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´╗┐Title: Tonight the Stars Revolt!
Author: Fox, Gardner F. (Gardner Francis)
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 "Tonight the Stars Revolt!" ***

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



                       Tonight the Stars Revolt!

                       A Novel by GARDNER F. FOX

                   _In the Black Pools he found the
               50,000-year-lost wisdom of the Ancients.
                For a day Red Angus held victory in his
              sword-hand. But it was too short a glimpse,
                 too elusive a thought to bolster the
            star-rabble against the Citadel's iron guard._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories March 1952.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


_The pools were like the gaping mouth of space itself, dark and
fathomless, extending into bottomless wells, the depths of which the
people of Karr could only guess. Some said the god Stasor dwelt in the
glistening black depths. Others claimed the emptiness was the hollow
interior of the planet. None of them was right._

_All men feared the pools. Only a man fifty thousand years old knew
their incredible secret, and he lived in an invisible city...._

       *       *       *       *       *

Red Angus fled like a frightened hound through the twisted alleys of
the Lower City. Dim lamplight from the towering white walls of the
Citadel threw glowing brilliance across his naked chest, glinted on the
metal studs of his broad leather belt, and on the rippling muscles of
his long legs. He skidded on a patch of slops, righted himself and dove
for the darkness of an arched doorway. He drew back in the shadows,
barely feeling the burn of the new brand on his shoulder that stamped
him as a pirate.

Faintly, he heard the shouts and drumming feet of the Diktor's police
as they ravened in the streets, hunting him. His heart thudded swiftly
under the high arch of his ribcase. Red Angus smiled wryly.

He was a hunted space pirate, just free of the cell blocks below the
palace. But he was more than that to the Diktor of Karr. He was a
Karrvan noble who had gone bad, who had fled into space and established
an eyrie on a wandering asteroid, who had set himself up as a one-man
crusade against Stal Tay, ruler of Karr by the grace of the god Stasor.

"I'll find a way," the pirate swore in the shadows, listening to the
shouts and running of the guards, the sharp, barking blasts of their
heatguns.

There was a faint sound behind the thick oaken door. Angus moved
his naked back, still welt and scarred, away from the damp wood. He
clenched a big fist and stood silent, waiting.

He was a tall man, lean in the belly and wide about the shoulders. His
mouth was thin but curved at the corners as though used to smiling.
Close-cropped reddish hair gave his hard, tanned face a fiery look.
Dark blue eyes glistened in the half-squint of the habitual spaceman.

The oaken door swung open. A cowled form stood in the darkness of the
archway putting out a thin, old hand toward him. Where the cowl hung
there was only a faint white dimness for a face.

"The Hierarch will see you, and save you, Red Angus," said the old man.
"Come in. He hopes you'll listen to reason."

"The Hierarch?" snorted the lean man in disbelief. "He's hand in arm
with Stal Tay. He'd land me back with my ankles in a manacle chain."

The cowled man shook his head and whispered, "Hurry, hurry. There's no
time to argue!"

A shout from a street less than sixty feet away decided the half-naked,
winded Angus. He moved his shoulders in a bitter shrug and slid inside
the door. The latch clicked on the door and a hand caught his. A voice,
gentle with age, said softly, "Follow me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hundred feet from the door the walls began to glow. Angus looked
at his guide and saw an old man, a member of the Hierarchy, a priestly
cult of scientists who were honored and protected by the Diktor. Thirty
years before, when the people of the Lower City had been ravaged by
disease, they had stormed the block of buildings where the scientists
worked.

They had wrecked machines and killed men.

The people of the Lower City were no better than savages and the pagan
superstitions they boasted were encouraged by Stal Tay. It pleased the
Diktor to believe that science was something only the rich deserved. So
Stal Tay stepped in. He withdrew the scientists from the world of men
and gave them a little world of their own that was called the Citadel.

Red Angus and the scientist went through corridors that bent and
twisted in subtle fashion. It was quiet in this underground tunnel.
Once Angus heard the subterranean rush of a hidden river seeking an
outlet in the great Car Carolan Sea. Water condensed in oozing droplets
on the cold stone walls.

Then they were going up handhewn stone steps toward an archway in which
a thick, soot-blackened door was opening. Lights glared beyond the
doorway in a large room with a high, groined ceiling.

He saw Tandor first, standing big and massive among the cowled priests,
the wall light glinting from his bald head. They had had a time taking
him from the Lower City, Angus saw. There were cut marks on him, and
the blood here and there on his rough wool tunic had dried.

A tall man in a white cowl that was bordered with purple came toward
them. He said, "I saved your man from the Diktor's torturers. Money
will do much in the Citadel. Even a pirate's first captain is not as
valuable as a handful of _sestelins_."

Red Angus shrugged. "What do you want from me?"

The Hierarch nodded. "They told me you were a sensible man. Tonight I
will free Tandor after you do me a service."

"What service?"

The Hierarch studied him carefully. "Kill the Diktor!"

Angus barked derisive laughter. "As well ask me to find the Book of
Nard. I'd stand as much chance!"

"I may well ask that too, before you and I are through."

"Suppose I refuse?"

The Hierarch sighed. His black eyes glittered in the shadow of his
cowl. "I'll smash your legs so you can't run, and let Stal Tay send
his men for you. I'll put red-hot daggers in Tandor's eyes until he
confesses your crimes. I--"

Angus scowled. "I thought the Diktor was your friend."

"He keeps us penned in the Citadel as his slaves. The scientific
discoveries we make he claims as his own. He sent the diseases that the
people blamed on the scientists."

Angus said, "I will kill him." But he thought to himself, I only play
for time. It's promise or get my legs broken.

They led Angus to a little room where a cowled man waited for him with
garments that were living reds and ochres, braided with gold and ornate
with jewels. The scientist said coldly, "You are to impersonate the
Ambassador of Nowk. He's red-headed and big with a scar on his face
like your own."

The night air was crisp as Angus stepped with the cowled scientist
through a stone gateway and into a long, sleek wheeler. He gathered his
cloak of black sateenis about him and sank into the foamisal upholstery.

The cowled man whispered, "Everything is arranged. A woman dancer,
Berylla by name, will dance for the Diktor. Right after that he plans
to call you to his side to discuss the new trade agreement with
Nowk. The dancer will give you the signal as she leaves. When you're
summoned strike at the Diktor's neck. A divertissement in the form
of drunken revellers has been planned. In the excitement, you will be
spirited away."

Angus touched the slim dagger at his side and nodded.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Diktor of Karr was a big man. He was solid in the shoulder and slim
at the waist. His head was bald, and there was a jagged scar across
his right temple. He sat on his jewelled throne and drummed restless
fingers against the hand-carved arm.

Beside him sat a woman with sloe eyes and hair the color of a raven's
wing. The thin stuff of her gown clung to supple haunches and proud
breasts. She watched the new Ambassador from Nowk thread a path through
the guests, unable to decide whether the man was ugly or ruggedly
handsome. But he was big, with long, heavily-muscled arms and legs, and
he had the look of a fighter.

Moana laughed softly. There was music in her voice and art in the
manner of her movement as he drew closer. Her eyes ran over his big
frame slowly, slumberously.

Red Angus came to a stop at the base of the dais and bowed low. He was
a pirate but he had been in the great capitals of the Six Worlds.

"Your first visit to Karr?" smiled Stal Tay.

"The first, excellency."

"You like the court we keep?"

Red Angus knew of the taverns and swill-wet streets of the Lower City.
He knew the people were slaves to the Hierarchy and to the Diktor and
his little coterie. Girls danced and pandered to the desires of the
rich--if they did not, things were done to them in secret. He knew men
grew old before their time, working to pay for the rare jewels that
Moana and others like her flaunted.

But he murmured, "Plegasston of Nowk has said, 'For the good of the
State, the greatest number of its people must enjoy the greatest amount
of its highest rewards.' But Plegasston was a dreamer."

Moana gestured Angus to the golden chair beside her. She let her
fingertips brush his hand as he took the seat. "Tell me about yourself,
Ben Tal."

Angus grinned, "I'm a relative of his Eminence of Nowk. That explains
all about me. But you. You're priestess to the god Stasor. You've gone
into the black pool to face him. You've heard his pronouncements!"

Moana made a wry face and shrugged. Strains of music swept down from
the fluted ceiling, diffused throughout the room. Her black eyes
glowed. "Don't talk religion to me, Ben Tal. Take me in your arms and
let us dance."

She was warm and fragrant, following his movements. Her dark eyes
enticed as her hands fluttered from his arm to his shoulder to his
neck. She made the moments fly. Seated with her at a table, letting her
feed him playfully, he almost forgot his mission.

And then....

The room darkened. The hidden musicians made their stringed instruments
dance with savage rhythm. And in a circle of golden light, her white
flesh gleaming fitfully through a garment of diamonds, a woman swayed
out onto the cleared floor.

And Angus remembered. He was here to kill a man.

The woman in the service of the Hierarchs was a fireflame out there
with the jeweled dress cloud of living rainbows swirling about her.
She pirouetted, dipped, and leaped. She was motionless--and a storm
of movement. She laughed. She wept. She taunted and cajoled. She was
everything any woman ever was.

