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´╗┐Title: This World Must Die!
Author: Fyfe, Horace Brown, 1918-1997
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "This World Must Die!" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: The girl clawed at Brecken's face as he raised the metal
bar ...]


 Social living requires the elimination, or at very best, the modification
 of many elements necessary to survival in "nature". And when an emergency
 arises, very often it is the person who would be considered a "criminal",
 in other situations, who alone is able to cope with the necessities. If
 we manage to eliminate "violence" from human affairs, what will we find
 when a need for "violence" arises--a need outside of man's artificial
 control of his environment?


                     THIS WORLD
                     MUST DIE!

         Feature Novelet of Dread Necessity


 "You have been chosen for this mission of murder
 because you are the only people in our culture
 who are capable of this type of violence. You have
 broken our laws, and this is your punishment!"


                   By H. B. Fyfe


Lou Phillips sat on the cold metal deck of the control room, seething
with a growing dislike for the old man.

"What you are here for," the other had told him when the guards had
brought Phillips in, "is a simple crime of violence. You'll do, I'm
sure."

The old man paced the deck impatiently, while a pair of armed guards
maintained a watchful silence by the door. Two more men in plain gray
shirts and trousers sat beside Phillips, leaning back sullenly against
the bulkhead. He guessed that they were waiting for a fourth,
remembering that three other figures had been hustled aboard with him at
the Lunar spaceport.

The door slid open, allowing another youth in gray uniform to stumble
inside. One of the guards in the corridor beyond shoved the newcomer
forward, and Phillips' eyebrows twitched as he had a closer look. This
last prisoner was a girl.

He thought she might have been pretty, with a touch of lipstick and a
kinder arrangement of her short, ash-blonde hair; but he lowered his
eyes as her hard, wary stare flickered past him. She walked over to the
bulkhead and took a seat at the other end of the little group.

The old man turned, scanning their faces critically. "I am in charge of
a peculiar project," he announced abruptly. "The director of the Lunar
Detention Colony claims that you four are the best he has--_for our
purposes_!"

Long habit kept the seated ones guardedly silent. Seeing, apparently,
that they would not relax, he continued.

"You were chosen because each of you has received a sentence of
detention for life because of tendencies toward violence in one form or
another. In our twenty-second century civilization such homicidal
inclinations are quite rare, due to the law-abiding habits of
generations under the Interplanetary Council."

He had been pacing the cramped space left free by the equipment, the
guards, and the four seated prisoners. Now he paused, as if mildly
astonished at what he was about to say.

"In fact, now that we are faced by a situation demanding illegal
violence, it appears that no _normal_ citizen is capable of committing
such an act. Using you may eliminate costly screening processes ... _and
save time_. Incidentally, I am Anthony Varret, Undersecretary for
Security in the Council."

None of the four showed any overt sign of being impressed. Phillips knew
that the others, like himself, were scrutinizing the old man with cold,
secretive stares. They had learned through harsh experience to keep
their own counsels. Varret shrugged. "Well, then," he said dryly, "I
might as well call the roll. I have been supplied with accurate
records."

       *       *       *       *       *

He drew a notebook from his pocket, consulted it briefly, then nodded at
the man next to the girl. "Robert Brecken," he recited, "age thirty-one,
six feet, one hundred eighty-five pounds, hair reddish brown, eyes
green, complexion ruddy. Convicted of unjustified homicide by personal
assault while resisting arrest for embezzlement. Detention record
unsatisfactory. Implicated in two minor mutinies."

He glanced next at the youth beside Phillips. "Raymond Truesdale, age
twenty-two, five-feet-five, one-thirty. Hair black, eyes dark brown,
complexion pale. Convicted of two suicide attempts following failures in
various artistic fields. Detention record fair, psychological report
poor."

His frosty eyes met Phillips'. "Louis Phillips, age twenty-six,
five-ten, one-eighty. Hair brown, eyes brown, complexion darkly
tanned--that was before Luna, wasn't it, Phillips? Convicted of
unjustified homicide, having assaulted a jet mechanic so as to cause
death. Detention record satisfactory."

The blonde girl was last in Varret's review. "Donna Bailey, age
twenty-three, five-five, one-fifteen. Hair blonde, eyes blue, complexion
fair. Convicted of manslaughter by negligence, while piloting an
atmosphere sport rocket in an intoxicated condition. Detention record
satisfactory."

Varret fell silent, regarding them with cynical disgust. His lips
twisted slightly with distaste. "There we have it," he said. "A
violent-tempered thief from the business world; an over-expensive
purchase by a rich playboy who became his widow by her own negligence; a
mentally-unstable fool who thought he was artistically gifted, and a
rocket engineer who was too brutally careless with his own strength when
irritated by a space-fatigued helper. I wonder if you'll do...?"

Phillips felt impelled at last to speak. "Just what plans do you have
for us?" he demanded harshly.

"Nothing complicated," replied Varret, matching the tone. "We need you
to perform a mass murder!"

Phillips blinked, despite his prison-learned reserve. He heard the girl
suck in her breath sharply, and felt the youth beside him begin to
tremble.

