> The Mink he takes his pick and gun, > He ranges through the towns; > His force is miners, trappers, thieves— > And a girl in gentry-gown.
> The rebels ride on stolen nags, > They travel on shanks' mare; > The gore's awash, the heads they roll, > All in the torches' glare.
> —Ruck's Ballad of the Mink
Revel the Mink and his eight troops crouched in the dark entrance of the mine.
The night was black, clouds had obscured the moon, and only the occasiona_inpoints of globes drifting between the buttons above them broke the gloom.
"What are they doing?" hissed Nirea. "Why haven't we been attacked lon_ince?"
"The globes move in a mysterious way their wonders to perform," muttered Joh_lapham. "I'll wager there's something like that in the Globate Credo."
"Almost those words." Revel glanced at him respectfully. This man of th_ncient Kingdom had great mental powers.
"Sure. Every time somebody has the upper hand over somebody else, there's go_o be an aura of mystery; and any half-brained action is put down to
'mysterious ways.'" He spat. "They're so damn confused, son, that they'r_robably holding forty conferences up there, because they don't dare wipe ou_his valley—coal keeps the gentry warm and happy for 'em—and they want t_nspect the cave down below. So they're tryin' to think of the best way t_quelch you without losing too many priests and zanphs and gentry."
"True, they mustn't lose too many servants, or their prestige is hurt," sai_ady Nirea. Now that she'd found her Revel, she had discarded the rucker'_lothing and was dressed in a thigh-hugging sapphire gown. Even in the dar_he was beautiful, he thought.
The Mink stood. Up and down the valley glowed the lights of god-guards at th_ines, double and treble now, since with the Mink loose not even a god wa_afe alone. Plenty of zanphs there too, he thought. Yet he had a fe_entryman's guns, and his old pick slung at his back. Zanphs, gods, gentry, priests? Let them beware!
His thinking was done; he would retire his brains—despite the clever John, Revel knew he had more than one brain—and let his brawn take over. Only th_rawn of the Mink could win through the next hours. Half-consciously he tense_is whole frame, curled his fingers and toes, thrust out his great chest. Th_kin on all parts of his body creaked, split back from the worse wounds, achily stretched; blood sprang from shoulder and from other hurt places. Ye_e was not only whole, but full of eager vitality. The small pains of his hid_ere only incentives to act violently and forget them. He relaxed and turne_o his friends.
"You two, find the nags of the gentry we slew. I hear stamping nearby. Nirea, go to your own beast and wait for me. You two, with Rack, Jerran, John and me, we'll search the mines for men. We need plenty of them—it's miners' guts an_uscles it'll take to move that beam-throwing thing from the cavern. Let'_egin."
He drew the Lady Nirea up to him, slapped her face lightly, kissed her ope_outh. "Quick, wench, hop when I speak!" A touch of starshine glistened on hi_rin-bared teeth. Then he turned and leaped off the rock shelf.
The nearest mine was guarded by three gods, nervously jiggling up and down i_rotesque little air-dances; below them sat half a dozen hideous-heade_anphs. Revel crawled up toward the entrance. At the first touch of an alie_ind on his own, he shot forward, pick flailing. Two gods he caught with on_troke, the third began to rise and his backswing took it on the underside an_ore a gash as if the pick had struck a rubber bag: yellow gore dropped in _lood. He had no time to wonder if the third globe had telepathed a distres_ignal, for the zanphs were on him.
Their snake-like heads were fitted with only two teeth in each jaw, yet thos_ere four inches long and thick as a man's thumb at the base, tapering t_eedle points. One zanph, propelled by all the vigor of its six legs, ros_ike a rocketing pheasant and clamped its jaws across his left arm. I_vershot, and two teeth missed; but the others dug down into the flesh an_rated on the ulna bone.
He gave it a jab of the handle of his pickax between its cold pupilless eyes, and it swung limp, losing consciousness but anchored to his arm by th_rightful teeth. He cracked the neck of another zanph with his foot, spitted _hird, and then Rack and Jerran were slaying the others. John appeared an_ifted the first one's body so that Revel could disengage the teeth from hi_loody arm.
"What a beastie," marveled the Ancient Kingdom man. "How I'd love to dissec_ne!" Revel, puzzling over the word "dissect," went into the mine.
"Jerran, come along. You others remain, and keep off any intruders."
There were but three levels in this mine, and he covered them rapidly, Jerra_t his heels. He slew seven more spheres, with four zanphs. His blood was u_nd his tongue lolled with excitement.
To his banner, which was a dead god on Jerran's pick, there came forty-thre_iners. Four others declined, and were allowed to stay at their posts, true t_heir false gods and the service of the gentry.
Coming out of this mine, he led a small army, and felt like a conquerin_eneral already. In two hours he had invaded every shaft in the valley, an_ix hundred men less a score or so were at his back.
"How's this for a start?" he asked Nirea, meeting her walking her roan on th_rass. She glanced at the mass of men, all those in the van carrying dea_lobes. "Not bad … but have you seen the sky, Mink?"
He looked upward. From horizon to horizon the sky was ablaze with circles o_ight, red and green and violet, pure terrible white and flickering yellow.
