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´╗┐Title: Last Call for Doomsday!
Author: Tenneshaw, S. M.
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 "Last Call for Doomsday!" ***

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                Wales saw men around him become savage
             beasts, shooting, looting, killing in frantic
            hysteria. Men without hope, they awaited the--

                        Last Call For Doomsday!

                          By S. M. Jenneshaw

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                             December 1956
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


A deep shudder shook Jay Wales. He wished now he hadn't had to come
back here to Earth this last time. He wanted to remember the old world
of man as it had been, not as it was now in its dying hour.

"It seems impossible that it will really happen," said Hollenberg, the
docket captain.

He wasn't looking at Earth. He was looking beyond it at the glittering
stars.

Wales looked too. He knew where to look. He saw the faint little spark
of light far across the Solar System.

A spark, a pinpoint, an insignificant ray upon the optic nerves--that
was all it was.

That--and the hand of God reaching athwart the universe.

"It'll happen," said Wales, without turning. "September 27th, 1997.
Four months from now. It'll happen."

The rocket-ship was suddenly convulsed through all its vast fabric by
the racking roar of brake-jets letting go. Both men exhaled and lay
back in their recoil-chairs. The thundering and quivering soon ceased.

"People," said Hollenberg, then, "are wondering if it really will.
Happen, I mean."

For the first time, Wales looked at him sharply. "People where?"

Hollenberg nodded toward the window. "On Earth. Every run we make, we
hear it. They say--"

And here it was again, Wales thought, the rumors, the whispers, that
had been coming out to Mars, stronger and more insistent each week.

There in the crowded new prefab cities on Mars, where hundreds of
millions of Earth-folk were already settling into their new life, with
millions more supposed to arrive each month, the rumors were always the
same.

"_Something's wrong, back on Earth. The Evacuation isn't going right.
The ships aren't on schedule--_"

Wales hadn't worried much about it, at first. He had his own job.
Fitting the arriving millions into a crowded new planet, a new, hard
way of life, was work enough. He was fourth in command at Resettlement
Bureau, and that meant a job that never ended.

Even when the Secretary called him in to the new UN capital on Mars,
he'd only expected a beef about resettlement progress. He hadn't
expected what he got.

The Secretary, an ordinarily quiet, relaxed man, had been worn thin and
gray and nervous by a load bigger than any man had ever carried before.
He had wasted no time at all on amenities when Wales was shown in.

"You knew Kendrick personally?"

There was no need to use first names. Since five years before, there
was only one Kendrick in the world who mattered.

"I knew him," Wales had said. "I went to school with both Lee and
Martha Kendrick--his sister."

"Where is he?"

Wales had stared. "Back on Earth, at Westpenn Observatory. He said he'd
be along soon."

The Secretary said, "He's not at the Observatory. He hasn't come to
Mars yet, either. He's disappeared."

"But, why--"

"I don't care _why_, Wales. I want to know _where_. Kendrick's got to
be found. His disappearance is affecting the Evacuation. That's the
report I get from a dozen different men back on Earth. I message them,
'Why are the rocket-schedules falling behind?' I tell them, 'It's
Doomsday Minus 122, and Evacuation must go faster.' I get the answer
back, 'Kendrick's disappearance responsible--are making every effort to
find him'."

After a silence the Secretary had added, "You go back to Earth, Wales.
You find Kendrick. You find out what's slowing down Evacuation. We've
_got_ to speed up, man! There's over twelve million people still left
on Earth."

And here he was, Wales thought, in a rocket-ship speeding back to
Earth on one of the endless runs of the Marslift, and he still didn't
know why Evacuation had slowed, or what Lee Kendrick's disappearance
had to do with it, and he'd have precious little time to find out.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were sweeping in in a landing-pattern now, and the turquoise had
become a big blue balloon fleeced with white clouds. And Hollenberg was
far too busy with his landing to talk now. The rocket-captain seemed,
indeed, relieved not to be questioned.

The rush inward, the roar of air outside the hull, the brake-blasts
banging like the triphammers of giants, the shadowed night side of the
old planet swinging up to meet them....

When he stepped out onto the spaceport tarmac, Wales breathed deep of
the cool night air. Earth air. There was none like it, for men. No
wonder that they missed its tang, out there on Mars. No wonder old
women in the crowded new cities out there still cried when they talked
of Earth.

He braced back his shoulders, buttoned the tunic of his UN uniform. He
wasn't here to let emotion run away with him. He had a job. He got onto
one of the moving beltways and went across the great spaceport, toward
the high, gleaming cluster of lights that marked the port headquarters.

Far away across the dark plain loomed the massive black bulks of
rocket-ships. Dozens of them, hundreds of them. And more were coming
in, on rigid landing-schedule. The sky above, again and again, broke
with thunder and the great ships came riding their brake-jets of flame
downward.

Wales knew, to the last figure, how many times in the last years
ships had risen from this spaceport, and how many times, having each
one carried thousands of people to Mars, they had returned. Tens of
millions had gone out from here. And New Jersey Spaceport was only one
of the many spaceports serving the Evacuation. The mind reeled at the
job that had been done, the vast number who had been taken to that
other world.

And it was still going on. Under colored lights, Wales saw the long
queue of men, women, children moving toward one of the towering ships
nearby. Signals flashed. Loudspeakers bawled metallically.

"--to Ship 778! All assigned to Ship 778 this way! Have your
evacuation-papers ready!"

Wales went by these people, not looking at their faces, not wanting to
see their faces.

The noise and crowded confusion got worse as he neared the
Administration Building. Near it the buses were unloading, the endless
cargoes of people, people--always people, always those pale faces.

An armed guard outside Administration's entrance looked at Wales'
uniform and then at his credentials, and passed him through.

"Port Coordinator's office straight ahead," he said.

The interior of the building was a confusion of uniformed men, and
women, of clicking tabulating machines, of ringing phones.

Wales thought that here you felt the real pulse of the Marslift. A
pulse that had quickened now--like the pulse of a dying man.

Bourreau, the Port Coordinator, was a stocky, bald sweating man, who
had thrown off his uniform jacket and was drinking coffee at his desk
when Wales came in.

"Sit down," he said. "Heard you were coming. Heard the Secretary was
sending you to burn our tails."

"Nothing like that," said Wales. "He just wants to know, why the devil
are Evacuation schedules falling behind?"

Bourreau drained his cup, set it down, and wiped his mouth. "Listen,"
he said, "you don't want to talk to me."

"I don't?"

"No, I'm the Port Coordinator, that's all. I've passed millions of
people through here. Evacuation Authority sends them in here, from the
marshalling point over in New York. Good people, not-so-good people,
and people that aren't worth saving. But to me, they're all just units.
They reach here, I shoot them out. That's all. The man you want to talk
to is John Fairlie."

"The regional Evacuation Marshal?"

"Yes. Talk to him, over in New York. I've got a car and driver ready
for you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales stood up. It was obvious that Bourreau had been all ready for
him, and was not going to take a rap for anybody. It was equally
obvious that he'd learn nothing about Kendrick's disappearance from
this man.

"All right," he said. "I'll see Fairlie first."

The driver of the car, a UN private, turned off on a side road almost
as soon as they left the spaceport.

"No use bucking all the buses and trucks on the evacuation thruways,"
he said. "We use the old roads when we want to hurry. No traffic on
_them_ now."

The old roads. The ribbons of concrete and asphalt that once had
carried thousands of cars, day and night. Now they were dark and empty.

The car went through a village. It too was dark and empty. They swung
on through countryside, without a light in it. And then there was a
bigger village, and its dark windows stared at them like blind eyes.

"All evacuated," said the driver. "Every village, town, farm, between
here and New York was closed out two-three years ago."

Wales, sitting hunched by the open window, watching the road unreel,
saw an old farmhouse on the curve ahead. The headlights caught it,
and he saw that all its window-shutters were closed. Someone, some
family, had left that house forever and had carefully shuttered its
windows--against doomsday.

The poplars and willows and elms went by, and now and again there was a
drifting fragrance of flowers, of blossoming orchids. Old apple-trees,
innocently ignorant of world's end, were preparing to fruit once more.

