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The legion of lazarus, p.4
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       The Legion of Lazarus, p.4

           Edmond Hamilton
 
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  CHAPTER IV

  It did not stay lost for long. Shearing was at the controls. Thechronometer showed fourteen hours and twenty-seven minutes since theyleft the _Happy Dream_. Shearing had spent eight of those hours in aspecies of comatose slumber, from which he had roused out practicallynormal. Now Hyrst was heavily asleep in the pneumo-chair beside him.

  Shearing punched him. "Wake up."

  After several more punches Hyrst groaned and opened his eyes. He mumbleda question, and Shearing pointed out the wide curved port that gave fullvision forward and on both sides.

  "It was a good try," he said, "but I don't think we're going to make it.Look there. No, farther back. See it? Now the other side. And there'sone astern."

  Still sleepy, but alarmed, Hyrst swung his mental vision around. It waseasier than looking. Two fast, powerful tugs from the _Happy Dream_, andBellaver's yacht. He frowned in heavy concentration. "Bellaver's aboard.He's got a mighty goose-egg on his head. Vernon too, with his shields uptight. The three accurate men and the pilot--his nose is a thing ofbeauty--plus crew. Nine in all. Two men each to the tugs. The otherLazarite, the one I laid out--he's not along."

  Shearing nodded approvingly. "You're getting good. Now take a glance atour fuel-tanks and tell me what you see."

  Hyrst sat up straight, fully awake. "Practically," he said, "nothing."

  "This skiff was meant for short hops only. We've got enough for perhapsanother forty-five minutes, less if we get too involved. They're fasterthan we are, so they'll catch up to us--oh, say in about half an hour.We have friends coming--"

  "Friends?"

  "Certainly. You don't think we let each other down, do you? Not thebrotherhood. But they had to come from a long way off. We can't possiblyrendezvous under an hour and a half, maybe more if--"

  "I know," said Hyrst. "If we all get involved." He looked out the port.In the beginning, following directions from the young woman--whose namehe had never thought to ask--he had set a course that plunged him deepinto one of the wildest sectors of the Belt. He was not a pilot. Hecould, like most men of his time, handle a simple craft under simpleconditions, but these conditions were not simple. The skiff's radar wasshort-range and it had no automatic deflection reflexes. Hyrst had hadto fly on ESP, spotting meteor swarms, asteroids, debris of all sorts inthis poetically named hell-hole, the Path of Minor Worlds, and thenfiguring out how to get by, through, or over them without a crash.Shearing had relieved him just in time.

  He glowered at the whirling, glittering mess outside, the dust, theshards and fragments of a shattered world. It merged into mist and hismind was roving again. Shearing jockeyed the controls. He was flyingesper too. The tugs and Bellaver's fast yacht were closing up the gap.The level in the tanks went down, used up not in free fall but in theconstant maneuvering.

  Hyrst swung mentally inboard to check vac-suits and equipment in thelocker, and then out again. His vision was strong and free. He couldlook at the Sun, and see the splendid fires of the corona. He could lookat Mars, old and cold and dried-up, and at Jupiter, massive and sullenand totally useless except as an anchor for its family of crazy moons.He could look farther than that. He could look at the stars. In a littlewhile, he thought, he could look at whole galaxies. His heart poundedand the breath came hot and hard into his lungs. It was a good feeling.It made all that had gone before almost worthwhile. The primalimmensities drew him, the black gulfs lit with gold and crimson andpeacock-colored flames. He wanted to go farther and farther, into--

  "You're learning too fast," said Shearing dryly. "Stick to somethingsmall and close and sordid, namely an asteroid where we can land."

  "I found one," said Hyrst. "There."

  * * * * *

  Shearing followed his mental nudge. "Hell," he said, "couldn't you havespotted something better? These Valhallas give me the creeps."

  "The others within reach are too small, or there's no cover. We'll havequite a little time to wait. I take it you would like to be alive whenyour friends come."

  Vernon's thought broke in on them abruptly. "You have just one chance ofthat, and that's to give yourselves up, right now."

  "Does the socially-conscious Mr. Bellaver still want to give me thatjob?" asked Hyrst.

  "I'm warning you," said Vernon.

