance. "You forget I have lived there. You have not. Well, maybe tobe a slave is not so bad after all. Or to die."
"If we die we will not go alone," said Sten, the leader. He turned tothe others. "Let's go. It will be dark soon."
The men moved single-file down through the hills without speaking.
As it grew dark they could feel the heat radiate from the sand. Theyfelt the heat press against them and silently praised Sten's wisdom inwaiting for the cold time of year before making the attempt. They worea tunic of coarse-woven cloth that hung loose from their shoulders, andeven that single garment was too warm here. They moved in silence, Stenin the lead, followed by his brother, Johnathon, a smaller man withwide shoulders and a quick smile.
A gibbous moon was showing over the mountains when they stopped.Solemnly they gathered in a circle.
"We will separate now," Sten spoke softly. "Franz and Johnathon andKarl and I will enter from the south. Bradley, you and the others willfind the way in from the north. You can find the place. If we're notback at our last camp by morning of the third day, go on without us.You have the map where the valley lies?"
The leader of the other group nodded.
"Then hurry. Until three days, then. Remember, the only hope lies inus. Some of us have to make it!" The men separated with only a wave offarewell and the two groups moved in opposite directions across the hotsands.
Clouds covered the moon and it grew darker as the four men approachedthe edge of the mounds. An ominous sense of foreboding fell over them.It seemed they could feel the vibration of the city that lay beneaththem. Beneath them lay life—stilted, twisted, enslaved life, but lifenevertheless.
"Are you sure they don't post a guard?" Johnathon asked.
"Against what, the Root-Diggers?" Franz spat contemptuously. "No, theyare secure. They need fear nothing."
It was another hour before they found the tunnel and entered in singlefile. Groping their way through the darkness, they finally felt a solidwall rise in front of them. Franz made his way to the left, feeling hisway along the wall until he found a large box in a niche in the rock.
"It's here! It's still here after all."
"Good," Sten said. "All right, everybody up against the wall and push."
Karl, the biggest of the men, laughed as he eased his bulk against theobstruction. "It would be real sport," he said, "to move this wall andfind one of their Steel-heads waiting for us."
Franz snickered. "It wouldn't be sport long, my friend. They're trainedfrom birth to be trigger-happy and there's nothing anyone in Panamiafears more than the outside, or anything connected with it. And we'reoutsiders."
The wall suddenly gave before them and they moved into a half-darkenedroom. Carefully, in a sort of frozen silence, they moved the wallback into place. The box had contained city clothes; and now the menworked swiftly in the semi-darkness. When they were ready Franz walkedup and down making final adjustments in each of their uniforms. As hefinished, Sten laid his hand on his shoulder. "Franz, you'll take overnow. You know what everything is like here. We're placing ourselves inyour hands."
Franz shrugged his shoulders almost as if he were disinterested in thedrama in which they were taking part. His eyes searched the faces ofthe men.
"So you want women, eh? You want to preserve our race—the gloriousanimal, Man. Ha! I ask you to ponder for a moment, before it is toolate, whether this race is worth preserving. Men have been furtheringthe race for milleniums and what has it come to? Consider if the earthwouldn't prosper better without Man."
The men shifted uneasily. "Forget all that, Franz," Sten snapped."You know there must be an answer somewhere. This is our only chance.Everything can't be dead."
Franz looked away. "As you wish. If you're determined to go throughwith it, then let's start. But first, remember that you're Steel-heads,bred and raised with no other thought than to carry out the will ofHim—The Leader. His will is your will. You do not think, you only actaccording to orders. Don't look intelligent, that is suspect. Juststare straight ahead and do what I tell you—or what any other officermight tell you, for that matter. Remember, don't question anything!Just follow orders."
He laid his hand on the door that led to the city, hesitated fora brief instant, then swung it open. As the men entered, walkingstiffly with eyes coldly searching for the unknown, they were hit by ahigh-pitched whine that filled the corridor and seemed to pierce deepwithin them. The three men covered their ears with their hands andcringed. But Franz stood straight and moved his head around to catchthe noise from all angles. His mouth opened and closed slowly as if hewere trying to pull the shrill noise deep within him. Finally he shookhis head, as a dog shakes off water, and gathered command of himself.
"It is The Leader," he said in a loud voice to overcome the whine."Soon you will not notice it. It is everywhere."
Sten removed his hands from his ears and felt the noise creep over him.He shuddered, and felt beads of sweat form on his forehead as the soundseemed to gnaw at his consciousness. Soon the others were able to bearthe noise with their ears uncovered, but they felt restless and uneasy.
"We're lucky not to have been seen," said Franz. "Come on."