"I have shocked you, I see," sneered Varret. "Well, I assure you, it
shocks me also, probably a good deal more since I have lived a normal
life. However--this is the background:

"About three months ago, we had reports of the outbreak of a deadly
plague in one of the asteroid groups. As near as can be determined, it
was spread by the crew of an exploratory rocket after the discovery of a
new asteroid. It began to sweep through the mining colonies out there
with the velocity of an expanding nova!"

"Where was your Health Department?" asked the man named Brecken in a
sneering tone.

Varret frowned at him. "Several members gave their lives trying to learn
the nature of the disease. We have no information to date, except a
theory that it attacks the nervous and circulatory systems, because the
reports indicate that the reason of the victim is markedly affected as
the disease progresses. Not a single survivor is known--they all die in
raving insanity. We do not even know with certainty how it is
communicated."

"What are you doing?" asked Phillips.

"Isolation. It is all we _can_ do, until our medical men can make some
progress. We evacuated an asteroid colony and began to ship into it any
person showing any of the symptoms, using a cruiser piloted by remote
control. That was where we slipped."

"How?"

"On the last trip--unless we have not really collected _all_ the
sufferers--we lost control. Someone being transported knew his
spaceships. Shortly thereafter, a gibbering lunatic got on the screen
and threatened the escorting rocket. He announced the cruiser would head
for Mars, where the passengers would demand their freedom. They are past
reasoning with."

"Can't say I really blame them," Phillips remarked.

"Blame them? Of course not! Neither do I. What has that to do with it?
What has the Council so worried is that this thing will get loose on
Mars, that it may even be carried to Earth and Venus. There are over a
hundred persons in that ship, no longer responsible for their actions
but capable of causing deaths by the billions. We _want_ to help them,
but we simply must hold the line on this quarantine until we solve the
medical problem."

       *       *       *       *       *

They stared at him in silence, and Phillips noticed that the old man's
forehead was moist with tiny beads of perspiration.

"Don't you see? They are as good as dead. No knowledge or help of man
can save them--as of this moment. If we are _ever_ to be of any help, we
must prevent a worse catastrophe.

"Yes, the survival ship is a world in itself, but this world must die!"

For a minute or two, it seemed to Phillips that he could hear each
person in the control room breathing. Finally, there was a small sound
of cloth rubbing on metal as Brecken stirred. "Why pick on us?" he
rasped from his seat on the deck. "I'm no volunteer!"

"I know what you are," replied Varret sharply. "I know what you all are.
You have been chosen for this mission of murder, because you are the
only people in our culture who are capable of this kind of violence. You
have broken our laws, and this is your punishment.

"It would take us too long to find others like you who had merely never
faced the same circumstances that sent you four to Luna. We have made
attempts to attack this vessel. Manned by normal men, our ships could
accomplish nothing."

"Why not?" asked Phillips.

"_The crews found they could not kill!_"

"What?"

"It amounts to that. One pilot blacked out at the start of an offensive
approach. He lost contact before recovering--you realize how quickly
that happens at interplanetary speeds. On several other ships, there
were passive mutinies. One was destroyed; how, we do not know."

"Why don't you get some _men_ in your Department of Security?" sneered
Brecken.

Varret sighed. "It was far from simple cowardice. The crews had fine
records. We have been civilized too long, so long that the idea of
deliberate killing unnerved them. As to the one ship that did make some
motion to attack, it may have been destroyed by the cruiser's defenses,
or even by sabotage. Somebody may quite possibly have found the mission
too repulsive to face with complete sanity."

He was interrupted by a uniformed man, who slid the door open and
gestured significantly. Varret paused. He nodded, and the newcomer
retired.

"I have only a few minutes," said the old man, facing them again. "To be
brief, this patrol vessel is armed with the best we have in guided
atomic missiles and sensitive detection devices. Technical manuals are
supplied for everything we could think of, though I doubt you will need
them. We have brought you to within a few hundred miles of _them_.

"In a few minutes, my men and I will transfer to an escort ship. We will
slip in behind Deimos, not too far away, and pick you up afterward to
land you on Mars. Any questions?"

"Yes," said Phillips.

"What?"

"Why should we do anything at all?"

Varret's lips tightened. A guard shrugged contemptuously. "I was told to
expect that attitude," the old man admitted. "I suppose it is part of
the character we now think is needed for such an expedition."

"You could hardly expect co-operation," Phillips pointed out. "Laws
against any kind of homicide are all well enough, but I for one don't
see why I should draw the same sentence as a murderer. I had to protect
myself or die--probably through having that crazy fool blow up my rocket
room."

"You'll make a cold landing on Sol before you'll get any help from me!"
Brecken added defiantly.

The girl said nothing, but Truesdale muttered darkly.

"Please!" said Varret. "I have no time to argue about our social and
legal codes. The Council foresaw that the threat of being yourselves
subject to this plague might not be enough. If you succeed in destroying
or even immobilizing the cruiser, I can offer you anything you want
short of unsupervised liberty. You must still be watched as potential
dangers to society, but you may otherwise be as wealthy or independent
as you wish."

