Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Defiant Agents
Author: Norton, Andre, 1912-2005
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 "The Defiant Agents" ***

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



Transcriber's Notes:
Obvious printer errors have been corrected (including switched lines).
Ellipses have been standardised. Otherwise the text is as printed.



_THE
DEFIANT
AGENTS_


_By Andre Norton_

  RIDE PROUD, REBEL!
  STORM OVER WARLOCK
  GALACTIC DERELICT
  THE TIME TRADERS
  STAR BORN
  YANKEE PRIVATEER
  THE STARS ARE OURS!

_Edited by Andre Norton_

  SPACE PIONEERS
  SPACE SERVICE



_THE
DEFIANT
AGENTS_

_BY
ANDRE
NORTON_

[Illustration]

THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY

CLEVELAND AND NEW YORK


_Published by_ The World Publishing Company
2231 West 110th Street, Cleveland 2, Ohio

_Published simultaneously in Canada by_
Nelson, Foster & Scott Ltd.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-9063



FIRST EDITION

WP262

Copyright © 1962 by Andre Norton
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form without written permission from the publisher,
except for brief passages included in a review appearing in
a newspaper or magazine. Printed in the United States of America.


_FOR P. SCHUYLER MILLER
who expressed a wish
for some Apache colonists,
and CHARLES F. KELLEY
who has a liking
for "time agent" tales._



_THE DEFIANT AGENTS_



1


No windows broke any of the four plain walls of the office; there was no
focus of outer-world sunlight on the desk there. Yet the five disks set
out on its surface appeared to glow--perhaps the heat of the mischief
they could cause ... had caused ... blazed in them.

But fanciful imaginings did not cushion or veil cold, hard fact. Dr.
Gordon Ashe, one of the four men peering unhappily at the display, shook
his head slightly as if to free his mind of such cobwebs.

His neighbor to the right, Colonel Kelgarries, leaned forward to ask
harshly: "No chance of a mistake?"

"You saw the detector." The thin gray string of a man behind the desk
answered with chill precision. "No, no possible mistake. These five have
definitely been snooped."

"And two choices among them," Ashe murmured. That was the important
point now.

"I thought these were under maximum security," Kelgarries challenged the
gray man.

Florian Waldour's remote expression did not change. "Every possible
precaution was in force. There was a sleeper--a hidden
agent--planted----"

"Who?" Kelgarries demanded.

Ashe glanced around at his three companions--Kelgarries, colonel in
command of one sector of Project Star, Florian Waldour, the security
head on the station, Dr. James Ruthven....

"Camdon!" he said, hardly able to believe this answer to which logic had
led him.

Waldour nodded.

For the first time since he had known and worked with Kelgarries Ashe
saw him display open astonishment.

"Camdon? But he was sent us by--" The colonel's eyes narrowed. "He must
have been sent.... There were too many cross checks to fake that!"

"Oh, he was sent, all right." For the first time there was a note of
emotion in Waldour's voice. "He was a sleeper, a very deep sleeper. They
must have planted him a full twenty-five or thirty years ago. He's been
just what he claimed to be as long as that."

"Well, he certainly was worth their time and trouble, wasn't he?" James
Ruthven's voice was a growling rumble. He sucked in thick lips,
continuing to stare at the disks. "How long ago were these snooped?"

Ashe's thoughts turned swiftly from the enormity of the betrayal to that
important point. The time element--that was the primary concern now that
the damage was done, and they knew it.

"That's one thing we don't know." Waldour's reply came slowly as if he
hated the admission.

"We'll be safer, then, if we presume the very earliest period."
Ruthven's statement was as ruthless in its implications as the shock
they had had when Waldour announced the disaster.

"Eighteen months ago?" Ashe protested.

But Ruthven was nodding. "Camdon was in on this from the very first.
We've had the tapes in and out for study all that time, and the new
detector against snooping was not put in service until two weeks ago.
This case came up on the first checking round, didn't it?" he asked
Waldour.

"First check," the security man agreed. "Camdon left the base six days
ago. But he has been in and out on his liaison duties from the first."

"He had to go through those search points every time," Kelgarries
protested. "Thought nothing could get through those." The colonel
brightened. "Maybe he got his snooper films and then couldn't take them
off base. Have his quarters been turned out?"

Waldour's lips lifted in a grimace of exasperation. "Please, Colonel,"
he said wearily, "this is not a kindergarten exercise. In confirmation
of his success, listen...." He touched a button on his desk and out of
the air came the emotionless chant of a newscaster.

"Fears for the safety of Lassiter Camdon, space expediter for the
Western Conference Space Council, have been confirmed by the discovery
of burned wreckage in the mountains. Mr. Camdon was returning from a
mission to the Star Laboratory when his plane lost contact with Ragnor
Field. Reports of a storm in that vicinity immediately raised concern--"
Waldour snapped off the voice.

"True--or a cover for his escape?" Kelgarries wondered aloud.

"Could be either. They may have deliberately written him off when they
had all they wanted," Waldour acknowledged. "But to get back to our
troubles--Dr. Ruthven is right to assume the worst. I believe we can
only insure the recovery of our project by thinking that these tapes
were snooped anywhere from eighteen months ago to last week. And we must
work accordingly!"

There was silence in the room as they all considered that. Ashe slipped
down in his chair, his thoughts enmeshed in memories. First there had
been Operation Retrograde, when specially trained "time agents" had
shuttled back and forth in history, striving to locate and track down
the mysterious source of alien knowledge which the eastern Communistic
nations had suddenly begun to use.

Ashe himself and a younger partner, Ross Murdock, had been part of the
final action which had solved the mystery, having traced that source of
knowledge not to an earlier and forgotten Terran civilization but to
wrecked spaceships from an eon-old galactic empire--an empire which had
flourished when glacial ice covered most of Europe and northern America
and Terrans were cave-dwelling primitives. Murdock, trapped by the Reds
in one of those wrecked ships, had inadvertently summoned its original
owners, who had descended to trace--through the Russian time
stations--the looters of their wrecks, destroying the whole Red
time-travel system.

But the aliens had not chanced on the parallel western system. And a
year later that had been put into Project Folsom One. Again Ashe,
Murdock, and a newcomer, the Apache Travis Fox, had gone back into time
to the Arizona of the Folsom hunters, discovering what they wanted--two
ships, one wrecked, the other intact. And when the full efforts of the
project had been centered on bringing the intact ship back into the
present, chance had triggered controls set by the dead alien commander.
A party of four, Ashe, Murdock, Fox, and a technician, had then made an
involuntary voyage into space, touching three worlds on which the
galactic civilization of the far past was now marked only by ruins.

Voyage tape fed into the controls of the ship had taken the men, and,
when rewound, had--by a miracle--returned them to Terra with a cargo of
similar tapes found in a building on a world which might have been the
central capital for a government comprised not of countries or of worlds
but of solar systems. Tapes--each one the key to another planet.

And that ancient galactic knowledge was treasure such as the Terrans had
never dreamed of possessing, though there were the attendant fears that
such discoveries could be weapons in enemy hands. There had been an
enforced sharing with other nations of tapes chosen at random at a great
drawing. And each nation secretly remained convinced that, in spite of
the untold riches it might hold as a result of chance, its rivals had
done better. Right at this moment, Ashe did not in the least doubt,
there were agents of his own party intent on accomplishing at the Red
project just what Camdon had done there. However, that did not help in
solving their present dilemma concerning Operation Cochise, one part of
their project, but perhaps the most important now.

Some of the tapes were duds, either too damaged to be useful, or set for
worlds hostile to Terrans lacking the equipment the earlier
star-traveling race had had at its command. Of the five tapes they now
knew had been snooped, three would be useless to the enemy.

But one of the remaining two.... Ashe frowned. One was the goal toward
which they had been working feverishly for a full twelve months. To
plant a colony across the gulf of space--a successful colony--later to
be used as a steppingstone to other worlds....

"So we have to move faster." Ruthven's comment reached Ashe through his
stream of memories.

"I thought you required at least three more months to conclude personnel
training," Waldour observed.

Ruthven lifted a fat hand, running the nail of a broad thumb back and
forth across his lower lip in a habitual gesture Ashe had learned to
mistrust. As the latter stiffened, bracing for a battle of wills, he saw
Kelgarries come alert too. At least the colonel more often than not was
ready to counter Ruthven's demands.

"We test and we test," said the fat man. "Always we test. We move like
turtles when it would be better to race like greyhounds. There is such a
thing as overcaution, as I have said from the first. One would
think"--his accusing glance included Ashe and Kelgarries--"that there
had never been any improvising in this project, that all had always been
done by the book. I say that this is the time we must take the big
gamble, or else we may find we have been outbid for space entirely. Let
those others discover even one alien installation they can master and--"
his thumb shifted from his lip, grinding down on the desk top as if it
were crushing some venturesome but entirely unimportant insect--"and we
are finished before we really begin."

There were a number of men in the project who would agree with that,
Ashe knew. And a greater number in the country and conference at large.
The public was used to reckless gambles which paid off, and there had
been enough of those in the past to give an impressive argument for
that point of view. But Ashe, himself, could not agree to a speed-up. He
had been out among the stars, shaved disaster too closely because the
proper training had not been given.

"I shall report that I advise a take-off within a week," Ruthven was
continuing. "To the council I shall say that--"

"And I do not agree!" Ashe cut in. He glanced at Kelgarries for the
quick backing he expected, but instead there was a lengthening moment of
silence. Then the colonel spread out his hands and said sullenly:

"I don't agree either, but I don't have the final say-so. Ashe, what
would be needed to speed up any take-off?"

It was Ruthven who replied. "We can use the Redax, as I have said from
the start."

Ashe straightened, his mouth tight, his eyes hard and angry.

"And I'll protest that ... to the council! Man, we're dealing with human
beings--selected volunteers, men who trust us--not with laboratory
animals!"

Ruthven's thick lips pouted into what was close to a smile of derision.
"Always the sentimentalists, you experts in the past! Tell me, Dr. Ashe,
were you always so thoughtful of your men when you sent agents back into
time? And certainly a voyage into space is less a risk than time travel.
These volunteers know what they have signed for. They will be ready----"

"Then you propose telling them about the use of Redax--what it does to a
man's mind?" countered Ashe.

"Certainly. They will receive all necessary instructions."

Ashe was not satisfied and he would have spoken again, but Kelgarries
interrupted:

"If it comes to that, none of us here has any right to make final
decisions. Waldour has already sent in his report about the snoop. We'll
have to await orders from the council."

Ruthven levered himself out of his chair, his solid bulk stretching his
uniform coveralls. "That is correct, Colonel. In the meantime I would
suggest we all check to see what can be done to speed up each one's
portion of labor." Without another word, he tramped to the door.

Waldour eyed the other two with mounting impatience. It was plain he had
work to do and wanted them to leave. But Ashe was reluctant. He had a
feeling that matters were slipping out of his control, that he was about
to face a crisis which was somehow worse than just a major security
leak. Was the enemy always on the other side of the world? Or could he
wear the same uniform, even share the same goals?

In the outer corridor he still hesitated, and Kelgarries, a step or so
in advance, looked back over his shoulder impatiently.

"There's no use fighting--our hands are tied." His words were slurred,
almost as if he wanted to disown them.

"Then you'll agree to use the Redax?" For the second time within the
hour Ashe felt as if he had taken a step only to have firm earth turn
into slippery, shifting sand underfoot.

"It isn't a matter of my agreeing. It may be a matter of getting through
or not getting through--now. If they've had eighteen months, or even
twelve...!" The colonel's fingers balled into a fist. "And _they_ won't
be delayed by any humanitarian reasoning----"

"Then you believe Ruthven will win the council's approval?"

"When you are dealing with frightened men, you're talking to ears closed
to anything but what they want to hear. After all, we can't prove that
the Redax will be harmful."

"But we've only used it under rigidly controlled conditions. To speed up
the process would mean a total disregard of those controls. Snapping a
party of men and women back into their racial past and holding them
there for too long a period...." Ashe shook his head.

"You have been in Operation Retrograde from the start, and we've been
remarkably successful----"

"Operating in a different way, educating picked men to return to certain
points in history where their particular temperaments and
characteristics fitted the roles they were selected to play, yes. And
even then we had our percentage of failures. But to try this--returning
people not physically into time, but _mentally and emotionally_ into
prototypes of their ancestors--that's something else again. The Apaches
have volunteered, and they've been passed by the psychologists and the
testers. But they're Americans of today, not tribal nomads of two or
three hundred years ago. If you break down some barriers, you might just
end up breaking them all."

Kelgarries was scowling. "You mean--they might revert utterly, have no
contact with the present at all?"

"That's just what I do mean. Education and training, yes, but full
awakening of racial memories, no. The two branches of conditioning
should go slowly and hand in hand, otherwise--real trouble!"

"Only we no longer have the time to go slow. I'm certain Ruthven will be
able to push this through--with Waldour's report to back him."

"Then we'll have to warn Fox and the rest. They must be given a choice
in the matter."

"Ruthven said that would be done." The colonel did not sound convinced
of that.

Ashe snorted. "If I hear him telling them, I'll believe it!"

"I wonder whether we can...."

Ashe half turned and frowned at the colonel. "What do you mean?"

"You said yourself that we had our failures in time travel. We expected
those, accepted them, even when they hurt. When we asked for volunteers
for this project we had to make them understand that there was a heavy
element of risk involved. Three teams of recruits--the Eskimos from
Point Barren, the Apaches, and the Islanders--all picked because their
people had a high survival rating in the past, to be colonists on widely
different types of planets. Well, the Eskimos and the Islanders aren't
matched to any of the worlds on those snooped tapes, but Topaz is
waiting for the Apaches. And we may have to move them in there in a
hurry. It's a rotten gamble any way you see it!"

"I'll appeal directly to the council."

Kelgarries shrugged. "All right. You have my backing."

"But you believe such an effort hopeless?"

"You know the red-tape merchants. You'll have to move fast if you want
to beat Ruthven. He's probably on a straight line now to Stanton,
Reese, and Margate. This is what he has been waiting for!"

"There are the news syndicates; public opinion would back us----"

"You don't mean that, of course." Kelgarries was suddenly coldly remote.

Ashe flushed under the heavy brown which overlay his regular features.
To threaten a silence break was near blasphemy here. He ran both hands
down the fabric covering his thighs as if to rub away some soil on his
palms.

"No," he replied heavily, his voice dull. "I guess I don't. I'll contact
Hough and hope for the best."

"Meanwhile," Kelgarries spoke briskly, "we'll do what we can to speed up
the program as it now stands. I suggest you take off for New York within
the hour----"

"Me? Why?" Ashe asked with a trace of suspicion.

"Because I can't leave without acting directly against orders, and that
would put us wrong immediately. You see Hough and talk to him
personally--put it to him straight. He'll have to have all the facts if
he's going to counter any move from Stanton before the council. You know
every argument we can use and all the proof on our side, and you're
authority enough to make it count."

"If I can do all that, I will." Ashe was alert and eager. The colonel,
seeing his change of expression, felt easier.

But Kelgarries stood a moment watching Ashe as he hurried down a side
corridor, before he moved on slowly to his own box of office. Once
inside he sat for a long unhappy time staring at the wall and seeing
nothing but the pictures produced by his thoughts. Then he pressed a
button and read off the symbols which flashed on a small visa-screen
set in his desk. Another button pushed, and he picked up a hand mike to
relay an order which might postpone trouble for a while. Ashe was far
too valuable a man to lose, and his emotions could boil him straight
into disaster over this.

"Bidwell--reschedule Team A. They are to go to the Hypno-Lab instead of
the reserve in ten minutes."

Releasing the mike, he again stared at the wall. No one dared interrupt
a hypno-training period, and this one would last three hours. Ashe could
not possibly see the trainees before he left for New York. And that
would remove one temptation from his path--he would not talk at the
wrong time.

Kelgarries' mouth twisted sourly. He had no pride in what he was doing.
And he was perfectly certain that Ruthven would win and that Ashe's
fears of Redax were well founded. It all came back to the old basic
tenet of the service: the end justified the means. They must use every
method and man under their control to make sure that Topaz would remain
a western possession, even though that strange planet now swung far
beyond the sky which covered both the western and eastern alliances on
Terra. Time had run out too fast; they were being forced to play what
cards they held, even though those might be very low ones. Ashe would be
back, but not, Kelgarries hoped, until this had been decided one way or
another. Not until this was finished.

Finished! Kelgarries blinked at the wall. Perhaps _they_ were finished,
too. No one would know until the transport ship landed on that other
world which appeared on the direction tape symbolized by a jewellike
disk of gold-brown which had given it the code name of Topaz.



2


There were an even dozen of the air-borne guardians, each following the
swing of its own orbital path just within the atmospheric envelope of
the planet which glowed as a great bronze-golden gem in the four-world
system of a yellow star. The globes had been launched to form a web of
protection around Topaz six months earlier, and the highest skill had
gone into their production. Just as contact mines sown in a harbor could
close that landfall to ships not knowing the secret channel, so was this
world supposedly closed to any spaceship not equipped with the signal to
ward off the sphere missiles.

That was the theory of the new off-world settlers whose protection they
were to be, already tested as well as possible, but as yet not put to
the ultimate proof. The small bright globes spun undisturbed across a
two-mooned sky at night and made reassuring blips on an installation
screen by day.

Then a thirteenth object winked into being, began the encircling,
closing spiral of descent. A sphere resembling the warden-globes, it was
a hundred times their size, and its orbit was purposefully controlled
by instruments under the eye and hand of a human pilot.

Four men were strapped down on cushioned sling-seats in the control
cabin of the Western Alliance ship, two hanging where their fingers
might reach buttons and levers, the others merely passengers, their own
labor waiting for the time when they would set down on the alien soil of
Topaz. The planet hung there in their visa-screen, richly beautiful in
its amber gold, growing larger, nearer, so that they could pick out
features of seas, continents, mountain ranges, which had been studied on
tape until they were familiar, yet now were strangely unfamiliar too.

One of the warden-globes alerted, oscillated in its set path, whirled
faster as its delicate interior mechanisms responded to the awakening
spark which would send it on its mission of destruction. A relay
clicked, but for the smallest fraction of a millimeter failed to set the
proper course. On the instrument, far below, which checked the globe's
new course the mistake was not noted.

The screen of the ship spiraling toward Topaz registered a path which
would bring it into violent contact with the globe. They were still some
hundreds of miles apart when the alarm rang. The pilot's hand clawed out
at the bank of controls; under the almost intolerable pressure of their
descent, there was so little he could do. His crooked fingers fell back
powerlessly from the buttons and levers; his mouth was a twisted grimace
of bleak acceptance as the beat of the signal increased.

One of the passengers forced his head around on the padded rest, fought
to form words, to speak to his companion. The other was staring ahead at
the screen, his thick lips wide and flat against his teeth in a snarl
of rage.

"They ... are ... here...."

Ruthven paid no attention to the obvious as stated by his fellow
scientist. His fury was a red, pulsing thing inside him, fed by his own
helplessness. To be pinned here so near his goal, fastened up as a
target for an inanimate but cunningly fashioned weapon, ate into him
like a stream of deadly acid. His big gamble would puff out in a blast
of fire to light up Topaz's sky, with nothing left--nothing. On the
armrest of his sling-seat his nails scratched deep.

The four men in the control cabin could only sit and watch, waiting for
the rendezvous which would blot them out. Ruthven's flaming anger was a
futile blaze. His companion in the passenger seat had closed his eyes,
his lips moving soundlessly in an expression of his own scattered
thoughts. The pilot and his assistant divided their attention between
the screen, with its appalling message, and the controls they could not
effectively use, feverishly seeking a way out in these last moments.

Below them in the bowl of the ship were those who would not know the end
consciously--save in one compartment. In a padded cage a prick-eared
head stirred where it rested on forepaws, slitted eyes blinked, aware
not only of familiar surroundings, but also of the tension and fear
generated by human minds and emotions levels above. A pointed nose
raised, and there was a growling deep in a throat covered with thick
buff-gray hair.

The growl aroused another similar captive. Knowing yellow eyes met
yellow eyes. An intelligence, which was certainly not that of the animal
body which contained it, fought down instinct raging to send both those
bodies hurtling at the fastenings of the twin cages. Curiosity and the
ability to adapt had been bred into both from time immemorial. Then
something else had been added to sly and cunning brains. A step up had
been taken--to weld intelligence to cunning, connect thought to
instinct.

More than a generation earlier mankind had chosen barren desert--the
"white sands" of New Mexico--as a testing ground for atomic experiments.
Humankind could be barred, warded out of the radiation limits; the
natural desert dwellers, four-footed and winged, could not be so
controlled.

For thousands of years, since the first southward roving Amerindian
tribes had met with their kind, there had been a hunter of the open
country, a smaller cousin of the wolf, whose natural abilities had made
an undeniable impression on the human mind. He was in countless Indian
legends as the Shaper or the Trickster, sometimes friend, sometimes
enemy. Godling for some tribes, father of all evil for others. In the
wealth of tales the coyote, above all other animals, had a firm place.

Driven by the press of civilization into the badlands and deserts,
fought with poison, gun, and trap, the coyote had survived, adapting to
new ways with all his legendary cunning. Those who had reviled him as
vermin had unwillingly added to the folklore which surrounded him,
telling their own tales of robbed traps, skillful escapes. He continued
to be a trickster, laughing on moonlit nights from the tops of ridges at
those who would hunt him down.

Then, close to the end of the twentieth century, when myths were
scoffed at, the stories of the coyote's slyness began once more on a
fantastic scale. And finally scientists were sufficiently intrigued to
seek out this creature that seemed to display in truth all the abilities
credited to his immortal namesake by pre-Columbian tribes.

What they discovered was indeed shattering to certain closed minds. For
the coyote had not only adapted to the country of the white sands; he
had evolved into something which could not be dismissed as an animal,
clever and cunning, but limited to beast range. Six cubs had been
brought back on the first expedition, coyote in body, their developing
minds different. The grandchildren of those cubs were now in the ship's
cages, their mutated senses alert, ready for the slightest chance of
escape. Sent to Topaz as eyes and ears for less keenly endowed humans,
they were not completely under the domination of man. The range of their
mental powers was still uncomprehended by those who had bred, trained,
and worked with them from the days their eyes had opened and they had
taken their first wobbly steps away from their dams.

The male growled again, his lips wrinkling back in a snarl as the
emanations of fear from the men he could not see reached panic peak. He
still crouched, belly flat, on the protecting pads of his cage; but he
strove now to wriggle closer to the door, just as his mate made the same
effort.

Between the animals and those in the control cabin lay the others--forty
of them. Their bodies were cushioned and protected with every ingenious
device known to those who had placed them there so many weeks earlier.
Their minds were free of the ship, roving into places where men had not
trod before, a territory potentially more dangerous than any solid earth
could ever be.

Operation Retrograde had returned men bodily into the past, sending
agents to hunt mammoths, follow the roads of the Bronze Age traders,
ride with Attila and Genghis Khan, pull bows among the archers of
ancient Egypt. But Redax returned men in mind to the paths of their
ancestors, or this was the theory. And those who slept here and now in
their narrow boxes, lay under its government, while the men who had
arbitrarily set them so could only assume they were actually reliving
the lives of Apache nomads in the wide southwestern wastes of the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Above, the pilot's hand pushed out again, fighting the pressure to reach
one particular button. That, too, had been a last-minute addition, an
experiment which had only had partial testing. To use it was the final
move he could make, and he was already half convinced of its
uselessness.

With no faith and only a very wan hope, he sent that round of metal
flush with the board. What followed no one ever lived to explain.

On the planet the installation which tracked the missiles flashed on a
screen bright enough to blind momentarily the duty man on watch, and its
tracker was shaken off course. When it jiggled back into line it was no
longer the efficient eye-in-the-sky it had been, though its tenders were
not to realize that for an important minute or two.

While the ship, now out of control, sped in dizzy whirls toward Topaz,
engines fought blindly to stabilize, to re-establish their functions.
Some succeeded, some wobbled in and out of the danger zone, two failed.
And in the control cabin three dead men spun in prisoning seats.

Dr. James Ruthven, blood bubbling from his lips with every shallow
breath he could draw, fought the stealthy tide of blackness which crept
up his brain, his stubborn will holding to rags of consciousness,
refusing to acknowledge the pain of his fatally injured body.

The orbiting ship was on an erratic path. Slowly the machines were
correcting, relays clicking, striving to bring it to a landing under
auto-pilot. All the ingenuity built into a mechanical brain was now
centered in landing the globe.

It was not a good landing, in fact a very bad one, for the sphere
touched a mountain side, scraped down rocks, shearing away a portion of
its outer bulk. But the mountain barrier was now between it and the base
from which the missiles had been launched, and the crash had not been
recorded on that tracking instrument. So far as the watchers several
hundred miles away knew, the warden in the sky had performed as
promised. Their first line of defense had proven satisfactory, and there
had been no unauthorized landing on Topaz.

In the wreckage of the control cabin Ruthven pawed at the fastenings of
his sling-chair. He no longer tried to suppress the moans every effort
tore out of him. Time held the whip, drove him. He rolled from his seat
to the floor, lay there gasping, as again he fought doggedly to remain
above the waves--those frightening, fast-coming waves of dark faintness.

Somehow he was crawling, crawling along a tilted surface until he gained
the well where the ladder to the lower section hung, now at an acute
angle. It was that angle which helped him to the next level.

He was too dazed to realize the meaning of the crumpled bulkheads. There
was a spur of bare rock under his hands as he edged over and around
twisted metal. The moans were now a gobbling, burbling, almost
continuous cry as he reached his goal--a small cabin still intact.

For long moments of anguish he paused by the chair there, afraid that he
could not make the last effort, raise his almost inert bulk up to the
point where he could reach the Redax release. For a second of unusual
clarity he wondered if there was any reason for this supreme ordeal,
whether any of the sleepers could be aroused. This might now be a ship
of the dead.

His right hand, his arm, and finally his bulk over the seat, he braced
himself and brought his left hand up. He could not use any of the
fingers; it was like lifting numb, heavy weights. But he lurched
forward, swept the unfeeling lump of cold flesh down against the release
in a gesture which he knew must be his final move. And, as he fell back
to the floor, Dr. Ruthven could not be certain whether he had succeeded
or failed. He tried to screw his head around, to focus his eyes upward
at that switch. Was it down or still stubbornly up, locking the sleepers
into confinement? But there was a fog between; he could not see it--or
anything.

The light in the cabin flickered, was gone as another circuit in the
broken ship failed. It was dark, too, in the small cubby below which
housed the two cages. Chance, which had snuffed out nineteen lives in
the space globe, had missed ripping open that cabin on the mountain
side. Five yards down the corridor the outside fabric of the ship was
split wide open, the crisp air native to Topaz entering, sending a
message to two keen noses through the combination of odors now pervading
the wreckage.

And the male coyote went into action. Days ago he had managed to work
loose the lower end of the mesh which fronted his cage, but his mind had
told him that a sortie inside the ship was valueless. The odd rapport
he'd had with the human brains, unknown to them, had operated to keep
him to the old role of cunning deception, which in the past had saved
countless of his species from sudden and violent death. Now with teeth
and paws he went diligently to work, urged on by the whines of his mate,
that tantalizing smell of an outside world tickling their nostrils--a
wild world, lacking the taint of man-places.

He slipped under the loosened mesh and stood up to paw at the front of
the female's cage. One forepaw caught in the latch and pressed it down,
and the weight of the door swung against him. Together they were free
now to reach the corridor and see ahead the subdued light of a strange
moon beckoning them on into the open.

The female, always more cautious than her mate, lingered behind as he
trotted forward, his ears a-prick with curiosity. Their training had
been the same since cubhood--to range and explore, but always in the
company and at the order of man. This was not according to the pattern
she knew, and she was suspicious. But to her sensitive nose the smell of
the ship was an offense, and the puffs of breeze from without enticing.
Her mate had already slipped through the break; now he barked with
excitement and wonder, and she trotted on to join him.

Above, the Redax, which had never been intended to stand rough usage,
proved to be a better survivor of the crash than most of the other
installations. Power purred along a network of lines, activated beams,
turned off and on a series of fixtures in those coffin-beds. For five of
the sleepers--nothing. The cabin which had held them was a flattened
smear against the mountain side. Three more half aroused, choked, fought
for life and breath in a darkness which was a mercifully short
nightmare, and succumbed.

But in the cabin nearest the rent through which the coyotes had escaped,
a young man sat up abruptly, looking into the dark with wide-open,
terror-haunted eyes. He clawed for purchase against the smooth edge of
the box in which he had lain, somehow got to his knees, weaving weakly
back and forth, and half fell, half pushed to the floor where he could
stand only by keeping his hold on the box.

Dazed, sick, weak, he swayed there, aware only of himself and his own
sensations. There were small sounds in the dark, a stilled moan, a
gasping sigh. But that meant nothing. Within him grew a compulsion to be
out of this place, his terror making him lurch forward.

His flailing hand rapped painfully against an upright surface which his
questing fingers identified hazily as an exit. Unconsciously he fumbled
along the surface of the door until it gave under that weak pressure.
Then he was out, his head swimming, drawn by the light behind the wall
rent.

He progressed toward that in a scrambling crawl, making his way over the
splintered skin of the globe. Then he dropped with a jarring thud onto
the mound of earth the ship had pushed before it during its downward
slide. Limply he tumbled on in a small cascade of clods and sand,
hitting against a less movable rock with force enough to roll him over
on his back and stun him again.

The second and smaller moon of Topaz swung brightly through the sky, its
weird green rays making the blood-streaked face of the explorer an alien
mask. It had passed well on to the horizon, and its large yellow
companion had risen when a yapping broke the small sounds of the night.

As the _yipp, yipp, yipp_ arose in a crescendo, the man stirred, putting
one hand to his head. His eyes opened, he looked vaguely about him and
sat up. Behind him was the torn and ripped ship, but he did not look
back at it.

Instead, he got to his feet and staggered out into the direct path of
the moonlight. Inside his brain there was a whirl of thoughts, memories,
emotions. Perhaps Ruthven or one of his assistants could have explained
that chaotic mixture for what it was. But for all practical purposes
Travis Fox--Amerindian Time Agent, member of Team A, Operation
Cochise--was far less of a thinking animal now than the two coyotes
paying their ritual addresses to a moon which was not the one of their
vanished homeland.

Travis wavered on, drawn somehow by that howling. It was familiar, a
thread of something real through all the broken clutter in his head. He
stumbled, fell, crawled up again, but he kept on.

Above, the female coyote lowered her head, drew a test sniff of a new
scent. She recognized that as part of the proper way of life. She yapped
once at her mate, but he was absorbed in his night song, his muzzle
pointed moonward as he voiced a fine wailing.

Travis tripped, pitched forward on his hands and knees, and felt the jar
of such a landing shoot up his stiffened forearms. He tried to get up,
but his body only twisted, so he landed on his back and lay looking up
at the moon.

A strong, familiar odor ... then a shadow looming above him. Hot breath
against his cheek, and the swift sweep of an animal tongue on his face.
He flung up his hand, gripped thick fur, and held on as if he had found
one anchor of sanity in a world gone completely mad.



3


Travis, one knee braced against the red earth, blinked as he parted a
screen of tall rust-brown grass with cautious fingers to look out into a
valley where golden mist clouded most of the landscape. His head ached
with dull persistence, the pain fostered in some way by his own
bewilderment. To study the land ahead was like trying to see through one
picture interposed over another and far different one. He knew what
ought to be there, but what was before him was very dissimilar.

A buff-gray shape flitted through the tall cover grass, and Travis
tensed. _Mba'a_--coyote? Or were these companions of his actually
_ga-n_, spirits who could choose their shape at will and had, oddly,
this time assumed the bodies of man's tricky enemy? Were they
_ndendai_--enemies--or _dalaanbiyat'i_, allies? In this mad world he did
not know.

_Ei'dik'e?_ His mind formed a word he did not speak: Friend?

Yellow eyes met his directly. Dimly he had been aware, ever since
awaking in this strange wilderness with the coming of morning light,
that the four-footed ones trotting with him as he walked aimlessly had
unbeastlike traits. Not only did they face him eye-to-eye, but in some
ways they appeared able to read his thoughts.

He had longed for water to ease the burning in his throat, the
ever-present pain in his head, and the creatures had nudged him in
another direction, bringing him to a pool where he had mouthed liquid
with a strange sweet, but not unpleasant taste.

Now he had given them names, names which had come out of the welter of
dreams which shadowed his stumbling journey across this weird country.

Nalik'ideyu (Maiden-Who-Walks-Ridges) was the female who continued to
shepherd him along, never venturing too far from his side. Naginlta
(He-Who-Scouts-Ahead) was the male who did just that, disappearing at
long intervals and then returning to face the man and his mate as if
conveying some report necessary to their journey.

It was Nalik'ideyu who sought out Travis now, her red tongue lolling
from her mouth as she panted. Not from exertion, he was certain of that.
No, she was excited and eager ... on the hunt! That was it--a hunt!

