The Clean and Wholesome Land

Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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While Professor Cargill lectured from the rostrum, Neal Pardeau prowled the dark auditorium. This, he knew, was the place to find them. Here was where they whispered and plotted and schemed—feeling safe in this pure, hard core of patriotism.

Safe because Cargill was the Director of Education in the New State, just as Pardeau was the Director of Public Security. Safe because Cargill's lectures were given before a commanded audience, with attendance strictly mandatory.

The insistence was not really necessary of course. The people would have come to hear Cargill regardless. His was a compelling, magnetic personality. Even now his great voice was booming out:

"—and upon this anniversary of the New State, we can look out with great pride upon a clean and wholesome land. With strong emotion, we can look upon the physical manifestation of our glorious principles—that only through self-effacement—through fanatic love for the state—can the individual come to complete physical and mental fruition. Upon this anniversary we see our enemies, both within and without, broken, and completely subjugated—"

This was the place they whispered and schemed and plotted. Pardeau prowled the aisles, his eyes piercing the darkness—spotting them, cataloguing them. And thus he came upon Emil Hillerman, his Deputy of Vital Intelligence sitting dutifully in the end seat of a middle aisle. Hillerman's thick lips hung lax, his eyes squinted laboriously as he sought to follow the thread of Cargill's lecture.

Pardeau tapped Hillerman on the shoulder. The latter started guiltily. He whirled and sought to identify Pardeau in the semi-darkness. Pardeau said, "Please step outside with me. I have some questions."

There was fear in Hillerman's bearing as he got clumsily to his feet and followed Pardeau. But none of Cargill's speech was missed. A battery of loudspeakers carried it even into the foyer where Pardeau stopped and turned on Hillerman. He regarded the man through cold, calculating eyes. He seemed to be both enjoying Hillerman's discomfort and also listening to Cargill's booming words.

"—these pale weaklings, these traitors with twitching muscles and twitching minds who skulked in dark places have been finally and decisively defeated. Even their vaunted leader—"

"What have you been doing," Pardeau asked, "relative to Karl Lenster?"

The frightened Hillerman licked his fat lower lip as he sought for words. "Everything—everything possible. But Lenster is clever. You know that. You know that yourself."

Pardeau's eyes bored into those of the Intelligence Director. They were noted for their icy penetration, but upon this night they were like steel knives. It was as though he surveyed Hillerman from behind the bulwark of some new and hostile information. Even as he stared, Cargill was booming from the rostrum:

"—Karl Lenster, their peerless leader—"

And Cargill's voice crackled with the inflections of pure contempt.

"—a degenerate—a dope addict whose greatness lay only in the realms of his sensual dreams. A weak, pitiful figure bereft of followers, cringing alone in—"

When Pardeau spoke, his voice held a new sharpness to complement the new ice in his eyes. He said, "In half an hour I am attending a meeting of the Council....