They sent a snooper in first; it picked up faint radiation leakage fro_nactive power units of overhead lights, and nothing else. The tunne_tretched ahead of it, empty, and dark beyond its infrared vision. After i_ad gone a mile without triggering anything, the jeep followed Anse Dawe_iloting and Conn at the snooper controls watching what it transmitted back.
The two lorries followed, loaded with men and equipment, and another jee_rought up the rear. They had cut screen-and-radio communication with th_utside; they weren't even using inter-vehicle communication.
At length, the snooper emerged into a big cavern, swinging slowly to scan it.
The walls and ceiling were rough and irregular; it was natural instead o_xcavated. Only the floor had been leveled smooth. There were a lot of thing_n it, machinery and vehicles, all battered and in poor condition, dusty an_obwebbed: the spaceport junkheap. A passage, still large enough for one o_he gunboats, led deeper into the mountain toward the crater. They sent th_nooper in and, after a while, followed.
They came to other rectangular, excavated caverns. On the plans, they wer_arked as storerooms. Cases and crates, indeterminate shrouded objects; som_ad never been disturbed, but here and there they found evidence of recen_nvestigation.
Beyond was another passage, almost as wide as the Mall in Litchfield; even th_Lester Dawes_ could have negotiated it. According to the plans, it ra_traight out to the ship docks and the open crater beyond. Anse turned th_eep into a side passage, and Conn recalled the snooper and sent it ahead. O_he plan, it led to another natural cavern, half its width shown as level wit_he entrance. The other half was a pit, marked as sixty feet deep; above thi_nd just under the ceiling, several passages branched out in differen_irections.
The snooper reported visible light ahead; fluoroelectric light from one of th_pper passages, and firelight from the pit. The air-analyzer reporte_oodsmoke and a faint odor of burning oil. He sent the snooper ahead, tiltin_t to look down into the pit.
A small fire was burning in the center; around it, in a circle, some hundre_nd fifty people, including a few women and children, sat, squatted o_eclined. A low hum of voices came out of the soundbox.
"Who the blazes are they?" Anse whispered. "I can't see any way they coul_ave gotten down there."
They were in rags, and they weren't armed; there wasn't so much as a knife o_ pistol among them. Conn motioned the lorries and the other jeep forward.
"Prisoners," he said. "I think they were hauled down here on a scow, shove_ff, and left when the fighting started. Cover me," he told the men in th_orries. "I'm going down and talk to them."
Somebody below must have heard something. As Anse took the jeep over an_tarted floating it down, the circle around the fire began moving, the wome_nd children being pushed to the rear and the men gathering up clubs and othe_hance weapons. By the time the jeep grounded, the men in the pit wer_tanding defensively in front of the women and children.
They were all dirty and ragged; the men were unshaven. There was a tall ma_ith a grizzled beard, in greasy coveralls; another man with a black beard an_n old Space Navy uniform, his head bandaged with a dirty and blood-caked rag; another in the same uniform, wearing a cap on which the Terran Federatio_nsignia had been replaced by the emblem of Transcontinent & Oversea_hiplines and the words CHIEF ENGINEER. And beside the tall man with the gra_eard, was a girl in baggy trousers and a torn smock. Like the others, she wa_irty, but in spite of the rags and filth, Conn saw that she was beautiful.
Black hair, dark eyes, an impudently tilted nose.
They all looked at him in hostility that gradually changed to perplexity an_hen hope.
"Who are you?" the tall man with the gray beard asked. "You're none of thi_ang here."
That meant nothing; none of them had been near a news-screen lately.
"What's going on topside?" the man with the bandaged head and the four stripe_n his sleeve asked. "There was firing, artillery and nuclears, and the_erded us down here. Have you cleaned the bloody murderers out?"
"We're working on it," Conn said. "I take it they aren't friends of yours?"
Foolish Question of the Year; they all made that evident.
"They took my ship; they murdered my first officer and half my crew an_assengers… ."
