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Chapter 8

  • Titan lay below them in the Saturn-glow, under the fantastic glory of th_ings. A bitter, repellent world of jagged peaks and glimmering plains o_oison snow. The tiny life-raft dropped toward it, skittering nervously as i_it the thin atmosphere. Hyrst clung hard to the handholds, trying not t_etch. He was not habituated to space anyway, and the skiff had been ba_nough. Now, without any hull around him and nothing but a curved shield i_ront of him, he felt like an ant on a flying leaf.
  • "I don't like it either." Shearing said. "But it gives us a fifty-fifty chanc_f getting through unnoticed. Radar usually isn't looking for anything s_mall."
  • " _I_  understand all the reasons," Hyrst said. "It's my stomach that'_btuse."
  • He could make out the pattern of the refinery now, a million miles of vertig_elow him. The Lazarite ship was somewhere up and out behind them, hiding i_he Rings. The trick had worked with Bellaver out there in the Belt, and the_oped now that it would work with Bellaver's observers on Titan. There was n_eed for any fake explosions this time, to give the impression of destruction.
  • Secrecy was the watch-word, all lights out and jet-blasts muffled to a spark.
  • Later, when Hyrst and Shearing had accomplished their mission, the ship woul_rop down fast and take them off, with the Titanite, before any patrol craf_ould have time to arrive.
  • They hoped.
  • The buildings of the refinery were dark and cold, drifted out of shape by a_ccumulation of the thin, evil snow. The spiderweb of roads had faded from th_lain, and the landing field was smooth and unmarked. Around its perimeter th_ix stiff towers of the hoists stood up like lonely sentinels, hooded an_loaked.
  • Hyrst felt a sudden tightening of his throat, and this was a thing he had no_xpected. A refinery on Titan was hardly a thing to be sentimental about. Bu_t was bound up so intimately with other things, with hopes for a future tha_as now far behind him, with plans for Elena and the kids that were now _ruel mockery, with friendly memories of Saul and Landers, now long dead, tha_e could not look at it unmoved.
  • "Let's try again," said Shearing quietly. "If we could locate the Titanit_efinitely it might make all the difference. We'll hardly have time to searc_ll six of the bins."
  • Glad of the distraction, Hyrst tried. He linked his mind to Shearing's an_hey probed with this double probe, one after the other, the six hoists an_he bins beneath them, while the raft fell whistling down the air.
  • It was the same as all the tries before. The bins had been empty for more tha_ decade, but the residual radiation was still hot enough to present _uminous haze to the eyes of the mind, fogging everything around it.
  • "Wait a minute," Hyrst said. "Let's use our wits. Look at the way those hoist_re placed, in a wide crescent. Now if I was MacDonald, coming in from th_ountains with a load of Titanite, and I wanted not to be seen, which on_ould I pick?"
  • "Either One or Six," said Shearing, without hesitation. "They're the farthes_way from the buildings."
  • "But Number Six is at the west end of the crescent, and to reach it you woul_ave to go clear across the landing field." He pointed mentally to Number One.
  • "I'll bet on that one. Shall we give it another try?"
  • They did. This time, for a fleeting second, Hyrst thought he had something.
  • "So did I," said Shearing. "Sort of down under and  _behind_."
  • "Yes," said Hyrst. " _Look_  out!" His involuntary cry was caused by th_udden collision of the life-raft with a cloud. The vapor was very thick, an_fter the cruel clarity of space it made Hyrst feel that he was smothering.
  • Shearing jockeyed the raft's meagre controls, and in a minute or two they wer_elow the cloud and spiralling down toward the landing field. It was snowing.
  • "Good," said Shearing. "We'll hope it keeps up."
  • They landed close to Number One Hoist and floundered rapidly through th_hallow drifts, carrying some things. The hatch had been sealed with a plasti_pray to prevent corrosion, and it took them several minutes to get it open.
  • Inside the tower it was pitch black, but they did not need lights. Their othe_enses showed them the worn metal treads of the steps quite clearly. In th_pper chamber the indicator panels were dark and dead. Hyrst shivered insid_is suit. He had been here so many times before, so long ago.
  • "Let's get busy," Shearing said.
  • They pulled on the rayproofs they had brought with them from the raft. Withou_ower the lift was useless, but the skeleton cage, stripped of all its tools, was not too heavy for two strong men to swing clear of the shaft top. The_ade sure it would stay clear, and then sent down a light collapsible ladder.
  • Hyrst slid down first into the smooth, round, totally unlighted hole, that ha_ne segment of it open paralleling the machinery of the hoist.
  • "Take it carefully," Shearing said, and slid after him.
  • Clumsy in vac-suit and rayproof, Hyrst descended the ladder with agonizin_lowness. Every impulse cried out for haste, but he knew if he hurried h_ould wind up at the bottom of the shaft as dead as MacDonald. The banging an_nocking of their passage against the metal wall made a somber, hollow boomin_n that enclosed space, and it seemed to Hyrst that the silent belts an_ables of the hoist hummed a little in sympathy. It was probably only th_lood humming in his own ears.
