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Chapter III

MAYO McCALL looked down through the glassite wall of her booth ten feet above the floor of Number Five drift. Thirty feet to her right was the shaft where the Fallonite ore went up to the surface. To her left was the brilliantly-illuminated tunnel that followed the vein out under the waste of the dead sea-bottom.

Mayo McCall watched the men running back and forth below. Quite calmly she reached out and closed the switch that controlled her testing beam—the ray that spanned the head of the drift and checked every carload of dull red rock for Fallonite content, the chemically amorphous substance that was already beginning to revolutionize the Terran plastic industry.

Mayo was alone. No one on the drift floor was paying any attention to her. She folded her arms on the table in front of her and peeled back the sleeve of her dark green technician's coverall. She pressed a hidden stud on her wristwatch.

The lens and half the silver case rose, revealing a microscopic two-way radio. Mayo counted five slowly, watching the men below. Her brown eyes held a deep glow. She had a strong, supple body whose curves even the coverall couldn't hide, and hair of a rich, warm mahogany color that made her skin look like cream.

"Go ahead," the radio whispered.

Softly, distinctly, without moving her lips, Mayo McCall spoke.

"There's trouble with a new gang, here in my drift. Set the amplifiers and recorders. I'm going down  . . . Wait. A bunch of Venusian guards just arrived with a Banning shocker. This looks big. It may be just what we've wanted."

"Be careful, Mayo. You know what they'll do if they discover what you're doing."

"I know. There goes Fallon and Jaffa Storm. This ought to be good. Stay with me."

She pulled her sleeve down carefully. The loose cloth covered the radio. She opened the door of the booth.

The drift was empty now for as far as she could see. She went quickly down the plastic steps and turned left, going silently and keeping close to the red rock wall. The rails of the dilly road glinted burnished silver in the white glare.

From up ahead, around a bend in the tunnel, came the sudden brittle whine of a heavy-duty shocker cutting in.

The first beam was low power. Crouched behind an ore car, Rick felt the shock run through him like liquid fire. It made his heart pound, but the pain wasn't too much to take.

There were twenty-two men spread out beside him along the rail. The other nine had been put to sleep with the Mickey shock-guns of the guards, in the first scrimmage. The focus of the Banning was widened to take in the lot.

"Jimmy! We can't take that!" one of the men cried out shrilly. "They'll step up the power."

"Shut up," Rick told him. The Venusian, Vargo, called to them. He looked innocent and happy, incongruously like a nice old lady with the dead-white hair coiled high on his head.

"You come out now, eh?" he said to the miners.

No answer. Vargo looked around. Jaffa Storm had just come up, running easily with his odd, limping stride. Fallon was some distance behind him. Fallon waved his hand.

"It's your show, boys!" he shouted.

He stopped, not too close, and lounged against the wall.

"Advance your power at the rate of one notch per second," Storm said quietly. The Venusian with the Banning grinned and took hold of the small lever. "I will count to ten," Storm said clearly, to no one in particular.

It grew very still under the cold brilliance. Rick peered around a wheel. The manacles clashed softly as he raised the Mickey in his twitching, jerking hand.

He didn't fire. The little guns had a shorter range than the distance a strong man could throw an ore fragment, which was why the rebels still had opposition. The Company men moved back beyond ore fragments.

Rick watched the lever click forward on the Banning.

Little blue lights began to flicker on the rim of the wheel in front of him. His body began to jerk with the same erratic violence. Each separate nerve stood out in coruscating agony.


JAFFA STORM began to count.

Jaffa Storm's voice echoed under the stone vault with the rhythmic impersonality of a clock tolling.

When he said, "Five," one of the rebel-miners began to scream.

"I'm coming out!" he shrieked. "I'm coming out!" Jaffa Storm stopped counting. He held his hand out, flat. The current stayed level. In the dead silence the man crawled across the rock, his shadow black and inhuman beneath him. His wrist-chains dragged, clashing.

Six others followed. Rick watched them. Once he tried to raise the Mickey, but his hand was like an old man's, palsied and without strength.

Storm began to count again.

Three times the advancing lever was stopped while men crawled and whimpered across the rock. When Storm said. "Ten," there was only one man left beside Rick. He must have had a weak heart. He was dead.

"Cut your power," Storm said.

The Venusian looked surprised, but he thumbed the stud. The whining stopped. Rick's body went lax. He lay face down, breathing in hoarse animal gasps. Sweat lay like thick oil on his skin.

"Rick," Storm said. "Are you ready to quit?"

After a long while Rick laughed.

"I suppose," said Storm, "you think I'll kill you anyway."

Rick's words had no shape to them, but their meaning was plain.

Storm nodded. He gestured to the Venusian. The man got up, and Storm sat down behind the Banning.

The guards and the dough-faced exhausted men moved back, against the wall. They didn't speak. Their breathing sounded harsh and loud. A still white glare filled the drift.

