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´╗┐Title: Narakan Rifles, About Face!
Author: Smith, Jan
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 "Narakan Rifles, About Face!" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Planet Stories January 1954. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.


                     Narakan Rifles, About Face!


                             By JAN SMITH


     _Those crazy, sloppy, frog-like Narakans ... all thumbs and
      six-inch skulls ... relics of the Suzi swamps. Until
      four-fisted Lt. Terrence O'Mara moved among them--lethal,
      dangerous, with a steady purpose flaming in his volcanic
      eyes._

       *       *       *       *       *



Terrence O'Mara lay flat on his back trying to keep his big body as
still as possible. Despite the fact that he was stripped to his
regulation shorts, a large pool of sweat had formed on the cot
underneath him. The only movement he permitted himself was an
occasional pursing of his lips as he dragged on a cigarette and sent a
swirl of smoke upward through the heavy humid air. Then he would just
lie there watching as the smoke crept up to mingle with the large
drops of water that were forming on the concrete of the command post.

"Damn! Damn Naraka, anyway! Outpost of civilization! Who'd want the
blasted place except the Rumi?"

[Illustration]

At the words, Terrence moved his head just a fraction of an inch and
his eyes only a little farther to look across the room to where Bill
Fielding was twisting and turning on his cot. All he could see of the
other man was the wet outline of his body under a once white sheet and
a hand that every so often reached into a bucket of water on the
floor and then replaced a soaking T-shirt over a red head.

"You'll feel it less if you lie still," Terrence said, distressed at
the necessity for talking.

"Feel it less! My God, listen to the man! What difference does it make
if you lie still or move around or even run around in the suns like a
bloody Greenback? Dust Bin will get you one way or another ... and if
it doesn't, the Rumi will."

The visible hand lifted the T-shirt and began to pop salt tablets into
an open mouth like they were so many peppermints.

"I wonder where Norton is. Out reviewing the troops?"

"Reviewing, my eye. He's up at Government House sitting in that cool
living room drinking one of Mrs. Wilson's icy drinks and admiring Mrs.
Wilson's shapely legs. From a discreet distance, of course. Being
temporary Commanding Officer of even Dust Bin has its privileges!"

There was a rattle of drums and the blare of one or two off-key
instruments from outside.

"Then why," asked Terrence, "are those poor beggars marching up and
down in this blasted heat?"

"The Greenbacks? They love it! It would take more than a little heat
to get under those inch-thick skins of theirs. They like to play
soldier when it's a hundred and thirty under water."

There were a few more straggling notes and then the semblance of a
march began.

"Listen to that, will you?" Fielding moaned, "They can't even keep
time with a drum! They can't march, they can't shoot, they can't break
down a Banning; they're all thumbs and six-inch thick skulls. 'Train
local forces to take over'! Bah! Did those desk jockeys back in New
Chicago ever see a Greenback? Did they ever try to teach a Narakan to
fix a bayonet to the proper end of a rifle or to fire a blaster in the
right direction?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Terrence was lighting another cigarette with as little exertion as
possible. "Yes, but they keep trying. Ten hours a day. You don't have
to drive those boys. They want to learn. Listen to O'Shaughnessy
barking out orders."

"Sergeant Major O'Shaughnessy of the First Narakan Rifles!" Fielding
murmured sarcastically. "A year ago he was squatting in a mud cocoon
at the bottom of Suzi swamp with the rest of the frogs. Now he's got a
good Irish name and he's strutting around like a Martian Field
Marshal."

"I thought the names might give them a sense of self respect. Besides
we couldn't pronounce theirs and I was tired of hearing Norris yell
'Hey, greenboy!' at them."

"Well, they picked the right guy when they made you Training Officer.
You and those damn frogs get along like you came from the same
county!"

"They aren't any great shakes for brains but you can't take anything
away from me boys for willingness."

"Willingness! Hooray! They're willing, so what? So is a Suzi Swamp
lizard. What'll it get them? A week after they pull the Terran forces
out, the Rumi will gobble up the lot of them. Maybe they'll gobble
them and us before we pull out. Who could fight in this place? Who'd
want to fight? I say, to hell with Naraka! It's so near to hell
already with those two blasted suns blazing sixteen hours a day. Let
the Rumi have the stinking planet! Let them have the whole Centaurian
System!"

"Speaking of pulling out, I wouldn't be surprised if Dust Bin wasn't
the next place we let go of...."

Fielding raised himself on one elbow, "No kidding? Where did you hear
that?" His sunburned and blistered face was alight with excitement.

"Well, you know how it's been. When we first came here twenty years
back, we drove the Rumi out of all this country and more or less took
their cat feet off the Narakan's backs but now that so much of the
Earth garrison has been pulled all the way back into the Solar System,
the Rumi are acting up again. So much so that the dope I got is that
we may be pulling everything back into the Little Texas peninsula to
wait for reinforcements and it will take four years for those to come
out from Mars."

"Great! Great! But.... Ah, it's too good to be true. Can't you just
picture Fielding and O'Mara parading down Dobi street in New Chicago
with their first lieutenant bars on their collars? Say, you don't
suppose that's why the _Sun Maid_ is sticking around out here, do you?
Imagine, free transportation! A two hour trip to New Chi!"

"I'd sure hate to march those two hundred miles at this time of year!"

"March? Through those swamps? Every time we run a patrol through
them...."

Fielding was interrupted by a knock on the door and a skinny young
Terran with sergeant's chevrons on his shorts stuck his head through
from the other room and said, "Major Chapelle's on the voice radio,
sir. He's calling from battalion headquarters and wants Captain
Norton."

"Tell him Norton's up playing footsies with the Resident's wife,"
Fielding said, "You'd think those people down at the river would have
enough to do without bothering us in the heat of the day, wouldn't
you?"

The sergeant looked shocked and started to withdraw his head. Terrence
frowned Fielding into silence and called to the sergeant, "Just a
minute, Rogers. I'll talk to the Major."

Major Chapelle was a thickset, balding man in his late forties. Even
the blazing suns of Naraka hadn't succeeded in burning the sickly
yellow color off his face. In the vision screen he looked like a man
on his last legs. Whatever was wrong with him didn't help his temper,
Terrence thought as he lowered himself gently into a seat before the
screen.

"O'Mara! Where in hell is Norton?" he demanded.

"Well, sir, you see...." began Terrence.

"Never mind! I've a pretty good idea where he is. A fine time to be
chasing skirts! Well, get this straight, O'Mara. Orders have come
through and we're pulling the battalion out. We're ordered back to
Little Texas. We're going to give up these positions along the river
tonight and pull back into Dust Bin. The _Sun Maid_ will stand by to
evacuate us. You people are to come too. Everybody has to get out,
both the military and civilians. All hell's broken loose down river.
The Rumi are across the Muddy in half a dozen places. They've cut the
5th to pieces. New Chicago thinks that those cats have been bringing
troops in from space all along despite the agreement by both sides not
to do so. And now they have us way outnumbered." The Major's voice
held a thin edge of hysteria.