Travis' own tongue ran across his lips as an impression hit him with
feral force. There was meat--rich, fresh--just ahead. Meat that lived,
waiting to be killed. Inside him his own avid hunger roused, shaking him
farther out of the crusting dream.

His hands went to his waist, but the groping fingers did not find what
vague memory told him should be there--a belt, heavy with knife in
sheath.

He examined his own body with attention to find he was adequately
covered by breeches of a smooth, dull brown material which blended well
with the vegetation about him. He wore a loose shirt, belted in at the
narrow waist by a folded strip of cloth, the ends of which fluttered
free. On his feet were tall moccasins, the leg pieces extending some
distance up his calves, the toes turned up in rounded points.

Some of this he found familiar, but these were fragments of memory;
again his mind fitted one picture above another. One thing he did know
for sure--he had no weapons. And that realization struck home with a
thrust of real and terrible fear which tore away more of the
bewilderment cloaking his mind.

Nalik'ideyu was impatient. Having advanced a step or two, she now looked
back at him over her shoulder, yellow eyes slitted, her demand on him as
instant and real as if she had voiced understandable words. Meat was
waiting, and she was hungry. Also she expected Travis to aid in the
hunt--at once.

Though he could not match her fluid grace in moving through the grass,
Travis followed her, keeping to cover. He shook his head vigorously, in
spite of the stab of pain the motion cost him, and paid more attention
to his surroundings. It was apparent that the earth under him, the grass
around, the valley of the golden haze, were all real, not part of a
dream. Therefore that other countryside which he kept seeing in a
ghostly fashion was a hallucination.

Even the air which he drew into his lungs and expelled again, had a
strange smell, or was it taste? He could not be sure which. He knew that
hypno-training could produce queer side effects, but ... this....

Travis paused, staring unseeingly before him at the grass still waving
from the coyote's passage. Hypno-training! What was that? Now three
pictures fought to focus in his mind: the two landscapes which did not
match and a shadowy third. He shook his head again, his hands to his
temples. This--this only was real: the ground, the grass, the valley,
the hunger in him, the hunt waiting....

He forced himself to concentrate on the immediate present and the
portion of world he could see, feel, scent, which lay here and now about
him.

The grass grew shorter as he proceeded in Nalik'ideyu's wake. But the
haze was not thinning. It seemed to hang in patches, and when he
ventured through the edge of a patch it was like creeping through a fog
of golden, dancing motes with here and there a glittering speck whirling
and darting like a living thing. Masked by the stuff, Travis reached a
line of brush and sniffed.

It was a warm scent, a heavy odor he could not identify and yet one he
associated with a living creature. Flat to earth, he pushed head and
shoulders under the low limbs of the bush to look ahead.

Here was a space where the fog did not hold, a pocket of earth clear
under the morning sun. And grazing there were three animals. Again shock
cleared a portion of Travis' bemused brain.

They were about the size, he thought, of antelopes, and they had a
general resemblance to those beasts in that they had four slender legs,
a rounded body, and a head. But they had alien features, so alien as to
hold him in open-mouthed amazement.

The bodies had bare spots here and there, and patches of creamy--fur? Or
was it hair which hung in strips, as if the creatures had been partially
plucked in a careless fashion? The necks were long and moved about in a
serpentine motion, as though their spines were as limber as reptiles'.
On the end of those long and twisting necks were heads which also
appeared more suitable to another species--broad, rather flat, with a
singular toadlike look--but furnished with horns set halfway down the
nose, horns which began in a single root and then branched into two
sharp points.

They were unearthly! Again Travis blinked, brought his hand up to his
head as he continued to view the browsers. There were three of them: two
larger and with horns, the other a smaller beast with less of the ragged
fur and only the beginning button of a protuberance on the nose; it was
probably a calf.

One of those mental alerts from the coyotes broke his absorption.
Nalik'ideyu was not interested in the odd appearance of the grazing
creatures; she was intent upon their usefulness in another way--as a
full and satisfying meal--and she was again impatient with him for his
dull response.

His examination took a more practical turn. An antelope's defense was
speed, though it could be tricked into hunting range through its
inordinate curiosity. The slender legs of these beasts suggested a like
degree of speed, and Travis had no weapons at all.

Those nose horns had an ugly look; this thing might be a fighter rather
than a runner. But the suggestion which had flashed from coyote to him
had taken root. Travis was hungry, he was a hunter, and here was meat on
the hoof, queer as it looked.

Again he received a message. Naginlta was on the opposite side of the
clearing. If the creatures depended on speed, then Travis believed they
could probably outrun not only him but the coyotes as well--which left
cunning and some sort of plan.

Travis glanced at the cover where he knew Nalik'ideyu crouched and from
which had come that flash of agreement. He shivered. These were truly no
animals, but _ga-n_, _ga-n_ of power! And as _ga-n_ he must treat them,
accede to their will. Spurred by that, the Apache gave only flicks of
attention to the browsers while at the same time he studied the part of
the landscape uncovered by mist.

Without weapons or speed, they must conceive a trap. Again Travis sensed
that agreement which was _ga-n_ magic, and with it the strong impression
urging him to the right. He was making progress with skill he did not
even recognize and which he had never been conscious of learning.

The bushes and small, droop-limbed trees, their branches not clothed
with leaves from proper twigs but with a reddish bristly growth
protruding directly from their surfaces, made a partial wall for the
pocket-sized meadow. That screen reached a rocky cleft where the mist
curled in a long tongue through a wall twice Travis' height. If the
browsers could be maneuvered into taking the path through that cleft....

Travis searched about him, and his hands closed upon the oldest weapon
of his species, a stone pulled from an earth pocket and balanced neatly
in the palm of his hand. It was a long chance but his best one.

The Apache took the first step on a new and fearsome road. These _ga-n_
had put their thoughts--or their desires--into his mind. Could he so
contact them in return?

With the stone clenched in his fist, his shoulders back against the wall
not too far from the cleft opening, Travis strove to think out, clearly
and simply, this poor plan of his. He did not know that he was reacting
the way scientists deep space away had hoped he might. Nor did Travis
guess that at this point he had already traveled far beyond the
expectations of the men who had bred and trained the two mutant coyotes.
He only believed that this might be the one way he could obey the wishes
of the two spirits he thought far more powerful than any man. So he
pictured in his mind the cleft, the running creatures, and the part the
_ga-n_ could play if they so willed.

Assent--in its way as loud and clear as if shouted. The man fingered the
stone, weighed it. There would probably be just one moment when he could
use it to effect, and he must be ready.

From this point he could no longer see the small meadow where the
grazers were. But Travis knew, as well as if he watched the scene, that
the coyotes were creeping in, belly flat to earth, adding a feline
stealth and patience to their own cunning.

There! Travis' head jerked, the alert had come, the drive was beginning.
He tensed, gripping his stone.

A yapping bark was answered by a sound he could not describe, a noise
which was neither cough nor grunt but a combination of both. Again a
yap-yap....

A toad-head burst through the screen of brush, the double horn on its
nose festooned with a length of grass torn up by the roots. Wide
eyes--milky and seeming to be without pupils--fastened on Travis, but he
could not be sure the thing saw him, for it kept on, picking up speed
as it approached the cleft. Behind it ran the calf, and that guttural
cry was bubbling from its broad flat lips.

The long neck of the adult writhed, the frog-head swung closer to the
ground so that the twin points of the horn were at a slant--aimed now at
Travis. He had been right in his guess at their deadliness, but he had
only a fleeting chance to recognize that fact as the thing bore down,
its whole attitude expressing the firm intention of goring him.

He hurled his stone and then flung his body to one side, stumbling and
rolling into the brush where he fought madly to regain his feet,
expecting at any moment to feel trampling hoofs and thrusting horns.
There was a crash to his right, and the bushes and grass were wildly
shaken.

On his hands and knees the Apache retreated, his head turned to watch
behind him. He saw the flirt of a triangular flap-tail in the mouth of
the cleft. The calf had escaped. And now the threshing in the bushes
stilled.

Was the thing stalking him? He got to his feet, for the first time
hearing clearly the continued yapping, as if a battle was in progress.
Then the second of the adult beasts came into view, backing and turning,
trying to keep lowered head with menacing double horn always pointed to
the coyotes dancing a teasing, worrying circle about it.

One of the coyotes flung up its head, looked upslope, and barked. Then,
as one, both rushed the fighting beast, but for the first time from the
same side, leaving it a clear path to retreat. It made a rush before
which they fled easily, and then it whirled with a speed and grace,
which did not fit its ungainly, ill-proportioned body, and jumped
toward the cleft, the coyotes making no effort to hinder its escape.

Travis came out of cover, approaching the brush which had concealed the
crash of the other animal. The actions of the coyotes had convinced him
that there was no danger now; they would never have allowed the escape
of their prey had the first beast not been in difficulties.

His shot with the stone, the Apache decided as he stood moments later
surveying the twitching crumpled body, must have hit the thing in the
head, stunning it. Then the momentum of its charge had carried it full
force against the rock to kill it. Blind luck--or the power of the
_ga-n_? He pulled back as the coyotes came padding up shoulder to
shoulder to inspect the kill. It was truly more theirs than his.

Their prey yielded not only food but a weapon for Travis. Instead of the
belt knife he had remembered having, he was now equipped with two. The
double horn had been easy to free from the shattered skull, and some
careful work with stones had broken off one prong at just the angle he
wanted. So now he had a short and a longer tool, defense. At least they
were better than the stone with which he had entered the hunt.

Nalik'ideyu pushed past him to lap daintily at the water. Then she sat
up on her haunches, watching Travis as he smoothed the horn with a
stone.

"A knife," he said to her, "this will be a knife. And--" he glanced up,
measuring the value of the wood represented by trees and bushes--"then a
bow. With a bow we shall hunt better."

The coyote yawned, her yellow eyes half closed, her whole pose one of
satisfaction and contentment.

"A knife," Travis repeated, "and a bow." He needed weapons; he had to
have them!

Why? His hand stopped scraping. Why? The toad-faced double horn had been
quick to attack, but Travis could have avoided it, and it had not hunted
him first. Why was he ridden by this fear that he must not be unarmed?

He dipped his hand into the pool of the spring and lifted the water to
cool his sweating face. The coyote moved, turned around in the grass,
crushing down the growth into a nest in which she curled up, head on
paws. But Travis sat back on his heels, his now idle hands hanging down
between his knees, and forced himself to the task of sorting out jumbled
memories.

This landscape was wrong--totally unlike what it should be--but it was
real. He had helped kill this alien creature. He had eaten its meat,
raw. Its horn lay within touch now. All that was real and unchangeable.
Which meant that the rest of it, that other desert world in which he had
wandered with his kind, ridden horses, raided invading men of another
race, that was not real--or else far, far removed from where he now sat.

Yet there had been no dividing line between those two worlds. One moment
he had been in the desert place, returning from a successful foray
against the Mexicans. Mexicans! Travis caught at that identification,
tried to use it as a thread to draw closer to the beginning of his
mystery.

Mexicans.... And he was an Apache, one of the Eagle people, one who rode
with Cochise. No!

Sweat again beaded his face where the water had cooled it. He was not of
that past. He was Travis Fox, of the very late twentieth century, not a
nomad of the middle nineteenth! He was of Team A of the project!

The Arizona desert and then this! From one to the other in an instant.
He looked about him in rising fear. Wait! He had been in the dark when
he got out of the desert, lying in a box. Getting out, he had crawled
down a passage to reach moonlight, strange moonlight.

A box in which he had lain, a passage with smooth metallic walls, and an
alien world at the end of it.

The coyote's ears twitched, her head came up, she was staring at the
man's drawn face, at his eyes with their core of fear. She whined.

Travis caught up the two pieces of horn, thrust them into his sash belt,
and got to his feet. Nalik'ideyu sat up, her head cocked a little to one
side. As the man turned to seek his own back trail she padded along in
his wake and whined for Naginlta. But Travis was more intent now on what
he must prove to himself than he was on the actions of the two animals.

It was a wandering trail, and now he did not question his skill in being
able to follow it so unerringly. The sun was hot. Winged things buzzed
from the bushes, small scuttling things fled from him through the tall
grass. Once Naginlta growled a warning which led them all to a detour,
and Travis might not have picked up the proper trace again had not the
coyote scout led him to it.

"Who are you?" he asked once, and then guessed it would have better been
said, "What are you?" These were not animals, or rather they were more
than the animals he had always known. And one part of him, the part
which remembered the desert rancherias where Cochise had ruled, said
they were spirits. Yet that other part of him.... Travis shook his
head, accepting them now for what they were--welcome company in an alien
place.

The day wore on close to sunset, and still Travis followed that
wandering trail. The need which drove him kept him going through the
rough country of hills and ravines. Now the mist lifted above towering
walls of mountains very near him, yet not the mountains of his memory.
These were dull brown, with a forbidding look, like sun-dried skulls
baring teeth in warning against all comers.

With great difficulty, Travis topped a rise. Ahead against the skyline
stood both coyotes. And, as the man joined them, first one and then the
other flung back its head and sounded the sobbing, shattering cry which
had been a part of that other life.

The Apache looked down. His puzzle was answered in part. The wreckage
crumpled on the mountain side was identifiable--a spaceship! Cold fear
gripped him and his own head went back; from between his tight lips came
a cry as desolate and despairing as the one the animals had voiced.



4


Fire, mankind's oldest ally, weapon, tool, leaped high before the naked
stone of the mountain side. Men sat cross-legged about it, fifteen of
them. And behind, guarded by the flames and that somber circle, were the
women. There was a uniformity in this gathering. The members were
plainly all of the same racial stock, of medium height, stocky yet fined
down to the peak of stamina and endurance, their skin brown, their
shoulder-length hair black. And they were all young--none over thirty,
some still in their late teens. Alike, too, was a certain drawn look in
their faces, a tenseness of the eyes and mouth as they listened to
Travis.

"So we must be on Topaz. Do any of you remember boarding the ship?"

"No. Only that we awoke within it." Across the fire one chin lifted; the
eyes which caught Travis' held a deep, smoldering anger. "This is more
trickery of the Pinda-lick-o-yi, the White Eyes. Between us there has
never been fair dealing. They have broken their promise as a man breaks
a rotten stick, for their words are as rotten. And it was you, Fox, who
brought us to listen to them."

A stir about the circle, a murmur from the women.

"And do I not also sit here with you in this strange wilderness?" he
countered.

"I do not understand," another of the men held out his hand, palm up, in
a gesture of asking--"what has happened to us. We were in the old Apache
world.... I, Jil-Lee, was riding with Cuchillo Negro as we went down to
the taking of Ramos. And then I was here, in a broken ship and beside me
a dead man who was once my brother. How did I come out of the past of
our people into another world across the stars?"

"Pinda-lick-o-yi tricks!" The first speaker spat into the fire.

"It was the Redax, I think," Travis replied. "I heard Dr. Ashe discuss
this. A new machine which could make a man remember not his own past,
but the past of his ancestors. While we were on that ship we must have
been under its influence, so we lived as our people lived a hundred
years or more ago--"

"And the purpose of such a thing?" Jil-Lee asked.

"To make us more like our ancestors perhaps. It is part of what they
told us at the project. To venture into these new worlds requires a
different type of man than lives on Terra today. Traits we have
forgotten are needed to face the dangers of wild places."

"You, Fox, have been beyond the stars before, and you found there were
such dangers to face?"

"It is true. You have heard of the three worlds I saw when the ship from
the old days took us off, unwilling, to the stars. Did you not all
volunteer to pioneer in this manner so you could also see strange and
new things?"

"But we did not agree to be returned to the past in medicine dreams and
be sent unknowingly into space!"

Travis nodded. "Deklay is right. But I know no more than you why we were
so sent, or why the ship crashed. We have found Dr. Ruthven's body in
the cabin with that new installation. Only we have discovered nothing
else which tells us why we were brought here. With the ship broken, we
must stay."

They were silent now, men and women alike. Behind them lay several days
of activity, nights of exhausted slumber. Against the cliff wall lay the
packs of supplies they had salvaged from the wreck. By mutual consent
they had left the vicinity of the broken globe, following their old
custom of speedily withdrawing from a place of death.

"This is a world empty of men?" Jil-Lee wanted to know.

"So far we have found only animal signs, and the _ga-n_ have not warned
us of anything else----"

"Those devil ones!" Again Deklay spat into the fire. "I say we should
have no dealings with them. The _mba'a_ is no friend to the People."

Again a murmur which seemed one of agreement answered that outburst.
Travis stiffened. Just how much influence had the Redax had over them?
He knew from his own experience that sometimes he had an odd double
reaction--two different feelings which almost sickened him when they
struck simultaneously. And he was beginning to suspect that with some of
the others the return to the past had been far more deep and lasting.
Now Jil-Lee was actually to reason out what had happened. While Deklay
had reverted to an ancestor who had ridden with Victorio or Magnus
Colorado! Travis had a flash of premonition, a chill which made him
half foresee a time when the past and the present might well split them
apart--fatally.

"Devil or _ga-n_." A man with a quiet face, rather deeply sunken eyes,
spoke for the first time. "We are in two minds because of this Redax, so
let us not do anything in haste. Back in the desert world of the People
I have seen the _mba'a_, and he was very clever. With the badger he went
hunting, and when the badger had dug up the rat's nest, so did the
_mba'a_ wait on the other side of the thorny bush and catch those who
would escape that way. Between him and the badger there was no war.
These two who sit over yonder now--they are also hunters and they seem
friendly to us. In a strange place a man needs all the help he can find.
Let us not call names out of old tales, which may mean nothing in fact."

"Buck speaks straightly," Jil-Lee agreed. "We seek a camp which can be
defended. For perhaps there are men here whose hunting territory we have
invaded, though we have not yet seen them. We are a people small in
number and alone. Let us walk softly on trails which are strange to our
feet."

Inwardly Travis sighed in relief. Buck, Jil-Lee ... for the moment their
sensible words appeared to swing the opinions of the party. If either of
them could be established as _haldzil_, or clan leader, they would all
be safer. He himself had no aspirations in that direction and dared not
push too hard. It had been his initial urging which had brought them as
volunteers into the project. Now he was doubly suspect, and especially
by those who thought as Deklay, he was considered too alien to their old
ways.

So far their protests had been fewer than he anticipated. Although
brothers and sisters had followed each other into the team after the
immemorial desire of Apaches to cling to family ties, they were not a
true clan with solidity of that to back them, but representatives of
half a dozen.

Basically, back on Terra, they had all been among the most progressive
of their people--progressive, that is, in the white man's sense of the
word. Travis had a fleeting recognition of his now oblique way of
thinking. He, too, had been marked by the Redax. They had all been
educated in the modern fashion and all possessed a spirit of adventure
which marked them over their fellows. They had volunteered for the team
and successfully passed the tests to weed out the temperamentally unfit
or fainthearted. But all that was before Redax....

Why had they been submitted to that? And why this flight? What had
pushed Dr. Ashe and Murdock and Colonel Kelgarries, time agents he knew
and trusted, into dispatching them without warning to Topaz? Something
had happened, something which had given Dr. Ruthven ascendancy over
those others and had started them on this wild trip.

Travis was conscious of a stir about the firelit circle. The men were
rising, moving back into the shadows, stretching out on the blankets
they had found among other stores on the ship. They had discovered
weapons there--knives, bows, quivers of arrows, all of which they had
been trained to use in the intensive schooling of the project and which
needed no more repair than they themselves could give. And the rations
they carried were field supplies, few of them. Tomorrow they must begin
hunting in earnest....

"Why has this thing been done to us?" Buck was beside Travis, those
quiet eyes sliding past him to seek the fire once more. "I do not think
you were told when the rest of us were not----"

Travis seized upon that. "There are those who say that I knew, agreed?"

"That is so. Once we stood at the same place in time--in our thoughts,
our desires. Now we stand at many places, as if we climbed a stairway,
each at his own speed--a stairway the Pinda-lick-o-yi has set us upon.
Some here, some there, some yet farther above...." He sketched a series
of step outlines in the air. "And in this there is trouble--"

"The truth," Travis agreed. "Yet it is also true that I knew nothing of
this, that I climb with you on these stairs."

"So I believe. But there comes a time when it is best not to be a woman
stirring a pot of boiling stew but rather one who stands quietly at a
distance--"

"You mean?" Travis pressed.

"I say that alone among us you have crossed the stars before, therefore
new things are not so hard to understand. And we need a scout. Also the
coyotes run in your footsteps, and you do not fear them."

It made good sense. Let him scout ahead of the party, taking the coyotes
with him. Stay away from the camp for a while and speak small--until the
people on Buck's stairway were more closely united.

"I go in the morning," Travis agreed. He could slip away tonight, but
just now he could not force himself away from the fire, from the
companionship.

"You might take Tsoay with you," Buck continued.

Travis waited for him to enlarge on that suggestion. Tsoay was one of
the youngest of their group, Buck's own cross-cousin and near-brother.

"It is well," Buck explained, "that we learn this land, and it has
always been our custom that the younger walk in the footprints of the
older. Also, not only should trails be learned, but also men."

Travis caught the thought behind that. Perhaps by taking the younger men
as scouts, one after another, he could build up among them a following
of sorts. Among the Apaches, leadership was wholly a matter of
personality. Until the reservation days, chieftains had gained their
position by force of character alone, though they might come
successively from one family clan over several generations.

He did not want the chieftainship here. No, but neither did he want
growing whispers working about him to cut him off from his people. To
every Apache severance from the clan was a little death. He must have
those who would back him if Deklay, or those who thought like Deklay,
turned grumbling into open hostility.

"Tsoay is one quick to learn," Travis agreed. "We go at dawn--"

"Along the mountain range?" Buck inquired.

"If we seek a protected place for the rancheria, yes. The mountains have
always provided good strongholds for the People."

"And you think there is need for a fort?"

Travis shrugged. "I have been one day's journey out into this world. I
saw nothing but animals. But that is no promise that elsewhere there are
no enemies. The planet was on the tapes we brought back from that other
world, and so it was known to the others who once rode between star and
star as we rode between ranch and town. If they had this world set on a
journey tape, it was for a reason; that reason may still be in force."

"Yet it was long ago that these star people rode so...." Buck mused.
"Would the reason last so long?"

Travis remembered two other worlds, one of weird desert inhabited by
beast things--or had they once been human, human to the point of
possessing intelligence?--that had come out of sand burrows at night to
attack a spaceship. And the second world where the ruins of a giant city
had stood choked with jungle vegetation, where he had made a blowgun
from tubes of rustless metal as a weapon gift for small winged men--but
were they men? Both had been remnants of that ancient galactic empire.

"Some things could so remain," he answered soberly. "If we find them, we
must be careful. But first a good site for the rancheria."

"There is no return to home for us," Buck stated flatly.

"Why do you say that? There could be a rescue ship later--"

The other raised his eyes again to Travis. "When you slept under the
Redax how did you ride?"

"As a warrior--raiding ... living...."

"And I--I was one with _go'ndi_," Buck returned simply.

"But--"

"But the white man has assured us that such power--the power of a
chief--does not exist? Yes, the Pinda-lick-o-yi has told us so many
things. He is busy, busy with his tools, his machines, always busy. And
those who think in another fashion cannot be measured by his rules, so
they are foolish dreamers. Not all white men think so. There was Dr.
Ashe--he was beginning to understand a little.

"Perhaps I, too, am standing still, halfway up the stairway of the past.
But of this I am very sure: For us, there will be no return to our own
place. And the time will come when something new shall grow from the
seed of the past. Also it is necessary that you be one of the tenders of
that growth. So I urge you, take Tsoay, and the next time, Lupe. For the
young who may be swayed this way and that by words--as the wind shakes a
small tree--must be given firm roots."

In Travis education warred with instinct, just as the picture Redax had
planted in his mind had warred with his awaking to this alien landscape.
Yet now he believed he must be guided by what he felt. And he knew that
no man of his race would claim _go'ndi_, the power of spirit known only
to a great chief, unless he had actually felt it swell within him. It
might have been fostered by hallucination in the past, but the aura of
it carried into the here and now. And Travis had no doubts that Buck
believed implicitly in what he said, and that belief carried credulity
to others.

"This is wisdom, _Nantan_--"

Buck shook his head. "I am no _nantan_, no chief. But of some things I
am sure. You also be sure of what lies within you, younger brother!"

On the third day, ranging eastward along the base of the mountain range,
Travis found what he believed would be an acceptable camp site. There
was a canyon with a good spring of water cut round by well-marked game
trails. A series of ledges brought him up to a small plateau where scrub
wood could be used to build the wickiups. Water and food lay within
reach, and the ledge approach was easy to defend. Even Deklay and his
fellow malcontents were forced to concede the value of the site.

His duty to the clan accomplished, Travis returned to his own concern,
one which had haunted him for days. Topaz had been taped by men of the
vanished star empire. Therefore, the planet was important, but why? As
yet he had found no indication that anything above the intelligence
level of the split horns was native to this world. But he was gnawed by
the certainty that there _was_ something here, waiting.... And the
desire to learn what it was became an ever-burning ache.

Perhaps he was what Deklay had accused him of being, one who had come to
follow the road of the Pinda-lick-o-yi too closely. For Travis was
content to scout with only the coyotes for company, and he did not find
the loneliness of the unknown planet as intimidating as most of the
others.

He was checking his small trail pack on the fourth day after they had
settled on the plateau when Buck and Jil-Lee hunkered down beside him.

"You go to hunt--?" Buck broke the silence first.

"Not for meat."

"What do you fear? That _ndendai_--enemy people--have marked this as
their land?" Jil-Lee questioned.

"That may be true, but now I hunt for what this world was at one time,
the reason why the ancient star men marked it as their own."

"And this knowledge may be of value to us?" Jil-Lee asked slowly. "Will
it bring food to our mouths, shelter for our bodies--mean life for us?"

"All that is possible. It is the unknowing which is bad."

"True. Unknowing is always bad," Buck agreed. "But the bow which is
fitted to one hand and strength of arm, may not be suited to another.
Remember that, younger brother. Also, do you go alone?"

"With Naginlta and Nalik'ideyu I am not alone."

"Take Tsoay with you also. The four-footed ones are indeed _ga-n_ for
the service of those they like, but it is not good that man walks alone
from his kind."

There it was again, the feeling of clan solidarity which Travis did not
always share. On the other hand, Tsoay would not be a hindrance. On
other scouts the boy had proved to have a keen eye for the country and a
liking for experimentation which was not a universal attribute even
among those of his own age.

"I would go to find a path through the mountains; it may be a long
trail," Travis half protested.

"You believe what you seek may lie to the north?"

Travis shrugged. "I do not know. How can I? But it will be another way
of seeking."

"Tsoay shall go. He keeps silent before older warriors as is proper for
the untried, but his thoughts fly free as do yours," Buck replied. "It
is in him also, this need to see new places."

"There is this," Jil-Lee got to his feet, "--do not go so far, brother,
that you may not easily find a way to return. This is a wide land, and
within it we are but a handful of men alone----"

"That, too, I know." Travis thought he could read more than one kind of
warning in Jil-Lee's words.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were the second day away from the plateau camp, and climbing, when
they chanced upon the pass Travis had hoped might exist. Before them lay
an abrupt descent to what appeared to be open plains country cloaked in
a dusky amber Travis now knew was the thick grass found in the southern
valleys. Tsoay pointed with his chin.

"Wide land--good for horses, cattle, ranches...."

But all those lay far beyond the black space surrounding them. Travis
wondered if there was any native animal which could serve man in place
of the horse.

"Do we go down?" Tsoay asked.

From this point Travis could sight no break far out on the amber plain,
no sign of any building or any disturbance of its smooth emptiness. Yet
it drew him. "We go," he decided.

Close as it had looked from the pass, the plain was yet a day and a
night, spent in careful watching by turns, ahead of them. It was
midmorning of the second day that they left the foothill breaks, and the
grass of the open country was waist high about them. Travis could see it
rippling where the coyotes threaded ahead. Then he was conscious of a
persistent buzzing, a noise which irritated faintly until he was
compelled to trace it to its source.

The grass had been trampled flat for an irregular patch, with a trail
of broken stalks out of the heart of the plain. At one side was a
buzzing, seething mass of glitter-winged insects which Travis already
knew as carrion eaters. They arose reluctantly from their feast as he
approached.

He drew a short breath which was close to a grunt of astounded
recognition. What lay there was so impossible that he could not believe
the evidence of his eyes. Tsoay gave a sharp exclamation, went down on
one knee for a closer examination, then looked at Travis over his
shoulder, his eyes wide, more than a trace of excitement in his voice.

"Horse dung--and fresh!"



5


"There was one horse, unshod but ridden. It came here from the plains
and it had been ridden hard, going lame. There was a rest here, maybe
shortly after dawn." Travis sorted out what they had learned by a
careful examination of the ground.

Nalik'ideyu and Naginlta, Tsoay, watched and listened as if the coyotes
as well as the boy could understand every word.

"There is that also--" Tsoay indicated the one trace left by the unknown
rider, an impression blurred as if some attempt had been made to conceal
it.

"Small and light, the rider is both. Also in fear, I think--"

"We follow?" Tsoay asked.

"We follow," Travis assented. He looked to the coyotes, and as he had
learned to do, thought out his message. This trail was the one to be
followed. When the rider was sighted they were to report back if the
Apaches had not yet caught up.

There was no visible agreement; the coyotes simply vanished through the
wall of grass.

"Then there are others here," Tsoay said as he and Travis began their
return to the foothills. "Perhaps there was a second ship--"

"That horse," Travis said, shaking his head. "There was no provision in
the project for the shipping of horses."

"Perhaps they have always been here."

"Not so. To each world its own species of beasts. But we shall know the
truth when we look upon that horse--and its rider."

It was warmer this side of the mountains, and the heat of the plains
beat at them. Travis thought that the horse might well be seeking water
if allowed his head. Where did he come from? And why had his rider gone
in haste and fear?

This was rough, broken country and the tired, limping horse seemed to
have picked the easiest way through it, without any hindrance from the
man with him. Travis spotted a soft patch of ground with a deep-set
impression. This time there had been no attempt at erasure; the boot
track was plain. The rider had dismounted and was leading the horse--yet
he was moving swiftly.

They followed the tracks around the bend of a shallow cut and found
Nalik'ideyu waiting for them. Between her forefeet was a bundle still
covered with smears of soft earth, and behind her were drag marks from a
hole under the overhang of a bush. The coyote had plainly just
disinterred her find. Travis squatted down to examine it, using his eyes
before his hands.

It was a bag made of hide, probably the hide of one of the split horns
by its color and the scraps of long hair which had been left in a
simple decorative fringe along the bottom. The sides had been laced
together neatly by someone used to working in leather, the closing flap
lashed down tightly with braided thong loops.

As the Apache leaned closer to it he could smell a mixture of odors--the
hide itself, horse, wood smoke, and other scents--strange to him. He
undid the fastenings and pulled out the contents.

There was a shirt, with long full sleeves, of a gray wool undyed from
the sheep. Then a very bulky short jacket which, after fingering it
doubtfully, Travis decided was made of felt. It was elaborately
decorated with highly colorful embroidery, and there was no mistaking
the design--a heavy antlered Terran deer in mortal combat with what
might be a puma. It was bordered with a geometric pattern of beautiful,
oddly familiar work. Travis smoothed it flat over his knee and tried to
remember where he had seen its like before ... a book! An illustration
in a book! But which book, when? Not recently, and it was not a pattern
known to his own people.

Twisted into the interior of the jacket was a silklike scarf, clear,
light blue--the blue of Terra's cloudless skies on certain days, so
different from the yellow shield now hanging above them. A small case of
leather, with silhouetted designs cut from hide and affixed to it,
designs as intricate and complex as the embroidery on the jacket--art of
a high standard. In the case a knife and spoon, the bowl and blade of
dull metal, the handles of horn carved with horse heads, the tiny
wide-open eyes set with glittering stones.

Personal possessions dear to the owner, so that when they must be
abandoned for flight they were hidden with some hope of recovery. Travis
slowly repacked them, trying to fold the garments into their original
creases. He was still puzzled by those designs.

"Who?" Tsoay touched the edge of the jacket with one finger, his
admiration for it plain to read.

"I don't know. But it is of our own world."

"That is a deer, though the horns are wrong," Tsoay agreed. "And the
puma is very well done. The one who made this knows animals well."

Travis pushed the jacket back into the bag and laced it shut. But he did
not return it to the hiding place. Instead, he made it a part of his own
pack. If they did not succeed in running down the fugitive, he wanted an
opportunity for closer study, a chance to remember just where he had
seen that picture before.

The narrow valley where they had discovered the bag sloped upward, and
there were signs that their quarry found the ground harder to cover. The
second discard lay in open sight--again a leather bag which Nalik'ideyu
sniffed and then began to lick eagerly, thrusting her nose into its
flaccid interior.

Travis picked it up, finding it damp to the touch. It had an odd smell,
like that of sour milk. He ran a finger around inside, brought it out
wet; yet this was neither water bag nor canteen. And he was completely
mystified when he turned it inside out, for though the inner surface was
wet, the bag was empty. He offered it to the coyote, and she took it
promptly.

