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´╗┐Title: Cry Chaos!
Author: Swain, Dwight V.
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 "Cry Chaos!" ***

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



                              CRY CHAOS!

                          By Dwight V. Swain

              The dark star held a dread secret that Gar
           Shane had to discover before our solar system was
          destroyed. But to go there meant certain death....

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                            September 1951
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


They got the great silver ship's hatches pried open, finally, and
dragged Shane out by his heels. They dumped him on his face in the
gravel and cinders of the ramp like a pole-axed _huecco_.

He wasn't a particularly big man, as men came out here in the
spaceways. But there was a spare, hard quality to his close-knit body,
and the old scars that marked him told of forgotten battles, bitter
rights to the death with no quarter asked or given. Strange suns had
burnt him dark as a _Malya_. Mercury's blazing sands, the high deserts
of Mars, had dulled the crisp brown of his hair. Faint bluish pockmarks
along his left cheek bespoke Pluto and the ice-things that dwelt there.

And the _Chonya_ belt still girded his waist; the great iron belt of
the asteroids, one link for every chief who'd vowed fealty, eternal
symbol of his power as _gar_.

So he lay there in the dirt of the ramp like a dog, while the motley
rabble that were his captors gathered round. And because he was the man
he was; because of the stories and scars; above all, because of that
great iron belt of brotherhood he wore, the token of his might, they
hung back just a little, still touched by awe of this fallen great one.

Only then Shane's eyes opened--eyes of that strange, pale blue found
only among Earthmen; blank now, unseeing. His fingers scrabbled the
dirt. Saliva drooled from the loose mouth and puddled beneath his cheek.

Explosively, a hard-faced Venusian _Pervod_ laughed. "I claim the
belt!" he cried, and sprang forward, reptilian claws gouging Shane's
flesh, rolling the Earthman over.

An incoherent, protestful sound rose in Shane's throat. His mouth
worked, and his hands batted clumsily at the _Pervod's_ claws.

The Venusian's laugh rang out again--harsh, contemptuous. Skillfully,
he fended Shane's blows with bony vestigial wings. His claws worked at
the boss that clasped the belt.

Shane's blue eyes lost a little of their blankness. The loose mouth
drew in a fraction. "No!" he choked. "No!" He clutched at the
_Pervod's_ wrists; tried to pull them away.

The _Pervod_ twisted free. His claws left bloody paths across Shane's
palms. Catching the Earthman's shoulders, he lifted him half clear of
the ramp, then slammed him down again with stunning force.

Shane lay limp--panting, head lolled to one side.

The _Pervod_ unclasped the belt and pulled it free of Shane's body.

       *       *       *       *       *

Feebly, Shane clutched for the Venusian's ankle, and missed. Shaking,
sobbing for breath, he struggled to a sitting position, bracing himself
with his arms.

The _Pervod_ dangled the belt tantalizingly. "Do you want it,
Earthman?" he mocked. "Come get it--quick, while you have the chance!"

Veins stood out at Shane's temples. His fingers dug into the dirt. He
brought one leg forward--levered up on it, lurched to his feet, stood
swaying.

"The belt of the _Chonyas_!" the _Pervod_ shrilled gleefully. "Here it
is, _starbo_! The belt of a _gar_ for the taking!"

He flicked the belt past Shane's face.

The Earthman lunged for it, staggering wildly. Only collision with the
hull of the space ship kept him from pitching to the ground again.

"What? You don't want it?" cried the _Pervod_, sidling closer. "I
thought you were _gar_ of the asteroids, _yanat_--high chief of the
_Chonyas_! Why don't you take your belt?"

Again Shane lunged. But this time the Venusian did not dart away.
Instead, he ducked beneath the Earthman's outstretched arms and hurled
his whole weight into Shane's middle.

Shane catapulted backward under the impact and crashed against a
heavy-thewed Uranian.

"Not there, _Gar_ Shane! Here! This way!" shrilled the Venusian.

The Uranian gave Shane a monstrous shove toward the _Pervod_.

But the Venusian side-stepped swiftly. Shane lurched past him, into the
arms of a ghoulishly grinning Martian.

The Martian, in turn, shoved Shane on, sent him caroming off at yet
another angle. From one to another they drove him, bouncing him about
the ring they had formed like the huge ball in a game of _ha lao_.
And all the time the _Pervod_ danced and waved the belt and shrieked
sadistic laughter.

And then, just once, he came too close.

Like the flash of a meteor, Shane's hand shot out. He caught one end of
the belt and let it bring him up short.

His weight jerked the Venusian off balance. Before the _Pervod_ could
recover, Shane was upon him.

Claws slashing, the reptilian fought to hold the belt.

Only then, of a sudden, Shane let go of the precious links of iron.
Catching the _Pervod's_ wrist, turning as he moved, he ducked between
arm and body and levered the arm up behind the Venusian's back.

       *       *       *       *       *

The brittle reptilian bones snapped with a sound like the crackling of
an angry fire. The _Pervod_ shrieked in anguish.

The crowd stood frozen in stunned, unbelieving silence.

Shane caught the end of the iron belt and flicked it out in a loop that
circled the _Pervod's_ scaly throat. Then, one end in each hand, he
whipped it tight.

The Venusian's scream cut off in mid-breath. His legs, his unbroken
arm, flailed desperately.

But Shane stayed behind him, out of reach of the murderous claws,
drawing the belt ever tighter.

The _Pervod_ sagged.

The crowd's paralysis broke. The air rang with shouts. Beings from a
dozen far-flung planets rushed forward.

The muscles in Shane's arms and shoulders bulged. Belt-ends still tight
in his hands, he spun about, dragging the Venusian with him, elbowing
the others out of the way. Faster he turned, and faster ... faster,
till he was whirling like some monstrous gyro-top, the body of the
_Pervod_ swinging in a giant arc beyond him, clubbing the other raiders
down.

They scrambled back as fast as they'd come, the laughter, the mockery,
dead within them.

Shane let go one end of the belt. The _Pervod's_ body shot out like a
stone from a sling, the head half torn from the torso.

Dizzily, the Earthman lurched to the space ship and braced himself
against it. Then, very deliberately, he slung the belt about his waist
and snapped the clasp. The blue eyes flamed, no longer blank. Knots of
muscle stood out at the hinges of his jaws.

"Who _dares_ to try take the iron belt of the asteroids?" he shouted at
the rabble ring that hemmed him in.

No one moved. No one spoke.

Shane swept them with cold, contemptuous eyes. "Scum!" he spat. "Scum
of the spaceways! Carrion, one and all!"

But he swayed as he said it, and his face showed white beneath the tan.

"Scum ..." he repeated in a voice gone dead, and pitched forward,
unconscious, to the ground.



                              CHAPTER II


The walls and floor and ceiling and door of Shane's windowless cell all
had the cold green glitter of pure telonium.

So did the handcuffs and leg-irons that shackled him.

But the bare metal cot hinged to one wall was of steel.

Telonium rated harder than steel, seventeen point seven times harder.
Its tensile strength figured nine times greater.

Even so, it took Shane most of the night to tear loose one of the cot's
cross-straps, using the locking lug of the leg-irons as combination
pry-bar and cutter.

The cross-strap measured about two inches wide by two feet long. It had
the weight and striking edge to cave in the skull of a Uranian _dau_.

Shane laid it down beside him on the cot, and waited for someone to
open the cell door.

After awhile faint whispering sounds of motion drifted in; then a
clicking noise.

Shane turned so that shadow half hid his face. He twisted his body in
a semblance of restless sleep, and closed his eyes to lash-shuttered
slits. His fingers caressed the cross-strap mace.

The door opened. The doorway framed a burly, tentacled Thorian guard.

Then the guard stepped aside and a woman came past him, into Shane's
cell, carrying a small, cloth-draped tray. Young and straight and slim,
she moved with a _tara's_ grace. Her high, firm breasts were bared in
the _Malya_ fashion, and the dark loveliness of her face was _Malya_
also. Glistening blue-black hair hung clear to her waist in softly
rippling waves.

Closing the vault-like door behind her, she crossed the cell to Shane's
side: paused there for a moment, looking down at him.

Shane lay very still.

"_Gar_ of the asteroids, high chief of the _Chonyas_," the woman said
softly, almost to herself. Her voice held a note that might have been
weariness, or pain. "You've traveled far, Earthman ... so far, to have
it all end here."

       *       *       *       *       *

She moved on, to the stand that flanked Shane's cot, and busied herself
at her tray for a moment. Then, straightening, she held a hypodermic
injector up to the light. It contained a colorless liquid. Deftly, she
set the screw, adjusted the high-pressure gas ampule that would spray
the injection straight into the bloodstream without breaking the skin.

Shane twisted a fraction further around on the cot. His breathing was
careful, measured.

Turning, the woman bent over him. She poised the injector, close to his
throat.

Shane's manacled hands shot up. He caught the woman's wrist; twisted
sharply before she could jerk away.

She gave a sharp little in-drawn cry of shock and pain and came down
hard on her knees, lithe body writhing. The injector fell from her
twitching fingers.

Shane's heel smashed it into the floor. Already, he was up and off the
cot, forcing the woman down onto it.

He said tightly: "The first scream breaks your arm, _Malyalara_!"

"A _Malya_ does not scream, _Sha_ Shane!" she answered through clenched
teeth.

She tossed her head as she said it, proud even through the pain, and
for the first time the right side of her face came into full view.

And along that whole right side, someone had cropped the glistening
black hair short, square with the temple, in the ugly, outlawed badge
of slavery.

For a long moment Shane did not move. Then, slowly, he drew back a
fraction and relaxed his grip on the woman's arm.

Some of the tightness left the lovely face. She rose in a single
smooth, supple movement. No fear showed in her dark eyes, even now.
Rather, they probed boldly--eagerly, almost--as if measuring Shane's
metal.

"What do they call you, _Malyalara_?" he asked.

"My name is Talu, _Sha_ Shane."

"You wear your hair cropped like a slave's--"

"--Because I am a slave."

"The Federation banned slavery."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bitterness twisted the woman's mouth. The midnight eyes burned with the
fierce, blazing anger that had made her people the scourge of the void
within the memory of living man. "I tell myself that every day, _Sha_
Shane. But it does not free me."

Shane's lips drew thin. "Has it been long?"

"About an Earth year. I was of Hidalgo. First, the slavers sent in
_theol_-smugglers. They sought out our leaders--"

"I know," Shane nodded grimly. "_Theol_ breaks the will. Not even a
_Malya_ can fight, with the hunger for it in him." He broke off. "And
then, _Malyalara_--?"

"Then the slave ships came. What else?" Again Talu's ripe lips took
on the bitter twist. "They came by the score--whole fleets of them,
blasting and killing and hunting us down. The Federation had taken our
proton batteries and our fighting ship away, and _theol_ had broken the
men who should have led us. So they stripped Hidalgo bare: every man,
every woman, every child--"

Shane's fingers dug into the slave girl's arms. "But where did they
send you?" he demanded fiercely. "Who wants slaves in a solar system
where power is broadcast free to all planets? What use is there for
labor?"

"I do not know."

"My _Chonyas_ have been raided, too. But why?" Shane clenched his
fists. "Why raid for slaves, when machines can handle any task? Where
do they take them? Are they here, in this place?"

Talu shook her head. "No, not here. This is only a ramping-spot--some
small moon the slavers have taken over. But I have seen a woman here,
a silver woman--Kyrsis, they name her." A momentary tremor rippled
through the _Malyalara_. "She is evil ... more evil than words can
tell. They say that she is the agent for those who buy. But where she
comes from, why her people seek slaves--that I do not know."

"And who serves her? Who is the raider, the _starbo_ whose wolf-pack
gathers in the slaves?"

"His name is Reggar, Quos Reggar--"

"_Quos Reggar!_" Shane spat the name as if it were an epithet. "Slaver,
smuggler, scum!" He twisted violently against his shackles, blue eyes
blazing. "I should have known! I drove him out of the asteroids once--"

"--And he remembers, _Sha_ Shane," Talu said softly. "He remembers,
and he hates you, and he swears the day will come when you shall pray
for death. He has gathered up the scum of the spaceways, the dregs of
the void--"

"You mean, he captured me only for vengeance?" Shane broke in. "He
dragged me here just to kill me--?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Talu shook her head. "No, _Sha_ Shane. There is more than vengeance. He
has plans for using you, great plans. But that is all I know."

"But how did he capture me? How did he bring me here?" A haunted,
haggard shadow flickered across Shane's face. He raised his manacled
hands and held his head between them. "I was on a mission, an ...
important ... mission, traveling through space. There was no sign of
trouble. And then, all at once, the void went mad. It was a nightmare;
I can't remember what happened--" He broke off, shaking his head as if
to clear away the fog of memory. Then his hands fell, and his eyes met
the girl's once more. "The next thing I knew, I was coming out of it
on the ramp, with dirt in my mouth and a _Pervod_ at my throat. And I
still don't know how I got here."

"It was a projector, they say. A Paulsini projector, focussed on your
ship. They captured your minds with it--yours, and all your crews'."

Shane stared at her incredulously. "A Paulsini that can reach out into
space and take over a ship--? You're mad as a _ban_!"

"They say it is the strongest Paulsini mind-control beam the universe
has ever seen, _Sha_ Shane," Talu replied. "It was ten Earth years
in the building. The power output would send a space ship beyond the
stars."

Shane's eyes narrowed. "'The strongest Paulsini beam the universe has
ever seen'," he repeated slowly. "It tells something, _Malyalara_.
No common slaver ever had the brains or time or money to take on the
building of such a machine as that." Thoughtfully, he stared down at
his fetters. "And what happens, now that I'm here?"

"I do not know."

"You do not know?" Shane studied the woman's face. "Yet you came here,
alone, with an injector, and tried to use it on me."

The other's hands moved in a small, helpless gesture. "The guard was to
have done it, _Sha_ Shane. But I was there when Reggar gave the order.
I had heard of you so many times. I wanted to see you...."

"What was in the injector?"

The girl shook her head. "I do not know. They do not trust me to know
too much."

"They do not trust you?" Shane's eyes probed hers while the seconds
ticked by. He flicked the shattered remnants of the crushed injector
with his toe. "But they let you come to my cell alone." The faintest
of edges crept into his voice. "And they kept you here on this moon
with them, Talu, and sent the rest of your people on across the void to
slavery."

       *       *       *       *       *

For a long moment Talu stood motionless as some dark statue. Then, all
at once, she began to tremble. Her eyes struck sparks. The bare breasts
rose and fell too fast.

"Yes, they kept me," she whispered tautly, fiercely. "A woman can often
find a place here ... for a time."

She swayed forward, and in that instant she seemed suddenly all
passion, all temptress. Her body brushed Shane's. The warm, half-parted
lips invited him. He stood rigid at the very nearness of her.

Then she drew away once more, and her face had the look of graven
stone. "I have made it my business to be kept here, _Sha_ Shane," she
said icily. "My body is good, and _Malya_ blood runs hot, and even
slavers can lose their caution. So I stay, and earn what trust I can,
and do such work as brought me here. For my grandfather was Toran, the
last great _Malya_ raider chief. He taught me the old way, the _Malya_
way--that blood cries out for blood. I live for the day when my chance
will come, and I can let my knife drink deep from the heart of the
monster, Quos Reggar, who set the slavers on Hidalgo!"

Grim-faced, Shane studied her. "You say the words, Talu," he clipped,
"but will you prove it?"

"Prove it--?"

"The _Chonya_ chiefs gave me a belt--the great iron belt of the
asteroids, the symbol of my power as _gar_. I swore an oath when I
took it ... an oath that the _Chonyas'_ blood and tears would be my
own."

Wordless, the woman watched him, her face a mirror of mixed emotions.

"They have taken my belt away, Talu, these slavers who raid _Malya_
and _Chonya_ alike. They have locked me here like a berserk _vrong_,
and thrown the key away. But my oath still stands. The _Chonyas_ made
me _gar_ because I knew how to fight, and feared no man. So I'll fight
here."

The fierce eagerness crept back into Talu's face. Her hands clutched
his. "Yes, yes! But what can you do?"

"I'll carve my way, _Malyalara_! I'll give them blood for blood and
tears for tears, till the asteroids breath free again!" The ring of
steel on steel was in Shane's voice. His face was carved with rocky
lines. "You told me that a _Malya_ does not scream, Talu. But if you
_were_ to scream, just once, would that slimy Thorian guard outside pay
heed?"

She caught her breath. "And ... if he did--?"

Shane smiled a thin, hard, ruthless smile. "Even in leg-irons I can
drag myself to the door." He bent over the cot and pulled free the
broken cross-strap; slashed with it so it sighed and whispered through
the air. "It sings a song of death, Talu!"

The woman's midnight eyes burned murder-bright. Her voice was a
breathless whisper: "Strike hard and straight and fast, _Sha_
Shane...."



                              CHAPTER III


"Now!" Shane clipped. The slave girl screamed--shrilly, piercingly.

Shane poised, the cross-strap mace drawn back and ready.

A dim whisper of running feet echoed from the corridor outside. The
lock clicked sharply. The door burst open.

Light-gun already drawn, the Thorian guard lunged into the cell.

Shane swung the steel.

The Thorian's eyes flicked to the Earthman in the same instant.
Desperately, he tried to halt his headlong plunge--to throw himself
sidewise, out of the way.

He moved too late. The steel struck home. The end bit in along one side
of the Thorian's bulbous head. It made a moist, explosive sound, like
the bursting of a melon hurled onto pavement. Vile, grey-green sludge
gushed forth.

The Thorian's great body jerked in a tremendous, threshing spasm. The
light-pistol still clutched in one tentacle, needled a wildly-gyrating
purple beam close past Shane's shoulder, then cut off again and
clattered to the floor. The body went limp; lay still.

Shane dropped to his knees and clawed up the pistol. Twisting, he
brought its muzzle close to the hobbling leg-irons. His finger
triggered the exciter.

The purple beam lanced forth. The leg-irons' green telonium links took
on a weirdly luminous glow.

Somewhere in the distance, a faint, humming sound arose.

Talu said: "Hurry! That noise--it is the guard-car!" Tension echoed in
her voice.

Muscles stood out along Shane's neck. But he still crouched motionless,
the light-beam rock-steady in his hand.

The humming sound grew louder.