"Is there any action along our front, Major?" Terrence asked quickly,
hoping to stop the flow of talk before Chapelle's hysteria
communicated itself to the enlisted men who were sitting or lying
about the command post.

"Not yet; just patrols across the river so far. We've got to get out,
O'Mara, and get out fast. They'll be all over us if we don't. The
Colonel says for Norton to have everything ready to go. He wants the
depot destroyed. Everything's got to go, everything we can't take
along. The _Sun Maid_ won't have time for more than one trip. He wants
the HQ company and the civilians on board by tomorrow morning at the
latest."

"What about the Rifles, sir?"

"What? The what?"

"The native troops, sir. The Narakan Rifles." Terrence grated.

"The Rifles? Good God, man! We haven't time for nonsense. The Rifles
are only Greenbacks, aren't they? You get Norton started burning those
stores."

Terrence put down the microphone very carefully to keep from slamming
it down and stalked back into his quarters. Angrily he began to take
his radiation clothing from its hooks on the wall.

"What the devil is eating you?" demanded Bill Fielding.

"We're pulling out, lock, stock and barrel," Terrence told him.

"Pulling out? Whoweee! I knew Mrs. Fielding didn't raise her boy to be
a fried egg. Goodbye, Dust Bin! Hello, New Chi!" Bill was up on his
hands and knees pounding on his cot. "But what's the matter with you?
You like this place?"

"They're leaving the Rifles," Terrence said, zipping up his protective
coveralls as he left the room.


II

Stepping outside on Naraka with the full power of Alpha and Beta
Centauri beating down was like stepping into a river of fire. Even
with the cooling unit in his suit, Terrence was aware of the searing
heat that filled the parade ground. Looking off across the makeshift
native huts, he could see the bright sides of a huge space ship-like
object. The big dirigible _Sun Maid_ was lying in an open field. It's
a funny world, he thought to himself, where you have to use dirigibles
for planetary travel. But a dirigible was the only practical aircraft
when you had to use steam turbine engines because of the lack of
gasoline and the economic impracticability of transporting it in the
limited cargo holds of the occasional spacers that came out from Sol.

The Narakan Rifles were marching toward him now, the band doing
absolutely nothing for _The Wearing of the Green_. Three hundred big,
green bodied, beady eyed, frog-like creatures were marching in the
boiling heat with their non-coms croaking out orders in English which
might have come out of _Alice in Wonderland_.

As they marched by him, he snapped a salute. Watching them closely he
tried to find two men who were in step with each other or one man who
had his rifle at the right angle. Unable to find either, he stood
there conscious of failure; failure which went beyond mere military
precision however. Sloppiness at review could have been overlooked if
he had been able to find that the Narakans had any ability as fighting
men but after a year of training they seemed almost as hopeless as
they had at first. It wasn't that they were completely unintelligent.
In fact, other than the Galactic traveling Rumi, they were the only
extra-solar race of intelligent beings encountered by man so far. It
was just, he thought, that the hundreds of years during which the Rumi
had dominated their planet had reduced the Narakans to a state of
almost complete ineptitude.

He stood there as they passed in review three times because he knew
that his presence pleased and encouraged them. Then he turned, and
with dragging feet made his way down Dust Bin's single street toward
Government House.

In a few minutes he was standing in the cool, air conditioned living
room of the Wilsons. Wilson was seated at his desk rummaging through
some papers while Norris and Mrs. Wilson were lounging in contour
chairs admiring each other over tall, frosty drinks.

They took the news just as he expected them to. Wilson ran his hand
through his sparse, gray hair and murmured something about it being a
shame to have to leave the natives on their own after having more or
less dragged them out of their comfortable swamps. A glance from his
wife silenced him.

"What the hell," Norris said, "they're only blasted thick witted
Greenbacks."

Mrs. Wilson yawned, "It'll be something of a bother packing but it'll
certainly be a pleasure to get back to New Chicago. Some women's
husbands get good posts in half-way civilized parts of the Universe. I
don't know why I should always have to be stuck in every backwater,
hick town there is."

Wilson smiled apologetically, "Now, dear...." he began but was
interrupted by the sudden ringing of the telephone on the table near
Norris' chair.

"Get that, will you, O'Mara?" the captain said, making no attempt to
reach for it, "It's probably the Command Post."

Terrence put the phone to his ear angrily and growled into it. An
excited Bill Fielding was on the line. "Terry? Is that you? Fielding
here. Hell's breaking loose. There's a bunch of blasted Rumi trying to
force their way into town. They attacked the sentries down this way
and may be heading for your end of town too."

Terrence dropped the phone and headed for the door. "_Rumi!_" he
shouted and there were shouts and cries from outside in answer. Then
he heard the clack, clack, clack of Rumi spring guns. Windows of the
room crashed in and Wilson collapsed across his desk. Norton grabbed
Mrs. Wilson and pulled her down onto the floor. Terrence dropped to
his hands and knees and continued toward the door as he drew his
forty-five.

       *       *       *       *       *

Somewhere, someone had cut loose with a Banning and its high whine
drowned out the clack of the spring guns. With a quick look around,
Terrence started at a run for the next building which was the native
schoolhouse. He didn't make it. There was a clack, clack from off to
his left and he threw himself forward, skidding and sliding in the
dust and gravel of the street. A warehouse across the square was on
fire and three Rumi had darted from behind it. In one brief glance he
saw those long barreled spring guns of theirs and the tall, graceful
bodies and the feline faces under the plastic protective clothing.

He snapped four shots at them and saw one fall. Then he began to
slither along the ground raising enough dust to mask his movements.
There were half a dozen of them in the square when he reached the rear
door of the schoolhouse. Several gleaming plastic bolts smashed into
the wooden outer door a second after he had raised up to open it and
then had dropped back down.

Norton fired from the residency and momentarily scattered the Rumi and
Terrence was inside the school room and racing for the side window
from which he could get a clear line of fire at the raiders. He had a
brief glimpse of Joan Allen, the school teacher, standing in a corner
of the room with the tiny green figures of native children huddled
around her. Then he was at a window and had beaten out the heavy
protective glass and was firing into a mass of the catmen, firing and
cursing as his gun emptied. He cursed in a stream of Martian, English
and Greenback profanity as he forced another clip into the gun.

"Lieutenant O'Mara, if you'll be so kind as to restrain your language
in front of these children," a voice said from over his shoulder.

Terrence reached back and felt something soft and forced it over
against the wall out of the line of the window. Then he risked a quick
look which was almost his last. A spring gun bolt burned a groove in
the windowsill next to his head and smashed into the blackboard across
the room.

"Lieutenant O'Mara, would you mind telling me what this is all about?"
came the same calm determined woman's voice from beside him. He fired
again at a darting figure across the square and saw it stumble before
he had to drop to his haunches as the window above him was smashed and
scattered by bolts and glass rained down about his head.