He motioned to the guards, who had begun to fidget impatiently;
wordlessly they left the compartment.

"You can settle your relations among yourselves," said Varret. "We chose
Bailey partly because she has piloted rockets privately, and Phillips
because he was a space engineer. Perhaps Brecken could handle the
torpedoes--I do not know." He rubbed his chin uneasily. "Frankly, I find
intimate discussion of the affair repulsive. I hope you will decide to
do what is necessary for the welfare of Earth."

He turned abruptly and left the control room. They heard distant voices
exhorting him to hurry.



[Illustration: 2]


Brecken arose and crept furtively to the door. He leaned out to peer
down the corridor. The nervous Truesdale bounced up to crowd behind him.
Phillips and the girl looked at each other; she shrugged, and they too
got to their feet. She turned to the instrument panels; and after a
moment, Phillips joined her.

"How have they got it?" he asked. "Controls locked?"

"No," murmured Donna. "Don't need to; we're just coasting. Nice job,
though. Fast as a racer, I imagine."

"You know something about racers?"

"I used to think I did," she answered, shortly.

He saw pain darken her blue eyes and decided to probe no further.
Instead, he wandered about, inspecting the instruments. A few minutes
later, with a spaceman's indefinable alertness, he felt a change in the
ship.

"They still aboard?" he called to Truesdale, who remained at the door
although Brecken had disappeared.

The youth glanced over his shoulder but did not trouble to reply.
Phillips' jaw set, and he took a quick step toward the other. Before he
reached the doorway, however, Brecken returned from the corridor.
Shouldering Truesdale aside, he strode into the control room. "Well," he
announced, "the old fool hopped off like he said. Got a viewer in here?"

"I have it on now," called Donna from the instrument desk. "There he
goes."

They gathered around the screen to watch. Near one edge was the image of
another ship, with several spacesuited figures clustered around its
entrance port. The girl made an adjustment, and the view crept over to
the center of the screen just as the last of the figures vanished into
the opening. Almost immediately, the other rocket slanted away on a new
course.

Donna followed it on the screen until the brief flashes of its jets were
dimmed by a new radiance--the ruddy disk of Mars. "We _are_ where he
said," she admitted. "Now what?"

She looked at Phillips, who merely shrugged. "What do you make of it?"
she insisted.

"Pretty much as he said, probably," answered the engineer. "He's heading
for Deimos, I suppose. I hear they're landscaping the whole moon--it's
only about five miles in diameter--and building a new space station for
a radio beacon and relay."

"Does that log say anything about the plague ship?" asked Truesdale
nervously.

Donna scanned the observation record, then adjusted the viewer. The red
radiance of Mars fled, to be replaced by a dimmer scene of distant
stars.

"In there someplace," she said. "Out of range of this screen, but we
could probably locate it with detector instruments."

"Why all the jabber?" demanded Brecken. "Let's get going!"

Phillips stared at him. "What's the rush? Did he sell you that easily?"

"Huh? Oh, hell, no! I mean let's make a dive for Mars. They were dumb to
set us loose with a fast ship. We're dumber if we don't use it!"

"That's right," agreed Truesdale eagerly. "We don't owe them anything.
They owe us; for the years they took out of our lives!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Truesdale had a point there, Phillips felt. This could grow into quite a
discussion, and he was not sure which side he wanted to take. He had no
great urge to become a hero, but on the other hand there was something
about Brecken that aroused a certain obstinacy in him.

"Wait a minute!" Donna protested; "what do you think you're going to
do?"

"Slip into a curve for Mars," said Brecken. "Slow down enough to take to
chutes an' let this can smack up in the deserts somewhere. They'll never
know if we got out, an' we'll be on our own."

The girl turned to Phillips. "How about you?" she asked. "Don't you
think we should at least consider what Varret told us? If this plague is
as dangerous as he says, this is no time to--"

"Do you _have_ to be so bloodthirsty?" complained Truesdale.

"I don't want to kill anybody," declared the girl; "maybe we could just
disable the cruiser."

"Aw, kill your jets!" Brecken broke in. "I've been waiting for a chance
like this for years. Don't get any ideas!"

"But listen!" pleaded Donna. "It's a terrible thing, but if we don't do
it, we won't be safe on Mars ourselves; they'll land and set an epidemic
loose."

"I'll take my chances with it," said Brecken. "You're supposed to know
something about piloting. Now get us on a curve for Mars, an' be snappy
about it!"

Donna turned desperately to Phillips.

"Why not look over the ship," the engineer suggested, "before we blast
off on half our jets? We can make up our minds when we see what we have
for fuel and weapons."

Brecken opened his mouth to object, but was smitten by an unpleasant
thought. "Suppose they didn't leave us enough fuel to make Mars!"

"We can find out soon enough," said Phillips, leading the way to the
door.

They trooped down the corridor on his heels, past the few closet-like
compartments set aside for living quarters. It was a single-deck ship,
with storage compartments above and below for fuel, oxygen, and other
necessities. The corridor was liberally supplied with handrails,
apparently in case of failure of the artificial gravity system.