Angus saw her eyes darting, hunting him. They slid over his deep chest
and long legs, square jaw and close-cropped red hair many times without
recognition. Only toward the end, as the beam of light that spotlighted
her dance touched him too, did she know him.

Her surprise made her stumble but she recovered swiftly. She whirled
around the room, diamonds tinkling faintly to the stamping of her bare
feet. She threw herself into the Dance of the Garland of Gems, and made
it a living thing. When she came to the black curtains she posed for an
instant, moved her arm in the agreed signal, and was gone.

The Diktor lifted a hand and gestured. Angus bowed to Moana and got to
his feet. With all the iron control he had developed on the lonely
star-trails he fought to keep his hand from his knife-haft.

He bent to take his seat. Now his right hand was sheltered by his body
and he put it on the dagger.

The thin blade whispered, coming out of the scabbard.

Red Angus leaned forward and thrust at the throat before him.

Four hands came out of midair and fastened to his wrist. They dragged
him down by surprise and by the weight of their bodies. He went off
his chair in a rolling fall, hitting the man to his left, toppling him
backwards into Stal Tay.

       *       *       *       *       *

Men were shouting. A woman screamed. Angus brought his hard left fist
up in a short arc, drove it into the stomach-muscles of the man on his
right. The man grunted and went backwards. Red Angus stood free, his
clean blade still naked in his hand.

He leaped for Stal Tay but other guards had come running. One threw
himself before the dagger, both hands catching at it. Another hit the
pirate across the legs with his hurtling body. A third man clawed
himself to a position astride his back, hooking a hairy forearm under
his chin. That was when the rest of them hit him.

Angus went back off his feet into a mass of struggling, cursing flesh.
The guards yelped triumphantly but Red Angus had fought in tavern
brawls in the Lower City, had wrestled with salt slavers on the desert
dunes, had fought fights from Karr to Rimeron. He surged up. His fists
went up and down. His right hand flashed out, closing on a guard's
wrist. The guard screamed and fell away, moaning.

Angus breathed through distended nostrils, dancing back, fists thudding
into rib and jaw. He fought to get room and he almost made it. But
a guard left his feet in a wild dive before the pirate could brace
himself. The man hit his knees and took them out from under him. Angus
went down under a dozen leaping warriors. Grimy, blooded, Red Angus
shook his head and gave up.

Moana was standing above him, laughing scorn through the queer, awed
light in her eyes. Her white breasts rose and fell swiftly under their
scant covering. "The little dancer knew you, Ben Tal. I saw that. But
she's never been out of Karr City. And this is your first visit. Who
are you?"

Red Angus shrugged as the guardsmen lifted him to his feet and sat him
roughly down in a chair before the Diktor. He made a wry face. There
was a taste like bitter ashes dragging down the corners of his mouth.
His belly quivered under the glistening cloth of his breeches. He
seemed to hear the Hierarch's drawling voice, "If you fail, you die!"

The Diktor waved a hand. The guards lifted him, dragged him behind
velveteen drapes and along a stone corridor, into a small room. The
Diktor and Moana followed at his heels. It was the Diktor who turned
the key in the lock.

"Who sent you?" the stocky ruler asked softly. "Who paid for my death?
Tell me that, and you'll walk out of here a free man."

Red Angus shook his head. He met the hazel eyes of the Diktor grimly.

Stal Tay smiled. "Berylla the dancer knows you. I can always have her
brought in, you know."

Moana had been walking around Angus. She came close, put a hand on
the tunic that fitted his chest like a glove, and ripped. His heavily
muscled shoulder was laid bare, where the inflamed interlocking
triangles gleamed.

Moana cried out. "A pirate!"

The Diktor opened his eyes wide. "Of course. Now I know you. Red Angus.
My men captured you a week ago. But how in Stasor's name did you get
free?"

Angus said briefly, "Does it matter?"

"No." Stal Tay went and sat on a curved sigellis-chair and crossed his
heavy legs. He drummed short, powerful fingers against the beethel-wood
arm. "But the fact that you came back after getting free--that is
important. You wouldn't have stayed in Karr City unless you had to. Who
made you stay? Certainly you didn't hate me enough to risk your neck on
such a long chance."

Angus grinned through the fear in him. "A million people hate you,
if you want to know. You keep the lower-city men and women in filthy
poverty to buy you and your kind jewels and luxury. You subsidize the
Hierarchy, using their science to make your life easier and safer. Why
deny those poor devils down below what you could give them so cheaply?
Heat. Light. Power to operate a few machines. Let them taste something
from life besides slops and sweaty clothes and hard beds."

"Oho," laughed the Diktor softly. "Plegasston of Nowk made a convert.
What else did he say, Angus?"

"He said that government and science should serve the people, not
enslave them. Doesn't Stasor teach that?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Moana laughed softly. Her black eyes taunted him. She said, "You want
to hear what Stasor says about government and science and people,
Angus the Red? Let me take him through the Veil, Eminence. Let the god
himself tell the fool."

The Diktor smiled thinly, looking from man to woman. He shook his head.
Moana moved to one side of the square-set ruler. Her black eyes bored
straight at Angus. He tried to understand their expression.

The Diktor stood up. "I've used reason, Angus. You're a pirate. You've
preyed on my space-caravans. You've stolen and plundered from me. I
tell you again, I'll forgive all that--even reward you--if you tell me
who sent you here this night."

The black eyes burned at him in Moana's pale white face. She touched
her full upper lip with a red tongue-tip.

"If I could see Stasor," fumbled Angus, trying to fathom what Moana
wanted him to say. When she nodded almost imperceptibly, he went on,
"perhaps he could make me change my mind. If Stasor says I've been a
fool, why then everything I've believed in will have gone smash. In
that case I'd like to serve your Eminence."

Moana's black eyes laughed, silently applauding him. The Diktor
scowled thoughtfully. He swung around on the girl. "Will you be his
vow-companion?"

Angus knew what that meant. If he found a way to escape, the Diktor
would stretch that lovely white body on the rack in place of his own,
give those thighs and breasts and face to the red-hot pincers, the
nails, the barked hooks. He would never let her suffer that fate.

Maybe the Diktor knew that. He smiled a little as Moana promised. He
went, without another glance at Angus.

Moana said softly, "It was all I could do, Red Angus. He would have
taken you to the Pits tonight if I hadn't delayed it."

"You don't owe me anything," he told her crisply.

"I do, though. My brother angered the Diktor a year ago. He was sent
to the salt marshes of Ptixt. You raided the caravan that carried him
and set him free. My brother lives safely hidden today, in one of your
pirate cities. I remember that, Angus. Sometimes good deeds do pay off.
What does Plegasston say about that?"

She went past him and through the doorway.

He followed her swaying body along the drape-hung corridors, into small
rooms and past oak-beamed doors. She came to a blank wall, reached up
and pressed pink fingertips against a rose-red stone.

"The whorls at the tips of my fingers set off a light-switch mechanism
within the stone," she explained. "It's better than any key."

Somewhere an engine hummed faintly and the rock wall began to turn. It
swung aside to reveal a narrow corridor leading downwards. The walls
were coated with a luminescent blueness that glowed brightly, lighting
the way.

Angus saw the pool long before he came to it. A round metal collar
bordered the glistening blackness, that seemed to press upward as
though striving to burst free of whatever held it. It shimmered and
quivered. It pulsed and throbbed with something close to life itself.

Angus came to a stop, staring at it. He put out a hand and thrust it
into the darkness. It felt light, biting, and he thought it might taste
like heady wine.

Moana took his other hand. She whispered, "Come," and stepped down into
the pool.

The darkness swam all around Angus. He felt it on his skin, in the
pores of his arms and hands and legs. It made him giddy, so that he
wanted to laugh. It was like walking on air, to stride in this thing.

They went down into the pool and stood in a strange space, where there
was only blackness, unrelieved by light. It was cold. Faintly, Angus
could hear what he thought was music.

"Will yourself ahead," he heard a musical voice whisper.

He floated effortlessly.

"Where are we?" he wondered aloud.

"Out of space. Out of time. In the abode of the god. Soon now, we shall
see Stasor."

A bright point of red glowed faintly, as a pinhead might gleam when
heated in a fire. It grew swiftly to the size of a fist, to the size of
a head.

The red glow burst, and sent streamers of flame out into the darkness.

Where the red had been was Stasor.

       *       *       *       *       *

His face floated in a white mist, ancient and wise and sorrowful. The
dimly veined lids were shut. The forehead was high, rounded, surmounted
by snowy hair. On either side of the great hawk-nose, high cheekbones
protruded. The eyelids quivered, slowly arose.

Angus stared dumbly into living wisdom. He wondered deep inside him
how old Stasor must be, to know what those eyes knew; how many worlds
he must have gazed on, how many peoples he must have seen grow to
statehood, to degeneracy, to death.

"You entered the pool. I felt your emanations. What do you wish?"

Moana said, "I am your priestess, Stasor. I have brought a man to see
you."

"Let the man speak."

Angus wet his lips. He scowled, trying to find words. He mumbled, "I've
been sentenced to die for attempting to kill the Diktor of Karr. He's
an evil man."