He put another clip into his gun and cursed because he had only two
left. He turned his head briefly and had a quick glimpse of a white
face framed in straight dark hair and a small, neat figure in a yellow
dress.

"Rumi attack. One of their patrols must have gotten around the
battalion."

A husky, whimpering little sound made him look down. A native child or
pollywog as the Terrans called them was clinging desperately to the
teacher's skirt. His tiny webbed feet clutched at the cloth as he
buried his face against her leg. From behind her peered still another
child, its baby frog face working spasmodically in the beginnings of a
sob. Six or seven others were lying flat on the floor their bodies
trembling in terror.

Terrence took another look outside and what he saw sent him into
another stream of cursing. The Narakan Rifles were hurrying to the
scene of action. Down the middle of the street they came in a column
of fours with their drums and bugles blaring out a poor imitation of
_The Wearing of the Green_. Their standard bearer was running at the
head of the column beside Sergeant Major O'Shaughnessy.

"Oh, my God! He wouldn't...!"

"Lieutenant, please!"

"Teacher, will you shut up!" he roared as he leaped across the room
toward the front door. At the harsh tone of his voice, the whimpering
sounds in the room suddenly burst forth in full volume as the ten
pollywogs raised their hoarse voices into full throated croaks.

Terrence braced his body against the wall and held his gun ready as he
pulled open the door. In parade formation his men were moving up the
street and in a moment they would be away from the buildings'
protection and directly in the Rumi line of fire.

"O'Shaughnessy, you idiot!" he roared above the croaking from behind
him and the rattle of firing outside.

O'Shaughnessy came to a skidding halt almost directly in front of the
schoolhouse but his men kept on going, their faces set and determined.
O'Shaughnessy came to attention and snapped a salute.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Lieutenant."

"Halt! Damn it, HALT!" Terrence yelled at the column of greenbacks.
Their formation crumbled as they ran into each other, stepped on each
other's feet and pushed and shoved. But they halted.

"O'Shaughnessy! Break ranks ... take cover ... line of skirmishers!"
Terrence shouted and hit the dirt behind a sandbox in the schoolyard
as the Rumi resumed firing. There was a mad scramble among the
Narakans as they scattered behind walls and into buildings, moving
with an incredibly rapid jumping motion which they used when in a
hurry.

Terrence was so glad to see only one sprawled figure in the dust of
the street that he just lay there for a few seconds spitting dust
before he realized that he had forgotten to close the face visor of
his radiation clothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a slight clucking sound from beside him and when he turned
he found O'Shaughnessy lying almost beside him, squinting along his
carbine. The Narakan's face split into two replicas of the map of
Ireland and he saluted flat handed, his webbed fingers at just the
proper angle.

"O'Shaughnessy, you don't have to salute when you're lying down!"
O'Mara tried to keep his voice as calm as possible.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Lieutenant. Pretty quick we fight now?"

His lieutenant ignored him and searched for signs of life in the
houses across the square. There wasn't a Rumi in sight except for one
on the roof of a shed next to the burning warehouse. He tried a couple
of shots with his automatic and missed. He grabbed O'Shaughnessy's
carbine and dropped the creature as it tried to scramble off the shed.

"Pretty soon we fight with bayonet?" O'Shaughnessy asked as Terrence
handed back the carbine.

"O'Shaughnessy, why do you do things like this to me, me who took you
out of your damn mud hole and made a soldier out of you?"

O'Shaughnessy's mouth formed a huge round moon, "Not understand,
Lieutenant...." he began but he was ignored again as Terrence stared
across the street in pained disbelief to where the heavy weapons squad
of the Narakan Rifles was gathered in a huddled group behind a native
house, struggling to set up their Banning Automatic Blaster and two
machine guns. One of the men was down on his hands and knees balancing
the heavy barrel of the blaster on his back while two others were
attempting to push the ponderous breech onto it by main strength. The
two machine guns were half on and half off their tripods. The leg of
one of them had been bent in the wrong direction and the other was so
covered with grease that the parts wouldn't fit together.

"Oh, Lord!" moaned Terrence and was bracing himself for a dash across
the street when a figure in Terran battle armor came around the
building on the run, dodging and crawling as spring bolts raised the
dust in front of him. It was the short, stout Gunnery Sergeant,
Polasky. Terrence breathed a sigh of relief.

He turned to O'Shaughnessy, "Now, Sergeant, this is our problem. Those
buildings over there are filled with Rumi. They have automatic weapons ...
spring guns ... firing a clip of twenty plastic bolts. They're deadly at
close to medium range. They can penetrate our battle armor." He looked at
the thick, knobby skin of the Narakan, "Yours too. Now, they are probably
just a patrol about the size of one of our companies. They don't seem to
have any heavy weapons and ours will be in action in a few minutes. Then,
O'Shaughnessy...." The Narakan was squinting along the barrel of his
rifle.

"Are you paying attention, Sergeant?"

"Yes, sir! Attention, yes, sir." O'Shaughnessy started to lift his
bulky three hundred pounds up off the ground. Terrence heaved with all
his might against those thick khaki clad legs to knock him down again.

"Man, what are you doing?" he yelled.

"Attention, sir. Sir said...."

"No, no, O'Shaughnessy. I meant, listen to me. O'Shaughnessy, how
could you? Haven't I been like a brother to you? Didn't I share my
whiskey and candy ration with you?"

"Yes, sir. That's why...."

"Then for the sake of your two headed frog-faced gods, shut up and
listen to me."

"Yes, sir."

"Look. In a minute our Banning will be in action," his voice was
drowned out by the scream of tortured air as the Banning cut loose.
"Now there is a sweet sound. What do we do next, O'Shaughnessy?"

One of the row of buildings across the square glowed red briefly as
the beam from the Blaster caught it; glowed red and then burst into a
ball of fire. O'Shaughnessy's mouth was open wide, his chinless face
resting on the edge of the sandbox and his little black bead eyes were
as large as they could get.

"What do we do now, O'Shaughnessy ... come on...."

The Narakan made a thrusting gesture with his carbine, "Bayonet ... we
go in with bayonet now," he said.

O'Mara slapped him on the seat of his khaki pants. "No, no. You got to
get this stuff straight."

The whine of the Banning interrupted him again and it was joined by
the chatter of machine guns and rifle fire and answered by the rapid
clacking of spring guns. Bolts dug into the wall of the schoolhouse
and showered them with plaster. Others shattered the front window.
Terrence wiped plaster off his visor and tried again. "You've got to
get this straight, O'Shaughnessy, because ... well, because you may be
getting an independent command pretty soon and there won't be anyone
around to tell you what to do."

The Narakan was listening to him but wide-mouthed and uncomprehending.
"We're going to burn them out of those huts; burn them out or burn the
houses down over their heads. About the time Polasky gets to the third
one, those guys are going to break and then they'll either rush us
or...."

Norton was yelling something from the Residency. There was a noise of
clanking armor behind him and he could hear Fielding's voice cracking
out orders as he came up with twenty hastily armed and armored clerks,
cooks and radiomen from the HQ unit.