Holding it firmly to the earth with her forepaws, she licked the
surface, though Travis could see no deposit which might attract her. It
was clear that the bag had once held some sort of food.

"Here they rested," Tsoay said. "Not too far ahead now--"

But now they were in the kind of country where a man could hide in order
to check on his back trail. Travis studied the terrain and then made his
own plans. They would leave the plainly marked trace of the fugitive,
strike out upslope to the east and try to parallel the other's route. In
that maze of rock outcrops and wood copses there was tricky going.

Nalik'ideyu gave a last lick to the bag as Travis signaled her. She
regarded him, then turned her head to survey the country before them. At
last she trotted on, her buff coat melting into the vegetation. With
Naginlta she would scout the quarry and keep watch, leaving the men to
take the longer way around.

Travis pulled off his shirt, folding it into a packet and tucking it
beneath the folds of his sash-belt, just as his ancestors had always
done before a fight. Then he cached his pack and Tsoay's. As they began
the stiff climb they carried only their bows, the quivers slung on their
shoulders, and the long-bladed knives. But they flitted like shadows
and, like the coyotes, their red-brown bodies became indistinguishable
against the bronze of the land.

They should be, Travis judged, not more than an hour away from sundown.
And they had to locate the stranger before the dark closed in. His
respect for their quarry had grown. The unknown might have been driven
by fear, but he held to a good pace and headed intelligently for just
the kind of country which would serve him best. If Travis could only
remember where he had seen the like of that embroidery! It had a
meaning which might be important now....

Tsoay slipped behind a wind-gnarled tree and disappeared. Travis stooped
under a line of bush limbs. Both were working their way south, using the
peak ahead as an agreed landmark, pausing at intervals to examine the
landscape for any hint of a man and horse.

Travis squirmed snake fashion into an opening between two rock pillars
and lay there, the westering sun hot on his bare shoulders and back, his
chin propped on his forearm. In the band holding back his hair he had
inserted some concealing tufts of wiry mountain grass, the ends of which
drooped over his rugged features.

Only seconds earlier he had caught that fragmentary warning from one of
the coyotes. What they sought was very close, it was right down there.
Both animals were in ambush, awaiting orders. And what they found was
familiar, another confirmation that the fugitive was Terran, not native
to Topaz.

With searching eyes, Travis examined the site indicated by the coyotes.
His respect for the stranger was raised another notch. In time either he
or Tsoay might have sighted that hideaway without the aid of the animal
scouts; on the other hand, they might have failed. For the fugitive had
truly gone to earth, using some pocket or crevice in the mountain wall.

There was no sign of the horse, but a branch here and there had been
pulled out of place, the scars of their removal readable when one knew
where to look. Odd, Travis began to puzzle over what he saw. It was
almost as if whatever pursuit the stranger feared would come not at
ground level but from above; the precautions the stranger had taken were
to veil his retreat to the reaches of the mountain side.

Had he expected any trailer to make a flanking move from up that slope
where the Apaches now lay? Travis' teeth nipped the weathered skin of
his forearm. Could it be that at some time during the day's journeying
the fugitive had doubled back, having seen his trackers? But there had
been no traces of any such scouting, and the coyotes would surely have
warned them. Human eyes and ears could be tricked, but Travis trusted
the senses of Naginlta and Nalik'ideyu far above his own.

No, he did not believe that the rider expected the Apaches. But the man
did expect someone or something which would come upon him from the
heights. The heights.... Travis rolled his head slightly to look at the
upper reaches of the hills about him--with suspicion.

In their own journey across the mountains and through the pass they had
found nothing threatening. Dangerous animals might roam there. There had
been some paw marks, one such trail the coyotes had warned against. But
the type of precautions the stranger had taken were against intelligent,
thinking beings, not against animals more likely to track by scent than
by sight.

And if the stranger expected an attack from above, then Travis and Tsoay
must be alert. Travis analyzed each feature of the hillside, setting in
his mind a picture of every inch of ground they must cross. Just as he
had wanted daylight as an ally before, so now was he willing to wait for
the shadows of twilight.

He closed his eyes in a final check, able to recall the details of the
hiding place, knowing that he could reach it when the conditions
favored, without mistake. Then he edged back from his vantage point, and
raising his fingers to his lips, made a small angry chittering, three
times repeated. One of the species inhabiting these heights, as they had
noted earlier, was a creature about as big as the palm of a man's hand,
resembling nothing so much as a round ball of ruffled feathers, though
its covering might actually have been a silky, fluffy fur. Its short
legs could cover ground at an amazing speed, and it had the bold
impudence of a creature with few natural enemies. This was its usual
cry.

Tsoay's hand waved Travis on to where the younger man had taken position
behind the bleached trunk of a fallen tree.

"He hides," Tsoay whispered.

"Against trouble from above." Travis added his own observation.

"But not us, I think."

So Tsoay had come to that conclusion too? Travis tried to gauge the
nearness of twilight. There was a period after the passing of Topaz' sun
when the dusky light played odd tricks with shadows. That would be the
first time for their move. He said as much, and Tsoay nodded eagerly.
They sat with their backs to a boulder, the tree trunk serving as a
screen, and chewed methodically on ration tablets. There was energy and
sustenance in the tasteless squares which would support men, even though
their stomachs continued to demand the satisfaction of fresh meat.

Taking turns, they dozed a little. But the last banners of Topaz' sun
were still in the sky when Travis judged the shadows cover enough. He
had no way of knowing how the stranger was armed. Though he used a horse
for transportation, he might well carry a rifle and the most modern
Terran sidearms.

The Apaches' bows were little use for infighting, but they had their
knives. However, Travis wanted to take the fugitive unharmed if he
could. There was information he must have. So he did not even draw his
knife as he started downhill.

When he reached a pool of violet dusk at the bottom of the small ravine
Naginlta's eyes regarded him knowingly. Travis signaled with his hand
and thought out what would be the coyotes' part in this surprise attack.
The prick-eared silhouette vanished. Uphill the chitter of a fluff-fur
sounded twice--Tsoay was in position.

A howl ... wailing ... sobbing ... was heard, one of the keening songs
of the _mba'a_. Travis darted forward. He heard the nicker of a
frightened horse, a clicking which could have marked the pawing of hoof
on gravel, saw the brush hiding the stranger's hole tremble, a portion
of it fall away.

Travis sped on, his moccasins making no sound on the ground. One of the
coyotes gave tongue for the second time, the eerie wailing rising to a
yapping which echoed from the rocks about them. Travis poised for a
dive.

Another section of those artfully heaped branches had given way and a
horse reared, its upflung head plainly marked against the sky. A blurred
figure weaved back and forth before it, trying to control the mount. The
stranger had his hands full, certainly no weapon drawn--this was it!

Travis leaped. His hands found their mark, the shoulders of the
stranger. There was a shrill cry from the other as he tried to turn in
the Apache's hold, to face his attacker. But Travis bore them both on,
rolling almost under the feet of the horse, sliding downhill, the
unknown's writhing body pinned down by the Apache's weight and his
clasp, tight as an iron grip, about the other's chest and upper arms.

He felt his opponent go limp, but was suspicious enough not to release
that hold, for the heavy breathing of the stranger was not that of an
unconscious man. They lay so, the unknown still tight in Travis' hold
but no longer fighting. The Apache could hear Tsoay soothing the horse
with the purring words of a practiced horseman.

Still the stranger did not resume the struggle. They could not lie in
this position all night, Travis thought with a wry twist of amusement.
He shifted his hold, and got the lightning-quick response he had
expected. But it was not quite quick enough, for Travis had the other's
hands behind his back, cupping slender, almost delicate wrists together.

"Throw me a cord!" he called to Tsoay.

The younger man ran up with an extra bow cord, and in a moment they had
bonds on the struggling captive. Travis rolled their catch over,
reaching down for a fistful of hair to pull the head into a patch of
clearer light.

In his grasp that hair came loose, a braid unwinding. He grunted as he
looked down into the stranger's face. Dust marks were streaked now with
tear runnels, but the gray eyes which turned fiercely on him said that
their owner cried more in rage than fear.

His captive might be wearing long trousers tucked into curved, toed
boots, and a loose overblouse, but she was certainly not only a woman,
but a very young and attractive one. Also, at the present moment, an
exceedingly angry one. And behind that anger was fear, the fear of one
fighting hopelessly against insurmountable odds. But as she eyed Travis
now her expression changed.

He felt she had expected another captor altogether and was astounded at
the sight of him. Her tongue touched her lips, moistening them, and now
the fear in her was another kind--the wary fear of one facing a totally
new and perhaps dangerous thing.

"Who are you?" Travis spoke in English, for he had no doubts that she
was Terran.

Now she sucked in her breath with a gasp of pure astonishment.

"Who are _you_?" she parroted his question in a marked accent. English
was not her native tongue, he was sure.

Travis reached out, and again his hands closed on her shoulders. She
started to twist and then realized he was merely pulling her up to a
sitting position. Some of the fear had left her eyes, an intent interest
taking its place.

"You are not Sons of the Blue Wolf," she stated in her heavily accented
speech.

Travis smiled. "I am the Fox, not the Wolf," he returned. "And the
Coyote is my brother." He snapped his fingers at the shadows, and the
two animals came noiselessly into sight. Her gaze widened even more at
Naginlta and Nalik'ideyu, and she deduced the bond which must exist
between her captor and the beasts.

"This woman is also of our world." Tsoay spoke in Apache, looking over
their prisoner with frank interest. "Only she is not of the People."

Sons of the Blue Wolf? Travis thought again of the embroidery designs on
the jacket. Who had called themselves by that picturesque
title--where--and when in time?

"What do you fear, Daughter of the Blue Wolf?" he asked.

And with that question he seemed to touch some button activating terror.
She flung back her head so that she could see the darkening sky.

"The flyer!" Her voice was muted as if more than a whisper would carry
to the stars just coming into brilliance above them. "They will come ...
tracking. I did not reach the inner mountains in time."

There was a despairing note in that which cut through to Travis, who
found that he, too, was searching the sky, not knowing what he looked
for or what kind of menace it promised, only that it was real danger.



6


"The night comes," Tsoay spoke slowly in English. "Do these you fear
hunt in the dark?"

She shook her head to free her forehead from a coil of braid, pulled
loose in her struggle with Travis.

"They do not need eyes or such noses as those four-footed hunters of
yours. They have a machine to track--"

"Then what purpose is this brush pile of yours?" Travis raised his chin
at the disturbed hiding place.

"They do not constantly use the machine, and one can hope. But at night
they can ride on its beam. We are not far enough into the hills to lose
them. Bahatur went lame, and so I was slowed...."

"And what lies in these mountains that those you fear dare not invade
them?" Travis continued.

"I do not know, save if one can climb far enough inside, one is safe
from pursuit."

"I ask it again: Who are you?" The Apache leaned forward, his face in
the fast-fading light now only inches away from hers. She did not shrink
from his close scrutiny but met him eye to eye. This was a woman of
proud independence, truly a chief's daughter, Travis decided.

"I am of the People of the Blue Wolf. We were brought across the star
lanes to make this world safe for ... for ... the...." She hesitated,
and now there was a shade of puzzlement on her face. "There is a
reason--a dream. No, there is the dream and there is reality. I am
Kaydessa of the Golden Horde, but sometimes I remember other
things--like this speech of strange words I am mouthing now----"

"The Golden Horde!" Travis knew now. The embroidery, Sons of the Blue
Wolf, all fitted into a special pattern. But what a pattern! Scythian
art, the ornament that the warriors of Genghis Khan bore so proudly.
Tatars, Mongols--the barbarians who had swept from the fastness of the
steppes to change the course of history, not only in Asia but across the
plains of middle Europe. The men of the Emperor Khans who had ridden
behind the yak-tailed standards of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan,
Tamerlane--!

"The Golden Horde," Travis repeated once again. "That lies far back in
the history of another world, Wolf Daughter."

She stared at him, a queer, lost expression on her dust-grimed face.

"I know." Her voice was so muted he could hardly distinguish the words.
"My people live in two times, and many do not realize that."

Tsoay had crouched down beside them to listen. Now he put out his hand,
touching Travis' shoulder.

"Redax?"

"Or its like." For Travis was sure of one point. The project, which had
been training three teams for space colonization--one of Eskimos, one of
Pacific Islanders, and one of his own Apaches--had no reason or chance
to select Mongols from the wild past of the raiding Hordes. There was
only one nation on Terra which could have picked such colonists.

"You are Russian." He studied her carefully, intent on noting the effect
of his words.

But she did not lose that lost look. "Russian ... Russian ..." she
repeated, as if the very word was strange.

Travis was alarmed. Any Russian colony planted here could well possess
technicians with machines capable of tracking a fugitive, and if
mountain heights were protection against such a hunt, he intended to
gain them, even by night traveling. He said this to Tsoay, and the other
emphatically agreed.

"The horse is too lame to go on," the younger man reported.

Travis hesitated for a long second. Since the time they had stolen their
first mounts from the encroaching Spanish, horses had always been wealth
to his people. To leave an animal which could well serve the clan was
not right. But they dared not waste time with a lame beast.

"Leave it here, free," he ordered.

"And the woman?"

"She goes with us. We must learn all we can of these people and what
they do here. Listen, Wolf Daughter," again Travis leaned close to make
sure she was listening to him as he spoke with emphasis--"you will
travel with us into these high places, and there will be no trouble from
you." He drew his knife and held the blade warningly before her eyes.

"It was already in my mind to go to the mountains," she told him evenly.
"Untie my hands, brave warrior, you have surely nothing to fear from a
woman."

His hand made a swift sweep and plucked a knife as long and keen as his
from the folds of the sash beneath her loose outer garment.

"Not now, Wolf Daughter, since I have drawn your fangs."

He helped her to her feet and slashed the cord about her wrists with her
knife, which he then fastened to his own belt. Alerting the coyotes, he
dispatched them ahead; and the three started on, the Mongol girl between
the two Apaches. The abandoned horse nickered lonesomely and then began
to graze on tufts of grass, moving slowly to favor his foot.

The two moons rode the sky as the hours advanced, their beams fighting
the shadows. Travis felt reasonably safe from any attack at ground
level, depending upon the coyotes for warning. But he held them all to a
steady pace. And he did not question the girl again until all three of
them hunkered down at a small mountain spring, to dash icy water over
their faces and drink from cupped hands.

"Why do you flee your own people, Wolf Daughter?"

"My name is Kaydessa," she corrected him.

He chuckled with laughter at the prim tone of her voice. "And you see
here Tsoay of the People--the Apaches--while I am Fox." He was giving
her the English equivalent of his tribal name.

"Apaches." She tried to repeat the word with the same accent he had
used. "And what are Apaches?"

"Indians--Amerindians," he explained. "But you have not answered my
question, Kaydessa. Why do you run from your own people?"

"Not from my people," she said, shaking her head determinedly. "From
those others. It is like this--Oh, how can I make you understand
rightly?" She spread her wet hands out before her in the moonlight, the
damp patches on her sleeves clinging to her arms. "There are my people
of the Golden Horde, though once we were different and we can remember
bits of that previous life. Then there are also the men who live in the
sky ship and use the machine so that we think only the thoughts they
would have us think. Now why," she looked at Travis intently--"do I wish
to tell you all this? It is strange. You say you are
Indian--American--are we then enemies? There is a part memory which says
that we are ... were...."

"Let us rather say," he corrected her, "that the Apaches and the Horde
are not enemies here and now, no matter what was before." That was the
truth, Travis recognized. By all accounts his people had come out of
Asia in the very dim beginnings of migrating peoples. For all her
dark-red hair and gray eyes, this girl who had been arbitrarily returned
to a past just as they had been by Redax, could well be a distant
clan-cousin.

"You--" Kaydessa's fingers rested for a moment on his wrist--"you, too,
were sent here from across the stars. Is this not so?"

"It is so."

"And there are those here who govern you now?"

"No. We are free."

"How did you become free?" she demanded fiercely.

Travis hesitated. He did not want to tell of the wrecked ship, the fact
that his people possessed no real defenses against the
Russian-controlled colony.

"We went to the mountains," he replied evasively.

"Your governing machine failed?" Kaydessa laughed. "Ah, they are so
great, those men of the machines. But they are smaller and weaker when
their machines cannot obey them."

"It is so with your camp?" Travis probed gently. He was not quite sure
of her meaning, but he dared not ask more detailed questions without
dangerously revealing his own ignorance.

"In some manner their control machine--it can only work upon those
within a certain distance. They discovered that in the days of the first
landing, when hunters went out freely and many of them did not return.
After that when hunters were sent out to learn how lay this land, they
went along in the flyer with a machine so that there would be no more
escapes. But we knew!" Kaydessa's fingers curled into small fists. "Yes,
we knew that if we could get beyond the machines, there was freedom for
us. And we planned--many of us--planned. Then nine or ten sleeps ago
those others were very excited. They gathered in their ship, watching
their machines. And something happened. For a while all those machines
went dead.

"Jagatai, Kuchar, my brother Hulagur, Menlik...." She was counting the
names off on her fingers. "They raided the horse herd, rode out...."

"And you?"

"I, too, should have ridden. But there was Aljar, my sister--Kuchar's
wife. She was very near her time and to ride thus, fleeing and fast,
might kill her and the child. So I did not go. Her son was born that
night, but the others had the machine at work once more. We might long
to go here," she brought her fist up to her breast, and then raised it
to her head--"but there was that _here_ which kept us to the camp and
their will. We only knew that if we could reach the mountains, we might
find our people who had already gained their freedom."

"But you are here. How did you escape?" Tsoay wanted to know.

"They knew that I would have gone had it not been for Aljar. So they
said they would make her ride out with them unless I played guide to
lead them to my brother and the others. Then I knew I must take up the
sword of duty and hunt with them. But I prayed that the spirits of the
upper air look with favor upon me, and they granted aid...." Her eyes
held a look of wonder. "For when we were out on the plains and well away
from the settlement, a grass devil attacked the leader of the searching
party, and he dropped the mind control and so it was broken. Then I
rode. Blue Sky Above knows how I rode. And those others are not with
their horses as are the people of the Wolf."

"When did this happen?"

"Three suns ago."

Travis counted back in his mind. Her date for the failure of the machine
in the Russian camp seemed to coincide with the crash landing of the
American ship. Had one thing any connection with the other? It was very
possible. The planeting spacer might have fought some kind of weird duel
with the other colony before it plunged to earth on the other side of
the mountain range.

"Do you know where in these mountains your people hide?"

Kaydessa shook her head. "Only that I must head south, and when I reach
the highest peak make a signal fire on the north slope. But that I
cannot do now, for those in the flyer may see it. I know they are on my
trail, for twice I have seen it. Listen, Fox, I ask this of you--I,
Kaydessa, who am eldest daughter to the Khan--for you are like unto us,
a warrior and a brave man, that I believe. It may be that you cannot be
governed by their machine, for you have not rested under their spell,
nor are of our blood. Therefore, if they come close enough to send forth
the call, the call I must obey as if I were a slave dragged upon a horse
rope, then do you bind my hands and feet and hold me here, no matter how
much I struggle to follow that command. For that which is truly me does
not want to go. Will you swear this by the fires which expel demons?"

The utter sincerity of her tone convinced Travis that she was pleading
for aid against a danger she firmly believed in. Whether she was right
about his immunity to the Russian mental control was another matter, and
one he would rather not put to the test.

"We do not swear by your fires, Blue Wolf Maiden, but by the Path of the
Lightning." His fingers moved as if to curl about the sacred charred
wood his people had once carried as "medicine." "So do I promise!"

She looked at him for a long moment and then nodded in satisfaction.

They left the pool and pushed on toward the mountain slopes, working
their way back to the pass. A low growl out of the dark brought them to
an instant halt. Naginlta's warning was sharp; there was danger ahead,
acute danger.

The moonlight from the moons made a weird pattern of light and dark on
the stretch ahead. Anything from a slinking four-footed hunter to a war
party of intelligent beings might have been lying in wait there.

A flitting shadow out of shadows. Nalik'ideyu pressed against Travis'
legs, making a barrier of her warm body, attracting his attention to a
spot at the left perhaps a hundred yards on. There was a great splotch
of dark there, large enough to hide a really formidable opponent; that
wordless communication between animal and man told Travis that such an
opponent was just what was lurking there.

Whatever lay in ambush beside the upper track was growing impatient as
its destined prey ceased to advance, the coyotes reported.

"Your left--beyond that pointed rock--in the big shadow--"

"Do you see it?" Tsoay demanded.

"No. But the _mba'a_ do."

The men had their bows ready, arrows set to the cords. But in this light
such weapons were practically useless unless the enemy moved into the
path of the moon.

"What is it?" Kaydessa asked in a half whisper.

"Something waits for us ahead."

Before he could stop her, she set her fingers to her lips and gave a
piercing whistle.

There was answering movement in the shadow. Travis shot at that, his
arrow followed instantly by one from Tsoay. There was a cry, scaling up
in a throat-scalding scream which made Travis flinch. Not because of
the sound, but because of the hint which lay behind it--could it have
been a human cry?

The thing flopped out into a patch of moonlight. It was four-limbed, its
body silvery--and it was large. But the worst was that it had been
groveling on all fours when it fell, and now it was rising on its hind
feet, one forepaw striking madly at the two arrows dancing head-deep in
its upper shoulder. Man? No! But something sufficiently manlike to chill
the three downtrail.

A whirling four-footed hunter dashed in, snapped at the creature's legs,
and it squalled again, aiming a blow with a forepaw; but the attacking
coyote was already gone. Together Naginlta and Nalik'ideyu were
harassing the creature, just as they had fought the split horn, giving
the hunters time to shoot. Travis, although he again felt that touch of
horror and disgust he could not account for, shot again.

Between them the Apaches must have sent a dozen arrows into the raving
beast before it went to its knees and Naginlta sprang for its throat.
Even then the coyote yelped and flinched, a bleeding gash across its
head from the raking talons of the dying thing. When it no longer moved,
Travis approached to see more closely what they had brought down. That
smell....

Just as the embroidery on Kaydessa's jacket had awakened memories from
his Terran past, so did this stench remind him of something.
Where--when--had he smelled it before? Travis connected it with dark,
dark and danger. Then he gasped in a half exclamation.

Not on this world, no, but on two others: two worlds of that broken
stellar empire where he had been an involuntary explorer two planet
years ago! The beast things which had lived in the dark of the desert
world the Terrans' wandering galactic derelict had landed upon. Yes, the
beast things whose nature they had never been able to deduce. Were they
the degenerate dregs of a once intelligent species? Or were they
animals, akin to man, but still animals?

The ape-things had controlled the night of the desert world. And they
had been met again--also in the dark--in the ruins of the city which had
been the final goal of the ship's taped voyage. So they were a part of
the vanished civilization. And Travis' own vague surmise concerning
Topaz was proven correct. This had not been an empty world for the
long-gone space people. This planet had a purpose and a use, or else
this beast would not have been here.

"Devil!" Kaydessa made a face of disgust.

"You know it?" Tsoay asked Travis. "What is it?"

"That I do not know, but it is a thing left over from the star people's
time. And I have seen it on two other of their worlds."

"A man?" Tsoay surveyed the body critically. "It wears no clothes, has
no weapons, but it walks erect. It looks like an ape, a very big ape. It
is not a good thing, I think."

"If it runs with a pack--as they do elsewhere--this could be a very bad
thing." Travis, remembering how these creatures had attacked in force on
the other worlds, looked about him apprehensively. Even with the coyotes
on guard, they could not stand up to such a pack closing in through the
dark. They had better hole up in some defendable place and wait out the
rest of the night.

Naginlta brought them to a cliff overhang where they could set their
backs to the hard rock of the mountain, face outward to a space they
could cover with arrow flight if the need arose. And the coyotes, lying
before them with their noses resting on paws, would, Travis knew, alert
them long before the enemy could close in.

They huddled against the rock, Kaydessa between them, alert at first to
every sound of the night, their hearts beating faster at a small scrape
of gravel, the rustle of a bush. Slowly, they began to relax.

"It is well that two sleep while one guards," Travis observed. "By
morning we must push on, out of this country."

So the two Apaches shared the watch in turn, the Tatar girl at first
protesting, and then falling exhausted into a slumber which left her
breathing heavily.

Travis, on the dawn watch, began to speculate about the ape-thing they
had killed. The two previous times he had met this creature it had been
in ruins of the old empire. Were there ruins somewhere here? He wanted
to make sure about that. On the other hand, there was the problem of the
Tatar-Mongol settlement controlled by the Reds. There was no doubt in
his mind that, were the Reds to suspect the existence of the Apache
camp, they would make every attempt to hunt down and kill or capture the
survivors from the American ship. A warning must be carried to the
rancheria as quickly as they could make the return trip.

Beside him the girl stirred, raising her head. Travis glanced at her and
then watched with attention. She was looking straight ahead, her eyes as
fixed as if she were in a trance. Now she inched forward from the
mountain wall, wriggling out of its shelter.

"What--?" Tsoay had awakened again. But Travis was already moving. He
pushed on, rushing up to stand beside her, shoulder to shoulder.

"What is it? Where do you go?" he asked.

She made no answer, did not even seem aware of his voice. He caught at
her arm and she pulled to free herself. When he tightened his grip she
did not fight him actively as during their first encounter, but merely
pulled and twisted as if she were being compelled to go ahead.

Compulsion! He remembered her plea the night before, asking his help
against recapture by the machine. Now he deliberately tripped her,
twisted her hands behind her back. She swayed in his hold, trying to win
to her feet, paying no attention to him save as a hindrance against her
answering that demanding call he could not hear.



7


"What happened?" Tsoay took a swift stride, stood over the writhing girl
whose strength was now such that Travis had to exert all his efforts to
control her.

"I think that the machine she spoke about is holding her. She is being
drawn to it out of hiding as one draws a calf on a rope."

Both coyotes had arisen and were watching the struggle with interest,
but there was no warning from them. Whatever called Kaydessa into such
mindless and will-less answer did not touch the animals. And neither
Apache felt it. So perhaps only Kaydessa's people were subject to it, as
she had thought. How far away was that machine? Not too near, for
otherwise the coyotes would have traced the man or men operating it.

"We cannot move her," Tsoay brought the problem into the open--"unless
we bind and carry her. She is one of their kind. Why not let her go to
them, unless you fear she will talk." His hand went to the knife in his
belt, and Travis knew what primitive impulse moved in the younger man.

In the old days a captive who was likely to give trouble was
efficiently eliminated. In Tsoay that memory was awake now. Travis shook
his head.

"She has said that others of her kin are in these hills. We must not set
two wolf packs hunting us," Travis said, giving the more practical
reason which might better appeal to that savage instinct for
self-preservation. "But you are right, since she has tried to answer
this summons, we cannot force her with us. Therefore, do you take the
back trail. Tell Buck what we have discovered and have him make the
necessary precautions against either these Mongol outlaws or a Red
thrust over the mountains."

"And you?"

"I stay to discover where the outlaws hide and learn all I can of this
settlement. We may have reason to need friends----"

"Friends!" Tsoay spat. "The People need no friends! If we have warning,
we can hold our own country! As the Pinda-lick-o-yi have discovered
before."

"Bows and arrows against guns and machines?" Travis inquired bitingly.
"We must know more before we make any warrior boasts for the future.
Tell Buck what we have discovered. Also say I will join you before,"
Travis calculated--"ten suns. If I do not, send no search party; the
clan is too small to risk more lives for one."

"And if these Reds take you--?"

Travis grinned, not pleasantly. "They shall learn nothing! Can their
machines sort out the thoughts of a dead man?" He did not intend his
future to end as abruptly as that, but also he would not be easy meat
for any Red hunting party.

Tsoay took a share of their rations and refused the company of the
coyotes. Travis realized that for all his seeming ease with the animals,
the younger scout had little more liking for them than Deklay and the
others back at the rancheria. Tsoay went at dawn, aiming at the pass.

Travis sat down beside Kaydessa. They had bound her to a small tree, and
she strove incessantly to free herself, turning her head at an acute and
painful angle, only to face the same direction in which she had been
tied. There was no breaking the spell which held her. And she would soon
wear herself out with that struggling. Then he struck an expert blow.

The girl sagged limply, and he untied her. It all depended now on the
range of the beam or broadcast of that diabolical machine. From the
attitude of the coyotes, he assumed that those using the machine had not
made any attempt to come close. They might not even know where their
quarry was; they would simply sit and wait in the foothills for the
caller to reel in a helpless captive.

Travis thought that if he moved Kaydessa farther away from that point,
sooner or later they would be out of range and she would awake from the
knockout, free again. Although she was not light, he could manage to
carry her for a while. So burdened, Travis started on, with the coyotes
scouting ahead.

He speedily discovered that he had set himself an ambitious task. The
going was rough, and carrying the girl reduced his advance to a
snail-paced crawl. But it gave him time to make careful plans.

As long as the Reds held the balance of power on this side of the
mountain range, the rancheria was in danger. Bows and knives against
modern armament was no contest at all. And it would only be a matter of
time before exploration on the part of the northern settlement--or some
tracking down of Tatar fugitives--would bring the enemy across the pass.

The Apaches could move farther south into the unknown continent below
the wrecked ship, thus prolonging the time before they were discovered.
But that would only postpone the inevitable showdown. Whether Travis
could make his clan believe that, was also a matter of concern.

On the other hand, if the Red overlords could be met in some practical
way.... Travis' mind fastened on that more attractive idea, worrying it
as Naginlta worried a prey, tearing out and devouring the more delicate
portions. Every bit of sense and prudence argued against such an
approach, whose success could rest only between improbability and
impossibility; yet that was the direction in which he longed to move.

Across his shoulder Kaydessa stirred and moaned. The Apache doubled his
efforts to reach the outcrop of rock he could see ahead, chiseled into
high relief by the winds. In its lee they would have protection from any
sighting from below. Panting, he made it, lowering the girl into the
guarded cup of space, and waited.

She moaned again, lifted one hand to her head. Her eyes were half open,
and still he could not be sure whether they focused on him and her
surroundings intelligently or not.

"Kaydessa!"

Her heavy eyelids lifted, and he had no doubt she could see him. But
there was no recognition of his identity in her gaze, only surprise and
fear--the same expression she had worn during their first meeting in the
foothills.

"Daughter of the Wolf," he spoke slowly. "Remember!" Travis made that an
order, an emphatic appeal to the mind under the influence of the caller.

She frowned, the struggle she was making naked on her face. Then she
answered:

"You--Fox--"

Travis grunted with relief, his alarm subsiding. Then she _could_
remember.

"Yes," he responded eagerly.

But she was gazing about, her puzzlement growing. "Where is this--?"

"We are higher in the mountains."

Now fear was pushing out bewilderment. "How did I come here?"

"I brought you." Swiftly he outlined what had happened at their night
camp.

The hand which had been at her head was now pressed tight across her
lips as if she were biting furiously into its flesh to still some panic
of her own, and her gray eyes were round and haunted.

"You are free now," Travis said.

Kaydessa nodded, and then dropped her hand to speak. "You brought me
away from the hunters. You did not have to obey them?"

"I heard nothing."

"You do not hear--you feel!" She shuddered. "Please." She clawed at the
stone beside her, pulling up to her feet. "Let us go--let us go quickly!
They will try again--move farther in--"

"Listen," Travis had to be sure of one thing--"have they any way of
knowing that they had you under control and that you have again
escaped?"

Kaydessa shook her head, some of the panic again shadowing her eyes.

"Then we'll just go on--" his chin lifted to the wastelands before
them--"try to keep out of their reach."

And away from the pass to the south, he told himself silently. He dared
not lead the enemy to that secret, so he must travel west or hole up
somewhere in this unknown wilderness until they could be sure Kaydessa
was no longer susceptible to that call, or that they were safely beyond
its beamed radius. There was the chance of contacting her outlaw kin,
just as there was the chance of stumbling into a pack of the ape-things.
Before dark they must discover a protected camp site.

They needed water, food. He had a bare half dozen ration tablets. But
the coyotes could locate water.

"Come!" Travis beckoned to Kaydessa, motioning her to climb ahead of him
so that he could watch for any indication of her succumbing once again
to the influence of the enemy. But his burdened early morning flight had
told on Travis more than he thought, and he discovered he could not spur
himself on to a pace better than a walk. Now and again one of the
coyotes, usually Nalik'ideyu, would come into view, express impatience
in both stance and mental signal, and then be gone again. The Apache was
increasingly aware that the animals were disturbed, yet to his tentative
gropings at contact they did not reply. Since they gave no warning of
hostile animal or man, he could only be on constant guard, watching the
countryside about him.

They had been following a ledge for several minutes before Travis was
aware of some strange features of that path. Perhaps he had actually
noted them with a trained eye before his archaeological studies of the
recent past gave him a reason for the faint marks. This crack in the
mountain's skin might have begun as a natural fault, but afterward it
had been worked with tools, smoothed, widened to serve the purpose of
some form of intelligence!