"Hurry!" Talu whispered again in a tight, choked voice.

The telonium links were twisting, now--writhing, almost, beneath the
pistol's ray.

"Ten seconds more!" Shane clipped.

The leg-irons fell apart.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Earthman straightened. His lips were drawn to thin lines. "This
guard-car--how does it come?"

"It moves up and down a shaft between the floors: then through the
corridors. The Thorian must have rung the alarm as he came--"

"Where will it stop? Here, at this door?"

"No. It is set for the guard-post, down the corridor to the left--"

Shane pivoted. Ignoring the manacles that still held his wrists, he
stepped swiftly from the cell.

Here, in the corridor, the humming was like that of a swarm of angry
bees. Far off to the left, red lights winked in the dimness.

Talu caught her breath. "The guard-car!" she cried.

Shane broke into a run--left down the corridor, straight towards the
oncoming lights.

"No! No, _Sha_ Shane--!"

"The guard-post--where is it?"

"Just ahead. There, to the left--"

The post proved to be a mere niche in the wall, a sort of oversized
sentry-box with cot and chair and table.

"Under the cot!" Shane snapped.

"But they will trap us here--kill us--"

The red lights were growing ever brighter now. The humming had risen to
a low-throated roar. Roughly, Shane forced the _Malya_ down and under
the cot, then crawled in beside her himself.

"They will trap us!" Talu said again, and the tension in her voice
vibrated like a taut-drawn wire. Yet, strangely, her tone held no fear,
no panic: only a sort of fierce, throbbing exaltation.

"They'll trap us like lambs trap a lion!" Shane slashed back harshly.
His blue eyes burned with a reckless fire. "Would you have us play the
sheep--stand back there in the cell and be slaughtered? No! We'll meet
them here, where they don't expect us. And if we die, some of them will
go along."

Talu's full lips parted. Her laugh came, low and throaty. "You speak
like a _Malya_, _Sha_ Shane! My grandfather would have been proud to
have you raiding with him."

The guard-car braked to a halt abreast them before Shane could reply.
A panel in its metal side slid back. Two Martian _falas_ and a hairy,
heavy-thewed Uranian sprang out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane triggered his light-pistol's exciter. The purple beam slashed
through the dimness, straight to the breast of the first Martian.

A shrill scream of awful anguish burst from the creature's throat-sac.
It leaped high in the air, then fell back again, a nerveless, dying
heap.

The Uranian and the other _fala_ whirled.

Shane lanced out the beam again. It took the top from the second
_fala's_ misshapen skull.

The Martian was dead before he hit the floor.

But now the Uranian had light-pistols in two of his four huge hands. A
beam seared through the cot. Another burned a smoking path along the
floor.

Shane surged to his feet, carrying the cot with him like a massive
shield. The muscles of his back and arms and shoulders stood out. With
a mighty effort, he swung the cot clear of the floor and hurled it
broadside at the Uranian.

The hairy behemoth jerked up his two free hands to ward it off. But a
tangle of falling covers got in the way. The cot's weight and impact
rocked him.

Shane blazed through the cot.

Sagging, the Uranian lurched back against the car. The acrid stench of
his burning flesh billowed up in choking waves.

Only then, instead of falling, he lunged forward. Barely in time, Shane
leaped aside, lancing in beam after beam.

Blindly, the Uranian charged past him, with no attempt to turn.
Straight ahead the creature lunged--on, towards the guard-post's rear
wall ... the vocodor and the row of communication control switches
below it.

"The alarm--!" Talu cried shrilly. She darted forward.

Shane caught her wrist and threw her bodily out of the way.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Uranian crashed against the wall. One great hand swept the whole
row of switches down.

An alarm bell jangled deafeningly.

The Uranian half-turned, as if to taunt them. Then his muscles, his
joints, seemed to give way. He toppled forward ... struck the floor
with an echoing thud.

Shane spun about. His eyes sought Talu.

She stood pressed flat to the guard-post's wall now, dark face aglow
with an excitement that was mingled with something close akin to panic.
"The bell--"

"Forget it! Come on!"

Together, they raced for the glittering metal guard-car.

Shane sprang aboard. "Hurry!" He caught the slave girl's hand and
helped her to clamber in after him.

Here, inside, a control panel studded with switches and dials and
push-buttons was set chest-high in one wall. Above it, a narrow,
slot-like vision port of transparent silicon extended nearly to the
top of the car. A series of charts, displayed beneath sheets of clear
plastic cross-hatched with grid lines, flanked the port on either side.

Shane slammed shut the door. He pushed Talu to the instrument board.
"Quick! The controls--how do they work?" The very clipped steadiness of
his voice rang with urgency.

"It is simple--"

A red spark glinted in the vision port.

Shane froze to the slot. "Another car--coming this way, fast!"

Talu threw a switch. Her fingers flashed over the buttons.

Vibration shook the car.

Talu threw another switch.

With a rumble and roar, the vehicle began to move. Lights streaked past
the vision ports, faster and faster.

Shane let out breath. "They're falling back!"

The dark girl pressed more buttons. The car jerked and changed
direction, till it had veered from its former course three times.
The lights of their pursuer disappeared. The car moved out onto a
straightaway once more and picked up speed.

Talu turned. "Where now, _Sha_ Shane?"

The Earthman laughed--harshly, without mirth. "The top is always the
place to start, _Malyalara_. If you want to kill a snake, cut off its
head."

The woman looked at him with a sort of wondering awe. "You mean ...
Reggar?"

"I mean Reggar!" Shane echoed. His mouth twisted. "They say he cuts a
figure when his raider ships come in on a helpless _Chonya_ town. We'll
see if he looks as bold when someone's hunting him!"

"But by now he knows you have escaped. He will be waiting--"

"He may. Or then, he may not. Most men Reggar has known asked only to
get away."

The girl turned back to the controls. Again, the car veered, and again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once more, she faced the Earthman. She said, "Give me the light-gun
now, _Sha_ Shane. We must burn off your shackles while we have this
chance."

Shane threw her a bleak smile. "You ride pressure well, _Malyalara_."

The girl's slim shoulders lifted in a shrug. "My grandfather said that
pressure proved a man, _Sha_ Shane." Already, the light-gun's purple
beam was eating at the handcuff links.

"And Reggar--?"

"I have set the controls to take us to him. Five minutes will do it, if
we are not cut off by his cars."

"But if we are--?"

"We still may find a way. There are twelve levels here, more corridors
than can be counted--"

"Yet all on a slavers' moon? All Reggar's?"

"I do not know, _Sha_ Shane. But Reggar is here; no other."

The last link holding the handcuffs broke. Talu straightened. "It will
not be long--"

With startling suddenness, a bell clanged overhead.

"The crash alarm--!" Even as she cried out, the girl punched
frantically at the control buttons.

The rear vision slot caught a gleam of red lights--dangerously close
already; rushing at them headlong.

Barely in time, their own car veered right at an intersection.

The breath went out of Talu. Her knuckles stood out white beneath her
skin.

Overhead, the collision bell clanged again.

This time, the other car hurtled out of a side passageway, cutting them
off. Desperately, Talu manipulated the controls. They backed to the
nearest cross-hall; fled down it as fast as the car would go.

Talu said: "They are hemming us in, _Sha_ Shane. Reggar has guessed
your thoughts."

Shane's hand knotted about the light-pistol's butt. "Can we still break
clear? Is there a way?"

"If we could get to another level--"

"Try it!"

The girl's breath seemed to come a fraction faster. Her eyes caught the
same reckless glint as Shane's. Her fingers flicked at the buttons.

Their car swung right. Ahead, a blank wall came rushing to meet them.

"A shaft," said Talu. Her voice shook just a little.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just when it seemed that they must surely crash, the car slowed. Then,
swiftly, they were dropping straight down, cushioned on a beam of force.

Three levels down, Talu threw a switch. The car swept out of the shaft
and down a passageway.

The collision bell clanged.

Talu punched buttons.

Again, the bell.

More buttons.

Red lights, hurtling towards them.

"... another level--" Talu whispered.

They climbed a shaft at dizzying speed; rushed off through another
corridor.

The bell. Buttons and switches. The bell again.

"They are hemming us in!" Talu choked. A ragged, desperate note had
crept into her voice. "The corridors ahead are all dead ends--"

"Reggar--?"

"His quarters are not even on this level. Here there is only Kyrsis,
the silver woman--"

"Kyrsis...."

The bell clanged.

The girl pressed a final button. Weariness, strain, defeat, were in her
face. "We are trapped, _Sha_ Shane. I am sorry...."

Shane's eyes were hot upon her. He laughed--a wild, fierce laugh that
matched the reckless lines that carved his face. "Trapped? Not yet,
_Malyalara_; not yet!"

She stared at him in blank bewilderment.

"How do you reverse the car, _Malyalara_?"

The girl pointed to the button.

The bell set up new clamor. Red lights blazed in the rear vision port.

"Jump, Talu!" Shane threw the brake-switch.

She flung back the door; leaped wide.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane jammed down the reverse button and sprang after the girl. He
sprawled against the corridor wall as the empty car roared back towards
their pursuer.

The other car's gears clashed in screaming protest. It shuddered under
the braking action.

But too late. Shane's guard-car crashed into the other. The thunder of
impact mingled with shrieks, and the scream of rending metal.

"Come on!" Shane cried. Light-gun in hand, he raced towards the wreck.

A third guard-car was already drawing up as they reached it. The panel
door opened, and a lone _Pervod_ leaped out.

Shane killed him with one slash of the light-beam.

Talu pulled herself up into the car and ran to the control board. The
glow of excitement was back on her face once more. "Which way?" she
cried.

The reckless glint in Shane's blue eyes was brighter than ever now.
"Turn it loose and let it run for a decoy," he said tightly. "Our work
just now is here."

For a moment the girl stared at him, confusion written in her face.
Then, wordless, she set the controls.

Together, they leaped clear. The car thundered out of sight.

Still unspeaking, Talu turned back to Shane once more, a hundred mute
questions in her glance.

Shane chuckled. "We'll visit the woman," he said, "the silver woman,
Kyrsis."

The girl's dark eyes went wide. "No! No, _Sha_ Shane--!"

"Yes! Reggar's hemmed us in and tied us down. He thinks we're beaten.
So now, we strike again, where it will sting and hurt the most. And
where better than at his market, this Kyrsis?"

"Please, no--" The girl was pleading now.

"Yes!" the Earthman came back sharply. His voice took on a darkly
brooding note, and his face set in rocky lines. "She is the key,
_Malyalara_. She is the one who buys slaves in a universe where power
is free. I'm going to ask her why."



                              CHAPTER IV


The doors were protected by rigid barriers of projected force, and the
light-pistol burned out before Shane had quite finished cutting through
the wall. But he had taken a long knife from the dead _Pervod_ in the
third guard-car. He finished the job with it.

So, finally, they were inside, crawling through an ever-murkier
blackness while the silence hammered at them like a living thing.

And then, suddenly, out of the ebon stillness, a voice said: "Welcome,
Earthman!"

A man's voice, this; or at least, a voice not of woman: not loud, but
harsh and alien; not thunderous, but vibrant with savage power.

"Welcome, Earthman!" the voice repeated. "_Welcome to death!_"

Shane flung himself sidewise. He crashed against some piece of
furniture. The burned-out light-gun clattered to the floor.

The voice mocked: "Can you not see me, Earthman? And your pistol--why
do you not pick it up? Does the darkness get in your way?"

Somewhere--very far away, it seemed--Talu whispered raggedly: "_Sha_
Shane ... _Sha_ Shane...."

Shane said, "Here, _Malyalara_. This way." He groped over the floor as
if feeling for the now-useless pistol; slipped and fell flat, and under
cover of it, slid the _Pervod's_ long knife out of view beneath his
jacket.

"Shall I give you light, great _gar_?" the voice taunted. "Shall I let
you see me now?"

Shane's moving hand touched the light-pistol. His fingers gripped
it--but flat to the floor, not lifting it. Muscles flexed, he poised,
eyes probing the darkness. His voice echoed defiance: "Show yourself
if you dare, _starbo_!"

"If I dare--!"

Like a quirst striking, Shane hurled the pistol at the voice.

The missile struck home with a meaty thud. A choked oath slashed the
blackness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane lunged forward. But he crashed into more furniture and fell
again. Before he could rise, lights blazed.

For the fraction of a second Shane froze. Then--very slowly, very
carefully--he turned and pulled himself to his feet.

Talu was already up--breathing too fast, a hand at her throat. Her dark
eyes were wide and set, riveted on an open doorway in the opposite wall.

A strange figure loomed hulk-like in the shadows there--a gaunt,
raw-boned giant in the _vree_-leather garb of the space rovers, with a
light-pistol hanging ready in one webbed hand.

Yet this was no ordinary wanderer. The difference stood out in line and
stance--a weird note of deviation that caught the eye instantly, even
in a universe where bizarre and norm were one.

And about the waist was drawn a great iron belt ... Shane's belt, the
belt of the asteroids.

Shane sucked in air.

The figure brought up one hand in a peremptory gesture of command.

Weapons poised, a half-dozen guards moved through the doorway.
Nondescripts, being drawn from the backwaters of strange planets, they
fanned out in a silent, menacing arc before Shane and the slave girl.

Wordless, cold-eyed, Shane stared them down. They halted, hesitating.

Now the giant in the doorway stalked forward, clear of the shadows.

Numbly, almost, Talu took a dragging step towards the hulking goliath,
then another ... another....

"Out of the way, _Malya_! Let him see me!" The very repression that
echoed in the giant's words was infinitely more fearsome than roars
or rantings. A webbed fist lashed out backhanded at the slave girl,
and the force of the blow sent her careening almost to Shane's side.
"Remember me, Earthman? Remember?"

Shane did not move. He did not speak.

The creature standing there walked on two legs like a human. Its thumbs
were opposed. It spoke through its mouth instead of a throat-sac.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the great lobed eyes that saw in the dark were pure _Fantay_, and
the scaly roughness of the mottled skin was _Pervod_. The bulge of
the skull went with Mars; the peculiar, pad-footed stride with the
swamplands of Io. Hybrid, mongrel, the thing was a queer, off-trail
mixture of all the races of Mars and Earth and Venus, and the gods of
the far stars knew where else.

And there, at its waist, hung the belt of the _Chonyas_.

"I remember," Shane said. "You're Reggar, Quos Reggar--the slaver, the
_theol_-peddler." Deliberately, insultingly, he spat on the floor. "Or
are you running light-guns to Mimas this time?"

The creature that was Reggar chuckled, but the sound held no mirth.
"Your memory's good, you _chitza_! Maybe it even goes back to the days
when you passed the word through the spaceports that you'd feed my
heart to the _kiavis_ if I ever ramped ship in the asteroid belt again."

"I said it; I meant it." Shane's eyes were bleak. He stood unyielding,
jaw outthrust, and his words slashed. "When the _chonya_ chiefs came in
and struck their banners and picked me, an Earthman, as _gar_ of the
asteroids to lead them, I swore on the star-stone of Hiaroloch that I'd
stop scum like you--"

"Only now I'm back," Reggar cut in harshly. "I'm bigger this time,
Shane; big enough to make up for all the years I've had to stay away.
My fleets are stronger than yours, and my brain is better. Today, when
you broke free and fled, I said to myself: 'Where would the Earthman
go? What will his first thought be?' And I know the way you think so
well that I was here in Kyrsis' rooms before you!"

"So?"

"So I've taken your belt, and now I'm going to take your _yodor
Chonyas_, too. I'll hit the asteroids, one after another, and clean
them out, till there isn't a _Chonya_ anywhere left free." The great
lobed eyes glittered balefully. The alien voice struck a deeper note.
"And you're going to help me, Shane!"

"You're mad as a _ban_, Reggar," Shane said tightly.

"Mad? You call me mad?" There was a sort of obscene glee in the other's
chuckle. "Is it mad to strive for power, great _gar_--the kind of power
you've held these years? Is it mad to hunt slaves for a market that
pays triple prices and begs for more? No! That's why I brought you
here--"

"Here or a million miles across the void, what makes you think I'd help
you?" Shane slashed savagely. Beneath the jacket, his fingers caressed
the hilt of the _Pervod_ knife. "For that matter, how _could_ I help
you? Do you see the _Chonya_ chiefs as such fools that they'd follow me
into your net, no matter what I said or did?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The creature before him grinned hideously. "It won't be as hard as you
tell it, Shane. The trick is to split the Federation--and there is
where I need you."

"The Federation--?"

"Your acting falls short of your memory, Earthman. Your secret
conference on the slave raids--I know about it. You should have been
there by now; the meetings start tomorrow. When you don't appear,
there'll be talk about the _Chonyas_ and _Malyas_, and how they always
were slavers till the Federation beat them down."

"You talk nonsense, Reggar," Shane said curtly. But of a sudden his
mouth seemed a trifle dry.

"Do I?" The alien voice rang with a note of dark triumph. "I have
friends, Earthman ... friends so respectable, so high-placed, that they
would not admit that they even so much as knew my name. But they have
their price, and so they still play my game. They will be there, at
the conference. They will cry out that the _Chonyas_ and _Malyas_ are
behind these raids as in the days gone by."

"And when we deny it--?"

"You'll have no chance to deny it. Reports will come in--confirmed
reports that say the Earthman, Shane, great _gar_ of the asteroids, has
gone the _Chonya_ way. That he, himself, is leading raiders, sweeping
the lesser moons for slaves."

Bleakly, Shane stared at the creature. His fists clenched
spasmodically, and knots of muscle stood out at the hinges of his jaws.

Then that, too, passed.

"A lie is a lie, Reggar," he said tonelessly. "Someplace, sometime, it
always breaks down."

"But there will be no lie, great _gar_," the other mocked. "The reports
will speak the truth. For as you say, a lie breaks down, and this is
one time I dare not chance a gamble. So you will be out there in the
void, in a _Chonya_ raider ship. I myself shall supply it. A wild
_Chonya_ crew will man it, drawn from the dregs that you cast out of
the asteroids when the chiefs came in and named you _gar_. Shane the
slaver, the worlds will call you."

"And then?" clipped Shane.