Wales felt a sharp, poignant emotion. He asked himself, as a world had
been asking for five years, _Why did it have to be?_

There was only one answer. Far out in the dark lonesomeness of the
solar system, far beyond man's new Martian colonies, the thousands of
asteroids that swung in incredibly intricate and eccentric orbits--they
were the answer. They had been shuttles, weaving fate's web.

Kendrick had been the first to see it, to note the one big asteroid
whose next passage near Jupiter would make its eccentricity of orbit
_too_ great. With camera and telescope Kendrick had watched, and with
the great electronic calculators he had plotted that orbit years ahead,
and....

Wales had often wondered what Lee Kendrick had felt like when the first
knowledge came to him, when the first mathematical formulae of doom
came out on the calculator printing-tape. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,
spelled out in an equation. An electronic computer, passionately
prophesying the end of man's world....

"_In five years, the eccentricity of the asteroid Nereus will bring
it finally across Earth's orbit at a point where it will collide with
Earth. This collision will make our planet uninhabitable._"

He well remembered the first stupefaction with which the world had
received the announcement, after Kendrick's calculations had been
proved beyond all doubt.

"_No force available to us can destroy or swerve an asteroid so big.
But in five years, we should be able to evacuate all Earth's people to
Mars._"

Kendrick, Wales thought now, had been able to give Earth the years
of advance warning that meant escape, the years in which the tens of
thousands of great rocket-ships could be built and the Marslift get
under way. If mankind survived, it would be due to Kendrick's warning.
Why should he vanish now?

Wales suddenly became conscious that his driver was putting on the
brakes. They were in the outskirts of Morristown.

The streets here were _not_ all dark and dead. He saw the glimmer of
flashlights, the movement of dark figures, and heard calling voices.

"I thought you said these cities were all closed out?" Wales said.

The driver nodded. "Yeah. But there's still people around some of them.
Looters." He stopped. "We'd better detour around here."

"Looters?" Wales was astounded. "You mean, you don't stop them?"

"Listen," said the driver. "What difference does it make what they
take, when the place is closed out?"

Wales had forgotten. What difference did it make, indeed? The
nearly-deserted Earth was any man's property now, when inevitable
catastrophe was rushing toward it.

A thought struck him. These folk couldn't expect to take loot with them
when they were evacuated. So they didn't plan to _be_ evacuated.

He said, "Wait here. I'm going to have a look at them."

"I wouldn't," said the driver hastily. "These people--"

"Just wait," said Wales crisply.

He walked away from the car, toward the flashlights and the shadows and
the shouting voices.

The voices had a raw edge of excitement in them, and a few were
thick with alcohol. They were mixed men and women, and a few yelping
youngsters.

They weren't breaking windows. They simply used crowbars to force
open doors. Many doors weren't even locked. Eager hands passed out a
motley collection of objects, small appliances, liquor bottles, canned
synthefood, clothing.

No wonder Evacuation was going off schedule, thought Wales! Letting
people play the fool like this--

A flashlight beam flared beside him, a man's face peered at his
uniform, and a loud voice bellowed close to his ears, "Look, everybody!
It's an Evacuation Officer!"

There was a dead silence, and then the flashlights converged on him.
Somewhere in the group, a woman screamed.

"They're after us! They're going to put us on the ships and take us
away!"

"Kill the bastard, knock him down!" yelled a raging voice.

Wales, too astounded to defend himself, felt a sudden shower of clumsy
blows that sent him to his knees.



                              CHAPTER II


It was the very number of Wales' attackers that saved him. There were
too many of them, they were too eager to get at him. As he hit the
pavement, they dropped their flashlights and crowded around in the
dark, getting in each other's way, like frantic dogs chivvying a small
animal.

A foot trampled his shoulder and he rolled away from it. All around him
in the dark were trousered legs, stumbling over him. Voices yelled,
"Where is he?" They yelled, "Bring the lights!"

The lights, if they came, would mean his death. A mob, even a small mob
like this one, was a mindless animal. Wales, floundering amid the dark
legs, kept his head. He shouted loudly,

"Here come the Evacuation trucks--here they come! We'd better beat it!"

He didn't think it would work, but it did. In that noisy, scuffling
darkness, no one could tell who had shouted. And these people were
already alarmed.

The legs around him shifted and stamped and ran away over the pavement.
A woman screeched thinly in fear. He was alone in the dark.

He didn't think he would be left alone for long. He started to scramble
to his feet, beside the curb, and his hand went into an opening--a long
curbside storm-sewer drain.

A building was what he had had in mind, but this was better. He got
down on his belly and wormed sidewise into the drain. He lay quiet, in
a concrete cave smelling of old mud.

Feet came pounding back along the streets, he glimpsed beams of light
angling and flickering. Angry voices yelled back and forth. "He's not
here. He's got away. But there must be other goddamned Evacuation men
around. They're going to round us up--"

"By God, nobody's going to round _me_ up and take me to Mars!" said a
deep bass voice right beside Wales.

Somebody else said, "All that nonsense about Kendrick's World--" and
added an oath.

Wales lay still in his concrete hole, nursing his bruised shoulder. He
heard them going away.

He waited, and then crawled out. In the dark street, he stood, muddy
and bruised, conscious now that he was shaking.

What in the world had come over these people? At first, five years ago,
it had been difficult to convince many that an errant asteroid would
indeed ultimately crash into Earth. Kendrick's first announcement had
been disbelieved by many.

But when all the triple-checking by the world's scientists had
confirmed it, the big campaign of indoctrination that the UN put on
had left few skeptics. Wales himself remembered how every medium of
communication had been employed.

"Earth will not be destroyed," the UN speakers had repeated over
and over. "But it _will_ be made uninhabitable for a long time. The
asteroid Nereus will, when it collides, generate such a heat and shock
wave that nothing living can survive it. It will take many years
for Earth's surface to quiet again after the catastrophe. Men--all
men--must live on Mars for perhaps a whole generation."

People had believed. They had been thankful then that they had a way
of escape from the oncoming catastrophe--that the colonization of Mars
had proceeded far enough that it could serve as a sanctuary for man,
and that modern manufacture of synthetic food and water from any raw
rock would make possible feeding all Earth's millions out on that arid
world.

They had toiled wholeheartedly at the colossal crash program of
Operation Doomsday, the building of the vast fleet of rocket-ship
transports, the construction and shipping out of the materials for the
great new prefab Martian cities. They had, by the tens and hundreds
of millions, gone in their scheduled order to the spaceports and the
silver ships that took them away.

But now, with millions still left on Earth, there was a change. Now
skepticism and rebellion against Evacuation were breeding here on Earth.

It didn't, Wales thought, make sense!

He was suddenly very anxious to reach New York, to see Fairlie.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went back along the dark street to the main boulevard, where the
little white route signs glimmered faintly. He looked for the car, but
did not see it.

Shrugging, Wales started along the highway. He couldn't be too far
from the big Evacuation Thruways.

He had gone only a few blocks in the dark, when lights suddenly came on
and outlined him. He whirled, startled.

"Mr. Wales," said a voice.

Wales relaxed. He walked toward the lights. It was the car, and the
driver in the UN uniform, parked back in an alley.

"I thought you were back at the spaceport by now," Wales said sourly.

The driver swore. "I wasn't going to run away. But no use tackling that
crowd. Didn't I warn you? An Evacuation uniform sets them crazy."

Wales got in beside him. "Let's get out of here."

As they rolled, he asked, "When I left Earth four years ago, there
didn't seem a soul who doubted Doomsday. Why are these people doubtful
now?"

The driver told him, "They say Kendrick's World is just a scare, that
it's not going to hit Earth after all."

"Who told them that?"

"Nobody knows who started the talk. Not many believed it at first.
But then people began to say, 'Kendrick was the one who predicted
Doomsday--if he really believed it, _he'd_ leave Earth!'"

"What did Kendrick say to that?"

"He didn't say anything. He just went into hiding, they say. Leastwise,
the officials admitted he hadn't gone to Mars. No wonder a lot of folks
began to say, 'He _knows_ his prediction was wrong, that's why he's not
leaving Earth!'"