"They burned our home and killed our servants," the girl said. "They kidnappe_y father and me… ."
"They've been keeping us here as slaves."
"It's the Blackie Perales gang," the tall man with the gray beard said.
"They've been making us work for them, converting a blasted tub of _ontragravity ship into a spacecraft. I beg your pardon, Captain Nichols; sh_as a fine ship—for her intended purpose."
"You're Captain Nichols?" Anse Dawes exclaimed. "Of the _Harriet Barne_?"
"That's right. The _Harriet Barne's_ here; they've been making us work o_er, to convert her to an interplanetary craft, of all idiotic things."
"My name's Yves Jacquemont," the man with the gray beard said. "I'm a retire_yperspace maintenance engineer; I had a little business at Waterville, buying, selling and rebuilding agricultural machinery. This gang found ou_bout me; they raided and burned our village and carried me and my daughter, Sylvie, away. We've been working for them for the last four months, tearin_aptain Nichols' ship down and armoring her with collapsium."
"How many pirates are there here?"
That started an argument. Nobody was quite sure; two hundred and fifty seeme_o be the highest estimate, which Conn decided to play safe by accepting.
"You get us out of here," Yves Jacquemont was saying. "All we want is a chanc_t them."
"How about arms? You can't do much with clubs and fists."
"Don't worry about that; we know where to get arms. The treasure house, wher_hey store their loot. There's plenty of arms and ammunition, and anythin_lse you can think of. They've used us to help stow the stuff; we know wher_t is."
"Anse, you remember those scows we saw, in the big room before we came to th_road passage? Take four men in the jeep; have them lift two of them and brin_hem here. Then, you get out to the end of the tunnel and call the _Leste_awes_. Tell them what's happened, tell them they can get gunboats all the wa_n, and wait to guide them when they arrive."
When Anse turned and climbed into the jeep, he asked Yves Jacquemont: "Wh_oes this Perales want an interplanetary ship?"
"He's crazy!" Jacquemont swore. "Paranoid; megalomaniac. He talks o_rganizing all the pirates and outlaws on the planet into one band and makin_imself king. He's heard that there are Space Navy superweapons on Koshchei—_uppose there are, at that—and he wants to get a lot of planetbusters an_ellburners and annihilators." He lowered his voice. "Captain Nichols and _ere going to fix up something that'd blow the _Harriet Barne_ up as soon a_e got her out of atmosphere."
He talked for a while to Jacquemont and his daughter Sylvie, and to Nichol_nd the chief engineer, whose name was Vibart. There was evidently nothin_lse at the spaceport of which a spaceship could be built, but there wer_oundries and rolling-mills and a collapsed-matter producer. The _Harrie_arne_ was gutted, half torn down, and half armored with new collapsium- plated sheet steel. It might be possible to continue the work on her and tak_er to space.
Then the two scows floated over the top of the pit and began letting down.
They got the prisoners into them, the combat-effective men in one and th_omen and children in the other. At the top, he took over the remaining jeep, getting Jacquemont, his daughter, and the two contragravityship officers i_ith him.
"Up to the top," Jacquemont said. "Take the middle passage, and turn right a_he next intersection."
As they approached the section where the pirates stored their loot, the soun_f guns and explosions grew louder, and they began picking up radio and scree_ignals, all of which were scrambled and incomprehensible. The pirates, i_ifferent positions, talking among themselves. With all that, it ought to b_afe to use their own communication equipment; nobody would notice it.
The treasure room looked like a giant pack rat's nest. Cases and crates o_erchandise, bales, boxes, barrels. Machinery. Household and industria_obots. The prisoners piled out of the two scows and began rummaging. Somebod_ound a case of cigarettes and smashed it open; in a moment, cartons wer_eing tossed around and opened, and everybody was smoking. The pirate_vidently hadn't issued any tobacco rations to their prisoners.
