Six lone figures glided through the cool rural breeze with their arms outstretched. Four wore commonplace clothing which flapped in the oncoming wind; the other two, a man and woman pair, were wrapped in silver-gray fabric that obscured all but their faces. At the front of their formation, three hundred meters above the ground, a bearded face that was usually calm held a twinge of urgency. His name was Luther Trundle, and the Flyers he'd led against ceaseless resistance were nearing their objective.
There was a particular form of "energy" positively identified with all living things and with matter in general. When evidence pointed to the link between this energy and gravity, the implications had seemed obvious to Luther: if an energy controlling system were set up in a living being, that being could reduce or even nullify the gravity affecting it for as long as it concentrated. He followed this idea out, and at last built a human-sized contral system, which he dubbed the Powered Flight suit.
Luther was the first person to use a Powered Flight suit, and the first person to be able to fly without one. Three of his comrades now shared this ability, as the six of them — all bound by friendship and a respect for Luther — streaked onward to save thousands of people, again.
No one had ever believed the Powered Flight suit possible, and when Luther Trundle designed it many still refused to accept its existence. The five associates who stuck with him were probably the only people on Earth who didn't think his ideas were immoral or that he was a vigilante. No one would hire his services, not even the United States government, and none except his five closest friends had ever believed him whenever his investigations led him to find that several lives were threatened.
He had long ago been branded a quack, and that label stuck with him even now as he raced to stop a nuclear power plant from self-destruction.
Below his group loomed the dome of the power generator. At their cruising clip of twenty meters per second (a little over forty miles per hour) they began to swoop down toward it with a hand signal from their fast leader. Luther flew slightly faster than the rest of them, being the only person alive with enough control to fly at the higher velocities. He had even once boasted about "hitting thirty," a speed one-and-a-half times greater than most of the Flyers' maxima.
"All right," he said with smiling determination showing through his beard. "The door is probably locked tight. We'll need a battering ram — aha! Alex, Joe, Allison: help me get that iron pipe. Robert and Joyce, you just keep carrying that anti-oranur shield."
The two figures cloaked in silver-gray supported their square burden between them. Robert and Joyce had joined Luther as a husband-and-wife pair, yet had been the slowest in learning bodily flight control.
The other four quickly snatched up the heavy beam. "Ready — hit!" Luther commanded as they coordinated their metal attack on the door. The barrier relented and crashed down.
"Intrusion!" blared the alert from inside. The six Flyers bolted through the gaping doorsill and were almost immediately fired upon; the security guards had been given orders to shoot to kill the "group of flying vigilantes."
"They're trying to kill us!" exclaimed Joe. "What'll we do?"
"The same thing we always do. We keep on going and dodge their shots like crazy."
Avoiding things in powered flight was not too difficult to do. Since their flying ability flowed from the very force of life that they were constructed of, it helped in preserving their life to the extent of subconscious tactical avoidance. And since the security guards in the power plant were at best mediocre shots, they failed to shoot down any of the Flyers.
"The core is that way!" Luther shouted above the din.
How could any manufacturing company be so blind as to give faulty carbon rods to a nuclear power plant? Though the instruments would read safe levels, the reactor core would be on the verge of a meltdown; and even if the problem was discovered, by then it would be far too late to do anything. . . .
There was no time to make the guards listen, and the Flyers probably wouldn't be believed anyway. The barrage of bullets continued; this the Flyers could easily avoid. Robert and Joyce, the two who had the weakest Life Force control, used the steel shell of their oranur shield to deflect the few bullets that got too close. But Luther could not avoid a metal derrick felled on him by a guard that knew what to do.
"Unngh!" cried Luther as the derrick pressed his left leg against the floor. He would have been an easy target, he thought, had not the tower's metal skeleton blocked the security guards' line of fire.
Allison swooped toward him instantly, determined to free the one she cared for the most. She grabbed the girder pinning Luther and pulled it up and off of him with all her momentum and might. Through the strain, she managed to move it long enough for Luther to fling his leg out of its grip, hurt but not crippled.
She flew to his side. "Luther, are you all right?" she asked, and kissed his forehead. They had fallen in love with each other when the Flyers were still new.
"Yeah," sighed Luther beneath his continuous smile. "Come on; we have work to do."
Luther pushed off with his good foot and wafted five meters upward while rubbing his knee. The joint probably would have been broken if not for the protective Life Force field that surrounded him.
They'd made it past the first line of defense; now they were nearing the core and all its lethal radiation. Probably none of the plant workers were aware of just how much radiation was being released, in both the "accepted" and controversial oranur forms.
The radiation was already beginning to affect Luther's group; their flying abilities were slowly being drained to lesser levels. "Robert, Joyce — get that oranur shield over here. We're gonna need it badly pretty soon."
They arrived, and he continued: "Now, everyone, get behind the shield and follow me!"
Luther shielded his path with the lead, steel, and cotton plate as he plunged toward the atomic pile area, the others following closely. "I can feel it already," he announced. "The core is producing far more radiation than it has any right to, and the detectors are hardly registering a thing. Someone's going to have to get to the controls and shut everything down, before we repeat the China Syn—"
"Luther, look!" Allison cut him off. "They're closing the reactor access corridor!"