Wales asked, after a time, "What do you think, yourself?"

The driver said, "_I'm_ going out on Evacuation, for sure. So maybe
Kendrick and the rest are wrong? What have I got to lose? And if the
big crash does come, I won't be here."

Dawn grayed the sky ahead as the car rolled on through more and more
silent towns. It took to a skyway and as they sped above the roofs, the
old towers of New York rose misty and spectral against the brightening
day.

In the downtown city itself, they were suddenly among people again.
They were everywhere on the sidewalks and they were a variegated
throng. Workers and their families from the midwest, lumbermen and
miners from the north, overweight businessmen, women, children, babies,
dogs, birds in cages, a shuffling, slow-moving mass of humanity walking
aimlessly up and down the streets, waiting their call-up to the buses
and the spaceports and the leaving of their world.

Evacuation Police in their gray uniforms were plentiful, and to Wales'
surprise they were armed. Only official cars were in the streets, and
Wales noticed the frequent unfriendly looks his own car got from faces
here and there in the throngs. He didn't suppose people would be too
happy about leaving Earth.

The big new UN Building, towering over the city, had been built thirty
years before to replace the old one. He had supposed it would be an
empty shell, now that the whole Secretariat was out on Mars. But it
wasn't. Here was Evacuation headquarters for a whole part of America,
and the building was jammed with officials, files, clerks.

He was expected, it seemed. He went right through to the regional
Evacuation Marshal's office.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Fairlie was a solid, blond man of thirty-five or so, with the kind
of radiant strength, health, and intelligence that always made Wales
feel even more lanky and shy than he really was.

"We've been discussing your mission here," Fairlie said bluntly.
He indicated the three other men in the room. "My friends and
fellow-officials--they're assistants to Evacuation Marshals of other
regions. Bliss from Pacific Coast, Chaumez from South America, Holst
from Europe--"

They were men about Fairlie's age, and Wales thought that they were
anxious men.

"We don't resent your coming, and you'll get 100 percent cooperation
from all of us," Fairlie was saying. "We just hope to God you can get
Evacuation speeded up to schedule again. We're worried."

"Things are that bad?" said Wales.

Bliss said gloomily, "Bad--and getting worse. If it keeps up, there's
going to be millions still left on Earth when Doomsday comes."

"What," asked Wales, "do you think ought to be done first?"

"Find Kendrick," said Fairlie promptly.

"You think his disappearance that important?"

"I _know_ it is." Fairlie strode up and down the office, his physical
energy too restless to be still. "Listen, Wales. It's the fact that
Kendrick, who first predicted the catastrophe, hasn't himself left
Earth that's deepening all these doubts. If we could find Kendrick and
show people how he's going to Mars, it would discredit all this talk
that his prediction was a mistake, and that he knows it."

"You've already tried to find him?"

Fairlie nodded. "I've had the world combed for him. I wish I could
guess what happened to him. If we could only find his sister, even, it
might lead to him."

Yes, Wales thought. Martha and Lee Kendrick had always been close. And
now they had vanished together.

He told Fairlie what had happened to him in the Jersey City. Neither
Fairlie nor the others seemed much surprised.

"Yes. Things are bad in some of the evacuated regions. You see, once we
get all the listed inhabitants out, we can't go back to those places.
We haven't the time to keep going over them. So others--the ones who
don't want to go--can move into the empty towns and take over."

"_Why_ don't they want to go?" Wales studied the other's face as he
asked the question. "Five years ago, everyone believed in the crash,
in the coming of Doomsday. Now people here are skeptical. You say that
Kendrick might convince them. But what made them skeptical, in the
first place?"

Fairlie said, "I don't know, not for sure. But I can tell you what I
think."

"Go ahead."

"I think it's secret propaganda at work. I think Evacuation is being
secretly sabotaged by talk that Doomsday is all a hoax."

Wales was utterly shocked. "Good God, man, who would do a thing like
that? Who would want millions of people to stay on Earth and die on
Doomsday?"

Fairlie looked at him. "It's a horrible thought, isn't it? But fanatics
will sometimes do horrible things."

"Fanatics? You mean--"

Fairlie said, "We've been hearing rumors of a secret organization
called the Brotherhood of Atonement. A group--we don't know how large,
probably small in numbers--who seem to have been crazed by the coming
of Doomsday. They believe that Nereus is a just vengeance coming on a
sinful Earth, and that Earth's sins must be atoned by the deaths of
many."

"They're preaching that doctrine openly?" Wales said, incredulous.

"Not at all. Rumors is all we've heard. But--you wondered who would
want millions of people to stay on Earth till Doomsday. That's a
possible answer."

It made, to Wales, a nightmare thought. Mad minds, unhinged by the
approach of world's end, cunningly spreading doubt of the oncoming
catastrophe, so that millions would doubt, and would stay--and would
atone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bliss said, "The damn fools, to believe such stuff! Well, if they get
caught on Earth, it'll be the craziest, most ignorant and backward part
of the population that we'll lose."

Fairlie said wearily, "Our job is not to lose anybody, to get them all
off no matter who or what they are."

Then he said to Wales, with a faint smile, "Sorry if we seem to be
griping too much. I expect your job on Mars hasn't been easy either.
Things are pretty tough there, aren't they?"

"They're bound to be tough," said Wales. "All those hundreds of
millions, and more still coming in. But we'll make out. We've got to."

"Anyway, that's not my worry," Fairlie said. "My headache is to get
these stubborn, ignorant fools who don't want to go, off the Earth."

Wales thought swiftly. He said, after a time, "You're right, Kendrick
is the key. I came here to find him and I've got to do it."

Fairlie said, "I hope to God you can. But I'm not optimistic. We looked
everywhere. He's not at Westpenn Observatory."

"Lee and Martha and I grew up together in that western Pennsylvania
town," Wales said. "Castletown."

"I know, we combed the whole place. Nothing."

"Nevertheless, I'll start there," said Wales.

Fairlie told him, "That's all evacuated territory, you know. Closed out
and empty, officially. Which means--dangerous."

Wales looked at him. "In that case, I'll want something else to wear
than this uniform. Also I'll want a car--and weapons."

It was late afternoon by the time Wales got the car clear of the
metropolitan area, out of the congested evacuation traffic. And it was
soft spring dusk by the time he crossed the Delaware at Stroudsburg and
climbed westward through the Poconos.

The roads, the towns, were empty. Here and there in villages he saw
gutted stores, smashed doors and windows--but no people.

As the darkness came, from behind him still echoed the boom-boom of
thunder, ever and again repeated, of the endless ships of the Marslift
riding their columns of flame up into the sky.

By the last afterglow, well beyond Stroudsburg, he looked back and
thought he saw another car top a ridge and sink, swiftly down into the
shadow behind him.

Wales felt a queer thrill. Was he being followed? If so, by whom? By
casual looters, or by some who meant to thwart his mission? By the
society of the Atonement?

He drove on, looking back frequently, and once again he thought he
glimpsed a black moving bulk, without lights, far back on the highway.

He saw only one man that night, on a bridge at Berwick. The man leaned
on the rail, and there was a bottle in his hand, and he was very drunk.

He turned a wild white face to Wales' headlights, and shook the bottle,
and shouted hoarsely. Only the words, "--Kendrick's World--" were
distinguishable.

Sick at heart, Wales went by him and drove on.



                              CHAPTER III


All that night, his car rolled across an unlighted, empty world. Wary
of the great thruways, he followed the lesser roads. And every village,
every town, every hillside or valley farm, was dark and silent. All
this area that included Pennsylvania had been evacuated two years ago,
and the people of these houses were now living the new life in the
sprawling new cities on another planet.

Twice Wales stopped his car and cut the motor and lights, and waited,
listening. Once he was sure that he heard a distant humming from far
back along the highway, but it fell silent, and though he waited with
gun in hand, no one came. So each time he drove on, but he could not
rid himself of the conviction that someone followed him secretly.

With morning, his spirits lifted a little. He was only an hour's drive
from the old Pennsylvania-Ohio line where the town of Castletown was.
And there, if anywhere, he must find the trail to Lee and Martha
Kendrick.