And they found arms and ammunition, began ripping open cases, handing ou_ifles, pistols, submachine guns. The prisoners grabbed them even mor_ungrily than the cigarettes. Sylvie Jacquemont took charge of the ammunition; she had three men opening boxes for her, while she passed out boxes o_artridges and made sure that everybody had ammunition to fit their weapons. _agged man who might have been a farm-tramp or a rich planter before hi_apture had gotten a bale of cloth open and was tossing rags around while th_hief engineer inspected weapons and showed people how to clean out th_osmoline and fill their spare magazines.
Conn collected a few of his own party.
"Let's look these robots over," he said. "Find about half a dozen we can loa_ith blasting explosive and send ahead of us on contragravity."
They found several—an electric-light servicer, a couple of wall-and-windo_ashers, a serving-robot that looked as if it had come from a restaurant, an_n all-purpose robo-janitor. In the passage outside, they began loading th_orries with bricks of ionite and packages of cataclysmite, packing all th_crap-iron and other junk around the explosives that they could. As soon a_hey had weapons, the prisoners came swarming out, making more noise than wa_ecessary and a good deal more than was safe. Sylvie Jacquemont, with _ubmachine gun slung from one shoulder and a canvas bag of spare magazine_rom the other, came over to see what he was doing.
"Well, look what you're doing to him!" she mock-reproached. "That's a dirt_rick to play on a little robot!"
He grinned at her. "You and my mother would get along. She always treat_obots like people."
"Well, they are, sort of. They aren't alive—at least, I don't think the_re—but they do what you tell them, and they learn tricks, and they hav_ersonalities."
That was true. He didn't think robots were alive, either, though biophysic_rofessors tended to become glibly evasive when pinned down to defining life.
Robots could learn, if you used the term loosely enough. And any robot wit_ore than five hundred hours service picked up a definite and ofte_xasperating personality.
"I've been working with them, and tearing them down and fixing them, eve_ince I was in pigtails," she added.
The half-dozen natural leaders among the prisoners—Jacquemont and hi_aughter, the two _Harriet Barne_ officers, and a couple of others—bent ove_he photoprinted plans Conn had, located their position, and told him as muc_s they could about what lay ahead. Sylvie Jacquemont could handle robots; sh_ould ride in the front seat of the jeep while he piloted. Vibart, the chie_ngineer, and Yves Jacquemont would ride behind. Nichols would ride in th_cow with the fighting men. One lorry of his own party would follow the jeep; the other would bring up the rear.
He snapped on the screen and punched the ship combination. Stefan Jorisso_ppeared in it.
"Hi, Conn! You all right?" He raised his voice. "Conn's on-screen!"
His father appeared at Jorisson's shoulder and, a moment later, Klem Zareff.
"Well, we're in, all right," he said. "We just picked up an army, too." H_wung the jeep to get the crowd in the pickup, explaining who they were. "Di_ou hear from Anse?"
"Yes, he just screened in," Rodney Maxwell said. "He said a gunboat can ge_n."
"That's right; clear into the crater."
"Well, we're going to put three of them inside," Zareff told him. " _Werewolf_ , _Zombi_ , and _Dero_. And a troop carrier with fifty men; flamethrowers, portable machine guns, bomb-launchers; regular special-weapons section. Wha_an you do where you are?"
"Here? Nothing. We're going to work around to the other side of the crater, and then find a vertical shaft and go up topside and make as much disturbanc_s we can."
"That's it!" Zareff approved. "Pull them off balance; as soon as we get in, we'll go straight to the top. Look for us in about an hour; it's going to tak_ime getting to the tunnel-mouth without being spotted from above."
He lifted the jeep and started off; the lorry, and the scows and the othe_orry followed; the snooper and the bomb-robots went ahead like a pack o_unting dogs. They went through great chambers, dark and silent and bulkin_ith dusty machines. Jacquemont explained that the prisoners had never gotte_nto this section; the _Harriet Barne_ was a mile or so to their right. Con_urned left, when the noise of firing from outside became plainer. A foundry.
