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The legion of lazarus, p.8
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       The Legion of Lazarus, p.8

           Edmond Hamilton
 
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  CHAPTER VIII

  Titan lay below them in the Saturn-glow, under the fantastic glory ofthe Rings. A bitter, repellent world of jagged peaks and glimmeringplains of poison snow. The tiny life-raft dropped toward it, skitteringnervously as it hit the thin atmosphere. Hyrst clung hard to thehandholds, trying not to retch. He was not habituated to space anyway,and the skiff had been bad enough. Now, without any hull around him andnothing but a curved shield in front of him, he felt like an ant on aflying leaf.

  "I don't like it either." Shearing said. "But it gives us a fifty-fiftychance of getting through unnoticed. Radar usually isn't looking foranything so small."

  "_I_ understand all the reasons," Hyrst said. "It's my stomach that'sobtuse."

  He could make out the pattern of the refinery now, a million miles ofvertigo below him. The Lazarite ship was somewhere up and out behindthem, hiding in the Rings. The trick had worked with Bellaver out therein the Belt, and they hoped now that it would work with Bellaver'sobservers on Titan. There was no need for any fake explosions this time,to give the impression of destruction. Secrecy was the watch-word, alllights out and jet-blasts muffled to a spark. Later, when Hyrst andShearing had accomplished their mission, the ship would drop down fastand take them off, with the Titanite, before any patrol craft would havetime to arrive.

  They hoped.

  The buildings of the refinery were dark and cold, drifted out of shapeby an accumulation of the thin, evil snow. The spiderweb of roads hadfaded from the plain, and the landing field was smooth and unmarked.Around its perimeter the six stiff towers of the hoists stood up likelonely sentinels, hooded and cloaked.

  Hyrst felt a sudden tightening of his throat, and this was a thing hehad not expected. A refinery on Titan was hardly a thing to besentimental about. But it was bound up so intimately with other things,with hopes for a future that was now far behind him, with plans forElena and the kids that were now a cruel mockery, with friendly memoriesof Saul and Landers, now long dead, that he could not look at itunmoved.

  "Let's try again," said Shearing quietly. "If we could locate theTitanite definitely it might make all the difference. We'll hardly havetime to search all six of the bins."

  Glad of the distraction, Hyrst tried. He linked his mind to Shearing'sand they probed with this double probe, one after the other, the sixhoists and the bins beneath them, while the raft fell whistling down theair.

  It was the same as all the tries before. The bins had been empty formore than a decade, but the residual radiation was still hot enough topresent a luminous haze to the eyes of the mind, fogging everythingaround it.

  "Wait a minute," Hyrst said. "Let's use our wits. Look at the way thosehoists are placed, in a wide crescent. Now if I was MacDonald, coming infrom the mountains with a load of Titanite, and I wanted not to be seen,which one would I pick?"

  "Either One or Six," said Shearing, without hesitation. "They're thefarthest away from the buildings."

  "But Number Six is at the west end of the crescent, and to reach it youwould have to go clear across the landing field." He pointed mentally toNumber One. "I'll bet on that one. Shall we give it another try?"

  They did. This time, for a fleeting second, Hyrst thought he hadsomething.

  "So did I," said Shearing. "Sort of down under and _behind_."

  "Yes," said Hyrst. "_Look_ out!" His involuntary cry was caused by thesudden collision of the life-raft with a cloud. The vapor was verythick, and after the cruel clarity of space it made Hyrst feel that hewas smothering. Shearing jockeyed the raft's meagre controls, and in aminute or two they were below the cloud and spiralling down toward thelanding field. It was snowing.

  "Good," said Shearing. "We'll hope it keeps up."

  * * * * *

  They landed close to Number One Hoist and floundered rapidly through theshallow drifts, carrying some things. The hatch had been sealed with aplastic spray to prevent corrosion, and it took them several minutes toget it open. Inside the tower it was pitch black, but they did not needlights. Their other senses showed them the worn metal treads of thesteps quite clearly. In the upper chamber the indicator panels were darkand dead. Hyrst shivered inside his suit. He had been here so many timesbefore, so long ago.

  "Let's get busy," Shearing said.

  They pulled on the rayproofs they had brought with them from the raft.Without power the lift was useless, but the skeleton cage, stripped ofall its tools, was not too heavy for two strong men to swing clear ofthe shaft top. They made sure it would stay clear, and then sent down alight collapsible ladder. Hyrst slid down first into the smooth, round,totally unlighted hole, that had one segment of it open paralleling themachinery of the hoist.

  "Take it carefully," Shearing said, and slid after him.

  Clumsy in vac-suit and rayproof, Hyrst descended the ladder withagonizing slowness. Every impulse cried out for haste, but he knew if hehurried he would wind up at the bottom of the shaft as dead asMacDonald. The banging and knocking of their passage against the metalwall made a somber, hollow booming in that enclosed space, and it seemedto Hyrst that the silent belts and cables of the hoist hummed a littlein sympathy. It was probably only the blood humming in his own ears.