Kendrick, to the world, had become identified with the asteroid that
was plunging ever nearer in its fateful orbit. It had, from the first,
been called Kendrick's World. Kendrick, if anyone could, might convince
those who had begun to doubt Doomsday. If Kendrick could be found....

Wales drove down a winding hillside road into the town of Butler, ten
minutes later--and ran smack into a barricade.

The moment he saw the cars drawn up to block the highway, he tried to
swing around fast. But he wasn't quick enough.

A voice said, "Kill the motor and get out."

Men had come out of the bushes that, in two years, had grown up close
to the highway. They were unshaven men, wearing dirty jeans, with
rifles in their hands. There were two on one side of the highway, and
an older man on the other.

Wales looked at their dusty faces. Then he cut the motor and got out of
the car.

They took his weapons, and the older man said, "You can put your hands
down now. And come along with us."

"Where?"

"You'll see."

One man remained, searching Wales' car. The other two, their rifles on
the ready, walked beside Wales down the long winding hill highway into
the old town.

"I thought all these towns were evacuated," said Wales.

"They were, a long time ago," said the older man.

"But you men--"

"We're not from here. Now anything more you want to know, you ask Sam
Lanterman. He'll have some things to ask _you_."

The main street of the town looked to Wales vaguely like a gypsy camp.
Dusty cars were parked double along it, and there was a surprising
number of men and women and kids about. The men all carried rifles or
wore belted pistols. The children were pawing around in already-looted
stores, and most of the women looked with a blank, tired stare at Wales
and his guard.

They took him into the stone courthouse. In the courtroom, dimly
lighted and smelling of dust and old oak, four men were seated around
what had once been a press-table. One of Wales' captors spoke to the
man at the head of the table.

"Got a prisoner, Sam," he said importantly. "This fellow. He was
driving from the east."

"From the east, was he?" said Lanterman. "Well, now, he might just have
come from the south and swung around town, mightn't he?"

He looked keenly at Wales. He was a gangling man of forty with a red
face and slightly bulging blue eyes that had a certain fierceness
in them. The others at the table were two heavy men who looked like
farmers, and a small, dark, vicious-looking young man.

"You didn't," said Lanterman, "just happen to come from Pittsburgh, did
you?" They all seemed to watch him with a certain tenseness, at this.

Wales shook his head. "I came from the east, all the way across state."

"And where were you heading?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales didn't like the implications of that "were". He said, "To
Castletown. I'm looking for my girl. It's where she used to live."

"People in Castletown been gone two years," Lanterman said promptly.
"To Mars--the damn fools!" And he suddenly laughed uproariously.

More and more worried, Wales said, "She wrote me she wasn't going to
leave till I came."

"You're not one of those Evacuation Officials, are you?" Lanterman
asked shrewdly.

"A lot more likely he comes from Pittsburgh," said the dark young man.

Wales, sensing an increasing suspicion and danger, thought his safest
bet was honest indignation. He said loudly,

"Look, I don't know what right you have to stop me when I'm trying to
reach my girl! I'm not an Evac official and I don't know what all this
talk about Pittsburgh means. Who made you the law around here?"

"Son," said Lanterman softly, "there isn't any law any more. The law
left here when all the people left--all except a few who wouldn't be
stampeded off Earth by a lot of moonshiny science nonsense."

Wales said, as though himself dubious, "Then you don't think there's
really going to be Doomsday, like they say?"

"Do _you_ think so?"

Wales pretended perplexity. "I don't know. All the big people, the
Government people and all, have told us over and over on the teevee,
about how Kendrick's World will hit the Earth--"

"Kendrick's so-and-so," said one of the farmer-looking men, disgustedly.

"I thought," said Wales, "that I'd see if my girl was going to leave,
before I decided."

He wondered if he weren't laying on the stupid yokel a little too
thick. But he had realized his danger from the first.

All the bands of non-evacuees who remained in closed-out territory,
making their own law, were dangerous. He'd found that out in Morristown
only last night. And Lanterman and his men seemed especially
suspicious, for some reason.

"Look," said Lanterman, and then asked, "What's your name, anyway?"

"Jay Wilson," said Wales. His name _had_ been in the news, and he'd
better take no chances.

"Well, look now, Wilson," said Lanterman, "you don't always want to
believe what people tell you. Me, I'm from West Virginia. Had a farm
there. On the TV it told us how this Kendrick had found out Earth was
going to be destroyed, how, everyone would have to go to Mars. My woman
said, 'Sam, we'll have to go.' I said, 'Don't you get in a panic.
People have always been predicting the end of the world. We'll wait a
while and see.' Lot of our neighbors packed up and went off. People
came to tell us we'd better get going too. I told them, I don't panic
easy, I'm waiting a while."

Lanterman laughed. "Good thing I did. More'n a year went by, and the
world didn't end. And then it turned out that this here Kendrick that
started the whole stampede--_he_ hadn't left Earth. Not him! Got all
the fools flying out to Mars on his say-so, but wasn't fool enough
to go himself. Fact is, people say he's hiding out so the Evacuation
officials can't make him go. Well, if Kendrick himself won't go, that
predicted it all, why should _we_ go?"

And that, Wales thought despairingly, was the very crux of the problem.
Where was Lee Kendrick anyway? He must know that his remaining on Earth
was being fatally misinterpreted by people like these.

Lanterman added, with a certain complacency, "All the fools went, and
left their houses, cars, cities. Left 'em to those of us who wasn't
fools! That's why we gathered together. Figured we might as well pick
up what they'd left. We got near a hundred men together, I said,
'Boys, let's quit picking over these empty villages and take a real
rich town. Let's go up to Pittsburgh.'"

One of the farmer-men said gloomily, "Only this Bauder had the idea
first. _His_ bunch took over Pittsburgh, as we found out."

Lanterman's eyes flashed. "But they're not going to keep it! Since we
first tried it, we've got a lot more men. One or two joining us every
few days. We'll show Bauder's outfit something this time!"

Of a sudden, the strangeness of the scene struck at Wales. A few years
before, this quiet old country courthouse had been the center of a
busy, populous town, of a county, a nation, a world.

Now world and nation were drained of most of their people. An Earth
almost de-populated lay quiet, awaiting the coming of the destruction
from space. Yet men who did not believe in that destruction, men in
little bands, were, with the passing of all law, contending for the
possession of the great evacuated cities.

Lanterman stood up. "Well, what about it, Wilson? You want to join up
with us and take Pittsburgh away from Bauder? Man, the loot there'll
be--liquor, cars, food, everything!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales knew he had no real choice, that even though it was a maddening
interruption to his search for Kendrick, he must pretend to accede. But
he thought it best not to agree too readily.

"About Pittsburgh, I don't care," he said. "It's Castletown I want to
get to--and my girl."

"Ho," said Lanterman, "I'll tell you what. You join up with us and I'll
give you Castletown, all for your own. Of course, I'll still be boss of
the whole region."

Wales made another attempt for information. "I've heard of this
Brotherhood of Atonement," he said. "Are you with that outfit?"

Lanterman swore. "That bunch is _crazy_. No sense to 'em at all. Hell,
no, we're not Atoners."

Wales said, slowly, "Well, looks like if I and my girl decide to stay,
we'd better be in your bunch. Sure, I'll join."

Lanterman clapped him on the back. "You'll never regret it, Wilson.
I've got some big ideas. Those that stick with me will get more'n their
share of everything. Pittsburgh is only the start."

He added impressively, "You're joining at a lucky time. For tonight's
when we're taking Pittsburgh."

The young, dark man snarled, "If he's a spy, then letting him know that
will--"

"You're too suspicious, Harry," said Lanterman. "He's no spy. He's
come."

He looked down at the dark young man. "All right, Harry, you take your
bunch along now. And you remember not to start things till you hear our
signal."

Ten cars, with thirty-odd men in them, pulled out of the main street in
the twilight. Harry was in the first car, and they headed south out of
town.

Lanterman then told the others, "Rest of us better get going too, all
except those that are staying to guard the women and kids. You stick
along with me, Wilson."