Travis caught at Kaydessa's shoulder to slow her pace. He could not have
told why he did not want to speak aloud here, but he felt the need for
silence. She glanced around, perplexed, more so when he went down on his
knees and ran his fingers along one of those ancient tool marks. He was
certain it was very old. Inside of him anticipation bubbled. A road made
with such labor could only lead to something of importance. He was going
to make the discovery, the dream which had first drawn him into these
mountains.

"What is it?" Kaydessa knelt beside him, frowning at the ledge.

"This was cut by someone, a long time ago," Travis half whispered and
then wondered why. There was no reason to believe the road makers could
hear him when perhaps a thousand years or more lay between the chipping
of that stone and this day.

The Tatar girl looked over her shoulder. Perhaps she too was troubled by
the sense that here time was subtly telescoped, that past and present
might be meeting. Or was that feeling with them both because of their
enforced conditioning?

"Who?" Now her voice sank in turn.

"Listen--" he regarded her intently--"did your people or the Reds ever
find any traces of the old civilization here--ruins?"

"No." She leaned forward, tracing with her own finger the same
almost-obliterated marks which had intrigued Travis. "But I think they
have looked. Before they discovered that we could be free, they sent out
parties--to hunt, they said--but afterward they always asked many
questions about the country. Only they never asked about ruins. Is that
what they wished us to find? But why? Of what value are old stones piled
on one another?"

"In themselves, little, save for the knowledge they may give us of the
people who piled them. But for what the stones might contain--much
value!"

"And how do you know what they might contain, Fox?"

"Because I have seen such treasure houses of the star men," he returned
absently. To him the marks on the ledge were a pledge of greater
discoveries to come. He must find where that carefully constructed road
ran--to what it led. "Let us see where this will take us."

But first he gave the chittering signal in four sharp bursts. And the
tawny-gray bodies came out of the tangled brush, bounding up to the
ledge. Together the coyotes faced him, their attention all for his
halting communication.

Ruins might lie ahead; he hoped that they did. But on another planet
such ruins had twice proved to be deadly traps, and only good fortune
had prevented their closing on Terran explorers. If the ape-things or
any other dangerous form of life had taken up residence before them, he
wanted good warning.

Together the coyotes turned and loped along the now level way of the
ledge, disappearing around a curve fitted to the mountain side while
Travis and Kaydessa followed.

They heard it before they saw its source--a waterfall. Probably not a
large one, but high. Rounding the curve, they came into a fine mist of
spray where sunlight made rainbows of color across a filmy veil of
water.

For a long moment they stood entranced. Kaydessa then gave a little cry,
held out her hands to the purling mist and brought them to her lips
again to suck the gathered moisture.

Water slicked the surface of the ledge, and Travis pushed her back
against the wall of the cliff. As far as he could discern, their road
continued behind the out-flung curtain of water, and footing on the wet
stone was treacherous. With their backs to the solid security of the
wall, facing outward into the solid drape of water, they edged behind it
and came out into rainbowed sunlight again.

Here either provident nature or ancient art had hollowed a pocket in the
stone which was filled with water. They drank. Then Travis filled his
canteen while Kaydessa washed her face, holding the cold freshness of
the moisture to her cheeks with both palms.

She spoke, but he could not hear her through the roar. She leaned closer
and raised her voice to a half shout:

"This is a place of spirits! Do you not also feel their power, Fox?"

Perhaps for a space out of time he did feel something. This was a
watering place, perhaps a never-ceasing watering place--and to his
desert-born-and-bred race all water was a spirit gift never to be taken
for granted. The rainbow--the Spirit People's sacred sign--old beliefs
stirred in Travis, moving him. "I feel," he said, nodding in emphasis to
his agreement.

They followed the ledge road to a section where a landslide of an
earlier season had choked it. Travis worked a careful way across the
debris, Kaydessa obeying his guidance in turn. Then they were on a
sloping downward way which led to a staircase--the treads weather-worn
and crumbling, the angle so steep Travis wondered if it had ever been
intended for beings with a physique approximating the Terrans'.

They came to a cleft where an arch of stone was chiseled out as a
roofing. Travis thought he could make out a trace of carving on the
capstone, so worn by years and weather that it was now only a faint
shadow of design.

The cleft was a door into another valley. Here, too, golden mist swirled
in tendrils to disguise and cloak what stood there. Travis had found his
ruins. Only the structures were intact, not breached by time.

Mist flowed in lapping tongues back and forth, confusing outlines, now
shuttering, now baring oval windows which were spaced in diamonds of
four on round tower surfaces. There were no visible cracks, no cloaking
of climbing vegetation, nothing to suggest age and long roots in the
valley. Nor did the architecture he could view match any he had seen on
those other worlds.

Travis strode away from the cleft doorway. Under his moccasins was a
block pavement, yellow and green stone set in a simple pattern of
checks. This, too, was level, unchipped and undisturbed, save for a
drift or two of soil driven in by the wind. And nowhere could he see any
vegetation.

The towers were of the same green stone as half the pavement blocks, a
glassy green which made him think of jade--if jade could be mined in
such quantities as these five-story towers demanded.

Nalik'ideyu padded to him, and he could hear the faint click of her
claws on the pavement. There was a deep silence in this place, as if the
air itself swallowed and digested all sound. The wind which had been
with them all the day of their journeying was left beyond the cleft.

Yet there was life here. The coyote told him that in her own way. She
had not made up her mind concerning that life--wariness and curiosity
warred in her now as her pointed muzzle lifted toward the windows
overhead.

The windows were all well above ground level, but there was no opening
in the first stories as far as Travis could see. He debated moving into
the range of those windows to investigate the far side of the towers for
doorways. The mist and the message from Nalik'ideyu nourished his
suspicions. Out in the open he would be too good a target for whatever
or whoever might be standing within the deep-welled frames.

The silence was shattered by a boom. Travis jumped, slewed half around,
knife in hand.

Boom-boom ... a second heavy beat-beat ... then a clangor with a
swelling echo.

Kaydessa flung back her head and called, her voice rising up as if
tunneled by the valley walls. She then whistled as she had done when
they fronted the ape-thing and ran on to catch at Travis' sleeve, her
face eager.

"My people! Come--it is my people!"

She tugged him on before breaking into a run, weaving fearlessly around
the base of one of the towers. Travis ran after her, afraid he might
lose her in the mist.

Three towers, another stretch of open pavement, and then the mist lifted
to show them a second carved doorway not two hundred yards ahead. The
boom-boom seemed to pull Kaydessa, and Travis could do nothing but trail
her, the coyotes now trotting beside him.



8


They burst through a last wide band of mist into a wilderness of tall
grass and shrubs. Travis heard the coyotes give tongue, but it was too
late. Out of nowhere whirled a leather loop, settling about his chest,
snapping his arms tight to his body, taking him off his feet with a jerk
to be dragged helplessly along the ground behind a galloping horse.

A tawny fury sprang in the air to snap at the horse's head. Travis
kicked fruitlessly, trying to regain his feet as the horse reared, and
fought against the control of his shouting rider. All through the melee
the Apache heard Kaydessa shrilly screaming words he did not understand.

Travis was on his knees, coughing in the dust, exerting the muscles in
his chest and shoulders to loosen the lariat. On either side of him the
coyotes wove a snarling pattern of defiance, dashing back and forth to
present no target for the enemy, yet keeping the excited horses so
stirred up that their riders could use neither ropes nor blades.

Then Kaydessa ran between two of the ringing horses to Travis and jerked
at the loop about him. The tough, braided leather eased its hold, and he
was able to gasp in full lungfuls of air. She was still shouting, but
the tone had changed from one of recognition to a definite scolding.

Travis won to his feet just as the rider who had lassoed him finally got
his horse under rein and dismounted. Holding the rope, the man walked
hand over hand toward them, as Travis back on the Arizona range would
have approached a nervous, unschooled pony.

The Mongol was an inch or so shorter than the Apache, and his face was
young, though he had a drooping mustache bracketing his mouth with
slender spear points of black hair. His breeches were tucked into high
red boots, and he wore a loose felt jacket patterned with the same
elaborate embroidery Travis had seen on Kaydessa's. On his head was a
hat with a wide fur border--in spite of the heat--and that too bore
touches of scarlet and gold design.

Still holding his lariat, the Mongol reached Kaydessa and stood for a
moment, eying her up and down before he asked a question. She gave an
impatient twitch to the rope. The coyotes snarled, but the Apache
thought the animals no longer considered the danger immediate.

"This is my brother Hulagur." Kaydessa made the introduction over her
shoulder. "He does not have your speech."

Hulagur not only did not understand, he was also impatient. He jerked at
the rope with such sudden force that Travis was almost thrown. Then
Kaydessa dragged as fiercely on the lariat in the other direction and
burst into a soaring harangue which drew the rest of the men closer.

Travis flexed his upper arms, and the slack gained by Kaydessa's action
made the lariat give again. He studied the Tatar outlaws. There were
five of them beside Hulagur, lean men, hard-faced, narrow-eyed, the
ragged clothing of three pieced out with scraps of hide. Besides the
swords with the curved blades, they were armed with bows, two to each
man, one long, one shorter. One of the riders carried a lance, long
tassels of woolly hair streaming from below its head. Travis saw in them
a formidable array of barbaric fighting men, but he thought that man for
man the Apaches could not only take on the Mongols with confidence, but
might well defeat them.

The Apache had never been a hot-headed, ride-for-glory fighter like the
Cheyenne, the Sioux, and the Comanche of the open plains. He estimated
the odds against him, used ambush, trick, and every feature of the
countryside as weapon and defense. Fifteen Apache fighting men under
Chief Geronimo had kept five thousand American and Mexican troops in the
field for a year and had come off victorious for the moment.

Travis knew the tales of Genghis Khan and his formidable generals who
swept over Asia into Europe, unbeaten and seemingly undefeatable. But
they had been a wild wave, fed by a reservoir of manpower from the
steppes of their homeland, utilizing driven walls of captives to protect
their own men in city assaults and attacks. He doubted if even that
endless sea of men could have won the Arizona desert defended by Apaches
under Cochise, Victorio, or Magnus Colorado. The white man had done
it--by superior arms and attrition; but bow against bow, knife against
sword, craft and cunning against craft and cunning--he did not think
so....

Hulagur dropped the end of the lariat, and Kaydessa swung around,
loosening the loop so that the rope fell to Travis' feet. The Apache
stepped free of it, turned and passed between two of the horsemen to
gather up the bow he had dropped. The coyotes had gone with him and when
he turned again to face the company of Tatars, both animals crowded past
him to the entrance of the valley, plainly urging him to retire there.

The horsemen had faced about also, and the warrior with the lance
balanced the shaft of the weapon in his hand as if considering the
possibility of trying to spear Travis. But just then Kaydessa came up,
towing Hulagur by a firm hold on his sash-belt.

"I have told this one," she reported to Travis, "how it is between us
and that you also are enemy to those who hunt us. It is well that you
sit together beside a fire and talk of these things."

Again that boom-boom broke her speech, coming from farther out in the
open land.

"You will do this?" She made of it a half question, half statement.

Travis glanced about him. He could dodge back into the misty valley of
the towers before the Tatars could ride him down. However, if he could
patch up some kind of truce between his people and the outlaws, the
Apaches would have only the Reds from the settlement to watch. Too many
times in Terran past had war on two fronts been disastrous.

"I come--carrying this--and not pulled by your ropes." He held up his
bow in an exaggerated gesture so that Hulagur could understand.

Coiling the lariat, the Mongol looked from the Apache bow to Travis.
Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, he nodded agreement.

At Hulagur's call the lancer rode up to the waiting Apache, stretched
out a booted foot in the heavy stirrup, and held down a hand to bring
Travis up behind him riding double. Kaydessa mounted in the same fashion
behind her brother.

Travis looked at the coyotes. Together the animals stood in the door to
the tower valley, and neither made any move to follow as the horses
trotted off. He beckoned with his hand and called to them.

Heads up, they continued to watch him go in company with the Mongols.
Then without any reply to his coaxing, they melted back into the mists.
For a moment Travis was tempted to slide down and run the risk of taking
a lance point between the shoulders as he followed Naginlta and
Nalik'ideyu into retreat. He was startled, jarred by the new awareness
of how much he had come to depend on the animals. Ordinarily, Travis Fox
was not one to be governed by the wishes of a _mba'a_, intelligent and
un-animallike as it might be. This was an affair of men, and coyotes had
no part in it!

Half an hour later Travis sat in the outlaw camp. There were fifteen
Mongols in sight, a half dozen women and two children adding to the
count. On a hillock near their yurts, the round brush-and-hide
shelters--not too different from the wickiups of Travis' own people--was
a crude drum, a hide stretched taut over a hollowed section of log. And
next to that stood a man wearing a tall pointed cap, a red robe, and a
girdle from which swung a fringe of small bones, tiny animal skulls, and
polished bits of stone and carved wood.

It was this man's efforts which sent the boom-boom sounding at intervals
over the landscape. Was this a signal--part of a ritual? Travis was not
certain, though he guessed that the drummer was either medicine man or
shaman, and so of some power in this company. Such men were credited
with the ability to prophesy and also endowed with mediumship between
man and spirit in the old days of the great Hordes.

The Apache evaluated the rest of the company. As was true of his own
party, these men were much the same age--young and vigorous. And it was
also apparent that Hulagur held a position of some importance among
them--if he were not their chief.

After a last resounding roll on the drum, the shaman thrust the sticks
into his girdle and came down to the fire at the center of the camp. He
was taller than his fellows, pole thin under his robes, his face narrow,
clean-shaven, with brows arched by nature to give him an unchanging
expression of scepticism. He strode along, his tinkling collection of
charms providing him with a not unmusical accompaniment, and came to
stand directly before Travis, eying him carefully.

Travis copied his silence in what was close to a duel of wills. There
was that in the shaman's narrowed green eyes which suggested that if
Hulagur did in fact lead these fighting men, he had an advisor of
determination and intelligence behind him.

"This is Menlik." Kaydessa did not push past the men to the fireside,
but her voice carried.

Hulagur growled at his sister, but his admonition made no impression on
her, and she replied in as hot a tone. The shaman's hand went up,
silencing both of them.

"You are--who?" Like Kaydessa, Menlik spoke a heavily accented English.

"I am Travis Fox, of the Apaches."

"The Apaches," the shaman repeated. "You are of the West, the American
West, then."

"You know much, man of spirit talk."

"One remembers. At times one remembers," Menlik answered almost
absently. "How does an Apache find his way across the stars?"

"The same way Menlik and his people did," Travis returned. "You were
sent to settle this planet, and so were we."

"There are many more of you?" countered Menlik swiftly.

"Are there not many of the Horde? Would one man, or three, or four, be
sent to hold a world?" Travis fenced. "You hold the north, we the south
of this land."

"But _they_ are not governed by a machine!" Kaydessa cut in. "They are
free!"

Menlik frowned at the girl. "Woman, this is a matter for warriors. Keep
your tongue silent between your jaws!"

She stamped one foot, standing with her fists on her hips.

"I am a Daughter of the Blue Wolf. And we are all warriors--men and
women alike--so shall we be as long as the Horde is not free to ride
where we wish! These men have won their freedom; it is well that we
learn how."

Menlik's expression did not change, but his lids drooped over his eyes
as a murmur of what might be agreement came from the group. More than
one of them must have understood enough English to translate for the
others. Travis wondered about that. Had these men and women who had
outwardly reverted to the life of their nomad ancestors once been well
educated in the modern sense, educated enough to learn the basic
language of the nation their rulers had set up as their principal enemy?

"So you ride the land south of the mountains?" the shaman continued.

"That is true."

"Then why did you come hither?"

Travis shrugged. "Why does anyone ride or travel into new lands? There
is a desire to see what may lie beyond----"

"Or to scout before the march of warriors!" Menlik snapped. "There is no
peace between your rulers and mine. Do you ride now to take the herds
and pastures of the Horde--or to try to do so?"

Travis turned his head deliberately from side to side, allowing them all
to witness his slow and openly contemptuous appraisal of their camp.

"_This_ is your Horde, Shaman? Fifteen warriors? Much has changed since
the days of Temujin, has it not?"

"What do you know of Temujin--you, who are a man of no ancestors, out of
the West?"

"What do I know of Temujin? That he was a leader of warriors and became
Genghis Khan, the great lord of the East. But the Apaches had their
warlords also, rider of barren lands. And I am of those who raided over
two nations when Victorio and Cochise scattered their enemies as a man
scatters a handful of dust in the wind."

"You talk bold, Apache...." There was a hint of threat in that.

"I speak as any warrior, Shaman. Or are you so used to talking with
spirits instead of men that you do not realize that?"

He might have been alienating the shaman by such a sharp reply, but
Travis thought he judged the temper of these people. To face them boldly
was the only way to impress them. They would not treat with an inferior,
and he was already at a disadvantage coming on foot, without any backing
in force, into a territory held by horsemen who were suspicious and
jealous of their recently acquired freedom. His only chance was to
establish himself as an equal and then try to convince them that Apache
and Tatar-Mongol had a common cause against the Reds who controlled the
settlement on the northern plains.

Menlik's right hand went to his sash-girdle and plucked out a carved
stick which he waved between them, muttering phrases Travis could not
understand. Had the shaman retreated so far along the road to his past
that he now believed in his own supernatural powers? Or was this to
impress his watching followers?

"You call upon your spirits for aid, Menlik? But the Apache has the
companionship of the _ga-n_. Ask of Kaydessa: Who hunts with the Fox in
the wilds?" Travis' sharp challenge stopped that wand in mid-air.
Menlik's head swung to the girl.

"He hunts with wolves who think like men." She supplied the information
the shaman would not openly ask for. "I have seen them act as his
scouts. This is no spirit thing, but real and of this world!"

"Any man may train a dog to his bidding!" Menlik spat.

"Does a dog obey orders which are not said aloud? These brown wolves
come and sit before him, look into his eyes. And then he knows what lies
within their heads, and they know what he would have them do. This is
not the way of a master of hounds with his pack!"

Again the murmur ran about the camp as one or two translated. Menlik
frowned. Then he rammed his sorcerer's wand back into his sash.

"If you are a man of power--such powers," he said slowly, "then you may
walk alone where those who talk with spirits go--into the mountains." He
then spoke over his shoulder in his native tongue, and one of the women
reached behind her into a hut, brought out a skin bag and a horn cup.
Kaydessa took the cup from her and held it while the other woman poured
a white liquid from the bag to fill it.

Kaydessa passed the cup to Menlik. He pivoted with it in his hand,
dribbling expertly over its brim a few drops at each point of the
compass, chanting as he moved. Then he sucked in a mouthful of the
contents before presenting the vessel to Travis.

The Apache smelled the same sour scent that had clung to the emptied bag
in the foothills. And another part of memory supplied him with the
nature of the drink. This was kumiss, a fermented mare's milk which was
the wine and water of the steppes.

He forced himself to swallow a draft, though it was alien to his taste,
and passed the cup back to Menlik. The shaman emptied the horn and,
with that, set aside ceremony. With an upraised hand he beckoned Travis
to the fire again, indicating a pot set on the coals.

"Rest ... eat!" he bade abruptly.

Night was gathering in. Travis tried to calculate how far Tsoay must
have backtracked to the rancheria. He thought that he could have already
made the pass and be within a day and a half from the Apache camp if he
pushed on, as he would. As to where the coyotes were, Travis had no
idea. But it was plain that he himself must remain in this encampment
for the night or risk rousing the Mongols' suspicion once more.

He ate of the stew, spearing chunks out of the pot with the point of his
knife. And it was not until he sat back, his hunger appeased, that the
shaman dropped down beside him.

"The Khatun Kaydessa says that when she was slave to the caller, you did
not feel its chains," he began.

"Those who rule you are not my overlords. The bonds they set upon your
minds do not touch me." Travis hoped that that was the truth and his
escape that morning had not been just a fluke.

"This could be, for you and I are not of one blood," Menlik agreed.
"Tell me--how did you escape your bonds?"

"The machine which held us so was broken," Travis replied with a portion
of the truth, and Menlik sucked in his breath.

"The machines, always the machines!" he cried hoarsely. "A thing which
can sit in a man's head and make him do what it will against his will;
it is demon sent! There are other machines to be broken, Apache."

"Words will not break them," Travis pointed out.

"Only a fool rides to his death without hope of striking a single blow
before he chokes on the blood in his throat," Menlik retorted. "We
cannot use bow or tulwar against weapons which flame and kill quicker
than any storm lightning! And always the mind machines can make a man
drop his knife and stand helplessly waiting for the slave collar to be
set on his neck!"

Travis asked a question of his own. "I know that they can bring a caller
part way into this mountain, for this very day I saw its effect upon the
maiden. But there are many places in the hills well set for ambushes,
and those unaffected by the machine could be waiting there. Would there
be many machines so that they could send out again and again?"

Menlik's bony hand played with his wand. Then a slow smile curved his
lips into the guise of a hunting cat's noiseless snarl.

"There is meat in that pot, Apache, rich meat, good for the filling of a
lean belly! So men whose minds the machine could not trouble--such men
to be waiting in ambush for the taking of the men who use such a
machine--yes. But here would have to be bait, very good bait for such a
trap, Lord of Wiles. Never do those others come far into the mountains.
Their flyer does not lift well here, and they do not trust traveling on
horseback. They were greatly angered to come so far in to reach
Kaydessa, though they could not have been too close, or you would not
have escaped at all. Yes, strong bait."

"Such bait as perhaps the knowledge that there were strangers across the
mountains?"

Menlik turned his wand about in his hands. He was no longer smiling, and
his glance at Travis was sharp and swift.

"Do you sit as Khan in your tribe, Lord?"

"I sit as one they will listen to." Travis hoped that was so. Whether
Buck and the moderates would hold clan leadership upon his return was a
fact he could not count upon as certain.

"This is a thing which we must hold council over," Menlik continued.
"But it is an idea of power. Yes, one to think about, Lord. And I shall
think...."

He got up and moved away. Travis blinked at the fire. He was very tired,
and he disliked sleeping in this camp. But he must not go without the
rest his body needed to supply him with a clear head in the morning. And
not showing uneasiness might be one way of winning Menlik's confidence.



9


Travis settled his back against the spire of rock and raised his right
hand into the path of the sun, cradling in his palm a disk of glistening
metal. Flash ... flash ... he made the signal pattern just as his
ancestors a hundred years earlier and far across space had used trade
mirrors to relay war alerts among the Chiricahua and White Mountain
ranges. If Tsoay had returned safely, and if Buck had kept the agreed
lookout on that peak a mile or so ahead, then the clan would know that
he was coming and with what escort.

He waited now, rubbing the small metal mirror absently on the loose
sleeve of his shirt, waiting for a reply. Mirrors were best, not smoke
fires which would broadcast too far the presence of men in the hills.
Tsoay must have returned....

"What is it that you do?"

Menlik, his shaman's robe pulled up so that his breeches and boots were
dark against the golden rock, climbed up beside the Apache. Menlik,
Hulagur, and Kaydessa were riding with Travis, offering him one of
their small ponies to hurry the trip. He was still regarded warily by
the Tatars, but he did not blame them for their cautious attitude.

"Ah--" A flicker of light from the point ahead. One ... two ... three
flashes, a pause, then two more together. He had been read. Buck had
dispatched scouts to meet them, and knowing his people's skill at the
business, Travis was certain the Tatars would never suspect their
flanking unless the Apaches purposefully revealed themselves. Also the
Tatars were not to go to the rancheria, but would be met at a mid-point
by a delegation of Apaches. This was no time for the Tatars to learn
just how few the clan numbered.

Menlik watched Travis flash an acknowledgment to the sentry ahead. "In
this way you speak to your men?"

"This way I speak."

"A thing good and to be remembered. We have the drum, but that is for
the ears of all with hearing. This is for the eyes only of those on
watch for it. Yes, a good thing. And your people--they will meet with
us?"

"They wait ahead," Travis confirmed.

It was close to midday and the heat, gathered in the rocky ways, was
like a heaviness in the air itself. The Tatars had shucked their heavy
jackets and rolled the fur brims of their hats far up their heads away
from their sweat-beaded faces. And at every halt they passed from hand
to hand the skin bag of kumiss.

Now even the ponies shuffled on with drooping heads, picking a way in a
cut which deepened into a canyon. Travis kept a watch for the scouts.
And not for the first time he thought of the disappearance of the
coyotes. Somehow, back in the Tatar camp, he had counted confidently on
the animals' rejoining him once he had started his return over the
mountains.

But he had seen nothing of either beast, nor had he felt that
unexplainable mental contact with them which had been present since his
first awakening on Topaz. Why they had left him so unceremoniously after
defending him from the Mongol attack, and why they were keeping
themselves aloof now, he did not know. But he was conscious of a thread
of alarm for their continued absence, and he hoped he would find they
had gone back to the rancheria.

The ponies thudded dispiritedly along a sandy wash which bottomed the
canyon. Here the heat became a leaden weight and the men were panting
like four-footed beasts running before hunters. Finally Travis sighted
what he had been seeking, a flicker of movement on the wall well above.
He flung up his hand, pulling his mount to a stand. Apaches stood in
full view, bows ready, arrows on cords. But they made no sound.

Kaydessa cried out, booted her mount to draw equal with Travis.

"A trap!" Her face, flushed with heat, was also stark with anger.

Travis smiled slowly. "Is there a rope about you, Wolf Daughter?" he
inquired softly. "Are you now dragged across this sand?"

Her mouth opened and then closed again. The quirt she had half raised to
slash at him, flopped across her pony's neck.

The Apache glanced back at the two men. Hulagur's hand was on his sword
hilt, his eyes darting from one of those silent watchers to the next.
But the utter hopelessness of the Tatar position was too plain. Only
Menlik made no move toward any weapon, even his spirit wand. Instead, he
sat quietly in the saddle, displaying no emotion toward the Apaches save
his usual self-confident detachment.

"We go on." Travis pointed ahead.

Just as suddenly as they had appeared from the heart of the golden
cliffs, so did the scouts vanish. Most of them were already on their way
to the point Buck had selected for the meeting place. There had been
only six men up there, but the Tatars had no way of knowing just how
large a portion of the whole clan that number was.

Travis' pony lifted his head, nickered, and achieved a stumbling trot.
Somewhere ahead was water, one of those oases of growth and life which
pocked the whole mountain range--to the preservation of all animals and
all men.

Menlik and Hulagur pushed on until their mounts were hard on the heels
of the two ridden by the girl and Travis. Travis wondered if they still
waited for some arrow to strike home, though he saw that both men rode
with outward disregard for the patrolling scouts.

A grass-leaf bush beckoned them on and again the ponies quickened pace,
coming out into a tributary canyon which housed a small pool and a good
stand of grass and brush. To one side of the water Buck stood, his arms
folded across his chest, armed only with his belt knife. Grouped behind
him were Deklay, Tsoay, Nolan, Manulito--Travis tabulated hurriedly.
Manulito and Deklay were to be classed together--or had been when he was
last in the rancheria. On Buck's stairway from the past, both had
halted more than halfway down. Nolan was a quiet man who seldom spoke,
and whose opinion Travis could not foretell. Tsoay would back Buck.

Probably such a divided party was the best Travis could have hoped to
gather. A delegation composed entirely of those who were ready to leave
the past of the Redax--a collection of Bucks and Jil-Lees--was outside
the bounds of possibility. But Travis was none too happy to have Deklay
in on this.

Travis dismounted, letting the pony push forward by himself to dip nose
into the pool.

"This is," Travis pointed politely with his chin--"Menlik, one who talks
with spirits.... Hulagur, who is son to a chief ... and Kaydessa, who is
daughter to a chief. They are of the horse people of the north." He made
the introduction carefully in English.

Then he turned to the Tatars. "Buck, Deklay, Nolan, Manulito, Tsoay," he
named them all, "these stand to listen, and to speak for the Apaches."

But sometime later when the two parties sat facing each other, he
wondered whether a common decision could come from the clansmen on his
side of that irregular circle. Deklay's expression was closed; he had
even edged a short way back, as if he had no desire to approach the
strangers. And Travis read into every line of Deklay's body his distrust
and antagonism.

He himself began to speak, retelling his adventures since they had
followed Kaydessa's trail, sketching in the situation at the
Tatar-Mongol settlement as he had learned it from her and from Menlik.
He was careful to speak in English so that the Tatars could hear all he
was reporting to his own kind. And the Apaches listened blank-faced,
though Tsoay must already have reported much of this. When Travis was
done it was Deklay who asked a question:

"What have we to do with these people?"

"There is this--" Travis chose his words carefully, thinking of what
might move a warrior still conditioned to riding with the raiders of a
hundred years earlier, "the Pinda-lick-o-yi (whom we call 'Reds,') are
never willing to live side by side with any who are not of their mind.
And they have weapons such as make our bow cords bits of rotten string,
our knives slivers of rust. They do not kill; they enslave. And when
they discover that we live, then they will come against us--"

Deklay's lips moved in a wolf grin. "This is a large land, and we know
how to use it. The Pinda-lick-o-yi will not find us--"

"With their eyes maybe not," Travis replied. "With their machines--that
is another matter."

"Machines!" Deklay spat. "Always these machines.... Is that all you can
talk about? It would seem that you are bewitched by these machines,
which we have not seen--none of us!"

"It was a machine which brought you here," Buck observed. "Go you back
and look upon the spaceship and remember, Deklay. The knowledge of the
Pinda-lick-o-yi is greater than ours when it deals with metal and wire
and things which can be made with both. Machines brought us along the
road of the stars, and there is no tracker in the clan who could hope to
do the same. But now I have this to ask: Does our brother have a plan?"

"Those who are Reds," Travis answered slowly, "they do not number many.
But more may later come from our own world. Have you heard of such
arriving?" he asked Menlik.

"Not so, but we are not told much. We live apart and no one of us goes
to the ship unless he is summoned. For they have weapons to guard them,
or long since they would have been dead. It is not proper for a man to
eat from the pot, ride in the wind, sleep easy under the same sky with
him who has slain his brother."

"They have then killed among your people?"

"They have killed," Menlik returned briefly.

Kaydessa stirred and muttered a word or two to her brother. Hulagur's
head came up, and he exploded into violent speech.

"What does he say?" Deklay demanded.

The girl replied: "He speaks of our father who aided in the escape of
three and so afterward was slain by the leader as a lesson to us--since
he was our 'white beard,' the Khan."

"We have taken the oath in blood--under the Wolf Head Standard--that
they will also die," Menlik added. "But first we must shake them out of
their ship-shell."

"That is the problem," Travis elaborated for the benefit of his
clansmen. "We must get these Reds away from their protected camp--out
into the open. When they now go they are covered by this 'caller' which
keeps the Tatars under their control, but it has no effect on us."

"So, again I say: What is all this to us?" Deklay got to his feet. "This
machine does not hunt us, and we can make our camps in this land where
no Pinda-lick-o-yi can find them----"

"We are not _dobe-gusndhe-he_--invulnerable. Nor do we know the full
range of machines they can use. It does no one well to say
'_doxa-da_'--this is not so--when he does not know all that lies in an
enemy's wickiup."

To Travis' relief he saw agreement mirrored on Buck's face, Tsoay's,
Nolan's. From the beginning he had had little hope of swaying Deklay; he
could only trust that the verdict of the majority would be the accepted
one. It went back to the old, old Apache institution of prestige. A
_nantan_-chief had the _go'ndi_, the high power, as a gift from birth.
Common men could possess horse power or cattle power; they might have
the gift of acquiring wealth so they could make generous gifts--be
_ikadntl'izi_, the wealthy ones who spoke for their family groups within
the loose network of the tribe. But there was no hereditary
chieftainship or even an undivided rule within a rancheria. The
_nagunlka-dnat'an_, or war chief, often led only on the warpath and had
no voice in clan matters save those dealing with a raid.

And to have a split now would fatally weaken their small clan. Deklay
and those of a like mind might elect to withdraw and not one of the rest
could deny him that right.

"We shall think on this," Buck said. "Here is food, water, pasturage for
horses, a camp for our visitors. They will wait here." He looked at
Travis. "You will wait with them, Fox, since you know their ways."

Travis' immediate reaction was objection, but then he realized Buck's
wisdom. To offer the proposition of alliance to the Apaches needed an
impartial spokesman. And if he himself did it, Deklay might
automatically oppose the idea. Let Buck talk and it would be a statement
of fact.

"It is well," Travis agreed.

Buck looked about, as if judging time from the lie of sun and shadow on
the ground. "We shall return in the morning when the shadow lies here."
With the toe of his high moccasin he made an impression in the soft
earth. Then, without any formal farewell, he strode off, the others fast
on his heels.

"He is your chief, that one?" Kaydessa asked, pointing after Buck.

"He is one having a large voice in council," Travis replied. He set
about building up the cooking fire, bringing out the body of a
split-horn calf which had been left them. Menlik sat on his heels by the
pool, dipping up drinking water with his hand. Now he squinted his eyes
against the probe of the sun.

"It will require much talking to win over the short one," he observed.
"That one does not like us or your plan. Just as there will be those
among the Horde who will not like it either." He flipped water drops
from his fingers. "But this I do know, man who calls himself Fox, if we
do not make a common cause, then we have no hope of going against the
Reds. It will be for them as a man crushing fleas." He brought his hand
down on his knee in emphatic slaps. "So ... and so ... and so!"

