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A GRILLE of bars and metal wire was down across the entrance of the outer court. When they reached it their captive snickered. He had snapped out of his first panic-surprise, and though he was quite helpless in Kimber's hands, the voice with which he asked a question now was entirely self-possessed.

"How do you propose to get past this?"

The pilot met that demand almost Jauntily. "I suppose that this is equipped with a time lock?"

The Laurel Wearer did not reply to that, he had a second demand: "Who are you?"

"What if I should say—a rebel?"

But that was the wrong answer. The man's lips thinned to a single cruel line.

"So—" his half-whisper was soft but it promised deadly reprisals, "Lossler dares this, does he? Lossler!"

But Kimber had no time for that. He shoved the captive into Dard's ready hands before he applied a black disc to the grille's lock. There was a crackle, a shower of spitting sparks. Then Kimber struck the barrier with his shoulder and it yielded. Taking the prisoner with them, they went out into the freedom of the night.

The town was in darkness, a dark broken only by a scattering of street lights. The full moon picked out light and shadow in vivid black and white across the snow on roofs and yards.

"March!" Kimber pushed the captive before him in the direction of the 'copter park. Dard trotted behind, nervously alert, not yet daring to believe that they had been successful.

Before they came onto the crumbling concrete of the take-off Kimber had instructions for the Laurel Wearer.

"We're going to take a 'copter," he explained—bored—as if he were discussing a dull report, "and, once we do that, we shall have no more use for you, understand? It remains entirely up to you in what condition you shall be left behind—"

"And you can tell Lossler from me," the words came slowly, ground out one by one between teeth set close together, "that he is not going to get away with this!"

"Only we are getting away with it, aren't we? Now step right ahead—we are all friends—in case there is a guard on duty. You shall see us off and we will trouble you no more."

"But why?" protested the other. "What did you want here?"

"What did we want? That is a minor problem and you shall have all the rest of the night to solve it—if you can. Now, where's the guard?"

When the man made no answer Kimber's hand moved and brought a gasp of pain from the captive.

"Where—is—the—guard?" repeated the pilot, his patience iced by frigid promise of worse things to come.

"Three guards—gate and patrol—" came the gritted return.

"Excellent. Try to answer more promptly next time. You shall escort us through the gate. We are being sent by you on a special mission."

Just as Dard saw the black and white coat at the entrance the command snapped out:


Kimber obediently brought their procession of three to a stop.

"Speak your piece," he whispered.

"Pax, brother."

Dard was alert—waiting for some warning to that sentry. But Kimber must have taken precautions, for the voice of the Laurel Wearer sounded natural.

"Laurel Wearer Dawson on special business on the Company—"

The guard saluted. "Pass, Noble Dawson!"

Dard closed in on the heels of Kimber and Dawson with all the military bearing he could muster. He held the pose until they were passing along the row of idle 'copters. Then Kimber spoke to his fellow conspirator.

"There's the little matter of fuel. Climb into that baby and check the reading on the top dial in the row directly before the control stick. If it registers between forty and sixty—sing out. If it doesn't, we'll have to try the next"

Dard crawled into the seat and found the light button. Between—between forty and sixty! White figures danced crazily until he forced his nerves under control "Fifty-three," he called out softly.

What Kimber intended to do with Dawson Dard never learned. For, at the moment, the Laurel Wearer gave a sudden heave, throwing himself down and trying to drag the pilot with him. At the same time he shouted, and that cry must have carried not only across the field, but into the Temple as well.

Dard hurled himself at the door of the 'copter. But before he could get out he saw an arm rise and fall in a deadly blow. A second scream for help was cut off in the middle and the pilot jumped for the machine. Dard found himself face down while the pilot scrambled over him to the controls. The 'copter lurched, the open door banging until Kimber was able to pull it to. They were air borne, and not a moment too soon as the whip crack of a shot testified.

The boy pulled up on the seat, trying to see behind them. Was that another 'copter rising? Or would they have more of a start before pursuit would be on their tail?