       *       *       *       *       *

The note of triumph in the mongrel's voice rose higher. A scaly fist
came up, in a gesture that spoke of arrogance and power. "Chaos will
sweep the void, Earthman--and I shall sweep the asteroids! The fools
in the Federation will hang deadlocked for a time, for some still
fear war more than they fear raiders. So long as that deadlock lasts,
the void is mine! The _Chonyas_ have given up their war fleets; they
cannot strike back. Yet no matter how they cry of raids and beg for
mercy, no one will believe them. My friends will talk of their pleas
as stratagems to lure out the Federation fleet. And when at last the
deadlock breaks and the war-heads roar down on Ceres and Pallas and
the rest--why, what will it matter to me? For by then my slavers will
have taken the last _Chonya_ off and stripped the last rock bare!" The
creature paused; hammered the two webbed hands together. "A well-laid
plan, is it not, Earthman? Can you find even one small flaw?"

Shane stood motionless for a moment. Then, slowly, his lips twisted
into the ghost of a smile. "Yes, Reggar. I find one."

The other eyed him curiously, with an air that might have been a sort
of repressed mirth. "And that one, great _gar_--?"

Shane said: "The flaw is me. For your plan to work I must go along.
That leaves a decision in my hands: a choice. And I've already made it:
no matter what you say or do, I'll have no part of your schemes." His
jaw set. "You should have known that without my telling you, Reggar."

The mongrel nodded. Again, the strange note of mirth was in him. "Of
course. I did know. As for choices--there are three, not two."

"Three choices--?"

"Three. The first, you may already know. We focused a Paulsini beam on
the ship that was carrying you to the meeting on the slave raids. The
frequency of the impulses in your brain was changed. My will became
yours. I forced you to come here."

"Yes?"

"It is your first choice. You know the pain when your brain's frequency
is forced to change. But if you insist, I shall use it--take control of
your body, send you out to raid as I would."

Shane breathed deeply. "And the second?"

"That is even better. You know what happens to a man whose blood has
three times tasted _theol_?"

"Yes."

"I sent the woman"--Reggar gestured to Talu--"to you with an injector.
It held _theol_ ... a special high-potency solution. If you wish, you
shall have the three full doses I'd planned for you. After that, I can
send you anywhere without fear, for the _theol_ will break your will
like any other, and you'll do the things you're told to do and always
come crawling back for more, and more, and more."

Shane shifted. He flicked a glance to Talu.

       *       *       *       *       *

She had not moved from the spot where she had fallen. Dark eyes
unfathomable, face expressionless, she lay there, following Reggar's
every gesture.

"Do my choices hit you so hard you cannot speak?" sneered Reggar.
"Surely the great Shane would not crawl like an _etavi_, even before he
hears my third offer?"

Shane folded his arms and met the creature's glare. His hand clenched
on the hilt of the hidden knife. "There's been no groveling yet,
Reggar. For my part, there'll be none. Get on with your babblings!"

"I like this third choice best of all," the other said, and his voice
now was almost silky. "It is so simple, too! You raid as a slaver under
me; of your own free will, you do my bidding: that is all."

"All--?"

"Your word is good across the void, Earthman. I, too, trust it. Pledge
me on your soul that you'll serve me as faithfully and well as you know
how, take my interests as yours, and you shall leave here as free as
any man who ever breathed."

Again the hideous grin split Reggar's face. He rocked with harsh,
horrible laughter.

"Do it, Earthman! I beg you, do it! It would be the sweetest revenge of
all--you, Shane, _gar_ of the asteroids, turning slaver to save your
own worthless skin! You, the legend, the man without fear, crushing
down your precious _Chonyas_ rather than walk the other paths I've
offered! Your name linked with mine, your fate in my hands by your
choice--"

"One question, Reggar--" Shane broke in. Under cover of his folded
arms, he drew the _Pervod_ knife half clear. His weight was on the
balls of his feet, now; his muscles ready.

"What--?"

"Will your loot buy back your soul from hell when the maggots are
eating through your brain?"

"_What?_"

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane's voice rose to sudden thunder: "Armor your heart, too, Reggar!
The _kiavis'_ teeth are sharp, and I swear they'll feed on you and the
scum that ride with you! I'll see you dead, and your head will rot on a
pike at the gates of Ceresta--"

The mottling on the mongrel's face turned livid.

"You want chaos, Reggar? Cry chaos, then! Because if chaos comes, your
death comes with it! The _Chonya_ war fleet will hunt you down--"

"You _starbo_!" roared Reggar.

He lunged at Shane.

Talu, the slave girl, cried out.

The guards rushed forward.

Shane moved like a leaping tiger. The knife was out, his muscles
flexing. A shout of wild triumph rose in his throat.

Again Talu screamed.

Something struck Shane behind the knees--a heavy impact, hard and low.

He lurched--off balance, toppling. His blow went wild.

The next instant Reggar smashed him in the face. The knife flew out of
his hand. A guard sledged him from behind.

Shane crashed to the floor. Desperately, he jerked up knees and elbows;
twisted, trying to shield himself from Reggar's savage kicks.

His hands slapped another body sprawled against his--the body that had
knocked him down. His fingers knotted in silken hair.

Spasmodically, he jerked.

A woman's sharp cry of pain rang out in answer.

It was Talu.



                               CHAPTER V


This room was large, and luxuriously furnished with the treasures of a
score of satellites and planets. Here were rich tapestries from Orlon,
a thousand blinding years in the making. Here, a table from Rhea,
aglitter with the inlays of the spider men, delicate as the traceries
of frost. Great _borvne_ crystals from the pits of Neptune had been
transformed into lamps, their cold fire blazing like the play of sun
on glacial ice. A priceless Grecian vase from Earth, older almost than
time itself, created a world of its own in one corner.

But it was the woman who held all eyes ... the silver woman.

She came forward now, a strange, shining creature. Her beauty was a
breathless thing--ethereal, almost unreal. The cunningly-fashioned toga
of silver cloth she wore matched the spun silver of her hair.

Yet her hair's silver could not have been that of age, for her skin
still held the fresh glow of youth, though uniquely translucent and
silvery itself--nearly as pale and clear as the bodies of Pluto's
bloodless ice-things.

As if in studied contrast, her lips gleamed rich purple, more blue than
red; and a hundred striking violet tints glinted in her eyes.

Even over the vocodor, her voice had a strange, alien lilt, as if her
thoughts, her words, strained the unit's powers: "You ... you are the
Earthman--the _gar_ of the asteroids...."

She came close to Shane as she spoke; very close, till the fragrance
of unknown flowers rose in his nostrils. Her pale hands touched his
cheeks, and the violet eyes probed his.

They were strange eyes, as strange as the worlds had ever seen--young
and clear as a girl's, yet somehow old, too ... old as the void
itself; and the things that were in them sent queer tremors rippling
through Shane like a chill. It was as if the woman were looking beyond
the things that others saw--probing deeper, searching for some precious
secret element that only she could grasp.

"You are strong, Earthman!" she said softly, and now her voice held a
throaty urgency, an undertone that might have told of inner tension.
"There is life in you ... much life. It flows hot in your veins...."

"He is not for you, _Shi_ Kyrsis!" Reggar rasped harshly. "Our trap
needs bait, and we cannot spare him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The hands drew away from Shane's cheeks. The woman turned, and her
violet eyes grew big and dangerous. "You cannot--?" she asked, her
voice even softer than before. "Who says you cannot, Reggar?"

"_We_ cannot, _Shi_ Kyrsis," Reggar answered. One webbed hand moved in
an angry, incisive gesture. "We, the two of us, you and I. I cannot,
because without him to serve as cover the Federation will sooner or
later have my head. And you cannot, because without me there will be no
slaves."

The woman's hands cupped, as if the long, purple-nailed fingers held
some priceless goblet. "But life is a sacred thing!" she whispered. "It
runs so strong within him...."

"It runs stronger than you know," Quos Reggar slashed back bitterly.
"He is a legend, a madman who has carved his destiny across the void."
He slapped the great _Chonya_ belt that girded him. "Do you think that
weakness won this belt? He is built of blood and iron! Even I confess
it, though I hate him. But you cannot let yourself think of that now.
For he must live, and he must raid, and he must be seen, if we are to
break the power of the Federation and open up the void to slaving.
Trust me, I know--"

Shane said: "I once knew a man who trusted Reggar. They were partners
together in their dirty business, and as thick as thieves could get.
When my blockade--"

"Shut up!" roared Reggar.

"When my blockade drove the slavers out of the asteroids, these two
were trapped off Juno--"

Reggar sprang at Shane--webbed hands clutching, great lobed eyes aflame.

But the silver woman, Kyrsis, came between them. Gently, she said,
"I'll hear him out, Reggar."

Shane smiled thinly. "When I ordered the pair of them to surrender,
Reggar, here, came to me secretly, and offered to send me the partner's
head if I'd let him--Reggar--go on a promise that he'd never ramp ship
in the asteroid belt again. I agreed, and he brought the head."

"You _chitza_!" screamed Reggar. With agility amazing for his size, he
leaped past the woman called Kyrsis.

Shane tried to dodge, but the guards who flanked him seized him.

Reggar struck him across the mouth.

Shane slumped back. He would have fallen but for the guards.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the woman's voice came--sharp, icecold: "I would not do that
again, Reggar, if I were you ... if I wished to live!" And then, to
Shane: "Is there more?"

Blood trickled from Shane's mouth. He swayed, and a crooked grin
twisted his swollen lips. "Only one thing, _Shi_ Kyrsis," he mumbled.
"The partner was Tas Reggar--this creature's brother!"

"He lies!" snarled Reggar. "He lies in his teeth like the _chitza_ he
is! I have no brother--"

"Perhaps not--now!" Shane baited. "How could you have? You sent me his
head in a sack!"

A sound of incoherent fury bubbled in Reggar's throat. The great lobed
eyes were flecked with red. Again he sprang at Shane.

But again the silver woman came between them. The violet eyes were
probing, thoughtful. "The story has a ring to it, Reggar--a twist that
somehow fits you."

The other's mottled face contorted. The webbed hands clenched into
fists. "It is a lie!" he snarled thickly. And then, in a voice that
still trembled with repression: "I have no brother. I had none. But
even if the tale were true, what difference would it make? We are
here, together--"

Shane said: "What difference? For one thing, it would let her know
whose neck would stretch, whose blood would spurt, if the time again
came for you to make a choice. You'd cut her throat and save your own--"

"Silence!" roared the giant mongrel. He pivoted to face the woman. "Can
you not see this _yodor_ Earthman's goal, _Shi_ Kyrsis? Is it not plain
enough that he seeks to brew distrust between us, in the hope that out
of it he can snatch a chance to break us both, and save his hide and
his beloved _Chonyas_?"

Slowly, the woman nodded. "Perhaps ... yes, probably."

"And is there anyone but me who'll bring you slaves by the thousands?"
Reggar pressed on, relentless. "Where else can you find these lives
you're seeking?"

The woman made no answer.

"But why?" Shane cut in fiercely. "Where is your home, that you still
need slaves? Work is for machines, and power is free. Why throw away
living beings upon it?"

The silver woman stared. "You mean--you do not know--?"

"No! Quiet!" choked Reggar. "Have you gone mad, _Shi_ Kyrsis? This man
would destroy us. He must not know."

The silver woman looked from the mongrel to Shane and back again.
"Then ... how do you plan--?"

Quos Reggar shrugged. "The _theol_ will make him ours. Three
injections, spaced one Earth day apart, give the habit." He turned,
leered at Shane. "Do you know about _theol_, great _gar_? Have you
heard what it does--how it paralyzes the will of even the strongest?"

"I know," Shane answered bleakly. "Call it madness, not habit. It works
on the brain a hundred times worse than wormwood--and a thousand times
faster."

"You live for it," the mongrel nodded, chuckling. "Night and day, you
dream of it, they say. You'll steal for it, fight for it, kill for it.
With every dose, you need it more. And nowhere is there a cure."

Shane said nothing.

Reggar gestured to the guards.

They caught Shane's arms once more; held him rigid.

Reggar drew an injector from inside his tunic; then a bottle. Quickly,
he filled the needle and inserted the gas ampule.

Still Shane stood silent, stoney-faced.

Kyrsis said: "Why must you have it this way, Earthman? Give your sworn
word that you'll serve us, and Reggar will put away the _theol_."

"I'd rather take the _theol_," Shane answered tightly.

"But why, Earthman? Why?"

Shane's laugh was bitter, curt. "It is a thing you would not
understand, _Shi_ Kyrsis. On Earth, they call it conscience."

A shadow seemed to pass across the silver woman's pale, lovely face.
The violet eyes were suddenly uncertain. "I--I do not know...."

"You never will," Shane answered. Coldly, contemptuously, he met her
gaze. "But the time will come, I promise you, when you'll know that I
did not lie about Reggar--that no matter what he says, you cannot trust
him. Even now--here, today, this very minute--he is planning to betray
you."

"But how--?"

"Why bother to tell you more? You would not believe me. But when the
day arrives, say to yourself just once, 'I had my chance; the Earthman
warned me'."

"Hold him tight!" Reggar warned the guards angrily. "The _theol_ will
put an end to his mumblings!"

       *       *       *       *       *

He came close to Shane. A webbed hand twitched the Earthman's head. The
injector poised close to the sun-tanned throat.

Shane went completely limp. Dead weight, he sagged loose in the guards'
hands.

They swayed under the drag of him; shifted, trying to regain their
balance.

Shane writhed in a savage, spasmodic effort to break free. He kicked
hard at Reggar.

But the guards' hold held. Reggar twisted out of the way of the kick.
He jerked Shane's head around by the hair.

"It ends here, _chitza_!"

Face contorted in ghoulish triumph, he drove the injector's plunger
home.

The _theol_ sprayed into Shane's throat....



                              CHAPTER VI


They were singing in the dungeons--a wild _Chonya_ song that had echoed
down through the reckless years since that fateful day when the first
great raider ship blasted off from the asteroids across the void:

    _"Oh, they've hunted us for ages,
    Through the Belt and to the stars;
    They have sought advice of sages,
    And they've set up puppet gars.
    But there's Chonya blood within us,
    And when Chonyas take their stand,
    There'll be blood upon the hatches
    And a blight upon the land!"_

"My whole crew?" Shane asked tonelessly.

One of the Martian _falas_ of the escort nodded.

"Then why bother with me? They can tell you as much about the ship as
I."

The _fala_ shrugged. But a _Pervod_ snarled: "The fools will do nothing
without your orders--not even tell us which are the technicians.
We broke the captain's back, but still he refused to explain the
mechanism."

Shane's blue eyes grew cold as the pits of Neptune. "He's dead, then?"

"Yes, and so will the rest of them be, unless you tell them to obey."

"I'll give them their orders," Shane answered curtly. The muscles were
standing out along his jaws.

They moved on, into the dungeon's outer room, where crowding _Chonyas_
shouted their hate and shook the bars.

A crewman with a bloody bandage about his head leaped onto a bench and,
pointing, cried out, "_Gar Shane_!"

The singing died away.

"Your first trick is your last!" the guard in charge snarled in Shane's
ear. Roughly, he shoved the Earthman forward.

Shane strode through the settling silence. Wordless, he looked about
him--at the glittering, unbreachable, green telonium walls; at the
lean, tough horde of _Chonya_ crewmen, pressing hot-eyed and intense
against the bars; at the guards who flanked and backed him, light-guns
out and lance-prods ready.

       *       *       *       *       *

He swung back till again he faced the _Chonyas_; took a step or two
with a reckless swagger. His back was stiff, his head unbowed.

In a hard flat voice he said: "These slavers who hold us here want full
technical data on the Abaquist meteor repellers on our ship. Already,
they have broken your captain's back because he would not give it to
them."

The silence echoed.

"We were brought here with our minds locked in the control of a
Paulsini beam. Through it, these _starbos_ can drag out our innermost
thoughts--force us to do their will. They would use it on us now, if
they could. But they have insulated this whole satellite against it, so
it is useless so long as we are here."

Still there was no sound, save for the restless scrape of feet, the
rustle of heavy breathing.

"We are their prisoners, utterly and completely. They have even taken
away the belt your chieftains gave me--" Shane ran his hands along his
waist, "the _Chonya_ belt, the great iron belt of the asteroids."

The scraping and rustling grew louder. A low, guttural rumble ran
through the crowd.

"They say they'll cut us down if we do not obey them, and they've
smeared their hands in your captain's blood to prove it!"

From somewhere in the back of the crowd, a _Chonya_ shouted, "Where do
you stand, _Gar_ Shane? What would you have us do?"

"I?" Shane swept them with his gaze. "I? What would you have me say? We
are their prisoners, are we not? They have conquered us, even if by a
trick. We have no choice but to do their will ... for now." He paused;
laughed harshly, cynically. "Were I to tell you otherwise, I, too,
would die within the moment--and we all know it."

The captive crew flung back his bitter laughter. The first flush of
hate was washed from the fierce faces, replaced by narrowed eyes and
calculating glances.

Shane called: "Repeller crew--forward!" And then, quickly: "Orshawn ...
Dylar ... Hebza ... Tisban ... Korch--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Men pressed through to the bars. Without waiting, Shane wheeled to the
guards. "Here are your men--the repeller crew itself! They will give
you everything."

A _fala_ shoved him aside, against the bars of the cage. A Mercurian
threw the lever that controlled the lock.

Barely audible, one of the _Chonyas_ whispered, "_Gar_ Shane! You
know--?"

"--that the repeller is fully automatic? That there is no crew?" Shane
bared his teeth in the caricature of a smile. His eyes were very hard
and bright. "Yes, _Chonya_; I know."

Now the crewmen that Shane had named were out. The door of bars clanged
shut again.

A Thorian caught the Earthman by the arm. "Get on! And if these dogs of
the asteroids do not tell us all Quos Reggar wants to know, both you
and they will die by inches!" He cuffed Shane towards the dungeon's
entrance.

Shane reeled ahead, half falling, and the guards laughed at the sight
of him; and one booted him from behind so that he nearly sprawled on
the glistening green telonium floor. But he clutched the outer door
and recovered, hanging by the edge of it as it swung on its hinges till
he was almost into the corridor beyond.

Only two guards remained there, both _Pervods_.

The fire in Shane's cold blue eyes burst into wild, singing flame. Of a
sudden the laxness left his face. The awkwardness fell from his stance.