"What is evil, my son? Is a man bad because he opposes your will?"

Angus growled, "He's a curse to his race. He sends disease and death on
his people when they disobey him. He keeps improvement from them. He
makes them slaves when they might be gods."

"That is your belief. What says the Book of Nard?"

Moana whispered, "The Book of Nard is lost, High One."

Stasor was silent a long time. He said, finally, "The Book must be
found. In it are the secrets of the Elder Race. Go to the City of the
Ancients. There you will find the Book."

"No one today knows where the City is, either. It is lost, with all the
secrets of the Elder Race."

"The City lies across the Car Carolan Sea, through the Land of Living
Flame. Go there."

The lips closed. The eyelids shut. Swiftly the old face faded into
nothingness. The blackness came and pressed around them.

Angus turned slowly, as in a dream. Still in that dreamlike trance
he found himself staring at three tall, cowled forms that stood like
sentinels.

Moana screamed.

One of the cowled figures lifted an arm and gestured assurance. "There
is no cause for fear. The Hierarch sent us to bring you before him."

Moana shuddered. Angus felt her cold hand seeking his, trying to hide
itself in his palm. Hand in hand they willed themselves after the
cowled forms. They swam bodily through the blackness, moving eerily,
without muscular movement.

A round curtain of shimmering bluish motes ahead of them was like a
glowing patch in the darkness. One of the cowled forms turned and
waited. He said, "Another pool, Moana. The pool of the Hierarchy. We,
too, know the way into this world."

"What is the blackness?" wondered Angus.

"What man knows? It was formed and built by the Elder Ones before they
went on."

They were in the pool, passing upward through its queer surface. It
sizzled and bubbled all around them, tingling on the skin.

They passed the pool and stood in a low-ceilinged, bare room.

A cowled man opened a door for them and stood aside.

The Hierarch sat in a curved chair ornate with gold edgings. His pale,
ascetic face gloomed from the shadow of his big cowl. He stared at
them, a thin smile touching his lips. He stared so long that Angus
asked impatiently, "What do you want with us? Tandor, is he free?"

Moana gasped, sudden understanding waking her mind. The Hierarch
brushed her with his eyes and sighed.

"Tandor is free. I fulfill my promises. You tried and failed, yet you
tried. Now--"

He paused, fingertips pressed together, brooding down at Angus.

"Many thousands of eons ago, before our race came into existence, all
Karr belonged to the Elder Race. It lived a long time on this world,
before it went on."

Angus grinned, "Your priest said that. You and he mean--"

The Hierarch spoke patiently, as if lecturing a child. "It did not
die out. It went on, to another plane of existence. Everything
must progress. That is the immutable law of nature. The First Race
progressed, far beyond our understanding, beyond the natural laws as we
know them. They exist today--somewhere outside.

"Stasor, now. Take him, for instance." The Hierarch flicked burning
black eyes at Moana. "Some think he is a god. He is a member of the
Elder Race."

Moana said harshly. "Blasphemy! You speak blasphemy of Stasor."

The Hierarch shrugged. "I tell you Stasor is a four-plane man, one not
bound by our three dimensions. He and his kind have gone on to that
other world. They left behind them rules to guide those who came after
them. They left the pools. They were a great race, the Elders, and the
black pools are their greatest discovery. Those rules they gave us are
contained in the Book of Nard. I want that book!"

"Why?"

The Hierarch smiled gently. "With the secrets of the Elders at my
fingertips do you think the Diktor could keep us penned here in the
Citadel?"

A faint hope burned in Angus' chest. "You mean, you wouldn't be
cloistered any more? That you'd give your science to the people and
help them up?"

"Pah!" snapped the Hierarch. "The people? Pigs! They wallow in their
filths and love it." His burning black eyes glittered fanatically. "No.
I mean I--and not the Diktor--will rule all Karr!"

He is mad, too, thought Angus. He and the Diktor--mad with the lust
for power. If the Diktor dies and the Hierarch rules the people will
change a bootheel for a mortar and pestle. _Even the stars must revolt
against that._


                                  II

The street was dark, except for the moonlight shining faintly through
the serrated rooftops, and reflected grey and dismal from the rounded
edges of the cobblestones. Angus and a cowled man made a short dash,
ran into the shadows, and trotted at a slow pace.

Above them a sign creaked on rusty chains. Angus looked behind at the
huge stone bulk of the Citadel where it rose from solid rock, wall
piled on wall, and turret on tower, and battlement upon bastion. Beyond
the Citadel the thin, delicate spires of the palaces towered above the
clean, fragrantly perfumed Upper City. Up above, there was no swill.
There was no stench of rotting garbage. The patricians did not know
what roast derstite looked like on a greasy platter, or how broiled
colob smelled or what awful stuff the vintners sold in the big Mart.

Angus said, "I still don't see why the Hierarch bothers sending me
after the Book. He has a lot of scientists who'd do a better job of
finding it."

The lips of the man twisted in the darkness of the cowl. "How do you
think the Diktor keeps us penned in the Citadel, red-man? He has
spectragrams of each of us in his palace, attached to central controls.
Every once in a while he has his captains check on our locations.
When the vibratory beams touch us, they reflect our spectrums on the
visi-screens. If one of us is out of place--beyond the limits of Karr
City, that is--he sends a patrol to find and capture us. We lost
several good men that way before we grew resigned. Once a scientist is
captured by the Diktor he is destroyed. Instantly."

"Isn't there anyone else to help you?"

The scientist showed his disdain by a twitch of the lips. "Who? One
of the people? They'd run so fast to betray us a theto-hound couldn't
catch them. They hate the Diktor, but I think they hate us more."

Behind them the shadow of a man with a zigzag scar on his face
disengaged himself from beneath an overhanging cornice and silently
followed.

Angus and the scientist went through the narrow streets, down stone
steps and across a great square. To one side the red lanterns of the
Spotted Stag tavern glowed and the shouts and roistering laughter of
men mingled with the shrill, excited laughter of a woman.

The scientist glanced about him nervously, wet his lips with his
tongue. "I don't like this section. It's too near the wharves. There
are other rats than the four-legged kind."

A blackish, blunt object in the big hand of a half-naked man bounced
from the skull of the cowled one. Angus went forward, left hand
hooking. He caught the big man on the side of the mouth and drove his
head sideways. His right fist was crossing as his left landed. He hit
the man with his right hand and the man went backwards into a brick
wall.

"Easy, Angus," growled a voice in back of him, with a hint of laughter
in it.

Angus whirled, teeth bared. When he saw the bald head of the giant in
front of him he laughed harshly.

"By the gods! Tandor. The Hierarch did keep his promise, then!"

"We heard you'd missed killing that scum that lives in the palace by an
inch. Tsk! The Hierarch felt that, with luck, Stal Tay would be dead
by now. He let me go, yes. As soon as he learned that you and that
priestess were in the black pool."

Angus bent and threw back the cowl of the scientist. There was a
swelling lump on the back of his head. Angus said, "I thought you broke
his skull when you hit him." He looked at the man stirring against the
brick wall. "Sorry, friend. I thought you a footpad."

"Tandor told me you were fast. He wasn't lying." The man grinned
ruefully, feeling his jaw.

Tandor shouldered Angus aside and picked up the cowled man. He led
the way up through the streets, the limp man's legs and arms dangling
inertly. Tandor asked, "Where was he taking you?"

"To a hidden globe-ship. I'm supposed to find the Book of Nard. The
Hierarch is holding Moana as hostage for my success."

Tandor whistled softly, eyes round. "He exchanged me for the girl. A
smart man, the High Priest!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Laughter came out at them from the illy-lighted interior of the tavern
together with the dry smell of wine and the stench of sweating flesh.
Tandor kicked the oak door open and went along the wall with his
burden. A girl with a rag around her middle ran for Angus, tipsily
pressing wet lips to his. She threw up a wooden goblet, the red wine
splashing over its rim, crying, "The Anvil! To Red Angus the Anvil--the
only friend we have!"

The roar echoed in his ears as Angus stepped into the little side room.
Tandor kicked a chair toward Angus, reaching for a wooden pitcher. He
growled, "Are you going hunting for the Book?"

Angus stretched out his legs and dragged a full goblet toward him. He
stared at the dark liquor. Finally he said, "Yes, I'm going."

"Why?"

"Because I've seen the way they live in the Upper City. I've seen the
life they lead and I've seen the life those people out there in the big
room lead."

Tandor made a rumbling sound in his throat. "You don't think they'll
appreciate your changing it, do you?"

Angus looked thoughtful. He smiled, "I know what our race is
heading toward, now. We will be like Stasor--the man behind the
veil--eventually. The longer the Diktor stays in power, and others like
him, the longer will the rest of us be kept from that goal."

Tandor grinned like a wolf. "Some men like to be martyrs. It's a
weakness of the brain." He scowled, and brought the flat of his
ham-like hand down on the wooden tabletop. "I say it's madness. Let the
Hierarch and the Diktor slit each other's throats. Let's go back to the
star trails, Angus. Out where a man can breathe and stretch himself."