"O'Mara! O'Mara, they're breaking! They're running! Let's go!" Norton
was on the porch of the Residency pouring Tommy gun slugs at the rear
of the burning row of houses.

"Okay, let's go," Terrence said, lurching to his feet. The Narakan
sergeant blew his whistle and the riflemen swarmed out from their
shelters and started at a run across the square with Norton, Terrence
and O'Shaughnessy at their head. The rest of the Terrans in full
battle armor lumbered along after them.

One or two bolts whistled overhead and Corporal O'Brien dropped his
rifle and fell forward clutching his leg. The smoke from the burning
buildings obscured their vision but Terrence had a momentary sight of
Rumi radiation clothing and emptied his clip at it.

Someone from behind threw a grenade which fell short of its target and
rolled in front of them. Norton took two quick strides and kicked it
into one of the flaming buildings.


III

There were about twenty Rumi, less than they had thought, fleeing
across the open fields behind the burning huts. They were firing as
they ran and giving out those queer yelping cries of theirs. Three or
four of them fell and then Norton was shouting, calling back his men
to organize fire fighting parties.

"Captain! Captain, let's go after those guys. We can cut them off
before they get to the grasslands," Terrence yelled.

"Get your men after these fires, O'Mara. We can't let them spread."

There was nothing to do but obey but he delayed long enough to empty
his automatic in the general direction of the fleeing Rumi. Then he
turned and yelled, "Harrigan! Sergeant Harrigan! Where in the devil is
that...." There was a crashing sound behind him and Harrigan stumbled
through the smoke and came down on his foot, all three hundred pounds
of him.

Later, as the last smoking embers of the fire were being smothered by
industrious squads of Narakans with buckets and shovels, Terrence
limped back across the square with Bill Fielding.

"We should have gone after those lousy scum," Bill said, "They may cut
back around the town again and give the battalion some trouble on the
river road."

"Don't you think I know it! As fast as the Greenbacks can move when
they want to, we could have caught the lot of them before they got
into the grasslands. But Norton was worried about the fires! Of
course, we're going to burn all these buildings tomorrow or the next
day but Norton was afraid the Residency would catch fire."

"Probably didn't want his sweetie's fancy clothes to burn."

"They got Wilson, you know."

"Good Lord! Dead?"

"Right between the eyes. They almost got all four of us."

Fielding took his heavy battle helmet off and pushed back the glass
visor of his radiation helmet to wipe the perspiration and dirt off
his face. "Well, maybe Norton didn't want us to catch those damn cats.
Maybe he figured he owed them that much."

O'Mara shielded his eyes as he said, "Beta's setting. It'll be night
in a couple of hours and we can walk around without this blasted
radiation armor for a while."

"Yeah, and we can start looking for a full scale night attack as soon
as good old Alpha hides his hoary head."

"If you see O'Shaughnessy, tell him I want to see him, will you? I'm
going to stop at the schoolhouse for a few minutes."

Surprise spread across Bill's freckled face, "Not the school teacher?
Not you! Buddy, you've been in Dust Bin too long. You've been on
Naraka too long. You'll be attending services at the Chapel next."

Terrence muttered a few old Anglo-Saxon words under his breath and
limped off in the direction of the school building.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Reverend Ames Goodman was the smallest Narakan that Terrence had
ever seen. The Johnathian missionary from Little Texas was somewhat
under two hundred and fifty pounds which was slight for a Greenback.
He also spoke the best English except for some of the big shots in New
Chicago. Ordinarily he was a composite of superstitious reverence and
natural dignity which Terrence had always found admirable. Today,
however, he couldn't have appeared more ludicrous if he had tried. He
was dressed for a visit to the Residency in a white duck suit which
was too small and out of which he bulged in a number of surprising
places.

He and Joan Allen were talking half in English and half in Narakan as
the lieutenant entered. The minister had a painfully surprised look on
his round green face.

"I hope we didn't bust up your school too much, Miss Allen."

"If you are quite finished with your shooting and cursing, Lieutenant
O'Mara, perhaps you have time to explain to Rev. Goodman and me what
this talk about evacuation means."

As she spoke, she brushed stray strands of black hair up under her
radiation helmet. For the first time in the six months that she had
been in charge of the orphan school in Dust Bin, Terrence decided that
maybe she was pretty after all. He wasn't sure whether it was the high
color which excitement lent to her usually pale face or if Bill
Fielding was right in saying he had been on Naraka too long, but Joan
Allen was beginning to look good to him. At the moment the feeling
wasn't at all mutual.

"Is it true that the Defense Force is pulling out and leaving the rest
of us to the Rumi?"

Terrence took off his helmet and let the rapidly cooling air strike
his head. "Not exactly, teacher," he said, "The Fifth is pulling out
but so are all the Terrans in Dust Bin. Everyone's being ordered back
to Little Texas. That's why the _Sun Maid_ is standing by."

"All the Terrans, Lieutenant? What about the people here who depend on
us? What about my children?"

O'Mara somehow couldn't quite look either of them in the face. He
muttered something about having to get back to his command post and
started out the door. Joan called after him as she noticed his limp,
"Lieutenant, I'm sorry, I didn't know you have been wounded."

"Oh, it's nothing ... nothing," he said, hurrying away, his neck
reddening from something more than the attention of Beta Centauri. How
in the name of Naraka's sixty devils could you tell a woman that one
of your own non-coms had stepped on your foot and nearly broken your
instep?

The battalion straggled into Dust Bin during the night. It hadn't
exactly fought its way back from the river but had had enough
casualties to make the men nervous and jumpy without tempering them at
all. One of the casualties had been Lt. Colonel Upton. Now Major
Chapelle was in command. The men of the battalion were nervous but
Chapelle was riding on the thin edge of panic. He ordered everyone on
board the _Sun Maid_ at once and then countermanded the order and
formed a defense perimeter around the town. He threw out patrols which
were unable to contact any Rumi on the Dust Bin side of the river.

The next morning Terrence was summoned to Government House for an
officers' conference. As he hurried along its single street, Dust Bin
was in a state of confused and helpless excitement. The three or four
hundred Narakans who made up its population were all in the street or
square. Many of them were carrying their belongings on their shoulders
and looked as if they were only waiting for an order of some kind to
send them scurrying off toward the Suzi swamps.

As O'Mara reached the veranda of the Residency, Rev. Goodman was
speaking with Joan Allen by his side. His words were aimed at
Chapelle, Norton and a large gray-eyed man whom Terrence recognized as
the Captain of the _Sun Maid_.

"When you came, you earthmen in your great ships, the Narakan was a
hunted creature on his own planet and had been back as far as he could
remember. You drove off the Rumi and took parts of the planet for your
own use but you did not hunt the Narakan. You brought him out of his
swamps and taught him much; to wear clothes, to till the ground and
many other things. You even gave him your religion. But now the Rumi
have returned and you say you are not strong enough to hold all the
planet."