"_Now, Chonyas!_" he shouted.

In the same instant he whirled and shoved the great door open with all
his might.

The edge caught the first of the guards behind him, a _fala_, full in
the face.

Shane leaped upon the creature as it staggered. He caught the barrel of
the thing's light-pistol; wrested it away.

With a hoarse cry the guard sprang after him, clawing for the weapon.

Rock-steady, Shane triggered the exciter. The pistol's purple beam
struck the _fala_ full in the face. Still clawing--clawing in the
agonies of death, now--the creature lurched backward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Beyond it boiled a scene of strange, wild carnage. The _Chonyas_
of Shane's mythical "repeller crew" had leaped upon the other
guards--tearing away weapons, beating them down.

Now one wrenched the ray-key that activated the locking lever from
the Mercurian and slammed it home. The bolt that held the door of bars
lifted.

With a wild roar, the _Chonyas_ inside the cage burst forth.

The _Pervods_ in the corridor beyond the dungeons rushed to bar the
great outer door.

Shane blasted the first before he had even crossed the threshold.

The second turned to flee.

The Earthman's light-beam caught him in the middle of his first step.

A _Chonya_ came running, a bloody lance-prod in his hands, eyes blazing
with excitement. "_Gar_ Shane! What now? The ship--?"

"You know where it is?"

"Yes. Close by here--"

"No matter. Get the men aboard and man the guns. Blast all the
corridors but one. I'll need that to get back to you."

"But where--?"

"There's a job to do before we leave, if we're not to be dragged back
here as we were before."

"The Paulsini--!"

"Right!" Shane laughed harshly. The sheer joy of battle shone in his
face. "They'll expect us to blast off the instant the crew's aboard."

The _Chonya's_ eyes gleamed fiercely. "You'll need help--"

"Three men, and a guard to guide us--"

The _Chonya_ laughed aloud. "Two others and a guard, _Gar_ Shane! I am
the first!" he cried, exulting.

Commands crackled, then, and other crewmen crowded forward; and in
brief seconds Shane and the _Chonyas_ and a bloody-headed, bewildered
Uranian were roaring down the echoing dimness of the corridor in a
guard-car.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, on the Uranian's order, they changed direction, and now they were
hurtling through vast, high-ceilinged chambers where giant machines
stood row on row in countless thousands. No living being was anywhere
evident ... only the machines, churning endlessly at their task with
cold efficiency.

"Converters!" Shane muttered, half beneath his breath. "Power
converters.... A different kind, one I've never seen before."

"Nor I," a _Chonya_ technician at his side echoed grimly. "Who needs
such power today, _Gar_ Shane? And the source--where is it? It would
take whole seas of energy to feed these monsters. There are too many!"

"Too many," Shane nodded. For a long moment he peered through the
vision slot in silence, then backed away again. "A slaver is a slaver,
Dylar. Some are small, and some are big. But this is too big for any
slaver. The whole surface of this moon is covered with a rabbit-warren
such as this, twelve levels deep. We find power converters by the
million--more than a major planet could use, even in the days before
the Federation began to broadcast free power to all."

Another of the _Chonyas_ broke in now: "The Uranian says the Paulsini
lies just beyond the next stop, _Gar_ Shane--and his fear runs too high
for him to lie."

Shane studied the great, hairy beast through narrowed eyes. "Is there a
guard?" he clipped.

The Uranian shook his head jerkily.

"Get ready, then!" the Earthman rapped. Again his eyes sought out the
Uranian, and after a moment he gestured towards him. "Shove him off
first, and then land running."

The guard-car slowed.

Shane shaded his eyes and studied the dim spaces ahead through the
vision port, the light-pistol ready in his hand.

Then the car was swaying, grinding to a stop. Two of the _Chonyas_
pushed the Uranian towards the door.

But before they reached it their prisoner suddenly sprang aside. He
caught one of the crewmen and hurled him bodily through the doorway by
brute strength.

       *       *       *       *       *

Outside, the corridor was suddenly laced with lances of purple light. A
scream of anguish choked off in the _Chonya's_ throat.

"A trap!" the technician, Dylar, cried. He jerked back levers on the
control panel, and the car lurched forward again.

The Uranian lunged for him.

But Shane was already pivoting. He fired as he moved, and the great
beast slammed to the floor, its four mighty arms flailing in a
death-spasm.

"Stop the car!" Shane shouted.

Dylar threw a switch. The vehicle's mechanism shuddered and went dead.

"This way!" the Earthman snapped. He leaped to the corridor and ran
back towards the Paulsini station. The _Chonyas_ followed, close on his
heels.

More of Reggar's men were there, clustered about the body of the fallen
crewman. Then the sound of running feet reached them. They whirled.

Not even breaking stride, Shane blasted at them. Hastily, they fell
back into a doorway, the same doorway from which they had loosed their
barrage at the guard-car.

The Earthman moved in close to the left wall, out of their range of
vision, and crept closer.

Abruptly, a purple beam lanced past his head, so close he could feel
the searing heat of it. He jerked back against the crewman behind him.

"It's a stalemate till we can think of something," he clipped savagely.
"They can't move, but neither can we."

The _Chonya_ laughed. "Dylar will take care of that!" he chortled
gleefully.

Like an echo, the now distant guard-car roared to life again. The next
instant it was racing towards them.

Shane and the _Chonya_ pressed back against the wall.

The car hurtled past them. A light-beam slashed from it as it came
abreast the doorway where the guards were huddled.

There was a flurry of motion; hoarse shouts of panic.

Shane and the other _Chonya_ moved in.

The last of Reggar's men sought to flee. But the technician, Dylar, cut
them down.

Then Shane was bursting into the place where the great Paulsini
mind-control projector was housed.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was an awesome sight, a shaft that seemed to stretch away to
infinity overhead. And in its center stood the incredible Paulsini
tube, that infinitely delicate electronic unit that was the heart of
the projector, core of the whole weird device that so deftly changed
the frequencies of the waves within men's brains. A gigantic tube,
almost unbelievable, so large that it staggered the imagination.

Even Shane stood half-incredulous as he stared up at it.

"It must be a hundred feet tall!" he said numbly. "No wonder they can
reach out into space--"

Dylar nodded. "Yes. The whole center floor of the shaft is a huge lift,
a hydratomic elevator to push the tube up into the air above this
structure that covers the surface." He pointed a quivering finger.
"See! There is a great lid capping off the shaft! No doubt it is
linked to the lift mechanism so that it opens as the tube rises--"

Behind them, the other _Chonya_ suddenly slammed shut the corridor
door. "Guard-cars!" he called tensely. "A whole line of them, headed
this way!"

It broke the spell of Shane's fascination.

"Our only hope for getting away from this moon alive is to smash this
projector," he clipped tightly.

"And that means--smash this tube," Dylar answered. "Any other thing
that we might do could be repaired."

Shane strode to the tube; hammered savagely at the transparent silicon
with his light-gun's butt.

"It is no use," the _Chonya_ technician told him grimly. "A tube as
incredibly huge as this one will stand up against anything smaller than
a proton cannon. It has been designed for strength--to handle power ...
temperature changes ... shock and impact ... the sheer weight of its
own structure." He shook his head. "I fear we've come here for nothing,
_Gar_ Shane. No efforts of ours can hope to smash this."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bleakly, Shane stared at the monster tube ... at the glittering metal
of the lift on which it stood ... at the great shaft, rising high above
them to the cap of the dome.

The _Chonya_ at the door said: "They're unloading here by hundreds, and
they've brought enough equipment for a siege! When they start moving
in, there'll be no stopping them."

Dylar's eyes flicked swiftly about the shaft. "There may be another way
out--"

"No!" Shane snapped. His jaw was hard. He brought up a clenched fist;
shook it grimly. "We came here to smash this thing. We're going to do
it." He turned on his heel and ran to the nearest door. "Come on! We've
got to find the control room!"

"The control room--?"

"Here! This is the place!" It was a windowless cubicle, but with a
second door set opposite the one by which Shane stood. He scanned the
massive control panels, the complicated dials and instruments. "Quick!
How do you start the lift?"

Outside, the other _Chonya_ called: "They're coming! I'll try to hold
them--!" His voice was a trifle ragged.

"The lift--?" Dylar stared at the Earthman. "But why--?"

"Forget 'why'!" Shane slashed fiercely. "Quick! Show me!"

The technician scanned the maze of instruments. "This must be it! See!
Here is the linking mechanism that couples it to the shaft cap, so that
the top opens as the tube rises--"

Out beyond the shaft, something crashed. "They're trying to smash in
the door!" the crewman there shouted. "There--! I got him!"

Shane whipped up his light-pistol. Face etched with strain, he focussed
the beam on the linking mechanism. Wires gave way.

Dylar stared.

Gears twisted under the heat of the beam. A shaft snapped.

"Start the lift!" Shane clipped between clenched teeth.

"Of course!" cried Dylar. He threw switches.

"Here they come!" the Chonya outside shouted.

The next instant, his voice bubbled off in a scream. Shane leaped to
the doorway, lanced a beam of light as a tentacled Thorian came into
view. The creature slid back out of range.

The Earthman shot a glance at the Paulsini tube.

Smoothly, silently, it was rising, climbing swiftly towards the top of
the shaft.

       *       *       *       *       *

A _fala_ hurled a lance-prod at Shane. It grazed his ribs. The sting of
it hurt. Cursing, he dropped to one knee and triggered a beam at the
Martian.

"It's almost there!" Dylar cried.

Shane risked another glance.

Even as he looked, the end of the tube reached the dome. For an
instant it seemed to hesitate there. Then, with a faint groaning as of
machinery under strain, it thrust on again ... harder ... harder ...
harder....

The machinery of the lift groaned louder.

"Watch out!" shouted Dylar.

Shane leaped back in the same fraction of a second that the great tube
burst. The noise was like a thunder-clap. It was as if the tube had
exploded in mid-air. Shane glimpsed a Uranian racing towards him, and
knew that he had waited too long, that he could never bring his pistol
up in time; then saw the hairy thing reduced to bloody pulp by a great
shard of blast-driven silicon.

It broke the paralysis that gripped him. He caught Dylar's arm. "Come
on! Quick! To the ship!"

"Through that horde in the corridor?" The technician shook his head.
"No, _Gar_ Shane. You have performed a miracle--but not even you can
travel that road."

A woman's voice said: "Then come this way."

Shane and the _Chonya_ whirled.

She stood in the shadows of the control room's second doorway--a slim,
shining figure in a toga of silver cloth.

Shane said: "Kyrsis--!"

"Yes, Shane." Her voice still had its strange, alien lilt. The rich
purple lips parted in a smile, and she reached for his hand. "Come
quickly. I shall take you to your ship."

"To the ship--?" Shane stared at her blankly. "But why--?"

"Why?" She laughed softly, and now there was mockery in the violet
eyes. "Why not, Shane? It is the only way you can hope to escape this
moon of madness. And the reason I help you to escape is--I want you to
take me with you!"



                              CHAPTER VII


Now they were hurtling through the utter blackness that was space, away
from the bleak moon that had been their prison. To port, Jupiter loomed
monstrous, overwhelming, its great Red Spot weirdly aglow with seas
of flaming hydrogen that seethed and boiled amid gigantic ice-cliffs
carved from frozen gases. On the other side, Ganymede and Callisto
swung slowly in their orbits; and beyond them, dwarfed by them, tiny
Jupiter IX raced through the sky in the counter direction.

A navigator said: "The place they held us is Jupiter V--the satellite
closest to the planet. The manuals say it is abandoned now. But it
was built up as a power station by the Jupiterian entente in the days
before the Federation began to broadcast energy."

"And now Quos Reggar holds it," the mate echoed. "What is your command,
_Gar_ Shane? Shall we ramp at Europa and report it?"

Bleakly, Shane stared into the visiscreen. Gadar, the dark star, hurled
across the void into the solar system a thousand years ago, was coming
into view now, the faint silver gleam of its profile barely visible.

"Or we could try Callisto," the mate went on. "They would notify the
Federation unit stationed at Europa--send out patrols--"

"No," Shane said. "No. We'll go on to Federation headquarters, the
Martian meeting. The things we have to tell will mean more there."

Abruptly, he turned and left the pilot room, and made his way to
Kyrsis' quarters.

She came to his knock, and a glow of pleasure suffused her pale,
silvery face at the sight of him. "Enter Shane...." The cool fingers
touched his hand, drew him in. The violet eyes clung to his, as if in
the sharing of some precious secret.

He closed the door behind him; breathed in deeply. "Why did you choose
to come with me, Kyrsis?"

The rich purple lips curved and parted. As always, her eyes seemed to
mock him. "How many times have you asked me, Shane?"

"How many times--?" he echoed, and now his voice had a bitter ring. "I
wish I knew. But still I have no answer." He strode to the visiscreen
across the room and snapped it on with an angry flick. Stared
broodingly into it.

Gadar was almost to the screen's center now.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane said: "You're like that dark star, Kyrsis. What men can see is
beautiful--but beneath the surface you're both all mystery. Where did
you come from? Where are you going? And why? I always come back to that
one question: why, why, why?"

She came very close to him, then, and what might have been sorrow was
in her face, her eyes. "I've told you, Shane. To me, life is a sacred
thing ... more sacred than you can ever dream. To see it wasted as
yours would have been is the sin above all sin. And there was Reggar.
After you'd told me the things you did, how could I believe him? How
could I trust him? I had to get away from him, and quickly. If I could
do it and save you, too, would I not have been a fool to throw away the
chance?"

He turned on her. "But where is your home--your moon, your planet? Why
do your people need slaves--?"

She shook her head sadly. "I am sorry, Shane, truly sorry. But those
secrets are not mine to tell ... unless--"

"Unless what--?"

"Unless you are willing to travel with me ... to take the road Quos
Reggar took." Again her hand was on his arm, her silvery body close to
his. A note of tension crept into her voice. "Because we need slaves,
Shane! You cannot know how desperately we need them! Nor is it hard.
They do not suffer...."

For a moment the Earthman stood there with her, and her hand left
his arm and came up to caress his cheek. "If you would but learn to
understand us ... there is so much to learn."

Shane swayed a little. His blue eyes dulled, and his breathing was
shallow, uneven.

The woman's eyes mirrored indefinable things, things old beyond all
measure.

Shane stood rigid. Then, jerkily, he pulled away.

"I don't care why you need slaves," he said thickly. "It doesn't matter
how you treat them--"

The silver woman spread her hands. "You see--?"

"But your people could work out a better way--"

"No." The word rang final. "For us there is--can be--no better way."

Shane's lips twisted. The dullness was gone from his eyes now. "Then,
Kyrsis, we can never meet. You have picked your people's road, and I
have taken the _Chonya_ way."

"But then--"

"There can be nothing more. But you saved my life, and I must buy it
back. So I'll land you at Horla, on Mars, and set you free, and you can
go your way."

He turned to go.

Then the woman said: "Your throat, _Gar_ Shane!"

The Earthman pivoted, face hard. "Yes?"

"There are flecks of green beneath the jaw--a slight eruption of the
skin."

"I saw it in a mirror a while ago," Shane answered tightly. "It goes
with _theol_."

"The first injection," the silver woman nodded, and now her smile was
lazy, taunting. "With the second, the welts grow darker. After the
third there are ... more obvious symptoms."

"You saved my life," Shane said, thin-lipped. "I'll see you safe to
Mars."

He wheeled and left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The committee on the interterrestrial slave trade was listening to a
speaker from Titan when Shane reached the Federation chambers.

"Slavers? I can give you two names for slavers!" the Titanian cried
out in a frenzy. "One is _Chonya_ and the other is _Malya_! And those
are the names for 'pirate,' too, and 'cutthroat' and 'thief and
'hypocrite'!"

Grim-faced, Shane started forward.

A basilisk-eyed Mercurian with a sly and smirking air barred his
way. "Your credentials, please. You cannot enter the chamber without
credentials."

"I left my credentials with a mongrel outlaw named Quos Reggar," Shane
clipped tightly. "He ambushed my ship on the way. The chairman, the
delegates--any of them can identify me."

"My deepest regrets, but identification is not enough." The Mercurian
was openly grinning now. "My orders are specific: regardless of excuse,
there will be no admission without credentials."

"The _Chonyas_ and _Malyas_ have made the asteroid belt a space ship
graveyard!" the Titanian ranted shrilly.

"Get me the chairman!" Shane rapped.

"My orders are specific," the Mercurian repeated, smirking. "The issue
of your attendance has already been discussed, Earthman, and you are
barred--"

Shane raised his hand, tried to flag attention.

The chairman looked quickly away. Committee members turned till their
backs were to him, or else openly ignored him.

"They have looted the void for a thousand years!" the Titanian
screamed. "When we finally put that down, they grew clever, and now
they wail of raids, even while they re-energize their proton cannon and
hose the blood from their hatches--"

A sudden, mirthless grin twisted Shane's face.

"You lie in your teeth!" he shouted. Slamming the Mercurian to one
side, he strode forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Titanian cut off in mid-breath, great blue-green wattles shaking.
Committee members spun about.

"Order!" bellowed the chairman, hammering on his desk. "Order in the
chamber!"

"To hell with your order!" Shane shouted back savagely, eyes blazing.
"I said he lied. I'll back it!"

"The _Chonya_ delegate must wait his turn. He must clear his
credentials--"

"Let someone wait who has yet to count his dead! I'm here to see that
the _Chonyas_ get justice and an end to slavery, not words! I'll stay
till action's taken!"

A rubbery, flat-faced Europan leaped up. "And why were you not here
before? Where have you been? What have you been doing?"

"Yes!" roared a delegate from Ganymede. "Eye-witnesses already have
told us that the _Chonyas_ are raiding for slaves again--and there are
those who say that you, _gar_ of the _Chonyas_, raid with them--that a
raid is what kept you absent here--"

"My crew will tell you--"

"Your crew?" rasped a Venusian _Vansta_. "Your _Chonya_ crew? Who ever
heard of a _Chonya_ with a mote of truth within him?"

A wave of raucous laughter swept through the chamber.

Then the delegate from Earth was on his feet, a tall, heavy man with
thinning hair. "Silence!" he thundered. "Silence!"

The laughter, the shouts, died away.

The Earth delegate addressed Shane: "There is a woman called Kyrsis, of
an unknown race, who is known to have been buying slaves. Do you know
her?"