Motors roared, all along the street. Lanterman climbed grandly into a
long black limousine, and Wales followed him.

The car was full of men and gun-barrels when its driver, a leathery
young chap who was chewing tobacco, pulled out along the street. The
other cars, nearly a score of them, followed them. But they headed
southeastward.

"We're going pretty far east," Wales protested. "Pittsburgh's south."

Lanterman chuckled. "Don't you worry, Wilson. You'll get to Pittsburgh,
before the night's over."

For an hour the caravan of cars, without lights, rolled along silent
roads and through dark villages.

They came to a halt in a little town that Wales couldn't recognize.
But when he saw wooden piers, and the broad, glinting blackness of a
river, he realized it must be one of the smaller towns a bit upriver
from Pittsburgh on the Allegheny.

There were a dozen big skiffs tied to the piers, and a quartet of
armed men guarding them. There were no lights, and the darkness was a
confusion of shadowy men and of unfamiliar voices.

"Get your damned gun-butt out of my ribs, will you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales realized that the whole party was embarking in the boats. He
followed Lanterman into one of them. Lanterman said,

"Now I don't want one bit of noise from any of you. Get going."

The boats were cast off and forged out into the dark, wide river. In
the moonless night, the shore was only a deeper bulk of blackness.
Lanterman's boat, leading, swung across to the southern shore, and then
kept close to it as they went silently downstream.

Occasional creak of oars, the voices of frogs along the bank--these
were the only sounds. The deep summery, rotten smell of the river
brought a powerful nostalgia to Wales.

Impossible to think that all this must soon end!

The darkness remained absolute as they went on downriver. They had
entered what was once the busiest industrial region of the world, but
it was desolate and black and silent now.

Wales ventured to whisper, "Why this way, instead of using the bridges?"

Lanterman snorted. "They _expect_ us to use the bridges. Wait, and
you'll see." A moment later he called. "No more rowing. Drift. And no
noise!"

They drifted silently along the bank. A huge span loomed up vaguely
over them. Wales thought it would be the old Chestnut Street Bridge.

He was startled when, beside him, Lanterman hooted. It was a reasonably
good imitation of a screech-owl, twice repeated.

A moment later, from the northern, farthest end of the big bridge,
rifle-shots shattered the silence. There was a sudden confusion of
firing and shouting there.

Lanterman chuckled. "Harry's right on time. He'll make enough row to
bring the whole bunch there."

Presently there was a sound of motors. Cars without lights, many of
them, were racing along the riverside highway from downtown Pittsburgh.
They rushed over the bridge, toward the distant uproar of shooting.

"That decoyed them out," Lanterman said. He gave orders, quick and
fierce. "Allerman, you and Jim take your boats in here. Block the
bridges, so they can't get back in a hurry."

Two skiffloads of men darted toward the dim shore. And the rest, with
Lanterman's skiff leading, moved under oars down along the riverside.

Now Wales glimpsed lights--a few dim, scattered gleams. With a shock,
he saw big, black towers against the stars, and realized they were the
skyscrapers of downtown Pittsburgh.

Their skiffs shot in, bumped and stopped. The men piled out, onto a
cobbled levee that slanted up from the river.

Lanterman's voice rang out. "We've got 'em cold, with most of their
men chasing Harry across the river! Come on! But remember--don't shoot
anyone unless they show fight! Most of 'em'll join us, later."

The dark figures of the men, gun-barrels glinting in the starlight,
went up the levee in a stumbling rush. Somewhere ahead, a voice yelled
in alarm.

Wales, behind Lanterman, felt more than ever caught in a nightmare.
These men, ignorant in their unbelief, battling for an empty city upon
a world toward which doom was coming--it seemed a terrible dream from
which he could not wake.



                              CHAPTER IV


They ran forward and were suddenly in a narrow street of tall, old
business buildings. It was a gut of darkness in which the men stumbled
and jostled each other, and now they heard an alarm-siren ahead.

Wales had no desire at all to become embroiled in this senseless
struggle for an empty city. But with Lanterman just ahead, and men
all around, he dared not try to slip away. Some of them were surely
watching him.

They debouched into a broader street. A few blocks away along this
wider avenue, a searchlight suddenly went into action, lighting up shop
windows and building-fronts for a quarter-mile, and half-dazzling the
dark, running figures of Lanterman's men. Instantly shots burst forth
from beyond the searchlight. Bullets whined and whanged off stone-work,
and there was the silvery crash of shattered plate-glass.

"Get back in here!" Lanterman yelled, and his men sucked back into the
dark shelter of the narrower way.

One of them was holding his shoulder, and sobbing, "Damn them, they
hit me--"

Wales, pressing close against a stone facade, looked out into the eery
brilliance ahead and recognized it as Liberty Avenue. He saw, across
it, a shopwindow in which impeccably dressed dummies looked out as
though in wide-eyed amazement at what was going on.

Lanterman paid no attention to the wounded man. "They're up in that big
hotel near the Post Office," he said quickly. "Can't be many men left
here--but we got to get to them fast, before the others hear and start
back."

He told one of the farmer-men,

"You, Milton--take a dozen men and get around to the back of that
hotel. Rest of us will take it from the front."

Wales thought that however ignorant he might be in some ways, Lanterman
was a born leader. No wonder that people who had been bewildered and
lost in doubts followed the red-faced man.

Two men with Venn guns hurried into a building at the corner of
Liberty. A minute later, from a third-floor window, they suddenly let
go. The searchlight went out.

"Come on!" yelled Lanterman. They poured out into the wide avenue and
raced along it, keeping on the sidewalks on either side.

There was, suddenly, a burst of firing from ahead, that sounded
muffled and distant. Then silence. They were nearly to the big hotel.

"Hold it, Sam!" came Milton's yell from the dark building. "It's all
done."

Flashlights began to come on, like fireflies waking. There was a sound
of women screeching from inside the hotel. Men came out of it, their
hands high.

One was a burly, shock-haired man who cursed Lanterman when he saw him.
"Shot two of my men, you--"

"Now quiet down, Bauder," said Lanterman. In the angling flashlight
illumination, his face was sweating and exultant. "No call for any
more fighting here. Wouldn't have been any, if you hadn't been so
big-feelinged when we first came. Pittsburgh's big enough for all of
us--long as you know I'm boss."

He turned to his men. "Half of you get back over to those bridges--tell
'em we've got Bauder and we've got Pittsburgh. They'll give up. Take
them, Milton."

Whooping with triumph, the men started after Milton, into one of the
dark side streets leading toward the river.

Wales started along with them. He half expected Lanterman to call him
back, but the leader was too occupied with his moment of victory to
remember the suspicions of hours before.

It was, Wales knew, the best chance he'd be likely to get to escape
from this band. He let himself drop behind the rest of Milton's men as
they ran down Ninth Street. Then, passing the mouth of an alley, he
dodged into it and ran alone in darkness, cutting south to Sixth.

Wales stretched his legs toward the levee. The bridges were impassable
to him, and the skiffs were his only chance. He made sure of oars in
one of them, then pushed it out onto the dark river.

From northward, from the bridges, came the sound of firing. But as
Wales rowed, the shots straggled into silence.

He guessed that the fighting was over and that Sam Lanterman was master
of Pittsburgh.

When Wales finally stood on the dark northern shore and looked back,
he saw a scattered twinkling of little lights moving amid the towering
black structures that once had been a city.

He suddenly found that he was shaking, from reaction and despair.

"Can anyone--_anything_--save people like that?"

To Wales, it suddenly all seemed hopeless--the mission on which
he'd come back to Earth. Hopeless, to think that the ignorant, the
short-sighted, the fearful, could ever be induced to leave Earth in
time.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked up at the star-decked sky. Out there in the void, the
massive asteroid that spelled world's end was swinging ever forward on
the orbit that in four months would end in planetary collision. You
couldn't see it, though. And that was the trouble. People like these,
influenced by someone's secret propaganda, wouldn't believe it until
Kendrick's World loomed dreadful in the heavens. And then it would be
too late....

Wales turned and started up the street from the river. He'd been given
a mission and he had to carry it out. Not only for the sake of all
those ignorant ones who might be trapped on a doomed world, but also
for the sake of his friends. Something had happened to Lee and Martha
Kendrick, and he had to find them.