       *       *       *       *       *

Major Chapelle was impatient, "That's right, Reverend, there's too
many of them. The garrison just isn't big enough to hold everything
and it's too far back to Earth for us to expect any reinforcements for
a year or even longer."

Norton took over. "You're an educated ... ah ... man, Goodman. You see
what the problem is. We can't hold everything so we've got to cut our
losses. All of the most important resources and towns are in the
Little Texas area and so we're pulling back into there."

"I see. Yes, I understand. The people of Dust Bin are part of the
losses that must be cut."

"Now, now. Don't put it that way, Reverend. The natives can always
take refuge in the swamps, you know."

"Yes. I suppose it must be so. Back to Little Texas for the Terrans
and back to the swamps for the Narakans. Back to living naked in the
mud, back to fishing for our food and back to thinking only of the
next meal."

"It really isn't that bad," Chapelle said. "As soon as the situation
adjusts itself, the Terran forces will be coming back. Then you can
come out of your hiding places and resume your regular life again."

"Yes. And in the meantime our only problem will be to stay out of the
way of the Rumi."

"I don't believe that they will go out of their way to harm you. It's
the Terrans they want to drive out."

Suddenly the Reverend Goodman was shaking his fist in the Major's
face, forgetting in his excitement both his manners and his correct
English. "Not hurt! Not hurt, Mr. General? No, they not hurt, they
just eat! They favorite food is Naraka steak."

"Now, now, calm yourself," Norton put a hand on Goodman's shoulder.
"There's plenty of room in the _Sun Maid_ for you and the rest of your
people will be safe enough in the swamps."

"What about my children?" demanded Joan Allen.

"Children, Miss Allen? I don't know.... Oh, yes, you mean the poly ...
the children. Why, I assume they will go with their parents."

Joan placed a small fist firmly on each of her slim hips. "Major, all
the children in the mission school are orphans. They have no parents.
None of them have ever lived in the swamps."

"Ah yes. But I hardly see what we can do about it, Miss Allen."

"Well, Major, I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do about it.
Unless those kids are loaded on the _Sun Maid_ in place of some of
this junk," she waved a hand at the piles of luggage which belonged to
Mrs. Wilson, "I'm going to stay with my charges and leave you with the
problem of explaining to the Mission Board and to the Bishop of New
Chicago just why you left me behind."

At the mention of the extremely influential Johnathian Bishop the
Major looked more worried than ever. After a short conference with
Norton, he turned to Joan.

"Very well, Miss Allen. The children will go in the airship. I'm sure
that Mrs. Wilson will be only too glad to leave some of her clothes to
make room for them."

"Thank you, Major." Joan said, making no attempt to gloat over her
victory.

"Now, Captain, I understand that most of the military stores have been
destroyed and that the men are ready for embarkation," Chapelle went
on hurriedly, addressing himself to the captain of the _Sun Maid_. "We
will have about three hundred and twenty, no ... about three hundred
and thirty passengers for you."

The captain shook his head doubtfully, "It's a big load. I hope we can
make it without any trouble."

"Well, then," Chapelle went on, "We'll go aboard during the day after
we complete the destruction of the stores and facilities. The native
troops under Lieutenant O'Shaughnessy will cover our embarkation and
then convoy the civilians as far as the Suzi swamps. Afterwards they
will march overland to Fort Craven on the Little Texas border."

Terrence had never had any urge to be a hero. He had always pictured
himself retiring at a ripe old age as a Colonel or Brigadier and
raising canal oranges on Mars, but suddenly the memory of the Narakan
Rifles rushing down the street with bugles blaring and flag waving
right into the Rumi line of fire rose before him. The thought of
O'Shaughnessy, even with his new lieutenant's commission, leading the
blundering troops along the two hundred miles to Fort Craven was too
much for him.

"I beg your pardon, Major," he heard himself saying, "But as the
Narakan Training Officer, I think that I should remain in command of
the unit in its overland march."

The Major was dumfounded. Norton looked as if he were sure the Narakan
climate had proven too much of a strain for the lieutenant.

"Lieutenant O'Mara, are you sure...." began Chapelle.

"Are you nuts, O'Mara? Do you know what you're asking for?" demanded
Norton.

"Yes, sir. I feel that since Colonel Upton appointed me Training
Officer for the Narakan Rifles, it is my duty to stay with them until
I am relieved."

Chapelle's look of astonishment had changed to one of relief. It would
be far easier to explain the hurried abandonment of the Narakan Rifles
to the native representatives at New Chicago if a Terran officer were
to remain with them.

"Well," he said, "I could, of course, relieve you of your
responsibility but if you feel that...."

"I do, sir." Terrence said quickly lest he be tempted to back out.


IV

Later in the day as he sat in the shade of the command post's
overhanging roof with his back against a stack of sand-bags, he cursed
himself for sixteen kinds of an idiot as he watched the evacuation
begin. Beta was dropping low over the pink Maldo hills as the long
line of earthmen filed up the gangway into the big airship.

"Hello," said a voice behind him. He turned to find Joan Allen
standing there clothed in radiation armor and holding a small canvas
bag in one hand. "I thought ... I mean ... I came to say good-bye."

"Hello, yourself. I thought you were on board with the rest of them."
He got up hastily.

"No. I got the kids on board but I wanted one more look at the
schoolhouse before we shoved off."

Somehow he was holding onto her arm, "I guess it meant a lot to you,
that schoolhouse," he said.

"Yes, it did. I ... I was afraid that I wouldn't get to see you when
you get to New Chicago."

"There's no danger of that, Joanie. If and when I get there, I'll be
looking for you ... that is ... if you want to see me."

"If you think you can stand an old maid school teacher, I'll be
looking for you." She was very close to him now. "Why did you do it,
Terrence? Why are you making the march with the Narakans? Fielding
says your chances aren't very good."

"I'll thank Fielding to keep his big mouth shut! I don't really know
why, probably kind of an Earthman's Burden, noblesse oblige ... you
know ... something like the sort of thing Kipling used to write
about."

"Hell," she said, surprising him with her vehemence, "you don't
believe that guy any more than I do. It was old when Kipling wrote it
and it's even older now. I think that somewhere under that tough Irish
skin of yours, there's a sentimental fool hiding."

She was still closer now with her hands pressed lightly against his
chest and suddenly his arms went around her, he lifted her protective
visor and forced his lips down hard on hers. All of her primness had
disappeared as she leaned against him, returning his kiss with a
burning eagerness which a more experienced woman might have
controlled.

There were tears running down his cheeks and he knew they weren't his.
He released her slightly and looked down into her tear streaked face,
wondering how it was possible for them to have been at the same post
for six months without really knowing each other.

"I guess I'm kind of crazy about you, teacher," he said.

He had lifted her off her feet and she clung there with her arms
around his neck. "Terrence, I can't leave you ... I...."