"Yes, but--"

"And is it true that when you landed at the Horla spaceport, less than
an hour ago, this woman was with you?"

"Yes--"

"That you knew her to have been buying slaves, yet you let her go
free, instead of turning her over to the constituted authorities?"

"But she--"

"Answer yes or no: is it true?"

"Yes, but--"

"'Buts' have no place in this committee, Shane!" The Earth delegate
swung about. "My fellow-members. I am ashamed to confess that this
renegade came from Earth. Now, as Earth delegate, the least I can do
to atone is to demand, in the name of Earth, that he be placed under
arrest as a slaver; and that the _Chonyas_ whom he leads be expelled
from the Federation, placed outside the protection of its laws, and
subjected to an immediate punitive campaign by the Federation fleet to
destroy their sovereignty and reduce them to the status of wards of the
Federation!"

       *       *       *       *       *

For the fraction of a second, silence echoed. Then the great room
exploded into a cacophony of hate, a tumult of affirmation: "Yes,
yes--!" "Seize him!" "Jail him!" "Burn him down!"

Two uniformed _Fantays_ and the Mercurian from the door rushed towards
Shane.

The Earthman stood as if frozen in his tracks. Then, explosively, he
leaped backward, twisting, and of a sudden the light-pistol that had
swung at his hip was in his hand.

"Who dares to seize me?"

The _Fantays_, the Mercurian, stopped short.

Blue eyes contemptuous, cold as death, Shane looked from them to the
delegates ... the chairman. "I'm going out now," he said.

No answer came ... no comment or sound save that of the crowd's loud,
nervous breathing.

"I'm going," he repeated savagely. "I'm going because the Federation
holds knaves and fools enough that decent men no longer dare feel safe
within it. The truth finds a graveyard here, and justice hangs in
chains. Better to fight you and the slavers both than count on your
weak-kneed aid. From this moment on, the _Chonyas_ will carve their own
way."

Not one of them would meet his eyes.

"No comments, no arguments?" The Earthman laughed sourly; he brought up
the light-gun in a gesture that held at once both menace and defiance.
"Then I'll leave you now. You may follow me--if you dare!"

Boldly, not even glancing back, he strode out of the room.



                             CHAPTER VIII


"This is the place," the Chonya said. "This is where the silver woman
came."

Shane studied the structure. It was a house--a sort of
fortress-dwelling in the ancient _Fantay_ style, set a hundred feet
from its nearest neighbor. Even in the semi-darkness of the early
Martian night it looked old, mouldering old. Light from Phobos and
Deimos, the tiny moons that raced across the sky overhead, glinted on
the bosses that studded the great iridium-alloy door, and the weathered
walls of _lyndyse_ stone rose sheer and blank and forbidding to the
second floor. Even there, the windows showed as narrow streaks of
yellow light, criss-crossed with heavy bars.

"We are not the only ones drawn by this place, _Gar_ Shane," the
_Chonya_ went on. "There was a _Malya_, a tough young buck with the
walk of a fighting man. He stayed in the shadows, surveying the house
from every angle, but not going near. After awhile, he went away. Then,
later, a Europan came, a flat-faced _chitza_ who looked this way and
that, as if he were afraid he would be seen. He knocked at the door,
and after they'd checked him through a peephole, they let him in.
Later, there were three others, all shrouded in _fala_ capes so I could
not tell their race. They, too, went in."

"And none came out?"

"Only the Europan. He skulked away again in but a few moments."

"A _Malya_, a Europan, and three in _fala_ cloaks," Shane repeated,
half to himself. And then, speaking to the _Chonya_: "It's time we
found out what black brew is cooking there, Nettar. Where are the hook
and rope?"

"Here, _Gar_ Shane," the other answered. He drew a coiled line and
grappling iron from beneath his coat. "Which side shall it be?"

"To the left are fewer windows," said Shane. "Wait here for me,
Nettar."

"No, _Gar_ Shane! It is madness to go alone into such a death-trap--"

Shane's mirthless laugh rang through the darkness. "Worse madness for
two. There'd be three times the noise."

"But _Gar_--"

"My mission holds less peril than you might think. But should trouble
come--should I not return--I want you here, outside, to carry the word."

       *       *       *       *       *

Silently, then, Shane ran to the building and left along it. He swung
the grapnel in a tight arc ... sent it flying high into the air in an
expert throw, over the roof of the house.

The hook landed with a flat _thunk_!

Shane hugged the shadows, listening tensely. But no sound came from
within.

He tugged experimentally on the line.

The hook held.

Bracing his feet against the wall, leaning out from it, supported by
the rope, the Earthman climbed swiftly upward. In half a minute he was
over the coping and lying flat on his belly on the roof, drawing up the
line.

The round dome of a typical _Fantay_ solarium, glowing dimly with
yellowish light from some point within but below Shane's line of
vision, rose in the middle of the flat roof. Cat-like, the Earthman
came to his feet and crossed to it, there to peer cautiously down
through the crystal into the room below.

The solarium was empty, illuminated by only one dim lamp.

Quickly, Shane pried loose a crystal panel. Squeezing through the
opening, he dropped to the floor.

A door stood half-open across the room. Noiselessly, Shane moved to it,
paused and listened.

No sound came. The Earthman stepped outside, and found himself in
a narrow hallway. Following it, he came to a stairway, descended
cautiously.

Below, the lights were brighter, the air faintly redolent of age and
cooking _palorsch_.

And, somewhere, a woman was singing softly.

Shane eased out his light-gun. Silently, he left the stairs and moved
down another hallway. To the right, a door loomed. From the other side
came a muffled mumble of voices.

But not the song. Cat-footed, Shane passed the portal.

The song came clearer now--a haunting, taunting melody in a tongue the
Earthman did not know. The singer's voice held an alien lilt, a thread
of silvery tone.

Kyrsis' voice.

It came from behind another door, and this one was open a crack.

Again Shane paused and listened. But there was no sound save the
singing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Earthman stepped to the door's hinge side; threw a quick glance up
and down the hall. It was still empty. Staying back of the jamb, out of
sight from the room, he pressed his left hand against the door ever so
gently and pushed it open--slowly, as if it were moving with a draft.

Still there was no sound but Kyrsis' voice. But after a moment it
swelled a fraction, and the whisper of her footsteps crept through.

Then, of a sudden, her profile was framed between half-open door and
jamb.

In two swift steps, Shane was inside--pushing her back, heeling shut
the door.

The silver woman's great violet eyes went wide. She opened her mouth to
scream. But before the sound could come, Shane's arm was about her. His
hand clamped over her open mouth.

For an instant her body writhed against him. Her fists beat at his
chest, her feet at his ankles.

He said: "If I break you, Kyrsis, the choice will be yours, not mine."

For a long moment her eyes probed his, her body still rigid, straining
against him. Then, slowly, she relaxed.

Shane let her go.

Her pale, beautiful face held no expression now. With one last
enigmatic glance, she turned from him and moved with perfect poise to
a mirror that hung upon another door across the room. Her slender
fingers smoothed her hair, rearranged her rumpled gown.

After a moment Shane followed her, stood close behind her, so that
their eyes met in the mirror. Gently, he gripped her shoulders. "I came
for a reason, Kyrsis," he said.

"A reason, Shane--?" She said it almost absently, her fingers still
busy with her hair. "What reason?"

Shane's jaw was hard. "Perhaps you've heard that the Federation cast me
out."

"Of course. It was expected." The rich purple lips curved in the
faintest of mocking smiles. "Why else do you think I came to Horla with
you, except to lay the ground?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The lines in Shane's face deepened. "I don't know. That's why I took
this chance to see you now."

"What, Shane--? I do not understand...."

"Once, on our way here, you asked me to try to understand you and your
people. You said our paths might run together if I were to take the
slavers' road."

"Shane--!" Of a sudden her body again was rigid. She twisted, stared up
into Shane's eyes. "You mean--you would give up the _Chonya_ way? You
would raid for slaves as Quos Reggar raids?"

The Earthman's lips twisted. "I'd raid--on my own terms," he answered.

"On your terms--?"

"You might not care to meet them, Kyrsis."

"At least, tell me what they are."

"When the _Chonya_ chieftains called me in, I took their way for mine.
If I raid now, it will be because their ships are with me."

"But how--?"

Shane laughed harshly. "The Federation has turned us out, with the
slaver brand upon us. If we must wear it, we'll earn it. Why should we
stand by, helpless and hopeless, while both Reggar and the Federation
fleet bleed us white? Better that we raid ourselves. At least, then,
we'll get booty." His blue eyes gleamed. "We'll bring slaves to your
people, Kyrsis--smug, fat slaves from the planets of the Federation.
We'll drag them out by the thousands!"

A strange excitement seemed to seize the silver woman. "Yes, Shane,
yes! We'll take your _Chonyas_--"

"There's more," Shane said.

"Yes--?"

"If you take us, you let Quos Reggar go."

She stared at him. "Are you mad, Shane?"

"No, Kyrsis; far from mad." He clenched his fist, and his face grew
dark with anger. "Reggar is the dog who took away my belt. If he had
his way, he'd see me with my brain rotted out with _theol_. So he is
part of my price--the part that counts the most--"

"--the part that proves you are not so different from other men after
all, _Gar_ Shane." Kyrsis laughed softly. The things that showed in the
violet eyes were very old. "For awhile I almost saw you as separate
from the rest--a man apart, so hard and strong that nothing could sway
you from what you saw as duty. But now ..."--she shrugged--"You seek to
save your _Chonyas_, yes. But Reggar hurt your pride when he took your
belt, so now, above all, you seek for vengeance."

"And if I do?" Shane clipped. "Does it matter to you? I bring you the
_Chonyas_--born raiders, a race that has carved its name in blood
across the void. Beside them, what is Reggar?--A mongrel, a cross-bred
_chitza_ served by the scum of the spaceways." He broke off. "But you
are the one who must decide. What is your answer?"

The smile left the silver woman's face. Turning, she walked
thoughtfully across the room, not speaking.

After a moment, Shane followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again Kyrsis turned, looked up at him. Her expression was unfathomable.
"You are a bold and clever man, Shane," she said. "It is a pity you can
never hope to be quite clever enough."

"You mean--?"

"She means you've failed again, you _chitza_!" cut in a harsh familiar
voice from the mirrored door behind Shane.

The Earthman spun about.

His great carcass draped in a _fala_ cloak, Quos Reggar stood in the
doorway, light-gun in hand.

Shane froze. His mouth took on a bitter twist. "I should have known
you'd follow her here. But the _fala_ cape--"

"It fooled you?" Reggar laughed harshly. "I thought it would. And
Kyrsis did well, too, leading you over to my door, where I was sure to
hear you."

Shane said nothing.

"There's someone else here for you to see," leered Reggar. He raised
his voice, "Talu!"

"Here, _Sha_ Reggar."

Shane caught his breath at the sound of her voice. But that was all,
for then she was coming through the doorway, slim and graceful, her
waist-long blue-black hair aripple in the light, her dark _Malya_ face
as proudly lovely as before.

And as before, she bore a tray in her hand.

"_Sha_ Shane...." Her voice, her face, told nothing; nor could Shane
interpret the message that flickered, just for an instant, in her eyes.

Reggar said: "Once before I sent Talu to you with an injector,
Earthman, and you nearly broke her arm. This time, it will be
different."

Shane made no attempt to answer.

"The injector, Talu--"

Face wooden, the _Malyalara_ stripped back the cloth and picked up the
hypodermic from the tray. "It is ready, _Sha_ Reggar."

"_Theol_ was in that other injector, _starbo_, and this one holds
_theol_ now. It will be your second dose. Madness is just one more
away."

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane stood very still. He looked from Kyrsis, with her pale ethereal
beauty and silver hair and translucent skin, to Talu, the slave
girl--dark, tempestuous, all _Malya_; then back to Reggar again.
Instinctively, his muscles tensed.

The mongrel said: "You'll take the dose, Earthman--because if you so
much as move a hair, I'll burn your arms off!" The light-gun in his
webbed hand was rock-steady.

"Talu--"

"Yes, _Sha_ Reggar." Quickly, efficiently, she stepped to the
Earthman's side. "Twist your neck, _Sha_ Shane."

"Twist it!" echoed Reggar. His huge lobed eyes were flecked with red.

Teeth clenched, eyes hot with hate, Shane obeyed.

The _Malyalara_ pressed the plunger.

Reggar let out a breath, stepped back. "Tomorrow, great _gar_, you
get the last," he gloated. "Then, after that, you'll serve with my
fleet ... serve gladly, happy to help us in every way, just for the
sake of another shot of _theol_." He chuckled ghoulishly. "It will be
a fitting fate--the more so after the way you've tried so many schemes
to split _Shi_ Kyrsis from me, so that you could dispose of each of us
alone. In fact--"

Somewhere, some living creature screamed. There was horror in the
sound--a hideous note, as if soul were being torn from body.

Reggar froze. "What--?"

From the hallway came the faintest whisper of footsteps.

The mongrel's light-gun prodded Shane. "You, _chitza_--open the door!"

Wordless, Shane crossed the room. He gripped the handle, pulled back
the door. Outside, the hall had gone black, lights out.

Instantly, before he could so much as draw a breath, dark hands
came out of nowhere; seized him, jerked him half into the hall. A
knife-point pricked his belly.

"Move and die, Earthman!" a voice breathed in his ear--a man's voice,
cold, and hard, and heavy with a _Malya_ accent.

Shane stood as if carved from stone.

From the room behind him, now, came another fierce _Malya_ voice: "The
light-gun, Reggar!"

For an instant silence echoed. Then Reggar cursed, and there was the
thud of the pistol hitting the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the _Malyas_ holding Shane shoved him back into the room. There,
another _Malya_--a hard-bitten, swaggering little man--already had
Reggar pressed back against the wall, penned there by a knife like the
one digging into Shane's belly. Other dark, cold-eyed fighting men
stood by the mirrored door to the huge hybrid's quarters.

Talu was with them, her face aglow with fierce joy. "_Malyas,
Malyas--!_"

The silver woman, Kyrsis, stood silent and apart. But shadows of strain
showed in the lines and hollows of her face.

"We have done our work well," the leader of the dark men said. "We have
the Earthman, Shane. We have Reggar, the mongrel. We have the silver
woman. There'll be joy and feasting at Amara when we ramp our ships."

"You are of Amara, _Malya_?" Shane asked.

The other's dark eyes gleamed. "We are of Amara, Earthman--and before
you die, you'll wish you'd never heard of us or our asteroid! Other
races may let the slavers raid and not strike back. But we claim blood
for blood--"

Shane said: "I am _gar_ of the _Chonyas_, not a slaver. Ask Talu, the
slave girl. She is of your people--"

"Who takes the word of a captive woman?" The _Malya_ laughed thinly.
"We _Malyas_ have raided for slaves ourselves, in our day. A woman's
heart goes with her man, not her race."

"Check with others, then--"

"We have checked already. The word is out: you raid with Reggar. You
came to Horla with the woman, Kyrsis. It is enough!" Fierce lights
gleamed in the _Malya's_ eyes. He grinned--a savage, death's-head
grimace. "We've tracked you down across the void, you three, and now
we'll see you pay for the _Malya_ blood you've spilt--battling the
_zanths_ for your lives in Amara's great arena!"



                              CHAPTER IX


This was Amara's great arena. The oval pit was full twenty feet deep
and floored with sand ... sand that here and there was churned and
trodden, stained dark brown with men's life blood.

Above the pit, seats rose into the star-flecked night in steep-banked
tiers.

Those seats were full, now--packed from pit to rim with the savage,
dark-faced _Malya_ breed, a blood-lusting horde whose cries for
slaughter rose in great, swelling waves like the screams of primeval
beasts.

In the forefront, ringing the rim of the pit, sat the _Malya_ chieftain
and his court--the old raiders, the men of power, the warriors and
their women.

And there, too, sat another woman, a slim, lovely _Malyalara_, placed
close beside the chief himself.

Talu.

Slave girl no longer, she now wore a gown of richest _kalor_. Jeweled
clips held the rippling, blue-black hair, and a jewel-studded harness
accented her shoulders' softness, her throat's clean curve, the bare
breasts' proud, firm swell.

Ankle-deep in the sand of the pit, Shane surveyed them, one and all.

Now the _Malya_ chief leaned forward across the rim, a long fighting
knife in his hand. His deep-set eyes gleamed anticipation. "You are the
first, Earthman ... you and this knife against a _zanth_!"

Boldly, Shane met the chieftain's stare. "And if I win--?"

For the fraction of a second a sort of dull, throbbing silence seemed
to fall over the crowd. Then it broke in a gale of wild, tumultuous
laughter, echoing and re-echoing upward to the stars.

"If you win--?" the _Malya_ chieftain choked. "Have you stayed too long
in the sun of Mercury, _chitza_? No man has ever come out of the pit
over a _zanth_."

"What holds for other men is not for me. I asked: what if I win?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Admiration showed in the _Malya's_ dark face. "If you fight as boldly
as you talk--small wonder that the _Chonyas_ made you _gar_!" And then:
"If you win, you'll live--but here, on Amara, forever a slave."

"I ask no more," Shane came back coldly. Again his blue eyes swept the
crowd, the sparkling night of a thousand stars. For a moment his gaze
lingered on Talu, catching the fever in her eyes, the tension carved
in every line. The noise of the shouting horde above beat down upon
him. The fetid stench of the _zanth_ came to his nostrils from the
tunnel-chute.

"Your weapon, Earthman!" cried the _Malya_ chief, and threw it down.
"Keeper, prepare to loose the _zanth_!"

In one swift motion, Shane swept up the knife. Then, quickly, he moved
to the shadows along the wall of the pit, out of the smoky torches'
flickering glare.

In the tunnel, the _zanth_ roared thunderously. Shane caught a glimpse
of the panic on Kyrsis' pale face, where she sat in the prisoners'
cage; of the fear that crawled in Quos Reggar's great lobed eyes.

Overhead, the _Malya_ chieftain cried, "Turn loose the _zanth_!"

The heavy-grilled gate at the tunnel mouth swung up. In the blackness
beyond, the _zanth's_ eyes burned like coals of fire. Again it roared,
and then again. Then, slowly, it came forward, out into the pit, there
to stand for a moment, blinking against the glare.

