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THE PLAIN, THE ENDLESS PLAIN / Brian Aldiss The forest, which had been growing slowly more impenetrable, ended without warning. Relieved to escape from the trees, the Tribe emerged one by one and grouped together to stand gazing at the new territory which confronted them. Ahead stretched an almost featureless plain. In their weariness, they did not communicate. No statement was needed to convey the starkness of their situation. The plain which stretched before them was so immense and nondescript that it existed almost as an abstraction. Its indeterminate area presented itself as little more than a texture under the drab sky. Nothing moved on it. Such contours as the plain possessed were lost in its colossal scale. Such colours as it possessed were also lost, submerged in a prevailing tawniness. Over all of its expanse, no hill or tree or monument broke its supine geography; so that despite its magnitude it did not transcend the petty, as if it were there only to be sucked at and finally devoured by the hazes of distance. In all the expanse there was no sign of welcome for the Tribe, no refuge. They stood there in a group, appalled, bludgeoned by the dimensions stretching before them. Behind them, however, the Enemy still advanced through the green intestines of the jungle, moving confidently, without caution, as the noise as from a steel foundry testified. To survive, it was necessary for the Tribe to venture out into the wilderness, hoping that the Enemy would not follow but instead turn back into the fastnesses from which it had emerged. A consultation was held, in which all members of the Tribe joined. They could not agree to press forward on to the plain. They had not determination enough. Some argued that they should skirt the jungle and hope to discover a river or safer place where they could take refuge. Only when, among the thickets to their rear, the heavy metallic noise of Enemy pursuit, coupled with the macabre wail of an electronic bugle, persuaded them that haste was required of them, did they understand that they must retreat into the plain or perish. The Enemy advanced on too broad a front for any other manoeuvre to be feasible. At this time, the Tribe numbered only twenty-one. Some of them still remembered the time when their peaceful existence in the hills had been shattered. The arrival of the Enemy had been sudden and remorseless. Goaded into haste, despite their weariness, they moved forward. The Tribe had no banners as did the Enemy. Their progress was humble, The Missouri Review · 255 their movements dogged. They walked close and in single file, keeping always to a strict order. They soon became engulfed within the great volume of the plain. The first time they stopped to rest, they could look back and still see the forest, an irresolute strip of blue-green behind them. At the time of their second rest, distance had dissolved the sight. They were absolutely alone in the annihilating marches which the plain represented. Courage—or a kind of dumb continuance—was a distinct feature of the Tribe's group characteristics. Each supported the other. Nobody spoke of turning back. Their sense of direction was good. They proceeded forward without hesitation, travelling westward. Day followed day. These were the twenty-one referred to later as Generation One. As they became more familiar with the plain, they found that its monotony was broken by features not apparent to anyone viewing it from a distance. There were lines of low hills, rather like the ripples in a quilt, which formed obstacles to their progress. Colour, though muted, was abundant: the plain was no desert, and supported mysterious lines of low vegetation of various hues, purple, green, brown. The general colour of the land was sepia, or oatmeal. No rain fell, yet there were winds which were no more than whispers, bringing a spray of moisture. More frequently, clouds of dust blew in their faces. The prevailing weather was tepid, without force. The Enemy followed them. The dull glint of its armour could be seen when its extended lines crossed the low hills. Its clangour could be heard...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 155-163
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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