"Couldn't expect our luck to last forever," Kimber murmured. "How about it, kid? Do they have anything up yet? Evasive action right now would be tough."

There was an ominous wink of red light now in the sky.

"Someone's coming up—wing lights showing."

"Wing lights, eh? Well, well, well, aren't we both the forgetful boys though." Kimber's hand went out to snap down a small lever.

From the corner of his eye Dard saw their own tell-tale wing-tip gleams disappear. But the pursuer made no move to shut his off—or else he did not care if he betrayed his position.

"I have now only one question," the pilot continued, half to himself. "Who is Lossler and why did our dear friend back there expect trouble from him? A split within the ranks of Pax—it smells like that. Too bad we didn't know about this Lossler complication sooner."

"Would such a split make any difference in your plans?"

"No, but we could have had a lot more fun these past few months. And playing one group against the other might have paid off. Like tonight—this Lossler may take the blame for us, and no one will come nosing around the Cleft for the crucial time we have left here. What the—!"

Kimber's body strained forward, he was suddenly intent upon the dials before him. Then he reached out to rap smartly on the very indicator he had told Dard to check before they had taken the 'copter. The needle behind the cracked glass remained as stationary as if it were painted across the numbers it half obscured. A line drew Kimber's brows together. Again he struck the glass, trying to Jar loose the needle. Then he settled back in the seat.

"Dear me," he might have been remarking on the brightness of the night, "now we do have a problem. How much fuel? Is the tank full, part full, or deuced near empty? I thought this was all a little too smooth. Now we may have to—"

The smooth purr of the motor caught in a cough, and then picked up beat again. But Kimber shrugged resignedly.

"It is now not a question of 'may have to,' that cough was a promise that we are going to walk. How about our friend behind?"

"Coming strong," Dard was forced to admit.

"Which makes the situation very jolly indeed. We could do with less of this blasted moonlight! A few clouds hanging about would help."

The engine chose that moment to cough again and this time the pickup was delayed longer than before. "Three or four drops more, maybe. Better set her down before we have to pancake. Now where're a lot of nice dark shadows? Ha—trees! And there's only one 'copter behind us—sure?"

"Sure." Dard verified that point before he answered.

"So, we have to do it the hard way. Here we go, m'lad."

The 'copter came down a field away from the road they had followed, landing heavily in a sizable drift. On the other side of a low wall was a clump of trees. And—Dard was pretty sure—he had sighted the outline of a house beyond.

They scrambled out and jumped the wall, struggling out of the soft snow into the grove. From behind came the sound of the other 'copter. Those in it must have sighted the machine on the ground at once, they were heading unerringly toward it.

"There's a house that way," Dard panted as Kimber plowed ahead with the determination of breaking beyond the thin screen of trees.

"Any chance of finding some transportation there?"

"None of the landsmen have surface cars any more. Folley had a double A rating, and Lotta said his application for one was turned down twice. Horses—maybe . . ."

Kimber expelled a snort. "Horses, yet!" he addressed the night. "And me not knowing which end of the animal is which!"

"We'd get away faster mounted," Dard sputtered as he slipped on a piece of iced crust and fell into the spiky embrace of a bush. "They'll probably put hounds on us—we're so near to town.

Kimber's pace slowed. "I'd forgotten those pleasures of civilization," he observed. "Do they use dogs a lot in tracking?"

"Depends on how important the tracked are."

"And we're probably number one on their list of public enemies now. Yes, nothing like being worthy of dogs—and no meat to throw behind us! All right, let's descend upon this house and see how many horses or reasonable facsimile or same we can find."

But when they reached the end of the grove they stopped. Lights showed in three house windows and they reached far enough across the snow-crusted road to reveal a 'copter there. Kimber laughed without any amusement at all.

"That bird by the machine is waving a rifle."

"Wait!" Dard caught at the pilot as Kimber started out of the brush.

Yes, he had been right—there was another 'copter coming! He felt Kimber tense in his hold.

"If they have any brains at all," the pilot whispered, "they'll box us up! We've got to get out."

But Dard held him fast.