Shane sucked in air. This _zanth_ was big, bigger than any he had ever
seen ... well over twenty feet. The murderous, serrated tail alone
measured at least seven, and the great jaws were of a size to snap a
man in two in a single bite. Its scales were big as dinner plates, and
as thick, horny with age. Spurs and claws gleamed in the torchlight
like curved knives.

Then the great, ringed nostrils flared as the creature scented Shane.
The spiked diamond head came round, twisting and turning on the
monstrous, snake-like neck; darting and probing to the full five feet
of its length. The stink of its breath swept over the Earthman in a
nauseous wave.

Shane stood very still.

But already the _zanth_ was turning. The bulging eyes gleamed redly,
searching for him.

The knife-haft was slippery in Shane's hand. A rill of sweat crept down
his spine.

The _zanth_ paused now, the spiked head moving sinuously to and fro.
The tail flicked the blood-stained sand. Its powerful, armor-scaled
body seemed to draw together.

Shane forgot to breathe.

The _zanth_ lunged.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane dived as the great spiked head lanced forward. The jaws snapped
shut where he had been with a clacking like the sound of monstrous
castanets.

After that, there was no time for anything but action.

For even before the Earthman hit the ground, the thing was whirling.
The claws of its eight feet sprayed the sand like a windstorm. Again,
it lunged.

Desperately, Shane rolled out of the way.

But now the serrated, seven-foot tail lashed out at him, with a force
that would have smashed through a solid brick wall.

Again Shane rolled--in, towards the _zanth's_ body.

One of the feet clawed for him. A six-inch talon raked a bloody path
along his side.

Panting, the Earthman scrambled away--back to the shadows, the wall of
the pit.

The _zanth_ whirled; charged.

Taut-muscled, Shane waited till the diamond head hammered forward.
Then, in the last instant, he leaped aside.

The _zanth's_ head smashed against the wall of the pit. Savagely,
Shane stabbed for the crevice where the jaw-plates met, trying for the
creature's tiny brain.

But the tough cartilage turned away the blade. With a roar, the _zanth_
struck at him.

Shane leaped high into the air, and the awful head passed beneath him.
Twisting, he landed on the writhing, tree-thick neck; balanced there
for a precarious moment.

The _zanth_ reared back, clawing for him, and Shane sprang clear. Again
he took up his stand against the wall.

This time, the _zanth_ broke off its charge to flail at him with its
tail. Barely in time, the Earthman got out of the way. He was breathing
hard, now--his whole body shaking under the strain.

The _zanth_ lunged.

Desperately, Shane snatched up a handful of sand, hurled it straight
into the oncoming monster's glaring eyes.

The creature came up short, shaking its head.

Shane moved like a striking _quirst_. Again he snatched sand, hurled it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The _zanth_ raised its head high, to the full length of the five-foot
neck. Clawing, it leaped at the Earthman. The awful talons shredded his
clothes, tore at his flesh.

Shane threw himself sideways.

The head lanced towards him.

He slashed at the eyes with his knife, felt the steel bite in.

A wild roar burst from the creature's throat. It threw itself at Shane
in a frenzy, clawing and snapping and threshing.

Once more, Shane sprang aside--then darted back before the creature
could make the double turn. Leaping to its neck, he threw himself flat
upon it, clinging to it with legs and one arm as to a writhing log,
while with the other hand, the knife hand, he stabbed again and again
at the bulging eyes.

The _zanth_ roared its agony. Twisting and jerking, it struggled to
unseat the Earthman. One clawed foot reached his leg; laid it open. But
still Shane clung to his place, slashing and stabbing.

Blindly, the monster crashed against the pit's wall. It reared, then
surged forward, clawing its way up the sheer face. The great spiked
head rocked and swayed; beat against the stonework in a spasm of pain,
less than three feet below the rim.

A fierce light flamed in Shane's eyes. Clutching the base of the
spike, he suddenly let go the _zanth's_ neck with his legs. His toes
dug into the overlap between the scales, and all at once he was running
upward--up the snake-neck, onto the diamond head itself.

And then, before the _Malyas_ realized what was happening, he leaped
from the head to the rim of the pit. The fighting knife flashed in a
savage arc. A warrior's shout choked off in a rush of blood. The others
about him scrambled back from the slashing blade.

Behind Shane, back in the pit, the _zanth_ screamed and hurled itself
upward. Its head came over the rim. With a mighty, surging leap, its
forefeet followed. A terrible roar burst from its throat as it caught
the scent of the _Malya_ warrior's blood, and it clawed its way onward,
upward, out of the pit and into the rising tiers of seats.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a nightmare, a world gone mad. Wildly, the screaming _Malyas_
fled. But the _zanth's_ great tail lashed out and a score of them fell,
crushed or smashed into the pit. The knife-claws tore; the great jaws
ran ruby-red with blood.

Forgotten, Shane followed the panicked mob.

Only then, somehow, a voice slashed through to him through the tumult:
"Shane--_Shane!_"

He whirled.

Talu was running towards him, across the seats. "This way!"

For an instant he hesitated, then changed his course to meet hers.

She caught his hand. "This way!"

Together, they raced back towards the chief's box at the rim of the
pit, and now Shane saw that a trap door in the floor had been lifted.

"Hurry!" cried the _Malyalara_. "In a moment the warriors will bring
in a proton cannon to kill the _zanth_, and someone will think of you,
too. You must be gone before then!"

Shane shot one look at the pitch-black shaft. "Where does it go?"

"To a passage below the arena that leads to the chief's castle and the
ramps. We can steal a flyer there. But hurry!"

Shane shot one quick look back.

The _zanth_ still raged and ravened through the crowd, but already the
warriors had rallied to hem it in.

Tightly, he said to Talu: "You first, then."

"First?"

"Do you think I'd let you get behind me?" he clipped bitterly. "Fool
that I am, I'll go with you, because I have no choice. But my knife
will be in your back every step of the way, ready for your next
betrayal."

"'Betrayal'?" she repeated, and now the heat of anger was in her voice,
her eyes. "Did you say betrayal, Earthman?"

"What would you call it?" He made no effort to keep the fury from his
tone. "Who tripped me when I would have stabbed Quos Reggar? Who shot
a second dose of _theol_ into my veins?"

She drew away from him, then, and the look she threw stung like a
whip. "Come, _Sha_ Shane. If that is your belief, then I must indeed
go first." Lithely, she lowered herself over the edge of the shaft and
disappeared down a metal ladder set in one wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Knife still in hand, Shane followed. The effort made him shake, and
under the strain of climbing, the claw-wound in his side began to bleed
again.

Then, at last, they were in the murky passageway below, and Talu was
leading him swiftly through the darkness. Once Shane staggered and
would have fallen, had not the _Malyalara_ caught him; and once he
dropped the knife. But she picked it up again, and her groping hand
strayed into the blood as she sought to return the weapon. So she made
him sit down while she tore up some garment and bandaged his wounds,
and her fingers were very gentle.

They went on again, then, for what seemed endless miles, till at last
they came to a huge, dim-lighted ramping-spot where dull black _Malya_
flyers stood in ordered rows, their bubbles pointed up into the starlit
sky. And finally they even found one with its lower hatches open, and
the girl helped Shane to climb aboard. She strapped him in the pilot's
seat, and herself in the other seat beside him.

For a long time, it seemed, he worked at the controls with clumsy
fingers, till at last, somehow, they were blasting off, roaring up and
up and up into the gaudy heavens. And Talu talked to him, and braced
him, and helped him hold the jet-globe steady, while seconds, or maybe
hours, ticked by.

Only then, suddenly, the sky about them was full of ships, great
black-hulled ships that were built for ranging clear across the void.
They came in hundreds--thousands, maybe--blazing in thunderous silence
through the blackness of spatial night. And one of the ships swerved
and came alongside the little _Malya_ flyer, and a great hatch opened
in its side and sucked them in.

Then the hatch slid closed again, and the darkness about them was
complete. Even their jets were blacked out, killed by the great ship's
pickup neutralizers.

And still Shane sat in silence, staring stupidly straight ahead.

But the body of the girl, Talu, came warm against him in the ebon murk,
her voice a fierce, husky whisper in his ear: "You must believe me,
Shane! I did not betray you--not ever! The things I did, I had to do,
in order to live to pay back the blood debt of my people. You could
never have killed Quos Reggar with one thrust, no matter where, for he
is a cross-bred mongrel, and his body does not work as ours do."

Shane forced out words: "Why tell me now? Why care about it?"

"Why? Why?" The girl's voice held a tremor now, a fear not even the
black could hide. "I tell you so that you will know, and not die hating
me to your last breath. That I could not stand! For die we will, and
soon--because this ship is one of Reggar's slavers!"



                               CHAPTER X


"Here Is Life!" the vendor cried. "Fresh life from new planets! Young
slaves, with the hot blood surging through their veins! And all
yours--yours for the asking, going for the price you set yourselves!"
He struck a note on a silver gong. "Look at this next wench--a warm and
vibrant thing, my friends, throbbing with life and spirit! What am I
offered for her?"

The woman on the block was Venusian, a weary, fading creature with the
sucking tube and ear-stalks of the _Transmi_. Her eyes were veined with
weeping, her sagging face shadowed with fear and fatigue.

"Come! Make the first bid!" cried the vendor. "Who'll start it? Do I
hear five hundred?"

"Fifty," called a voice from the rear of the crowd.

"Fifty! Do you seek to insult me? She's worth five hundred if she is a
_xi_--"

"You mean, you insult us, vendor," the bidder retorted caustically. "A
fool can see that the life runs low within her. She would not last the
night."

"Fifty!" cried the vendor. "I'm offered fifty, friends. Who'll raise it
to sixty?"

No one spoke. After a moment, the vendor struck the silver gong again.
"Sold to Callan at fifty!" He pushed the Venusian down the steps. "Get
on with you, woman...."

An attendant pushed Shane forward, heavy with irons. "An Earthman,
vendor--"

The vendor struck the gong. "An Earthman, my friends; a fighting
man--powerful, surging with life in spite of his wounds. Who'll start
it--?"

Coldly, Shane swept the auction room with his glance.

Here, in front, on one side, were the slaves--a motley assortment,
dragged to this final degradation from a dozen far-flung planets.
One by one, they were thrust upon the block, exposed to the ghoulish
appraisal of the crowd that filled the room.

The crowd. A crowd of silver men and women, with gleaming hair and
violet eyes and pale, translucent skins. A hundred hungry-eyed, avid
brothers and sisters of _Shi_ Kyrsis.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even the room itself was strange. The materials resembled nothing known
anywhere in all the void. The lush decor followed an alien theme.

"This man is good for long-time use!" exhorted the vendor. "See the
strength of him--the fire and vigor! You cannot pass him by...."

A door to Shane's right opened. A woman came in, a silver woman.

_The_ woman.

Kyrsis.

An old man close to the block called eagerly, "I'll give a hundred,
vendor!" in a thin, cracking voice.

"A hundred I'm offered! Now who'll make it a hundred and fifty? No one
can afford to let this strong man go at a mere hundred--"

"Hundred and ten!" someone shouted.

Kyrsis turned. For the first time, her eyes met Shane's, and she
stopped suddenly, staring as if paralyzed.

"Hundred twenty!"

"Hundred thirty!"

"Do I hear a hundred forty? Surely no fine, strapping fighting man can
go for less--"

"Two hundred," Kyrsis said.

"Two hundred! The Lady Kyrsis bids two hundred--"

"Two fifty, vendor!" cried the old man by the block.

"Three hundred," came back Kyrsis.

"Do I hear three fifty--?"

"With his wounds, he is worth no more than three," the old man mumbled.

"Three twenty-five then! Do I hear three twenty-five?"

"Three ten--"

"Three fifty," echoed Kyrsis.

The vendor paused and looked about. "Three fifty is bid...." He struck
the gong. "Sold to the Lady Kyrsis for three fifty."

Shane left the block, strode to the silver woman's side; and for
a moment they stood there in vibrant silence, alone in the crowd,
duelling with their eyes.

Then Kyrsis asked: "What dark fate brought you here, _Gar_ Shane? When
I last saw you, you were hewing a path through the _Malya_ horde at the
arena...."

"And you were in the prisoners' cage." The Earthman ignored the strange
tremor in the silver woman's voice. His words were clipped. "Talu and
I escaped and fled Amara in a flyer. But one of Quos Reggar's slavers
sucked us in and brought us here."

"The slavers came to rescue Reggar," Kyrsis said. "They swept Amara
clean." She looked down, breathing deep as if to still some inner
tension. And then: "Talu was with you? They brought her here--?"

"--and put here aside. Her hair was cropped, so they knew she already
had a master." Shane laughed harshly. "Me--I'd worn no yoke, so they
sent me to the block."

"Then ... let us go. I have already done my other buying." The tremor
in Kyrsis' voice was stronger, now--a sort of undercurrent of strange
excitement.

"Your 'other buying'--?"

"A few young slaves to ... to train for household use." The silver
woman's fingers trembled, cold as ice, upon Shane's arm. "Come! Let us
go now--quickly--"

       *       *       *       *       *

She led Shane out, through other rooms, where other vendors hawked
their wares, and other slaves stood shamed or sobbing, bared to the
eager, weirdly-lusting eyes of the silver people.

Then they reached a sort of transit station, and an attendant brought a
car of a type Shane had never seen before, and they got in.

Three frightened children, a _Malya_ boy of perhaps twelve and two
_Chonya_ girls even younger, huddled at the back, their dark eyes big
with panic.

"Your slaves, Lady Kyrsis?" Shane asked coldly. The barb in his voice
would have slashed through the scales of a _zanth_.

The silver woman kept her eyes on the controls. The car hurtled off
through a tube-like passage. She did not answer.

Then the car halted. They got out--Shane, Kyrsis, children--and entered
rooms, rooms luxuriously furnished in the alien style of the silver
people.

"And now?" Shane inquired thinly.

Kyrsis' breathing was fast and shallow, her face even more pale than
before. She spoke too rapidly, in a ragged, uneven voice. "You are
weary, Shane, so weary. You must rest now. Here--let me take off your
shackles. There is a room here you will like--a quiet room...."

She unlocked the cuffs on his wrists and tossed them aside, then led
him swiftly to an adjoining sleep chamber. Foam-soft cushioning a foot
thick blanketed a dais along one wall, big enough for a dozen men. A
lingering perfume filled the air. Soft lights cast a silvery glow. From
somewhere came faint strains of elfin music.

"Rest here, Earthman," the silver woman said softly. "Rest until I call
you...."

For a moment her icy fingers touched his cheek. Then she left the room,
closing the door behind her.

Shane stared after her, a frown furrowing his brow. After a moment, he
stepped to the door, tried the handle.

It was locked.

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane's frown deepened. He rubbed a grimy hand across his cheek where
the cold of Kyrsis' fingers still lingered; finally turned to a more
thorough inspection of his quarters.

As he pivoted, light glinted on the glass-like surface of the wall that
flanked the door--caught a vague flicker of movement.

Shane moved on across the chamber with no sign that he had seen it.

An alcove held a radiation bath. The Earthman stepped into the cubicle
and flipped the switch, luxuriating under the warm tingle of the
molecular bombardment. Slowly, the sweat and dirt and grime faded from
his body, the dried blood washed away. The worst of the weariness left
his muscles. His bones almost stopped aching.

Refreshed, he snapped off the radiation and, leaving the cubicle, drank
greedily from a crystal bubbler set beside it.

Now he went back to the sleeping chamber. His eyes flickered over the
spot in the wall beside the door.

The surface showed blank and dead as the rest.

Shane grinned sourly to himself; crossed the room and tried the door
once more.

It was still locked.

The Earthman hesitated. Then, grimly, he braced one foot on the casing
beside the lock, gripped the handle, and threw his full weight on it.

Inside the lock, something snapped. The handle twisted askew.

Again Shane tugged, his muscles swelling with the strain.

The broken handle pulled from its socket. Inserting a forefinger in the
hole, Shane manipulated the lock, pulled back the bolt.

The door swung open.

Shane stepped outside. He glanced at the wall behind the spot where he
had seen the movement.

       *       *       *       *       *

A picture hung there. Lifting aside, he found a small, hinged panel.
Opening it, he discovered that a lens set behind the shiny coating of
the inner wall enabled him to survey the entire sleep chamber.

Again, the sour grin twisted Shane's lips. Swiftly, he strode through
the silence, checking the other rooms. He found them empty, all but
one. Its door was locked.

The Earthman drew back a moment.

A picture hung a few feet to one side of the locked door.

Shane stepped over to it and lifted it from the wall.

It concealed another peep hole. Shading his eyes, the Earthman peered
through the lens.

Kyrsis was within ... Kyrsis and one of the captive _Chonya_ girls.

The silver woman held the child upon her lap. She was talking to
her--smiling, squeezing the chubby hands. Her manner was gentle, tender.

Yet under it all, somehow, hung a weird, unholy note--grotesque,
obscene.

Some of the fear had left the child's eyes now. She smiled wanly ...
nestled, not quite so tense, in the silver woman's arms.

Kyrsis' eyes closed. Her lips parted, and Shane knew that she was
singing as she rocked the child.

The child's lips drooped. Trustingly, the small arms half-embraced the
silver woman. The tired head rested on Kyrsis' breast.

The child slept.

Now new emotions came to Kyrsis' lovely face ... strange passion--a
horrid anticipatory glow. Her nostrils flared. Her violet eyes grew
large, gleamed with fires older than time itself. She cradled the
child. Ever so tenderly, yet with a terrible air of strain, her parted
lips sought the girl's.

Shane stood frozen, breathing hard, tight in indecision's grip.

The child moved languidly in Kyrsis' arms--restless, not struggling,
and for a moment the silver woman straightened, sucked in air. Then,
again, she pressed her lips against the girl's.

Shane cursed beneath his breath and turned towards the door.

But even as he did so, Kyrsis rose, the child still in her arms. The
silver woman's face was serene now, ethereally beautiful, unmarred by
any trace of strain. Gently, she laid down the still form of the child.
Then, coming erect again, she moved towards the door.

Shane slid the picture back into place and stepped out of sight in the
adjoining room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The door to the room in which Kyrsis had been, opened and closed. The
silver woman passed down the hall, out of sight.

