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This etext was produced from Amazing Stories May 1959. There is no evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.HUNTER PATROL By H. BEAM PIPER and JOHN J. McGUIRE
Many men have dreamed of world peace, but none have been able to achieve it. If one man did have that power, could mankind afford to pay the price?
At the crest of the ridge, Benson stopped for an instant, glancing first at his wrist-watch and then back over his shoulder. It was 0539; the barrage was due in eleven minutes, at the spot where he was now standing. Behind, on the long northeast slope, he could see the columns of black oil smoke rising from what had been the Pan-Soviet advance supply dump. There was a great deal of firing going on, back there; he wondered if the Commies had managed to corner a few of his men, after the patrol had accomplished its mission and scattered, or if a couple of Communist units were shooting each other up in mutual mistaken identity. The result would be about the same in either case—reserve units would be disorganized, and some men would have been pulled back from the front line. His dozen-odd UN regulars and Turkish partisans had done their best to simulate a paratroop attack in force. At least, his job was done; now to execute that classic infantry maneuver described as, "Let's get the hell outa here." This was his last patrol before rotation home. He didn't want anything unfortunate to happen.
There was a little ravine to the left; the stream which had cut it in the steep southern slope of the ridge would be dry at this time of year, and he could make better time, and find protection in it from any chance shots when the interdictory barrage started. He hurried toward it and followed it down to the valley that would lead toward the front—the thinly-held section of the Communist lines, and the UN lines beyond, where fresh troops were waiting to jump from their holes and begin the attack.
There was something wrong about this ravine, though. At first, it was only a vague presentiment, growing stronger as he followed the dry gully down to the valley below. Something he had smelled, or heard, or seen, without conscious recognition. Then, in the dry sand where the ravine debouched into the valley, he saw faint tank-tracks—only one pair. There was something wrong about the vines that mantled one side of the ravine, too....
An instant later, he was diving to the right, breaking his fall with the butt of his auto-carbine, rolling rapidly toward the cover of a rock, and as he did so, the thinking part of his mind recognized what was wrong. The tank-tracks had ended against the vine-grown side of the ravine, what he had smelled had been lubricating oil and petrol, and the leaves on some of the vines hung upside down.
Almost at once, from behind the vines, a tank's machine guns snarled at him, clipping the place where he had been standing, then shifting to rage against the sheltering rock. With a sudden motor-roar, the muzzle of a long tank-gun pushed out through the vines, and then the low body of a tank with a red star on the turret came rumbling out of the camouflaged bay. The machine guns kept him pinned behind the rock; the tank swerved ever so slightly so that its wide left tread was aimed directly at him, then picked up speed. Aren't even going to waste a shell on me, he thought.
Futilely, he let go a clip from his carbine, trying to hit one of the vision-slits; then rolled to one side, dropped out the clip, slapped in another. There was a shimmering blue mist around him. If he only hadn't used his last grenade, back there at the supply-dump....
The strange blue mist became a flickering radiance that ran through all the colors of the spectrum and became an utter, impenetrable blackness....
There were voices in the blackness, and a softness under him, but under his back, when he had been lying on his stomach, as though he were now on a comfortable bed. They got me alive, he thought; now comes the brainwashing!
He cracked one eye open imperceptibly. Lights, white and glaring, from a ceiling far above; walls as white as the lights. Without moving his head, he opened both eyes and shifted them from right to left. Vaguely, he could see people and, behind them, machines so simply designed that their functions were unguessable. He sat up and looked around groggily. The people, their costumes—definitely not Pan-Soviet uniforms—and the room and its machines, told him nothing. The hardness under his right hip was a welcome surprise; they hadn't taken his pistol from him! Feigning even more puzzlement and weakness, he clutched his knees with his elbows and leaned his head forward on them, trying to collect his thoughts.
"We shall have to give up, Gregory," a voice trembled with disappointment.
"Why, Anthony?" The new voice was deeper, more aggressive.
