by Poul Anderson
The Danska words barked from the car radio as a jet whine cut across the hum of motor and tires. “Identify yourself!” Jason Philippou cast a look skyward through the bubbletop. He saw a strip of blue between two ragged green walls where pine forest lined the road. Sunlight struck off the flanks of the killer machine up there. It wailed, came about, and made a circle over him.
Sweat started cold from his armpits and ran down his ribs.
He couldn’t pass as an ordinary citizen (no, they said mootman here) of Norland. If nothing else, his Hellenic accent was too strong. But he might fool yonder pilot, for just a few minutes, into believing he was from some other domain of this history. He roughened his tone, as a partial disguise, and assumed the expected arrogance.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Runoif Einarsson, captain in the hird of Ottar Thorkeisson, the Lawman of Norland. I pursue one who has brought feud on his own head. Give me your name.”
“I hight Xipec, a trader from Meyaco,” he said. He did not slow down. The border was not many stadia away, so furiously had he driven through the night since he escaped from the Lawman’s castle. He had small hope of getting that far, but each turn of the wheels brought him nearer. The forest was blurred with his speed.
“If so be, of course I am sorry to halt you,” Runoff’s voice crackled. “Call the Lawman and he will send swift gild for the overtreading of your rights. Yet I must have you stop and leave your car, so I may turn the farseer on your face.”
“Why?” Another second or two gained.
“There was a visitor from Homeland”—Europe—”who came to Ernvik. Ottar Thorkeisson guested him freely. In return, he did a thing that only his death can make clean again. Rather than meet Otter on the Valfield, he stole a car, the same make as yours, and fled.”
“Would it not serve to call him a nithing before the folk?”
“Now that is a strange thing for a Meyacan to say. Stop at once and get out, or I open fire.”
Jason realized his teeth were clenched till they hurt. How in Hades could a man remember the hundreds of little regions, each with its own ways, into which the continent lay divided? Westfall was a more fantastic jumble than all Earth in that history where they called the place America.
“Very well,” he said. “You leave me no choice. But I shall indeed want compensation for this insult.”
He braked as slowly as he dared. The road was a hard black ribbon before him, slashed through an immensity of trees. He didn’t know if these woods had ever been logged. Perhaps so, when white men first sailed through the Pentalimne (calling them the Five Seas) to found Ernvik where Duluth stood in America and Lykopolis in Eutopia. In those days Norland had spread mightily across the lake country. But then came wars with Dakotas and Magyars, to set a limit; and the development of trade—more recently of synthetics—enabled the people to use their hinterland for the hunting they so savagely loved. Three hundred years could re-establish a climax forest.
Sharply before him stood the vision of this area as he had known it at home: ordered groves and gardens, villages planned for beauty as well as use, lithe brown bodies on the athletic fields, music under moonlight… Even America the dreadful was more human than a wilderness.
They were gone, lost in the multiple dimensions of space-time, he was alone and death walked the sky.
The car stopped, hard by the road edge. Jason gathered his thews, opened the door, and sprang.
Perhaps the radio behind him uttered a curse. The jet slewed around and swooped like a hawk. Bullets sleeted at his heels.
Then he was in among the trees. They roofed him with sun-speckled shadow. Their trunks stood in massive masculine strength, their branches breathed fragrance a woman might envy. Fallen needles softened his foot-thud, a thrush warbled, a light wind cooled his cheeks. He threw himself beneath the shelter of one bole and lay in a gasping and heartbeat which all but drowned the sinister whistle above.
Presently it went away. Runoff must have called back to his lord. Ottar would fly horses and hounds to this place, the only way of pursuit. But Jason had a few hours’ grace.
After that—He rallied his training, sat up and thought. If Socrates, feeling the hemlock’s chill, could speak wisdom t0 the young men of Athens, Jason Philippou could assess his own chances. For he wasn’t dead yet.
He numbered his assets. A pistol of the local slug-throwing type; a compass; a pocketful of gold and silver coins; a cloak that might double as a blanket, above the tunic-trousers-boots costume of central Westfall.
And, yes, before all else, he had reason to live. It went beyond any blind wish to continue an identity; that was only something the DNA molecule had elaborated in order to make more DNA molecules. He had his beloved to return to. He had his country: Eutopia, the Good Land, which his people had founded two thousand years ago on a new continent, leaving behind the hatreds and horrors of Europe, taking along the work of Aristotle, and writing at last in their Syntagma, “The national purpose is the attainment of universal sanity.”
Jason Philippou was bound home.
He rose and started walking south.
That was on Tetrade, which his hunters called Onsdag. Some thirty-six hours later, he knew he was not in Pentade but near sunset of Thorsdag. For he lurched through the wood, mouth filled with mummy dust, belly a cavern of emptiness, knees shaking beneath him, flies a thundercloud about the sweat dried on his skin, and heard the distant belling of hounds.
A horn responded, long brazen snarl through the leaf arches. They had gotten his scent, he could not outrun horsemen and he would not see the stars again.
One hand dropped to his gun.
Realization came, dimly, that he had left the pine forest and was in a second growth of beeches. Light gilded their leaves and caressed the slim white trunks. And what was that growl up ahead?
He stopped. A portal might remain. He had driven himself near collapse; but the organism has a reserve which the fully integrated man may call upon. From consciousness he abolished the sound of dogs, every ache and exhaustion. He drew breath after breath of air, noting its calm and purity, visualizing the oxygen atoms that poured through his starved tissues. He made the heartbeat quit racketing, go over to a deep slow pulse; he tensed and