  "Your mind is full of hate," said Hyrst. "Cleanse it." He shut Vernonout as easily as hanging up a phone. Under stress, his new powers weredeveloping rapidly. He felt a little drunk with them. Shearing said,"Don't get above yourself, boy. You're still a cub, you know." Then hegrinned briefly and added, "By the way, thanks."

  Hyrst said, "I owed it to you. And you can thank your lady friend, too.She had a big hand in it."

  "Christina," said Shearing softly. "Yes."

  He dropped the skiff sharply in a descending curve, toward the asteroid.

  "Do you think," said Hyrst, "you could now tell me what the devil thisis all about?"

  Shearing said, "We've got a starship."

  Hyrst stared. For a long time he didn't say anything. Then, "You've gota starship? But nobody has! People talk of someday reaching other stars,but nobody tried yet, nobody _could_ try--" He broke off, suddenlyremembering a dark, lonely ship, and a woman with angry eyes watchingit. Even in his astonishment, things began to come clearer to him. "Sothat's it--a starship. And Bellaver wants it?"

  Shearing nodded.

  "Well," said Hyrst. "Go on."

  "You've already developed some amazing mental capabilities since youcame back from beyond the door. You'll find that's only the beginning.The radiation, the exposure--something. The simple act of pseudo-death,perhaps. Anyway, the brain is altered, stepped up, a great deal of itsnormally unused potential released. You've always been afair-to-middling technician. You'll find your rating boosted,eventually, to the genius level."

  The skiff veered wildly as Shearing dodged a whizzing chunk of rock thesize of a skyscraper.

  "That's one reason," he said, "why we wanted to get you before Bellaverdid. The number of technicians undergoing the Humane Penalty is quitesmall. We--the brotherhood--need all of them we can get."

  "But that wasn't the main reason you wanted me?" pressed Hyrst.

  Shearing looked at him. "No. We wanted you mainly because you werepresent when MacDonald died. Handled right--"

  He paused. The asteroid was rushing at them, and Bellaver's ships wereclose behind. Hyrst was already in a vac-suit, all but the helmet.

  "Take the controls," said Shearing. "As she goes. Don't worry, I'll makethe landing." He pulled the vac-suit on. "Handled right," he said, "youmight be the key to that murder, and to the mystery behind it that thebrotherhood _must_ solve."

  He took the controls again. They helped each other on with theirhelmets. The asteroid filled the port, a wild, weird jumble ofvari-colored rock.

  "I don't see how," said Hyrst, into his helmet mike.

  "Latent impressions," answered Shearing briefly, and sent the skiffskittering in between two great black monoliths, to settle with a jar ona pan of rock as smooth and naked as a ballroom floor.

  "Make it fast," said Shearing. "They're right on top of us."

  * * * * *

  The skiff, designed as Sheering had said for short hops, could notaccommodate the extra weight and bulk of an airlock. You were supposedto land in atmosphere. If you didn't, you just pushed a release-buttonand hung on. The air was exhausted in one whistling swoosh that tookwith it everything loose. The moisture in it crystallized instantly, andbefore this frozen drift had even begun to settle, Hyrst and Shearingwere on their way.

  They crossed the rock pan in great swaggering bounds. The gravity waslight, the horizon only twenty or so miles away. Literally in his mind'seye Hyrst could see the three ships arrowing at them. He opened contactwith Vernon, knowing Shearing had done so too. Vernon had been lookingfor them.

  "Mr. Bellaver still prefers to have you alive," he said. "If you'll waitquietly beside the skiff, we'll take you
aboard."

  Shearing gave him a hard answer.

  "Very well," said Vernon. "Mr. Bellaver wants me to make it clear to youthat he doesn't intend for you to get away. So you can interpret that asyou please. Be seeing you."

  He broke contact, knowing that Hyrst and Shearing would close him out.From now on, Hyrst realized, he would keep track of them the way he andShearing had kept track of obstructions in the path of flight, by mental"sight". The yacht was extremely close. Suddenly Hyrst had a confusedglimpse of a hand on a control-lever over-lapped by a view of theblack-mouthed tubes of the yacht's belly-jets. He dived, literally, intoa crack between one of the monoliths and a slab that leaned against itsbase, dragging Shearing with him.