"You're trying for the road," the boy objected.

"Of course! We daren't get lost now—and that is our only guide back. Or do you know this country well enough to go skating off into the midst of nowhere?"

Dard kept his hold on the other. "I know something—that this is the only road leading to the mountains, yes. But we can't take it unless . . ."

He took his hands from Kimber and pulled up the edge of the Jacket he wore—the black jacket trimmed in white. With numb fingers he pulled buttons roughly out of holes and stripped off the too large garment. He had been right! The black fabric was completely lined with the same white which made the deep cuffs and the throat-fretting stand-up collar. And the breeches were white, too. With frantic haste he thrust sleeves wrongside out. Kimber watched him until he caught on and a minute later the pilot was reverting his own coat White against white—if they kept in the ditches—if dogs were not brought—they still had a thin chance of escaping notice.

They half fell, half plunged into the ditch beside the road just as a second 'copter came to earth. Dard counted at least six men fanning out in a circle from it, beginning a stealthy prowl into the grove they had left.

Neither of the fugitives waited longer, but, half crouched, scurried along between the dry brush which partly filled the ditch and the ragged hedges walling the fields. The skin between Dard's shoulder blades crawled as he expected momentarily to feel the deadly impact of a bullet. Tonight death was a closer companion than the pilot whose boots kicked snow into his sweating face.

Some time later they reached the curve of a farm lane and dared to venture out in the open to skim across it The cold pinched at them now. As warm as the uniform had seemed when they rode in the heated 'copter cabin, it was little defense against the chill cut of the wind which powdered them with scooped-up puffs of snow. Dard watched the moon anxiously. No clouds to dim that. But clouds meant storm—and they dared not be caught in the open by a storm.

Kimber settled down to a lope which Dard found easy to match. How far they now were from the Cleft he had no way of knowing. And how long was it going to take them to get back? Did Kimber know the trail after they had to turn off the road? He himself might be able to find the path which led from the farm. But where was the farm?

"How far was your farm from that town?"

"About ten miles. But with all this snow—" Dard's breath made a white cloud about his head.

"Yes—the snow. And maybe more of it later. Look here, kid, this is the important part. We haven't too much time—"

"They may wait until morning to trail us. And if they bring dogs—"

"I don't mean that!" It appeared to Dard that Kimber waved away the idea of pursuit as if that did not matter. "This is what counts. The course the Voice set for us—I asked before we left how long it was good for. The answer was five days and two hours. Now I figure we have about five days and forty-five minutes. We have a blast off within that time or try a second visit to the Voice, Frankly, I think that would be hopeless."

"Five days and forty-five minutes," Dard echoed. "But, even if we have luck all the way it might take two—three days to reach the Cleft. And we haven't supplies—"

"Let us hope Kordov has kept things moving there," was Kimber's only comment. "And waiting here now isn't adding to our time. Come on."

Twice through the hours which followed they took to cover as 'copters went over. The machines ranged with an angry intentness in a circle and it hardly seemed possible that the fugitives could escape notice. But maybe it was their white clothing which kept them invisible.

The sun was up when Dard caught at the end of a time-eaten post projecting from the snow, swinging around to face the track it marked.

"Our farm lane," he bit off the words with economy, as he rocked on his feet To have made it this far—so soon. The 'copter must have taken them a good distance from town before it failed.

"Sure it is your place?"

Dard nodded, wasting no breath.

"Hmm." Kimber studied the unbroken white. "Prints on that are going to show up as well as ink. But no help for it."

"I wonder. The place was burnt—no supplies to be found there."

"Got a better suggestion?" Kimber's face was drawn and gaunt now."


"But I thought—"

"Folley's dead. He ran the place with three work slaves. His son was tapped as a Peaceman recruit a month ago. Suppose we were to smarten up and fast tramp in. Say that our 'copter broke down in the hills and we walked in to get help—"

Kimber's eyes snapped alive. "And that does happen to these lame brains often enough. How many might be at the farm?"