He went through the Northside district until, beyond the old
Planetarium, he found a big garage. There were plenty of cars in it. In
ten minutes, Wales was driving north.

He kept his lights off, and his speed down. He looked back often. No
one followed him now.

"Whoever _was_ trailing me," he thought, "will be a while discovering
that I'm not still with Lanterman."

Again, he wondered who the secret trailers were. They hadn't tried to
overtake him. They had just followed him. Was it someone who _also_
wanted to find Kendrick? And for what reason?

He thought of the Brotherhood of Atonement that was still only a name
to him, and felt a chill.

It was fifty miles to Castletown, and he dared not drive too fast
without lights lest he run suddenly upon a block in the road. But after
a while the moon rose and Wales was able to push the car a little
faster.

The countryside dreamed in the moonlight. It was only in towns that the
awful emptiness of the world crushed you down. Out here between fields
and hills, things were as they had always been, and it did indeed seem
mad folly for men to quit their planet. It was small wonder that some
of them refused to do so.

Everything you saw, Wales thought, wrung your heart with a feeling of
futility. That little white house with the picket fence that he swept
past so swiftly--someone had labored hard to build that fence, to plant
the flowers, to coddle a green lawn into being. And it had all been for
nothing, the little houses, the mighty cities, all the care and toil
and planning of centuries for nothing....

He would not let himself get into that frame of mind. It had not been
for nothing. Out of it all, man had won for himself the knowledge that
was now saving him. The cities that now seemed so futile had built
the rocket-fleets that for years had been taking the millions out to
Mars. They had built the atomic power-plants, the great electronic
food-and-water synthesizers, that would make life on Mars possible for
all Earth's folk. No, man's past was not a failure, but a success.

Of a sudden, Wales' brooding was shattered as he drove into the town of
Brighton Falls.

There was no town.

He pulled up, startled. In the moonlight, a blackened devastation
stretched around him, a few ruined walls still standing, the rest a
shapeless mass of blackened debris.

Wales, after a moment, got over his first shock. "Lightning could
easily start a fire," he thought. "And with nobody to put it out--"

It seemed logical enough. Yet he still felt shocked as he drove hastily
on out of the blackened ruins.

As the moon rose, he drove faster. Castletown was very near. He would
soon know if he had come all this way for nothing.

In this old town, Wales had grown up with Lee and Martha Kendrick.
In Westpenn College here, they'd been classmates. Lee, making
astronomy his career, had stayed here at the small but famous Westpenn
Observatory, to make finally the astronomical discovery of approaching
Doomsday. And, Wales knew, Martha had stayed with him, keeping the old
Kendrick house for him.

He knew too that the Kendricks had stayed on here, even after the whole
region was evacuated. And then they'd disappeared.

Fairlie had said that his men had searched here and hadn't found them.
But Wales clung to the conviction that his quest of them must begin
here.

                              CASTLETOWN
                         A Good Place to Live

       *       *       *       *       *

The sign at the edge of town, unintentionally ironic now, went past
him. It had been a long way from here, Wales thought, to the Rocket
Service school out west, a long way farther to Mars, and yet here he
was, after all these years, back again.

His own boyhood home was here but there was no reason at all to visit
it. He was glad there was no reason, he was glad now that his parents
had died before Doomsday came.

He turned off the highway. The campus of Westpenn College was on the
hills east of Castletown. The buildings were dark and silent. On the
loftiest eminence, the dome of the Observatory shouldered the stars.
There was no light there, either.

Wales drove past the campus to the big, square, old-fashioned Kendrick
house. It was dark and quiet as everything else. He stopped his car,
made sure of the pistol in his jacket pocket, and ascended the steps.

He felt, after all these years, like a ghost coming back to a dead
town, to a dead world. Impatient of fancies, he pushed at the front
door and it swung quietly inward.

Wales flashed his light around the hall inside. Then he began going
through the rooms.

Over an hour later he was back in the front hall, disappointed and
baffled. He had found no one in the house, and no evidence that either
Lee or Martha had been here recently.

As he stood, anxious and frustrated, Wales suddenly noticed a smear of
red on the inner side of the white-painted front door.

He flashed his light on it. Two words were written in lipstick on the
door, in a feminine hand. "The Castle." Nothing more.

Wales' thoughts leaped. He pulled open the door and went out to his car
fast. In a moment he was driving on downtown, his hopes suddenly high.

"The Castle." That was what, when they were all kids, they had called
the old hilltop mansion of an ancient great-aunt of the Kendricks'.
They had given it that name because of its 1900-ish wooden tower with a
crenellated top, that had fascinated them.

Of a sudden, checking his elation, there came to Wales the sure
knowledge that Martha had been _afraid_, when she wrote that direction.

Afraid to leave a more definite clue, than that one that only a few
people could possibly understand.

"But she didn't leave that for me--" Wales thought, puzzledly. "As far
as they knew, I was still on Mars. But then, for whom?"

He began to worry more deeply than before. He had found a clue to the
Kendricks, a clue that Fairlie's agents had been unable to understand,
but the careful obscurity of it made their disappearance suddenly more
sinister.

Wales drove fast through the familiar old hometown streets. He noticed,
as he swung around the Diamond, that one store had a brave sign
chalked on its window, "Closed for Doomsday".

He swung right, up North Jefferson Street, then on up the steep hill
that was the highest point of Castletown. He was wire-tense with hope
when he parked in front of the old wooden monstrosity of a mansion.

Everything was dark here, too. His hopes fell a little as he went up
the tree-lined walk. Still, people would be careful about showing
light--

Something exploded in the back of Wales' head, and his face hit the
ground hard.



                               CHAPTER V


Wales regained a foggy consciousness, to become aware that someone
close to him was sobbing.

He felt that he had to get up. There was something he must do. He had
very little time, the end of Earth was rushing upon him, and there was
someone he must find. He _must_ move, get up....

"Jay," said a voice somewhere. "It's me. _Me!_ Martha."

Wales got his eyes open, and saw a dark figure bending over him, and he
threshed his arms numbly, trying to push it away, trying to get up, to
fight.

"Jay!"

A flashlight beam suddenly sprang into being right above him, almost
dazzling him. Then, his vision clearing, he saw that the beam was not
on his face but on the face that bent above him.

A girl's face, quite familiar, framed by dark, hair, but with tears
running down it. Martha Kendrick's face.

The beam went out and the darkness was upon them again.

Wales found he was lying on damp grass, one hand resting on a concrete
walk. He saw trees and a big house with a crenellated wooden tower,
against the stars.

"Martha," he muttered. "So you were here. But there's someone
else--someone slugged me--"

Her voice came uncertainly. "That was me, Jay. I--I might have killed
you--"

He didn't understand at all. But, as his brain began to clear a little,
he became aware of a pounding headache.

He sat up. Martha had her arm around his shoulders, but she seemed more
to cling to him than to support him. She was sobbing again.

"How could I _know_?" she was saying. "I didn't even know you were on
Earth. When your car came, when you came up the walk in the dark, I
knew it wasn't Lee. Not tall enough. I thought it was one of them. I
didn't dare shoot, so I used the gun to hit you--"

He gripped her arm. "Martha, where is Lee?"

"Jay, I don't know. I've been waiting for him here, hoping he'd come.
I've been nearly crazy, by myself. And afraid--"

Wales perceived that she was near hysteria. And her fear communicated
to him.

He got unsteadily to his feet. "We'd better go inside. Where we can
talk, and have a light, without anyone seeing it."

His head felt big as a pumpkin, but he navigated the steps of the old
mansion successfully. In the dark interior of the house, he heard
Martha lock and chain the door. Then her hand gripped his wrist.

"This way. I have one room blacked out--the kitchen."

He let her lead him through the darkness, heard her close another door.
Then her flashlight came on again, illuminating the barny old kitchen.

He looked at her. He had remembered Martha Kendrick as a small, dark
girl, something of a spitfire. There was no chip on her shoulder now.
She looked near collapse, her face dead white, her hands trembling.

