Bobby watched with interest. The little figure struggled with the blocks, piling them into a pyramid. At last it climbed up onto the blocks and turned the key in the lock.
Bobby scratched his head, puzzled. “Why did you do that?” he said. The figure climbed back down and came across the room toward Bobby, clicking and whirring. Bobby and the stuffed animals regarded it with surprise and wonder. The figure reached the bed and halted.
“Lift me up!” it cried impatiently, in its thin, metallic voice. “Hurry up! Don’t just sit there!”
Bobby’s eyes grew large. He stared, blinking. The stuffed animals said nothing.
“Come on!” the little soldier shouted.
Bobby reached down. The soldier seized his hand tightly. Bobby cried out.
“Be still,” the soldier commanded. “Lift me up to the bed. I have things to discuss with you, things of great importance.”
Bobby put it down on the bed beside him. The room was silent, except for the faint whirring of the metal figure.
“This is a nice room,” the soldier said presently. “A very nice room.”
Bobby drew back a little on the bed.
“What’s the matter?” the soldier said sharply, turning its head and staring up.
“What is it?” The little figure peered at him. “You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
Bobby shifted uncomfortably.
“Afraid of me!” The soldier laughed. “I’m only a little metal man, only six inches high.” It laughed again and again. It ceased abruptly. “Listen. I’m going to live here with you for a while. I won’t hurt you; you can count on that. I’m a friend — a good friend.”
It peered up a little anxiously. “But I want you to do things for me. You won’t mind doing things, will you? Tell me: how many are there of them in your family?”
“Come, how many of them? Adults.”
“Three. . . . Daddy, and Mother, and Foxie.”
“Foxie? Who is that?”
“Three of them.” The figure nodded. “I see. Only three. But others come from time to time? Other Adults visit this house?”
“Three. That’s not too many. Three are not so much of a problem. According to the factory –”
It broke off. “Good. Listen to me. I don’t want you to say anything to them about me. I’m your friend, your secret friend. They won’t be interested in hearing about me. I’m not going to hurt you, remember. You have nothing to fear. I’m going to live right here, with you.”
It watched the boy intently, lingering over the last words.
“I’m going to be a sort of private teacher. I’m going to teach you things, things to do, things to say. Just like a tutor should. Will you like that?”
“Of course you’ll like it. We could even begin now. Perhaps you want to know the proper way to address me. Do you want to learn that?”
“Address you?” Bobby stared down.
“You are to call me. . . .” The figure paused, hesitating. It drew itself together, proudly. “You are to call me — My Lord.”
Bobby leaped up, his hands to his face.
“My Lord,” the figure said relentlessly. “My Lord. You don’t really need to start now. I’m tired.” The figure sagged. “I’m almost run down. Please wind me up again in about an hour.”
The figure began to stiffen. It gazed up at the boy. “In an hour. Will you wind me tight? You will, won’t you?”
Its voice trailed off into silence.
Bobby nodded slowly. “All right,” he murmured. “All right.”
It was Tuesday. The window was open, and warm sunlight came drifting into the room. Bobby was away at school; the house was silent and empty. The stuffed animals were back in the closet.
My Lord lay on the dresser, propped up, looking out the window, resting contentedly.
There came a faint humming sound. Something small flew suddenly into the room. The small object circled a few times and then came slowly to rest on the white cloth of the dresser-top, beside the metal soldier. It was a tiny toy airplane.
“How is it going?” the airplane said. “Is everything all right so far?”
“Yes,” My Lord said. “And the others?”
“Not so good. Only a handful of them managed to reach Children.”
The soldier gasped in pain.
“The largest group fell into the hands of Adults. As you know, that is not satisfactory. It is very difficult to control Adults. They break away, or they wait until the spring is unwound –”
“I know.” My Lord nodded glumly.
“The news will most certainly continue to be bad. We must be prepared for it.”
“There’s more. Tell me!”
“Frankly, about half of them have already been destroyed, stepped on by Adults. A dog is said to have broken up one. There’s no doubt of it: our only hope is through Children. We must succeed there, if at all.”
The little soldier nodded. The messenger was right, of course. They had never considered that a direct attack against the ruling race, the Adults, would win. Their size, their power, their enormous stride would protect them. The toy vender was a good example. He had tried to break away many times, tried to fool them and get loose. Part of the group had to be wound at all times to watch him, and there was that frightening day when he failed to wind them tight, hoping that —
“You’re giving the Child instructions?” the airplane asked. “You’re preparing him?”
“Yes. He understands that I’m going to be here. Children seem to be like that. As a subject race they have been taught to accept; it’s all they can do. I am another teacher, invading his life, giving him orders. Another voice, telling him that –”
“You’ve started the second phase?”
“So soon?” My Lord was amazed. “Why? Is it necessary, so quickly?”
“The factory is becoming anxious. Most of the group has been destroyed, as I said.”
“I know.” My Lord nodded absently. “We expected it, we planned with realism, knowing the chances.” It strode back and forth on the dresser-top. “Naturally, many would fall into their hands, the Adults. The Adults are everywhere, in all key positions, important stations. It’s the psychology of the ruling race to control each phase of social life. But as long as those who reach Children survive –”
“You were not supposed to know, but outside of yourself, there’s only three left. Just three.”
“Three?” My Lord stared.
“Even those who reached Children have been destroyed right and left. The situation is tragic. That’s why they want you to get started with the second phase.”
My Lord clenched its fists, its features locked in iron horror. Only three left. . . What hopes they had entertained for this band, venturing out, so little, so dependent on the weather — and on being wound up tight. If only they were larger! The Adults were so huge.
But the Children. What had gone wrong? What had happened to their one chance, their one fragile hope?
“How did it happen? What occurred?”
“No one knows. The factory is in a turmoil. And now they’re running short of materials. Some of the machines have broken down and nobody knows how to run them.” The airplane coasted toward the edge of the dresser. “I must be getting back. I’ll report later to see how you’re getting on.”
The airplane flew up into the air and out through the open window. My Lord watched it, dazed.
What could have happened? They had been so certain about the Children. It was all planned — It meditated.
Evening. The boy sat at the table, staring absently at his geography book. He shifted unhappily, turning the pages. At last he closed the book. He slid from his chair and went to the closet. He was reaching into the closet for the bulging carton when a voice came drifting to him from the dresser-top.
“Later. You can play with them later. I must discuss something with you.”
The boy turned back to the table, his face listless and tired. He nodded, sinking down against the table, his head on his arms.
“You’re not asleep, are you?” My Lord said.
“Then listen. Tomorrow when you leave school I want you to go to a certain address. It’s not far from the school. It’s a toy store. Perhaps you know it. Don’s Toyland.”
“I haven’t any money.”
“It doesn’t matter. This has all been arranged for long in advance. Go to Toyland and say to the man: ‘I was told to come for the package.’ Can you remember that? ‘I was told to come for the package.’ ”
“What’s in the package?”
“Some tools, and some toys for you. To go along with me.” The metal figure rubbed its hands together. “Nice modern toys, two toy tanks and a machine gun. And some spare parts for –”
There were footsteps on the stairs outside.
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