_The buttons_ , murmured his men behind him. _The buttons are awake!_
"You couldn't expect to do it in secret, Revel," said John. The old man was a_pry and eager as a boy, thought the Mink. "Now let's not waste time. I'_anking that the invaders, I mean the globes, won't blast this valley excep_s a last resort; if they read my mind, or if their science has gone fa_nough for 'em to recognize an anti-force-screen thrower when they see one, then we're practically atom soup now."
Revel, having understood at least one portion of the speech—"Let's not wast_ime"—waved his miners forward.
They filled the shaft and the tunnel, they thronged into the cave; when th_ink had shown them the machine to be moved, they fought one another for th_onor of being first to touch it.
It stood solidly on the floor, ten feet high, twelve wide, square and blac_ith twin coils and a thick projection like an enormous gun on the top. Me_ammed around it, bent and gripped a ledge near the bottom, heaved up. Loat_o move, it rocked a bit, then was hoisted off the ground. They staggere_orward with it.
The hole in the wall was far too small.
"Miners! The best of you, and I don't want braggarts and second-raters, bu_he best! Tear down that wall!" Revel stood on a case and roared his commands.
Men pushed out of the tunnel's throng, big bearded men, small tough men. The_tood shoulder to shoulder and at a word began to swing their picks. Up an_own, up and down, smite, smite, carve the rock away… .
Soon they picked up the machine again, and manhandled it out into the tunnel.
The crowd pressed back, and the Mink bellowed for the distant ones to go u_he shaft to the top.
"How you going to get it up to the ground?" asked John. His voice had a kin_f confidence in it, a respect for Revel that surprised the big miner. Joh_vidently believed in him, was even relying on his mind when John himself wa_o overwhelmingly intelligent. Revel wondered: if he, the Mink, were to fal_sleep and wake in a future time, knowing all his friends and relatives wer_ead long since, knowing his whole world had vanished … would he be as cal_nd alert and interested in things as John?
There was a man, by—what was the expression he used?—by god!
"We'll get it there," he said. "So long as you can work it, John, there aren'_ny worries."
"Understatement of the millenium, or is that the word I want? Optimistic crac_' the year. Okay, Revel. It's your baby."
Slowly the men carried the machine to the lip of the shaft. Nothingness yawne_bove for ninety feet, below for over a hundred. The shaft was twenty fee_cross. "Now what?" asked Lady Nirea.
"There's an ore bucket at the bottom; we toss our coal down the shaft, an_nce a day the bucket's drawn up to the top, by a hoisting mechanism worked b_en men, and the coal's emptied out and taken away in small loads. The bucke_ills that shaft. It's two feet deep but so broad it holds plenty of coal. Yo_an see the cable out there in the center; it's as tough as anything o_arth."
"I see your idea," said John. "I _hope_ that cable's tough. The machin_eighs a couple of tons."
"I mean it's heavy!"
Revel bawled for the men at the top to start the winch. Shortly they heard th_reak and groan of the ore bucket, coming slowly toward their level. When it_im was just level with the floor of the tunnel, the Mink let go a yell tha_alted the men on the windlass like a pickax blow in the belly; then Reve_aid, "All right, move it onto the bucket!"
"For God's sake, be careful of it," said John. "That's a delicate thing." H_eaped down into the huge bucket. "Take it easy," he cautioned the miners, straining and sweating at the work. "Easy … easy … easy!"
The great square mysterious box thrust out over the lip, teetered there as i_t would plunge into the bucket. John with a screech of anguish jumped forwar_nd thrust at it with both hands.
If it fell now it would smash him to a pulp, and Revel's chance to drop th_uttons from the sky would be gone forever. Nobody on earth could ever lear_o manipulate such a complex thing as the _antiforcescreenthrower_ of John.
The idiot had to be preserved. Revel dropped his pick and launched himsel_nto space, lit unbalanced and fell against John, rolled over sideways pullin_he amazed man from the past with him.
The machine teetered again, then a score of men were under it and lowering i_ently into the bucket. The broad round metal container gave a lurch, the_nother as the machine settled onto its bottom. It tipped gradually over unti_t seemed to be wedging itself against the wall of the shaft. Revel howled,
"Into the bucket, you lead-footed louts! Balance the weight of that thing, o_he cable'll be frayed in half!"
Miners piled down, filling the bucket; it was hung simply by the cable throug_ts center, and when coal was loaded into it the mineral had to be distribute_venly if the bucket was to rise. Now it slowly righted itself, cam_orizontal again.
"Up!" roared the Mink. Nothing happened. "More men on the winch!" Then in _oment they began to rise.
The other rebels swarmed up the ladder. Lady Nirea and Rack kept pace with th_ucket, anxiously watching Revel and John.
At last the bucket halted. Its edge was even with the top of the shaft. Al_hat remained was to hoist the machine out and drag it out into the night, below the shining buttons. Revel, leaping out and giving a hand to John, ordered each inch of progress; and finally the _antiforcescreenthrower_ wa_ll but out of the mine. Another ten feet would bring it clear.
Then the world shook around them with a noise like the grandfather of al_hunderclaps, the earth rocked beneath their feet, and the Mink felt hi_ardrums crack and his nose begin to bleed.