Angus shook his head. "Take the ship yourself. Go raiding, if you want.
I stay. I want to answer a question."

"What question?"

"Why is science?"

"Why is--? You're crazy, now. I know it. Of all the stupid questions.
Science is an art designed to better the life standards of the
patrician class. There. That answer you?"

"I say science is something that should benefit all. Why do we have
torches while the hierarchy and the patricians use illumi-lamps and
incandescent walls? Why don't we have stoves instead of hearths or
electronizers instead of percussion guns?"

Tandor smirked. "It's safer."

Angus got to his feet and walked about the smoky, oak-beamed room.
In the reddish light his naked chest and thickly muscled arms seemed
coated with crimson. The short crop of red hair on his rounded,
square-jawed skull added to the illusion. He planted his hands on his
hips and stood in front of his lieutenant.

"I turned pirate when the last Diktor executed my father for leniency
with his servants. The Diktor said he was undermining governmental
discipline. I took my mother and fled into space. I found a safe spot
on Yassinan. I built a pirate empire with your help. I'd offer up all
that--all the wealth we've amassed in Yassinan--to smash the setup
here!"

Tandor spat on his hand and rubbed his palm dry on the flat of his bald
dome. He said drily, "You make me mad, Angus. You aren't satisfied with
things. Always you have to change them. Isn't life full enough for you
now?"

Angus ignored him. "If I could get the Book of Nard and free Moana and
take her away to safety we might stand a chance. If we could develop
science undisturbed on Yassinan we could do it."

"Why fret about Moana?"

"She became my vow-companion. You know what that means to somebody like
the Diktor." Angus slapped his broad leather belt decisively. "I'll do
it. I'll go in his globe-ship and try and find the Book. Tandor, you
stay here. Raise men to fight for us."

The big man with the bald head nodded gloomily. He poured wine from the
wooden tankard, downed the brimming goblet in one long gulp. He wiped
his lips on the palm of his hand and rubbed it dry on his bald head. "I
hear you. I think you're mad but I hear you. What are you going to do
with that?"

His thumb jerked at the limp scientist in the long cowled robe. Angus
shrugged. "He'll come around. When he does I'll pretend I've fought off
his assailant. Meanwhile, you find out which globe-ship he means to
give me. Can you do that?"

The big man rumbled, "Tandor can do anything. I'll find out without
leaving the room." He lifted his voice and bellowed. When the door
opened and a red face peered in, Tandor grinned, "Find that wharf-rat
Plisket and send him in here."

Plisket limped in, grinning at Angus, bobbing his head. His eyes opened
when he heard what Tandor wanted. He chuckled, "The hierarchy plot like
a pack of fools. Everybody outside the Citadel hates them. It happens I
hate the Diktor more. They gave me gold to build a ship."

"The Skimmer?" asked Tandor. "That wonder-boat you were telling me
about?"

"It is a wonder-boat. It incorporates the--"

"Never mind the details," rapped Angus, leaning his palms on the table.
"Is that the boat the hierarchy want me to use?"

"It must be. It's the only one unchartered. And Angus--if you are to
control it--remember that it will submerge. And it has four speeds, two
more than...."

Tandor slapped the table with his palm, making the goblets bounce.
"Enough, enough. Plisket, your tongue wags like a hound's tail. Angus,
are you ready?"

Angus stretched his tall, heavily shouldered body. He went and bent his
lean height over the shallow-breathing scientist and swung him up in a
fireman's hitch. He walked firmly, steadily, as he headed for the oaken
door.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man with the zigzag scar on his cheek drew back into the darkness
of a jutting second storey as a door creaked open down the street.
His eyes glittered, watching Angus emerge with a cowled body atop a
shoulder. The hidden man touched a glittering knob strapped to his
wrist, turned the knob and lifted it to his mouth.

Angus did not see him, did not hear him whisper into the voxbeamer. He
heaved up, settling the body on his shoulder. He began to trot, with
space-devouring strides. He went by the spot where Tandor's bully had
struck down the cowled man. He went ten paces beyond it, and halted. He
lowered the man to the ground and began to shake him.

"Wake up ... he didn't hit you that hard. Come on. Man, stir
yourself ... that's better ... see me, do you? Who am I? Angus. Good.
You're better? All right ... on your feet ... here, I'll give you a
hand."

The scientist teetered weakly, tried to smile. "I told you it was a
place for rats. What happened?"

"I beat him off. I carried you a bit, thinking he might come back.
We've lost some time."

"Sorry. I'll make a report to the Hierarch. He'll be glad to know you
didn't run out on him."

Red Angus clipped coldly, "I wouldn't leave Moana to that Diktor devil.
The Hierarch knows that."

The cowled man nodded. "Just the same, I'll tell him. I like you,
Angus. If I can ever help you, remember Thordad."

"You're all right? Sure you can go on?"

"I can go on. Hurry. Never mind me. I'll make it."

       *       *       *       *       *

They saw the towering ball of the globe-ship as they broke from the
squat buildings framing the square at the waterfront. It was a ball
of golden brilliance, riding the slight sea-swell despite its bulk,
occasionally rubbing against the soft snubbers attached to the dock.
In the moonlight it loomed majestic and awe-inspiring above the wet,
rounded stones of the quay. Its soft _slip-slup_ motion on the waves
made it seem alive in the salt-laden breeze moving in from the sea.

The scientist halted. "I leave you here. You know how to get to the
Flaming Land? Good."

Thordad held out his bony hand. Angus grinned and clasped it. He
chuckled, "Tell the Hierarch to dust off a shelf in his Literatum. I'll
fill it with the Book of Nard."

Thordad smiled, turned on a heel and strode off into the darkness of an
alleyway. Angus went on, eyes gleaming up at the hulk of the ship. He
heard the wind whistling in the rooftops, and across the flat stretch
of the square. With eyes and ears already occupied, he did not hear the
sobbed cry Thordad managed as a hand closed on his throat, nor did he
see the dagger dripping crimson in the hand of the man with the zigzag
scar, rising to fall again and again in Thordad's body.

Angus went across the gangplank into the curved port. He pressed a
stud and the door slid into place. Lights sprang to full illumination,
revealing shimmering metal beams and cross-braces, glittering crimson
floor, and long banks of control panels. Glowing tubes, slowly warming,
flooded the gigantic room with a soft blue color.

Angus studied the meters. He drew down a red-handled lever. Far below
the plasticine-sheltered engines throbbed, roared their power. Slowly
the great hull of the globe-ship began to revolve, circling the inner
ball. The fine margin of air-space, charged with electronically
regulated magnets, made a soft, swooshing sound as the outer ball
rotated faster. The inner ball, a gigantic gyroscope set in a magnetic
field, held steady, while the outer globe swirled rapidly.

The globe-ship seemed a huge ball that some giant's hand was shoving
through the water. It flipped water from it as it raced. Its bulk,
designed for the minimum amount of friction in water, danced across the
waves with terrific speed.

Angus watched the great bulk of swaying, restless water ahead of him,
saw combers flee by, watched huge swells come and go, split by the
globular hull. He flipped over the light-map and studied his progress,
making changes in the directional needle.

He headed out across the heaving Car Carolan Sea toward the Flaming
Lands, where no living man had ever gone before.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Diktor turned from a contemplation of the serried bands of light
glistening across the beaded spectragraph screen. A young attendant
in golden jacket and breeches touched a button at his command and the
screen went dead.

The drapes over the arched doorway at the end of the room billowed
aside as an officer entered, clicked heels and bowed. His voice was
hoarse. "Teoman has returned, Eminence. He bears news of the pirate."

The Diktor came striding across the floor, sweeping his cloak behind
him with a short, thickly muscled arm. He gestured peremptorily and the
billowing curtains lifted. A man with a zigzag scar on his cheek bobbed
his head up and down, sidling into the room.

"The pirate has gone in a globe-ship across the Car Carolan Sea,
Highest One. A scientist of the Dragon Class was assisting him. I
daggered the scientist but I could not reach Angus in time."

The Diktor bit his lip. "Moana?"

The spy shook his sparsely-haired head. "No sign of her, Eminence. She
was not with him."

The Diktor tossed a bag of coins to Teoman, gestured the man out. He
snapped an order and went striding back and forth across the room as
the officer hurried out.

The officer came back with two red-clad attendants who wheeled a squat
engine, bulbs and gears locked inside a transparent jacket, before
them. High on the gleaming metal top of the machine stood a vox-phone.

The Diktor bent and put his lips to the vox-phone. He said irritably,
"Subject: the Car Carolan Sea and adjacent territories. Query: What, if
anything, of scientific value is reputedly found in that region?"

There was a faint hum of the gears and pistons. A soft, gentle voice
replied, "The flaming Land and the Desert of Dead White Stones border
the Car Carolan Sea to the west. To the east is the continent of Karr
Major. To the south the ice floes that are barren. To the north, the
polar regions. Beyond the Flaming Land is an inland sea fed underground
by waters from the Car Carolan. Beyond that sea lies the desert. It is
an uninhabited land. There is nothing of scientific import there aside
from the volcanic region of the Flaming Land."

