Back | Next



The stars watched him, and it seemed to him that they whispered to him.

Die, Starwolf. Your course is run.

He lay across the pilot-chair, and the dark veils were close around his brain, and the wound in his side throbbed and burned. He was not unconscious, he knew that his little ship had come out of overdrive, and that there were things that he should do. But it was no use, no use at all.

Let it go, Starwolf. Die.

In a corner of his mind, Morgan Chane knew that it was not the stars that were talking to him. It was some part of himself that still wanted to survive and that was haunting him, prodding him, trying to get him onto his feet. But it was easier to ignore it, and lie here.

Easier, yes. And how happy his death would make his dear friends and loving comrades. Chane's fogged mind held onto that thought. And finally it brought a dull anger, and a resolve. He would not make them happy. He would live, and some day he would make those who were now hunting him very unhappy indeed.

The savage determination seemed to clear the blur of darkness a little from his brain. He opened his eyes and then, slowly and painfully, he hauled himself erect in the seat. The action pulled at his wound sickeningly, and for a few minutes he fought against nausea. Then he reached out a shaky hand toward a switch. He must first find out exactly where he was, where the last desperately hasty course he had set as he fled had brought him.

Like little red eyes, figures glowed on the board as the computer silently answered his question. He read the figures but his brain was not clear enough to translate them. Shaking his head drunkenly, he peered at the view plate.

A mass of blazing stars walled the firmament in front of him. High-piled suns, smoky-red, pure white, pale green and gold and peacock blue, glared at him. Great canyons of darkness rifted the star-mass, rivers of cosmic dust out of which gleamed the pale witch-fires of drowned suns. He was just outside a cluster, and now Chane's blurred mind remembered that in the last desperate moment of flight, when he threw his stolen ship into overdrive before blacking out, he had jabbed the coordinates of Corvus Cluster.

Blackness, nothingness, the eternal solemn silence of the void, and the suns of the cluster pouring their mighty radiance upon the tiny needle that was his ship. His memory quickened, and he knew now why he had come here. There was a world that he knew about in this gigantic hive of stars. He could lie up there and hide, and he sorely needed such a refuge, for he had no healamp and his wound would take time to heal naturally. He thought he would be safe on that world, if he could reach it.

Unsteadily, Chane set a course, and the little ship hurtled toward the edge of the cluster at the top speed of its normal drive.

The darkness began to dim his brain again and he thought, No, I have to stay awake, for tomorrow we raid the Hyades.

But that could not be right, they had hit the Hyades months ago. What was the matter with his memory? Things seemed jumbled and without sense or sequence.

Sweeping out from Varna in their swift little squadron, running down the Sagittarius Passage and crosscutting Owl Nebula to come down in a surprise swoop on the fat little planet with the fat little people who squealed and panicked when he and his comrades hit their rich towns . . . .

But that had been a long time ago. Their last raid, the one where he had got this wound, had been to Shandor Five. He remembered how on their way there they had been spotted and chased by a squadron of heavies, and had escaped them by slamming right through a star-system at full speed in normal drive. He could remember Ssander laughing and saying, "They won't take the chances we Varnans take and that's why they never catch us."

But Ssander is dead, and I killed him, and that is why I'm flying for my life!

It flashed across Chane's mind: he remembered the quarrel over loot on Shandor Five and how Ssander had got furious and tried to kill him and how he had killed Ssander instead. And how, wounded, he had fled from the avengers . . . .

The dark veils had cleared away and he was here in his little ship, still fleeing, hurtling toward the cluster. He stared at it, sweat on his dark face, his black eyes wild.

He thought that he had better stop blacking out or he would not have long to live. The hunters were after him, and there was no one in the galaxy who would give aid to a wounded Starwolf.

Chane had aimed to enter the cluster at a point where one of the dark dust-rivers divided it, and he was already passing the outpost sentinel suns. Soon he could hear the tick and whisper of dust against the hull. He was keeping out of the denser drift, and the particles were not much bigger than atoms. If, at these speeds, he met particles much bigger, they would hole the ship.

Chane got into his suit and helmet. It was a prolonged effort, and the pain of it was such that he had to set his teeth to keep from groaning. It seemed to him that the wound was more agonizing than it had been, but there was no time to look at it; the heal-patch he had put over it would have to do for now.

Up the great, dark, dusty river between the cluster stars went the little ship, and often Chane's head sagged against the board. But he kept his course. The dust might prove death for him. But it could be life, for those who would come hunting could not probe far in it.

The viewplate was blurred and vague now. It looked like a window, but it was a complex mechanism functioning through probe-rays far faster than light, and his probes had little range here. Chane had to keep all his attention on the dimness ahead, and that was hard with the wound throbbing in his side and the dark fingers always reaching for his brain.

Stars loomed up in the dust, burning like muffled torches, angry red and yellow suns that the tiny ship slowly passed. A deeper spot of brooding blackness, a dead sun, lay far ahead to zenith and became a somber star-mark that he seemed to approach with unnatural slowness . . . .

The dim river in the stars twisted a little, and Chane changed course. The hours went on and on, and he was well inside the cluster. But it was a long way yet . . . .

Chane dreamed.

The good days, the morning days, that now had so suddenly ended. The going forth from Varna of the little ships that were everywhere so dreaded. The slamming out of overdrive and the swoop upon a city of a startled world, and the warning cry across the suns—The Starwolves are out!

And the mirthful laughter of himself and his comrades as they went in, mocking the slow sluggishness of those who resisted: Go in fast and take the plunder and beat down those who tried to stop you, fast, fast, and away to the ships again, and finally back to Varna with loot and wounds and high-hearted triumph. The good days . . . could they really be ended for him?

Chane thought of that, and fed the fires of his sullen anger. They had turned against him, tried to kill him, hunted him. But no matter what they said he was one of them, as strong, as swift, as cunning as any of them, and a time would come when he would prove it. But for now he must hide, lie concealed until his wound bettered, and soon he would reach the world where he could do that.

Again there was a turning of the dark river, the dust rifting deeper into the cluster. More of the baleful witch-stars went by, and the dust whispered louder on the hull. Far ahead, a glazed, dim eye of bloody orange watched his ship approach. And presently Chane could make out the planet that moved lonesome around the lonely dying star, and he knew it for the planet of his refuge.

He almost made it.

Back | Next