As Terrence bent over to kiss her again there was a loud cough and
Bill Fielding was standing there dressed in full battle armor. He
grinned and said, "Much as I hate to break this up, I don't think
Chapelle is going to hold the _Sun Maid_ much longer."

Terrence set Joan gently on her feet and she turned and fled toward
the waiting ship. He watched until she was on board and then turned to
stare at Bill. Still grinning broadly, Bill clapped him on the
shoulder as he said, "I could never have faced those bartenders on
Dobi Street if I had gone back without you. We better get going,
hadn't we? Sergeant Polasky's down with the men. He couldn't bear to
leave his Bannings."

"Well, I'll be damned!" was all O'Mara could find to say as he watched
the big airship lift itself in the fading light, circle and pass
through the smoke of Dust Bin for the last time.

       *       *       *       *       *

Throwing their gear over their shoulders, the two officers crossed the
parade ground to where the two hundred khaki clad figures of the
Narakan Rifles stood waiting with Sergeant Polasky clucking slightly
as he fussed over his Bannings.

O'Shaughnessy was wearing his new lieutenant bars and a pith helmet
and was carrying a large piece of wood in imitation of Norton's
swagger stick. Terrence took one look at him and at the two orderlies
who stood behind him holding his field kit. He strode toward him
scowling, placed his fists on his hips and stood glaring up at the
Greenback as he roared, "So! It's delusions of grandeur you've got, is
it? Where are Hannigan and O'Toole and their patrols? Why aren't they
back?"

O'Shaughnessy stiffened to attention trying to pull in his great
stomach. "They are back, Mr. Lieutenant Sir.... I forgot. They had
nothing to report ... no contact."

Terrence looked him up and down, "If you foul up just once more ...
I'm going to ... I'll split your gizzard, stuff it with To-To leaves
and send you to the Rumi for their breakfast with my compliments!"

O'Shaughnessy shivered at the dire threat as O'Mara turned to Rev.
Goodman who stood with his people clustered about him. "All right,
Reverend, you can move out with your flock. I'll throw patrols out in
front of you and bring up the rear with the rest of the Rifles. We'll
see you as far as the edge of the swamps."

In a long straggly line, the refugees started out with the native
police keeping order and Goodman marching at their head. The two drums
and the three bugles of the Narakan Rifles struck up a badly mangled
version of _Back to Donegal_, and the column followed on the heels of
the civilians. Once or twice Terrence glanced back at the smoke and
flame that had been Dust Bin before he turned his face forward across
the miles of grasslands to where the Suzi swamps lay.

Darkness had fallen but progress wasn't difficult until one of those
sudden, lashing storms for which Naraka was famous hurled itself upon
them, flattening the tall grass, raising swirls of dust and finally
turning the dust into thick, clinging mud.

As suddenly as it had come, the storm was gone. But by that time they
were in the swamp itself. Night in the Suzi swamps. Swamps composed of
a sticky, gray mud and heavy tangled undergrowth. The night was as
black as the day had been bright. The column which had left the
civilians at the edge of the swamp was pushing slowly forward. The
Narakans glided along on their bare, webbed feet and the Terrans
pushed along on snowshoe-like glides attached to their boots.

Bill Fielding, bareheaded with his helmet thrown back over his
shoulder, floundered along beside Terrence. "Did you ever see a place
like this? Did you ever see mud like this? Even the Irish bogs
couldn't be this bad."

Terrence checked his map, shielding his flashlight carefully. "We'll
be out of the worst of this by tomorrow morning," he said.

"If we live until tomorrow morning," Fielding replied, "those Rumi
have eyes like the blasted jungle cats they're descended from."

"I don't think we have much to worry about until we get out of the
swamps. I doubt if their patrols would penetrate very deeply into this
mess."

"How about the radio? Has Polasky been able to get through to Fort
Craven?" asked Fielding.

O'Mara shook his head, "no. You know what Beta's radiations do to
radio reception this time of year. Even at night it takes a powerful
transmitter to reach farther than twenty or thirty miles."

Later in the night, with a good ten miles of swamp country between him
and the enemy, Terrence called a halt on a slightly raised spot of
almost dry ground. The unwearied Greenbacks and the exhausted Terrans
dropped down in huddled groups. The patrols that had penetrated to the
edge of the swamp came in to report that they had contacted no Rumi
ahead. Terrence munched a can of cold beans and fell over in an
exhausted sleep to the sound of O'Shaughnessy placing sentries about
the camp.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day's march was a nightmare to the lieutenant. If anything,
the heat and humidity were worse in the swamps than they had been in
Dust Bin and the going got tougher every mile. The mud was softer and
the undergrowth had to be cut away by bayonet-wielding Narakans before
the main body could move through. Terrence had thrown off his battle
armor and lost his radiation helmet somewhere in the morass as had
other of the Earthmen. Hannigan had prepared a thick mess of mud and
grass which the Terrans applied to exposed parts of their bodies.

Late in the afternoon of the second day the Narakan Rifles came to a
tepid little stream that marked the end of the swamps, and for the
first time Terrence ordered a rest of longer than two hours. Bill
Fielding was lying flat on his back in the grass beside the stream
with his feet dangling in the water, shoes and all, when O'Mara
dragged himself wearily back from inspecting the pickets and flopped
down beside him.

"If I never to my dying day see another speck of mud," Fielding
muttered as he ate a bar of tropical chocolate that was as mud covered
as he was, "I'll still have seen more than all the Fieldings for two
hundred years back have seen on Earth and Mars."

"And now," said Terrence as he eased over on his back with a heavy
sigh, "that we have run out of mud, we can start looking for Rumi."

"At least it'll be a change! Here Kitty! Here kitty! Nice Rumi! Come
and get a bayonet in...."

Clack, clack, clack. The sound of spring guns broke the stillness of
the afternoon and was followed by the sound of rifles and a cry of
pain.

"Oh, Lord!" moaned O'Mara, "now it starts!" He was on his feet,
gripping his carbine and running bent over. Fielding was at his heels,
dragging a machine gun off the ground.

"O'Shaughnessy! Hannigan! Take the first platoon. Move up to support
the pickets. O'Toole! On the double! Take your squad and try to get
around the firing. Bill, you and Polasky stand by here with the rest
of the men and the Bannings."

Terrence had plunged into the stream and splashed across and was
clambering up the opposite bank when one of his pickets came crawling
and stumbling back clutching a wounded arm. "Mr. Lieutenant! Mr.
Lieutenant! Rumi! Rumi! Many Rumi up ahead! Sullivan and O'Leary dead!
Rumi get!"

"Medic! Medic!" O'Shaughnessy was yelling in his ear with the
full-throated croak of an adult Narakan, drowning out what the wounded
picket was trying to say.

"How many? How many Rumi, man?" Terrence demanded.

"Twenty ... thirty ... maybe thousand!" the Narakan gasped as the
Medic led him off.

"'Twenty, thirty, maybe thousand.' That gives us a damn fine idea of
what we're up against!"