  The yacht swept over. Nothing happened. It dropped out of sight, brakingfor a landing.

  "Imagination," said Shearing. "You realize a possibility, and you thinkit's so. Tricky. But I don't blame you. The safe side is the best one."

  Hyrst looked out the crack. One of the tugs was coming in to land besidethe skiff, while the other one circled.

  "Now what?" he said. "I suppose we can dodge them for a while, but wecan't hide from Vernon."

  Shearing chuckled. He had got his look of tough competence back. Heseemed almost to be enjoying himself. "I told you you were only a cub.How do you suppose we've kept the starship hidden all these years?Watch."

  In the flick of a second Hyrst went blind and deaf. Then he realizedthat it was only his mental eyes and ears that were blanked out asthough a curtain had been drawn across them. His physical eyes werestill clear and sharp, and when Shearing's voice came over the helmetaudio he heard it without trouble.

  "This is called the cloak. I suppose you could call it an extension ofthe shield, though it's more like a force field. It's no bar to physicalvision, and it has the one great disadvantage of being opaque both waysto mental energy. But it does act as a deflector. If Vernon follows usnow, he'll have to do it the hard way. Stick close by me, so I don'thave too wide a spread. And it'll be up to you to lead. I can't do both.Let's go."

  Hyrst had, unconsciously, become so used to his new perceptions that itmade him feel dull and helpless to be without them. He led off down oneof the smooth rock avenues, going away from the skiff and the tug whichhad just landed.

  On either side of the avenue were monoliths, irregularly spaced and ofdifferent sizes and heights but following an apparently orderly plan.The light of the distant sun lay raw and blinding on them, castingshadows as black and sharp-edged as though drawn upon the rock withindia ink.

  You could see faces in the monoliths. You could see mighty outlines,singly and in groups, of gods and beasts and men, in combat, insuppliance, in death and burial. That was why these asteroids werecalled Valhallas. Twenty-six of them had been found so far, and studied,and still no one could say certainly whether or not the hands of anyliving beings had fashioned them. They might be actual monuments,defaced by cosmic dust, by collision with the myriad fragments of theBelt, by time. They might be one of Nature's casual jokes, created bythe same agencies. No actual tombs had been found, nor tools, nordefinitely identifiable artifacts. But still the feeling persisted, inthe airless silence of the avenues, that some passing race had pausedand wrought for itself a memorial more enduring than its fame, and thengone on into the great galactic sea, never to return.

  * * * * *

  Hyrst had never been on a Valhalla before. He understood why Shearinghad not wanted to land and he wished now that they hadn't. There wassomething overwhelmingly sad and awesome about these leaning, toweringfigures of stone, moving forever in their lonely orbit, going nowhere,returning to nowhere.

  Then he saw the second tug overhead. He forgot his daydreams. "They'regoing to act as a spotter," he said. Shearing grunted but did not speak.His whole mind was concentrated on maintaining the cloak. Hyrst stoppedhim still in the pitchy shadow under what might have been a kneelingwoman sixty feet high. He watched the tug. It lazed away, circlingslowly, and he did not think it had seen them. He could not any longersee the place where they had landed, but he assumed that by now theyacht had looped back and come in--if not there somewhere close by. Theycould figure on nine to eleven men hunting them, depending on whetherthey left the ships guarded or not. Either way, it was too many.

  "Listen," he said aloud to Shearing. "Listen, I want to ask you. Whatyou said about latent impressions--you think I might have seen and heardthe killer even though I was unconscious?"

  "Especially heard. Possible. With your increased power, and ours,impressions received through sense-channels but not recognized at thetime or remembered later might be recovered." He shook his head. "Don'tbother me."

  "I just wanted to know," said Hyrst. He thought of his son, and the twodaughters he hoped he would never see. He thought of Elena. It was toolate to do anything for her, but the others were still living. So washe, and he intended to stay that way, at least until he had done what heset out to do.

  "Old Bellaver was behind that killing, wasn't he? Old Quentin, thisone's grandfather."

  "Yes. Don't bother me."

  "One thing more. Do we Lazarites live longer than men?"

  Shearing gave him a curious, brief look. "Yes."