They moved down the corridor in military formation, Franz leading andthe others following dumbly. The corridor was small and well-lighted.Doors opened into cubicles every few feet, and the wall was linedwith wide view-screens that stared out, like probing and sulleneyes. The men kept their eyes straight ahead, but occasionally theyflicked a glance sideways at the people that were passing them in bothdirections. They halted as they reached the main corridor.
A loud buzzer rose above the whine, and people emerged from the doorsalong the walls and passed them in silence. Eyes fixed on the ground. Afew talked as they went by, but none noticed the soldiers standing atthe edge of the corridor.
Three girls, walking in silence, paused before the men for a briefinstant, then passed on. Sten felt his eyes following the girlshungrily. Catching himself, he pulled back to attention and nudged hisbrother at his side. "Steel-head, Johnathon, remember?" Johnathon againlooked straight ahead and stifled the beginnings of a grin that tuggedat the corners of his mouth. Franz also stared after the girls, but hiseyes wore an amused expression, rather than the longing look of theother men.
Franz spat out a curt order and they began to march down the corridoragain, the crowd making room for them automatically. Everywhere postersglared at them from the walls. Some pictured a huge eye that stared outwith the words, "The Leader is watching." Others showed the smilingfaces of a throng of people. Underneath, in scarlet lettering wasemblazoned: "Panamia and The Leader March On—PROGRESS."
For an hour they marched through the city, ignored by the peopleand apparently unaware of all that was happening around them. Theypassed thousands of men and women, a milling mass, each immersed in agrim stupor. Where the main corridors intersected they entered greatassembly places where huge view-screens were set up. They were alwaysturned on.
A shrill emotional voice blared out a constant stream of propaganda."People of Panamia, unite, work! The Root-Diggers must be repulsed! Forthe glory of The Leader, for the glory of Panamia, we must accomplishour utmost. We must give our all!"
"For The Leader! For Panamia!" the people shouted, rising momentarilyfrom their dull world, their eyes glazed with emotion. Banners beneaththe screens announced in large crimson letters: Service to The Leaderis glory to yourself and Panamia.
The soldiers stood watching tight-lipped. Franz's nostrils quivered asthe tumult of the demonstration thundered about them. His face took onan eager look as he watched the people shouting in exaltation, a curtmovement of Sten's hand brought him back to the task at hand. He gave ashort barked order and the group moved on.
They had just reached an intersection and were standing awaitingdirections from Franz when a shout rang out. "Stop, Provost. You! Whatare you doing here?" A short, ruddy-faced officer in thick-lensedglasses strode up the corridor toward them, scowling. Sten cautiouslymoved his head around to face the danger.
"Sten, attention! He'll know," Franz hissed from the side of his mouth.
Sten snapped back to attention, staring straight ahead.
The squat officer confronted Franz. "Who assigned you to this block?"
Franz saluted. "Security sent us to check on a disturbance near here."
The officer's eyes narrowed. "Disturbance? I have heard of nodisturbance."
"That is of no matter. We were sent."
The squat officer stared hard at Franz. "Hmm, I see. And what is yourrank number, Provost?"
Franz told him a number that he remembered.
The officer looked them over searchingly, his lower lip protruding inobvious contempt. "Very well, carry on. But Provost, I'll rememberyou!" He stood watching as they marched away, rubbing his chinthoughtfully with the palm of his hand.
Sten felt a sickening void in his stomach as they marched past theofficer. Surely the man suspected. Would it all end right here, beforethey even had a chance to get started? He felt the reassuring pressureof the knife inside his belt, the one weapon that Franz had advised,and resolved that, if it should be necessary, their lives would be solddearly.
After a while they turned into a series of side passage-ways and Franzstopped before the door to one of the cubicles. The corridor was empty,and they were out of range of the view-screens. Johnathon relaxedagainst the wall and sighed. "What a sight. I never expected it to beas bad as this. Did you notice the look in most of their eyes? It'sa dull, glazed almost dead look. They're nothing more than beatenanimals."
"Easy," Franz cautioned, "wait till we get inside."
He pressed the button on the door. A woman's voice came through thedoor panel. "What do you want?"
"Open. In the name of The Leader. It is a Provost."
Slowly the door swung open and the men saw a small brunette standingbefore them. "What do you want?" she repeated in the same monotone.
"Interrogation!" Franz pushed his way inside. The others followed.
The woman stood against the wall cowering from the soldiers. Franzsearched around the apartment carefully, then confronted the woman.
"Do you not know me?"
The woman stared into his eyes. Finally she said, "No, no, I don't knowyou."
"Do you not remember Jeannine? The girl you worked with? Remember theplans? The plans to leave here and go outside to build a new life?"
Her chin quivered as she tried to speak. "Yes, now I remember. You areFranz, Jeannine's lover. That was before The Leader found out and ...and sent Jeannine away. You disappeared, I thought you had been sentaway, too. It is hard to