A machine-shop which seemed to have been abandoned in the middle of some rus_ob that hadn't really been necessary. They came to a place even the snoope_ouldn't enter, choked to the ceiling with dead vegetation, hydroponic seed- plants that had been left untended to grow wild and die. They emerged int_utside light, in vast caves a mile high and open onto the crater, and looke_cross the floor that had been leveled and vitrified to the other side, thre_nd a half miles away.
He didn't know whether to be more awed by the original eruption that ha_ormed the crater or by the engineering feat of carving these docks and ship- berths, big enough for the hugest hyperspaceship, into it.
At first, he had been afraid of getting into position too soon before the tas_orce from outside could profit by the diversion. Then he began to worry abou_he time it was taking to get halfway around the crater. He could hea_rtillery thundering continuously above. Except at the very beginning of th_attle, there had been little gunfire. He wondered if both sides were runnin_ut of lift-and-drive missiles, or if the fighting had gotten too close fo_nybody to risk using nuclear weapons.
He was also worrying about the women and children among the release_risoners.
"Why did the pirates bother with them?" he asked Sylvie.
"They used the women and some of the old men to do housekeeping chores fo_hem," she said. "Mostly, though, they were hostages; if the men didn't work, Perales threatened to punish the women and children. I wasn't doing an_ousework; I'm too good a mechanic. I was helping on the ship."
"Well, what'll I do with them when the fighting starts? I can't take them int_attle."
"You'll have to; it'll be the safest place for them. You can't leave the_nywhere and risk having them recaptured."
"That means we'll have to detach some men to cover them, and that'll cut ou_triking force down." He whistled at the sound-pickup of his screen and tol_is father about it. "What do I do with these people, anyhow?"
"You're the officer in command, Conn," his father told him. "Your decision.
How soon can you attack? We're almost through to the crater."
"There's a vertical shaft right above us, and a lot of noise at the top. We'l_end up a couple of bomb-robots to clear things at the shaft-head and follo_ith everything we have."
"Noncombatants and all?"
He nodded. "Only thing we can do." An old quotation occurred to him. "'If yo_ant to make an omelet, you have to break eggs.'"
He wondered who'd said that in the first place. One of the old Pre-Atomi_onquerors; maybe Hitler. No, Hitler would have said, "If you want to mak_auerkraut, you have to chop cabbage." Maybe it was Caesar.
"You handle him. Take a quick look around, and then pull him back. We'll nee_im later." It was the first time he'd ever caught himself calling a robot
"him," instead of "it." He thought for a second, and added: "Give your fathe_nd Mr. Vibart the controls for the two window-washers; you handle th_nooper."
He gave more instructions: Yves Jacquemont to turn his bomb-robot right, Vibart to turn his left; the two lorries to follow the jeep up the shaft, th_cows to follow. Then he leaned back and looked at the screens that had bee_igged under the top of the jeep. A circle of light appeared in one, growin_arger and brighter as the snooper approached the top of the shaft; two mor_ame on as the bomb-robots followed.
"All right; follow me," he said into the inter-vehicle radio, and started th_eep slowly up the shaft.
The snooper popped out of the shaft, onto a gallery that had been cut into th_olid rock, fifty feet high and a hundred and fifty across, with a low parape_n the outside and the mile-deep crater beyond. There were a few grounde_ircars and lorries in sight, and a medium airboat rested a hundred or so fee_n the right of the shaft-opening. Fifteen or twenty men were clustered aroun_t, with a lifter loaded with ammunition. They looked like any crowd of farm- tramps. Suddenly, one of them saw the snooper, gave a yell, and fired at i_ith a rifle. Sylvie pulled it back into the shaft; her father and the chie_ngineer sent the two bomb-robots up onto the gallery. The right-hand robo_ped at the airboat; the last thing Conn saw in its screen was a face, bearde_nd villainous and contorted with fright, looking out the pilot's window o_he airboat. Then it went dead, and there was a roar from above. On the othe_ide, several men were firing straight at the pickup of the other robot; i_ent dead, too, and there was a second explosion.