The machine clicked and died. The Diktor sighed. He would have to go
and see Stasor. He did not want to do that because he had a feeling
that the members of the Elder Race did not approve of him and his
methods.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even far out at sea Angus felt the heat coming toward him in surging
waves. Mists, formed from water heated to the boiling point, rose like
a white pall to shelter the Flaming Lands from his eyes. But here and
there, through a breeze-made rift, he could see huge tongues of fire,
red and sullen, rising from the ground.

Angus drove the globe-ship into the white fog. Gigantic bubbles broke
under it, flung mists and steam up over the ship. Inside the glober the
heat was fierce.

Angus was clammy with the sweat running down his cheeks and ribs. It
was sapping his energies. When the controls started to blur in his eyes
he knew he had enough. His fingers touched the warm control lever and
threw it forward.

He fled miles from the mist and slowed to a stop, riding the ocean's
swell. He muttered, "I'm through. Finished. I can't go over and I can't
go under ... or can I? Didn't Plisket say something about that?
Wait ... wait ... sure! He said this thing will submerge."

Angus got up and crossed the room. There was a small literatum inset
in the metal wall. He ran his eyes over titles, reached up and brought
down a thick book on geophysiology.

He bent, consulting pages on subterranean oceanology. His finger
pointed out a paragraph. "From the Car Carolan Sea an underground river
feeds the inland sea that lies between the Flaming Lands and the Desert
of Dead White Stones."

It took him a long time, hunting blindly in the heated water all
around him. He went deep, trundling across the jagged ocean bottom.
The oxygenerators were laboring when he found the great dark orifice
looming ahead in his sea-lights.

It was close work, maneuvering the glober through the sea-tunnel. All
around was the muted booming of volcanic fires sending up hot jets of
molten lava, flame and ashes. Water swirled, black and thickish, past
the rounded hull.

When the water lightened, he knew they were out of the tunnel. Angus
sent the glober rocketing upward. It burst through the water into clear
air. The Flaming Lands lay behind. Ahead, across the bluish expanse
that was the inland sea, lay a vast stretch of sand and rock.

Angus anchored the globe-ship. He dove overboard and swam to the
whitish sands. The sun was warm above and the hot sand bit through
his leather boots. Angus threw a big canteen across his shoulder and
fastened a small packet of food tablets around his waist.

He walked for two days and a night before he found the half-sunken road
that arched across the desert. The road ended four days later, in the
barrens. His water was gone and the leathern pocket that had held food
tablets was empty.

"I can't turn back," he thought. "I've been gone a whole week from the
inland sea."

Angus turned and stumbled on. The sun beat down on his naked shoulders,
on the remnants of the sun-worn rags about his middle. With each puff
of sand his feet kicked up, something went out of his spirit.

Angus saw a brown rock uplifting its jagged tip from the sand. He ran
awkwardly toward it, hoping that from its top he might see the spires
of a distant, nebulous city. But there was only sand and more twisted,
curving dunes, and the faint azure tint of the horizon.

He stood on the naked finger of rock and swore. He invoked the olden
gods--the fecund Ashtal, goddess of love and sex; Grom who fought
with warriors; Jethad who loved the wise. He called on them for their
attention and he cursed them, upwards and down, forward and back.

In his rage he took the empty canteen and hurled it.

Choking, he broke off in mid-curse.

_The canteen had disappeared in midair!_

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hierarch made fists out of his taloned hands. The cowled man, bent
before his carven chair, trembled. The Hierarch whispered, "Are you
sure?"

"We followed his spectragraph in the screen, Excellency. We followed it
until it disappeared!"

The black orbs in the thin white face of the chief scientist burned
with fanatical ardor. Through thin lips he rasped, "He tricked me.
He had those pirates of his pick him up when he was safely out of my
hands."

"He went through the Flaming Lands," quavered the cowled man. "We saw
him do that. Would he go to all that trouble to be picked up in the
desert? He could have escaped from the Car Carolan Sea."

"Evidence of his cunning. He wanted to make sure he was a good distance
away from the power of the Diktor."

"The Diktor?"

"You fool! I'm going to the Diktor and turn Moana over to his
torturers. I'll tell him Angus planned with Moana to kill him. Hai. The
torturers will work over her a long time, I think. When Angus hears of
that...."

The Hierarch brooded. He smiled, "I might even turn that into a trap
for him. When he returns, having heard what has happened to Moana, I'll
be waiting for him."

       *       *       *       *       *

Angus slid down from the rock with his heart in his mouth. _The canteen
flew out into the air_, he thought. _It went high, and as it came down
it disappeared!_

There was something just ahead of him. Perhaps a force field hidden in
the shifting and eddying mists rising from the desert lands.

If he could find the canteen and discover what made it invisible....

Angus was weak. His knees crumpled as he tried to take a forward step.
He summoned the muscles and the nerves of his big, gaunt body. He went
forward one step, then two.

At the third step he fell. He put out his hands.

They parted the grey mists in front of him but did not break his fall.
His naked knees hit rounded stone and then his palms went out and
touched the worn pavings of a city street.

"Gods!" the pirate whispered, lifting his head, blue eyes burning like
coals in his tanned face.

The gray mists shifted, fading. From their wisps, as though like the
flesh of a naked woman revealed by smoky veils, shone queerly rounded
and smoothly curved walls of amaranthine and ocher, red and jonquil
yellow. Here and there a dome of pearly champagne stood tipped with a
knob of vermilion. The houses on the edge of the city were low, seeming
to rise higher and higher toward the center where a tall, slender
building reared its spire.

Red Angus drew a deep breath, running his hands down the ridged muscles
of his thighs. He turned and stared behind him where the hot sands
ought to be. He saw only gray mists, shifting and shimmering.

Angus went down the street, past empty-windowed buildings, across bare
intersections, his foot-falls loud in the stillness of the dead city.

He walked until the entrance to the central tower was in front of him.
Crested with heraldic devices--Red Angus recognized the flame-eyed
Stallion of forgotten Shallar and the rampant Dragon of Domeer--the
wide door was a glittering mass of emeralds embedded in carvings so
delicate they seemed sheared from paper.

The doors opened at a touch, revealing red-and-yellow squares of metal
stretching forward beneath a glittering dome of translucent jade. In
the center of the hall stood a low metal rim about a bubble of grayish
green iridescence. He went toward the rim, bent over and stared down.

"One of the black pools!" whispered Angus.

Through the luminescent bubble he could see only blackness, a jet
nothingness that seemed alive.

       *       *       *       *       *

A step sounded on the metal flagging behind him.

Angus whirled.

A man stood there, leaning on a bent staff, smiling gently. He was clad
in a loose woolen garment, white as falling snow. His arms and legs
were bare and brown. His face, though lined and creased, seemed almost
youthful.

"I have waited many years," he said softly, "and no one ever came.
Now--at last--there is someone who has found the city. Welcome. I bid
you welcome to the Tower of the Ancients!"

"Stasor!" cried Angus in sudden recognition.

"The Stasor you know, yes. One of my race is chosen to spend a hundred
years as Guardian of the City, to wait for any who might come to seek
its treasures. You are the first who ever found it."

Angus said, "A lifetime of loneliness. Are we worth it?"

The old man laughed. "We do not die--not as your race knows death. It's
one of our attainments. Like the blackness where you first saw me."

"The blackness?" Angus turned, stared down at the metal collar encasing
the jet black pool. "What is it? It must be all over the planet. No one
knows what the pool is."

"It is the greatest product of my race. Many eons ago a scientist
discovered that an atom may be split to create ravening energy. For
years the mightiest scientists of the Elders studied that fact.
Eventually they built machines that could house such awful power.
Finally, after many centuries, they developed the pools.

"The pools are nothing more than that atomic radiation--sheer
energy--bottled up in vast chambers lined with _stalabasil_. Ready for
use at any time.

"In the early days men died from such radioactivity. As time went
on and we handled it more and more, our bodies evolved, so that the
painful burns that caused death became as mere tinglings along the
nerve-ends. Your own race, that evolved on Karr after the Elders went
on, is also immune to it."

"Reservoirs of energy," murmured Angus, rubbing hand on thigh. "If you
could harness that energy and turn it into channels of production...."

His blue eyes widened as breath caught in his throat. Stasor smiled,
his old head nodding. "That's what we Elders used. We powered our
machines with it. We needed no fuel, no refilling of bins or tanks. It
was always there, ready to tap."

"Does the Book of Nard mention it?"

The old man nodded. "All our secrets are contained in the Book of Nard.
Do you want to see it?"

They went up a flight of spiralling steps and into a room where heavy
golden drapes hung bright and splendid. On a wooden rest lay a closed
book, its covers solid gold, its parchment leaves tinted a pale rose.

"Open it," said the Guardian.

Angus bent and lifted the cover. He gazed on the archaic lettering
etched into the thick vellum.

_Each man has in him the seeds of his own immortality. He must progress
or he must die. And the race is like the man. Who shall say what path
that progression shall take? A man cannot know his own future. Neither
does the race. This is the Book of Nard, first of the Elder Race. With
encouragement to all peoples who come after us, we leave this short
transcript of our past._

Angus lifted his eyes. He stared at the smiling Guardian, who nodded.
Quickly the pirate touched the parchment, spread the pages wide. His
keen blue eyes scanned the etchings while he read the record of those
who had gone on. He scanned mathematical and astronomical formulae,
chemical equations, biological charts.

