The hard-riding nomad cavalry bore
down on the defense line. They did not break
into a circling column as before, I but began forming
an advancing line. When they were 75 yards away,
Sykes ordered his men to begin firing.
The nomads were already shooting,
and what their emissary had said was true: these
men were expert shots, even from horseback. Sykes
heard the bullets careening off the sloping face of
the barricade. Two of his men were down already.
He leveled his police pistol and fired
steadily into the oncoming ranks. He thought
they were going to try to jump the fence this time,
and he braced for the shock. To his dismay, he
now saw that a perfectly clear space for their landing
had been left between his own position and the adjacent
Suddenly the line of attackers swerved
to the left just a few feet from the wire. The
defending fire was furious, and for a moment Sykes
thought they were going to turn the line back.
Then several of the nomads raised their arms and hurled
dark, small objects toward the barrier. Sykes
recognized them even while they were in the air.
He shouted to his men and they flattened
behind the barricade. Six explosions thundered
almost simultaneously. Mud and rocks sprayed into
the air and fell back in a furious rain upon the defenders.
Cautiously, Sykes lifted himself from
the ground and got a glimpse of the scene once more.
A hundred feet of barbed-wire fence had disappeared
in a tangle of shattered posts and hanging coils.
Through the opening, the nomads poured over the barricades
in the midst of Sykes’ men. Smashing hoofs
landed almost upon him but for his frantic rolling
and twisting out of their path. Gunfire was a
continuous blasting wave. Sykes thought he heard
above it the sound of Johnson’s voice roaring
commands to the retreating men.
It sounded like he was saying, “Close
up! Close up!” but Sykes never knew for
sure. An enormous explosion seemed to come from
nowhere and thunder directly in front of him.
The day darkened suddenly and he felt himself losing
all control of his own being. He wondered if a
cloud had crossed the sun, but almost at the same
time he ceased to be concerned about the question
The first of the wounded came in slowly,
borne by stretcher bearers on foot who had literally
dragged their charges through the lines of invading
horsemen. Ken directed their assignment to the
hospital-houses. He had always believed he could
take a scene like this in his stride, but now he felt
he must keep moving constantly to keep from becoming
Overhead, a pall of smoke surged again,
blotting out, partly, the comet’s light.
More houses had been fired by the invaders. The
sound of crackling flames mingled with the thunder
of hoofs and the roll of rifle fire.
Surely it wouldn’t be possible,
Ken thought, for such a charge to succeed unless it
were backed by strong infantry. He moved into
one of the houses and directed the placement of the
severely wounded man brought up now by the bearers.
As they left, he looked down at the stained and bloody
face. A nurse was already at work cutting away
the matted clothing from the wound.
Ken exclaimed loudly before he realized
what he was saying. “Mr. Harris! Mr.
Harris you shouldn’t have been out
The man opened his eyes slowly against
the terrible pain. He smiled in recognition.
It was Mr. Harris, the principal of Mayfield High School;
the one Ken had attended. He was an old man at
least fifty much too old to have been at
the barricade with a rifle.
“You shouldn’t have been
out there,” Ken repeated. Mr. Harris seemed
to have difficulty in seeing him.
“Ken,” he said slowly.
“It’s Ken Maddox, isn’t it?
Everybody has to do something. It seemed like
this was the best thing I could do. No school
to teach. No school for a long time.”
His voice wavered as he began to ramble.
“I guess that makes all the students happy.
No school all winter long. I always dreamed of
Mayfield being a school where they would be glad to
come, whose opening in the fall would be welcomed
and closing in the spring would be regretted.
I never got that far, I guess.
“I didn’t do a really
bad job, did I, Ken? Mayfield is a pretty good
school, isn’t it?”
“Mayfield is a swell school,
Mr. Harris,” said Ken. “It’ll
be the best day ever when Mayfield opens up again.”
“Yes ... when school opens again,”
Mr. Harris said, and then he was still.
The nurse felt his pulse and regretfully
drew the sheet up to cover his face. “I’m
sorry,” she said to Ken.
Blindly, he turned and went out to
the porch. Mr. Harris, he thought, the little
bald-headed man they’d laughed at so often with
schoolboy cruelty. He had wanted to make Mayfield
a good school, so students would be glad to attend.
He’d done that almost. Mayfield
was a good school.