"Look. Another typical reaction; retreat to the foetus."
Footsteps approached. Another voice, discouragement heavily weighting each syllable: "You're right. He's like all the others. We'll have to send him back."
"And look for no more?" The voice he recognized as Anthony faltered between question and statement.
A babel of voices, in dispute; then, clearly, the voice Benson had come to label as Gregory, cut in:
"I will never give up!"
He raised his head; there was something in the timbre of that voice reminding him of his own feelings in the dark days when the UN had everywhere been reeling back under the Pan-Soviet hammer-blows.
"Anthony!" Gregory's voice again; Benson saw the speaker; short, stocky, gray-haired, stubborn lines about the mouth. The face of a man chasing an illusive but not uncapturable dream.
"That means nothing." A tall thin man, too lean for the tunic-like garment he wore, was shaking his head.
Deliberately, trying to remember his college courses in psychology, he forced himself to accept, and to assess, what he saw as reality. He was on a small table, like an operating table; the whole place looked like a medical lab or a clinic. He was still in uniform; his boots had soiled the white sheets with the dust of Armenia. He had all his equipment, including his pistol and combat-knife; his carbine was gone, however. He could feel the weight of his helmet on his head. The room still rocked and swayed a little, but the faces of the people were coming into focus.
He counted them, saying each number to himself: one, two, three, four, five men; one woman. He swung his feet over the edge of the table, being careful that it would be between him and the others when he rose, and began inching his right hand toward his right hip, using his left hand, on his brow, to misdirect attention.
"I would classify his actions as arising from conscious effort at cortico-thalamic integration," the woman said, like an archaeologist who has just found a K-ration tin at the bottom of a neolithic kitchen-midden. She had the peculiarly young-old look of the spinster teachers with whom Benson had worked before going to the war.
"I want to believe it, but I'm afraid to," another man for whom Benson had no name-association said. He was portly, gray-haired, arrogant-faced; he wore a short black jacket with a jewelled zipper-pull, and striped trousers.
Benson cleared his throat. "Just who are you people?" he inquired. "And just where am I?"
Anthony grabbed Gregory's hand and pumped it frantically.
"I've dreamed of the day when I could say this!" he cried. "Congratulations, Gregory!"
That touched off another bedlam, of joy, this time, instead of despair. Benson hid his amusement at the facility with which all of them were discovering in one another the courage, vision and stamina of true patriots and pioneers. He let it go on for a few moments, hoping to glean some clue. Finally, he interrupted.
"I believe I asked a couple of questions," he said, using the voice he reserved for sergeants and second lieutenants. "I hate to break up this mutual admiration session, but I would appreciate some answers. This isn't anything like the situation I last remember...."
"He remembers!" Gregory exclaimed. "That confirms your first derivation by symbolic logic, and it strengthens the validity of the second...."
The schoolteacherish woman began jabbering excitedly; she ran through about a paragraph of what was pure gobbledegook to Benson, before the man with the arrogant face and the jewelled zipper-pull broke in on her.
"Save that for later, Paula," he barked. "I'd be very much interested in your theories about why memories are unimpaired when you time-jump forward and lost when you reverse the process, but let's stick to business. We have what we wanted; now let's use what we have."
"I never liked the way you made your money," a dark-faced, cadaverous man said, "but when you talk, it makes sense. Let's get on with it."
Benson used the brief silence which followed to study the six. With the exception of the two who had just spoken, there was the indefinable mark of the fanatic upon all of them—people fanatical about different things, united for different reasons in a single purpose. It reminded him sharply of some teachers' committee about to beard a school-board with an unpopular and expensive recommendation.
Anthony—the oldest of the lot, in a knee-length tunic—turned to Gregory.
"I believe you had better...." he began.