He whispered, "The entire history of the race, told in the achievements
of its scientists!"

"It is all that lives."

"I don't understand it, of course. I catch a thought, here and there.
But the entire equation...."

"You don't understand it?"

"No."

The old man smiled. He said suddenly, "Would you like to see some of
those achievements in action? Would you like to see the worlds in
three-dimensional space, the island universes, the galaxies, the stars
and their planets?"

Angus said, "I've been out among the Six Worlds. I've seen other
systems through telescopes."

The old man laughed. It was a spontaneous, happy sort of laugh. "I
don't mean that way. Come, let me show you what my race can do." Angus
caught him smiling oddly, the corners of his lips drawing down, as
though he shared a queer joke only with himself.

They did not use the stairway this time. They stepped into a bare
room walled and ceilinged and floored with shining steel. The old man
touched a stud on the door.

The room of the book was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

In its stead, there was a round chamber with a transparent dome that
revealed stars twinkling uncounted miles above. In the middle of the
otherwise unfurnished room stood a low, flat dais set with chairs
riveted on their curving metal legs into the dais. A bank of controls
was set flush in the floor of the platform.

The old man led him to the dais. He smiled, bending over the control
panel, "This is the kind of observatory your race will have, someday.
You won't have to depend on polished mirrors and light and thick
lenses. Basically the principle of the thing is the same as that of
the teleport room we used to come over here. We just make use of
coordinated space and time factors. It's like steering a boat on an
uncharted ocean. If you know where your lodestar is you can go anywhere
you want."

He turned and reached for a chair. "We're ready now. You are perfectly
safe, no matter what you see, or think you see. Just relax."

The reflected light in the room was fading. Blackness came down through
the transparent dome and surrounded them. It was like the Staratarium
Red Angus had visited on Mawk--or it was, until Angus saw stars beside
and below him.

A nebulae that was uncounted light-years away came rushing toward them.
It was a spinning silver wheel at a distance, but it broke into great
blotches of black space to dissolve into just another star system
without form or noticeable nebulosity.

They swooped over a reddish planet and dropped through its atmosphere.
They studied great buildings of stone and metal that towered high into
the clouds. Tiny fliers and great air-freighters dotted the skies. The
old man said, "This people used their science wisely. They built a
civilization that gives every man all he wants which is, in effect, all
he can understand."

They left the red planet, swept light-years away and down through heavy
mists to a greenish globe whirling majestically in the light of its
distant sun. Beneath them lush, tropical jungles lifted fronds and
branches to the steaming mists. Somewhere in that massed carpet of
vegetation an animal screamed in its dying agonies. Through a break in
the trees Angus saw a naked man squat and hairy and with a stone-bladed
spear in his hand, fleeing before the bounding fury of a gigantic
tiger. The great cat was making its last leap, spreading its talons
into the man's shivering flesh, as the mists crept up and hid them.

"A young world," Stasor said softly, "with all its life ahead of it in
which to find its destiny."

They went out into space and found a planet where giant insects ruled,
where a lumbering thing in the shape of a man, but mindless, was used
for heavy labor. Another planet showed lizards dwelling in strangely
wrought mansions. A third showed mind-beings that looked like crimson
jellyfish hanging in midair by some means of mental suspension.

"All these," explained Stasor with a wave of his palm, "are freaks.
Life throughout the whole universe, across all of its uncountable
light-years, follows mainly a pattern like our own. Creatures that
we call man, with two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose and mouth,
breathing atmosphere into lungs, have been the ruling race because of
circumstances like gravity and atmosphere, over which they themselves
have no control.

"One more example, then we're done...."

They fled across star galaxies, through sprawling universe where
binaries and dwarf stars and red giants alternated against the black
void like a spangled curtain. They went through the Megellanic Cluster
and the Andromeda nebula. They came swooping down so swiftly that the
stars blurred a little, even at their incredible distances, toward
another galaxy.

Stasor found a little star. It was surrounded by nine planets. He chose
the third planet outward from the star, and dropped his observational
platform through the heaviside and ionosphere.

Angus craned forward. He liked this world. It reminded him vaguely of
Karr, with its green grasses and rolling oceans.

"Its inhabitants call it the Earth. A peaceful place. Look over
there--you can see the city clearer now."

It had graceful spires and round, lovely dwellings. Giant ships rested
beside white, sparkling wharves. People went back and forth clad in
light, airy garments. There was an air of glowing contentment.

Stasor said, "This is their golden age. It will last a long time. Soon
they will colonize other planets near them. In the end--some million
years from now--these people will rule almost all the known universes.
And yet, compared to ours, their science is just a crawling child."

       *       *       *       *       *

Angus felt a touch of jealousy. "Why should they rule the worlds? We
people of Karr...."

"Wait, not yet. I want to show you this world three hundred years ago."

He touched a lever. The world below them grew away, shot backward and
out into space. Angus cried out in amazement. "It's receding away from
us."

"I'm going back in time. Remember, this is an expanding universe. It's
come a long ways in the past three centuries, going toward the fixed
star, Vega. We have to follow it."

This time, there was no lovely world. There was only blackened earth,
charred and scorched. Great humps of steel stuck up from the ground
like the fire-blackened ribs of some giant fallen in swamp-muck. From
the west came seven thin, lean shapes, speeding through the air. From
the blackened ground came thinner, smaller shapes to intercept them.
The small shapes were like wasps in their darting and their speed. The
big shapes never had a chance. They went down in masses of red flame,
spinning.

Stasor announced, "This is their Last War. It is to go on ten more
years. The seven shapes you saw were bombers loaded to their wings with
atomic bombs. The smaller ships were fighters, their armaments mounted
with fission-guns, an invention of an American scientist."

"Ten more years!" flinched Angus. "There's only blackened ground for
them to live on."

"They live underground," explained Stasor.

Angus mused, "There's such a sharp difference between this world and
what it's to be like three hundred years from this time."

"The American who invented the fission gun," explained Stasor, "will
lead their world to that pinnacle. He is going to organize the remnants
of the civilization left after the last war, compel interracial wedlock
and births. The biological result of that will be, naturally, a new and
different race in the course of the years. It is that race that will go
out from Earth to the stars."

Angus regarded Stasor thoughtfully. "You're thinking that what the
American did with his people, I can do with mine."

The old man shrugged. He reached out and twisted the dials. He
murmured, "Karr fights a war just as deadly as the one you see below.
There's a difference. Instead of death, Karr's enemies deal it
stagnation and degeneration."

"If I could get the Diktor to give the Hierarch's sciences to the
people," Angus mused.

"Where there is hope you have new life," smiled Stasor gently. "Without
science to benefit their lives the people of Karr have no hope."

Angus lashed out bitterly, "The Diktor is too powerful. There isn't any
way to beat him."

"I will show you a way," murmured the old man.


                                  IV

Stal Tay held high court before his ruby throne. He sat with right hand
on his knee, bent forward, thin lips smiling. Before him stood the
Hierarch, rigid with rage, black eyes burning under the shadow of his
white cowl. To the Hierarch's left an almost naked Moana was crumpled
on the cold stone floor, manacles rivetted to her wrists and ankles,
her white flesh gleaming through torn garments.

Stal Tay taunted, "You come too late, Hierarch. I know where Red Angus
went, what he went for, and who sent him."

"It was done in your interests," rasped the scientist. "I brought her
to you that you might know the truth."

Stal Tay glanced at the weeping Moana. "So many odd things are done
in my supposed interests these days. At that, I'm almost inclined to
believe you but what really bothers me is this--did Angus find...."

The Diktor snapped off his speech abruptly. He rose half out of his
throne, fingers clutching the jeweled arms. The Hierarch whirled. Even
Moana turned her head to look, the sobs still racking her body.

A yellow glow was forming in midair a foot above the stone tiles of
the Audience Chamber. The yellow glittered, coruscated and faded away.
Where the color was now stood a flat black dais with three chairs
whose curving legs were rivetted to the floor of the dais. A man turned
from the control panel that rose between the seats, a man with red hair
and a tanned body. The man looked at them and laughed.

"Angus," whimpered Moana.

"Seize him," raged Stal Tay.

Angus bent and lifted something and held it up. It glittered in the
light filtering through the arched windows of the Audience Chamber.
Angus said, "This is the Book of Nard. I've come to bargain with you,
Stal Tay."

The Diktor sank back into his throne, gesturing his guards aside. He
said, "What do you want for the Book?"

"Moana."

"Moana," said the Diktor in surprise. "Is that all? Take her ... but
wait. How do I know this isn't a trick? How do I know I'll get the
Book?"

Angus stepped from the dais to the floor of the chamber. He placed the
book in its golden covers on the floor. "I went to the City of the
Ancients. I met Stasor and took the Book of Nard from him. I came to
bring it to you. I see I came just in time to save Moana."

Stal Tay came to his feet. "That thing you ride. What is it? Tell me
its secret and I'll pardon you."