She insisted on putting cold wet cloths on his head. Holding them
there, feeling at the same time painful and a little ridiculous in
appearance, Wales made her sit down with him at the kitchen table. The
flashlight, lying on the table, threw angular shadows against the walls.

"How long have you been hiding here, Martha?"

"Five weeks. It seems like five years." Her lips began to quiver. "It's
been like a terrible dream. This old house, the town, everything you
knew all your life, deserted and strange. The little sounds you hear at
night, the glow in the sky from the burnings--"

"But _why_ have you hidden here? Why didn't you--and Lee too--report to
New York for evacuation to Mars, like everyone else?"

Martha Kendrick seemed to get a little control of herself. She spoke
earnestly.

"When Castletown, like the rest of this whole region, was evacuated two
years ago, Lee wanted to stay on a while. He was working each night
over at the Observatory, keeping a constant watch on Nereus. I think
he kept hoping that he'd discover some change in its orbit, some hope.
But--he found nothing. He'd been right. It would hit Earth."

"But why did _you_ stay, too?" Wales demanded. Martha looked at him in
surprise.

"Somebody had to take care of Lee. I wasn't going to Mars until he
went. It was lonesome, after everybody left Castletown. Lee said we'd
soon go, ourselves. But then--he changed. He began to seem terribly
worried about something, terribly afraid."

"We've all been afraid," Wales said somberly, but she shook her head.

"It wasn't the crash, it wasn't Doomsday, Lee was afraid of. It was
something else. He said he feared all Earth's people weren't going to
get away. He said there were men who didn't _want_ everyone to get
away, men who wanted to see a lot of people trapped here when Doomsday
comes!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales was electrified out of his headachy grogginess by her statement.
He grasped her wrist. "Martha, Lee said that? Who did he say they
were--those who wanted to trap millions into staying here?"

Again she shook her head. "He didn't say who they were. He said he
wasn't sure, it was only a suspicion. But it worried him. He went
to New York once to see John Fairlie about--the regional Evacuation
Marshal."

Wales thought hard. "Yes. Fairlie told me _he_ suspected some
deliberate, secret effort going on to induce millions of people to
stay on Earth till it was too late. Either Fairlie got that idea from
Lee, or Lee got it from him--" He broke off, then asked, "Did Lee ever
talk about the Brotherhood of Atonement?"

Martha nodded. "Oh, yes, quite often. We've been afraid of them, ever
since everyone else left Castletown."

Again, Wales was astonished. "What do you know about that Brotherhood,
Martha?"

She seemed surprised by his excitement. "Why, Jay, they're fanatics, a
superstitious movement that started long before evacuation was carried
out here. People whose minds became unhinged by the coming of Doomsday.
They preached, down in the Diamond, I heard them, terrible ravings that
Doomsday was sent us for our sins, that only sacrifice and atonement of
lives and treasures would save the world. Then, when evacuation went
on, here, all the Brotherhood hid in the country so they wouldn't have
to go."

"And they're here now?" he exclaimed.

Martha shuddered. "Not _here_. It's the one thing I've feared most
these last weeks, that they'd burn Castletown."

"Burn Castletown? Good God--why?"

Martha looked at him. "Jay, they're burning the empty cities, one by
one. A sacrifice. An atonement. I'm afraid Sharon was burned two nights
ago--the glow in the sky seemed to come from there. And I've seen other
fire-glows in the south--"

Wales, with a sudden cold feeling, remembered the blackened desolation
of Brighton Falls. Then it had been no accident? Then it had been
deliberate, a purposeful thing, a sacrifice--

He suddenly saw Earth as it was. A nearly-empty planet reeling toward
crazy anarchy. In New York, where there was still law and order and
you could see the rocket-fleets of the Marslift coming and going
methodically in the sky, it had still seemed like a civilized world.
But out here in the black, blind evacuated regions was deepening chaos,
with law gone and all the most atavistic passions of humanity let
loose. With the ignorant and mad who refused to leave battling for the
possession of deserted cities, or setting the torch to unpeopled towns
in superstitious sacrifice....

He asked Martha, "Did Lee think that the Brotherhood of Atonement was
behind the plot to trap people into staying on Earth?"

That seemed to startle her. "He didn't say so. But could they be the
ones? Mad people like that--?"

"It would take a fanatic to perpetrate a horror like getting people
trapped in Doomsday," Wales said. "But let it pass, for the moment. I
want to know what _happened_ to Lee."

Her dark eyes filled with tears again. "I can't tell you. It was like
this. Each night, Lee went to the Observatory. I stayed in our home but
I had a portable radiophone and he had one, always open, so I could
call him if I needed him. But, one night five weeks ago, he called
_me_. He was shouting, hoarse. He said, 'Martha, men breaking in--I
think they know I suspect their plan--you get out of the house, quick!
If I get away, I'll find you--'"

Her face was white and haunted, as she went on. "Jay, I didn't know
what to do! I had to hide but I had to leave some word for Lee so,
if he got back, he'd know where to find me. That's why I wrote "The
Castle" on the door. Nobody but he would know I meant this old house. I
ran out and was only a few blocks away when I heard cars, at our house,
and men calling. I kept in the back streets, in the dark, and got here.
I--I've been waiting here since then. Weeks. Eternities. And--Lee
hasn't come. Do you think they killed him?"

Wales gave her an honest answer. "Martha, I don't know. We'll hope they
didn't. We'll try to find him. And the first question is, Who took him?
Who are 'they'?"

She spoke more slowly. "I've had time to think. Lots of it. When Lee
said, 'I think they know I suspect their plan--' Was he referring
to his suspicion that there was a terrible plot to keep many people
trapped on Earth till Doomsday? Did they realize Lee suspected them,
and seize him?"

Wales' fist clenched slowly. "It's the only possible answer. Lee
somehow suspected who was behind the secret propaganda that's been
swaying people to remain on Earth. They grabbed him, to prevent him
from telling."

He added, suddenly, "And it would serve their purpose another way! It
would enable them to point out that Lee Kendrick hadn't left Earth--so
that Kendrick's World must be a hoax!"

An expression of pain crossed Martha's white face. "Jay, don't call it
that."

"What?"

"Kendrick's World. It's not fair. Lee discovered its new orbit, he gave
the whole Earth a lifesaving warning. It's not fair to give his name to
the thing that's bringing Doomsday."

       *       *       *       *       *

He reached out and clasped her hand. "Sorry, Martha. You're right. But
we still have that question to answer. Who are 'they'--the 'they' who
took Lee? Are they the Brotherhood of Atonement? Or somebody else? Who
else would have any motive?"

His head suddenly swayed drunkenly, and he brushed his hand across his
eyes. Martha uttered a little cry of distress.

"Jay, you're still not over it--the blow I gave you. Here, let me make
fresh compresses."

He held her back. "No, Martha, it's not that. I'm just out, dead tired.
Since I reached Earth on this mission, I've had it--and only a few
hours sleep in my car, last night."

She took his wrist. "Then you're going to sleep right now. I'll
keep watch. This way--I have to put the light out when we leave the
kitchen--"

Wales, following her through the dark house, felt that he was three
parts asleep by the time he reached the bedroom to which she led him.
His head still ached, and the headache and the exhaustion came up over
him like a drowning wave.

When he woke, afternoon sunlight was slanting into the dusty bedroom.
He turned, and discovered that Martha sat in a chair beside the bed,
her hands folded, looking at him.

She said, "I wasn't sleepy. And it's been so long since I've had
anyone--"

She stopped, faintly embarrassed. Wales sat up, and reached and kissed
her. She clung to him, for a moment.

Then she drew back. "Just propinquity," she said. "You would never even
look at me, in the old days."

Wales grinned. "But now you're the last girl in town."

Martha's face changed and she suddenly said, with a little rush of
words, "Oh, Jay, do you sometimes get the feeling that it just _can't_
happen, no matter what Lee and all the other scientists say, no matter
what their instruments say, that everything we've known all our lives
just can't end in flame and shock from the sky--?"

He nodded soberly. "I've had that feeling. We've all had it, had to
fight against it. It's that feeling, in the ignorant, that'll keep them
here on Earth until it's too late--unless we convince them in time."