"As to who we are, we'll explain that, partially, later. As for your question, 'Where am I?' that will have to be rephrased. If you ask, 'When and where am I?' I can furnish a rational answer. In the temporal dimension, you are fifty years futureward of the day of your death; spatially, you are about eight thousand miles from the place of your death, in what is now the World Capitol, St. Louis."
Nothing in the answer made sense but the name of the city. Benson chuckled.
"What happened; the Cardinals conquer the world? I knew they had a good team, but I didn't think it was that good."
"No, no," Gregory told him earnestly. "The government isn't a theocracy. At least not yet. But if The Guide keeps on insisting that only beautiful things are good and that he is uniquely qualified to define beauty, watch his rule change into just that."
"I've been detecting symptoms of religious paranoia, messianic delusions, about his public statements...." the woman began.
"Idolatry!" another member of the group, who wore a black coat fastened to the neck, and white neck-bands, rasped. "Idolatry in deed, as well as in spirit!"
The sense of unreality, partially dispelled, began to return. Benson dropped to the floor and stood beside the table, getting a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it.
"I made a joke," he said, putting his lighter away. "The fact that none of you got it has done more to prove that I am fifty years in the future than anything any of you could say." He went on to explain who the St. Louis Cardinals were.
"Yes; I remember! Baseball!" Anthony exclaimed. "There is no baseball, now. The Guide will not allow competitive sports; he says that they foster the spirit of violence...."
The cadaverous man in the blue jacket turned to the man in the black garment of similar cut.
"You probably know more history than any of us," he said, getting a cigar out of his pocket and lighting it. He lighted it by rubbing the end on the sole of his shoe. "Suppose you tell him what the score is." He turned to Benson. "You can rely on his dates and happenings; his interpretation's strictly capitalist, of course," he said.
Black-jacket shook his head. "You first, Gregory," he said. "Tell him how he got here, and then I'll tell him why."
"I believe," Gregory began, "that in your period, fiction writers made some use of the subject of time-travel. It was not, however, given serious consideration, largely because of certain alleged paradoxes involved, and because of an elementalistic and objectifying attitude toward the whole subject of time. I won't go into the mathematics and symbolic logic involved, but we have disposed of the objections; more, we have succeeded in constructing a time-machine, if you want to call it that. We prefer to call it a temporal-spatial displacement field generator."
"It's really very simple," the woman called Paula interrupted. "If the universe is expanding, time is a widening spiral; if contracting, a diminishing spiral; if static, a uniform spiral. The possibility of pulsation was our only worry...."
"That's no worry," Gregory reproved her. "I showed you that the rate was too slow to have an effect on...."
"Oh, nonsense; you can measure something which exists within a microsecond, but where is the instrument to measure a temporal pulsation that may require years...? You haven't come to that yet."
"Be quiet, both of you!" the man with the black coat and the white bands commanded. "While you argue about vanities, thousands are being converted to the godlessness of The Guide, and other thousands of his dupes are dying, unprepared to face their Maker!"
"All right, you invented a time-machine," Benson said. "In civvies, I was only a high school chemistry teacher. I can tell a class of juniors the difference between H2O and H2SO4, but the theory of time-travel is wasted on me.... Suppose you just let me ask the questions; then I'll be sure of finding out what I don't know. For instance, who won the war I was fighting in, before you grabbed me and brought me here? The Commies?"
"No, the United Nations," Anthony told him. "At least, they were the least exhausted when both sides decided to quit."
"Then what's this dictatorship.... The Guide? Extreme Rightist?"
"Walter, you'd better tell him," Gregory said.
"We damn near lost the war," the man in the black jacket and striped trousers said, "but for once, we won the peace. The Soviet Bloc was broken up—India, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Russia, the Ukraine, all the Satellite States. Most of them turned into little dictatorships, like the Latin American countries after the liberation from Spain, but they were personal, non-ideological, generally benevolent, dictatorships, the kind that can grow into democracies, if they're given time."
"Capitalistic dictatorships, he means," the cadaverous man in the blue jacket explained.