Angus laughed in his face. "Stasor calls it a teleportator. It shifts
space, draws sectors of space together in an instant. In it a man can
move from here to anywhere on Karr. Stasor knows many things, Stal Tay.
One of them is how to bring you off that throne!"

The Diktor's face purpled. He started to talk but his eyes caught the
golden covers of the Book of Nard and he controlled his anger. "Take
her," he said, "before I decide the Book isn't worth your insults!"

Irons clanking, the girl stepped to Angus' side, let him lift her to
the dais. Then Angus turned and studied the Diktor through narrowed
eyelids.

"I'm giving you the Book now, Stal Tay. But it's only fair to warn
you--I'll be back for it!"

He stepped onto the dais, turned a knob on the control panel. The dais
fled and the golden bubble came back, and then that, too, disappeared.

Moana sobbed as the dais fled through shifting white mists. Angus knelt
beside her, using his disintegrator on the links of her manacles. She
said, "The Diktor will send men for you. He'll never let you get away
with this. You've only won a temporary victory."

Angus chuckled, "He'll be too busy with the Hierarch and the Book of
Nard to go after me for a while. When he does, it will be too late."
He dropped the severed chains to the floor of the dais. "You see, none
of the scientists in the Citadel will understand the sciences in the
book. They'll tell Stal Tay that and he won't believe them. There'll be
a minor war between the Diktor and the Hierarchy. Once a breach between
them is made, we'll step into it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The dais settled on something solid. The golden veil dissipated as
before a wind, to reveal the smoke-blackened beams of a tavern room.
Tandor was there, a wooden mug in one hand, straining forward from the
tableside, his other hand clutching its edge, staring at them.

Angus helped Moana down. Tandor drained the mug and slammed it on the
tabletop. He demanded, "Well? Got a bellyful of it? Ready for the star
trails?"

"Not yet, Tandor."

Tandor growled and rubbed his palm on his bald head. He grumbled,
"You'll be a martyr yet. You watch. You'll see. Red Angus--who died
saving nothing!"

The pirate grinned at him, leaning his palms flat on the tabletop.
"If I win, you know what'll happen, don't you? You and I will have to
rule Karr. You'll be my majordomo. You'll wear fine clothes and make
decisions and listen to people bellyache."

Tandor howled, leaping up so suddenly that his chair went skidding.
He slammed his palms on the table. "Not me!" he bellowed. "I want no
office and no snivelling folk to spoil my days! I--"

Angus moved a hand. He put it flat to Tandor's chest and held it there.
The bald giant snapped his lips together. He grew silent as a clam, and
as still.

The door was opening.

Something that looked like a man, that was swathed in white bandages
from toes to head, with just two slits for eyes and a hole for a
mouth, was coming in the room. Tandor's hand swooped and lifted with a
disintegrator.

"Angus," whispered the apparition. "Red Angus! I need help."

The pirate was across the room, catching the bandaged figure in
cradling arms, lowering him to the couch. He whispered, "This is the
second time you've been on that couch, Thordad. What happened to you?"

"When I left you at the globe-ship dock one of Stal Tay's spies knifed
me and left me for dead. The Hierarch sent men to find me. They
doctored me and were carrying me to the Citadel when the Diktor jumped
us. He sent me to his torture dungeons."

The man shuddered under the bandages. The eyes, through the slits, were
wide with horror and remembered pain. "The Diktor wanted to learn what
the Hierarch was after. I wouldn't tell him. Before that he confronted
me with the Hierarch who disowned me. He told Stal Tay to do with me
what he wanted!"

The raw hate throbbed in Thordad's voice. It sent a cold ripple down
Angus' spine. The pirate leaned closer to the bandaged mouth. "The
Diktor let his beasts at me for three days. It was horrible. But I got
away. I think I went mad with the pain. I crept to my cousin's house
and was bandaged and partially healed there. Then I came here. You're
the only hope any of us have. You've got to do something--anything--to
stop that madman and the Hierarch!"

Angus wiped his hands on his jacket. "You, Tandor. What news have you?"

"I've been busy too," Tandor growled, eyeing Thordad curiously.
"I've roused the men and women of the Lower City. I've sent for the
pirates on Yassinan, sent for warriors from the cities of Streeth and
Fayalat. We've a crew of fighting men with swords and spears and a
few disintegrators. But with the scientific might of Stal Tay and the
Hierarch we're beaten before we start."

Angus laughed. "Not yet. Stasor has promised help. We're to meet him
and get the weapons he told me about. Into the teleportator on the
double--all of you."

When they were in the chairs fastened to the dais, Angus threw over the
lever. A golden mist formed about them, hardened. There was an instant
of coldness....

The golden mist disappeared. The teleportator stood before the fountain
in the Tower of the Ancients. Angus sprang from the machine. "Stasor,
I'm back!"

There was no answer. Only the silence of the dead walls of the dead
city replied.

It was Moana who found the blood-stained bit of silk that had been
ripped from Stasor's garment. Wordlessly she held it out to Angus.

His belly turned over when he saw it. He looked at the girl, then at
Tandor.

"The Diktor's come for him. With Stasor to unravel the secrets in the
Book of Nard, Stal Tay can't be beaten!"

Tandor shrugged massive shoulders. "I knew that a long time ago. We'll
all die. It's just a matter of when and where."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the time Angus had allotted him, Tandor had thrown up a small city
of tents and wickiups along the stone ridges of the Bloody Cliffs. Here
came the pirates from Yassinan, the starved soldiery from the star
cities of Fayalat and Kor. Here were half-naked gypsy girls and camp
followers, fighting men and muckers. Here were dishonored captains and
untried youths who owned swords and a hot hunger to use them.

In the red fire of an armorer's forge, Red Angus handled a
ring-barreled gun that was powered by a portable dynamo set up on a
small, two-wheeled cart.

The armorer said, "It's weak and it's clumsy, but it's the best I could
do. The electroray gets its power from the dynamo in the cart. Power
travels along the fuel line to the breach. A tiny converter translates
it into a thin beam of force. I've seen them in the museums. I made
sketches. Given more time I could do better."

Red Angus put a grin on his lips and held it there by sheer will-power.
His hand clapped the man on the back. He told him, "You've done fine,
Yoth! Keep it up. Turn out as many as you can!"

The armorer shook his head glumly. "They won't be much alongside the
disintegrator that Stal Tay will have. Even their sonicbeams will do
more damage than this!"

Tandor came swaggering up through the half-naked, hairy chested men
who fought with blunted sabres and war-spears. There was dirt on his
face, and runnels of sweat ran on his barrel chest. He planted his legs
apart, and glowered at Red Angus.

"You're mad as a priest of Grom. You keep us here when we'd do better
by scattering to the six worlds."

Angus said, "These are the toughest fighting men in the galaxy. If they
can't take the Citadel no one can. Once we get within sword-sweep of
the Diktor's guards...."

Tandor bellowed. He went up on his toes and waved his arms, and his
veins stood out on his bald head. "As well get within sword-sweep of
Ashtal the Shameless!" he roared. "The Diktor will sweep the streets
with disintegrator beams when he sees us coming. Maybe you want to play
martyr, but I've better uses for my life. Take that gypsy girl...."

Angus caught him by the fur of his cloak and shook him. "Forget your
gypsy wenches. We go into the Lower City at night. All of us, over a
week's time. We bed down in different homes. Loyal homes. A fortnight
from now will be the Night of the Serpent. Singing and dancing in the
streets. Wine. Women."

Tandor grinned. "Aie, that sounds good."

"At the hour of the Dog we hit the Citadel. There'll be so much
roistering going on we'll belt-whip every mother's son into the streets
that night, and make 'em yell to cover our movements. No one'll notice
us!

"We hit the Citadel from every street. Some of us will get through. Ten
streets, ten companies, each of them a flying wedge to get inside and
kill Stal Tay. That's our first job. After that...."

Red Angus talked on, sketching in the hot sands. He did not see a
bandaged Thordad come out of a tent and stand there, watching them, and
listening. Thordad turned away after a while and went back into the
tent where he sat shivering and staring down at his hands.

Neither did Red Angus see him that night when he daggered a guard and
fled on a haml across the desert for Karr City. They found the guard
but guessed him a victim of a jealous lover for he had a reputation as
a lady's man.

The days slid into weeks, and the fires burned and metal glowed, and
the forges and the anvils never stopped. Swords and shields and spears,
daggers and clumsy electrorays were turned out for eager hands.

They broke camp in the faint mists of an early dawn. On ewe-necked
haml and on foot, by cart and by stolen jetcar, they left the base of
the Bloody Cliffs. They came into Karr City by twos and threes and hid
themselves in the taverns and in the thatch-roofed houses. The city
knew them and the city swallowed them, and the city slumbered, waiting.

In the tavern of the Spotted Stag, Red Angus paced the floor. Tandor,
an arm around his gypsy girl, was sampling a new tun of imported wine.
Moana was white-faced, pale and silent at the table.

Angus said, "I don't like it. I don't like it. I have the feel of a
wolf sniffing at the jaws of a trap."

Tandor drew his lips from the gypsy's neck long enough to say, "It's
quiet, isn't it. What more do you want?"