About halfway to the end, another passage crossed the fore-and-aft one,
and a few steps farther was a ladder. This extended up and down a
vertical well, which in space amounted to a second cross corridor.
Phillips was right when he guessed that the door beyond opened into the
rocket room.

The others were bored by the power plant of the ship. The engineer,
however, could not repress a thrill at once more standing surrounded by
the gauges, valves, and pumps with which he had formerly lived. He
strode about, examining and comprehending such appliances as seemed new
since his last service in space.

"How about it?" demanded Brecken. "Can you handle it?"

"Sure," answered Phillips confidently. "Mostly automatic anyway."

"Then we can get movin' whenever we want?"

"I suppose so. The tanks are nearly full; let's find those space
torpedoes the old man mentioned."

"Maybe it won't hurt, at that," grumbled Brecken.

       *       *       *       *       *

He led the way out, but paused indecisively. Phillips stepped past him
and considered the cross passages near the midpoint of the corridor.
Those in the plane of the control room deck probably led to port and
starboard airlocks, he reasoned, so the others might lead to the torpedo
turrets.

He went to the vertical well and started up the ladder, hearing the
others follow. At the top, he was confronted by a hatch with a red
danger sign. Glancing about, he located the gauges that reported the air
pressure beyond. Normal.

"Make a little room," he said, looking down to Brecken.

The big, ruddy face retreated a few rungs. Phillips could hear the
others scrambling further down. He got his head out of the way before
pulling the switch that opened the hatch. With a subdued humming of
electric motors, the massively constructed door swung down. One after
another, they pulled themselves up into the compartment.

"This must be where they set controls for launching," guessed Phillips,
leaning back against a rack of emergency spacesuits. "That intercom
screen on the bulkhead is probably plugged in to the control room. Looks
as if the torpedoes themselves are stored under that hatch at the after
end."

"How do they kick them off?" asked Brecken.

"Those conveyor belts run them into tubes in the forward bulkhead. A
charge of compressed air blows them out, and then the rockets are
started and controlled by radio."

"You mean we have to point at a target to fire?"

"Oh, no. Once the rockets are going, the torpedo can be maneuvered and
aimed anywhere by remote control."

"I've seen enough," announced Truesdale. "I'm hungry."

At that, they all decided to return to the main deck. Phillips
carefully closed the airtight hatch as they left, then followed the
others in search of the galley.

Later, after a very unsatisfactory meal of packaged concentrates, they
loitered sullenly in the control room once more while Donna studied the
controls. Phillips had finally decided that he could wear the third
spacesuit on the rack if he had to. He was idly examining the tools
supplied with it when his thoughts were interrupted.

Young Truesdale had been monkeying with a range indicator for some time,
but now his sharp outcry drew all eyes to him.

The others immediately gathered to peer over his shoulder. A needle
flickered wildly from one side of the dial to the other.

"Here! Get it balanced," said Phillips, thrusting a powerful arm between
the crowded bodies. As his deft adjustment steadied the needle, he
stepped back and leaned against the bulkhead to study their faces.
Truesdale's was pale.

"It's them!" he panted.

"Well," asked Donna, "what will it be?"

"Whaddya mean?" demanded Brecken, red-faced. "It'll be get dam' well
outa here, that's what it'll be!"

"Let's see you go," invited the girl coolly. "How well do _you_ pilot a
rocket?"

Brecken's jaw dropped. "Wh-wh-what? You crazy? Did you swallow all that
stuff the old man told you?" he sputtered.

"Why not?" asked Donna. "They didn't bring us all the way out here for
nothing. Varret was scared. If it's that dangerous, somebody just has to
do it--and we're here!"

"Not for long," said Brecken in an ugly tone. "Get hot on those
controls. You, Phillips! Run back to that rocket room and see that
things work!"

"You try it," suggested the engineer quietly.

He would have preferred to avoid the trouble the girl had been stirring
up, but he did not relish Brecken's tone. A few days off Luna, he
reflected, and already he was getting independent.

"Listen," said Donna, encouraged in her defiance, "when I touch those
controls, we'll go right up and touch noses with them. You'd better have
a torpedo ready!"

She turned to the banks of buttons and switches. Muffled thunder from
the stern jets trembled through the hull as the men staggered.



[Illustration: 3]


Brecken recovered his balance first. With a snarl, he grabbed the girl
by the nape of the neck and shook her roughly. Glimpsing Phillips' cold
sneer, he reached back and seized a heavy metal bar from the spacesuit
rack.

"Now, dammit!" he grated. "You'll do like I tell you! And _you_ get back
there an' see that those tubes recharge okay!"

Phillips felt a hard anger swelling his throat. From the corner of his
eye, he saw Truesdale shrinking back against the bulkhead. He glanced
about desperately for something with which to parry Brecken's bar.