Ken looked at the rolling clouds of
black smoke in the sky. The gunfire seemed less
steady now. Suddenly he was running furiously
and with all his strength. He turned down Main
Street and headed south. He ran until he caught
sight of the first nomad he had seen since the events
in the Mayor’s Council chamber.
The enemy had stopped his horse, rearing
high, while he hurled some kind of incendiary through
the window of a house. It exploded inside and
billows of flame and smoke poured out. A heart-tight
pain gripped Ken. He looked wildly about and
saw a fragment of brick lying beside a demolished
He snatched up the missile and wound
up as if pitching one straight over the corner of
the plate. The horseman saw the motion of his
arm and tried to whirl, but he was too late.
The brickbat caught him at the side of the head and
he dropped to the snow without a sound. Ken ran
forward and caught up the nomad’s rifle and
ammunition belt. The horse had fled in panic.
Without a backward glance Ken raced
on down the street toward the dwindling sound of battle.
The invaders were retreating, streaming from all directions
toward the break in the barrier, firing steadily as
they came. The defenders were trying to block
Ken dropped behind a barricade next
to an older man he didn’t know. He searched
for an opening and waited for a rider to cross his
sights; then he squeezed the trigger and the man fell.
When he looked up again the last of the invaders were
gone. Only half of those who had come up to the
attack were leaving it.
The men around Ken slowly relaxed
their terrible tension. From some lying prone
there were cries of pain. Those who could stand
did so and revealed their drawn faces to one another.
Teams of the medical group began moving
again. A horse-drawn wagon was brought up that
had been fitted with boards across the sides so that
two layers of wounded men could be carried at once.
Ken heard sudden hoofbeats behind
and turned. Sheriff Johnson rode up and surveyed
the scene. His eye caught Ken’s figure standing
in the midst of it, rifle in hand, the captured ammunition
belt draped over his shoulder.
“You!” White anger was
on Johnson’s face. “You were ordered
to stay out of the frontline!” he thundered.
“Any other man would be court-martialed for
such disobedience. Get back where you belong and
don’t show your face in this area again.
I’ll jail you for the rest of the fighting if
you disobey again!”
Half-ashamed, but half only, for his
impulsive action, Ken turned and moved down the street.
“Leave that gun here!” the Sheriff commanded
Ken gave it to the nearest soldier.
He took off the ammunition belt and handed it over
too, then resumed his course. He should not have
done it, he told himself, but he felt better for it.
He felt he had paid a little of his debt to Mr. Harris.
When he reached the hospital center he told his father.
“It wasn’t a good thing,”
said Professor Maddox gently, “but maybe it
was something that had to be done.”
Throughout the day they continued
to bring in the wounded and the dead. There seemed
to be an incredible number, but the invaders had suffered
heavily, too. Half their force had been lost.
A dozen fine horses had been captured, which were
a considerable prize.
There was speculation as to why the
nomads chose to attack in this manner. They had
done great damage, it was true, yet the attack had
not had a chance of being decisive in spite of their
Hilliard and Johnson held a staff
meeting that afternoon while a sharp watch was kept
for further attack. They considered that they
had done very well so far. The chief worries
were the grenades and incendiaries, which the nomads
seemed to have in large quantity.
Toward evening, Johnson asked for
two volunteers to go out as scouts to try to reach
the top of Lincoln’s Peak, west of town, to spot
the camp of the nomads and scout their activities.
A pair of volunteers was chosen from the many who
offered. On two of the best of the nomads’
horses, they made their way across the frozen plain
and up the small ravine leading to the ridge.
Observers watched until they were out of sight in
It was agreed the two would return
by 6 o’clock. At 5 there was the faint
sound of gunfire from somewhere in the hills.
The scouts did not return at the appointed time.
They did not return at all.
Night came, and word spread among
the townspeople of the disappearance of the two scouts.
Anxiety increased as it became apparent they were
under close surveillance by the enemy. Perhaps
it was the intention of the nomads to wear them down
with a winter-long siege of attack after attack, until
they no longer had the ability or strength to fight.
Hilliard and Johnson doubted this.
The nomads were far less equipped for such a siege
than Mayfield was.
Maria continued to return to the radio
shack in the evening to maintain the schedule with
the network. She reported the plight of Mayfield
to the other stations. From across the country
came the fervent best wishes of those who heard her.