  • "See anything yet?"
  • "No."
  • The vast strange glowing of the bin grew brighter as they approached it. Th_oist was still "hot," and it glowed too, but nothing like the concentratio_n the bin.
  • "Even with rayproofs, we can't stay close to that too long."
  • "I don't think we'll have to. MacDonald was only human, and the bin was ful_hen. He couldn't have stayed long either."
  • "See anything yet?"
  • "Nothing but fog. When you hit bottom, better use your light."
  • At long last Hyrst felt the bottom of the shaft under his boots. He stoo_side from the ladder and switched on his belt lamp. In this case the physica_yes were better than the mental, being insensitive to radiation. Instantl_he gears and cams of the feeder assembly sprang into sharp relief on the ope_ide of the shaft. Shearing stumbled down off the ladder and switched on hi_wn light.
  • "Where was it we thought we saw something?"
  • "Down under and behind." Hyrst turned slowly around, questing. The shaft wa_nbroken except by the repair opening. He climbed through it, with som_ifficulty, because nobody was supposed to climb through it and the machiner_as placed for easy access with extension tools from the lift. The bin itsel_as now directly opposite them, a big hopper cut deep in the solid rock an_erving the feeder by simple gravity. The feeder pretty well filled its ow_ocky chamber. A place might have been found beside it for something not to_ig, but the first man who came down on the lift would have seen it whether h_as looking for it or not.
  • Shearing pointed. A dark opening pierced the rock at one side. Hyrst tried t_ee into it with his mental eyes, but the "fog" was so dense and bright—
  • He saw it, an unsubstantial ghostly shadow, but there. A square box som_wenty feet down the tunnel.
  • Shearing drew a quick sharp breath "Let's go."
  • They went into the tunnel, crouching, scraping against the narrow sides.
  • "Look out for booby traps."
  • "I don't see any—yet."
  • The box sat in the middle of the tunnel. There was no way to get around it, n_ay to see over it without lying on its top and wriggling between it and th_ow roof. Hyrst and Shearing shut their eyes.
  • "I'm not sure, but I think I see a wire. Damn the fog. Can't tell where i_oes—"
  • Hyrst took cutters from his belt and slithered cautiously over the box. Hi_eart was hammering very hard and his hand shook so that he had grea_ifficulty getting the cutters and the wire together. The wire was attached t_he back of the box, very crudely and hastily attached with a blob of plasti_older. It was not until he had pinched the wire with the sharp metal cutter- teeth that he realized the plastic was non-metallic and the wire bare. An_hen, of course, it was too late.
  • There must have been a simple energizer somewhere up ahead, still chargin_tself from the ample radiation source. The cutters flew out of Hyrst's han_n a shower of sparks, and in the darkness of the tunnel ahead there was _udden wild flare of light, and an explosion of dust. A shock wave, not to_reat, hammered past Hyrst's helmet. Shearing yelled once, a protest broke_hort in mid-cry. Then they waited.
  • The dust settled. The brief tremor of the rock was stilled.
  • In the roof of the tunnel, where the blast had been, a broken dump-trap hun_pen, but nothing poured out of it but a handful of black dust.
  • Hyrst began to laugh. He lay on his belly on top of the box of Titanite an_aughed. The tears ran out of his eyes and down his nose and dropped onto th_nside of his helmet. Shearing hit him from behind. He hit him until h_topped laughing, and then Hyrst shook his head and said.
  • "Poor MacDonald."
  • "Yeah. Go ahead, you can cut the wire now."
  • "Such a lovely booby trap. But he wasn't figuring on time. They went away fro_ere, Shearing, you see? And when they went they drained off the liqui_raphite and took it with them. So there isn't anything left to flood th_unnel. Pathetic, isn't it?"
  • Shearing hit him again. "Cut the wire."
  • He cut it. They scuffled backward down the tunnel, dragging the box. When the_ot back into the shaft where there was room to do it they opened up the box.
  • "Doesn't look like much, does it, for all the trouble it's made?"
  • "No, it doesn't. But then gold doesn't look like much, or uranium, or _andful of little dry seeds." Shearing picked up a chunk of the rough, grayis_re. "You know what that is, Hyrst? That's the stars."
  • It was Hyrst's turn to prod Shearing into quiet. The starship and the drea_hat went with it were still only an intellectual interest to him. They share_ut the Titanite into two webbing sacks. It made a light load for each, hardl_oticeable when clipped to a belt-ring at the back.
  • Hyrst felt suddenly very nervous. Perhaps it was reaction, perhaps it was th_emory of having been trapped in a similar hole on the Valhalla asteroid.
  • Perhaps it was a mental premonition, obscured by the radioactive "fog". At an_ate, he started to climb the ladder with almost suicidal haste, urgin_hearing on after him. The shaft seemed to be a mile high. It seemed t_engthen ahead of him as he climbed, so that he was never any nearer the top.
  • He knew it was only imagination, because he passed the level markers, but i_as the closest thing to a nightmare he had ever experienced when he was broa_wake. Just after they had passed the E Level mark, Shearing spoke.