"That's just it. It's too quiet. There are no Citadel guards out
hunting me. No arrests for five days. No street patrols, even!"

"Good. Then let's call it off and go back to Yassinan. You'll like
Yassinan, honey." Tandor nuzzled the girl's throat, "I have a big house
there. Much wine. Better wine than this!"

Angus stared at the man through slitted eyes, reached for a goblet and
lifted it. His hand poised the goblet, about to throw. Angus swore and
buried his nose in the cup. He flung it from him, and it broke against
the wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

The city stayed quiet for five days. On the morning of the Night of the
Serpent it exploded with energy. Men and women, in masks and costumes,
paraded and sang. They drank and danced and the Citadel brooded down on
them.

The day wore on. Tandor and Angus were busy, keeping some semblance of
order in their fighting crews, keeping the men from the wine-barrels,
readying them for their assignments. Tandor went stalking into the
taverns and the wine shops with heavy hands, striking out as he walked,
often upending an unfortunate into a wine-tun after knocking in its
head with the head of the man he held upside down in his hands.

Red Angus went more circumspectly, fighting off the tipsy women and
armed footpads who waxed rich in the torchlight gatherings during the
long Night of the Serpent. He rounded up his crews and found them their
weapons.

"Tonight the stars revolt!"

At the hour of the Dog ten companies of hard-eyed fighting men came out
of the shadows of the ten cobblestoned streets that led by twisting
tiers to the Citadel. They went up the curving stone stairs to the
smooth Citadel streets and started forward....

And then the Diktor struck.

The sonicbeams came first, cutting the front ranks to bloody pulp.
Disintegrator rayed into action. Men went down silently under the
lightning-swift impact of purplish lances.

It was a rout.

Here, a naked mercenary from Fayalat would flesh his blade in a few
necks as he drove in behind a wall of dead flesh. There, a warrior
from Kor might take three of Stal Tay's soldiers with him before he
touched hands with his ancestors. But the beams and the rays slew in
the darkness and the rabble was driven back.

Where Red Angus fought with an electroray cart, sweeping the ringed
nozzle of his weapon in and out of the shadows, the men of the Lower
City stood a while. They fought with the ferocity of trapped thots, for
the pits of Stal Tay yawned for them.

"Hold firm!" roared Tandor, his sword a sweeping line of gray death
where it circled and darted.

"Fall back," cried Angus. "Back to reform! They've trapped us well, the
tricky dogs."

A man with a bandaged face stood out a moment from the shadows,
pointing. He cried, "Half a hundred _oblis_ to the man who brings down
Red Angus!"

"Thordad!" shouted Angus, and he knew now the manner of his betrayal.
Thordad had seen a chance for reinstatement and had taken it. He had
seen the rabble that served Red Angus and knew the disciplined power of
the Diktor's guards. He had gone with news of Angus' plans. This trap
was the result.

Red Angus forgot the others. He sighted the electroray carefully. A
thin beam of brilliance lanced out. It touched Thordad on face and
neck. A headless corpse rolled at the guards' feet as they came forward.

Their rush caught Angus and the men with him. It swept them backward
through the streets, rolled up their flanks. It clubbed the center with
sonicbeams until men screamed in the agony of mashed legs and caved-in
chests.

Angus fought like a maddened griff. He used the electroray like a
broom, sweeping it before him. He kicked the two-wheeled cart ahead for
without the dynamo in the cart the electroray was useless.

A sudden rush of guards caught Angus in a maelstrom of cursing, howling
men.

They hit him and drove him back against the glittering metal collar of
one of the black pools, yawning grim and silent in the cobblestoned
square. They hammered him with swordblades and pounded the cart with
metal-headed axes.

Angus stumbled, fell. He came up slowly, his back to the cold metal
collar of the pool, the ringed barrel of the useless electroray still
in his hands.

_It's all over_, he told himself, staring at the swords coming for him.
_I've failed, and I'll die, and so will Moana, and Tandor, and all
the rest of this motley crew who tried to pull themselves up by their
bootstraps._

Angus clubbed with the ringed barrel and a man fell whimpering at his
feet.

"Come on!" the pirate roared. "Here's my last stand, here at the edge
of the pool! You're done with Red Angus. See how a free man dies."

Angus broke off, eyes wide.

The pool!

One of the black pools of Karr....

       *       *       *       *       *

What was it Stasor had said of those pools? "The pools are nothing more
than atomic radiation--sheer energy--bottled up in vast chambers lined
with stalahasil. Ready for use at any time."

Ready for use.

With the savage fury of the barbarian, Angus slammed the ringed barrel
at the faces pressing in on him. They wanted him alive and that gave
him the precious moment he needed.

He whipped the electroray high in the air, swung it so the weighted
powercord flailed high and far over the metal rim of the pool's collar.
It dropped down and down into the black depths.

Angus pressed the stud.

A ravening stream of black mist shot from the ringed nozzle. It touched
the oncoming soldiers of the Diktor, touched them, and....

Ate them!

When the black mist faded the Diktor's soldiers faded, too. They were
gone in that desolation of yawning street and crumpled walls. Where the
black mist had touched nothing remained.

Tandor bellowed.

The star-pirates roared their glee.

Angus moved the weapon and touched the stud again. The black mist
fled outward, up one street, down another. When he was finished there
were no soldiers facing them. The streets to the Citadel lay empty,
beckoning.

They went forward in a ravening wave of fury, the fury of roused
fighting men, who had looked the eyeless sockets of Death's skull in
the face and lived. The night held no more terrors for them for their
nostrils were tasting the fragrance of victory. Other men came up from
the Lower City to join them, men who bore home-made weapons, crude
clubs and axes.

Angus caught a sweat-streaked Tandor by the arm. "This gun! The
powercord that fell in the black pool. That's what did it. It's a
weapon of the Elders. The pool feeds it, gives it power...."

"What matters that?" bellowed Tandor, shaking a new sword in his hand.
"It worked!"

"But it won't work if I can't keep the powercord inside the pool."

Tandor blinked, grunting as understanding came to him. "Huh. That's
different. Bask. Gatl. Sonal. At the double, you riff-raff. To me."

He gave orders crisply, then swung to Angus. "They'll scour the Lower
City for copper wire. We'll couple an extension to the cord so you can
take it wherever you want."

Angus nodded. "Put a file of men on either side of it. Keep them there.
Make them fight for that cord with their lives. If they fail us, we
die."

Tandor handpicked his men, big men all, with the scars of many battles
speaking their experience. The cord was slit and fitted with gleaming
copper cable-lengths, insulated, and welded tightly.

Weapon in hands, Red Angus led his rabble army up the stone-block
roadway steps, upward from the mire and filth of the Lower City, upward
to the clean white reaches of the Citadel.

The Diktor's personal guards made a sortie against them, but the black
mist swept them away. When the Hierarch sent his troops to join those
of the Diktor the mist swirled around them once, and then blew away,
leaving the Citadel gardens empty of opposition.

It was over.

They walked through the gardens, into the halls and corridors of the
Palace. Men stood weaponless, fright tightening the lines of their
faces.

Tandor roared, "The Diktor, you foul hounds. Where is he?"

Men pointed and at the end of their fingers loomed the great golden
bulk of the Audience Chamber.

The Diktor and the Hierarch stood before the ruby throne. They were
beaten men, expecting death, their cheeks washed an ashen grey.

Angus said, "If you've harmed Stasor you'll take a year to die."

The Diktor gestured wearily. "He's in chains, in the lower pits. We
haven't harmed him. He would not translate the Book of Nard. But even
so, dead he was useless to us. Alive, he might have changed his mind."

He went on to explain how he had traced Angus' journey in the
spectragraph, how his men had followed Angus' course in globe ships
to bring the god of Karr to the Citadel. He said, "You were beaten.
Whipped. My messengers told me that you were hemmed in, your men
chopped to thumbits. And yet--yet you come here--"

Madness glinted in the Diktor's eyes. His right hand moved like
lightning, and the blue metal of a disintegrator caught fire from the
soft luminescence of the walls.

The Diktor was swift but Tandor was faster. His hand blurred and a
glittering longsword jumped the five feet that separated them. It drove
the dead body of the Diktor back three steps to the ruby throne. He
fell at its base and a pool of blood grew larger on the floor.

The Hierarch shrugged and put a pellet to his mouth. The poison acted
with incredible speed. He was falling as the chamber door opened and a
gently smiling Stasor entered, leaning on his staff.

Angus and Moana stood on the heights of the Citadel and looked down
at the Lower City. They saw the thatched roofs no longer, but instead
tidy houses, clean streets and healthy children. Men and women walked
with pride, their bodies clean, enjoying the new life that Stasor and
the Book of Nard could bring them. It would take time, all that. But it
would come.

Moana moved gently. Her hand caught his. He turned her head up and his
lips settled on hers.

A hundred feet away, Tandor grinned. "A martyr, I called him," he told
the night.

He thought of a black-haired noblewoman who had been widowed in the
night's fighting. Tandor rubbed his head again and chuckled. He tiptoed
from the gardens.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Transcriber's Note: No Section III heading in original text.]





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