  "See anything yet?"

  "No."

  The vast strange glowing of the bin grew brighter as they approached it.The hoist was still "hot," and it glowed too, but nothing like theconcentration in the bin.

  "Even with rayproofs, we can't stay close to that too long."

  "I don't think we'll have to. MacDonald was only human, and the bin wasfull then. He couldn't have stayed long either."

  "See anything yet?"

  "Nothing but fog. When you hit bottom, better use your light."

  At long last Hyrst felt the bottom of the shaft under his boots. Hestood aside from the ladder and switched on his belt lamp. In this casethe physical eyes were better than the mental, being insensitive toradiation. Instantly the gears and cams of the feeder assembly spranginto sharp relief on the open side of the shaft. Shearing stumbled downoff the ladder and switched on his own light.

  "Where was it we thought we saw something?"

  "Down under and behind." Hyrst turned slowly around, questing. The shaftwas unbroken except by the repair opening. He climbed through it, withsome difficulty, because nobody was supposed to climb through it and themachinery was placed for easy access with extension tools from the lift.The bin itself was now directly opposite them, a big hopper cut deep inthe solid rock and serving the feeder by simple gravity. The feederpretty well filled its own rocky chamber. A place might have been foundbeside it for something not too big, but the first man who came down onthe lift would have seen it whether he was looking for it or not.

  Shearing pointed. A dark opening pierced the rock at one side. Hyrsttried to see into it with his mental eyes, but the "fog" was so denseand bright--

  He saw it, an unsubstantial ghostly shadow, but there. A square box sometwenty feet down the tunnel.

  Shearing drew a quick sharp breath "Let's go."

  They went into the tunnel, crouching, scraping against the narrow sides.

  "Look out for booby traps."

  "I don't see any--yet."

  The box sat in the middle of the tunnel. There was no way to get aroundit, no way to see over it without lying on its top and wriggling betweenit and the low roof. Hyrst and Shearing shut their eyes.

  "I'm not sure, but I think I see a wire. Damn the fog. Can't tell whereit goes--"

  * * * * *

  Hyrst took cutters from his belt and slithered cautiously over the box.His heart was hammering very hard and his hand shook so that he hadgreat difficulty getting the cutters and the wire together. The wire wasattached to the back of the box, very crudely and hastily attached witha blob of plastic solder. It was not until he had pinched the wire withthe sharp metal cutter-teeth that he realized the plastic wasnon-metallic and the wire bare. And then, of course, it was too late
.

  There must have been a simple energizer somewhere up ahead, stillcharging itself from the ample radiation source. The cutters flew out ofHyrst's hand in a shower of sparks, and in the darkness of the tunnelahead there was a sudden wild flare of light, and an explosion of dust.A shock wave, not too great, hammered past Hyrst's helmet. Shearingyelled once, a protest broken short in mid-cry. Then they waited.

  The dust settled. The brief tremor of the rock was stilled.

  In the roof of the tunnel, where the blast had been, a broken dump-traphung open, but nothing poured out of it but a handful of black dust.

  Hyrst began to laugh. He lay on his belly on top of the box of Titaniteand laughed. The tears ran out of his eyes and down his nose and droppedonto the inside of his helmet. Shearing hit him from behind. He hit himuntil he stopped laughing, and then Hyrst shook his head and said.

  "Poor MacDonald."

  "Yeah. Go ahead, you can cut the wire now."

  "Such a lovely booby trap. But he wasn't figuring on time. They wentaway from here, Shearing, you see? And when they went they drained offthe liquid graphite and took it with them. So there isn't anything leftto flood the tunnel. Pathetic, isn't it?"

  Shearing hit him again. "Cut the wire."

  He cut it. They scuffled backward down the tunnel, dragging the box.When they got back into the shaft where there was room to do it theyopened up the box.

  "Doesn't look like much, does it, for all the trouble it's made?"

  "No, it doesn't. But then gold doesn't look like much, or uranium, or ahandful of little dry seeds." Shearing picked up a chunk of the rough,grayish ore. "You know what that is, Hyrst? That's the stars."

  It was Hyrst's turn to prod Shearing into quiet. The starship and thedream that went with it were still only an intellectual interest to him.They shared out the Titanite into two webbing sacks. It made a lightload for each, hardly noticeable when clipped to a belt-ring at theback.

  Hyrst felt suddenly very nervous. Perhaps it was reaction, perhaps itwas the memory of having been trapped in a similar hole on the Valhallaasteroid. Perhaps it was a mental premonition, obscured by theradioactive "fog". At any rate, he started to climb the ladder withalmost suicidal haste, urging Shearing on after him. The shaft seemed tobe a mile high. It seemed to lengthen ahead of him as he climbed, sothat he was never any nearer the top. He knew it was only imagination,because he passed the level markers, but it was the closest thing to anightmare he had ever experienced when he was broad awake. Just afterthey had passed the E Level mark, Shearing spoke.