It was the girl who broke the tense silence. With a gasping intake of
breath, she reached up to claw at Brecken's face. Cursing, the man
twisted his head away to protect his eyes. He released his grip on the
girl's neck and swung a clumsy, backhand blow at her head. Donna
stumbled, and collapsed to the deck.

_Now or never_, Phillips told himself. Without waiting to think, he
hurled himself forward.

Brecken saw him coming, and tried to shift around to meet the engineer's
charge. Phillips crashed into him shoulder first, and they both brought
up against the opposite bulkhead with a thud. He concentrated all his
strength into wringing the other's forearm until he heard the bar clang
to the deck.

Brecken clubbed him on the side of the head with a wild left swing, and
Phillips found the big man's foot in the way when he tried to sidestep.
He lost his balance, but kept his grasp on the other so that they went
down together, thrashing about for some opening. Brecken was red-faced
with a maniacal rage. Beads of saliva sprayed from his twisted lips as
he sputtered curses.

The engineer let go suddenly and jolted the other under the chin with
the heel of his left hand. The man arched backward, but Phillips caught
a knee in the chest that sent him slithering across the deck. As he
strove to twist to his hands and knees, he saw Brecken groping for the
bar.

_Never reach him_, thought Phillips frantically.

Thrusting one foot against the leg of an anchored data desk, he raised
himself half upright as he lunged desperately at Brecken. Strangely, it
occurred to Phillips for a fleeting lapse of time that old Varret had
been reasonably astute in his selections, if he desired violent-tempered
throwbacks. Then the breath was knocked out of him as he smashed into
Brecken with a force that sent them both hurtling into the bulkhead.

The other's grunt of pain was almost lost beneath the sharp smack of
bone against metal. Phillips scrambled up hastily, but his opponent lay
still.

Over by the data desk, Donna was beginning to squirm quietly and make
groping motions with her outstretched hands. Truesdale had retreated to
the forward end of the control room, his features blanched by
apprehension.

_I'll bet_, thought Phillips, _that old Varret slipped up in your case,
my lad. Your reaction to violence must be what they call normal_.

He beckoned brusquely. "Give me a hand with him," he ordered.

Brecken still showed no sign of consciousness. Truesdale approached
warily, and with his aid Phillips lifted the unconscious man. With their
burden limp in their hands, they staggered down the corridor to one of
the sleeping compartments. There, they slung him into a bunk.

"He needs attention," said Truesdale.

"He won't get it from me," snapped Phillips. "Lumps on the head were his
idea; there's no time to fool with him."

He pulled the sliding door shut, noticing that it had no lock. Since
Brecken would probably be some time recovering, however, he put that out
of his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Having returned to the control room, they discovered Donna sitting up.
At the sight of them, she pulled herself somewhat shakily to a standing
position, and brushed back her blonde hair.

"What happened?" she asked.

"He bumped his head on the bulkhead," said Phillips shortly.

This was accepted without comment. They turned to the instruments and
examined the dial of the range indicator.

"They aren't very far away," said Donna quietly. "Where do you stand
now, Phillips?"

"I suppose we'd better do it," he admitted. "Pretty vicious, aren't
you?"

"No!" she snapped. "I don't like it either; I've never caused the death
of any human being."

"Oh, sure. That's why you were on Luna!"

She looked at him levelly in the eye, but her shoulders drooped a trifle
with the resignation of one who has often been disbelieved.

"My husband was a nice guy," she murmured, "but he never did know when
he had a drink too many for piloting his jet. He passed out trying to
give me a wild ride, and I got to the controls just in time to
crash-land the rocket; that's where they found me before I came to."

"Oh," said Phillips.

"I'm not half as hard as I'm trying to pretend," Donna went on, "even
after a year on Luna. But I was a nurse before I was married. I'm
thinking about what it will be like if this plague hits the planets
before they find something to fight it with. The children ... imagine
that, will you?"

Phillips stared at the range indicator. It seemed there were times when
an ugly thing had to be done for the common good. He wondered how the
old-time executioners had felt, in the days when there had been judicial
homicide. There were still jailers, for that matter, and men who
butchered cattle.

"Call it a mercy killing," murmured Donna between pale lips. "Maybe you
think _that_ isn't still done once in a while, in spite of modern
society."

"Ummh," Phillips grunted. "Well, if you can watch at this end, Truesdale
and I can go set up a couple of torpedoes. I hope those rocket blasts
didn't give us away."

"According to Varret," said Truesdale, "there can't be many of them
still able to think straight enough to stand on watch. I wonder what
it's like...."

Phillips glanced askance at him, but led the way into the corridor.
First of all, he stopped at the rocket room to check the tube readings.
The fired jets had been automatically recharged.

       *       *       *       *       *

They left the rocket room and climbed the ladder to the turret. Once
inside, Phillips spent the first few minutes inspecting the equipment
and thumbing through the manuals left there by Varret. Finally, the
bored Truesdale broke in upon his study.

"That old goat must be crazy to think he could toss us out here and have
us act like a trained crew. How can we even hope to do anything right,
without blowing ourselves up?"

"We can try," said Phillips coldly. "It shouldn't be impossible to get
one started, at least."

