The minutes slid past, sections of eternity arbitrarily measured by th_tandards of another planet and having no relevance at all on this tin_hirling rock. The beam of light from the small aperture moved visibly acros_he opposite wall. Hyrst watched it, blinking. Outside, Bellaver's men wer_rawn up in a wide crescent across the hill in front of the catafalque. The_aited.
"No mercy," said Hyrst softly. "No mercy, is it?" He bent over and began t_oosen the clamps that held the lead weights to the soles of his boots.
"It isn't mercy we need," said Shearing. "It's time."
"Look for yourself."
Hyrst shifted his attention to space. There was a ship in it, heading towar_he asteroid, and coming fast. Hyrst frowned, doing in his head withou_hinking about it a calculation that would have required a computer in hi_ormer life.
"Twenty-three minutes and seventeen seconds," he said, "inclusive of the fou_emaining."
He finished getting the weights off his boots. He handed one to Shearing. The_e half-climbed, half-floated up the wall and settled himself above th_ntrance, where there was a slight concavity in the rock to give him hold.
"Shearing," he said.
"What?" He was settling himself beside the mouth of the crack, where a ma_ould have to come clear inside to get a shot at him.
"A starship implies the intention to go to the stars. Why haven't you?"
"For the simplest reason in the world," said Shearing bitterly. "The dam_hing can't fly."
"But—" said Hyrst, in astonishment.
"It isn't finished. It's been building for over seventy years now, and a lon_nd painful process that's been, too, Hyrst—doing it bit by bit in secret, an_very bit having to be dreamed up out of whole cloth, and often discarded an_reamed up again, because the principle of a workable star-drive has neve_een formulated before. And it still isn't finished. It can't be finished,
He stopped, and both men turned their attention to the outside.
"Bellaver's looking at his chrono," said Hyrst. "Go ahead, we've got _inute."
Shearing continued, "unless we can get hold of enough Titanite to build th_yper-shift relays. Nothing else has a fast enough reaction time, and th_ecessary load-capacity. We must have burned out a thousand different test-
"Can't you buy it?" asked Hyrst. The question sounded reasonable, but he kne_s he said it that it was a foolish one. "I mean, I know the stuff is scarce_han virtue and worth astronomical sums—that's what MacDonald was so happ_bout—but—"
"The Bellaver Corporation had a corner on the stuff before our ship was eve_hought of. That's what brought this whole damned mess about. Some of ou_eople—not saying why they wanted it, of course—tried to buy some fro_ellaver in the usual way, and one of them must have been incautious about hi_hield. Because a Lazarite working for Bellaver caught a mental hint of th_tarship, and the reason for the Titanite, and that was it. Three generation_f Bellavers have been after us for the star-drive, and it's developed into _ecret war as bitter as any ever fought on the battlefield. They hold all th_itanite, we hold the ship, and perhaps now you're beginning to see wh_acDonald was killed, and why you're so important to both sides."
"Beginning to," said Hyrst. "But only beginning."
"MacDonald found a Titanite pocket. And as you know, a Titanite pocket isn'_ery big. One man can break the crude stuff, fill a sack with it, and tote i_n his own back if he doesn't have a power-sled."
"MacDonald had a sled."
"And he used it. He cleaned out his pocket, afraid somebody else would trac_im to it, and he hid the wretched ore somewhere. Then he began to dicker. H_pproached the Bellaver Corporation, and we heard of it and approached _him_.
He tried playing us off against Bellaver to boost the price, and suddenly h_as dead and you were accused of his murder. We thought you really had don_t, because no Titanite turned up, and we knew Bellaver hadn't gotten it fro_im. We'd watched too closely. It wasn't until some years later that one o_ur people learned that MacDonald had threatened a little too loudly to sel_o us unless Bellaver practically tripled his offer—and of course Bellave_idn't dare do that. A price so much out of line even for Titanite would hav_tirred all the rival shipbuilders to unwelcome curiosity. So, we figured,
Bellaver had had him killed."
"But what happened to the Titanite?"
"That," said Shearing, "is what nobody knows. Bellaver must have figured tha_f his tame Lazarites couldn't find where MacDonald had put it, we couldn'_ither. He was right. With all our combined mental probes and conventiona_etectors we haven't been able to track it down. And we haven't been able t_ind any more pockets, either. Bellaver Corporation got exclusive minera_ights to the whole damned moon. They even own the refinery now."
Hyrst shook his head. "Latent impressions or not, I don't see how I can hel_n that. If MacDonald had given the killer any clue—"
A beam of bright blue light no thicker than a pencil struck in through th_outh of the passage. It touched the side of the large stone block. The ston_urned molten and ran, and then the beam flicked off, leaving a place tha_lowed briefly red. Shearing said, "I guess our ten minutes are up."
They were. For a second or two nothing more happened and then Hyrst sa_omething come sailing in through the crack. His mind told him what it wa_ust barely in time to shut his eyes. There was a flash that dazzled him eve_hrough his closed lids, and the flash became a glare that did not lessen.
Bellaver's men had tossed in a long-term flare, and almost at once someon_ollowed it, in the hope of catching Hyrst and Shearing blinded and off guard.
The eyes of Hyrst's mind, unaffected by light, clearly showed him the suite_igure just below him, with its bubble helmet covered by a glare-shield. The_irected him with perfect accuracy in the downward sweep of the lead weight h_ad taken from his boot, and which he still held in his hand. The bubbl_elmet was very strong, and the gravity very light, but the concussion wa_nough to drop the man unconscious. Just about thought Hyrst, what happened t_e there in the hoist tower, when MacDonald died. Shearing, who had by no_djusted his own glare-shield stooped quickly and took the man's gun.
He said aloud, over the helmet communicator, "The next one that steps throug_ere gets it. Do you hear that, Bellaver?"
Bellaver's voice answered. "Listen, Shearing, I was wrong. I admit it. Let'_alm down and start over again. I—"
"Ten minutes ago it was no mercy."
"It's hard for me to behave reasonably about this business. You know what i_eans to me, what it meant to my father and _his_ father. But I'm willing t_o anything, Shearing, if you'll make a deal."
"I'll make a deal. Readily. Eagerly. Give back what your grandfather stol_rom us, and we'll call it square."
"Oh no we won't," said Hyrst grimly, breaking in. "Not until I find who kille_acDonald."
"All right," said Bellaver. "Wilson, break out the grenades."
The entire surface of Hyrst's body burst into a flaring sweat. For one panic-
stricken second he wanted to rush out the crack pleading for mercy. Then h_ot his feet against the wall and pushed hard, and went plunging across th_hamber in a sort of floating dive. Shearing got there at the same time an_elped to pull him down. They huddled together on the floor, with the coffin-
shaped block between them and the crack. Hyrst sent out a frantic mental cal_o hurry, directed at the spaceship of the brotherhood.
"They're all going to hurry," said Shearing. "Vernon has found the ship now.
He's telling Bellaver. Here comes the grenade—"
Small round glittering thing of death, curving light and graceful through th_irless gloom. It comes so slowly, and the flesh shrinks quivering upon itsel_ntil it is nothing more than a handful of simple fear. Outside the men ar_unning away, and the one who has thrown the grenade from the cramped,
constructing vantage of the crack is running after them, and Shearing i_rying with his mind Will it to fall short, _will it to fall sh_ —
There is a great brilliance, and the rock leaps, but there is not th_lightest sound.