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Chapter 5

  • 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."
  • "How much?"
  • "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,
  • unless—"
  • 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-
  • boards, trying."
  • "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.