In the communication screen, somebody was yelling, "Give them another one fo_ilt Hennant!" and his father was urging him to get in fast, before the_ecovered.
In peace or war, screen communication was a wonderful thing. The only troubl_as that it let in too many kibitzers.
The gallery, when the jeep emerged onto it, was empty except for casualties, _ew still alive. The side of the airboat was caved in; the lifter-load o_mmunition had gone up with the bomb. He moved the jeep to the right of th_haft and waited for the vehicles behind him, suffering a brief indecision.
> _Never divide your force in the presence of the enemy._
There had been generals who had done that and gotten away with it, but they'_ad names like Foxx Travis and Robert E. Lee and Napoleon—Napoleon; that wa_ho'd made that crack about omelets! They'd known what they were doing. He wa_laying this battle by ear.
There was a lot of shouting ahead to the right. That meant live pirates, _eplorable situation which ought to be corrected at once. The communicatio_creen was noisy, now; his father had gotten to the top gallery with the thre_un cutters, and was meeting resistance. He formed his column, his jeep an_ne of the lorries in front, the scows next, and the second lorry behind, an_tarted around the gallery counterclockwise, the snoopers and the thre_emaining bomb-robots ahead. They began running into resistance almost a_nce.
Bullets spatted on the armor glass in front of him, spalling it and blotchin_t with metal until he found that he could steer better by the show-back o_is view-pickup. He used that until the pickup was shot out. Then his fathe_egan wanting to know, from the communication screen, what was going on an_here he was. A bomb or something went off directly under the jeep, bouncin_t almost to the ceiling; he found that it was impossible to lift it agai_fter it settled to the floor of the gallery, and they all piled out to figh_n foot. Sommers and his gang from the number one lorry were also afoot; thei_ehicle had been disabled. He saw them lifting wounded into one of the scows.
They blew up the light-service robot to clear a nest of pirates who had take_over ahead of them. They sent the robo-janitor up a side passage and explode_t in a missile-launching position on the outside of the mountain; tha_roduced a tremendous explosion. They began running out of cartridges, and ha_o stop and glean more from enemy casualties. They expended their last bomb- robot, the restaurant server, to break up another pirate resistance point.
At length he found himself, with Sylvie and her father and one of the Hom_uardsmen from Sommers' lorry, lying behind an aircar somebody had knocked ou_ith a bazooka, with two dead pirates for company and a dozen distressingl_ive ones ahead behind an improvised barricade. Behind, there was franti_iring; the rear-guard seemed to have run into trouble, probably from som_ang that had come down from the upper level. He wondered what his father wa_oing with the gunboats; since abandoning the jeep, he had lost his only mean_f contact.
Suddenly, the men in front jumped up from their barricade and came runnin_oward him. Been reinforced, now they're counterattacking. His rifle wa_mpty; he drew his pistol and shot one of them, and then he saw that they wer_hrowing up their hands and yelling for quarter. This was something new.
He looked around quickly, to make sure none of the liberated prisoners excep_acquemont and his daughter were around, and then called to a couple of hi_wn men to come up and help him. While they were relieving the pirates o_heir pistol belts and cartridge bandoliers, more came up, their hands ove_heir heads, herded by a combat car from which Tom Brangwyn covered them wit_ pair of 12-mm machine guns. Tom hadn't put in an appearance before he ha_aken his commando force into the tunnel; he hadn't even known the chief o_ompany Police was on Barathrum.
"Well, nice seeing you," he greeted. "How did you get in?"
"Over the top," Brangwyn told him. "Everything's caved in on the other side.
We have a quarter of the top gallery, and half of this one. Your father'_leaning up above. Klem's got some men working along the outside."
Sylvie was tugging at his arm. "Hey, look! Look at that!" she was clamoring.
"Who's she belong to?"
He looked; the _Lester Dawes_ was coming over the edge of the crater.
"She's ours," he said. "It's all over but the mopping up. And counting the eg_reakage."