  The tug was out of sight behind a massive rearing shape that seemed toclutch a broken ship between its paws. Symbolic, perhaps, of space? Whoknew? Hyrst led Shearing in wild impala-like leaps across an open space,and into a narrow way that twisted, filled with darkness, among thebases of a group that resembled an outlandish procession following aking.

  "How much longer?"

  "Humane Penalty first came in a hundred and fourteen years ago, right?After Seitz' method was perfected for saving spacemen. I was one of thefirst they used it on."

  "My God," said Hyrst. Yet, somehow, he was not as surprised as he mighthave been.

  "I've aged," said Shearing apologetically. "I was only twenty-seventhen."

  They crouched, beside a humped shape like a gigantic lizard with a longtail. The tug swung overhead and slowly on.

  Hyrst said, "Then it's possible the one who killed MacDonald is stillalive?"

  "Possible. Probable."

  Hyrst bared his teeth, in what was not at all like a smile. "Good," hesaid. "That makes me happy."

  They did not do any talking after that. They had had their helmet radiosoperating on practically no power at all, so that they couldn't bepicked up outside a radius of a few yards, but even that might be tooclose, now that Bellaver's men had had time to get suited and fan out.They shut them off entirely, communicating by yanks and nudges.

  * * * * *

  For what seemed to Hyrst like a very long time, but which was probablyless than half an hour in measured minutes, they dodged from one patchof shadow to another, following an erratic course that Hyrst thoughtwould lead them away from the ships. Once more the tug went over, slow,and then Hyrst didn't see it again. The idea that they might have givenup occurred to him but he dismissed it as absurd. With the helmet mikeshut off, the silence was beginning to get on his nerves. Once he lookedup and saw a piece of cosmic debris smash into a monolith. Dust andsplinters flew, and a great fragment broke off and fell slowly downward,bumping and rebounding, and all of it as soundless as a dream. Youcouldn't hear yourself walk, you couldn't hear anything but the roar ofyour own breathing and the pounding of your own blood. The grotesquerocky avenues could hide an army, stealthy, creeping--

  There was a hill, or at least a higher eminence, crowned with what mighthave been the cyclopean image of a man stretched out on a noblecatafalque, with hooded giants standing by in attitudes of mourning. Itseemed like the best place to stop that Hyrst had seen, with plenty ofcover and a view of the surrounding area. With luck, you might stayhidden there a long time. He jogged Shearing's elbow and pointed, andShearing nodded. There was a wide, almost circular sweep of open rockaround the base of the hill. Hyrst looked carefully for the tug. Therewas no sign of it. He tore out acro
ss the open, with Shearing at hisheels.

  The tug swooped over, going fast this time. It could not possibly havemissed them. Shearing dropped the cloak with a grunt. "No use for thatany more," he said. They bounded up the hillside and in among themourning figures. The tug whipped around in a tight spiral and hung overthe hill. Hyrst shook the sweat out of his eyes. His mind was clearagain. The tug's skipper was babbling into his communicator, and inanother place on the asteroid Hyrst could mentally see a thin skirmishline spread out, and in still another four men in a bunch. They allpicked up and began to move, toward the hill.

  Shearing said, nodding spaceward, "Our friends are on the way. If we canhold out--"

  "Fat chance," said Hyrst. "They're armed, and all we've got isflare-pistols." But he looked around. His eyes detected nothing butrock, hard sunlight, and deep shadow, but his mind saw that one of theblack blots at the base of the main block, the catafalque, was more thana shadow. He slid into a crack that resembled a passage, being roundedrather than ragged. Shearing was right behind him. "I don't like this,"he said, "but I suppose there's no help for it."

  The crack led down into a cave, or chamber, too irregularly shaped to beartificial, too smoothly surfaced and floored to be natural. There wasnothing in it but a block of stone, nine feet or so long and about fourfeet wide by five feet high. It seemed to be a natural part of thefloor, but Hyrst avoided it. On the opposite, the sunward side, therewas a small windowlike aperture that admitted a ray of blindingradiance, sharply defined and doing nothing to illumine the dark oneither side of it.

  Vernon's thought came to them, hard, triumphant, peremptory. "Mr.Bellaver says you have ten minutes to come out. After that, no mercy."

 
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