"This do I think also," Travis admitted.

"So let us both hope that all men will be as wise as we," Menlik said,
smiling. "And since we can take a hand in that decision, this remains a
time for rest."

The shaman might be content to sleep the afternoon away, but after he
had eaten, Hulagur wandered up and down the valley, making a lengthy
business of rubbing down their horses with twists of last season's
grass. Now and then he paused beside Kaydessa and spoke, his uneasiness
plain to Travis although he could not understand the words.

Travis had settled down in the shade, half dozing, yet alert to every
movement of the three Tatars. He tried not to think of what might be
happening in the rancheria by switching his mind to that misty valley of
the towers. Did any of those three alien structures contain such a grab
bag of the past as he, Ashe, and Murdock had found on that other world
where the winged people had gathered together for them the artifacts of
an older civilization? At that time he had created for their hosts a new
weapon of defense, turning metal tubes into blow-guns. It had been
there, too, where he had chanced upon the library of tapes, one of which
had eventually landed Travis and his people here on Topaz.

Even if he did find racks of such tapes in one of those towers, there
would be no way of using them--with the ship wrecked on the mountain
side. Only--Travis' fingers itched where they lay quiet on his
knees--there might be other things waiting. If he were only free to
explore!

He reached out to touch Menlik's shoulder. The shaman half turned,
opening his eyes with the languid effort of a sleepy cat. But the spark
of intelligence awoke in them quickly.

"What is it?"

For a moment Travis hesitated, already regretting his impulse. He did
not know how much Menlik remembered of the present. Remember of the
present--one part of the Apache's mind was wryly amused at that snarled
estimate of their situation. Men who had been dropped into their racial
and ancestral pasts until the present time was less real than the
dreams conditioning them had a difficult job evaluating any situation.
But since Menlik had clung to his knowledge of English, he must be less
far down that stairway.

"When we met you, Kaydessa and I, it was outside that valley." Travis
was still of two minds about this questioning, but the Tatar camp had
been close to the towers and there was a good chance the Mongols had
explored them. "And inside were buildings ... very old...."

Menlik was fully alert now. He took his wand, played with it as he
spoke:

"That is, or was, a place of much power, Fox. Oh, I know that you
question my kinship with the spirits and the powers they give. But one
learns not to dispute what one feels here--and here--" His long,
somewhat grimy fingers went to his forehead and then to the bare brown
chest where his shirt fell open. "I have walked the stone path in that
valley, and there have been the whispers--"

"Whispers?"

Menlik twirled the wand. "Whispers which are too low for many ears to
distinguish. You can hear them as one hears the buzzing of an insect,
but never the words--no, never the words! But that is a place of great
power!"

"A place to explore!"

But Menlik watched only his wand. "That I wonder, Fox, truly do I
wonder. This is not our world. And here there may be that which does not
welcome us."

Tricks-in-trade of a shaman? Or was it true recognition of something
beyond human description? Travis could not be sure, but he knew that he
must return to the valley and see for himself.

"Listen," Menlik said, leaning closer, "I have heard your tale, that
you were on that first ship, the one which brought you unwilling along
the old star paths. Have you ever seen such a thing as this?"

He smoothed a space of soft earth and with the narrow tip of his wand
began to draw. Whatever role Menlik had played in the present before he
had been reconditioned into a shaman of the Horde, he had had the
ability of an artist, for with a minimum of lines he created a figure in
that sketch.

It was a man or at least a figure with general human outlines. But the
round, slightly oversized skull was bare, the clothing skintight to
reveal unnaturally thin limbs. There were large eyes, small nose and
mouth, rather crowded into the lower third of the head, giving an
impression of an over-expanded brain case above. And it was familiar.

Not the flying men of the other world, certainly not the nocturnal
ape-things. Yet for all its alien quality Travis was sure he had seen
its like before. He closed his eyes and tried to visualize it apart from
lines in the soil.

Such a head, white, almost like the bone of a skull laid bare, such a
head lying face down on a bone-thin arm clad in a blue-purple skintight
sleeve. Where had he seen it?

The Apache gave a sharp exclamation as he remembered fully. The derelict
spaceship as he had first found it--the dead alien officer had still
been seated at its controls! The alien who had set the tape which took
them out into that forgotten empire--he was the subject of Menlik's
drawing!

"Where? When did you see such a one?" The Apache bent down over the
Tatar.

Menlik looked troubled. "He came into my mind when I walked the valley.
I thought I could almost see such a face in one of the tower windows,
but of that I am not sure. Who is it?"

"Someone from the old days--those who once ruled the stars," Travis
answered. But were they still here then, the remnant of a civilization
which had flourished ten thousand years ago? Were the Baldies, who
centuries ago had hunted down so ruthlessly the Russians who had dared
to loot their wrecked ships, still on Topaz?

He remembered the story of Ross Murdock's escape from those aliens in
the far past of Europe, and he shivered. Murdock was tough, steel tough,
yet his own description of that epic chase and the final meeting had
carried with it his terror. What could a handful of primitively armed
and almost primitively minded Terrans do now if they had to dispute
Topaz with the Baldies?



10


"Beyond this--" Menlik worked his way to the very lip of a drop, raising
a finger cautiously--"beyond this we do not go."

"But you say that the camp of your people lies well out in the plains--"
Jil-Lee was up on one knee, using the field glasses they had brought
from the stores of the wrecked ship. He passed them along to Travis.
There was nothing to be sighted but the rippling amber waves of the tall
grasses, save for an occasional break of a copse of trees near the
foothills.

They had reached this point in the early morning, threading through the
pass, making their way across the section known to the outlaws. From
here they could survey the debatable land where their temporary allies
insisted the Reds were in full control.

The result of the conference in the south had been this uneasy alliance.
From the start Travis realized that he could not hope to commit the clan
to any set plan, that even to get this scouting party to come against
the stubborn resistance of Deklay and his reactionaries was a major
achievement. There was now an opening wedge of six Apaches in the
north.

"Beyond this," Menlik repeated, "they keep watch and can control us with
the caller."

"What do you think?" Travis passed the glasses to Nolan.

If they were ever to develop a war chief, this lean man, tall for an
Apache and slow to speak, might fill that role. He adjusted the lenses
and began a detailed study-sweep of the open territory. Then he
stiffened; his mouth, below the masking of the glasses, was tight.

"What is it?" Jil-Lee asked.

"Riders--two ... four ... five.... Also something else--in the air."

Menlik jerked back and grabbed at Nolan's arm, dragging him down by the
weight of his body.

"The flyer! Come back--back!" He was still pulling at Nolan, prodding at
Travis with one foot, and the Apaches stared at him with amazement.

The shaman sputtered in his own language, and then, visibly regaining
command of himself, spoke English once more.

"Those are hunters, and they carry a caller. Either some others have
escaped or they are determined to find our mountain camp."

Jil-Lee looked at Travis. "You did not feel anything when the woman was
under that spell?"

Travis shook his head. Jil-Lee nodded and then said to the shaman: "We
shall stay here and watch. But since it is bad for you--do you go. And
we shall meet you near this place of the towers. Agreed?"

For a moment Menlik's face held a shadowy expression Travis tried to
read. Was it resentment--resentment that he was forced to retreat when
the others could stand their ground? Did the Tatar believe that he lost
face this way? But the shaman gave a grunt of what they took as assent
and slipped over the edge of the lookout point. A moment later they
heard him speaking the Mongol tongue, warning Hulagur and Lotchu, his
companions on the scout. Then came the clatter of pony hoofs as they
rode their mounts away.

The Apaches settled back in the cup, which gave them a wide view over
the plains. Soon it was not necessary to use the glasses in order to
sight the advancing party of hunters--five riders, four wearing Tatar
dress. The fifth had such an odd outline that Travis was reminded of
Menlik's sketch of the alien. Under the sharper vision of the glasses he
saw that the rider was equipped with a pack strapped between his
shoulders and a bulbous helmet covering most of his head. Highly
specialized equipment for communication, Travis guessed.

"That is a 'copter up above," Nolan said. "Different shape from ours."

They had been familiar with helicopters back on Terra. Ranchers used
them for range inspection, and all of the Apache volunteers had flown in
them. But Nolan was correct; this one possessed several unfamiliar
features.

"The Tatars say they don't bring those very far into the mountains,"
Jil-Lee mused. "That could explain their man on horseback; he gets in
where they don't fly."

Nolan fingered his bow. "If these Reds depend upon their machine to
control what they seek, then they may be taken by surprise----"

"But not yet!" Travis spoke sharply. Nolan frowned at him.

Jil-Lee chuckled. "The way is not so dark for us, younger brother, that
we need your torch held for our feet!"

Travis swallowed back any retort, accepting the fairness of that rebuke.
He had no right to believe that he alone knew the best way of handling
the enemy. Biting on the sourness of that realization, he lay quietly
with the others, watching the riders enter the foothills perhaps a
quarter of a mile to the west.

The helicopter was circling now over the men riding into a cut between
two rises. When they were lost to view, the pilot made wider casts, and
Travis thought the flyer's crew were probably in communication with the
helmeted one of the quintet on the ground.

He stirred. "They are heading for the Tatar camp, just as if they know
exactly where it is--"

"That also may be true," Nolan replied. "What do we know of these
Tatars? They have freely said that the Reds can hold them in mind ropes
when they wish. Already they may be so bound. I say--let us go back to
our own country." He added to the decisiveness of that by handing
Jil-Lee the glasses and sliding down from their perch.

Travis looked at the other. In a way he could understand the wisdom of
Nolan's suggestion. But he was sure that withdrawal now would only
postpone trouble. Sooner or later the Apaches would have to stand
against the Reds, and if they could do it now while the enemy was
occupied with trouble from the Tatars, so much the better.

Jil-Lee was following Nolan. But something in Travis rebelled. He
watched the circling helicopter. If it was overhanging the action area
of the horsemen, they had either reined in or were searching a
relatively small section of the foothills.

Reluctantly Travis descended to the hollow where Jil-Lee stood with
Nolan. Tsoay and Lupe and Rope were a little to one side as if the final
orders would come from their seniors.

"It would be well," Jil-Lee said slowly, "if we saw what weapons they
have. I want a closer look at the equipment of that one in the helmet.
Also," he smiled straight at Nolan--"I do not think that they can detect
the presence of warriors of the People unless we will it so."

Nolan ran a finger along the curve of his bow, shot a measuring glance
right and left at the general contours of the country.

"There is wisdom in what you say, elder brother. Only this is a trail we
shall take alone, not allowing the men with fur hats to know where we
walk." He looked pointedly in Travis' direction.

"That is wisdom, _Ba'is'a_," Travis promptly replied, giving Nolan the
old title accorded the leader of a war party. Travis was grateful for
that much of a concession.

They swung into action, heading southeast at an angle which should bring
them across the track of the enemy hunting party. The path was theirs at
last, only moments after the passing of their quarry. None of the five
riders was taking any precautions to cover his trail. Each moved with
the confidence of one not having to fear any attack.

From cover the Apaches looked aloft. They could hear the faint hum of
the helicopter. It was still circling, Tsoay reported from a higher
check point, but those circles remained close over the plains area--the
riders had already passed beyond the limits of that aerial sentry.

Three to a side, the Apaches advanced with the trail between them. They
were carefully hidden when they caught up with the hunters. The four
Tatars were grouped together; the fifth man, heavily burdened by his
pack, had climbed from the saddle and was sitting on the ground, his
hands busy with a flat plate which covered him from upper chest to belt.

Now that he had a chance to see them closely, Travis noted the lack of
expression on the broad Tatar faces. The four men were blank of eye,
astride their mounts with no apparent awareness of their present
surroundings. Then as one, their heads swung around to the helmeted
leader before they dismounted and stood motionless for a long moment in
a way which reminded Travis of the coyotes' attitude when they
endeavored to pass some message to him. But these men even lacked the
signs of thinking intelligence the animals had.

The helmeted man's hand moved across his chest plate, and instantly his
followers came into a measure of life. One put his hand to his forehead
with an odd, half-dazed gesture. Another half crouched, his lips
wrinkling back in a snarl. And the leader, watching him, laughed. Then
he snapped an order, his hand poised over his control plate.

One of the four took the horse reins, made the mounts fast to near-by
bushes. Then as one they began to walk forward, the Red bringing up the
rear several paces behind the nearest Tatar. They were going upslope to
the crest of a small ridge.

The Tatar who first reached the crest put his hands to cup his mouth,
sent a ringing cry southward, and the faint "hu-hu-hu" echoed on and on
through the hills.

Either Menlik had reached the camp in time, or his people were not to be
so easily enticed. For though the hunters waited for a long time, there
was no answer to that hail. At last the helmeted man called his
captives, bringing them sullenly down to mount and ride again--a move
which suited the Apaches.

They could not tell how close was the communication between the rider
and the helicopter. And they were still too near the plains to attack
unless it was necessary for their own protection. Travis dropped back to
join Nolan.

"He controls them by that plate on his chest," he said. "If we would
take them, we must get at that--"

"These Tatars use lariats in fighting. Did they not rope you as a calf
is roped for branding? Then why do they not so take this Red, binding
his arms to his sides?" The suspicion in Nolan's voice was plain.

"Perhaps in them is some conditioned control making it so that they
cannot attack their rulers--"

"I do not like this matter of machines which can play this way and that
with minds and bodies!" flared Nolan. "A man should only _use_ a weapon,
not be one!"

Travis could agree to that. Had they by the wreck of their own ship and
the death of Ruthven, escaped just such an existence as these Tatars now
endured? If so, why? He and all the Apaches were volunteers, eager and
willing to form new world colonies. What had happened back on Terra that
they had been so ruthlessly sent out without warning and under Redax?
Another small piece of that puzzle, or maybe the heart of the whole
picture snapped into place. Had the project learned in some way of the
Tatar settlement on Topaz and so been forced to speed up that
translation from late twentieth-century Americans to primitives? That
would explain a lot!

Travis returned abruptly to the matter now at hand as he saw a peak
ahead. The party they were trailing was heading directly for the outlaw
hide-out. Travis hoped Menlik had warned them in time. There--that wall
of cliff to his left must shelter the valley of the towers, though it
was still miles ahead. Travis did not believe the hunters would be able
to reach their goal unless they traveled at night. They might not know
of the ape-things which could menace the dark.

But the enemy, whether he knew of such dangers or not, did not intend to
press on. As the sun pulled away, leaving crevices and crannies shadow
dark, the hunters stopped to make camp. The Apaches, after their custom
on the war trail, gathered on the heights above.

"This Red seems to think that he shall find those he seeks sitting
waiting for him, as if their feet were nipped tight in a trap," Tsoay
remarked.

"It is the habit of the Pinda-lick-o-yi," Lupe added, "to believe they
are greater than all others. Yet this one is a stupid fool walking into
the arms of a she-bear with a cub." He chuckled.

"A man with a rifle does not fear a man armed only with a stick," Travis
cut in quickly. "This one is armed with a weapon which he has good
reason to believe makes him invulnerable to attack. If he rests tonight,
he probably leaves his machine on guard."

"At least we are sure of one thing," Nolan said in half agreement. "This
one does not suspect that there are any in these hills save those he can
master. And his machine does not work against us. Thus at dawn--" He
made a swift gesture, and they smiled in concert.

At dawn--the old time of attack. An Apache does not attack at night.
Travis was not sure that any of them could break that old taboo and
creep down upon the camp before the coming of new light.

But tomorrow morning they would take over this confident Red, strip him
of his enslaving machine.

Travis' head jerked. It had come as suddenly as a blow between his
eyes--to half stun him. What ... what was it? Not any physical
impact--no, something which was dazing but still immaterial. He braced
his whole body, awaiting its return, trying frantically to understand
what had happened in that instant of vertigo and seeming disembodiment.
Never had he experienced anything like it--or had he? Two years or more
ago when he had gone through the time transfer to enter the Arizona of
the Folsom Men some ten thousand years earlier--that moment of transfer
had been something like this, a sensation of being awry in space and
time with no stable footing to be found.

Yet he was lying here on very tangible rock and soil, and nothing about
him in the shadow-hung landscape of Topaz had changed in the slightest.
But that blow had left behind it a quivering residue of panic buried far
inside him, a tender spot like an open wound.

Travis drew a deep breath which was almost a sob, levered himself up on
one elbow to stare intently down into the enemy camp. Was this some
attack from the other's unknown weapon? Suddenly he was not at all sure
what might happen when the Apaches made that dawn rush.

Jil-Lee was in station on his right. Travis must compare notes with him
to be sure that this was not indeed a trap. Better to retreat now than
to be taken like fish in a net. He crept out of his place, gave the
chittering signal call of the fluff-ball, and heard Jil-Lee's answer in
a cleverly mimicked trill of a night insect.

"Did you feel something just now--in your head?" Travis found it
difficult to put that sensation into words.

"Not so. But you did?"

He had--of course, he had! The remains of it were still in him, that
point of panic. "Yes."

"The machine?"

"I don't know." Travis' confusion grew. It might be that he alone of the
party had been struck. If so, he could be a danger to his own kind.

"This is not good. I think we had better hold council, away from here."
Jil-Lee's whisper was the merest ghost of sound. He chirped again to be
answered from Tsoay upslope, who passed on the signal.

The first moon was high in the sky as the Apaches gathered together.
Again Travis asked his question: Had any of the others felt that odd
blow? He was met by negatives.

But Nolan had the final word: "This is not good," he echoed Jil-Lee's
comment. "If it was the Red machine at work, then we may all be swept
into his net along with those he seeks. Perhaps the longer one remains
close to that thing, the more influence it gains over him. We shall stay
here until dawn. If the enemy would reach the place they seek, then they
must pass below us, for that is the easiest road. Burdened with his
machine, that Red has ever taken the easiest way. So, we shall see if he
also has a defense against these when they come without warning." He
touched the arrows in his quiver.

To kill from ambush meant that they might never learn the secret of the
machine, but after his experience Travis was willing to admit that
Nolan's caution was the wise way. Travis wanted no part of a second
attack like that which had shaken him so. And Nolan had not ordered a
general retreat. It must be in the war chief's thoughts as it was in
Travis' that if the machine could have an influence over Apaches, it
must cease to function.

They set their ambush with the age-old skill the Redax had grafted into
their memories. Then there was nothing to do but wait.

It was an hour after dawn when Tsoay signaled that the enemy was coming,
and shortly after, they heard the thud of ponies' hoofs. The first Tatar
plodded into view, and by the stance of his body in the saddle, Travis
knew the Red had him under full control. Two, then three Tatars passed
between the teeth of the Apache trap. The fourth one had allowed a wider
gap to open between himself and his fellows.

Then the Red leader came. His face below the bulge of the helmet was not
happy. Travis believed the man was not a horseman by inclination. The
Apache set arrow to bow cord, and at the chirp from Nolan, fired in
concert with his clansmen.

Only one of those arrows found a target. The Red's pony gave a shrill
scream of pain and terror, reared, pawing at the air, toppled back,
pinning its shouting rider under it.

The Red had had a defense right enough, one which had somehow deflected
the arrows. But he neither had protection against his own awkward seat
in the saddle nor the arrow which had seriously wounded the now
threshing pony.

Ahead the Tatars twisted and writhed, mouthed tortured cries, then
dropped out of their saddles to lie limply on the ground as if the
arrows aimed at the master had instead struck each to the heart.



11


Either the Red was lucky, or his reactions were quick. He had somehow
rolled clear of the struggling horse as Lupe leaped from behind a
boulder, knife out and ready. To the eyes of the Apaches the helmeted
man lay easy prey to Lupe's attack. Nor did he raise an arm to defend
himself, though one hand lay free across the plate on his chest.

But the young Apache stumbled, rebounding back as if he had run into an
unseen wall--when his knife was still six inches away from the other.
Lupe cried out, shook under a second impact as the Red fired an
automatic with his other hand.

Travis dropped his bow, returned to the most primitive weapon of all.
His hand closed around a stone and he hurled the fist-sized oval
straight at the helmet so clearly outlined against the rocks below.

But even as Lupe's knife had never touched flesh, so was the rock
deflected; the Red was covered by some protective field. This was
certainly nothing the Apaches had seen before. Nolan's whistle summoned
them to draw back.

The Red fired again, the sharp bark of the hand gun harsh and loud. He
did not have any real target, for with the exception of Lupe the Apaches
had gone to earth. Between the rocks the Red was struggling to his feet,
but he moved slowly, favoring his side and one leg; he had not come
totally unharmed from his tumble with the pony.

An armed enemy who could not be touched--one who knew there were more
than outlaws in this region. The Red leader was far more of a threat to
the Apaches now than he had ever been. He must not be allowed to escape.

He was holstering his gun, moving along with one hand against the rocks
to steady himself, trying to reach one of the ponies that stood with
trailing reins beside the inert Tatars.

But when the enemy reached the far side of that rock he would have to
sacrifice either his steadying hold, or his touch on the chest plate
where his other hand rested. Would he, then, for an instant be
vulnerable?

The pony!

Travis put an arrow on bow cord and shot. Not at the Red, who had
released his hold of the rock, preferring to totter instead of lose
control of the chest plate--but into the air straight before the nose of
the mount.

The pony neighed wildly, tried to turn, and its shoulder caught the
free, groping hand of the Red and spun the man around and back, so that
he flung up both hands in an effort to ward himself off the rocks. Then
the pony stampeded down the break, its companions catching the same
fever, trailing in a mad dash which kept the Red hard against the
boulders.

He continued to stand there until the horses, save for the wounded one
still kicking fruitlessly, were gone. Travis felt a sense of reprieve.
They might not be able to get at the Red, but he was hurt and afoot, two
strikes which might yet reduce him to a condition the Apaches could
handle.

Apparently the other was also aware of that, for now he pushed out from
the rocks and stumbled along after the ponies. But he went only a step
or two. Then, settling back once more against a convenient boulder, he
began to work at the plate on his chest.

Nolan appeared noiselessly beside Travis. "What does he do?" His lips
were very close to the younger man's ear, his voice hardly more than a
breath.

Travis shook his head slightly. The Red's actions were a complete
mystery. Unless, now disabled and afoot, he was trying to summon aid.
Though there was no landing place for a helicopter here.

Now was the time to try and reach Lupe. Travis had seen a slight
movement in the fallen Apache's hand, the first indication that the
enemy's shot had not been as fatal as it had looked. He touched Nolan's
arm, pointed to Lupe; and then, discarding his bow and quiver beside the
war leader, he stripped for action. There was cover down to the wounded
Apache which would aid him. He must pass one of the Tatars on the way,
but none of the tribesmen had shown any signs of life since they had
fallen from their saddles at the first attack.

With infinite care, Travis lowered himself into a narrow passage, took a
lizard's way between brush and boulder, pausing only when he reached the
Tatar for a quick check on the potential enemy.

The lean brown face was half turned, one cheek in the sand, but the
slack mouth, the closed eyes were those, Travis believed, of a dead man.
By some action of his diabolic machine the Red must have snuffed out his
four captives--perhaps in the belief that they were part of the Apache
attack.

Travis reached the rock where Lupe lay. He knew that Nolan was watching
the Red and would give him warning if he suddenly showed an interest in
anything but his machine. The Apache reached out, his hands closing on
Lupe's ankles. Beneath his touch, flesh and muscle tensed. Lupe's eyes
were open, focused now on Travis. There was a bleeding furrow above his
right ear. The Red had tried a difficult head shot, failing in his aim
by a mere fraction of an inch.

Lupe made a swift move for which Travis was ready. His grip on the
other's body helped to tumble them both around a rock which lay between
them and the Red. There was the crack of another shot and dust spurted
from the side of the boulder. But they lay together, safe for the
present, as Travis was sure the enemy would not risk an open attack on
their small fortress.

With Travis' aid Lupe struggled back up to the site where Nolan waited.
Jil-Lee was there to make competent examination of the boy's wound.

"Creased," he reported. "A sore head, but no great damage. Perhaps a
scar later, warrior!" He gave Lupe an encouraging thump on the shoulder,
before plastering an aid pack over the cut.

"Now we go!" Nolan spoke with emphatic decision.

"He saw enough of us to know we are not Tatars."

Nolan's eyes were cold, his mouth grim as he faced Travis.

"And how can we fight him--?"

"There is a wall--a wall you cannot see--about him," Lupe broke in.
"When I would strike at him, I could not!"

"A man with invisible protection and a gun," Jil-Lee took up the
argument. "How would you deal with him, younger brother?"

"I don't know," Travis admitted. Yet he also believed that if they
withdrew, left the Red here to be found by his own people, the enemy
would immediately begin an investigation of the southern country.
Perhaps, pushed by their need for learning more about the Apaches, they
would bring the helicopter in over the mountains. The answer to all
Apache dangers, for now, lay in the immediate future of this one man.

"He is hurt, he cannot go far on foot. And even if he calls the 'copter,
there is no landing place. He will have to move elsewhere to be picked
up." Travis thought aloud, citing the thin handful of points in their
favor.

Tsoay nodded toward the rim of the ravine. "Rocks up there and rocks can
roll. Start an earthslide...."

Something within Travis balked at that. From the first he had been
willing enough to slug it out with the Red, weapon to weapon, man to
man. Also, he had wanted to take a captive, not stand over a body. But
to use the nature of the country against the enemy, that was the oldest
Apache trick of all and one they would have to be forced to employ.

Nolan had already nodded in assent, and Tsoay and Jil-Lee started off.
Even if the Red did possess a protective wall device, could it operate
in full against a landslide? They all doubted that.

The Apaches reached the cliff rim without exposing themselves to the
enemy's fire. The Red still sat there calmly, his back against the rock,
his hands busy with his equipment as if he had all the time in the
world.

Then suddenly came a scream from more than one throat.

"_Dar-u-gar_!" The ancient war cry of the Mongol Hordes.

Then over the lip of the other slope rose a wave of men--their curved
swords out, a glazed set to their eyes--heading for the Amerindians with
utter disregard for any personal safety. Menlik in the lead, his
shaman's robe flapping wide below his belt like the wings of some
oversized predatory bird. Hulagur ... Jagatai ... men from the outlaws'
camp. And they were not striving to destroy their disabled overlord in
the vale below, but to wipe out the Apaches!

Only the fact that the Apaches were already sheltered behind the rocks
they were laboring to dislodge gave them a precious few moments of
grace. There was no time to use their bows. They could only use knives
to meet the swords of the Tatars, knives and the fact that they could
fight with unclouded minds.

"He has them under control!" Travis pawed at Jil-Lee's shoulder. "Get
him--they'll stop!"

He did not wait to see if the other Apache understood. Instead, he threw
the full force of his own body against the rock they had made the center
stone of their slide. It gave, rolled, carrying with it and before it
the rest of the piled rubble. Travis stumbled, fell flat, and then a
body thudded down upon him, and he was fighting for his life to keep a
blade from his throat. Around him were the shouts and cries of embroiled
warriors; then all was silenced by a roar from below.

Glazed eyes in a face only a foot from his own, the twisted, panting
mouth sending gusts of breath into his nostrils. Suddenly there was
reason back in those eyes, a bewilderment, which became fear ...
panic.... The Tatar's body twisted in Travis' hold, striving now not to
attack, but to win free. As the Apache loosened his grip the other
jerked away, so that for a moment or two they lay gasping, side by side.

Men sat up to look at men. There was a spreading stain down Jil-Lee's
side and one of the Tatars sprawled near him, both his hands on his
chest, coughing violently.

Menlik clawed at the trunk of a wind-twisted mountain tree, pulled
himself to his feet, and stood swaying as might a man long ill and
recovering from severe exertion.

Insensibly both sides drew apart, leaving a space between Tatar and
Apache. The faces of the Amerindians were grim, those of the Mongols
bewildered and then harsh as they eyed their late opponents with dawning
reason. What had begun in compulsion for the Tatars might well flare now
into rational combat--and from that to a campaign of extermination.

Travis was on his feet. He looked over the lip of the drop. The Red was
still in his place down there, a pile of rubble about him. His
protection must have failed, for his head was back at an unnatural angle
and the dent in his helmet could be easily seen.

"That one is dead--or helpless!" Travis cried out. "Do you still wish to
fight for him, Shaman?"

Menlik came away from the tree and walked to the edge of the drop. The
others, too, were moving forward. After the shaman looked down he
stooped, picked up a small stone, and flung it at the motionless Red.
There was a crack of sound. They all saw the tiny spurt of flame, a curl
of smoke from the plate on the Red's chest. Not only the man, but his
control was finished now.

A wolfish growl and two of the Tatars swung over, started down to the
Red. Menlik shouted and they slackened pace.

"We want that," he cried in English. "Perhaps so we can learn--"

"The learning is yours," Jil-Lee replied. "Just as this land is yours,
Shaman. But I warn you, from this day do not ride south!"

Menlik turned, the charms on his belt clicking. "So that is the way it
is to be, Apache?"

"That is the way it shall be, Tatar! We do not ride to war with allies
who may turn their knives against our backs because they are slaves to a
machine the enemy controls."

The Tatar's long, slender-fingered hands opened and closed. "You are a
wise man, Apache, but sometimes more than wisdom alone is needed----"

"We are wise men, Shaman, let it rest there," Jil-Lee replied somberly.

Already the Apaches were on their way, putting two cliff ridges behind
them before they halted to examine and cover their wounds.

"We go." Nolan's chin lifted, indicating the southern route. "Here we
do not come again; there is too much witchcraft in this place."

Travis stirred, saw that Jil-Lee was frowning at him.

"Go--?" he repeated.

"Yes, younger brother? You would continue to run with these who are
governed by a machine?"

"No. Only, eyes are needed on this side of the mountains."

"Why?" This time Jil-Lee was plainly on the side of the conservatives.
"We have now seen this machine at work. It is fortunate that the Red is
dead. He will carry no tales of us back to his people as you feared.
Thus, if we remain south from now on, we are safe. And this fight
between Tatar and Red is none of ours. What do you seek here?"

"I must go again to the place of the towers," Travis answered with the
truth. But his friends were facing him with heavy disapproval--now a
full row of Deklays.

"Did you not tell us that you felt this strange thing during the night
we waited about the camp? What if you become one with these Tatars and
are also controlled by the machine? Then you, too, can be made into a
weapon against us--your clansmen!" Jil-Lee was almost openly hostile.

Sense was on his side. But in Travis was this other desire of which he
was becoming more conscious by the minute. There was a reason for those
towers, perhaps a reason important enough for him to discover and run
the risk of angering his own people.

"There may be this--" Nolan's voice was remote and cold, "you may
already be a piece of this thing, bound to the machines. If so, we do
not want you among us."

There it was--an open hostility with more power behind it than Deklay's
motiveless disapproval had carried. Travis was troubled. The family, the
clan--they were important. If he took the wrong step now and was
outlawed from that tight fortress, then as an Apache he would indeed be
a lost man. In the past of his people there had been renegades from the
tribe--men such as the infamous Apache Kid who had killed and killed
again, not only white men but his own people. Wolf men living wolves'
lives in the hills. Travis was threatened with that. Yet--up the ladder
of civilization, down the ladder--why did this feverish curiosity ride
him so cruelly now?

"Listen," Jil-Lee, his side padded with bandages, stepped closer--"and
tell me, younger brother, what is it that you seek in these towers?"

"On another world there were secrets of the old ones to be found in such
ancient buildings. Here that might also be true."

"And among the secrets of those old ones," Nolan's voice was still
harsh--"were those which brought us to this world, is that not so?"

"Did any man drive you, Nolan, or you, Tsoay, or you, Jil-Lee, or any of
us, to promise to go beyond the stars? You were told what might be done,
and you were eager to try it. You were all volunteers!"

"Save for this voyage when we were told nothing," Jil-Lee answered,
cutting straight to the heart of the matter. "Yet, Nolan, I do not
believe that it is for more voyage tapes that our younger brother now
searches, nor would those do us any good--as our ship will not rise
again from here. What is it that you do seek?"

"Knowledge--weapons, maybe. Can we stand against these machines of the
Reds? Yet many of the devices they now use are taken from the star ships
they have looted through time. To every weapon there is a defense."

Nolan blinked and for the first time a hint of interest touched the mask
of his face. "To the bow, the rifle," he said softly, "to the rifle, the
machine gun, to the cannon, the big bomb. The defense can be far worse
than the first weapon. So you think that in these towers there may be
things which shall be to the Reds' machines as the bomb is to the cannon
of the Horse Soldiers?"

Travis had an inspiration. "Did not our people lay aside the bow for the
rifle when we went up against the Bluecoats?"

"We do not so go up against these Reds!" protested Lupe.

"Not now. But what if they come across the mountains, perhaps driving
the Tatars before them to do their fighting--?"

"And you believe that if you find weapons in these towers, you will know
how to use them?" Jil-Lee asked. "What will give you that knowledge,
younger brother?"

"I do not claim such knowledge," Travis countered. "But this much I do
have: Once I studied to be an archaeologist and I have seen other
storehouses of these star people. Who else among us can say as much as
that?"

