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What Rough Beast?

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Standing braced—or, as it seemed to him, crucified—against the length of the blackboard, John Ward tried to calculate his chances of heading off the impending riot. It didn't seem likely that anything he could do would stop it.

"Say something," he told himself. "Continue the lecture, talk!" But against the background of hysterical voices from the school yard, against the brass fear in his mouth, he was dumb. He looked at the bank of boys' faces in front of him. They seemed to him now as identical as metal stampings, each one completely deadpan, each pair of jaws moving in a single rhythm, like a mechanical herd. He could feel the tension in them, and he knew that, in a moment, they would begin to move. He felt shame and humiliation that he had failed.

"Shakespeare," he said clearly, holding his voice steady, "for those of you who have never heard of him, was the greatest of all dramatists. Greater even," he went on doggedly, knowing that they might take it as a provocation, "than the writers for the Spellcasts." He stopped talking abruptly.

Three tigers stepped out of the ceiling. Their eyes were glassy, absolutely rigid, as if, like the last of the hairy mammoths, they had been frozen a long age in some glacial crevasse. They hung there a moment and then fell into the room like a furry waterfall. They landed snarling.


Something smashed viciously into the wall beside Ward's head. From the back of the room, someone's hand flashed a glitter of light. Ward leaped away and cut across the end of the room toward the escape chute. Holding his ring with its identifying light beam before him, he leaped into the slot like a racing driver. Behind him, the room exploded in shouts and snarls. The gate on the chute slammed shut after him, and he heard them scratching and banging at it. Without the identifying light, they would be unable to get through. He took a long breath of relief as he shot down the polished groove of the slide into the Mob Quad. The boys he'd left behind knew how to protect themselves.

They were all there—Dr. Allenby, McCarthy the psych man, Laura Ames the pretty gym teacher, Foster, Jensen—all of them. So it had been general then, not just his group which had rioted. He knew it was all the more serious now, because it had not been limited to one outbreak.

"You, too, Ward?" Dr. Allenby said sadly. He was a short, slender man with white hair and a white mustache. He helped Ward up from where he had fallen at the foot of the escape slide. "What was it in your classroom this time?"

"Tigers," Ward said. Standing beside Allenby, he felt very tall, although he was only of average height. He smoothed down his wiry dark hair and began energetically brushing the dust from his clothing.

"Well, it's always something," Allenby said tiredly.

He seemed more sad than upset, Ward thought, a spent old man clinging to the straw of a dream. He saw where the metaphor was leading and pushed it aside. If Allenby were a drowning man, then Ward himself was one. He looked at the others.

They were all edgy or simply frightened, but they were taking it very well. Some of them were stationed at the gates of the Quad, but none of them, as far as he could see, was armed. Except for McCarthy....