Storm lighted a cigarette, without haste. He placed matches in the pack, weighted it, and threw it. He didn't appear to strain at all, but the pack struck the wall behind Rick with audible force.

Presently Rick got his knees under him. He picked up the cigarette and sat back against the rock, dragging smoke deep into his lungs. It was quiet enough so that the faint sizzling of the illuminating tube sounded very loud. Rick looked up at it.

It was sunk in a trough in the ceiling and protected with heavy wire screen. There was no way to break it. Rick knew that. He'd already tried every way there was. The main switch for the whole length of the tube was back near the mouth of the drift. There were also switches for the individual sections, but they were not within his reach.

He sat almost at the peak of an oblique bend in the drift. To his left the tunnel ran into a dead end, without side galleries or even cover of any kind. Most of it, because the bend was shallow, was in clear range of the Banning.

Almost directly in front of him, in the opposite wall, was the dark opening of an abandoned side gallery. It probably led into a cul-de-sac, although it might, just possibly, cut into one of those endless mazes left by the giant mud-worms of prehistoric Mars, whose tunnelings remain fossilized under the sea-bottoms. In either case, it would mean only the difference between a fast death and a slow one, and as for reaching it, it might as well have been on Phobos.

Off to his right, across the naked, pitiless stone, Jaffa Storm dropped his cigarette and stepped on it.

He leaned forward. His hands touched the Banning with gentle delicacy. He tilted the muzzle high and flashed an experimental beam. This time the focus was tight, the power-whine hysterically high.

A thin stream of pale and crackling fire licked out, touched the opposite wall, and was gone. The smoking surface was fused like glass.

Quite suddenly one of the chained men turned his face to the wall and began to vomit.

Rick crouched down behind a metal wheel. His yellow eyes had the cold cruelty of those of a cat. His body was relaxed and still.

Jaffa Storm leveled the Banning, his dark face betraying neither pleasure nor interest.

He laid the beam on the disc of Rick's wheel and let it stay.

The nearness of the charge sent fire shocking through Rick's flesh. The wheel began to heat. Blue flames danced on its rim. Sweat poured down Rick's face, and dried, and the skin reddened angrily. His eyes were tortured.

He sprang suddenly, sideways along the rails, toward another wheel. The beam flicked over his head and came down ahead of him. He leaped back, making a dash the other way. Again the beam was quicker.

He dropped behind the wheel again. The beam found the disc and stayed.


RICK measured the distance to the gallery opening. He laughed silently, without humor, and gathered himself.

From the empty drift, beyond Storm and the men and the Venusian guards, beyond Ed Fallon, leaning white-faced against the wall, came a woman's voice.

"Stop!" it said.

Hasty footsteps rang against the tunnel vault. Voices broke loose in a nervous babble. The heat and the blue fire went away from the wheel. Rick looked around it, cautiously.

He saw the girl and she was beautiful. Even in that technician's coverall she made a lovely picture as she hastened to Jaffa Storm. Her hair clung in deep sorrel curls around her face, her brown eyes were blazing. She was so full of fury that she actually seemed to give off light.

"Stop that," she said. "Stop it!"

Fallon was coming up behind her. He looked rather sick.

"I've stopped." said Storm, mildly.

"It isn't enough for you to take these men off the free streets and chain them up and make slaves of them. You have to murder them, too!"

Storm rose lazily, motioning the Venusian back to the Banning.

"Do I do all those things, Miss?"

"Don't try to be funny! You know it's the truth."

"How do you know I do?"

"Everybody knows it!"

"Do they. Do they really." Storm's hand shot out so quickly that it was only a blurred flash. He pulled her close and said with friendly curiosity, "Or are you just trying to make me admit it, perhaps for someone else to hear?"

His free hand went over her with impersonal swiftness. She struggled, striking at him with her left arm. He laughed. He caught her wrist, and there was a faint snap of metal. He held her tight and peeled the sleeve back.

"Yes," he said. "Yes, I thought so."

He stripped off the watch-radio and crushed it under his heel.

Fallon whistled softly. "I better take her up to the office."

Storm nodded. His black eyes were warm. The girl lay quiet in his arms. The neck of her dark-green coverall had been torn open, and her throat and cheeks were smooth like new cream.

"You're awfully strong," she whispered. She shivered and let her head roll back against him. Her eyes were closed. "I guess I'm caught."


"Are you going to kill me? she asked him.

"That might depend."

She raised her lashes. "I don't think I want to die yet."


HE LAUGHED. He held her off, facing him, so he could look into her eyes.

"That's awfully quick work, baby."

"Time doesn't mean much in a spot like this."

"You're a liar, precious. A most beautiful, lovely liar."

She said nothing. Her lips were warm, rosy and alive.

"I can read your mind," Storm said.