Wishes were all they could offer.
The scientists were particularly anguished
because they considered the Maddox-Larsen group among
the most likely to crack the barrier that kept them
from conquest of the comet dust. “Our prayers
are with you,” the Pasadena group said.
They sent a new report and Maria typed
it and showed it to Professor Maddox that evening.
He scanned it and put the pages in his coat pocket
as he glanced out the window toward College Hill.
“It seems like ages,”
he said. “I wonder if we’ll ever get
back up there.”
The next attack came well before dawn.
Sheriff Johnson was among the first to be aware of
it. The thunder of seemingly countless horses’
hoofs was heard faintly out of the south and he put
his glasses to his eyes. The nomads were a black
patch against the snow.
“How many horses have they got?”
he exclaimed to the patrolman beside him. This
was Ernest Parkin, one of his best officers.
“I’d say there must be
at least a hundred of them,” said Parkin in awe.
“They must have been gathering horses for weeks.”
“Feed,” said Johnson,
“for themselves and the animals they
may be rabble and savages, but they’ve had genius
Behind shelter, they waited for the
blow. All orders had already been given.
Only the general alarm was sounded now. It had
been expected that the previous pattern of attack
would be repeated. The defenders had been moved
back from the barbed wire. They fired slowly and
methodically with a splendidly efficient barrage as
the nomads swung out of the night to blast with their
grenades at the reconstructed fence.
The way opened and they plunged in,
the defenders closing behind and retreating to the
other side of their barricades.
Ken paced restlessly as he heard the
shooting. “I’m going up on the roof,”
he told his father. “There can’t be
any objection to that.”
“I guess not. I’ll call you when
we need you.”
Ken climbed the stairs of the 6-story
building, which was the highest in Mayfield.
He came out on the frozen surface of the roof and looked
into the distance. The mounted invaders were
circling like Indians about several blocks of houses,
firing steadily at the defenders and hurling incendiaries
at the houses.
Then, as Ken turned his eyes to the
northern end of the valley, he felt as if the whole
world had suddenly fallen to pieces in the dim, morning
On foot, a vast host of the invaders
moved toward the northern defenses of the town.
Instantly, he understood their strategy. While
their small parties of mounted attackers had pressed
the southern defenses, giving the impression they
intended to make their major approach there, the bulk
of their forces had marched entirely around Lincoln’s
Peak and come upon the northern boundary at night.
That was why the peak had been so heavily guarded
against the scouts.
It had been a march of over 40 miles
to by-pass the valley. Now, however, the nomads
were in a position to achieve their goal. The
bulk of the town’s defense was concentrated
in the south. Little stood in the way of the
horde advancing from the north.
His heart sickened as he saw them
rip through the barbed-wire enclosure. The poorly
manned defense posts seemed almost non-existent.
Only a scattering of shots was thrown at the invaders.
From somewhere, a warning siren sounded,
the agreed-upon signal to indicate invasion in that
sector. It was far too late for that, Ken thought.
The horde was already in the streets, fanning out,
dispersing in the deserted streets.
Ken started for the doorway leading
from the roof. His responsibility to College
Hill was gone now. Every man in the valley was
fighting for his own life. If that battle were
lost, College Hill would be only an empty symbol,
where ghosts were housed, as in Berkeley, as in Chicago,
as in a thousand centers of learning the world around.
With his hand on the latch of the
door he paused at a new sound that broke upon the
air. An incredible barrage of firing was occurring
along northern Main Street near 12th Avenue.
He put the fieldglasses to his eyes again and watched
the scattering nomads seeking cover. Dozens of
them lay where they fell headlong in the streets.
Ken strained his eyes to see where
the defense had come from. It was centered in
the houses and buildings that lined the streets, and
on their rooftops. He could see the ant-sized
outlines of figures on those roofs. For a moment
he failed to understand. Then he felt a choking
sensation in his throat.
In a desperate gamble, Johnson and
Hilliard had anticipated this move and prepared for
it as best they could. They had allowed the main
body of the attackers to enter the town itself and
had deployed the majority of their guns to ring them
about, while offering only token defense on the south.
This was it. The battle would
be fought here and now, in the streets of Mayfield,
and before the day was over it would be known whether
the city would continue its struggle to live or whether
it would become another Berkeley.