He found the twin control panels in the bulkhead, and pulled a pair of
switches. There was a smooth humming and a slight click as two hatches
in the deck slid open. Slanting metal chutes rose out of the dark
apertures, just behind the conveyor belts.

"Look at those babies!" breathed Phillips.

The snouts of two miniature spaceships protruded from the storage hold.
Phillips touched other switches, and the sleek missiles were prodded
onto the belts and moved forward until the full, twenty-foot lengths
were in view.

"Phillips, you better be careful with those things!" quavered Truesdale
as the engineer unscrewed a small hatch on one.

"Afraid I'll blow it up?" asked Phillips, peering inside.

"Why not? You never touched one before."

"You go ahead and believe that," retorted the engineer. "Now, I'll just
turn on the radio controls, check the batteries, and feed the bad news
into the launching tubes. Watch!"

Replacing the hatch and securing it, he thought out the procedure to use
at the remote control panels. Turning on the screen above one of them
produced a cross-haired image of the bulkhead directly in front of the
near torpedo. He tried various manipulations until he had focused the
view and caused it to sweep all around the interior of the turret. After
idly watching himself and Truesdale appear on the screen, he returned
the view to dead ahead, switched it off, and turned to the other panel.

"I guess I can finish checking," he said.

Truesdale clambered hastily down the ladder. Phillips shook his head.
"Don't know what use he'll be," he muttered. "Too bad Brecken wouldn't
listen. He at least ... oh, well!"

He wondered whether he himself would stand up when the time came. What
Varret had asked did not sound like much. Just a quick shot and watch
them blow apart. What inhibitions made men black out rather than carry
it through? It was not as if there were any hope for these people.
Surely, it was obvious that to permit them, in their deranged state, to
spread a catastrophic plague was inconceivable. But perhaps emotions
were stronger than reason.

"I'll find out pretty soon," he reflected.

There was little more to do in the turret, except to run the torpedoes
into the launching tubes and bring up a new pair in reserve. With that
much done, he closed the hatch and climbed down the ladder.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the control room, he found Donna and Truesdale peering into the
screen. He crowded close to look over their shoulders. A small blob of
light floated near the center of the view. "That it?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Donna. "Just enough Mars-light to show it."

"How near are we?" asked Phillips.

"About a hundred and fifty miles. I have quite a large magnification,
but they may spot us if they're alert. Are you ready to ... do
something?"

"Reasonably," said Phillips. "Where's Brecken?"

"You probably _killed_ him!" Truesdale broke in accusingly.

"I found a first-aid kit and gave him a shot," said Donna. "He has a
nasty lump on the head, but he might sleep it off."

Phillips was watching Truesdale. The youth was visibly nervous. Was it
the thought of Brecken, the engineer wondered, or fear of what they were
planning to do? Perhaps it would be best to clear the air now, before it
was too late.

"I guess you can handle it here, Donna," he said. "Truesdale and I will
go to the turret and stand by."

The youth shrank away. "No! I won't go up there again! You can't make me
do this!"

"Do what?" demanded Phillips.

"It's _murder_! You both know it is! They won't even have any warning."

"I _hope_ not," said Phillips drily. "They might get _us_!"

"You _would_ put it that way," sneered Truesdale; "you're homicidal at
heart anyway!" He turned on Donna, wiping perspiration from his
forehead. "Are you going to let him do it?" he shrilled. "Are you going
to help him commit such a crime?"

The girl stared at him with a worried look in her blue eyes but said
nothing.

"Come on, Truesdale," said Phillips, making an effort at a peaceful,
persuasive tone. "It will be either their lives or ours if they spot
us--and millions more if they get by. They'll be too desperate to think
of us. Do you want to die?"

The instant he spoke the last words, he remembered the other's record
and wished he had kept quiet. He saw, a strange, wild expression creep
over Truesdale's features. It changed into a look of hateful cunning as
the youth, began to sidle toward the door.

"_I'm_ not afraid to die!" he boasted in a low-pitched but tense voice.
"But how about you, Phillips? How about the big, brutal space engineer
who is proud of smashing men's skulls against steel walls, who would
like nothing better than to blow up a shipload of innocent people. How
do you really know they're dangerous? But you don't care, do you?"

"Truesdale!" snapped Phillips. "Calm down!"

"I'll calm you down with me!" shouted the other hysterically. "I'll
_show_ you who's afraid to die!"

He ducked through the door toward which he had been backing. Phillips
lunged after him, just barely missing a grip.

"On your toes!" he shouted over his shoulder to Donna, and turned on all
jets.

But Truesdale, driven by his peculiar fury, not only stayed ahead as
they raced along the corridor, but actually gained.

He was fifteen or twenty feet out in front as they reached the midway
point. Phillips, expecting him to take refuge in the rocket room, was
completely fooled when Truesdale leaped for the ladder in the vertical
well. He stumbled, and grabbed a handrail to stop himself. The other was
swarming upward. Phillips sprang to follow.