"You're awfully smart," she murmured. "Because I can't read it myself."

Storm laughed again, softly. He bent his towering height and kissed her, taking his time.

In the middle of it, with her mouth still pressing his, she brought her knee up, hard with deadly accuracy.

Rick shouted. Jaffa Storm doubled up, his face twisted with stunned agony. The girl kicked him again, on the knee, and broke free.

"I've trained my mind, too," she yelled and ran.

The Venusians burst into a sudden raucous howl of laughter at Storm, who was huddled over on his knees, retching. The manacled men joined in.

Fallon made a grab for the girl. He missed, but some of the guards ran out and her way back to the shaft was barred. From behind the ore car Rick bellowed. "The light switch!"

Her gaze flicked from him to the switch near the tunnel mouth, all in the instant between one step and the next. The switch was on the opposite wall, away from the guards. She moved.

"Don't fire!" Fallon yelled. "I want her alive." He began to run, with half a dozen big Middle-swampers loping past him. The girl was going like a dark-green comet.

Jaffa Storm got up. He kept his body bent, but his feet were steadier than Rick knew his would have been. There was no expression on his face, not even pain. He struck the Venusian away from the Banning. He laid him out cold, and never glanced at the body.

He fired. His beam went between two Venusians, close enough to singe them, and hit the wall five feet to the girl's left. She didn't falter.

"Stop that!" Fallon yelled furiously. "She's got to be questioned!"

Storm fired again. The Venusians had scattered out of the way. The girl dropped flat, rolling. The beam missed her by the minimum margin, and then Rick was on his feet, running fast across the stone pathway.

He shouted. Storm's attention wavered slightly. Without breaking stride, Rick threw what was in his left hand.

It was an ore fragment. It was heavy, and jagged. It took Storm across the left side of his face and knocked him flat.

The light went out.

The Banning was still on. Its beam made an eerie shimmer in the blackness. Rick's eyes adjusted quickly. He was heading for the tunnel mouth before Storm hit the ground, and in the bluish glimmer he made out the girl's shadow, racing for the same place. Elsewhere, pandemonium was on a holiday.

Nobody chased them. They were afraid of the Banning. There was a heaving and profane commotion back against the wall. Somebody got hold of the Banning finally and screamed "watch out!" and started to flash the beam around. Rick and the girl collided at the tunnel mouth and fell. The tongue of flame licked the air, crackling where their heads had been, and flashed past. Before it could come back they had plunged into the pitch darkness of the gallery.

It turned. They crashed the blind wall and clawed around the corner, and behind them the Banning beam hit the rock and chewed away in baffled fury.

"Come on," Rick said.

They went faster than any sane people would have dared. They fought the rock walls and the trash of abandoned digging on the ground, the darkness, and themselves.

Three times Rick thought, "This is it. End of the tunnel. Dead end!" Then his groping hands would slide around a corner, and they'd go on.

Suddenly, quite suddenly, the drift changed. The floor was round, like a huge pipe, instead of level. There was no debris. The walls were curved, with a curious regular smoothness under the hand.

After a while they slowed, and then stopped. The silence lay as dead and heavy as the darkness. Their hoarse breathing had a quality of sacrilege, like noise in a tomb.


INSTINCTIVELY they moved close together, close enough to touch. Rick's wrist-chains clashed softly.

"They haven't followed," the girl whispered.

"No. They'll send the black boys. The anthropoids."

Silence. Blood drumming hot behind their ears.

"We're in one of those mazes I've heard about, aren't we?" the girl murmured. "Where the big worms used to crawl before the sea-bottoms hardened."

"That's right."

"Is there any way out?"

"I don't know. Sometimes worm tunnels lead into a pit, or a cliff face. Sometimes the roof has been cracked. About this one, I don't know."

"Not a very good chance, is it?" But her voice showed no fear.

"I wouldn't give odds."

Silence. Their breathing, their body heat, their fear, mingling in the thick dark.

"What's your name?" Rick asked the girl.

"Mayo McCall. What's yours?"

"Richard Gunn Urquhart, but Rick's enough."

"Hello, Rick."

"Hello, Mayo." He found her shoulder and shook it. "You have courage, baby. Ha, I hope you ruined that big scut for life."

"That rock of yours didn't do him any good."

"I got a hunch it didn't finish him," said Rick. "I hope it didn't. I'd like to see that guy again, some day."

"And Fallon?" she asked him.

"Fallon and the whole blasted Company," Rick's voice was vicious. "I'd like to boot them clean to . . . ."

After a while Mayo whispered, "Maybe you could, if we're lucky." Mayo whispered, after a while.

"What do you mean?" asked Rick. "Go on, explain!"

"If we live, I might show you how," said the girl, "We'd better go now. Which way?"

"Which wrist am I holding?"

She moved it slightly. "The left."

"That's the way we go, then. And baby, you better be lucky!"

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