Tense, silent, Shane made for the room from which she'd come.

The door was unlocked now. Swiftly, he slipped inside and stepped
to the couch where the _Chonya_ child still lay, so very still. He
touched the soft hand. Lifted it with trembling fingers.

Behind him, the door-latch clicked.

Shane turned.

Kyrsis stood watching him. "You come unannounced, Earthman," she
murmured coolly.

"I came in as you left," Shane said, and of a sudden his hands, his
voice, his whole body, were shaking uncontrollably, gripped in a
paroxysm of surging fury. "I saw you here, with the child! Do you hear
me? I saw you--!"

"So...?" Kyrsis' face was still calm, the violet eyes unfathomable.

The veins at Shane's temples stood out, throbbing. With a tremendous
effort, he brought his voice under a semblance of control.

He said: "This child is dead!"



                              CHAPTER XI


They stood there thus for a long, taut, echoing moment.

Then Kyrsis said: "You leave me no choice, Earthman. I see I must tell
you Gadar's secret."

"_Gadar--?_"

Her lips twitched. "Yes, Earthman. Gadar, the dark star--the star
hurled into your solar system from across the void: cold, bleak,
barren, uninhabited Gadar."

"You mean that you--your people--are of Gadar?"

The silver woman nodded. "Yes. When our star cooled, in the course of
that endless voyage across the void, we had no choice but to burrow
deeper and deeper, like animals--cutting ourselves away from the awful
cold of outer space, hunting desperately for the last dim vestiges
of warmth at our planet's core. Then, when at last we had come into
the family of your sun, we saw no reason to let it be known that we
existed. For we knew the thing we had to do if we were still to live,
and we knew that if you knew it, Gadar would be doomed."

"Then--this is Gadar? We are inside it now--deep down below the
surface?"

"So deep that even the echographs of your Federation's exploration
parties did not find us. Here, for a million years, we have built
our civilization." A new glint came to the woman's violet eyes, a
note of excitement to her voice. "The things we have done, Shane! The
incredible things! You will never believe them until you see them. We
have conquered time and space and matter--"

"And the child is dead," Shane said.

"The child--" Kyrsis broke off, and a shadow crossed her face. "Yes,
the child is dead."

       *       *       *       *       *

Unspeaking, the Earthman waited. His temple veins no longer throbbed,
but his jaw was hewn of granite.

Kyrsis said: "There are so many things your childish science knows that
are not true--and one of them is the nature of life."

Shane studied her, narrow-eyed. "So? In what way?"

"You think that life comes into being when certain conditions are
correct. But we know otherwise."

"I hear only words, not meaning," Shane clipped coldly.

"Of course. Because the whole pattern of your thinking is based on
false assumptions." The silver woman groped for words. "The thing I
seek to say, too simply, is that life is not a creature of conditions.
It is an entity, a basic element, a product of the whole great cosmic
process of creation. Either it exists in a place, or it does not." She
shrugged. "Your solar system has it."

"And Gadar--?"

"Gadar had it once, ten million years ago. But life is like any other
resource. You use it up. It dissipates and scatters, transmuted into
useless forms by a process that not even our science can reverse." Her
voice fell. "Then, Shane, your planet dies."

Shane stared at her. "So you bought slaves--"

"Of course we bought slaves!" A note of hysteria crept into the silver
woman's laugh. "Power, you talked about. Why would anyone buy slaves in
a universe where power is free? What we sought was life--life in a form
we could drink up, before our bodies finally died!" She came close to
Shane, her pale face smooth and glowing, the violet eyes afire. "Look
at me, Earthman! Look closely! How old would you guess me? How many of
your Earth years?"

Shane did not speak.

"A hundred years, Earthman? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred
thousand?" Again she laughed--wildly, up and down the scale. And then,
steady once more: "Shane, I first drew breath a million years ago! Our
science has kept me as I am--young in body and mind and heart. But
without new life--without the living slaves we buy--I would wither and
die in months. This child,"--and she gestured to the limp, dead body
of the _Chonya_ girl--"what did she know of life? What did she care?
I played with her, and comforted her, and she was happy; and then I
sucked the life out of her body, and you hate me for it. But was it
so wicked, really? Was it not better that I should live, I who have
learned to love life through a million endless year, than she, who
would have wasted that life and thrown it away in some dull corner of
the asteroid belt?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane shifted; stared down at the dead child for a long, long moment,
then back at the woman again.

"You are thinking, 'Is there no other way?'" Kyrsis whispered. Her pale
hand touched the Earthman's arm. "I tell you, Shane: there is none. How
many years have our scientists sought it? How many eons of spatial
time? But always, the answer is no. We must have life itself--humanoid
life, like that of this girl here. No other can be transmuted to our
bodies."

"If life is an element, as you say, a thing that wells up with
creation, out of the birth of a planet, then you could have moved to
another planet," Shane said in a dull, flat voice. "If life is gone
from Gadar, then you could have migrated, picked a new home."

"It sounds so easy, does it not?" the silver woman taunted. "But where
life exists, there life forms evolve. We could have taken such a planet
only by conquest. Would your worlds have liked that, Shane? Would they
have been willing to see us come in and seize their homelands? You
fought out of pride, for the belt the _Chonya_ chieftains gave you.
Would the worlds of your system do less if we tried to invade them?"

Shane stood mute.

Kyrsis' arm slipped about him. The rich purple lips came close to his.
"Come with us, Shane! Join us!" she whispered. "For a million aching
years I have sought a man like you. Do not leave me, now that I've
found you...."

A weakness crept through Shane's body.

With a tremendous, savage effort, he hurled the silver woman from him.

"You'd steal my life as Quos Reggar stole my belt!" he shouted. Stark
murder was in his eyes.

"No, Shane--! No!"

"Words!" the Earthman lashed fiercely. "Words, to lull me as you lulled
that _Chonya_ child!" He caught Kyrsis' arm, dragged her up from the
place where she had fallen. "You talk of life as if you, your people,
were the only ones who knew the way to live it. But life belongs to
each man, alone--his precious own, to waste or hoard as he sees fit--"

The woman asked: "And what will you do, now that you have decided?"

"Decided--?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The look she threw him was a study in contempt. "I can see it in your
eyes, Earthman. For a moment you hung, unsure, caught up by the vision
of the wealth and power that might be yours; of me at your side, and
endless years for us together. But then it dawned upon you of a sudden
that I might suck your life out, as we suck those of the other slaves
we take, though such was not my plan. The thought brought fear, and in
the same instant you became the great _Gar_ Shane, who would strike
down Gadar and save your solar system." She laughed, and the sound was
chill as outer space. "You are as much a child as that dead lump there
beside you. Do you think to pit yourself against my people--scientists
who could plot your every thought ten million years before your birth?
You are but a fool, and you will die as all the others have died, and
Quos Reggar will wear your belt and serve us!"

"There comes a time for every man to die," Shane said. "If this is
mine, I'll face it." He picked a heavy, club-like, metal ornament from
a table, and his face had the rugged lines of carven stone. "We go now,
Kyrsis. And if I can die--remember, so can you!"

"But where--?"

Shane bared his teeth in a death's-head grin. "To your ramps, _Shi_
Kyrsis. Even slavers carry a fleet alarm."

"A fleet alarm--?"

"When a space ship wallows through the void, out of control, a crewman
throws the switch on the fleet alarm box. It sends out a distress
call on a Federation beam--a call so strong that it can reach to the
farthest star."

"And then--?"

"The fleet command sends aid." The Earthman laughed thinly. "They
send a patrol most often, or even a single ship. But when they get a
call straight out of the core of Gadar, they'll waste no time on mere
patrols or squadrons. There'll be a fleet, the whole great Federation
fleet, sweeping down upon your planet."

"Indeed?" the woman mocked. "So your Federation's fleet will come. What
can they do to us, burrowed here deep within the solid rock of Gadar?
And we have weapons, Earthman--weapons the like of which you've never
seen."

"Then roll them out," Shane said. "This will be your chance to use
them." He pushed her through the doorway; on past the other rooms and
out into the car.

She asked, "What can you do if I will not aid you?"

Shane shrugged. "I'd have no choice but to go my way alone, I
suppose ..."--and then, sinking in the barb with a savage twist--"after
I'd beaten your brains out, killed you so dead that not even your
people's science could ever put you back together!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They traveled through endless miles of tube-like passage, after that,
but always climbing ever upward--the silver woman sitting at the
controls, Shane watching, hawk-like, alert in every nerve and fiber,
the heavy club gripped ready in his hand.

Then, finally, they reached a place where great volcanic pipes led
upward, and slaver space ships towered base-down, ramped and ready.

There was a guard, a silver guard, who said, "It is forbidden to go
farther."

"Of course," Shane said--and smiled and struck him down.

"Must I go further?" Kyrsis asked. Panic was in her voice.

"Much further," Shane replied. Again he threw her the death's-head
grin. "Life is a sacred thing, you've said, and I am a fool--fool
enough, at least, to think it should be true for my _Chonyas_, as well
as your people. So drive on--out along the ramp to where Quos Reggar's
own great ship is waiting!"

"Not Reggar's own ship--!" The silver woman's lips were trembling.
"Earthman, he may be on board now. He brought me back to Gadar with
him, and--"

"--and if he's here, so much the better!" The recklessness was back in
Shane's stance now. The blue eyes gleamed a chill excitement. "Why do
you think I seek his ship, except to find him? He is the key to this
bath of blood; were it not for him and his kind, your people might
have been hard-put to implement their plans for slaughter. Fool that I
am, lacking your skill and science, I've a feeling that if I can cut
Quos Reggar's throat, I'll have traveled far towards choking off this
madness!" He lifted his club. "Drive on, _Shi_ Kyrsis! Quickly, before
the vision of that dead _Chonya_ child again seeps through me!"

Trembling, the silver woman worked at the controls. The car went racing
down the ramp to where Quos Reggar's ship stood waiting.

"Inside!" Shane said. "Keep close before me!"

They clambered aboard the slaver, tight with tension. But there was no
sign of life. Reggar's own quarters lay deserted.

"The control room, then," the Earthman said tightly.

In silence, they climbed the long steel ladder.

A lone _Pervod_ sat in the control room, rewiring a panel. He looked
up, saw Kyrsis already in the doorway. Lust touched his sly reptilian
face. "Ho, woman--!"

Shane smashed his skull.

And there was the black metal cube that was the fleet alarm box.

"You spoke of weapons, Kyrsis?" Shane said bleakly. "Now is the time,
then. Roll them out!"

He threw the switch.



                              CHAPTER XII


They were coming now--a horde of great silver ships that lanced through
the void like streaks of light, hurtling down on Gadar. The slim, sleek
_Chonya_ craft were with them, too ... the dull black _Malya_ flyers;
and Shane knew that his other calls had gotten through--that the worlds
and the asteroids were uniting against slavery and death and chaos.

A siren blasted shrill alarm. Quos Reggar's renegades swarmed onto the
ramp, racing for their ships to take up the challenge.

The light of battle shone in Shane's blue eyes. The reckless laugh
rose in his throat. With a jerk, he levered the slaver flagship's
great hatches shut. His thumb rammed home the contact button for the
interlacing belts of proton cannon that girded the craft.

The exploding flame of pronic blasts erupted across the short-range
visiscreen's whole viewer--searing the outlaws from the ramp, smashing
the slaver ships off their bases, turning the great volcanic pits to a
holocaust of flaming ruin.

And Shane the Earthman, _gar_ of the _Chonyas_, high lord of the
asteroids, laughed his wild, bold, reckless laugh and jammed the
contact button home again ... again ... again....

But now a voice came through the amplifier--Quos Reggar's voice,
shaking with rage and hate and fury: "Though it costs me my own ship,
I'll blast you, _chitza_! You'll sear as my men have seared--"

Shane flicked the switch. "Blast, then, Reggar! Blast--but you'll blast
the Lady Kyrsis with me!"

Beside him, Kyrsis screamed, "No Reggar! Not that--not that! The
meteors--"

Shane snapped the switch. "The meteors--?"

The silver woman's poise was gone. She shook her fist, and the
glittering metallic hair came tumbling down about her shoulders.
"You'll see, Earthman! You'll see! We have weapons such as you've never
dreamed of--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane's eyes flicked back to the long-range visiscreen--to the silver
fleet that raced towards Gadar. It was closer now ... so close he could
see the fore-jets opening for the landing.

Only then, abruptly, the fleet was swerving--swinging wide in wild,
irregular maneuver.

And then the meteors came--bright balls of flame in swirling clouds
and clusters, with cores of stone and molten iron; flashing across the
screen in the path of the Federation fleet ... hurtling through space
in a murderous barrage.

And one ship swerved too late, and a great orange-and-purple monster
crashed into it with a burst of fire and sparking shards.

"You talk of power, Earthman?" Kyrsis raged shrilly. "You brag of your
Federation's broadcast system? Then look at this, and know what power
really means! We have tapped a source of energy so great it makes all
others puny--a source your science left untouched, though it lies
within your solar system! But we have harnessed that force. We have
concentrated it into great controlled magnetic fields that we can shift
at will, so strong they pull the very meteors from their courses and
hurl them to the place that we desire them!"

Shane rocked, and shock was suddenly written on his lean, hard face.
Wordless, he stared into the screen.

"And there is more, _Gar_ Shane--much more!" the woman cried. Swiftly,
she stepped to the screen and twirled the dials. "There was a plan we
drew for such a time as this--a plan to smash barbarian worlds to dust
and ashes. We'll hurl the meteor swarms down on their cities, clouds of
them so huge they'll cut through any atmospheric layer." She whirled.
"Here, see your homeland, Earth! It will be the first to go! Already,
the field is concentrating, forming--drawing in the meteor clouds out
of the void--"

The viewer on the long-range screen was clearing. And there was Earth,
Shane's native planet, a great, green-glowing arc in the lower corner.
A lone space ship was rising in the foreground, speeding out into the
void. But already, about it, were meteor clusters ... gathering swarms
that grew with every passing minute.

"You see, _Gar_ Shane? The people of your Earth are doomed!" the silver
woman jeered in paranoiac frenzy. "There is no hope, no way to save
them! The other planets, too, will go, till at last there is no one
left but we of Gadar. Then we shall migrate out of this dark star,
into your worlds, where life is not yet spent and faded. My people's
strength will rise anew--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Bleakly, Shane stared into the screen, through a moment that lasted all
eternity.

Then, in one explosive motion, he snatched the space-phones from their
rack. His voice crackled out into the void: "_Chonyas_ ...
_Chonyas_ ... Shane, your _gar_, is calling--"

And taut-drawn _Chonya_ words came back: "We stand by for your orders--"

"I want a ship," Shane answered tightly, "a single fast _Chonya_ ship,
equipped with Abaquist repellers, to try to break through the meteor
swarm and come down to Gadar to me on the fleet alarm beam."

"We come, _Gar_ Shane--"

Even with the words, a slim, sleek craft was breaking from the milling
fleet, swerving through the sky in a monstrous arc.

Then it was coming round again--striking its course, plunging down on
Gadar. Straight into the blazing meteor swarm it sped, and even on the
screen Shane could see it tossing--careening, staggering, lurching with
shock.

And then it was through the swarm and out again. Its hull was ripped,
its hatches battered, but still it plummeted down towards Gadar.

Kyrsis cried: "Now I know you are truly mad, not just a fool, if you
think you can fight both my people and Quos Reggar here on Gadar with
the crew of a single ship!"

Shane said: "We're leaving now," and levered back the hatches. Again
he fired a burst from the proton cannon to clear the way ... saw the
shaft's walls vibrate with its violence.

The _Chonya_ ship hurtled down the huge volcanic pipe like a shooting
star. Barely in time, it braked and based upon the ramp.

Before she could read his thoughts, Shane snatched up Kyrsis bodily and
raced through the smouldering pronic rubble to the _Chonya_ craft.

"Blast!" he shouted, and swung aboard; and almost before the hatches
were shut, the ship was in the air again, lancing up into the sky.

The commander said: "Where now, _Gar_ Shane? What are your orders?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Earthman laughed harshly. "Send out the word to break the
Federation fleet into squadrons, each to stay far from the others, and
all to strike at Gadar. We'll see how many meteor swarms our friends
down there can muster!"

"And the rest of us--the _Malyas_, _Chonyas_--?"

"You'll follow me," Shane said. He took the jet-globe. "I'll set the
course."

Kyrsis' eyes were like great violet flames. "Pay him no heed,
_Chonya_!" she cried hoarsely. "Kill him! Lock him away! He is of
Earth, and he has gone mad with fear for his homeland! He takes you
there to try to battle another, greater meteor swarm! It will be the
death of all of you!"

The _Chonya_ glanced curiously at her in her disarray, then looked into
the visiscreen, the jet-globe. "A _Chonya_ holds no fear of death,
Silver One," he observed, iron-steady. "Besides, our course is set for
Jupiter, not Earth."

"Jupiter--!" the woman cried, and now a new note of panic was in her
voice. She clutched Shane's arm. "Why Jupiter, Earthman? Why?"

"Not Jupiter, Kyrsis, but one of Jupiter's moons," Shane answered
thinly. "You see? There it lies in the visiscreen."

"Jupiter V--!" the silver woman whispered. "No, Shane! No--!"

"Yes, Kyrsis!" the Earthman came back coldly. "Jupiter V, the place
where Reggar held me prisoner. And the satellite closest to the planet,
a satellite heaped twelve levels deep with power converters."

"No, no--"

Relentlessly, Shane hammered on: "Who was it wanted all that power? Who
built that great Paulsini unit? Not any slaver, surely! No, that took
skill and science and years of work. And when it was done, your people
had more power than the world had ever known--power drawn from the
endless seas of energy of Jupiter's great Red Spot, the heat of oceans
of flaming hydrogen, the force that lies congealed in gases held under
such pressures that they turn to solids, all turned somehow to your use
by those new converters that I saw there."

The silver woman looked at him. A little of the wildness left her eyes,
replaced by something that might have been cunning. Her voice came down
to its former liquid murmur. "And what will you do when you get to this
moon, Earthman? Will it bring back the cities of your native planet?"

"Say what you mean," Shane came back tightly.

"Perhaps Earth could be spared--for your aid against the other worlds
of the Federation."