"That is the truth," Jil-Lee acknowledged. "Also there is good sense in
this seeking out of the tower things. Let the Reds find such first--if
they exist at all--and then we may truly be caught in a box canyon with
only death at our heels."

"And you would go to these towers now?" Nolan demanded.

"I can cut across country and then rejoin you on the other side of the
pass!" The feeling of urgency which had been mounting in Travis was now
so demanding that he wanted to race ahead through the wilderness. He was
surprised when Jil-Lee put out his palm up as if to warn the younger
man.

"Take care, younger brother! This is not a lucky business. And remember,
if one goes too far down a wrong trail, there is sometimes no
returning--"

"We shall wait on the other side of the pass for one day," Nolan added.
"Then--" he shrugged--"where you go will be your own affair."

Travis did not understand that promise of trouble. He was already two
steps down his chosen path.



12


Travis had taken a direct cross route through the heights, but not
swiftly enough to reach his objective before nightfall. And he had no
wish to enter the tower valley by moonlight. In him two emotions now
warred. There was the urge to invade the towers, to discover their
secret, and flaring higher and higher the beginnings of a new fear. Was
he now a battlefield for the superstitions of his race reborn by the
Redax and his modern education in the Pinda-lick-o-yi world--half Apache
brave of the past, half modern archaeologist with a thirst for
knowledge? Or was the fear rooted more deeply and for another reason?

Travis crouched in a hollow, trying to understand what he felt. Why was
it suddenly so overwhelmingly important for him to investigate the
towers? If he only had the coyotes with him.... Why and where had they
gone?

He was alive to every noise out of the night, every scent the wind
carried to him. The night had its own life, just as the daylight hours
held theirs. Only a few of those sounds could he identify, even less did
he see. There was one wide-winged, huge flying thing which passed
across the green-gold plate of the nearer moon. It was so large that for
an instant Travis believed the helicopter had come. Then the wings
flapped, breaking the glide, and the creature merged in the shadows of
the night--a hunter large enough to be a serious threat, and one he had
never seen before.

Relying on his own small defense, the strewing of brittle sticks along
the only approach to the hollow, Travis dozed at intervals, his head
down on his forearm across his bent knees. But the cold cramped him and
he was glad to see the graying sky of pre-dawn. He swallowed two ration
tablets and a couple of mouthfuls of water from his canteen and started
on.

By sunup he had reached the ledge of the waterfall, and he hurried along
the ancient road at a pace which increased to a run the closer he drew
to the valley. Deliberately he slowed, his native caution now in
control, so that he was walking as he passed through the gateway into
the swirling mists which alternately exposed and veiled the towers.

There was no change in the scene from the time he had come there with
Kaydessa. But now, rising from a comfortable sprawl on the
yellow-and-green pavement, was a welcoming committee--Nalik'ideyu and
Naginlta showing no more excitement at his coming than if they had
parted only moments before.

Travis went down on one knee, holding out his hand to the female, who
had always been the more friendly. She advanced a step or two, touched a
cold nose to his knuckles, and whined.

"Why?" He voiced that one word, but behind it was a long list of
questions. Why had they left him? Why were they here where there was no
hunting? Why did they meet him now as if they had calmly expected his
return?

Travis glanced from the animals to the towers, those windows set in
diamond pattern. And again he was visited by the impression that he was
under observation. With the mist floating across those openings, it
would be easy for a lurker to watch him unseen.

He walked slowly on into the valley, his moccasins making no sound on
the pavement, but he could hear the faint click of the coyotes' claws as
they paced beside him, on each hand. The sun did not penetrate here,
making merely a gilt fog of the mist. As he approached within touching
distance of the first tower, it seemed to Travis that the mist was
curling about him; he could no longer see the archway through which he
had entered the valley.

"Naye'nezyani--Slayer of Monsters--give strength to the bow arm, to the
knife wrist!" Out of what long-buried memory did that ancient plea come?
Travis was hardly aware of the sense of the words until he spoke them
aloud. "You who wait--_shi inday to-dah ishan_--an Apache is not food
for you! I am Fox of the Itcatcudnde'yu--the Eagle People; and beside me
walk _ga'ns_ of power...."

Travis blinked and shook his head as one waking. Why had he spoken so,
using words and phrases which were not part of any modern speech?

He moved on, around the base of the first tower, to find no door, no
break in its surface below the second-story windows--to the next
structure and the next, until he had encircled all three. If he were to
enter any, he must find a way of reaching the lowest windows.

On he went to the other opening of the valley, the one which gave upon
the territory of the Tatar camp. But he did not sight any of the Mongols
as he hacked down a sapling, trimmed, and smoothed it into a
blunt-pointed lance. His sash-belt, torn into even strips and knotted
together, gave him a rope which he judged would be barely long enough
for his purpose.

Then Travis made a chancy cast for the lower window of the nearest
tower. On the second try the lance slipped in, and he gave a quick jerk,
jamming the lance as a bar across the opening. It was a frail ladder but
the best he could improvise. He climbed until the sill of the window was
within reach and he could pull himself up and over.

The sill was a wide one, at least a twenty-four-inch span between the
inner and outer surface of the tower. Travis sat there for a minute,
reluctant to enter. Near the end of his dangling scarf-rope the two
coyotes lay on the pavement, their heads up, their tongues lolling from
their mouths, their expressions ones of detached interest.

Perhaps it was the width of the outer wall that subdued the amount of
light in the room. The chamber was circular, and directly opposite him
was a second window, the lowest of the matching diamond pattern. He took
the four-foot drop from the sill to the floor but lingered in the light
as he surveyed every inch of the room. There were no furnishings at all,
but in the very center sank a well of darkness. A smooth pillar, glowing
faintly, rose from its core. Travis' adjusting eyes noted how the light
came in small ripples--green and purple, over a foundation shade of dark
blue.

The pillar seemed rooted below and it extended up through a similar
opening in the ceiling, providing the only possible exit up or down,
save for climbing from window to window outside. Travis moved slowly to
the well. Underfoot was a smooth surface overlaid with a velvet carpet
of dust which arose in languid puffs as he walked. Here and there he
sighted prints in the dust, strange triangular wedges which he thought
might possibly have been made by the claws of birds. But there were no
other footprints. This tower had been undisturbed for a long, long time.

He came to the well and looked down. There was dark there, dark in which
the pulsations of light from the pillar shown the stronger. But that
glow did not extend beyond the edge of the well through which the thick
rod threaded. Even by close examination he could detect no break in the
smooth surface of the pillar, nothing remotely resembling hand- or
footholds. If it did serve the purpose of a staircase, there were no
treads.

At last Travis put out his hand to touch the surface of the pillar. And
then he jerked back--to no effect. There was no breaking contact between
his fingers and an unknown material which had the sleekness of polished
metal but--and the thought made him slightly queasy--the warmth and very
slight give of flesh!

He summoned all his strength to pull free and could not. Not only did
that hold grip him, but his other hand and arm were being drawn to join
the first! Inside Travis primitive fears awoke full force, and he threw
back his head, voicing a cry of panic as wild as that of a hunting
beast.

An instant later, his left palm was as tight a prisoner as his right.
And with both hands so held, his whole body was suddenly snapped
forward, off the safe foundation of the floor, tight to the pillar.

In this position he was sucked down into the well. And while unable to
free himself from the pillar, he did slip along its length easily
enough. Travis shut his eyes in an involuntary protest against this
weird form of capture, and a shiver ran through his body as he continued
to descend.

After the first shock had subsided the Apache realized that he was not
truly falling at all. Had the pillar been horizontal instead of
vertical, he would have gauged its speed that of a walk. He passed
through two more room enclosures; he must already be below the level of
the valley floor outside. And he was still a prisoner of the pillar, now
in total darkness.

His feet came down against a level surface, and he guessed he must have
reached the end. Again he pulled back, arching his shoulders in a final
desperate attempt at escape, and stumbled away as he was released.

He came up sideways against a wall and stood there panting. The light,
which might have come from the pillar but which seemed more a part of
the very air, was bright enough to reveal that he was in a corridor
running into greater dark both right and left.

Travis took two strides back to the pillar, fitted his palms once again
to its surface, with no result. This time his flesh did not adhere and
there was no possible way for him to climb that slick pole. He could
only hope that at some point the corridor would give him access to the
surface. But which way to go--?

At last he chose the right-hand path and started along it, pausing every
few steps to listen. But there was no sound except the soft pad of his
own feet. The air was fresh enough, and he thought he could detect a
faint current coming toward him from some point ahead--perhaps an exit.

Instead, he came into a room and a small gasp of astonishment was wrung
out of him. The walls were blank, covered with the same ripples of
blue-purple-green light which colored the pillar. Just before him was a
table and behind it a bench, both carved from the native yellow-red
mountain rock. And there was no exit except the doorway in which he now
stood.

Travis walked to the bench. Immovable, it was placed so that whoever sat
there must face the opposite wall of the chamber with the table before
him. And on the table was an object Travis recognized immediately from
his voyage in the alien star ship, one of the reader-viewers through
which the involuntary explorers had learned what little they knew of the
older galactic civilization.

A reader--and beside it a box of tapes. Travis touched the edge of that
box gingerly, half expecting it to crumble into nothingness. This was a
place long deserted. Stone table, bench, the towers could survive
through centuries of abandonment, but these other objects....

The substance of the reader was firm under the film of dust; there was
less dust here than had been in the upper tower chamber. Hardly knowing
why, Travis threw one leg over the bench and sat down behind the table,
the reader before him, the box of tapes just beyond his hand.

He surveyed the walls and then looked away hurriedly. The rippling
colors caught at his eyes. He had a feeling that if he watched that ebb
and flow too long, he would be captured in some subtle web of
enchantment just as the Reds' machine had caught and held the Tatars. He
turned his attention to the reader. It was, he believed, much like the
one they had used on the ship.

This room, table, bench, had all been designed with a set purpose. And
that purpose--Travis' fingers rested on the box of tapes he could not
yet bring himself to open--that purpose was to use the reader, he would
swear to that. Tapes so left must have had a great importance for those
who left them. It was as if the whole valley was a trap to channel a
stranger into this underground chamber.

Travis snapped open the box, fed the first disk into the reader, and
applied his eyes to the vision tube at its apex.

The rippling walls looked just the same when he looked up once more, but
the cramp in his muscles told Travis that time had passed--perhaps hours
instead of minutes--since he had taken out the first disk. He cupped his
hands over his eyes and tried to think clearly. There had been sheets of
meaningless symbol writing, but also there had been many clear,
three-dimensional pictures, accompanied by a singsong commentary in an
alien tongue, seemingly voiced out of thin air. He had been stuffed with
ragged bits and patches of information, to be connected only by guesses,
and some wild guesses, too. But this much he did know--these towers had
been built by the bald spacemen, and they were highly important to that
vanished stellar civilization. The information in this room, as
disjointed as it had been for him, led to a treasure trove on Topaz
greater than he had dreamed.

Travis swayed on the bench. To know so much and yet so little! If Ashe
were only here, or some other of the project technicians! A treasure
such as Pandora's box had been, peril for one who opened it and did not
understand. The Apache studied the three walls of blue-purple-green in
turn and with new attention. There were ways through those walls; he was
fairly sure he could unlock at least one of them. But not now--certainly
not now!

And there was another thing he knew: The Reds must _not_ find this. Such
a discovery on their part would not only mean the end of his own people
on Topaz, but the end of Terra as well. This could be a new and alien
Black Death spread to destroy whole nations at a time!

If he could--much as his archaeologist's training would argue against
it--he would blot out this whole valley above and below ground. But
while the Reds might possess a means of such destruction, the Apaches
did not. No, he and his people must prevent its discovery by the enemy
by doing what he had seen as necessary from the first--wiping out the
Red leaders! And that must be done before they chanced upon the towers!

Travis arose stiffly. His eyes ached, his head felt stuffed with
pictures, hints, speculations. He wanted to get out, back into the open
air where perhaps the clean winds of the heights would blow some of
this frightening half knowledge from his benumbed mind. He lurched down
the corridor, puzzled now by the problem of getting back to the window
level.

Here, before him, was the pillar. Without hope, but still obeying some
buried instinct, Travis again set his hands to its surface. There was a
tug at his cramped arms; once more his body was sucked to the pillar.
This time he was rising!

He held his breath past the first level and then relaxed. The principle
of this weird form of transportation was entirely beyond his
understanding, but as long as it worked in reverse he didn't care to
find out. He reached the windowed chamber, but the sunlight had left it;
instead, the clean cut of moon sweep lay on the dusty floor. He must
have been hours in that underground place.

Travis pulled away from the embrace of the pillar. The bar of his wooden
lance was still across the window and he ran for it. To catch the
scouting party at the pass he must hurry. The report they would make to
the clan now had to be changed radically in the face of his new
discoveries. The Apaches dared not retreat southward and withdraw from
the fight, leaving the Reds to use what treasure lay here.

As he hit the pavement below he looked about for the coyotes. Then he
tried the mind call. But as mysteriously as they had met him in the
valley, so now were they gone again. And Travis had no time to hunt for
them. With a sigh, he began his race to the pass.

In the old days, Travis remembered, Apache warriors had been able to
cover forty-five or fifty miles a day on foot and over rough territory.
But perhaps his modern breeding had slowed him. He had been so sure he
could catch up before the others were through the pass. But he stood now
in the hollow where they had camped, read the sign of overturned stone
and bent twig left for him, and knew they would reach the rancheria and
report the decision Deklay and the others wanted before he could head
them off.

Travis slogged on. He was so tired now that only the drug from the
sustenance tablets he mouthed at intervals kept him going at a dogged
pace, hardly more than a swift walk. And always his mind was haunted by
fragments of pictures, pictures he had seen in the reader. The big bomb
had been the nightmare of his own world for so long, and what was that
against the forces the bald star rovers had been able to command?

He fell beside a stream and slept. There was sunshine about him as he
arose to stagger on. What day was this? How long had he sat in the tower
chamber? He was not sure of time any more. He only knew that he must
reach the rancheria, tell his story, somehow win over Deklay and the
other reactionaries to prove the necessity for invading the north in
force.

A rocky point which was a familiar landmark came into focus. He padded
on, his chest heaving, his breath whistling through parched, sun-cracked
lips. He did not know that his face was now a mask of driven resolution.

"Hahhhhhh--"

The cry reached his dulled ears. Travis lifted his head, saw the men
before him and tried to think what that show of weapons turned toward
him could mean.

A stone thudded to earth only inches before his feet, to be followed by
another. He wavered to a stop.

"_Ni'ilgac_--!"

Witch? Where was a witch? Travis shook his head. There was no witch.

"_Do ne'ilka da_'!"

The old death threat, but why--for whom?

Another stone, this one hitting him in the ribs with force enough to
send him reeling back and down. He tried to get up again, saw Deklay
grin widely and take aim--and at last Travis realized what was
happening.

Then there was a bursting pain in his head and he was falling--falling
into a well of black, this time with no pillar of blue to guide him.



13


The rasp of something wet and rough, persistent against his cheek;
Travis tried to turn his head to avoid the contact and was answered by a
burst of pain which trailed off into a giddiness, making him fear
another move, no matter how minor. He opened his eyes and saw the
pointed ears, the outline of a coyote head between him and a dull gray
sky, was able to recognize Nalik'ideyu.

A wetness other than that from the coyote's tongue slid down his
forehead now. The dull clouds overhead had released the first heavy rain
Travis had experienced since their landing on Topaz. He shivered as the
chill damp of his clothes made him aware that he must have been lying
out in the full force of the downpour for some time.

It was a struggle to get to his knees, but Nalik'ideyu mouthed a hold on
his shirt, tugging and pulling so that somehow he crept into a hollow
beneath the branches of a tree where the spouting water was lessened to
a few pattering drops.

There the Apache's strength deserted him again and he could only hunch
over, his bent knees against his chest, trying to endure the throbbing
misery in his head, the awful floating sensation which followed any
movement. Fighting against that, he tried to remember just what had
happened.

The meeting with Deklay and at least four or five others ... then the
Apache accusation of witchcraft, a serious thing in the old days. Old
days! To Deklay and his fellows, these _were_ the old days! And the
threat that Deklay or some other had shouted at him--"_Do ne'ilka
da'_"--meant literally: "It won't dawn for you--death!"

Stones, the last thing Travis remembered were the stones. Slowly his
hands went out to explore his body. There was more than one bruised area
on his shoulders and ribs, even on his thighs. He must still have been a
target after he had fallen under the stone which had knocked him
unconscious. Stoned ... outlawed! But why? Surely Deklay's hostility
could not have swept Buck, Jil-Lee, Tsoay, even Nolan, into agreeing to
that? Now he could not think straight.

Travis became aware of warmth, not only of warmth and the soft touch of
a furred body by his side, but a comforting communication of mind, a
feeling he had no words to describe adequately. Nalik'ideyu was sitting
crowded against him, her nose thrust up to rest on his shoulder. She
breathed in soft puffs which stirred the loose locks of his rain-damp
hair. And now he flung one arm about her, a gesture which brought a
whisper of answering whine.

He was past wondering about the actions of the coyotes, only supremely
thankful for Nalik'ideyu's present companionship. And a moment later
when her mate squeezed under the low loop of a branch and joined them
in this natural wickiup, Travis held out his other hand, drew it
lovingly across Naginlta's wet hide.

"Now what?" he asked aloud. Deklay could only have taken such a drastic
action with the majority of the clan solidly behind him. It could well
be that this reactionary was the new chief, this act of Travis'
expulsion merely adding to Deklay's growing prestige.

The shivering which had begun when Travis recovered consciousness, still
shook him at intervals. Back on Terra, like all the others in the team,
he had had every inoculation known to the space physicians, including
several experimental ones. But the cold virus could still practically
immobilize a man, and this was no time to give body room to chills and
fever.

Catching his breath as his movements touched to life the pain in one
bruise after another, Travis peeled off his soaked clothing, rubbed his
body dry with handfuls of last year's leaves culled from the thick
carpet under him, knowing there was nothing he could do until the
whirling in his head disappeared. So he burrowed into the leaves until
only his head was uncovered, and tried to sleep, the coyotes curling up
one on either side of his nest.

He dreamed but later could not remember any incident from those dreams,
save a certain frustration and fear. When he awoke, again to the sound
of steady rain, it was dark. He reached out--both coyotes were gone. His
head was clearer and suddenly he knew what must be done. As soon as his
body was strong enough, he, too, would return to instincts and customs
of the past. This situation was desperate enough for him to challenge
Deklay.

In the dark Travis frowned. He was slightly taller, and three or four
years younger than his enemy. But Deklay had the advantage in a stouter
build and longer reach. However, Travis was sure that in his present
life Deklay had never fought a duel--Apache fashion. And an Apache duel
was not a meeting anyone entered into lightly. Travis had the right to
enter the rancheria and deliver such a challenge. Then Deklay must meet
him or admit himself in the wrong. That part of it was simple.

But in the past such duels had just one end, a fatal one for at least
one of the fighters. If Travis took this trail, he must be prepared to
go the limit. And he didn't want to kill Deklay! There were too few of
them here on Topaz to make any loss less than a real catastrophe. While
he had no liking for Deklay, neither did he nurse any hatred. However,
he must challenge the other or remain a tribal outcast; and Travis had
no right to gamble with time and the future, not after what he had
learned in the tower. It might be his life and skill, or Deklay's,
against the blotting out of them all--and their home world into the
bargain.

First, he must locate the present camp of the clan. If Nolan's arguments
had counted, they would be heading south away from the pass. And to
follow would draw him farther from the tower valley. Travis' battered
face ached as he grinned bitterly. This was another time when a man
could wish he were two people, a scout on sentry duty at the valley, the
fighter heading in the opposite direction to have it out with Deklay.
But since he was merely one man he would have to gamble on time, one of
the trickiest risks of all.

Before dawn Nalik'ideyu returned, carrying with her a bird--or at least
birds must have been somewhere in the creature's ancestry, but the
present representative of its kind had only vestigial remnants of wings,
its trailing feet and legs well developed and far more powerful.

Travis skinned the corpse, automatically putting aside some spine quills
to feather future arrows. Then he ate slivers of dusky meat raw,
throwing the bones to Nalik'ideyu.

Though he was still stiff and sore, Travis was determined to be on his
way. He tried mind contact with the coyote, picturing the Apaches,
notably Deklay, as sharply as he could by mental image. And her assent
was clear in return. She and her mate were willing to lead him to the
tribe. He gave a light sigh of relief.

As he slogged on through the depressing drizzle, the Apache wondered
again why the coyotes had left him before and waited in the tower
valley. What link was there between the animals of Terra and the remains
of the long-ago empire of the stars? For he was certain it was not by
chance that Nalik'ideyu and Naginlta had lingered in that misty place.
He longed to communicate with them directly, to ask questions and be
answered.

Without their aid, Travis would never have been able to track the clan.
The drizzle alternated with slashing bursts of rain, torrential enough
to drive the trackers to the nearest cover. Overhead the sky was either
dull bronze or night black. Even the coyotes paced nose to ground, often
making wide casts for the trail while Travis waited.

The rain lasted for three days and nights, filling watercourses with
rapidly rising streams. Travis could only hope that the others were
having the same difficulty traveling that he was, perhaps the more so
since they were burdened with packs. The fact that they kept on meant
that they were determined to get as far from the northern mountains as
they could.

On the fourth morning the bronze of the clouds slowly thinned into the
usual gold, and the sun struck across hills where mist curled like steam
from a hundred bubbling pots. Travis relaxed in the welcome warmth,
feeling his shirt dry on his shoulders. It was still a waterlogged
terrain ahead which should continue to slow the clan. He had high
expectations of catching up with them soon, and now the worst of his
bruises had faded. His muscles were limber, and he had worked out his
plan as best he could.

Two hours later he sat in ambush, waiting for the scout who was walking
into his hands. Under the direction of the coyotes, Travis had circled
the line of march, come in ahead of the clan. Now he needed an emissary
to state his challenge, and the fact that the scout he was about to jump
was Manulito, one of Deklay's supporters, suited Travis' purpose
perfectly. He gathered his feet under him as the other came opposite,
and sprang.

The rush carried Manulito off his feet and face down on the sod while
Travis made the best of his advantage and pinned the wildly fighting man
under him. Had it been one of the older braves he might not have been so
successful, but Manulito was still a boy by Apache standards.

"Lie still!" Travis ordered. "Listen well--so you can say to Deklay the
words of the Fox!"

The frenzied struggles ceased. Manulito managed to wrench his head to
the left so he could see his captor. Travis loosened his grip, got to
his feet. Manulito sat up, his face darkly sullen, but he did not reach
for his knife.

"You will say this to Deklay: The Fox says he is a man of little sense
and less courage, preferring to throw stones rather than meet knife to
knife as does a warrior. If he thinks as a warrior, let him prove
it--his strength against my strength--after the ways of the People!"

Some of the sullenness left Manulito's expression. He was eager,
excited.

"You would duel with Deklay after the old custom?"

"I would. Say this to Deklay, openly so that all men may hear. Then
Deklay must also give answer openly."

Manulito flushed at that implication concerning his leader's courage,
and Travis knew that he would deliver the challenge openly. To keep his
hold on the clan the latter must accept it, and there would be an
audience of his people to witness the success or defeat of their new
chief and his policies.

As Manulito disappeared Travis summoned the coyotes, putting full effort
into getting across one message. Any tribe led by Deklay would be
hostile to the mutant animals. They must go into hiding, run free in the
wilderness if the gamble failed Travis. Now they withdrew into the
bushes but not out of reach of his mind.

He did not have too long to wait. First came Jil-Lee, Buck, Nolan,
Tsoay, Lupe--those who had been with him on the northern scout. Then the
others, the warriors first, the women making a half circle behind,
leaving a free space in which Deklay walked.

"I am the Fox," Travis stated. "And this one has named me witch and
_natdahe_, outlaw of the mountains. Therefore do I come to name names in
my turn. Hear me, People: This Deklay--he would walk among you as
_'izesnantan_, a great chief--but he does not have the _go'ndi_, the
holy power of a chief. For this Deklay is a fool, with a head filled by
nothing but his own wishes, not caring for his clan brothers. He says he
leads you into safety; I say he leads you into the worst danger any
living man can imagine--even in peyote dreams! He is one twisted in his
thoughts, and he would make you twisted also----"

Buck cut in sharply, hushing the murmur of the massed clan.

"These are bold words, Fox. Will you back them?"

Travis' hands were already peeling off his shirt. "I will back them," he
stated between set teeth. He had known since his awakening after the
stoning that this next move was the only one left for him to make. But
now that the testing of his action came, he could not be certain of the
outcome, of anything save that the final decision of this battle might
affect more than the fate of two men. He stripped, noting that Deklay
was doing the same.

Having stepped into the center of the glade, Nolan was using the point
of his knife to score a deep-ridged circle there. Naked except for his
moccasins, with only his knife in his hand, Travis took the two strides
which put him in the circle facing Deklay. He surveyed his opponent's
finely muscled body, realizing that his earlier estimate of Deklay's
probable advantages were close to the mark. In sheer strength the other
outmatched him. Whether Deklay was skillful with his knife was another
question, one which Travis would soon be able to answer.

They circled, eyes intent upon each move, striving to weigh and measure
each other's strengths and weaknesses. Knife dueling among the
Pinda-lick-o-yi, Travis remembered, had once been an art close to
finished swordplay, with two evenly matched fighters able to engage for
a long time without seriously marking each other. But this was a far
rougher and more deadly game, with none of the niceties of such a
meeting.

He evaded a vicious thrust from Deklay.

"The bull charges," he laughed. "And the Fox snaps!" By some incredible
stroke of good fortune, the point of his weapon actually grazed Deklay's
arm, drawing a thin, red inch-long line across the skin.

"Charge again, bull. Feel once more the Fox's teeth!"

He strove to goad Deklay into a crippling loss of temper, knowing how
the other could explode into violent rage. It was dangerous, that rage,
but it could also make a man blindly careless.

There was an inarticulate sound from Deklay, a dusky swelling in the
man's face. He spat, as might an enraged puma, and rushed at Travis who
did not quite manage to avoid the lunge, falling back with a smarting
slash across the ribs.

"The bull gores!" Deklay bellowed. "Horns toss the Fox!"

He rushed again, elated by the sight of the trickling wound on Travis'
side. But the slighter man slipped away.

Travis knew he must be careful in such evasions. One foot across the
ridged circle and he was finished as much as if Deklay's blade had found
its mark. Travis tried a thrust of his own, and his foot came down hard
on a sharp pebble. Through the sole of his moccasin pain shot upward,
caused him to stumble. Again the scarlet flame of a wound, down his
shoulder and forearm this time.

Well, there was one trick, he knew. Travis tossed the knife into the
air, caught it with his left hand. Deklay was now facing a left-handed
fighter and must adjust to that.

"Paw, bull, rattle your horns!" Travis cried. "The Fox still shows his
teeth!"

Deklay recovered from his instant of surprise. With a cry which was
indeed like the bellow of an old range bull, he rushed into grapple,
sure of his superior strength against a younger and already wounded man.

Travis ducked, one knee thumping the ground. He groped out with his
right hand, caught up a handful of earth, and flung it into the dusky
brown face. Again it seemed that luck was on his side. That handful
could not be as blinding as sand, but some bit of the shower landed in
Deklay's eye.

For a space of seconds Deklay was wide open--open for a blow which would
rip him up the middle, the blow Travis could not and would not deliver.

Instead, he took the offensive recklessly, springing straight for his
opponent. As the earth-grimed fingers of one hand clawed into Deklay's
face, he struck with the other, not with the point of the knife but with
its shaft. But Deklay, already only half conscious from the blow, had
his own chance. He fell to the ground, leaving his knife behind, two
inches of steel between Travis' ribs.

Somehow--he didn't know from where he drew that strength--Travis kept
his feet and took one step and then another, out of the circle until the
comforting brace of a tree trunk was against his bare back. Was he
finished--?

He fought to nurse his rags of consciousness. Had he summoned Buck with
his eyes? Or had the urgency of what he had to say reached somehow from
mind to mind? The other was at his side, but Travis put out a hand to
ward him off.

"Towers--" He struggled to keep his wits through the pain and billowing
weakness beginning to creep through him. "Reds mustn't get to the
towers! Worse than the bomb ... end us all!"

He had a hazy glimpse of Nolan and Jil-Lee closing in about him. The
desire to cough tore at him, but they had to know, to believe....

"Reds get to the towers--everything finished. Not only here ... maybe
back home too...."

Did he read comprehension on Buck's face? Would Nolan and Jil-Lee and
the rest believe him? Travis could not suppress the cough any longer,
and the ripping pain which followed was the worst he had ever
experienced. But still he kept his feet, tried to make them understand.

"Don't let them get to the towers. Find that storehouse!"

Travis stood away from the tree, reached out to Buck his earth and
bloodstained hand. "I swear ... truth ... this must be done!"

He was going down, and he had a queer thought that once he reached the
ground everything would end, not only for him but also for his mission.
Trying to see the faces of the men about him was like attempting to
identify the people in a dream.

"Towers!" He had meant to shout it, but he could not even hear for
himself that last word as he fell.



14


Travis' back was braced against blanketed packs as he steadied a piece
of light-yellow bark against one bent knee scowling at the lines drawn
on it in faint green.

"We are here then ... and the ship there--" His thumb was set on one
point of the crude map, forefinger on the other. Buck nodded.

"That is so. Tsoay, Eskelta, Kawaykle, they watch the trails. There is
the pass, two other ways men can come on foot. But who can watch the
air?"

"The Tatars say the Reds dare not bring the 'copter into the mountains.
After they first landed they lost a flyer in a tricky air-current flow
up there. They have only one left and won't risk it. If only they aren't
reinforced before we can move!" There it was again, that constant
gnawing fear of time, time shortening into a rope to strangle them all.

"You think that the knowledge of our ship will bring them into the
open?"

"That--or information about the towers would be the only things
important enough to pull out their experts. They could send a controlled
Tatar party to explore the ship, sure. But that wouldn't give them the
technical reports they need. No, I think if they knew a wrecked Western
Confederation ship was here, it would bring them--or enough of them to
lessen the odds. We have to catch them in the open. Otherwise, they can
hole up forever in that ship-fort of theirs."

"And just how do we let them know our ship is here? Send out another
scouting party and let them be trailed back?"

"That's our last resource." Travis continued to frown at the map. Yes,
it would be possible to let the Reds sight and trail an Apache party.
But there was none in the clan who were expendable. Surely there was
some other way of laying the trap with the wrecked ship for bait.
Capture one of the Reds, let him escape again, having seen what they
wanted him to see? Again a time-wasting business. And how long would
they have to wait and what risks would they take to pick up a Red
prisoner?

"If the Tatars were dependable...." Buck was thinking aloud.

But that "if" was far too big. They could not trust the Tatars. No
matter how much the Mongols wanted to aid in pulling down the Reds, as
long as they could be controlled by the caller they were useless. Or
were they?

"Thought of something?" Buck must have caught Travis' change of
expression.

"Suppose a Tatar saw our ship and then was picked up by a Red hunting
patrol and they got the information out of him?"

"Do you think any outlaw would volunteer to let himself be picked up
again? And if he did, wouldn't the Reds also be able to learn that he
had been set up for the trap?"

"An escaped prisoner?" Travis suggested.

Now Buck was plainly considering the possibilities of such a scheme. And
Travis' own spirits rose a little. The idea was full of holes, but it
could be worked out. Suppose they capture, say, Menlik, bring him here
as a prisoner, let him think they were about to kill him because of that
attack back in the foothills. Then let him escape, pursue him northward
to a point where he could be driven into the hands of the Reds? Very
chancy, but it just might work. Travis was favoring a gamble now, since
his desperate one with the duel had paid off.

The risk he had accepted then had cost him two deep wounds, one of which
might have been serious if Jil-Lee's project-sponsored medical training
had not been to hand. But it had also made Travis one of the clan again,
with his people willing to listen to his warning concerning the tower
treasury.

"The girl--the Tatar girl!"

At first Travis did not understand Buck's ejaculation.

"We get the girl," the other elaborated, "let her escape, then hunt her
to where they'll pick her up. Might even imprison her in the ship to
begin with."

Kaydessa? Though something within him rebelled at that selection for the
leading role in their drama, Travis could see the advantage of Buck's
choice. Woman-stealing was an ancient pastime among primitive cultures.
The Tatars themselves had found wives that way in the past, just as the
Apache raiders of old had taken captive women into their wickiups. Yes,
for raiders to steal a woman would be a natural act, accepted as such
by the Reds. For the same woman to endeavor to escape and be hunted by
her captors also was reasonable. And for such a woman, cut off from her
outlaw kin, to eventually head back toward the Red settlement as the
only hope of evading her enemies--logical all the way!

"She would have to be well frightened," Travis observed with reluctance.

"That can be done for us--"

Travis glanced at Buck with sharp annoyance. He would not allow certain
games out of their common past to be played with Kaydessa. But Buck had
something very different from old-time brutality in mind.

"Three days ago, while you were still flat on your back, Deklay and I
went back to the ship--"

"Deklay?"

