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The legion of lazarus, p.5
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       The Legion of Lazarus, p.5

           Edmond Hamilton
 
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  CHAPTER V

  The minutes slid past, sections of eternity arbitrarily measured by thestandards of another planet and having no relevance at all on this tinywhirling rock. The beam of light from the small aperture moved visiblyacross the opposite wall. Hyrst watched it, blinking. Outside,Bellaver's men were drawn up in a wide crescent across the hill in frontof the catafalque. They waited.

  "No mercy," said Hyrst softly. "No mercy, is it?" He bent over and beganto loosen the clamps that held the lead weights to the soles of hisboots.

  "It isn't mercy we need," said Shearing. "It's time."

  "How much?"

  "Look for yourself."

  Hyrst shifted his attention to space. There was a ship in it, headingtoward the asteroid, and coming fast. Hyrst frowned, doing in his headwithout thinking about it a calculation that would have required acomputer in his former life.

  "Twenty-three minutes and seventeen seconds," he said, "inclusive of thefour remaining."

  He finished getting the weights off his boots. He handed one toShearing. Then he half-climbed, half-floated up the wall and settledhimself above the entrance, where there was a slight concavity in therock to give him hold.

  "Shearing," he said.

  "What?" He was settling himself beside the mouth of the crack, where aman would have to come clear inside to get a shot at him.

  "A starship implies the intention to go to the stars. Why haven't you?"

  "For the simplest reason in the world," said Shearing bitterly. "Thedamn thing can't fly."

  "But--" said Hyrst, in astonishment.

  "It isn't finished. It's been building for over seventy years now, and along and painful process that's been, too, Hyrst--doing it bit by bit insecret, and every bit having to be dreamed up out of whole cloth, andoften discarded and dreamed up again, because the principle of aworkable star-drive has never been formulated before. And it still isn'tfinished. It can't be finished, unless--"

  He stopped, and both men turned their attention to the outside.

  "Bellaver's looking at his chrono," said Hyrst. "Go ahead, we've got aminute."

  Shearing continued, "unless we can get hold of enough Titanite to buildthe hyper-shift relays. Nothing else has a fast enough reaction time,and the necessary load-capacity. We must have burned out a thousanddifferent test-boards, trying."

  "Can't you buy it?" asked Hyrst. The question sounded reasonable, but heknew as he said it that it was a foolish one. "I mean, I know the stuffis scarcer than virtue and worth astronomical sums--that's whatMacDonald was so happy about--but--"

  "The Bellaver Corporation had a corner on the stuff before our ship waseven thought of. That's what brought this whole damned mess about. Someof our people--not saying why they wanted it, of course--tried to buysome from Bellaver in the usual way, and one of them must have beenincautious about his shield. Because a Lazarite working for Bellavercaught a mental hint of the starship, and the reason for the Titanite,and that was it. Three generations of Bellavers have been after us forthe star-drive, and it's developed into a secret war as bitter as anyever fought on the battlefield. They hold all the Titanite, we hold theship, and perhaps now you're beginning to see why MacDonald was killed,and why you're so important to both sides."

  "Beginning to," said Hyrst. "But only beginning."

  "MacDonald found a Titanite pocket. And as you know, a Titanite pocketisn't very big. One man can break the crude stuff, fill a sack with it,and tote it on his own back if he doesn't have a power-sled."

  "MacDonald had a sled."

  "And he used it. He cleaned out his pocket, afraid somebody else wouldtrack him to it, and he hid the wretched ore somewhere. Then he began todicker. He approached the Bellaver Corporation, and we heard of it andapproached _him_. He tried playing us off against Bellaver to boost theprice, and suddenly he was dead and you were accused of his murder. Wethought you really had done it, because no Titanite turned up, and weknew Bellaver hadn't gotten it from him. We'd watched too closely. Itwasn't until some years later that one of our people learned thatMacDonald had threatened a little too loudly to sell to us unlessBellaver practically tripled his offer--and of course Bellaver didn'tdare do that. A price so much out of line even for Titanite would havestirred all the rival shipbuilders to unwelcome curiosity. So, wefigured, Bellaver had had him killed."

  "But what happened to the Titanite?"

  "That," said Shearing, "is what nobody knows. Bellaver must have figuredthat if his tame Lazarites couldn't find where MacDonald had put it, wecouldn't either. He was right. With all our combined mental probes andconventional detectors we haven't been able to track it down. And wehaven't been able to find any more pockets, either. Bellaver Corporationgot exclusive mineral rights to the whole damned moon. They even own therefinery now."

  Hyrst shook his head. "Latent impressions or not, I don't see how I canhelp on that. If MacDonald had given the killer any clue--"

  * * * * *

  A beam of bright blue light no thicker than a pencil struck in throughthe mouth of the passage. It touched the side of the large stone block.The stone turned molten and ran, and then the beam flicked off, leavinga place that glowed briefly red. Shearing said, "I guess our ten minutesare up."

  They were. For a second or two nothing more happened and then Hyrst sawsomething come sailing in through the crack. His mind told him what itwas just barely in time to shut his eyes. There was a flash that dazzledhim even through his closed lids, and the flash became a glare that didnot lessen. Bellaver's men had tossed in a long-term flare, and almostat once someone followed it, in the hope of catching Hyrst and Shearingblinded and off guard. The eyes of Hyrst's mind, unaffected by light,clearly showed him the suited figure just below him, with its bubblehelmet covered by a glare-shield. They directed him with perfectaccuracy in the downward sweep of the lead weight he had taken from hisboot, and which he still held in his hand. The bubble helmet was verystrong, and the gravity very light, but the concussion was enough todrop the man unconscious. Just about thought Hyrst, what happened to methere in the hoist tower, when MacDonald died. Shearing, who had by nowadjusted his own glare-shield stooped quickly and took the man's gun.

  He said aloud, over the helmet communicator, "The next one that stepsthrough here gets it. Do you hear that, Bellaver?"

  Bellaver's voice answered. "Listen, Shearing, I was wrong. I admit it.Let's calm down and start over again. I--"

  "Ten minutes ago it was no mercy."

  "It's hard for me to behave reasonably about this business. You knowwhat it means to me, what it meant to my father and _his_ father. ButI'm willing to do anything, Shearing, if you'll make a deal."

  "I'll make a deal. Readily. Eagerly. Give back what your grandfatherstole from us, and we'll call it square."

  "Oh no we won't," said Hyrst grimly, breaking in. "Not until I find whokilled MacDonald."

  "All right," said Bellaver. "Wilson, break out the grenades."

  The entire surface of Hyrst's body burst into a flaring sweat. For onepanic-stricken second he wanted to rush out the crack pleading formercy. Then he got his feet against the wall and pushed hard, and wentplunging across the chamber in a sort of floating dive. Shearing gotthere at the same time and helped to pull him down. They huddledtogether on the floor, with the coffin-shaped block between them and thecrack. Hyrst sent out a frantic mental call to hurry, directed at thespaceship of the brotherhood.

  "They're all going to hurry," said Shearing. "Vernon has found the shipnow. He's telling Bellaver. Here comes the grenade--"

  Small round glittering thing of death, curving light and gracefulthrough the airless gloom. It comes so slowly, and the flesh shrinksquivering upon itself until it is nothing more than a handful of simplefear. Outside the men are running away, and the one who has thrown thegrenade from the cramped, constructing vantage of the crack is runningafter them, and Shearing is crying with his mind Will it to fall short,_will it to fall sh_--

  There is a great
brilliance, and the rock leaps, but there is not theslightest sound.

 
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