While his men dragged their big bodies up the bank of the stream,
O'Mara stood scowling at the eight foot high grass. Usually about a
foot high, the hardy and ubiquitous purple grass of Naraka grew far
more lushly around the edges of the swamps. He felt that it would be a
risky business at best to plunge into it after an unknown number of
enemy. At the same time he had an illogical determination not to leave
the bodies of his men in the hands of the Rumi. He looked at the
broad, big-mouthed exaggerations of Irish faces around him, heaved a
sigh that came from deep in his chest and ordered, "All right, men.
Spread out. Keep low and keep your eyes open. And try not to shoot
each other."

"We fix bayonets now, Lieutenant, sir?" Hannigan asked.

"You keep your eyes open, Sergeant," Terrence snapped, "I'll tell you
when to fix bayonets."

The noisy rustling of his men's heavy bodies as they pushed through
the grass made him nervous and irritable. Then suddenly, just as they
were edging their way around a gully, a dozen Rumi were swarming down
on them. Terrence cut down two with his carbine but his men were
firing and missing as the incredibly fast catmen hurtled at them. He
had a brief glimpse of O'Shaughnessy spraying submachine gun slugs
wildly about and then there was a hail of spring bolts and two of his
men were down. The whole platoon was thrashing through the grass in
their direction and the Rumi were gone as quickly as they had come.

"Come on!" Terrence shouted, breaking into a run with twenty or thirty
Riflemen after him. A bolt grazed his cheek and another cut down a man
to his right. He emptied his carbine in the general direction of the
Clack, Clack, Clack. Hannigan was roaring a primitive bull-throated
chant and firing at everything that moved. O'Shaughnessy managed to
jam his gun and was beating frantically at it with one webbed fist.
They burst into a clearing filled with Rumi and both sides blazed away
at point blank range. It was hard for even a Narakan to miss at that
close range and the Rumi broke and ran just as Sergeant O'Toole and
his squad came out of the grass on the other side of the clearing.

The Rumi, trapped, turned and dashed at Terrence and his men. The
lieutenant drove his fist into one cat faced creature and smashed his
empty gun across the head of another. Hannigan grappled with one of
the lithe gray-bodied things and slowly crushed it beneath his 350 odd
pounds. O'Shaughnessy beat another insensible with his jammed Tommy
gun. Several Narakans were down but most of them had taken Rumi with
them.

Terrence was knocked off his feet by a gray ball of fury that leaped
at him wielding a stiletto-thin knife. He caught at the Rumi's arm
with both hands but the creature was not only fast but strong. It
twisted out of his grasp and slashed at him and only a quick sideward
roll saved him. Desperately he brought his fist down on his
assailant's head.

The Rumi's grip relaxed slightly and Terrence drove his fist full into
its face and locked his legs about its waist. The catman couldn't have
weighed more than a hundred and fifty pounds but all of it was wiry
strength. It clawed at him now, ripping his protective clothing and
gashing his legs, meanwhile trying to get its knife into play. He was
vaguely conscious that his men had disposed of the rest of the Rumi
and were dancing around him frantically trying to get a chance to aid
him. He was struck by the incongruity of a civilized being descended
from simian ancestors and a civilized being descended from feline
ancestors fighting fang and claw while a bunch of misplaced amphibians
danced about them.

Making his weight count he suddenly twisted and hurled the Rumi under
him but something hit him a terrific blow on the back of the head and
blackness closed in.


V

O'Mara awoke with a head that felt like all the hangovers of a
misspent life.

"Have a nice rest?" Bill Fielding asked.

Terrence reached a weak hand to the back of his head and felt
bandages. "Did I catch a spring bolt?" he asked.

Bill grinned, "Well, no. Not exactly. It was more on the order of
Private O'Hara's rifle butt. He was trying to hit the Rumi you were
necking with."

"I might have known," Terrence groaned.

"We lost six men but recovered all the bodies except for one. We've
got four wounded ... litter cases. Thought you were going to make it
five for a while."

"Well, they won't slow us down too much. We still have about a hundred
and fifty miles to go. We'll camp here for the night and move out at
dawn."

Marching in the early morning and resting in the heat of the day
before another afternoon march, the Narakan Rifles covered another
fifty miles of the distance to Fort Craven without incident but not
without signs of Rumi. Twice they came on recently occupied camps and
once they caught sight of a Rumi patrol moving parallel to their own
line of march.

The next morning, which was blistering and cloudless, they were only
seventy miles from the Fort.

"Maybe we ought to give the radio another try." Terrence decided.
"We're close enough to have a chance of getting through now."

Polasky set up the field radio.

"Hello, Balliwick. Hello, Balliwick. This is Apple Three Three. Can
you read me? Come in, please."

O'Mara and Fielding sat and listened while he repeated the call a
dozen or more times. His only answer was the heavy static that Beta
produced in most electronic instruments. The same static that made
radar and space scanners all but useless, that limited aircraft to the
big dirigibles and weapons to old fashioned rifles and machine guns.

"I guess we'll know what's going on when we get there!" Terrence said.
He wiped his forehead with his arm, noticing that the heavily caked
mud was beginning to crack off. He would be in for a bad case of sun
poisoning probably.

A rare breeze had sprung up and drifting down it from the west came
the sound of gunfire. As one man, everyone in the camp stiffened.

"Did you hear that?" demanded Fielding.

"I think I hear a Banning," Polasky said, "sounds like it's coming
from in back of us ... off to the west."

"From what our scouts have been able to pick up, that's the general
direction that the Rumi have been moving," Terrence said.

"But there's nothing over that way. What in hell could they be
attacking?" Fielding was on his feet, looking off in the direction
from which the sounds were coming.

Terrence was aware of an increasingly uneasy feeling. He got to his
feet and picked up his gear. "The sounds could be deceiving. We might
as well get moving. It isn't going to get much cooler before
nightfall."

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later they were hotly engaged with a large force of Rumi. Rumi
armed for the first time with heavier weapons, mortar-like guns that
hurled pods of smothering dust that caused almost instant
strangulation. Rumi who attacked suddenly, giving them time only to
drop to the ground and set up the Bannings and machine guns before
three hundred howling fiends came charging through the grass at a dead
run, firing as they came.

O'Mara was behind a machine gun and Fielding and Polasky each had a
Banning in action. They met the Rumi charge with a withering hail of
lead and fire. The Narakans lying as flat as their huge chests would
allow them were firing as fast as the automatic rifles would fire. The
Bannings swept the line of charging figures. As the beams paused for a
moment, the charge would take effect and a ball of fire would
mushroom skyward, leaving a dozen seared cat bodies on the ground.
Terrence swept his machine gun along in a swath behind the Bannings,
picking off what they left. Some dozen catmen made it to within ten
yards of their front but sprawled still or lay kicking briefly until a
Greenback put another bullet into him.

The Rumi were gone, withdrawing to the west and Terrence was yelling
and cursing at his men to keep them from breaking ranks and following
them. Three Riflemen and O'Toole were dead and Sergeant Polasky was
coughing out his life beside his Banning with a spring gun bolt in his
stomach.