Hardly had he climbed half a dozen rungs, however, than he saw he was
outdistanced. Truesdale's feet were already disappearing beyond the
hatchway. Phillips waited for the airtight door to slam shut. It
remained open....

Then a thrill of instinctive fear shot through him as he thought of what
Truesdale might do--probably was _doing_ at that very instant!



[Illustration: 4]


Throwing his feet clear of the rungs, he plunged back toward the deck,
guided only by his hands brushing the sides of the ladder. As Phillips
reached the junction of the passages, he kicked desperately away from
the ladder. He landed with a thump that would have hurt had he been in a
calmer state.

Rolling over toward the control room, he came to his feet in time to
glimpse Donna looking out the doorway before a jarring shock floored him
again.

The deafening roar of an explosion resounded in the corridor as a
brilliant light was luridly reflected from somewhere behind him. The
bewildering force hurled him at the deck; he saw he could not prevent
his head from striking--

Phillips found himself on hands and knees, staring stupidly at the deck
a few inches past his nose. As in a nightmare, he seemed to spend an
eternity pushing himself painfully to his feet. Clutching a handrail, he
finally made it.

He saw Donna kneeling in the doorway, hand to head. As he watched, the
girl looked at her hand, and dazedly pulled out a handkerchief to wipe
off the blood.

Then Phillips became aware of a high breeze in his face. Behind him, the
sound of rushing air rose to a moan, then to a shriek. That shocked him
to his senses.

"_Button up!_" he screamed above the noise, bringing his hands together
in an urgent gesture understood by all spacemen.

As the girl staggered to her feet, he whirled and leaped toward the
junction of the cross corridors. He wasted no time in a vain glance
upwards--he knew what Truesdale had done. Only setting off the
torpedoes' rockets in the enclosed turret compartment would have caused
an explosion just severe enough to rupture the ship's skin; if the
warheads had gone off, he never would have known it.

Diving headlong through the opening in the deck, he experienced a
dizzying shift of gravity as he passed through the plane of the main
deck. When he had his bearings again, he scrambled "up" the ladder
toward the belly turret. By the time he got the airtight hatch open, he
was beginning to pant in the thinning air. He pulled himself through at
last, and sealed the compartment.

Phillips sucked in a deep, luxurious breath while he glanced about. This
turret, he saw, was a duplicate of the other. He immediately located the
intercom screen and called the control room. Donna's worried face
appeared. "Where are you?" was her relieved inquiry.

Phillips explained what had happened. "The only thing," he concluded,
"is to try it from here."

"I think they must have spotted the flash," Donna told him. "The
instruments show a shift in their course."

"Blast right at them!" said Phillips. "We might get away with it if
we're quick."

He turned away, leaving the intercom on. A few quick steps took him to
the control panels in the bulkhead. Guided by his lessons in the other
turret, and by faded memories of space school on Earth, he brought up
two of the torpedoes. He checked the radio controls and ran the missiles
into their launching tubes. As he worked, with nervous sweat running
down into his eyes, he was aware of the intermittent jar of rocket
blasts.

"Run 'em down!" he muttered, trying to steady his hand on the controls.

He had a hand at each panel, with the torpedoes poised viciously in the
tubes, when he heard Donna's shout, shrill with excitement, over the
intercom.

Instantly, he launched the missiles. He started the rockets by remote
control, and scanned the screens for a sight of the other vessel.

For a moment, his view was confused by the expanding puff of air; then
that froze, and drifted back to the hull, and he could see the stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

Donna's voice, strained but coldly controlled, came over the intercom
with readings from her instruments. He corrected his courses
accordingly.

Then he saw the image of their target centered on one screen, so he
concentrated on steering the other missile. He made the nose yaw, but
was unable to locate anything on its screen.

"You're sending one of them too far above, I think," Donna reported.

"I have something wrong," he shouted. "I can't spot them at all for that
one. The jets must be out of line and shooting it in a curve."

Nevertheless, he fired a corrective blast on the weight of the guess,
before returning his attention to the first torpedo.

This one was right on the curve. He could see the massive hull of the
cruiser plainly now. It was almost featureless until, as he watched,
several sections seemed to slide aside.

The screen showed him a momentary glimpse of a swarm of small,
flame-tailed objects spewing forth from one of the openings. Then the
view went dark. "Interceptor rockets with proximity fuses," he muttered.
"They'll be after us next, crazy-mean and frantic!"

Over the intercom, he heard Donna exclaim in dismay. He caught a
fleeting sight of her face and realized that the situation must be
torture for the girl, as for himself or any normal person of their
civilization.

Cursing himself for an optimist, he raised two more of the missiles
from the magazine. Hopping about like a jet-checker five minutes before
take-off time, he made them ready. It seemed like hours before he got
them into the launching tubes and blew them out into the void.

Again, he watched the other vessel appear ahead of his torpedoes, this
time on both screens. Before the gap narrowed, he had a better
opportunity to see the defenses of the cruiser in action.

A whitish cloud of gas was expelled from his target's hull, bearing a
myriad of small objects which promptly acquired a life of their own.
Both screens were filled with flashing, diverging trails of flame.
Then--nothing.