"You beat him openly, so he must restore his honor in his own sight. And
the council has forbidden another duel or challenge," Buck replied.
"Therefore he will continue to push for recognition in another way. And
now that he has heard your story and knows we must face the Reds, not
run from them, he is eager to take the war trail--too eager. So we
returned to the ship to make another search for weapons----"

"There were none there before except those we had...."

"Nor now either. But we discovered something else." Buck paused and
Travis was shaken out of his absorption with the problem at hand by a
note in the other's voice. It was as if Buck had come upon something he
could not summon the right words to describe.

"First," Buck continued, "there was this dead thing there, near where
we found Dr. Ruthven. It was something like a man ... but all silvery
hair----"

"The ape-things! The ape-things from the other worlds! What else did you
see?" Travis had dropped the map. His side gave him a painful twinge as
he caught at Buck's sleeve. The bald space rovers--did they still exist
here somewhere? Had they come to explore the ship built on the pattern
of their own but manned by Terrans?

"Nothing except tracks, a lot of them, in every open cabin and hole. I
think there must have been a sizable pack of the things."

"What killed the dead one?"

Buck wet his lips. "I think--fear...." His voice dropped a little,
almost apologetically, and Travis stared.

"The ship is changed. Inside, there is something wrong. When you walk
the corridors your skin crawls, you think there is something behind you.
You hear things, see things from the corners of your eyes.... When you
turn, there's nothing, nothing at all! And the higher you climb into the
ship, the worse it is. I tell you, Travis, never have I felt anything
like it before!"

"It was a ship of many dead," Travis reminded him. Had the age-old
Apache fear of the dead been activated by the Redax into an acute
phobia--to strike down such a level-headed man as Buck?

"No, at first that, too, was my thought. Then I discovered that it was
worst not near that chamber where we lay our dead, but higher, in the
Redax cabin. I think perhaps the machine is still running, but running
in a wrong way--so that it does not awaken old memories of our
ancestors now, but brings into being all the fears which have ever
haunted us through the dark of the ages. I tell you, Travis, when I came
out of that place Deklay was leading me by the hand as if I were a
child. And he was shivering as a man who will never be warm again. There
is an evil there beyond our understanding. I think that this Tatar girl,
were she only to stay there a very short time, would be well
frightened--so frightened that any trained scientist examining her later
would know there was a mystery to be explored."

"The ape-things--could they have tried to run the Redax?" Travis
wondered. To associate machines with the creatures was outwardly pure
folly. But they had been discovered on two of the planets of the old
civilization, and Ashe had thought that they might represent the
degenerate remnants of a once intelligent species.

"That is possible. If so, they raised a storm which drove them out and
killed one of them. The ship is a haunted place now."

"But for us to use the girl...." Travis had seen the logic in Buck's
first suggestion, but now he differed. If the atmosphere of the ship was
as terrifying as Buck said, to imprison Kaydessa there, even
temporarily, was still wrong.

"She need not remain long. Suppose we should do this: We shall enter
with her and then allow the disturbance we would feel to overcome us. We
could run, leave her alone. When she left the ship, we could then take
up the chase, shepherding her back to the country she knows. Within the
ship we would be with her and could see she did not remain too long."

Travis could see a good prospect in that plan. There was one thing he
would insist on--if Kaydessa was to be in that ship, he himself would be
one of the "captors." He said as much, and Buck accepted his
determination as final.

They dispatched a scouting party to infiltrate the territory to the
north, to watch and wait their chance of capture. Travis strove to
regain his feet, to be ready to move when the moment came.

Five days later he was able to reach the ridge beyond which lay the
wrecked ship. With him were Jil-Lee, Lupe, and Manulito. They satisfied
themselves that the globe had had no visitors since Buck and Deklay;
there was no sign that the ape-things had returned.

"From here," Travis said, "the ship doesn't look too bad, almost as if
it might be able to take off again."

"It might lift," Jil-Lee gestured to the mountaintop behind the curve of
the globe--"about that far. The tubes on this side are intact."

"What would happen were the Reds to get inside and try to fly again?"
Manulito wondered aloud.

Travis was struck by a sudden idea, one perhaps just as wild as the
other inspirations he had had since landing on Topaz, but one to be
studied and explored--not dismissed without consideration. Suppose
enough power remained to lift the ship partially and then blow it up?
With the Red technicians on board at the time.... But he was no
engineer, he had no idea whether any part of the globe might or might
not work again.

"They are not fools; a close look would tell them it is a wreck,"
Jil-Lee countered.

Travis walked on. Not too far ahead a yellow-brown shape moved out of
the brush, stood stiff-legged in his path, facing the ship and growling
in a harsh rumble of sound. Whatever moved or operated in that wreck was
picked up by the acute sense of the coyote, even at this distance.

"On!" Travis edged around the snarling animal. With one halting step and
then another, it followed him. There was a sharp warning yelp from the
brush, and a second coyote head appeared. Naginlta followed Travis, but
Nalik'ideyu refused to approach the grounded globe.

Travis surveyed the ship closely, trying to remember the layout of its
interior. To turn the whole sphere into a trap--was it possible? How had
Ashe said the Redax worked? Something about high-frequency waves
stimulating certain brain and nerve centers.

What if one were shielded from those rays? That tear in the side--he
himself must have climbed through that the night they crashed. And the
break was not too far from the space lock. Near the lock was a storage
compartment. And if it had not been jammed, or its contents crushed,
they might have something. He beckoned to Jil-Lee.

"Give me a hand--up there."

"Why?"

"I want to see if the space suits are intact."

Jil-Lee regarded Travis with open bewilderment, but Manulito pushed
forward. "We do not need those suits to walk here, Travis. This air we
can breathe--"

"Not for the air, and not in the open." Travis advanced at a deliberate
pace. "Those suits may be insulated in more ways than one----"

"Against a mixed-up Redax broadcast, you mean!" Jil-Lee exclaimed.
"Yes, but you stay here, younger brother. This is a risky climb, and you
are not yet strong."

Travis was forced to accede to that, waiting as Manulito and Lupe
climbed up to the tear and entered. At least Buck and Deklay's
experience had forewarned them and they would be prepared for the weird
ghosts haunting the interior.

But when they returned, pulling between them the limp space suit, both
men were pale, the shiny sheen of sweat on their foreheads, their hands
shaking. Lupe sat down on the ground before Travis.

"Evil spirits," he said, giving to this modern phenomenon the old name.
"Truly ghosts and witches walk in there."

Manulito had spread the suit on the ground and was examining it with a
care which spoke of familiarity.

"This is unharmed," he reported. "Ready to wear."

The suits were all tailored for size, Travis knew. And this fitted a
slender, medium-sized man. It would fit him, Travis Fox. But Manulito
was already unbuckling the fastenings with practiced ease.

"I shall try it out," he announced. And Travis, seeing the awkward climb
to the entrance of the ship, had to agree that the first test should be
carried out by someone more agile at the moment.

Sealed into the suit, with the bubble helmet locked in place, the Apache
climbed back into the globe. The only form of communication with him was
the rope he had tied about him, and if he went above the first level, he
would have to leave that behind.

In the first few moments they saw no twitch of alarm running along the
rope. After counting fifty slowly, Travis gave it a tentative jerk, to
find it firmly fastened within. So Manulito had tied it there and was
climbing to the control cabin.

They continued to wait with what patience they could muster. Naginlta,
pacing up and down a good distance from the ship, whined at intervals,
the warning echoed each time by his mate upslope.

"I don't like it--" Travis broke off when the helmeted figure appeared
again at the break. Moving slowly in his cumbersome clothing, Manulito
reached the ground, fumbled with the catch of his head covering and then
stood, taking deep, lung-filling gulps of air.

"Well?" Travis demanded.

"I see no ghosts," Manulito said, grinning. "This is ghost-proof!" He
slapped his gloved hand against the covering over his chest. "There is
also this--from what I know of these ships--some of the relays still
work. I think this could be made into a trap. We could entice the Reds
in and then...." His hand moved in a quick upward flip.

"But we don't know anything about the engines," Travis replied.

"No? Listen--you, Fox, are not the only one to remember useful
knowledge." Manulito had lost his cheerful grin. "Do you think we are
just the savages those big brains back at the project wished us to be?
They have played a trick on us with their Redax. So, we can play a few
tricks, too. Me--? I went to M.I.T., or is that one of the things you no
longer remember, Fox?"

Travis swallowed hastily. He really had forgotten that fact until this
very minute. From the beginning, the Apache team had been carefully
selected and screened, not only for survival potential, which was their
basic value to the project, but also for certain individual skills. Just
as Travis' grounding in archaeology had been one advantage, so had
Manulito's technical training made a valuable, though different,
contribution. If at first the Redax, used without warning, had smothered
that training, perhaps the effects were now fading.

"You can do something, then?" he asked eagerly.

"I can try. There is a chance to booby trap the control cabin at least.
And that is where they would poke and pry. Working in this suit will be
tough. How about my trying to smash up the Redax first?"

"Not until after we use it on our captive," Jil-Lee decided. "Then there
would be some time before the Reds come----"

"You talk as if they _will_ come," cut in Lupe. "How can you be sure?"

"We can't," Travis agreed. "But we can count on this much, judging from
the past. Once they know that there is a wrecked ship here, they will be
forced to explore it. They cannot afford an enemy settlement on this
side of the mountains. That would be, according to their way of
thinking, an eternal threat."

Jil-Lee nodded. "That is true. This is a complicated plan, yes, and one
in which many things may go wrong. But it is also one which covers all
the loopholes we know of."

With Lupe's aid Manulito crawled out of the suit. As he leaned it
carefully against a supporting rock he said:

"I have been thinking of this treasure house in the towers. Suppose we
could find new weapons there...."

Travis hesitated. He still shrank from the thought of opening the secret
places behind those glowing walls, to loose a new peril.

"If we took weapons from there and lost the fight...." He advanced his
first objection and was glad to see the expression of comprehension on
Jil-Lee's face.

"It would be putting the weapons straight into Red hands," the other
agreed.

"We may have to chance it before we're through," Manulito warned.
"Suppose we do get some of their technicians into this trap. That isn't
going to open up their main defense for us. We may need a bigger
nutcracker than we've ever seen."

With a return of that queasy feeling he had known in the tower, Travis
knew Manulito was speaking sense. They might have to open Pandora's box
before the end of this campaign.



15


They camped another two days near the wrecked ship while Manulito
prowled the haunted corridors and cabins in his space suit, planning his
booby trap. At night he drew diagrams on pieces of bark and discussed
the possibility of this or that device, sometimes lapsing into
technicalities his companions could not follow. But Travis was well
satisfied that Manulito knew what he was doing.

On the morning of the third day Nolan slipped into their midst. He was
dust-grimed, his face gaunt, the signs of hard travel plain to read.
Travis handed him the nearest canteen, and they watched him drink
sparingly in small sips before he spoke.

"They come ... with the girl--"

"You had trouble?" asked Jil-Lee.

"The Tatars had moved their camp, which was only wise, since the Reds
must have had a line on the other one. And they are now farther to the
west. But--" he wiped his lips with the back of his hand--"also we saw
your towers, Fox. And that is a place of power!"

"No sign that the Reds are prowling there?"

Nolan shook his head. "To my mind the mists there conceal the towers
from aerial view. Only one coming on foot could tell them from the
natural crags of the hills."

Travis relaxed. Time still granted them a margin of grace. He glanced up
to see Nolan smiling faintly.

"This maiden, she is a kin to the puma of the mountains," he announced.
"She has marked Tsoay with her claws until he looks like the ear-clipped
yearling fresh from the branding chute----"

"She is not hurt?" Travis demanded.

This time Nolan chuckled openly. "Hurt? No, we had much to do to keep
her from hurting us, younger brother. That one is truly as she claims, a
daughter of wolves. And she is also keen-witted, marking a return trail
all the way, though she does not know that is as we wish. Did we not
pick the easiest way back for just that reason? Yes, she plans to
escape."

Travis stood up. "Let us finish this quickly!" His voice came out on a
rough note. This plan had never had his full approval. Now he found it
less and less easy to think about taking Kaydessa into the ship,
allowing the emotional torment lurking there to work upon her. Yet he
knew that the girl would not be hurt, and he had made sure he would be
beside her within the globe, sharing with her the horror of the unseen.

A rattling of gravel down the narrow valley opening gave warning to
those by the campfire. Manulito had already stowed the space suit in
hiding. To Kaydessa they must have seemed reverted entirely to savagery.

Tsoay came first, an angry raking of four parallel scratches down his
left cheek. And behind him Buck and Eskelta shoved the prisoner, urging
her on with a show of roughness which did not descend to actual
brutality. Her long braids had shaken loose, and a sleeve was torn,
leaving one slender arm bare. But none of the fighting spirit had left
her.

They thrust her out into the circle of waiting men and she planted her
feet firmly apart, glaring at them all indiscriminately until she
sighted Travis. Then her anger became hotter and more deadly.

"Pig! Rooter in the dirt! Diseased camel--" she shouted at him in
English and then reverted to her own tongue, her voice riding up and
down the scale. Her hands were tied behind her back, but there were no
bonds on her tongue.

"This is one who can speak thunders, and shoot lightnings from her
mouth," Buck commented in Apache. "Put her well away from the wood, lest
she set it aflame."

Tsoay held his hands over his ears. "She can deafen a man when she
cannot set her mark on him otherwise. Let us speedily get rid of her."

Yet for all their jeering comments, their eyes held respect. Often in
the past a defiant captive who stood up boldly to his captors had
received more consideration than usual from Apache warriors; courage was
a quality they prized. A Pinda-lick-o-yi such as Tom Jeffords, who rode
into Cochise's camp and sat in the midst of his sworn enemies for a
parley, won the friendship of the very chief he had been fighting.
Kaydessa had more influence with her captors than she could dream of
holding.

Now it was time for Travis to play his part. He caught the girl's
shoulder and pushed her before him toward the wreck.

Some of the spirit seemed to have left her thin, tense body, and she
went without any more fight. Only when they came into full view of the
ship did she falter. Travis heard her breathe a gasp of surprise.

As they had planned, four of the Apaches--Jil-Lee, Tsoay, Nolan, and
Buck--fanned out toward the heights about the ship. Manulito had already
gone to cover, to don the space suit and prepare for any accident.

Resolutely Travis continued to propel Kaydessa ahead. At the moment he
did not know which was worse, to enter the ship expecting the fear to
strike, or to meet it unprepared. He was ready to refuse to enter, not
to allow the girl, sullenly plodding on under his compulsion, to face
that unseen but potent danger.

Only the memory of the towers and the threat of the Reds finding and
exploiting the treasure there kept him going. Eskelta went first,
climbing to the tear. Travis cut the ropes binding Kaydessa's wrists and
gave her a slight slap between the shoulders.

"Climb, woman!" His anxiety made that a harsh order and she climbed.

Eskelta was inside now, heading for the cabin which might reasonably be
selected as a prison. They planned to get the girl as far as that point
and then stage their act of being overcome by fear, allowing her to
escape.

Stage an act? Travis was not two feet along that corridor before he knew
that there would be little acting needed on his part. The thing which
pervaded the ship did not attack sharply, rather it seeped into his mind
and body as if he drew in poison with every breath, sent it racing
along his veins with every beat of a laboring heart. Yet he could not
put any name to his feelings, except an awful, weakening fear which
weighted him heavier with every step he took.

Kaydessa screamed. Not this time in rage, but with such fervor that
Travis lost his hold, staggered back to the wall. She whirled about, her
face contorted, and sprang at him.

It was indeed like trying to fight a wildcat and after the first second
or two he was hard put to protect his eyes, his face, his side, without
injuring her in return. She scrambled over him, running for the break in
the wall, and disappeared. Travis gasped, and started to crawl for the
break. Eskelta loomed over him, pulled him up in haste.

They reached the opening but did not climb through. Travis was uncertain
as to whether he could make that descent yet, and Eskelta was obeying
orders in not venturing out too soon.

Below, the ground was bare. There was no sign of the Apaches, though
they were in hiding there--and none of Kaydessa. Travis was amazed that
she had vanished so quickly.

Still uneasy from the emanation within, they perched within the shadow
of the break until Travis thought that the fugitive had a good
five-minute start. Then he nodded a signal to Eskelta.

By the time they reached ground level Travis felt a warm wetness
spreading under his shielding palm and he knew the wound had opened. He
spoke a word or two in hot protest against that mishap, knowing it would
keep him from the trail. Kaydessa must be covered all the way back
across the pass, not only to be shepherded away from her people and
toward the plains where she could be picked up by a Red patrol, but also
to keep her from danger. And he had planned from the first to be one of
those shepherds.

Now he was about as much use as a trail-lame pony. However, he could
send deputies. He thought out his call, and Nalik'ideyu's head appeared
in a frame of bush.

"Go, both of you and run with her! Guard--!" He said the words in a
whisper, thought them with a fierce intensity as he centered his gaze on
the yellow eyes in the pointed coyote face. There was a feeling of
assent, and then the animal was gone. Travis sighed.

The Apache scouts were subtle and alert, but the coyotes could far outdo
any man. With Nalik'ideyu and Naginlta flanking her flight, Kaydessa
would be well guarded. She would probably never see her guards or know
that they were running protection for her.

"That was a good move," Jil-Lee said, coming out of concealment. "But
what have you done to yourself?" He stepped closer, pulling Travis' hand
away from his side. By the time Lupe came to report, Travis was again
wound in a strapping bandage pulled tightly about his lower ribs, and
reconciled to the fact that any trailing he would do must be well to the
rear of the first party.

"The towers," he said to Jil-Lee. "If our plan works, we can catch part
of the Reds here. But we still have their ship to take, and for that we
need help which we may find at the towers. Or at least we can be on
guard there if they return with Kaydessa on that path."

Lupe dropped down lightly from an upper ledge. He was grinning.

"That woman is one who thinks. She runs from the ship first as a rabbit
with a wolf at her heels. Then she begins to think. She climbs--" He
lifted one finger to the slope behind them. "She goes behind a rock to
watch under cover. When Fox comes from the ship with Eskelta, again she
climbs. Buck lets himself be seen, so she moves east, as we wish--"

"And now?" questioned Travis.

"She is keeping to the high ways; almost she thinks like one of the
People on the war trail. Nolan believes she will hole up for the night
somewhere above. He will make sure."

Travis licked his lips. "She has no food or water."

Jil-Lee's lips shaped a smile. "They will see that she comes upon both
as if by chance. We have planned all of this, as you know, younger
brother."

That was true. Travis knew that Kaydessa would be guided without her
knowledge by the "accidental" appearance now and then of some
pursuer--just enough to push her along.

"Then, too, she is now armed," Jil-Lee added.

"How?" demanded Travis.

"Look to your own belt, younger brother. Where is your knife?"

Startled, Travis glanced down. His sheath was empty, and he had not
needed that blade since he had drawn it to cut meat at the morning meal.
Lupe laughed.

"She had steel in her hand when she came out of that ghost ship."

"Took it from me while we struggled!" Travis was openly surprised. He
had considered the frenzy displayed by the Tatar girl as an outburst of
almost mindless terror. Yet Kaydessa had had wit enough to take his
knife! Could this be another case where one race was less affected by a
mind machine than the other? Just as the Apaches had not been governed
by the Red caller, so the Tatars might not be as sensitive to the Redax.

"She is a strong one, that woman--one worth many ponies." Eskelta
reverted to the old measure of a wife's value.

"That is true!" Travis agreed emphatically and then was annoyed at the
broadening of Jil-Lee's smile. Abruptly he changed the subject.

"Manulito is setting the booby trap in the ship."

"That is well. He and Eskelta will remain here, and you with them."

"Not so! We must go to the towers----" Travis protested.

"I thought," Jil-Lee cut in, "that you believed the weapons of the old
ones too dangerous for us to use."

"Maybe they will be forced into our hands. But we must be sure the
towers are not entered by the Reds on their way here."

"That is reasonable. But for you, younger brother, no trailing today,
perhaps not tomorrow. If that wound opens again, you might have much bad
trouble."

Travis was forced to accept that, in spite of his worry and impatience.
And the next day when he did move on he had only the report that
Kaydessa had sheltered beside a pool for the night and was doggedly
moving back across the mountains.

Three days later Travis, Jil-Lee, and Buck came into the tower valley.
Kaydessa was in the northern foothills, twice turned back from the west
and the freedom of the outlaws by the Apache scouts. And only half an
hour before, Tsoay had reported by mirror what should have been welcome
news: the Red helicopter was cruising as it had on the day they watched
the hunters enter the uplands. There was an excellent chance of the
fugitive's being sighted and picked up soon.

Tsoay had also spotted a party of three Tatars watching the helicopter.
But after one wide sweep of the flyer they had taken to their ponies and
ridden away at the fastest pace their mounts could manage in this rough
territory.

On a stretch of smooth earth Buck scratched a trail, and they studied
it. The Reds would have to follow this route to seek the wrecked ship--a
route covered by Apache sentinels. And following the chain of
communication the result of the trap would be reported to the party at
the towers.

The waiting was the most difficult; too many imponderables did not allow
for unemotional thinking. Travis was down to the last shred of patience
when word came on the second morning at the hidden valley that Kaydessa
had been picked up by a Red patrol--drawn out to meet them by the
caller.

"Now--the tower weapons!" Buck answered the report with an imperative
order to Travis. And the other knew he could no longer postpone the
inevitable. And only by action could he blot out the haunting mental
picture of Kaydessa once more drawn into the bondage she so hated.

Flanked by Jil-Lee and Buck, he climbed back through the tower window
and faced the glowing pillar.

He crossed the room, put out both hands to the sleek pole, uncertain if
the weird transport would work again. He heard the sharp gasp from the
others as his body was sucked against the pillar and carried downward
through the well. Buck followed him, and Jil-Lee came last. Then Travis
led the way along the underground corridor to the room with the table
and the reader.

He sat down on the bench, fumbled with the pile of tape disks, knowing
that the other two were watching him with almost hostile intentness. He
snapped a disk into the reader, hoping he could correctly interpret the
directions it gave.

He looked up at the wall before him. Three ... four steps, the correct
move--and then an unlocking....

"You know?" Buck demanded.

"I can guess----"

"Well?" Jil-Lee moved to the table. "What do we do?"

"This--" Travis came from behind the table, walked to the wall. He put
out both hands, flattened his palms against the green-blue-purple
surface and slid them slowly along. Under his touch, the material of the
wall was cool and hard, unlike the live feel the pillar had. Cool
until--

One palm, held at arm's length had found the right spot. He slid the
other hand along in the opposite direction until his arms were level
with his shoulders. His fingers were able now to press on those points
of warmth. Travis tensed and pushed hard with all ten fingers.



16


At first, as one second and then two passed and there was no response to
the pressure, Travis thought he had mistaken the reading of the tape.
Then, directly before his eyes, a dark line cut vertically down the
wall. He applied more pressure until his fingers were half numb with
effort. The line widened slowly. Finally he faced a slit some eight feet
in height, a little more than two in width, and there the opening
remained.

Light beyond, a cold, gray gleam--like that of a cloudy winter day on
Terra--and with it the chill of air out of some arctic wasteland.
Favoring his still bandaged side, Travis scraped through the door ahead
of the others, and came into the place of gray cold.

"Wauggh!" Travis heard that exclamation from Jil-Lee, could have echoed
it himself except that he was too astounded by what he had seen to say
anything at all.

The light came from a grid of bars set far above their heads into the
native rock which roofed this storehouse, for storehouse it was. There
were orderly lines of boxes, some large enough to contain a tank, others
no bigger than a man's fist. Symbols in the same blue-green-purple
lights of the outer wall shone from their sides.

"What--?" Buck began one question and then changed it to another: "Where
do we begin to look?"

"Toward the far end." Travis started down the center aisle between rows
of the massed spoils of another time and world--or worlds. The same tape
which had given him the clue to the unlocking of the door, emphasized
the importance of something stored at the far end, an object or objects
which must be used first. He had wondered about that tape. A sensation
of urgency, almost of despair, had come through the gabble of alien
words, the quick sequence of diagrams and pictures. The message might
have been taped under a threat of some great peril.

There was no dust on the rows of boxes or on the floor underfoot. A
current of cold, fresh air blew at intervals down the length of the huge
chamber. They could not see the next aisle across the barriers of stored
goods, but the only noise was a whisper and the faint sounds of their
own feet. They came out into an open space backed by the wall, and
Travis saw what had been so important.

"No!" His protest was involuntary, but his denial loud enough to echo.

Six--six of them--tall, narrow cases set upright against the wall; and
from their depths, five pairs of dark eyes staring back at him in cold
measurement. These were the men of the ships--the men Menlik had dreamed
of--their bald white heads, their thin bodies with the skintight
covering of the familiar blue-green-purple. Five of them were here,
alive--watching ... waiting....

Five men--and six boxes. That small fact broke the spell in which those
eyes held Travis. He looked again at the sixth box to his right.
Expecting to meet another pair of eyes this time, he was disconcerted to
face only emptiness. Then, as his gaze traveled downward, he saw what
lay on the floor there--a skull, a tangle of bones, tattered material
cobwebbed into dusty rags by time. Whatever had preserved five of the
star men intact, had failed the sixth of their company.

"They are alive!" Jil-Lee whispered.

"I do not think so," Buck answered. Travis took another step, reached
out to touch the transparent front of the nearest coffin case. There was
no change in the eyes of the alien who stood within, no indication that
if the Apaches could see him, he would be able to return their interest.
The five stares which had bemused the visitors at first, did not break
to follow their movements.

But Travis knew! Whether it was some message on the tape which the sight
of the sleepers made clear, or whether some residue of the driving
purpose which had set them there now reached his mind, was immaterial.
He knew the purpose of this room and its contents, why it had been made
and the reason its six guardians had been left as prisoners--and what
they wanted from anyone coming after them.

"They sleep," he said softly.

"Sleep?" Buck caught him up.

"They sleep in something like deep freeze."

"Do you mean they can be brought to life again!" Jil-Lee cried.

"Maybe not now--it must be too long--but they were meant to wait out a
period and be restored."

"How do you know that?" Buck asked.

"I don't know for certain, but I think I understand a little. Something
happened a long time ago. Maybe it was a war, a war between whole star
systems, bigger and worse than anything we can imagine. I think this
planet was an outpost, and when the supply ships didn't come any more,
when they knew they might be cut off for some length of time, they
closed down. Stacked their supplies and machines here and then went to
sleep to wait for their rescuers...."

"For rescuers who never came," Jil-Lee said softly. "And there is a
chance they could be revived even now?"

Travis shivered. "Not one I would want to take."

"No," Buck's tone was somber, "that I agree to, younger brother. These
are not men as we know them, and I do not think they would be good
_dalaanbiyat'i_--allies. They had _go'ndi_ in plenty, these star men,
but it is not the power of the People. No one but a madman or a fool
would try to disturb this sleep of theirs."

"The truth you speak," Jil-Lee agreed. "But where in this," he turned
his shoulder to the sleeping star men and looked back at the filled
chamber--"do we find anything which will serve us here and now?"

Again Travis had only the scrappiest information to draw upon. "Spread
out," he told them. "Look for the marking of a circle surrounding four
dots set in a diamond pattern."

They went, but Travis lingered for a moment to look once more into the
bleak and bitter eyes of the star men. How many planet years ago had
they sealed themselves into those boxes? A thousand, ten thousand? Their
empire was long gone, yet here was an outpost still waiting to be
revived to carry on its mysterious duties. It was as if in Saxon-invaded
Britain long ago a Roman garrison had been frozen to await the return of
the legions. Buck was right; there was no common ground today between
Terran man and these unknowns. They must continue to sleep undisturbed.

Yet when Travis also turned away and went back down the aisle, he was
still aware of a persistent pull on him to return. It was as though
those eyes had set locking cords to will him back to release the
sleepers. He was glad to turn a corner, to know that they could no
longer watch him plunder their treasury.

"Here!" That was Buck's voice, but it echoed so oddly across the big
chamber that Travis had difficulty in deciding what part of the
warehouse it was coming from. And Buck had to call several times before
Travis and Jil-Lee joined him.

There was the circle-dot-diamond symbol shining on the side of a case.
They worked it out of the pile, setting it in the open. Travis knelt to
run his hands along the top. The container was an unknown alloy, tough,
unmarked by the years--perhaps indestructible.

Again his fingers located what his eyes could not detect--the
impressions on the edge, oddly shaped impressions into which his finger
tips did not fit too comfortably. He pressed, bearing down with the full
strength of his arms and shoulders, and then lifted up the lid.

The Apaches looked into a set of compartments, each holding an object
with a barrel, a hand grip, a general resemblance to the sidearms of
their own world and time, but sufficiently different to point up the
essential strangeness. With infinite care Travis worked one out of the
vise-support which held it. The weapon was light in weight, lighter than
any automatic he had ever held. Its barrel was long, a good eighteen
inches--the grip alien in shape so that it didn't fit comfortably into
his hand, the trigger nonexistent, but in its place a button on the
lower part of the barrel which could be covered by an outstretched
finger.

"What does it do?" asked Buck practically.

"I'm not sure. But it is important enough to have a special mention on
the tape." Travis passed the weapon along to Buck and worked another
loose from its holder.

"No way of loading I can see," Buck said, examining the weapon with care
and caution.

"I don't think it fires a solid projectile," Travis replied. "We'll have
to test them outside to find out just what we do have."

The Apaches took only three of the weapons, closing the box before they
left. And as they wriggled back through the crack door, Travis was
visited again by that odd flash of compelling, almost possessive power
he had experienced when they had lain in ambush for the Red hunting
party. He took a step or two forward until he was able to catch the edge
of the reading table and steady himself against it.

"What is the matter?" Both Buck and Jil-Lee were watching him;
apparently neither had felt that sensation. Travis did not reply for a
second. He was free of it now. But he was sure of its source; it had not
been any backlash of the Red caller! It was rooted here--a compulsion
triggered to make the original intentions of the outpost obeyed, a last
drag from the sleepers. This place had been set up with a single
purpose: to protect and preserve the ancient rulers of Topaz. And
perhaps the very presence here of the intruding Terrans had released a
force, started an unseen installation.

Now Travis answered simply: "They want out...."

Jil-Lee glanced back at the slit door, but Buck still watched Travis.

"They call?" he asked.

"In a way," Travis admitted. But the compulsion had already ebbed; he
was free. "It is gone now."

"This is not a good place," Buck observed somberly. "We touch that which
should not be held by men of our earth." He held out the weapon.

"Did not the People take up the rifles of the Pinda-lick-o-yi for their
defense when it was necessary?" Jil-Lee demanded. "We do what we must.
After seeing that," his chin indicated the slit and what lay behind
it--"do you wish the Reds to forage here?"

"Still," Buck's words came slowly, "this is a choice between two evils,
rather than between an evil and a good--"

"Then let us see how powerful this evil is!" Jil-Lee headed for the
corridor leading to the pillar.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was late afternoon when they made their way through the swirling
mists of the valley under the archway giving on the former site of the
outlaw Tatar camp. Travis sighted the long barrel of the weapon at a
small bush backed by a boulder, and he pressed the firing button. There
was no way of knowing whether the weapon was loaded except to try it.

The result of his action was quick--quick and terrifying. There was no
sound, no sign of any projectile ... ray-gas ... or whatever might have
issued in answer to his finger movement. But the bush--the bush was no
more!

A black smear made a ragged outline of the extinguished branches and
leaves on the rock which had stood behind. The earth might still enclose
roots under a thin coating of ash, but the bush was gone!

"The breath of Naye'nezyani--powerful beyond belief!" Buck broke their
horrified silence first. "In truth evil is here!"

Jil-Lee raised his gun--if gun it could be called--aimed at the rock
with the bush silhouette plain to see and fired.

This time they were able to witness disintegration in progress, the
crumble of the stone as if its substance was no more than sand lapped by
river water. A pile of blackened rubble remained--nothing more.

"To use this on a living thing?" Buck protested, horror basing the doubt
in his voice.

"We do not use it against living things," Travis promised, "but against
the ship of the Reds--to cut that to pieces. This will open the shell of
the turtle and let us at its meat."

Jil-Lee nodded. "Those are true words. But now I agree with your fears
of this place, Travis. This is a devil thing and must not be allowed to
fall into the hands of those who--"

"Will use it more freely than we plan to?" Buck wanted to know. "We
reserve to ourselves that right because we hold our motives higher? To
think that way is also a crooked trail. We will use this means because
we must, but afterward...."

Afterward that warehouse must be closed, the tapes giving the entrance
clue destroyed. One part of Travis fought that decision, right though he
knew it to be. The towers were the menace he had believed. And what was
more discouraging than the risk they now ran, was the belief that the
treasure was a poison which could not be destroyed but which might
spread from Topaz to Terra.

Suppose the Western Conference had discovered that storehouse and
explored its riches, would they have been any less eager to exploit
them? As Buck had pointed out, one's own ideals could well supply
reasons for violence. In the past Terra had been racked by wars of
religion, one fanatically held opinion opposed to another. There was no
righteousness in such struggles, only fatal ends. The Reds had no right
to this new knowledge--but neither did they. It must be locked against
the meddling of fools and zealots.