"Folley's second wife, his daughter, the work slaves, I don't think he got an overseer after his son left"

"And they'd be only too willing to help Peacemen in distress! But they'll know you—"

"I've never seen Folley's wife—we didn't visit And Lotta—well, she let me go before. But it's a better chance than trying to get into the mountains from here."

They tramped on, in the open now. And, at the end of Folley's lane, they reversed their jackets, shaking off what they could of the snow. They were still disheveled but a 'copter failure should account for that.

"After all," Kimber pointed out as they climbed the slight rise to the ugly farmhouse, "Peacemen don't explain to landsmen. If we ask questions and don't volunteer much we'll only be acting in character. It all depends on whether they've heard about the chase—"

Smoke arose from the chimney and Dard did not miss the betraying twitch at one of the curtains in a window facing the lane. The arrival was known. Lotta—everything depended now upon Lotta. He shot a glance at Kimber. All the good humor and amusement were wiped from that dark face. This was a tough—very tough muscle-boy, a typical Peaceman who would have no nonsense from a landsman.

The door on the porch which ran the side length of the house opened before they had taken two steps along the cleaned boards. A woman waited for them, her hands tugging smoothe a food-spattered apron, an uneasy half-smirk spreading her lips to display a missing front tooth.

"Pax, noble sirs—Pax." Her voice was as fat and oily as her body and sounded more assured than her expression.

Kimber sketched a version of the official salute and rapped out an answering "Pax—" in an authority-heavy tone. "This is—?"

Grotesquely she bobbed in an attempt at a curtsey. "The farm of Hew Folley, noble sir."

"And where is this Folley?" Kimber asked as if he expected the missing landsman to spring up before him.

"He is dead, sir. Murdered by outlaws. I thought that was why—But come in, noble sirs, come in—" She waddled back a step leaving the entrance to the kitchen open.

The rich smell of food caught at Dard's throat, until, for a second, he was almost nauseated. There were thick dishes on the stained table, and congealed grease, a fragment of bread, a half cup of herb tea, marked the remains of a late breakfast.

Without answering the woman's half-question Kimber seated himself on the nearest chair and with an outstretched arm swept the used dishes from before him. Dard dropped down opposite to the pilot, thankful for the support the hard wooden seat gave his trembling body.

"You have food, woman?" Kimber demanded. "Get it. We have been walking over this forsaken country for hours. Is there a messenger here we can send into town? Our 'copter is down and we must have the repair crew."

She was busy at the stove, breaking eggs, real eggs into a greasy skillet.

"Food, yes, noble sirs. But a messenger—since my man is dead I have only the slaves, and they are under lock and key. There is no one to send."

"You have no son?" Kimber helped himself to a piece of bread.

Her nervous smirk stretched to a smile. "Yes, noble sir, I have a son. But only this month he was chosen by the House of the Olive Branch. He is now in training for your own service, noble sir."

If she expected this information to unbend her visitors and soften their manners she was disappointed for Kimber merely raised his eyebrows before he continued:

"We can't walk to town ourselves, woman. Have you no one at all you can send?"

"There is Lotta." She went to the door and called the girl's name harshly. "With Hew gone she must see to the cows. But it is a long walk to town, noble sir."

"Then ride—or how do you get there when you go woman?" Kimber slid three eggs onto his plate and pushed the still laden platter over to Dard, who, a little dazed by the sight of such a wealth of food, made haste to help himself before it vanished.

"There is the colt. She might ride," the woman agreed reluctantly.

"Then let her get to it. I don't intend to sit out the whole of this day waiting for help. The sooner she goes, the better!"

"You want me?"

Dard knew that voice. For a long moment he dared not look up. But that inner compulsion which made him always face danger squarely raised his eyes to meet those of the girl standing in the half-open door. His fingers curled around the handle of the fork and bent it a trifle. But Lotta's stolid expression did not change and he could only hope that his own face was as blank.

"You want me?" she repeated.

The woman nodded at the two Peacemen. "These gentlemen—their 'copter broke down. They want you should take a message to town for them. Git the colt out and ride."

"All right." The girl tramped out and slammed the door behind her.

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