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Chapter 10

  • 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."
  • "Litchfield Exploration & Salvage; I'm Conn Maxwell."
  • 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.
  • "We'd better send Gumshoe Gus up, first," Sylvie suggested.
  • "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."