  "A ship has landed."

  Hyrst looked mentally. The fog-effect was not so great now, and he couldsee quite clearly. It was a small ship, and two men were getting out ofit. It had stopped snowing.

  "Radar must have picked up the raft after all," said Shearing. "Or elsesomebody spotted the jet-flares." He began to climb faster. "We betterget out of this before they come in."

  D Level. Hyrst's hands were cold and stiff inside his gauntlets, clumsyhooks to catch the slender rungs. The two men were standing outside inthe snow, peering around.

  C Level. One of the two men saw the raft parked by the hoist tower. Hepointed, and they moved toward it.

  B Level. Hyrst's boots slipped and scrambled, banging the shaft wall."Christ," said Shearing. "You sound like a temple gong. What are youtrying to do, alarm the whole moon?"

  * * * * *

  The men outside bent over the raft. They looked at it. Then they lookedat the hoist tower. They left the raft and began to run, pulling gunsout of their belts.

  A Level. Hyrst's breath roared in his helmet like a great wind. Hethought of the long dark way down that was below them, and how MacDonaldhad looked at the bottom of the shaft, and how he would take Shearingwith him if he fell, and nobody would get to the stars, and Vernon wouldgo free. He set his teeth, and sobbed, and climbed. Outside, the two mencautiously removed the hatch and stepped into the tower.

  End of the ladder. A level floor to sprawl on. Hyrst squirmed away fromthe shaft. He thought for a minute he was going to pass out, and hefumbled with the oxygen valve, making the mixture richer. His head beganto clear. Shearing was now beside him. This time they had guns, too.Shearing gave him a quick mental caution, _Not unless you have to_. Oneof the two men was placing a tentative foot on the stair that led up towhere they were. The other man was close behind him. Shearing tookcareful aim and fired, at half power.

  The harsh blue bolt did not strike either man. But they went reelingback in a cloud of burning flakes, and when Shearing shouted to them todrop their weapons and get out they did so, half stunned from the shock.Hyrst and Shearing leaped down the stairs, stopping only long enough topick up the guns. Then they scrambled outside. The two men were runningas hard as they could for their ship, but they had not gone far andShearing stopped them with another shot that sent a geyser of methanesteam puffing up practically under their feet.

  "Not yet," he said. "Later."

  The two men stood, sullenly obedient. They were both young, and not badlooking. Just doing a job, Hyrst thought. No real harm in them, justdoing a job, like so many people who never stop to worry about what thejob means. They both wore Bellaver's insigne on their vac-suits.

  One of them said, as though he were reciting a lesson in which he had noreal personal interest, "You're trespassing on private property. You'llbe prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

  "Sure," said Shearing. He motioned to the hoist tower. "Back inside."

  The young men hesitated. "What you going to do?"

  "Nothing fatal. It shouldn't take you more than half an hour to breakout again."

  He marched them to the hatch and saw them inside it. Hyrst was watchingthe sky, the black star-glittering sky with the glorious arch of theRings across it and one milky-bright curve of Saturn visible and growingabove the eastern horizon.

  "They're coming," he said mentally to Shearing.

  "Good." He started to close the hatch, and one of the young men pointedsuddenly to the sack clipped to Shearing's belt.

  "You've been stealing something."

  "Tell that to Bellaver."

  "You bet I will. The fullest extent of the law, mister! The fullestextent--"

  The hatch closed. Shearing jammed the fastening mechanism so it couldnot be turned from the inside. Then he went and stood beside Hyrst inthe glimmering plain, watching the ship drop down out of the Rings.

  Hyrst said, "They'll tell Bellaver."

  "Naturally."

  "What will Bellaver do?"

  "I'm not sure. Something drastic. He wants our starship so hard he'dmurder his own children to get it. You can see why. In itself it'spriceless, a hundred years ahead of its time, but that's not all. It'swhat it stands for. To us it means freedom and safety. To Bellaver itmeans--"

  He gestured toward the sky, and Hyrst nodded, seeing in Shearing's mindthe image of a gigantic Bellaver, ten times bigger than God, gatheringthe whole galaxy into his arms.

  "I wish you luck," said Hyrst. He unhooked the sack of Titanite from hisbelt and gave it to Shearing. "It'll take a little while to refine thestuff and build the relays, even so. That may be time enough. Come backfor me if you can."

  "Vernon?"

  "Yes."

  Shearing nodded. "I said I'd help you get him. I will."

  "No. This is my job. I'll do it alone. You belong there, with them. WithChristina."

  "Hyrst. Listen--"

  "Don't tell me where the starship is. I might not hold out as well asyou."

  "All right, but Hyrst--in case we can't get back--look for us away fromthe Sun. Not toward it."

  "I'll remember."

  The ship landed. Shearing entered it, carrying the Titanite. And Hyrstwalked away, toward the closed and buried buildings of the refinery.

  It had begun to snow again.

 
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