"Those damn cats!" he was muttering when O'Mara reached him, "those
damn cats. We showed 'em, didn't we, Lieutenant? That Banning's a good
gun if you...."

They buried the Greenbacks in eight foot graves and the Earthman in a
seven foot one. "Those dirty, lousy, stinking...." Bill Fielding was
beating his fist into the palm of his hand. "We got one of them alive
this time, Terrence. Hannigan knows a little of their lingo. His old
man escaped from one of their breeding pens on the other side of the
Muddy. He's working him over."

In the twenty odd years that Terrans and Rumi had occupied different
halves of the same planet, the number of men who had learned the Rumi
language wouldn't have filled a small room. So Terrence was surprised
at Bill's information and hurried toward the place where the
interrogation was taking place. Before he got there, he heard a
piercing cat cry which ended in a gurgle and when he reached the group
of Greenbacks, Hannigan was wiping his bayonet on the grass. He stood
looking down at a Rumi officer whose throat was neatly slit from furry
ear to furry ear. Then fists clenched on his hips, he confronted his
men.

"I don't suppose it ever occurred to you bunch of dimwits that we
might have gotten some information out of this guy. He might have
talked, you know."

"He talk," grinned Hannigan, "he talk plenty. He feared we might hurt
him. We tell him no hurt if he talk.... Ha!"

"He say big flyship down, Mr. Lieutenant," said O'Shaughnessy.

"What? What do you mean?" demanded O'Mara.

"Flyship ... _Sun Maid_ crash in storm.... Rumi find."

"Good God! The _Sun Maid_!" Terrence gasped, "That storm the first
night!"

"They surround and attack Terrans. These ones on way to join attack
when meet us," O'Shaughnessy went on.

"He tell where ship down," Hannigan said, "it near bend in Big Muddy ...
place I know. Ten, twenty mile back."

The Greenbacks were watching the Terrans, fingering their bayonets
eagerly and hugging their rifles. Terrence had the impression that
they were beginning to like their jobs. He turned to Bill Fielding,
"Well, Bill, it looks like we came about twenty miles too far."

Bill grinned, "Yep, I guess so. Come on, soldiers, fall in. We got
work to do back here a piece."

A two hour's forced march with the sun beating down and the sound of
firing growing closer. Only a column of Greenbacks could have done it
and only a crazy Irishman would have asked them to. They came up over
a rise and looked down a gentle slope toward the brown twisting snake
that was the Big Muddy. On its banks lay the broken shape of the
airship and swarming across a burned circle around it were Rumi,
thousands of them. The firing had slackened in the last few minutes
and now they could see why. The Rumi were assaulting and were at close
grips with the ring of defending Terrans.

"Now?" questioned O'Shaughnessy, "we fix bayonets now?"

"Yes," replied Terrence, "now we fix bayonets."

At his word three hundred big clumsy hands reached for three hundred
bayonets and fixed them to three hundred rifles.

"O'Shea, take O'Toole's squad and stand by up here with the Bannings.
O'Shaughnessy, take the left flank. Bill, you take the right. Let's
go!"

There wasn't a sound out of the Rifles as they started down the hill,
none of their usual croakings and bellowings, just silence and the
heavy thud of their feet. The Rumi had seen them. Many of those in
the rear of the attack were swinging about to face them. Spring gun
bolts began to whiz in their direction. One or two Narakans fell. They
were closer to the struggle now, closer to the tightly packed Rumi and
the hand to hand struggle about the _Sun Maid_.

Terrence was firing, throwing lead into the gray-bodied mass ahead of
him but his men were just thundering along with their little black
eyes fixed on their old oppressors, bayonets leveled in front of them
in approved training school method. They resembled nothing so much as
a regiment of tanks hurtling at an enemy. The momentum of their charge
carried them half way through the Rumi ranks, the terrific force of
the plunging amphibians bowling over the lighter catmen.

Bayonets, clubbed rifle and heavy webbed fist fought against claw,
teeth and knife. There was almost no firing, almost no sound save for
the cries of the Rumi and an occasional cheer from the Terrans.

Terrence emptied his Tommy gun, hurled it in the face of a Rumi and
reached for his knife and automatic. A Rumi knocked him off his feet
with the butt end of a spring gun but before he could do more,
Hannigan stepped over his lieutenant and plunged his bayonet into the
catman. The Irishman scrambled to his feet amidst the gray furry
bodies, thrust his .45 into a snarling face and pulled the trigger.
The face disappeared but another took its place and he fired again. A
Rumi with a knife grabbed at him from behind and he raised his pistol
again but the cat was already down with a bayonet between his
shoulders.

The Greenbacks were yelling now, lifting those great voices of theirs
in full throated bullfrog croaks. The Rumi, trapped and desperate,
were scattering and trying to flee down river. O'Mara stumbled over a
barricade of rocks and boxes and almost got a Terran slug in him
before he realized that they had cut their way through to the broken
ship. He was up in a minute and urging his men on after the scattering
enemy. Twenty or thirty of them tried to make a stand around a tall
Rumi officer but O'Shaughnessy at the head of a wedge of Narakans
swept into them at a full run.

Their bayonets flashed for a few seconds and then flashed no more, the
steel was covered with blood. A few hundred Rumi made it to the river
under a hail of fire from O'Shea and his squad on the hill. Hardly
pausing to consider their cat-like aversion to water, most of them
plunged in and struck out for the other shore. The rest were cut down
on the bank by onrushing Greenbacks. Terrence grabbed hold of one of
his buglers and then had to practically beat the man over the head to
get him to sound Recall.

Bill Fielding picked his way among the bodies and came toward Terrence
holding his left arm. O'Shaughnessy was leaping up and down and waving
his fist across the river.

"Things different now! All different now! One Greenback better than
four, five, eight Rumi!"

"At least that many," Terrence said under his breath before he roared
at O'Shaughnessy, "Fall the men in on the double now! We're going to
march back to the _Sun Maid_ in proper military style."

There was a blowing of sergeant's whistles, the shouting of corporals,
and the Narakan Rifles slowly formed ranks. Some were missing and
others were limping and holding wounds but they stepped out smartly as
the column headed back up the river. Every rifle was at the correct
slope, every man was in step as they marched through the makeshift
barricade and past where Chapelle was standing. The drum and bugle
corps struck up _The Wearing of the Green_ just as O'Mara shouted,
"_Eyes Right!_" and every eye swung right in perfect unison. A
tattered and weary Chapelle brought a surprised hand up to salute and
the Narakan Rifles came to a snappy halt.

A small, black haired figure threw itself at Terrence and his arms
were again holding Joan Allen. "I knew you'd come," she said, "only a
big, crazy Irishman like you could do it."

He kissed her and then pressed his mud-caked face against hers as he
said into her ear. "Only three hundred big, crazy Irishmen, baby.
There's not a drop of anything else in me boys."

       *       *       *       *       *





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