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If The Sun Died

By R. F. Starzl

Tens of millenniums after the Death of the Sun there comes a young man who dares to open the Frozen Gate of Subterranea.

BY our system of time we would have called it around 65,000 A. D., but in this cavern world, miles below the long-forgotten surface of the earth, it was 49,889 Since the Death of the Sun. That legendary sun was but a dim racial memory, but the 24-hour day, based on its illusory travel across the sky, was still maintained by uranium clocks, by which the myriads who dwelt in the galleries and maze of the underworld warrens regulated their lives.

In the office of the nation's central electro-plant sat a young man. He was unoccupied at the moment. He was an example of the marvelously Blow process of evolution, for to all outward appearances he differed little from a Twentieth Century man. Keen intelligence sat on his fine-cut, kindly young face. In general build he was lighter, more refined than a man of the past. Yet even the long, delicately colored robe of mineral silk which he wore could not detract from his obvious virility and strength.

His face flashed in a smile when a girl suddenly appeared in the middle of the room, materializing, so it seemed, out of nowhere. She resembled him to some extent, except that she was exquisitely feminine, dark-haired, with a skin of warm ivory, while he was blond and ruddy. Her tinkling, silvery voice was troubled as she asked:

"Have I your leave to stay, Mich'l Ares?"

The look of adoration he gave her was answer enough, but he answered with the conventional formula, "It is given." He rose to his feet, walked right through the seemingly solid vision and made an adjustment on a bank of dials. Then he walked through the apparition again and, standing beside hid chair, looked at her inquiringly.

"You haven't forgotten, Mich'l, this is the day of the Referendum?"

Mich'l smiled slightly. It would be a day of confusion in Subterranea if he should forget. As chief of the technics he was in direct charge of the tabulating machines that would, a few seconds after the vote, give the result in the matter of the opening of the Frozen Gate. But the girl's concern sobered him instantly. On the decision of the people at noon depended the life work bf her father, Senator Mane. And it was now nine o'clock.

"I am sure they will order the Gate opened," he said instantly. "All the technies are agreed that your father is right, that the Great Cold, was only another, more severe ice age— not the death of the Sun. The technies—"

JUST as the girl had seemingly materialized, a young man now stood beside her. In appearance he was a picture of pride, power, arrogance, and definite danger. His hawklike, patrician features were smiling. This olive-skinned, dark young rival of Mich'l was Lane Motion, son of Senator Mollon, ruthless administration leader and bitter opponent of Senator Mane's Exodus faction.

Lane looked at Mich'l insolently.

"Have I your leave to stay, Mich'l Ares?" he asked.

"It is given," said Mich'l without enthusiasm.

"I'm not calling on you of my own will, Mich'l," the apparition of young Mollon said contemptuously, "but Nida had the telucid turned on as I stepped into the room."

"It's as well for you that you're not here personally," Mich'l replied promptly. "The last time we met I believe I was obliged to knock you down."

Lane Mollon flushed, with a sidelong glance at Nida. The girl gave Mich'l a frightened look.

Lane interpreted her concern rightly.

"Ordinarily it's not safe to try anything like that with me. I could have you executed in half an hour. But I don't have to call on the State to punish you. Nida, you'll admit I'm taking no unfair advantage of him?"

"Oh, I do, Lane, but—"

Lane reached out his hand to the dial, invisible to Mich'l, which operated the telucid apparatus, and immediately the apparitions vanished. Mich'l looked at his own telucid, its great unwinking eye set in the wall. But he did not project His own illusory body to the girl's home. He was a technie—one of the pitifully few trained men and women who kept the intricate automatic machinery working. On them rested the immense, stupid civilization of the caverns, and there was work to do. Mich'l felt that on this morning of her father's greatest trial Nida would pay scant attention to Lane.

MICH'L was testing some of the controls when Gobet Hanlon came in. Gobet was, also a technie, and Mich'l's special friend. Like Mich'l, he wore the light robe that was universal among the civilians in the equable climate of the caverns. He walked with the light, springy step that was somehow characteristic of the specialized class to which he belonged, as distinguished from the languid gait of the pampered, lazy populace. Attached to his girdle of flat chain links was a tiny computing machine about as large as the palm of a man's hand. For Gobet did most of the mathematical work.

"You'll want me at the tabulating section?" Gobet stated inquiringly.

"It may be well," Mich'l smiled. "For the first time in centuries, I believe, the general public is going to vote."

"Flos Entine wants to come along."

Mich'l's smile changed to a grin. He knew the pretty, willful little sweetheart of Go bet's. If she wanted to be at the tabulating plant she would be there.

"In fact," Gobet confessed somewhat sheepishly, "she is in the car."

The car was waiting in the gallery. It had no visible support, but hovered a few inches above the floor above one of two parallel aluminum alloy strips that stretched, like the trolley tracks of the ancients, throughout all the galleries. The ancients well knew that aluminum is repelled by magnetism, but the race had lived in the caverns for centuries before evolving an alloy that possessed this repulsive power to a degree strong enough to support's considerable weight.

Under Mich'l's guidance the car moved forward silently, through interminable busy streets with arched roofs, lined on either side with doors that led to homes, theaters and food distributing automats. Occasionally they passed public gardens, purely ornamental, in which a few specimens of vegetation were preserved. They passed multitudes of people, most of them handsome with a pampered, hot-house prettiness, but betraying the peculiar lassitude which had been sapping the energies of this once dynamic race for millenia. Yet to-day they showed almost eagerness. The name of Leo Mane, prophet of deliverance, was on every tongue. And what was the Sun like? Like the great vita-lights that were prescribed by law and evaded by everyone, except possibly the technics? Those technies—they seemed to delight in work) Curious glances fell on the gliding car. Some work in connection with the Referendum? What must one do to vote? Oh, the telucid!

ARRIVING at Administration Circle, the car entered a vast excavation half a mile in diameter, possibly a thousand feet high at the dome. Here were the entrances to some of the principal Government warrens. Here also centered the streets, like radiating spokes of a wheel, on which many of the officials lived. Here the emanation bulbs were more frequent than in the galleries, so that the light was almost glaring. Guards of soldier-police, the stolid, well-fed, specialized class produced by centuries of a static civilization, were everywhere. Not in the memory of their grandparents had they done any fighting, but in their abort, brightly colored tunics, flaring trousers and little kepis they looked very smart. Their only weapon was a small tube capable of projecting a lethal light-ray.

Mich'l led his party to the audience hall. It was only a few ...

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