Shane's eyes blazed. "You _do_ think me a fool, _Shi_ Kyrsis! After all
that has gone, can you believe I would trust you?"

"It is a chance you must take, if you would save Earth's cities."

       *       *       *       *       *

Strain showed in Shane's voice, his face. But his jaw stayed hard, his
blue eyes steady. "If Earth must go, then go it will, _Shi_ Kyrsis. For
all I know, the meteors may this moment be hurtling down. But even if
they are, and though it costs me my life and my homeland, I'll still
take the chance in order to break your life-sucking people's power."

"But you cannot destroy that power--"

The _Chonya_ commander broke in: "More meteors, _Gar_! They gather
between us and the satellite!"

And Kyrsis jeered. "You see, Earthman? You have lost already!"

Shane said to the _Chonya_: "We're going through."

"Through the swarm?" The commander's face lost a little of its color,
but his voice stayed firm. He picked up his space-phones. "I shall give
the order."

"We're going through," Shane repeated grimly, "and some of us--those
who have repellers--may get there. There will not be many, but only a
handful of workers can be on that moon, with Reggar's crew withdrawn,
so even a few ships will be enough."

"Yes, _Gar_," the _Chonya_ nodded coolly. He spoke into the
space-phones, gave the order.

The ship lanced into the swarm.

There was a nightmare quality to those endless moments. Space was
suddenly ablaze about them with a thousand screaming lights that
slashed at them from all directions. Off to the right, a great ball of
fire appeared from nowhere and blotted out a ship. A streak of flame
speared through another, and it exploded in mid-flight.

And still they drove on through the tempest, tossed and jostled,
beaten, butchered.

An alarm bell clanged fiercely.

"A rip in the hull, upper port," the _Chonya_ reported grimly.

Jupiter V was very large in the screens now. It loomed like a monstrous
metal ball, glistening with the hood of structure that encased it.

"The swarm is following us now," the commander said. "It moves with
us, traveling even faster than are we." His lips twisted wryly. "Their
control is getting better all the time."

Shane stared into the visiscreen. It was as if the satellite were
hurtling up to meet them. The exploding speed of it made the screen
seem almost to whirl.

And still the meteors swarmed and blazed around them.

"Thirty seconds more," the _Chonya_ said. "We must brake by then, or
crash instead of ramp."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jupiter V now extended past the edges of the screen. They could see but
a segment of it--a segment that raced ever upward, ever towards them,
dividing into a thousand and finer details every second.

"Twenty seconds," the _Chonya_ reported.

The meteor swarm seemed to close in about them--tighter, tighter.

"Fifteen seconds."

The meteors' light was stunning, blinding.

Shane's teeth were clenched, his lips parted, his eyes glued tight to
the viewer of the visiscreen. The muscles stood out along his neck. The
tension about him was a living thing.

"Ten seconds."

A sort of paralysis seemed to grip the Earthman. He stood frozen, still
staring like one in a trance.

The ribs in the satellite's casing stood out, now--the ports, the vents.

The meteors seemed to have grown to blazing suns.

"Five seconds."

Shane's paralysis broke. He snatched the phones, and of a sudden his
eyes were blazing like the nightmare scene beyond their hull. "Veer!"
he shouted. "Don't land! Veer--!"

The _Chonya_ commander's hand struck the jet-globe with a crack like a
whip. It spun till it sang, racing round and round.

The ship swung out in a wild gyration. Reeling, slashing crazily across
the moon's perimeter, it hurtled off through space.

Behind them, the other ships, too, were peeling clear.

But not the meteor swarm. Down it plunged, down, in the course the
ships had followed, straight at the hundred-mile ball that was Jupiter
V.

"They'll crash--!" the _Chonya_ cried, and jubilation was in his voice.
"They did not know we were so close! Now it's too late to turn them!"

The explosive flash of the meteors bursting through the satellite's
casing came like an exclamation point. Great cracks appeared--monstrous
fissures, spewing flame.

And still more meteors hurtled down--the whole, vast, captive swarm.
The planetoid's casing glowed red-hot, then white, till the moon was a
fiery, radiant sphere.

Then suddenly, it seemed to shiver. A gigantic explosion ripped one
side, sent the planetoid spinning over. A huge, wedge-shaped chunk tore
loose and blasted off through space; then another ... another.

       *       *       *       *       *

Without a word, the commander of the _Chonya_ craft picked up the
manual on interspatial navigation, riffled through to the page on
Jupiter V. Tore it out, crumpled it, dropped it to the floor.

Shane threw him a grim, tight grin and said: "There's still work, back
on Gadar."

The _Chonya_ spun the jet-globe; focussed the visicreen on the dark
star.

Even as the image drew sharp and clear, a ship shot out of one of the
great volcanic pipes that served as the planet's ramping spots.

Shane's face went dark again. "That's Reggar's ship. Where is he going?"

And then, beside him, Kyrsis said, "Oh, no--!"

Shane turned at the sheer, stark panic in her voice.

Her face showed even more.

The Earthman looked back to the visiscreen again; and this time he,
too, rocked under the impact of the thing that was happening.

_Gadar was moving from its orbit!_

Faster it went, and faster, slashing a course towards outer space. The
ships of the Federation fleet raced madly from its path.

"No--!" _Shi_ Kyrsis cried again. "No, they must not leave me!" Her
face was working now, contorted. The silvery tones seemed duller, more
like lead.

In an awe-struck voice Shane said: "This is the way they must have
come! It was no cosmic accident! They hurled their own planet across
the void--"

"No, no!" the silver woman shrieked, and the wild hysteria in her tones
was giving way to madness. "They can't, they can't! I must go with
them--!" Her twitching face was no longer human.

Then, before anyone could stop her, she turned and ran--out of the
door, away from the control room.

But outside the room there was no place to run ... only an echoing,
well-like shaft that dropped away a hundred feet through the vitals of
the ship, its depths linked only by a steel-runged ladder.

Unseeing, unheeding, the silver woman plunged over the brink and
plummeted downward. Her scream rose and fell in the banshee wail of a
soul in torment.

It ended with a sound like the bursting of an air-filled paper bag a
room or two away.

The _Chonya_ sucked in air. He let it out with a sound that might have
been pity.

White-lipped, Shane said: "There was a _Chonya_ child, a little
girl...." Abruptly, he turned away and spun the jet-globe.

The ship's commander frowned. "I do not understand, _Gar_ Shane."

The Earthman's eyes stayed on the visiscreen. He said: "My road still
lies before me. It leads to Quos Reggar, and my great iron belt, and
Talu, the _Malyalara_."



                             CHAPTER XIII


They picked up the trail in the asteroid belt, in the wreckage of a
gutted town. It led to Horla, then, and from there to the burning
sands of Mercury's barren wastes, and then back out to the moons of
Saturn. But always Reggar was a jump ahead, and always there was blood
and death and pillage.

Once, on Juno, Shane thought he had him. But Reggar blasted off as the
Earthman ramped in, and they lost the trail in the outer asteroids.

And then, one night, Shane came to Titan.

As always, there was desolation. As always, the great slaveship was
gone. And a weeping _bartok_ woman shook her fist at Shane and cried,
"So now you come! But they have killed my man. My children starve, and
I am left to care for Reggar's cursed, dying _Malyalara_--"

Shane turned on her, "A _Malyalara_--? Quos Reggar's _Malyalara_?"

An emotion that might have been fear flickered in the woman's eyes, and
she would have fled had Shane not caught her arm. "Please, Earthman--!"
she pleaded piteously. "My man is still warm in his grave. I say
strange things--senseless, without meaning. Please let me go--" And
when Shane released her, she scurried off through the rubble like a
frightened mouse and disappeared in the ruins of a broken building.

But Shane followed her--cautious, cat-footed; through alleys and
shadows and tumbled wreckage; till finally she went into one of the
ancient, conical, loaf-like hovels in the oldest part of the native
city.

For ten long minutes the Earthman watched and waited. Then,
half-angrily, he rose from the place where he lay hidden, and slapped
the gun slung at his hip, and strode to the door through which the
woman had gone. His knock echoed.

After a moment the woman opened the door a crack. When she saw who it
was, her eyes went wide, and she tried to force the door back shut.

But Shane put his weight against it and held it open, and said, "I want
to see your house, _bartok_."

"No, no--!" the woman panted.

"I must," Shane said. As gently as he could, he pushed her aside, and
stepped into the room.

And there was Quos Reggar.

       *       *       *       *       *

The giant mongrel stood in the corner, behind the door through which
Shane had entered. A light-pistol gleamed in one webbed hand, and the
great lobed eyes were hot with hate.

And about the creature's waist still was drawn the iron-linked
belt--Shane's _Chonya_ belt, the belt of the asteroids.

"Welcome, Earthman!" the mongrel rasped, just as on the other night
that now seemed so far away, so long ago. "Welcome to death!"

Shane froze in his tracks--statue-like, taut-muscled. His eyes alone
moved ... gauging Quos Reggar, measuring the distance, weighing the
light-gun against his own draw.

And the mongrel saw the things in the cold blue eyes--the death, the
decision; and he snapped sharply, "No, _chitza_! Wait--!"

"Why?" clipped the Earthman. "Why put it off?" And there was
recklessness in his voice; a fierce exaltation.

"Because it may be you need not die!" the mongrel came back swiftly.
"Because there are things you do not know--things that still may save
your life and make it worth living."

Shane still stood taut, motionless, waiting. He did not answer.

"I thought you would come to Talu's name," the hybrid told him, and now
the creature's tone held a gloating note. "I planned it well--and you,
fool that you are, came to the trap as on wings of fire."

"Get on with it!" Shane slashed harshly. "We both know what is between
us. Why waste this time?"

"The time is not wasted," Reggar answered. "Your coming here as you did
proves something ... a fine point on which much may hang, for you as
well as me."

Shane bared his teeth. His left hand moved in a savage, contemptuous
gesture. "Get on with it!" he slashed again. "What is it you seek to
say?"

A sly smile of sorts came to Reggar's lips. He called: "Talu--"

"Here, _Sha_ Reggar." She stepped through the doorway, lithely graceful
as always, garbed in a _ban-dong_ of scarlet and gold. A gold clip
held the midnight hair, and a gleaming fire-ruby of Neptune hung by a
golden chain in the hollow of her throat.

Her eyes met the Earthman's, poised and calm. "_Sha_ Shane...."

       *       *       *       *       *

A touch of color came to Shane's lean face. Quickly, he looked away,
back to Quos Reggar.

But a ghoulish grin twisted the mongrel's lips. "Why stare at me,
Earthman? Look at her, look at her! Is she not lovely?"

Shane's eyes did not waver. "I'm listening, Reggar," he answered
tightly.

The hybrid chuckled. "You came quickly, Earthman ... so quickly, when
you heard mention of this woman. You threw caution to the winds and
came alone, in spite of all sense and judgment."

"So--?"

"So I knew there is a feeling between you and this _Malyalara_--a thing
without logic, beyond your judgment, perhaps what you humanoids call
love."

The color heightened in the Earthman's face. "You're mad as a _ban_,
Reggar!" he challenged angrily.

"I think not," leered the mongrel. "And it is good. Because you shall
have the woman--untouched, too, Earthman, for I am not as your race,
and she could never catch my fancy, save as a pretty toy."

"And the price, Reggar?" Shane queried tightly. "What must I do to earn
such favor?"

The creature before him shrugged. "I need not feign you have not hurt
me. For you have. You and your _Chonyas_ have harried me through the
void, and up and down among the planets. You've tracked me down as the
_zanth_ tracks down its prey. But now, I tire of being hunted. My crew
is weary and sick, and the hull of my ship is worn to cracking. So I
have stayed behind this time to strike a bargain with you, if I can."

"A bargain?" The Earthman laughed harshly. "When was your word ever
worth a _xi_, that I should take it now?" His eyes narrowed, and he
studied the other. "Besides, what bargain could I make? The Federation
hunts you also."

"The Federation?" Reggar sneered. "Loot will always buy someone in the
Federation. But you--you fight from hate; and that is different."

"Then why haggle with me? Why not kill me now, if indeed you fear me?"

"Why does anyone bargain?" Again the mongrel shrugged. "Because you
have something I want and need--something I cannot get without your
aid."

"Well? What is it?"

Thoughtfully, the great lobed eyes surveyed the Earthman. The rasping
voice sank lower. "It is sanctuary, _Gar_ Shane. That is what I
seek ... a place in the asteroids to hide, away from the eyes of the
Federation. As for you, you need not even call off your war against
me. Not openly; you will merely manage never quite to find me."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Earthman frowned. He looked away--to Talu, still standing in the
open doorway; to the woman who'd lured him here, mousy and frightened
in the farthest corner; to the tawdry room and its tawdrier trimmings.

Then, at last, his eyes moved back to Reggar. In a tone of wonderment,
he asked, "Did you really think that I might do it?--That I might break
the oath I swore; betray the trust the _Chonyas_ gave me with their
great iron belt?"

Almost silkily, Reggar murmured: "Before you refuse, there are things
you should consider."

The cloak of control fell away from Shane. His blue eyes blazed. His
jaw was hard. "I swore my oath on the star-stone of Hiaroloch, Reggar,"
he slashed harshly. "There's nothing in this world or any other that
will make me break it." And then, with savage force: "Get on with your
killing, butcher--and make sure your first beam hits me true, for it
will be your last!"

The mottlings stood out on Reggar's scaly face. The light-gun thrust
forward, and muscles stood out along the webbed hand's bones. "Perhaps
there is a thing you have forgotten, _chitza_!" he snarled. "Perhaps
you do not recall--the _theol_!"

"The _theol_--?" And though the words came out as a question, already
the color was draining from the Earthman's face.

"Yes, the _theol_, _starbo_--and you know what I mean, for the fear is
crawling through your eyes like the worms of Thora! Two doses you've
had. A third will make you my slave forever!"

The muscles in Shane's neck knotted. His head came forward just a
fraction. "Wrong, Reggar!" he clipped. "To make me stand and take the
_theol_, the fear of death must be in me even stronger. And that dread
I do not have. I'll fight--here, now! So the choice is yours, not mine!
You must kill me, or die yourself--"

"Wait, Shane--!" cried the mongrel. "There is more! There is the
woman--the _Malyalara_!"

Shane went rigid.

"I can kill you," rasped Reggar. "Have no doubt about it. My gun is
out, and yours is still holstered. But let me tell you this: if I
do, Talu is the one who shall suffer! I'll sell her in the brothels
of Uranus! The great, hairy beasts there shall have this woman of
yours--and she will be a long time dying...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Shane's lips drained white. His face grew grey. Of a sudden his hands
were shaking.

"Is it not a pretty picture, Shane?" the creature before him gloated.
"You dead--the _Malyalara_ sold for the sport of the beasts there
on Uranus--and all because you would not stretch your oath even a
little--?"

"Damn you, Reggar!" the Earthman whispered. "Damn you, damn you, damn
you--"

"Then it is agreed?" the mongrel cried, in a voice alive with hideous
glee. "You will promise me sanctuary, somewhere in the asteroids?
You'll pledge your sworn word to hide me and shield me and give me aid?"

"Reggar--" The veins were throbbing in the Earthman's temples.

Only then Talu cried out, "No, Shane! No--!" She rushed forward, hurled
her lithe body straight at Quos Reggar. "I would rather die than see
you yield! You know the things this monster has done to the _Malyas_,
the Chonyas! Kill him, kill him--!"

A roar of rage burst from the mongrel. His clubbed light-gun slashed
down at the woman's bare breasts, trying to drive her off.

Shane leaped like a tiger. He clawed at the hybrid's pistol; wrenched
it back--away from Talu's supple body, hard against his own.

Twisting and snarling, Reggar crushed down the exciter.

A faint, misty spray spurted from the muzzle, straight into Shane's
throat.

But now Shane's own gun was out. Purple light slashed like a sword at
the mongrel's belly.

Reggar reeled back. He smashed a wild blow to Shane's head, sent the
Earthman crashing to the floor. Again Shane fired.

Reggar's mottled face went black under the beam. An awful scream rose
in his throat. He tottered ... lurched ... fell.

Talu was with Shane, then--clutching him to her, the dark face all
anguish. "Shane, Shane...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dazedly, the Earthman muttered, "The light-gun ... what happened to his
light-gun? He triggered it straight into my throat--"

With an effort, he rolled to the weapon; broke it open.

The ray mechanism was gone. A hypodermic injector had been inserted in
its place.

Shane's hand clutched his throat.

There was still a trace of moisture there ... clear, colorless moisture.

Talu whispered: "Shane, let me hold you--"

Shaking, he forced her away. His voice quaked: "No, _Malyalara_. No!
Get away from me--now, while you have the chance--"

"Shane, what is it--?"

Numbly, he showed her the gun. "An injector--with _theol_. It makes
three doses. In the end, Reggar wins. The madness will come upon me--"

"No, Shane--" She would have embraced him.

"Get away!" he shouted fiercely. "Don't you understand? This was the
third dose--the dose that brings madness. And there is no cure--"

His face was a mask--all despair, and all fury.

She laughed, gently, then--warm, comprehending. There was no panic
in her face, her voice. "No, Shane," she told him. "There will be no
madness."

He stared at her blankly. "It is _theol_--"

"Yes, it is _theol_. But not the third dose."

"Not the third--?" His tongue stumbled.

"No, Shane. Because before the third, there must be a second, and I
gave you what Reggar thought was the second that night back at Horla.
But he left me alone for a moment with the injector, and I replaced the
_theol_ with another solution--without color, but harmless."

A choking sound rose in the Earthman's throat. His trembling hands
touched her--smoothed her hair, brushed her shoulder.

She came to him--smiling, lips warm with welcome. And suddenly their
bodies were together, tight-welded, and he was whispering feverishly,
"Talu ... Talu...."

And when at last they parted, she said, "I am yours, Earthman ...
yours now and forever. But you still have a role to play, your oath to
uphold. You are _gar_ of the _Chonyas_."

"And you will rule with me!" he answered her fiercely.

"Your belt, Earthman...."

"My belt ... the belt of the asteroids." Bending, he stripped the iron
links from the corpse of Quos Reggar and girded it tight about his own
waist once more. His eyes met Talu's. "Come, _Malyalara_...."

Together, they crossed the threshold, into the night and the stars.



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