Luther peeked over the shield and saw four triangular steel walls sliding toward each other, closing the gap between themselves as they sealed off the final hallway. "Going at this rate, we'll never make it through. The five of you stay back; I'm going to try to hit thirty."
They gasped. Luther, and Luther alone, had enough control to fly that fast at all, and he'd only ever done that once before. He charged ahead in streamlined fashion, and as the protective penumbra of his oranur shield ebbed from the rest of the Flyers, he picked up more speed than ever.
He hit thirty. He shot crosswise through the shrinking crevice with bare millimeters remaining, and shook as he heard the clank of the shutting doors behind him.
'Now I'm on my own,' he thought. 'And I don't have much time.' The access corridor was over fifteen meters high, divided along its walls into three separate walkway levels. Somewhere in the place, he remembered from the power plant's layout, was the final battery of reactor controls.
He spied the main control panel and bolted to it. Landing on the second-story ledge, he set the shield down between himself and the core and nervously scanned the array of switches, buttons, and levers. He glanced toward the atomic pile once, almost hearing its dangerous ethereal buzzing, and realized exactly how little time he had left — less than half a minute.
He fumbled instinctively for the lever marked "EMERGENCY CONTROL ROD ENGAGE," and yanked it down. A nearly imperceptible clank sounded from deep within the structure as the defective rods were shoved completely into the plutonium heap. Even poorly made rods still had enough carbon in them to stop the reaction when pushed in all the way.
But his work was not yet done. He jabbed a red button and listened as a lead dome came down on top of the distant core. And lastly, for good measure, he threw the anti-oranur shield against the far wall, sealing the core off from the outside world forever. "I did it," he breathed in exhausted triumph. "I did it."
He had stopped a project he despised, and would have gladly done so even if the carbon rods had been all right. He had always disliked nuclear fission as a source of energy. Thermonuclear fusion wasn't the best either, but at least it didn't melt down or leave behind radioactive waste.
His thoughts disintegrated when the steel door began to open. For an instant, he expected to be set upon by the security guards, but his gut reaction banished that idea. The warning klaxons had gone off before he'd shut down the core; the keepers of the reactor knew what good he had done.
His five flying companions sailed through the hole as it grew, almost as excited as they were relieved. "Luther," commented Allison, "You've done it again."
The barrier withdrew completely. From its far side, assembled like a race of zombies, the power plant's full arsenal of employees advanced toward the Flyers. They looked more dead than they had ever been, but Luther felt something new about them; as though they had always been that way and had finally realized it.
A hundred people came toward the Flyers, people who had been dead all their adult lives and now wanted to live again.
"Mr. Trundle, we didn't mean to do what we did. I can't explain it, but we've all become sick of this nuclear power plant. We're starting to realize what you and your group represent, and we like it a whole lot better than what this place stands for."
'All minds speaking as one,' Luther thought. "I can tell you exactly why you hate it here," he said matter-of-factly. He pointed to one of the posted warnings on the wall. "The U.S. government can make all the restrictions it wants on how little radioactivity can escape a reactor, but the thing they don't — or won't — realize is that it's not the nuclear radiation per se that's wearing you down." He hefted the anti-Oranur shield to demonstrate. "Any violent, high-energy reaction excites the natural cosmic energy in the air, or even in deep space, until it turns into a form harmful to all living beings — Oranur. No amount of lead or concrete or heavy water can contain Oranur radiation. An organic-inorganic layered wall like this one," he indicated the shield, "Can protect you for a while, until it gets contaminated by the Oranur too. You've probably all had old medical problems start to act up, or never cease, since you started working here; Oranur always attacks each individual at his weakest spot. This has been know an proven countless times, but the Atomic Energy Com—"
The man at the head of the group cut Luther short. "What we're trying to say is we want to join you. We want to be a part of the Flyers."
Luther was stunned. "Flyers," he whispered to himself. "A hundred of them, all Flyers. Our group hasn't changed members since its beginning."
He looked to his comrades. All showed excitement at the prospect while they scanned the workers, except for Allison. She stared right back into his eyes, looking for his reaction. She found, quite quickly, that he wanted this more than anyone else.
"Before I let you join," Luther explained, "I'd best tell you what you'll be getting yourselves into. The Flyers are social outcasts, not because we're strange, but because we understand things in a way no politicians can. Life is a force of love, and we co-exist with that; but the world is run by politics, which is almost the exact opposite of the Life Force. No government on Earth will recognize us, no private institution will budge for our merciful causes.
"In short, we're scavengers. We have no source of income; the Flyers live free! Everyone is out to get us, and I'm not being paranoid when I say that. Your equipment consists of your body, your mind, and an iron will which few people possess; along with your Powered Flight suit, of course. Now," he continued deliberately, "Do you still really want to join?"
The look in their eyes said it all. It cried out, "Yes!," and Luther wept in joy.
The Flyers led the hundred out through a back entrance on foot. Luther wondered long and hard about gathering up equipment for making a hundred Powered Flight suits. There would be enough cotton, steel wool, and pipes involved to cover half an acre, all of which had to be hand processed since the design had never been machined or mass produced.
But they would do it. The Flyers would increase their numbers twenty fold and become a powerful, persuasive force of people from every corner of life. And the perverted, wounded world could start to heal again.
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