It is dark here in the forest. The leaves rustle over our head, black against the last gold of the sky. The moss is soft and warm. We shall sleep on this moss for many nights, till the beasts of the forest come to tear our body. We have no bed now, save the moss, and no future, save the beasts.
We are old now, yet we were young this morning, when we carried our glass box through the streets of the City to the Home of the Scholars. No men stopped us, for there were none about from the Palace of Corrective Detention, and the others knew nothing. No men stopped us at the gate. We walked through empty passages and into the great hall where the World Council of Scholars sat in solemn meeting.
We saw nothing as we entered, save the sky in the great windows, blue and glowing. Then we saw the Scholars who sat around a long table; they were as shapeless clouds huddled at the rise of the great sky. There were men whose famous names we knew, and others from distant lands whose names we had not heard. We saw a great painting on the wall over their heads, of the twenty illustrious men who had invented the candle.
All the heads of the Council turned to us as we entered. These great and wise of the earth did not know what to think of us, and they looked upon us with wonder and curiosity, as if we were a miracle. It is true that our tunic was torn and stained with brown stains which had been blood. We raised our right arm and we said:
“Our greeting to you, our honored brothers of the World Council of Scholars!”
Then Collective 0-0009, the oldest and wisest of the Council, spoke and asked:
“Who are you, our brother? For you do not look like a Scholar.”
“Our name is Equality 7-2521,” we answered, “and we are a Street Sweeper of this City.”
Then it was as if a great wind had stricken the hall, for all the Scholars spoke at once, and they were angry and frightened.
“A Street Sweeper! A Street Sweeper walking in upon the World Council of Scholars! It is not to be believed! It is against all the rules and all the laws!”
But we knew how to stop them.
“Our brothers!” we said. “We matter not, nor our transgression. It is only our brother men who matter. Give no thought to us, for we are nothing, but listen to our words, for we bring you a gift such as had never been brought to men. Listen to us, for we hold the future of mankind in our hands.”
Then they listened.
We placed our glass box upon the table before them. We spoke of it, and of our long quest, and of our tunnel, and of our escape from the Palace of Corrective Detention. Not a hand moved in that hall, as we spoke, nor an eye. Then we put the wires to the box, and they all bent forward and sat still, watching. And we stood still, our eyes upon the wire. And slowly, slowly as a flush of blood, a red flame trembled in the wire. Then the wire glowed.
But terror struck the men of the Council. They leapt to their feet, they ran from the table, and they stood pressed against the wall, huddled together, seeking the warmth of one another’s bodies to give them courage.
We looked upon them and we laughed and said:
“Fear nothing, our brothers. There is a great power in these wires, but this power is tamed. It is yours. We give it to you.”
Still they would not move.
“We give you the power of the sky!” we cried. “We give you the key to the earth! Take it, and let us be one of you, the humblest among you. Let us all work together, and harness this power, and make it ease the toil of men. Let us throw away our candles and our torches. Let us flood our cities with light. Let us bring a new light to men!”
But they looked upon us, and suddenly we were afraid. For their eyes were still, and small, and evil.
“Our brothers!” we cried. “Have you nothing to say to us?”
Then Collective 0-0009 moved forward. They moved to the table and the others followed.
“Yes,” spoke Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to you.”
The sound of their voices brought silence to the hall and to beat of our heart.
“Yes,” said Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to a wretch who have broken all the laws and who boast of their infamy!
“How dared you think that your mind held greater wisdom than the minds of your brothers? And if the Councils had decreed that you should be a Street Sweeper, how dared you think that you could be of greater use to men than in sweeping the streets?”
“How dared you, gutter cleaner,” spoke Fraternity 9-3452, “to hold yourself as one alone and with the thoughts of the one and not of the many?”
“You shall be burned at the stake,” said Democracy 4-6998.
“No, they shall be lashed,” said Unanimity 7-3304, “till there is nothing left under the lashes.”
“No,” said Collective 0-0009, “we cannot decide upon this, our brothers. No such crime has ever been committed, and it is not for us to judge. Nor for any small Council. We shall deliver this creature to the World Council itself and let their will be done.”
We looked upon them and we pleaded:
“Our brothers! You are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?”
Collective 0-0009 looked upon us, and they smiled.
“So you think that you have found a new power,” said Collective 0-0009. “Do all your brothers think that?”
“No,” we answered.
“What is not thought by all men cannot be true,” said Collective 0-0009.
“You have worked on this alone?” asked International 1-5537.
“Many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had strange new ideas in the past,” said Solidarity 8-1164, “but when the majority of their brother Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must.”
“This box is useless,” said Alliance 6-7349.
“Should it be what they claim of it,” said Harmony 9-2642, “then it would bring ruin to the Department of Candles. The Candle is a great boon to mankind, as approved by all men. Therefore it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one.”
“This would wreck the Plans of the World Council,” said Unanimity 2-9913, “and without the Plans of the World Council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils for the Candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the Plans so as to make candles instead of torches. This touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores of States. We cannot alter the Plans again so soon.”
“And if this should lighten the toil of men,” said Similarity 5-0306, “then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men.”
Then Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box.
“This thing,” they said, “must be destroyed.”
And all the others cried as one:
“It must be destroyed!”
Then we leapt to the table.
We seized our box, we shoved them aside, and we ran to the window. We turned and we looked at them for the last time, and a rage, such as it is not fit for humans to know, choked our voice in our throat.
“You fools!” we cried. “You fools! You thrice-damned fools!”
We swung our fist through the windowpane, and we leapt out in a ringing rain of glass.
We fell, but we never let the box fall from our hands. Then we ran. We ran blindly, and men and houses streaked past us in a torrent without shape. And the road seemed not to be flat before us, but as if it were leaping up to meet us, and we waited for the earth to rise and strike us in the face. But we ran. We knew not where we were going. We knew only that we must run, run to the end of the world, to the end of our days.
Then we knew suddenly that we were lying on a soft earth and that we had stopped. Trees taller than we had ever seen before stood over us in great silence. Then we knew. We were in the Uncharted Forest. We had not thought of coming here, but our legs had carried our wisdom, and our legs had brought us to the Uncharted Forest against our will.
Our glass box lay beside us. We crawled to it, we fell upon it, our face in our arms, and we lay still.
We lay thus for a long time. Then we rose, we took our box and walked on into the forest.
It mattered not where we went. We knew that men would not follow us, for they never enter the Uncharted Forest. We had nothing to fear from them. The forest disposes of its own victims. This gave us no fear either. Only we wished to be away, away from the City and from the air that touches upon the air of the City. So we walked on, our box in our arms, our heart empty.
We are doomed. Whatever days are left to us, we shall spend them alone. And we have heard of the corruption to be found in solitude. We have torn ourselves from the truth which is our brother men, and there is no road back for us, and no redemption.
We know these things, but we do not care. We care for nothing on earth. We are tired.
Only the glass box in our arms is like a living heart that gives us strength. We have lied to ourselves. We have not built this box for the good of our brothers. We built it for its own sake. It is above all our brothers to us, and its truth above their truth. Why wonder about this? We have not many days to live. We are walking to the fangs awaiting us somewhere among the great, silent trees. There is not a thing behind us to regret.
Then a blow of pain struck us, our first and our only. We thought of the Golden One. We thought of the Golden One whom we shall never see again. Then the pain passed. It is best. We are one of the Damned. It is best if the Golden One forget our name and the body which bore that name.