"Taboo--" Buck spoke that word with an emphasis they could appreciate.
Knowledge must be set behind the invisible barriers of taboo, and that
could work.

"These three--no more--we found no other weapons!" Jil-Lee added a
warning suggestion.

"No others," Buck agreed and Travis echoed, adding:

"We found tombs of the space people, and these were left with them.
Because of our great need we borrowed them, but they must be returned to
the dead or trouble will follow. And they may only be used against the
fortress of the Reds by us, who first found them and have taken unto
ourselves the wrath of disturbed spirits."

"Well thought! That is an answer to give the People. The towers are the
tombs of dead ones. When we return these they shall be taboo. We are
agreed?" Buck asked.

"We are agreed!"

Buck tried his weapon on a sapling, saw it vanish into nothingness. None
of the Apaches wanted to carry the strange guns against their bodies;
the power made them objects of fear, rather than arms to delight a
warrior. And when they returned to their temporary camp, they laid all
three on a blanket and covered them up. But they could not cover up the
memories of what had happened to bush, rock, and tree.

"If such are their small weapons," Buck observed that evening, "then
what kind of things did they have to balance our heavy armament? Perhaps
they were able to burn up worlds!"

"That may be what happened elsewhere," Travis replied. "We do not know
what put an end to their empire. The capital-planet we found on the
first voyage had not been destroyed, but it had been evacuated in haste.
One building had not even been stripped of its furnishings." He
remembered the battle he had fought there, he and Ross Murdock and the
winged native, standing up to an attack of the ape-things while the
winged warrior had used his physical advantage to fly above and bomb the
enemies with boxes snatched from the piles....

"And here they went to sleep in order to wait out some danger--time or
disaster--they did not believe would be permanent," Buck mused.

Travis thought he would flee from the eyes of the sleepers throughout
his dreams that night, but on the contrary he slept heavily, finding it
hard to rouse when Jil-Lee awakened him for his watch. But he was alert
when he saw a four-footed shape flit out of the shadows, drink water
from the stream, and shake itself vigorously in a spray of drops.

"Naginlta!" he greeted the coyote. Trouble? He could have shouted that
question, but he put a tight rein on his impatience and strove to
communicate in the only method possible.

No, what the coyote had come to report was not trouble but the fact that
the one he had been set to guard was headed back into the mountains,
though others came with her--four others. Nalik'ideyu still watched
their camp. Her mate had come for further orders.

Travis squatted before the animal, cupped the coyote's jowls between his
palms. Naginlta suffered his touch with only a small whine of
uneasiness. With all his power of mental suggestion, Travis strove to
reach the keen brain he knew was served by the yellow eyes looking into
his.

The others with Kaydessa were to be led on, taken to the ship. But
Kaydessa must not suffer harm. When they reached a spot near-by--Travis
thought of a certain rock beyond the pass--then one of the coyotes was
to go ahead to the ship. Let the Apaches there know....

Manulito and Eskelta should also be warned by the sentry along the
peaks, but additional alerting would not go amiss. Those four with
Kaydessa--they must reach the trap!

"What was that?" Buck rolled out of his blanket.

"Naginlta--" The coyote sped back into the dark again. "The Reds have
taken the bait, a party of at least four with Kaydessa are moving into
the foothills, heading south."

But the enemy party was not the only one on the move. In the light of
day a sentry's mirror from a point in the peaks sent another warning
down to their camp.

Out in their mountain meadows the Tatar outlaws were on horseback,
moving toward the entrance of the tower valley. Buck knelt by the
blanket covering the alien weapons.

"Now what?"

"We'll have to stop them," Travis replied, but he had no idea of just
how they would halt those determined Mongol horsemen.



17


There were ten of them riding on small, wiry steppe ponies--men and
women both, and well armed. Travis recalled it was the custom of the
Horde that the women fought as warriors when necessary. Menlik--there
was no mistaking the flapping robe of their leader. And they were
singing! The rider behind the shaman thumped with violent energy a drum
fastened beside his saddle horn, its heavy boom, boom the same call the
Apache had heard before. The Mongols were working themselves into the
mood for some desperate effort, Travis deduced. And if they were too
deeply under the Red spell, there would be no arguing with them. He
could wait no longer.

The Apache swung down from a ledge near the valley gate, moved into the
open and stood waiting, the alien weapon resting across his forearm. If
necessary, he intended to give a demonstration with it for an object
lesson.

"_Dar-u-gar_!" The war cry which had once awakened fear across a quarter
of Terra. Thin here, and from only a few throats, but just as menacing.

Two of the horsemen aimed lances, preparing to ride him down. Travis
sighted a tree midway between them and pressed the firing button. This
time there was a flash, a flicker of light, to mark the disappearance of
a living thing.

One of the lancers' ponies reared, squealed in fear. The other kept on
his course.

"Menlik!" Travis shouted. "Hold up your man! I do not want to kill!"

The shaman called out, but the lancer was already level with the
vanished tree, his head half turned on his shoulders to witness the
blackened earth where it had stood. Then he dropped his lance, sawed on
the reins. A rifle bullet might not have halted his charge, unless it
killed or wounded, but what he had just seen was a thing beyond his
understanding.

The tribesmen sat their horses, facing Travis, watching him with the
feral eyes of the wolves they claimed as forefathers, wolves that
possessed the cunning of the wild, cunning enough not to rush breakneck
into unknown danger.

Travis walked forward. "Menlik, I would talk--"

There was an outburst from the horsemen, protests from Hulagur and one
or two of the others. But the shaman urged his mount into a walking pace
toward the Apache until they stood only a few feet from each other--the
warrior of the steppes and the Horde facing the warrior of the desert
and the People.

"You have taken a woman from our yurts," Menlik said, but his eyes were
more on the alien gun than on the man who held it. "Brave are you to
come again into our land. He who sets foot in the stirrup must mount
into the saddle; he who draws blade free of the scabbard must be
prepared to use it."

"The Horde is not here--I see only a handful of people," Travis replied.
"Does Menlik propose to go up against the Apaches so? Yet there are
those who are his greater enemies."

"A stealer of women is not such a one as needs a regiment under a
general to face him."

Suddenly Travis was impatient of the ceremonious talking; there was so
little time.

"Listen, and listen well, Shaman!" He spoke curtly now. "I have not your
woman. She is already crossing the mountains southward," he pointed with
his chin--"leading the Reds into a trap."

Would Menlik believe him? There was no need, Travis decided, to tell him
now that Kaydessa's part in this affair was involuntary.

"And you?" The shaman asked the question the Apache had hoped to hear.

"_We_," Travis emphasized that, "march now against those hiding behind
in their ship out there." He indicated the northern plains.

Menlik raised his head, surveying the land about them with disbelieving,
contemptuous appraisal.

"You are chief then of an army, an army equipped with magic to overcome
machines?"

"One needs no army when he carries this." For the second time Travis
displayed the power of the weapon he carried, this time cutting into
shifting rubble an outcrop of cliff wall. Menlik's expression did not
change, though his eyes narrowed.

The shaman signaled his small company, and they dismounted. Travis was
heartened by this sign that Menlik was willing to talk. The Apache made
a similar gesture, and Jil-Lee and Buck, their own weapons well in
sight, came out to back him. Travis knew that the Tatar had no way of
knowing that the three were alone; he well might have believed an unseen
troop of Apaches were near-by and so armed.

"You would talk--then talk!" Menlik ordered.

This time Travis outlined events with an absence of word embroidery.
"Kaydessa leads the Reds into a trap we have set beyond the peaks--four
of them ride with her. How many now remain in the ship near the
settlement?"

"There are at least two in the flyer, perhaps eight more in the ship.
But there is no getting at them in there."

"No?" Travis laughed softly, shifted the weapon on his arm. "Do you not
think that this will crack the shell of that nut so that we can get at
the meat?"

Menlik's eyes flickered to the left, to the tree which was no longer a
tree but a thin deposit of ash on seared ground.

"They can control us with the caller as they did before. If we go up
against them, then we are once more gathered into their net--before we
reach their ship."

"That is true for you of the Horde; it does not affect the People,"
Travis returned. "And suppose we burn out their machines? Then will you
not be free?"

"To burn up a tree? Lightning from the skies can do that."

"Can lightning," Buck asked softly, "also make rock as sand of the
river?"

Menlik's eyes turned to the second example of the alien weapon's power.

"Give us proof that this will act against their machines!"

"What proof, Shaman?" asked Jil-Lee. "Shall we burn down a mountain that
you may believe? This is now a matter of time."

Travis had a sudden inspiration. "You say that the 'copter is out.
Suppose we use that as a target?"

"That--that can sweep the flyer from the sky?" Menlik's disbelief was
open.

Travis wondered if he had gone too far. But they needed to rid
themselves of that spying flyer before they dared to move out into the
plain. And to use the destruction of the helicopter as an example, would
be the best proof he could give of the invincibility of the new Apache
arms.

"Under the right conditions," he replied stoutly, "yes."

"And those conditions?" Menlik demanded.

"That it must be brought within range. Say, below the level of a
neighboring peak where a man may lie in wait to fire."

Silent Apaches faced silent Mongols, and Travis had a chance to taste
what might be defeat. But the helicopter must be taken before they
advanced toward the ship and the settlement.

"And, maker of traps, how do you intend to bait this one?" Menlik's
question was an open challenge.

"You know these Reds better than we," Travis counterattacked. "How would
you bait it, Son of the Blue Wolf?"

"You say Kaydessa is leading the Reds south; we have but your word for
that," Menlik replied. "Though how it would profit you to lie on such a
matter--" He shrugged. "If you do speak the truth, then the 'copter will
circle about the foothills where they entered."

"And what would bring the pilot nosing farther in?" the Apache asked.

Menlik shrugged again. "Any manner of things. The Reds have never
ventured too far south; they are suspicious of the heights--with good
cause." His fingers, near the hilt of his tulwar, twitched. "Anything
which might suggest that their party is in difficulty would bring them
in for a closer look--"

"Say a fire, with much smoke?" Jil-Lee suggested.

Menlik spoke over his shoulder to his own party. There was a babble of
answer, two or three of the men raising their voices above those of
their companions.

"If set in the right direction, yes," the shaman conceded. "When do you
plan to move, Apaches?"

"At once!"

But they did not have wings, and the cross-country march they had to
make was a rough journey on foot. Travis' "at once" stretched into night
hours filled with scrambling over rocks, and an early morning of
preparations, with always the threat that the helicopter might not
return to fly its circling mission over the scene of operations. All
they had was Menlik's assurance that while any party of the Red
overlords was away from their well-defended base, the flyer did just
that.

"Might be relaying messages on from a walkie-talkie or something like
that," Buck commented.

"They should reach our ship in two days ... three at the most ... if
they are pushing," Travis said thoughtfully. "It would be a help--if
that flyer is a link in any com unit--to destroy it before its crew
picks up and relays any report of what happens back there."

Jil-Lee grunted. He was surveying the heights above the pocket in which
Menlik and two of the Mongols were piling brush. "There ... there ...
and there...." The Apache's chin made three juts. "If the pilot swoops
for a quick look, our cross fire will take out his blades."

They held a last conference with Menlik and then climbed to the perches
Jil-Lee had selected. Sentries on lookout reported by mirror flash that
Tsoay, Deklay, Lupe, and Nolan were now on the move to join the other
three Apaches. If and when Manulito's trap closed its jaws on the Reds
at the western ship, the news would pass and the Apaches would move out
to storm the enemy fort on the prairie. And should they blast any caller
the helicopter might carry, Menlik and his riders would accompany them.

There it was, just as Menlik had foretold: The wasp from the open
country was flying into the hills. Menlik, on his knees, struck flint to
steel, sparking the fire they hoped would draw the pilot to a closer
investigation.

The brush caught, and smoke, thick and white, came first in separate
puffs and then gathered into a murky pillar to form a signal no one
could overlook. In Travis' hands the grip of the gun was slippery. He
rested the end of the barrel on the rock, curbing his rising tension as
best he could.

To escape any caller on the flyer, the Tatars had remained in the valley
below the Apaches' lookout. And as the helicopter circled in, Travis
sighted two men in its cockpit, one wearing a helmet identical to the
one they had seen on the Red hunter days ago. The Reds' long undisputed
sway over the Mongol forces would make them overconfident. Travis
thought that even if they sighted one of the waiting Apaches, they would
not take warning until too late.

Menlik's bush fire was performing well and the flyer was heading
straight for it. The machine buzzed the smoke once, too high for the
Apaches to trust raying its blades. Then the pilot came back in a lower
sweep which carried him only yards above the smoldering brush, on a
level with the snipers.

Travis pressed the button on the barrel, his target the fast-whirling
blades. Momentum carried the helicopter on, but at least one of the
marksmen, if not all three, had scored. The machine plowed through the
smoke to crack up beyond.

Was their caller working, bringing in the Mongols to aid the Reds
trapped in the wreck?

Travis watched Menlik make his way toward the machine, reach the cracked
cover of the cockpit. But in the shaman's hand was a bare blade on which
the sun glinted. The Mongol wrenched open the sprung door, thrust inward
with the tulwar, and the howl of triumph he voiced was as worldless and
wild as a wolf's.

More Mongols flooding down ... Hulagur ... a woman ... centering on the
helicopter. This time a spear plunged into the interior of the broken
flyer. Payment was being extracted for long slavery.

The Apaches dropped from the heights, waiting for Menlik to leave the
wild scene. Hulagur had dragged out the body of the helmeted man and
the Mongols were stripping off his equipment, smashing it with rocks,
still howling their war cry. But the shaman came to the dying smudge
fire to meet the Apaches.

He was smiling, his upper lip raised in a curve suggesting the victory
purr of a snow tiger. And he saluted with one hand.

"There are two who will not trap men again! We believe you now, _andas_,
comrades of battle, when you say you can go up against their fort and
make it as nothing!"

Hulagur came up behind the shaman, a modern automatic in his hand. He
tossed the weapon into the air, caught it again, laughing--disclaiming
something in his own language.

"From the serpents we take two fangs," Menlik translated. "These weapons
may not be as dangerous as yours, but they can bite deeper, quicker, and
with more force than our arrows."

It did not take the Mongols long to strip the helicopter and the Reds of
what they could use, deliberately smashing all the other equipment which
had survived the wreck. They had accomplished one important move: The
link between the southbound exploring party and the Red headquarters--if
that was the role the helicopter had played--was now gone. And the
"eyes" operating over the open territory of the plains had ceased to
exist. The attacking war party could move against the ship near the Red
settlement, knowing they had only controlled Mongol scouts to watch for.
And to penetrate enemy territory under those conditions was an old, old
game the Apaches had played for centuries.

While they waited for the signals from the peaks, a camp was established
and a Mongol dispatched to bring up the rest of the outlaws and all
extra mounts. Menlik carried to the Apaches a portion of the dried meat
which had been transported Horde fashion--under the saddle to soften it
for eating.

"We do not skulk any longer like rats or city men in dark holes," he
told them. "This time we ride, and we shall take an accounting from
those out there--a fine accounting!"

"They still have other controllers," Travis pointed out.

"And you have that which is an answer to all their machines," blazed
Menlik in return.

"They will send against us your own people if they can," Buck warned.

Menlik pulled at his upper lip. "That is also truth. But now they have
no eyes in the sky, and with so many of their men away, they will not
patrol too far from camp. I tell you, _andas_, with these weapons of
yours a man could rule a world!"

Travis looked at him bleakly. "Which is why they are taboo!"

"Taboo?" Menlik repeated. "In what manner are these forbidden? Do you
not carry them openly, use them as you wish? Are they not weapons of
your own people?"

Travis shook his head. "These are the weapons of dead men--if we can
name them men at all. These we took from a tomb of the star race who
held Topaz when our world was only a hunting ground of wild men wearing
the skins of beasts and slaying mammoths with stone spears. They are
from a tomb and are cursed, a curse we took upon ourselves with their
use."

There was a strange light deep in the shaman's eyes. Travis did not know
who or what Menlik had been before the Red conditioner had returned him
to the role of Horde shaman. He might have been a technician or
scientist--and deep within him some remnants of that training could now
be dismissing everything Travis said as fantastic superstition.

Yet in another way the Apache spoke the exact truth. There was a curse
on these weapons, on every bit of knowledge gathered in that warehouse
of the towers. As Menlik had already noted, that curse was power, the
power to control Topaz, and then perhaps to reach back across the stars
to Terra.

When the shaman spoke again his words were a half whisper. "It will take
a powerful curse to keep these out of the hands of men."

"With the Reds gone or powerless," Buck asked, "what need will anyone
have for them?"

"And if another ship comes from the skies--to begin all over again?"

"To that we shall have an answer, also, if and when we must find it,"
Travis replied. That could well be true ... other weapons in the
warehouse powerful enough to pluck a spaceship out of the sky, but they
did not have to worry about that now.

"Arms from a tomb. Yes, this is truly dead men's magic. I shall say so
to my people. When do we move out?"

"When we know whether or not the trap to the south is sprung," Buck
answered.

The report came an hour after sunrise the next morning when Tsoay,
Nolan, and Deklay padded into camp. The war chief made a slight gesture
with one hand.

"It is done?" Travis wanted confirmation in words.

"It is done. The Pinda-lick-o-yi entered the ship eagerly. Then they
blew it and themselves up. Manulito did his work well."

"And Kaydessa?"

"The woman is safe. When the Reds saw the ship, they left their machine
outside to hold her captive. That mechanical caller was easily
destroyed. She is now free and with the _mba'a_ she comes across the
mountains, Manulito and Eskelta with her also. Now--" he looked from his
own people to the Mongols, "why are you here with these?"

"We wait, but the waiting is over," Jil-Lee said. "Now we go north!"



18


They lay along the rim of a vast basin, a scooping out of earth so wide
they could not sight its other side. The bed of an ancient lake, Travis
speculated, or perhaps even the arm of a long-dried sea. But now the
hollow was filled with rolling waves of golden grass, tossing heavy
heads under the flowing touch of a breeze with the exception of a space
about a mile ahead where round domes--black, gray, brown--broke the
yellow in an irregular oval around the globular silver bead of a spacer:
a larger ship than that which had brought the Apaches, but of the same
shape.

"The horse herd ... to the west." Nolan evaluated the scene with the
eyes of an experienced raider. "Tsoay, Deklay, you take the horses!"

They nodded, and began the long crawl which would take them two miles or
more from the party to stampede the horses.

To the Mongols in those domelike yurts horses were wealth, life itself.
They would come running to investigate any disturbance among the grazing
ponies, thus clearing the path to the ship and the Reds there. Travis,
Jil-Lee, and Buck, armed with the star guns, would spearhead that
attack--cutting into the substance of the ship itself until it was a
sieve through which they could shake out the enemy. Only when the
installations it contained were destroyed, might the Apaches hope for
any assistance from the Mongols, either the outlaw pack waiting well
back on the prairie or the people in the yurts.

The grass rippled and Naginlta poked out a nose, parting stems before
Travis. The Apache beamed an order, sending the coyotes with the
horse-raiding party. He had seen how the animals could drive hunted
split-horns; they would do as well with the ponies.

Kaydessa was safe, the coyotes had made that clear by the fact that they
had joined the attacking party an hour earlier. With Eskelta and
Manulito she was on her way back to the north.

Travis supposed he should be well pleased that their reckless plan had
succeeded as well as it had. But when he thought of the Tatar girl, all
he could see was her convulsed face close to his in the ship corridor,
her raking nails raised to tear his cheek. She had an excellent reason
to hate him, yet he hoped....

They continued to watch both horse herd and domes. There were people
moving about the yurts, but no signs of life at the ship. Had the Reds
shut themselves in there, warned in some way of the two disasters which
had whittled down their forces?

"Ah--!" Nolan breathed.

One of the ponies had raised its head and was facing the direction of
the camp, suspicion plain to read in its stance. The Apaches must have
reached the point between the herd and the domes which had been their
goal. And the Mongol guard, who had been sitting cross-legged, the
reins of his mount dangling close to his hand, got to his feet.

"Ahhhuuuuu!" The ancient Apache war cry that had sounded across deserts,
canyons, and southwestern Terran plains to ice the blood, ripped just as
freezingly through the honey-hued air of Topaz.

The horses wheeled, racing upslope away from the settlement. A figure
broke from the grass, flapped his arms at one of the mounts, grabbed at
flying mane, and pulled himself up on the bare back. Only a master
horseman would have done that, but the whooping rider now drove the herd
on, assisted by the snapping and snarling coyotes.

"Deklay--" Jil-Lee identified the reckless rider, "that was one of his
rodeo tricks."

Among the yurts it was as if someone had ripped up a rotten log to
reveal an ants' nest and sent the alarmed insects into a frenzy. Men
boiled out of the domes, the majority of them running for the horse
pasture. One or two were mounted on ponies that must have been staked
out in the settlement. The main war party of Apaches skimmed silently
through the grass on their way to the ship.

The three who were armed with the alien weapons had already tested their
range by experimentation back in the hills, but the fear of exhausting
whatever powered those barrels had curtailed their target practice. Now
they snaked to the edge of the bare ground between them and the ladder
hatch of the spacer. To cross that open space was to provide targets for
lances and arrows--or the superior armament of the Reds.

"A chance we can hit from here." Buck laid his weapon across his bent
knee, steadied the long barrel of the burner, and pressed the firing
button.

The closed hatch of the ship shimmered, dissolved into a black hole.
Behind Travis someone let out the yammer of a war whoop.

"Fire--cut the walls to pieces!"

Travis did not need that order from Jil-Lee. He was already beaming
unseen destruction at the best target he could ask for--the side of the
sphere. If the globe was armed, there was no weapon which could be
depressed far enough to reach the marksmen at ground level.

Holes appeared, irregular gaps and tears in the fabric of the ship. The
Apaches were turning the side of the globe into lacework. How far those
rays penetrated into the interior they could not guess.

Movement at one of the holes, the chattering burst of machine-gun fire,
spatters of soil and gravel into their faces; they could be cut to
pieces by that! The hole enlarged, a scream ... cut off....

"They will not be too quick to try that again," Nolan observed with cold
calm from behind Travis' post.

Methodically they continued to beam the ship. It would never be
space-borne again; there were neither the skills nor materials here to
repair such damage.

"It is like laying a knife to fat," Lupe said as he crawled up beside
Travis. "Slice, slice--!"

"Move!" Travis reached to the left, pulled at Jil-Lee's shoulder.

Travis did not know whether it was possible or not, but he had a heady
vision of their combined fire power cutting the globe in half, slicing
it crosswise with the ease Lupe admired.

They scurried through cover just as someone behind yelled a warning.
Travis threw himself down, rolled into a new firing position. An arrow
sang over his head; the Reds were doing what the Apaches had known they
would--calling in the controlled Mongols to fight. The attack on the
ship must be stepped up, or the Amerindians would be forced to retreat.

Already a new lacing of holes appeared under their concentrated efforts.
With the gun held tight to his middle, Travis found his feet, zigzagged
across the bare ground for the nearest of those openings. Another arrow
clanged harmlessly against the fabric of the ship a foot from his goal.

He made it in, over jagged metal shards which glowed faintly and reeked
of ozone. The weapons' beams had penetrated well past both the outer
shell and the wall of insulation webbing. He climbed a second and
smaller break into a corridor enough like those of the western ship to
be familiar. The Red spacer, based on the general plan of the alien
derelict ship as his own had been, could not be very different.

Travis tried to subdue his heavy breathing and listen. He heard a
confused shouting and the burr of what might be an alarm system. The
ship's brain was the control cabin. Even if the Reds dared not try to
lift now, that was the core of their communication lines. He started
along the corridor, trying to figure out its orientation in relation to
that all-important nerve center.

The Apache shoved open each door he passed with one shoulder, and twice
he played a light beam on installations within cabins. He had no idea of
their use, but the wholesale destruction of each and every machine was
what good sense and logic dictated.

There was a sound behind. Travis whirled, saw Jil-Lee and beyond him
Buck.

"Up?" Jil-Lee asked.

"And down," Buck added. "The Tatars say they have hollowed a bunker
beneath."

"Separate and do as much damage as you can," Travis suggested.

"Agreed!"

Travis sped on. He passed another door and then backtracked hurriedly as
he realized it had given on to an engine room. With the gun he blasted
two long lines cutting the fittings into ragged lumps. Abruptly the
lights went out; the burr of the alarms was silenced. Part of the ship,
if not all, was dead. And now it might come to hunter and hunted in the
dark. But that was an advantage as far as the Apaches were concerned.

Back in the corridor again, Travis crept through a curiously lifeless
atmosphere. The shouting was stilled as if the sudden failure of the
machines had stunned the Reds.

A tiny sound--perhaps the scrape of a boot on a ladder. Travis edged
back into a compartment. A flash of light momentarily lighted the
corridor; the approaching figure was using a torch. Travis drew his
knife with one hand, reversed it so he could use the heavy hilt as a
silencer. The other was hurrying now, on his way to investigate the
burned-out engine cabin. Travis could hear the rasp of his fast
breathing. Now!

The Apache had put down the gun, his left arm closed about a shoulder,
and the Red gasped as Travis struck with the knife hilt. Not clean--he
had to hit a second time before the struggles of the man were over.
Then, using his hands for eyes, he stripped the limp body on the floor
of automatic and torch.

With the Red's weapon in the front of his sash, the burner in one hand
and the torch in the other, Travis prowled on. There was a good chance
that those above might believe him to be their comrade returning. He
found the ladder leading to the next level, began to climb, pausing now
and then to listen.

Shock preceded sound. Under him the ladder swayed and the globe itself
rocked a little. A blast of some kind must have been set off at or under
the level of the ground. The bunker Buck had mentioned?

Travis clung to the ladder, waited for the vibrations to subside. There
was a shouting above, a questioning.... Hurriedly he ascended to the
next level, scrambled out and away from the ladder just in time to avoid
the light from another torch flashed down the well. Again that call of
inquiry, then a shot--the boom of the explosion loud in the confined
space.

To climb into the face of that light with a waiting marksman above was
sheer folly. Could there be another way up? Travis retreated down one of
the corridors raying out from the ladder well. A quick inspection of the
cabins along that route told him he had reached a section of living
quarters. The pattern was familiar; the control cabin would be on the
next level.

Suddenly the Apache remembered something: On each level there should be
an emergency opening giving access to the insulation space between the
inner and outer skins of the ship through which repairs could be made.
If he could find that and climb up to the next level....

The light shining down the well remained steady, and there was the
echoing crack of another shot. But Travis was far enough away from the
ladder now to dare use his own torch, seeking the door he needed on the
wall surface. With a leap of heart he sighted the outline--his luck was
in! The Russian and western ships were alike.

Once the panel was open he flashed his torch up, finding the climbing
rungs and, above, the shadow outline of the next level opening. Securing
the alien gun in his sash beside the automatic and holding the torch in
his mouth, Travis climbed, not daring to think of the deep drop below.
Four ... five ... ten rungs, and he could reach the other door.

His fingers slid over it, searching for the release catch. But there was
no answering give. Balling his fist, he struck down at an awkward angle
and almost lost his balance as the panel fell away beneath his blow. The
door swung and he pulled through.

Darkness! Travis snapped on the torch for an instant, saw about him the
relays of a com system, and gave it a full spraying as he pivoted,
destroying the eyes and ears of the ship--unless the burnout he had
effected below had already done that. A flash of automatic fire from his
left, a searing burn along his arm an inch or so below the shoulder--

Travis' action was purely reflex. He swung the burner around, even as
his mind gave a frantic No! To defend himself with automatic, knife,
arrow--yes; but not this way. He huddled against the wall.

An instant earlier there had been a man there, a living, breathing
man--one of his own species, if not of his own beliefs. Then because his
own muscles had unconsciously obeyed warrior training, there was this.
So easy--to deal death without really meaning to. The weapon in his
hands was truly the devil gift they were right to fear. Such weapons
were not to be put into the hands of men--any men--no matter how well
intentioned.

Travis gulped in great mouthfuls of air. He wanted to throw the burner
away, hurl it from him. But the task he could rightfully use it for was
not yet done.

Somehow he reeled on into the control cabin to render the ship truly a
dead thing and free himself of the heavy burden of guilt and terror
between his hands. That weight could be laid aside; memory could not.
And no one of his kind must ever have to carry such memories again.

       *       *       *       *       *

The booming of the drums was like a pulse quickening the blood to a
rhythm which bit at the brain, made a man's eyes shine, his muscles
tense as if he held an arrow to bow cord or arched his fingers about a
knife hilt. A fire blazed high and in its light men leaped and whirled
in a mad dance with tulwar blades catching and reflecting the red gleam
of flames. Mad, wild, the Mongols were drunk with victory and freedom.
Beyond them, the silver globe of the ship showed the black holes of its
death, which was also the death of the past--for all of them.

"What now?" Menlik, the dangling of amulets and charms tinkling as he
moved, came up to Travis. There was none of the wild fervor in the
shaman's face; instead, it was as if he had taken several strides out of
the life of the Horde, was emerging into another person, and the
question he asked was one they all shared.

Travis felt drained, flattened. They had achieved their purpose. The
handful of Red overlords were dead, their machines burned out. There
were no controls here any more; men were free in mind and body. What
were they to do with that freedom?

"First," the Apache spoke his own thoughts--"we must return these."

The three alien weapons were lashed into a square of Mongol fabric,
hidden from sight, although they could not be so easily shut out of
mind. Only a few of the others, Apache or Mongol, had seen them; and
they must be returned before their power was generally known.

"I wonder if in days to come," Buck mused, "they will not say that we
pulled lightning out of the sky, as did the Thunder Slayer, to aid us.
But this is right. We must return them and make that valley and what it
holds taboo."

"And what if another ship comes--one of _yours_?" Menlik asked shrewdly.

Travis stared beyond the Tatar shaman to the men about the fire. His
nightmare dragged into the open.... What if a ship did come in, one with
Ashe, Murdock, men he knew and liked, friends on board? What then of his
guardianship of the towers and their knowledge? Could he be as sure of
what to do then? He rubbed his hand across his forehead and said slowly:

"We shall take steps when--or if--that happens--"

But could they, would they? He began to hope fiercely that it would not
happen, at least in his lifetime, and then felt the cold bleakness of
the exile they must will themselves into.

"Whether we like it or not," (was he talking to the others or trying to
argue down his own rebellion?) "we cannot let what lies under the towers
be known ... found ... used ... unless by men who are wiser and more
controlled than we are in our time."

Menlik drew his shaman's wand, twiddled it between his fingers, and
beneath his drooping lids watched the three Apaches with a new kind of
measurement.

"Then I say to you this: Such a guardianship must be a double charge,
shared by my people as well. For if they suspect that you alone control
these powers and their secret, there will be envy, hatred, fear, a
division between us from the first--war ... raids.... This is a large
land and neither of our groups numbers many. Shall we split apart
fatally from this day when there is room for all? If these ancient
things are evil, then let us both guard them with a common taboo."

He was right, of course. And they would have to face the truth squarely.
To both Apache and Mongol any off-world ship, no matter from which side,
would be a menace. Here was where they would remain and set roots. The
sooner they began thinking of themselves as people with a common bond,
the better it would be. And Menlik's suggestion provided a tie.

"You speak well," Buck was saying. "This shall be a thing we share. We
are three who know. Do you be three also, but choose well, Menlik!"

"Be assured that I will!" the Tatar returned. "We start a new life here;
there is no going back. But as I have said: The land is wide. We have no
quarrel with one another, and perhaps our two peoples shall become one;
after all, we do not differ too greatly...." He smiled and gestured to
the fire and the dancers.

Among the Mongols another man had gone into action, his head thrown back
as he leaped and twirled, voicing a deep war cry. Travis recognized
Deklay. Apache, Mongol--both raiders, horsemen, hunters, fighters when
the need arose. No, there was no great difference. Both had been tricked
into coming here, and they had no allegiance now for those who had sent
them.

Perhaps clan and Horde would combine or perhaps they would drift
apart--time would tell. But there would be the bond of the guardianship,
the determination that what slept in the towers would not be roused--in
their lifetime or many lifetimes!

Travis smiled a bit crookedly. A new religion of sorts, a priesthood
with sacred and forbidden knowledge ... in time a whole new life and
civilization stemming from this night. The bleak cold of his early
thought cut less deep. There was a different kind of adventure here.

He reached out and gathered up the bundle of the burners, glancing from
Buck to Jil-Lee to Menlik. Then he stood up, the weight of the burden in
his arms, the feeling of a greater weight inside him.

"Shall we go?"

To get the weapons back--that was of first importance. Maybe then he
could sleep soundly, to dream of riding across the Arizona range at dawn
under a blue sky with a wind in his face, a wind carrying the scent of
piñon pine and sage, a wind which would never caress or hearten him
again, a wind his sons and sons' sons would never know. To dream
troubled dreams, and hope in time those dreams would fade and thin--that
a new world would blanket out the old. Better so, Travis told himself
with defiance and determination--better so!





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Defiant Agents" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home