"They're heading at us!" called Donna. "Hang on!"

Phillips had already pulled the switches to bring up a new pair of
torpedoes. Hearing the urgency in Donna's tone, he leaped toward a rack
of spacesuits and grabbed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next instant, he was pinned forcibly against the rack by
acceleration, as Donna made the ship dodge aside. From one side, he
heard a screech of grating metal. The fresh missiles must have jammed
halfway out of the storage compartment.

It gave him a weird feeling of unreality; as he hung there helplessly,
to see one of the screens on the bulkhead pick up something moving,
gleaming, metallic.

"Donna!" he shouted hoarsely. "Let up!"

"I don't dare," she gasped over the intercom. "I lost them, but they
were starting after us!"

"Let up!" repeated Phillips. "They're dead ahead of that wild shot of
ours. Let me get to the controls!"

He dropped abruptly to the deck as the acceleration vanished. One leap
carried him to the radio controls.

The metallic gleam had swelled into a huge spaceship. The cruiser was
angling slightly away from the point from which he seemed to be viewing
it. How soon, he wondered, would they detect the presence of his
torpedo? Or would they neglect this direction, being intent upon the
destruction of those who were attempting to frustrate their mad dash for
Mars?

Phillips stood before the screen, clenching his fists. There was, after
all, nothing for him to do but watch. The gleaming hull expanded with a
swelling rush. Details of construction, hitherto invisible, leaped out
at him. A crack finally appeared as a section began to slide back.

This time, however, there was no blinding flare of small rockets. The
blacking out of the screen coincided with Donna's scream. "_It hit!_"

In the silence that followed, he thought he heard a sob.

"Oh, Phillips," she said, recovering, "we did it. They're--"

"Hang on," said Phillips. "I'll climb into a spacesuit and come
forward."

He switched off the intercom and dragged a suit from the rack. It took
him a good fifteen minutes to get the helmet screwed on properly and to
check everything else. He realized that he was very tired.

He opened the exit hatch, seized the top of the ladder in his gauntlets
as the air exploded out of the turret, and climbed back to the main
deck.

Clumping forward through the airless corridor, he stopped to look into
the compartment where he had left Brecken. He quickly slid the door shut
again.

He found that Donna had sealed off the corridor just short of the
control room by closing a double emergency door that must have been
designed to form an airlock in just such a situation. He hammered upon
it, and she slid it open from the control desk.

It closed again behind him, and he entered the control room through the
usual door. The girl helped him to remove the suit and motioned him
toward the screen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Phillips regarded the scene without enthusiasm. The sight of the dead
man had reminded him of what the compartments of that other vessel must
look like by now. Its parts were beginning to scatter slowly.

He looked at Donna, and found her regarding him soberly. "What will they
do with us now?" she asked.

She looked exhausted. He extended an arm, and she leaned against him.
"You heard what Varret said," he told her.

"Yes, but will he keep his word? They might be ... ashamed of us, now
that it's done. Even if they're not, I can't bear the thought of going
back to Earth and having them stare at me!"

Phillips nodded. He remembered the morbid curiosity during his own
trial, the crowds who had watched him with a kind of shrinking
horror--and he had actually been responsible for saving a spaceship and
its crew, had they cared to look on that side of the affair.

But he had killed. That was no longer the action of a normal human
being, according to popular thinking.

"I guess you and I are the only ones who will understand one another
from now on," he shrugged.

Donna smiled faintly, just as the signal sounded on the communication
screen.

It was Varret, looking pale and strained. He listened to Phillips'
account, including the deaths of Truesdale and Brecken, and apologized
for his appearance. He had, he informed them, been unpleasantly ill when
he had seen the explosion. "It was a terrible thing," Varret continued
sadly, "but necessary. They were beyond reasoning with, and a deadly
menace."

He pulled himself together and tried to hide his agitation by reminding
them of his promise. He suggested that they consider their requests
while his ship attempted to tow them in to Deimos.

Phillips glanced speculatively at Donna. They would be two outcasts,
however much their deed might be respected abstractly, however much
official expressions of gratitude were employed to gloss over the fact.
He might as well take one chance more. "We have already decided," he
said boldly. "I hear you are building a new space station on Deimos."

The old man nodded, surprised.

"We will ask for a deed to that moon, and a contract to operate the
beacon and radio relay station," Phillips stated flatly.

Varret blinked, then smiled slightly in a sort of understanding
admiration.

"Reasonable and astute," he murmured after a moment's hesitation. "I
think I appreciate the motive. Perhaps, if that ship can be repaired and
remodeled, we can include it so that you may make short visits to Mars."

He warned them to watch for the emergency crew he would send to their
aid, and switched off.

Phillips then dared finally to turn and look inquiringly at Donna. Her
smile was relaxed for the first time since they had met. "Nice
bargaining," she said, and Phillips felt like the king of something
larger than a tiny Martian satellite.



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Future combined with Science Fiction
    Stories_ September 1951. Extensive research did not uncover any
    evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
    Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without
    note.





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