  • "A ship has landed."
  • Hyrst looked mentally. The fog-effect was not so great now, and he could se_uite clearly. It was a small ship, and two men were getting out of it. It ha_topped snowing.
  • "Radar must have picked up the raft after all," said Shearing. "Or els_omebody spotted the jet-flares." He began to climb faster. "We better get ou_f this before they come in."
  • D Level. Hyrst's hands were cold and stiff inside his gauntlets, clumsy hook_o catch the slender rungs. The two men were standing outside in the snow, peering around.
  • C Level. One of the two men saw the raft parked by the hoist tower. H_ointed, and they moved toward it.
  • B Level. Hyrst's boots slipped and scrambled, banging the shaft wall.
  • "Christ," said Shearing. "You sound like a temple gong. What are you trying t_o, alarm the whole moon?"
  • The men outside bent over the raft. They looked at it. Then they looked at th_oist tower. They left the raft and began to run, pulling guns out of thei_elts.
  • A Level. Hyrst's breath roared in his helmet like a great wind. He thought o_he long dark way down that was below them, and how MacDonald had looked a_he bottom of the shaft, and how he would take Shearing with him if he fell, and nobody would get to the stars, and Vernon would go free. He set his teeth, and sobbed, and climbed. Outside, the two men cautiously removed the hatch an_tepped into the tower.
  • End of the ladder. A level floor to sprawl on. Hyrst squirmed away from th_haft. He thought for a minute he was going to pass out, and he fumbled wit_he oxygen valve, making the mixture richer. His head began to clear. Shearin_as now beside him. This time they had guns, too. Shearing gave him a quic_ental caution,  _Not unless you have to_. One of the two men was placing _entative foot on the stair that led up to where they were. The other man wa_lose behind him. Shearing took careful aim and fired, at half power.
  • The harsh blue bolt did not strike either man. But they went reeling back in _loud of burning flakes, and when Shearing shouted to them to drop thei_eapons and get out they did so, half stunned from the shock. Hyrst an_hearing leaped down the stairs, stopping only long enough to pick up th_uns. Then they scrambled outside. The two men were running as hard as the_ould for their ship, but they had not gone far and Shearing stopped them wit_nother shot that sent a geyser of methane steam puffing up practically unde_heir feet.
  • "Not yet," he said. "Later."
  • The two men stood, sullenly obedient. They were both young, and not ba_ooking. Just doing a job, Hyrst thought. No real harm in them, just doing _ob, like so many people who never stop to worry about what the job means.
  • They both wore Bellaver's insigne on their vac-suits.
  • One of them said, as though he were reciting a lesson in which he had no rea_ersonal interest, "You're trespassing on private property. You'll b_rosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
  • "Sure," said Shearing. He motioned to the hoist tower. "Back inside."
  • The young men hesitated. "What you going to do?"
  • "Nothing fatal. It shouldn't take you more than half an hour to break ou_gain."
  • He marched them to the hatch and saw them inside it. Hyrst was watching th_ky, the black star-glittering sky with the glorious arch of the Rings acros_t and one milky-bright curve of Saturn visible and growing above the easter_orizon.
  • "They're coming," he said mentally to Shearing.
  • "Good." He started to close the hatch, and one of the young men pointe_uddenly to the sack clipped to Shearing's belt.
  • "You've been stealing something."
  • "Tell that to Bellaver."
  • "You bet I will. The fullest extent of the law, mister! The fullest extent—"
  • The hatch closed. Shearing jammed the fastening mechanism so it could not b_urned from the inside. Then he went and stood beside Hyrst in the glimmerin_lain, watching the ship drop down out of the Rings.
  • Hyrst said, "They'll tell Bellaver."
  • "Naturally."
  • "What will Bellaver do?"
  • "I'm not sure. Something drastic. He wants our starship so hard he'd murde_is own children to get it. You can see why. In itself it's priceless, _undred years ahead of its time, but that's not all. It's what it stands for.
  • To us it means freedom and safety. To Bellaver it means—"
  • He gestured toward the sky, and Hyrst nodded, seeing in Shearing's mind th_mage of a gigantic Bellaver, ten times bigger than God, gathering the whol_alaxy into his arms.
  • "I wish you luck," said Hyrst. He unhooked the sack of Titanite from his bel_nd gave it to Shearing. "It'll take a little while to refine the stuff an_uild the relays, even so. That may be time enough. Come back for me if yo_an."
  • "Vernon?"
  • "Yes."
  • Shearing nodded. "I said I'd help you get him. I will."
  • "No. This is my job. I'll do it alone. You belong there, with them. Wit_hristina."
  • "Hyrst. Listen—"
  • "Don't tell me where the starship is. I might not hold out as well as you."
  • "All right, but Hyrst—in case we can't get back—look for us away from the Sun.
  • Not toward it."
  • "I'll remember."
  • The ship landed. Shearing entered it, carrying the Titanite. And Hyrst walke_way, toward the closed and buried buildings of the refinery.
  • It had begun to snow again.