"What'll it really be like for us, on Mars?" she asked him. "I don't
mean all the cheery government talks about the splendid new life we'll
all have there. I mean, _really_."

"Hard," he said. "It's going to be a hard life, for us all. The
mineral resources there are limitless. Out of them, with our new
sciences of synthesis, we can make air, water, food. But only certain
areas are really habitable. Our new cities out there are already badly
crowded--and more millions still pouring in."

He still held her hand, as he said, "But we'll make out. And Earth
won't be completely destroyed, remember. Someday years from now--we'll
be coming back."

"But it won't be the same, it'll never be the same," she whispered.

He had no answer for that.

Packaged food made them a meal, in the kitchen. It was nearly sunset,
by the time they finished.

Martha asked him then, with desperate eagerness, "We're going to try to
find Lee now?"

Wales said, "I've been thinking. We'll get nowhere by just searching
blindly. Fairlie's agents did that, and found no trace of Lee at all. I
think there's only one way to find him."

"What?"

"Since I left New York on this mission, I was followed," Wales told
her. He described the shadowy, unseen trailers who had tracked him
until he fell into the hands of Lanterman's men. "Now, my mission to
find Lee could well have been known. Only reason anyone would follow
me is to make sure I _didn't_ find him. So those who tracked me must be
some of the 'they' who took Lee. The Brotherhood of Atonement, it seems
sure."

He paused, then went on. "So my shadows must know what happened to Lee,
where he is. If I could catch one of them, make him talk--"

"We could find out what they've done with Lee!" Martha exclaimed. Then
her excitement checked. "But you said they must have lost your trail,
at Pittsburgh."

He nodded. "Sure. But what would they do, when they made sure I wasn't
with Lanterman's band in Pittsburgh, that I'd slipped away? Knowing
that I was headed for Castletown in the first place, they'll come
_here_ to look for me. And I'll be waiting for them."

A little pallor came into Martha's face. "What are you going to do,
Jay?"

"I'm going to set up a little ambush for them, right down in the center
of town," he said grimly. "You'll be quite safe here, until--"

       *       *       *       *       *

She interrupted passionately. "No. I'm going with you." He started to
argue, and then he saw the desperation in her eyes. "Jay, you don't
know what it's been like to be so alone. I'm not letting you go
without me."

He said, after a moment, "Maybe you're right. But we'd better get
started. Do you have a gun?"

She produced an ancient revolver. "I found this, in the house next
door. I wanted something--I was so afraid the Brotherhood would come
here--"

Wales nodded. "We'll get you something better than that. Now listen,
Martha. You must keep silent, you must do what I say. There's no one at
all to help us, if things go wrong."

She nodded. He opened the back door and they went out of the old house,
and across its ragged back yard to the alley.

Wales, his gun in his hand, led the way down the alley. Where it
crossed Grant Street, he stopped, stuck his head out and peered both
ways. The street of old houses was still and dead. The maples along it
drowsed in the dying sunlight. A little breeze whispered, and was quiet
again.

Wales and Martha darted across the street fast, into the shelter of
the alley again. As they went down it, hugging the backs of buildings,
heading toward the Diamond, Wales had again that fantastic feeling of
unreality.

He remembered every foot of these blocks. How many times, carrying a
newspaper route as a boy, he had short-cutted along this alley. And
how would a boy dream that he would come back to it someday, when the
familiar town lay silent and empty before approaching world's end?

They reached the Diamond, an oval of grass with benches and a Civil
War monument and with the three-story storefronts all around it, their
dusty windows looking down like blind eyes. "KEEP RIGHT" said a big
sign at each end of the Diamond, but nothing moved along the wide
street, nothing at all.

Wales peered from a doorway, then took Martha's wrist and hurried
across. Dutton's Hardware, with its windows still full of
fishing-tackle displays, was on the other side. But when he tried the
door, it was locked.

He could smash the plate-glass of the door but that would be to
advertise his presence inside. He hurried, tense and sweating now,
around to the alley in back of the store. The back door by the little
loading platform was locked too, but he broke a window with his
gun-butt.

The shattering of the glass sounded in the silent town like an
avalanche. Wales swore under his breath, waited, listened.

There was no sound. He got the window open, and drew Martha in after
him into the dim interior of the store.

"Why here?" she whispered, now.

"Anyone who comes searching Castletown for me is bound to come to the
Diamond sooner or later," he told her. "It's our best place to watch."

He had another reason. He went forward through the obscurity of the
store, through sheaves of axe-handles and rural mail-boxes in piles,
with the hardware-store smell of oil and leather and paint strong in
his nostrils.

He found a gun-rack. All rifles and pistols were gone but there were
still a row of shotguns, the barrels gleaming in the dimness like
organ-pipes. In the worn, deep wooden drawers beneath, he found shells.

"I seem to remember you used to go after pheasant with Lee," he said.

Martha nodded, and took one of the pumpguns.

"Just don't use it, until I tell you," he said.

They went on, toward the front of the store. Then they sat down, and
through the show-windows they could look out on the Diamond.

The sun sank lower. The man on the monument cast a longer and longer
shadow across empty benches where once old men of Castletown had
gossiped.

Nothing happened.

Wales, waiting, thought how outraged crusty Mr. Dutton would have been
by what they'd done. It had been like him to carefully lock up the
store, front and back, before he left it forever.

He looked across the Diamond, at the Busy Bee Cafe, at the Electric
Shoe Repair Shop, at the old brick YWCA.

Twilight deepened. Martha moved a little, beside him. He hoped she
wasn't losing her nerve.

Then he realized she had been nudging him. She whispered, "Jay."

At the same moment he heard a thrumming sound. Even here inside the
store, it seemed unnaturally loud in the silent town. He crouched lower.

A long green car came down the street and swung around the Diamond, and
then with squealing brakes it came to a stop.

The hunters had come to Castletown.



                              CHAPTER VI


Three men got out of the car and stood there in the dusk, at the south
side of the Diamond.

They wore windbreakers and slacks. One of them was short and pudgy, the
other two were average-looking men. All of them carried Venn guns.

They talked, briefly. One of the average men seemed to be the leader,
Wales thought, from the way he gesticulated and spoke.

"What are they going to do?" whispered Martha.

"Look for me," Wales said. "A hundred to one they've left a man at the
Observatory, and at your home--in case I come there. And these three
are going to search downtown for me."

The three separated. One walked east along Washington Street. The
other one got back into the car and drove off on North Jefferson. The
remaining man--the dark-haired pudgy one, started going around the
Diamond, keeping close to the fronts of the stores, ready to dart into
cover at any moment.

An idea came to Wales, and he acted upon it at once. He crept to the
front door of the hardware store, unlocked it, and silently opened it a
few inches.

He came back, rummaged frantically in the dimness of the shelves till
he found a spool of wire. Then he told Martha,

"Come on, now--get down behind this counter. And stay there."

"Jay, he's coming this way!" she protested. "He'll see the door ajar--"

He interrupted. "Yes. I want him to. Do as I say."

Her face white in the dusk, she got down behind the counter, back in
the middle of the store.

Wales crept swiftly to the front of the store, whipped behind the
counter there, and crouched down.

Now, with the door ajar, he could hear the pudgy man coming along the
sidewalk. Then he saw him, his heavy, doughy face turning alertly from
side to side as he came along.

The man stopped and the tommy-gun in his hands came up fast. He had
seen the hardware-store door was a little open.

With the gun held high, the pudgy man came slowly to the door. His foot
kicked it wide open. He peered into the dimness of the store, poised on
his feet like a dancer, ready to turn instantly.

Wales' fingers closed on a little carton of hinges, under the counter.
He suddenly hurled the little box toward the other side of the store.
It struck a display of tinware with a tremendous clatter.

The pudgy man whirled toward that direction, in a flash.

With a movement as swift, Wales darted out in the same moment and
jammed his pistol into the pudgy man's back.

"Let go of that gun," Wales said, "or I'll blow your spine out!"

He saw the pudgy man stiffen and arch his back, in a convulsive
movement. Wales' finger tightened on the trigger. But, before he pulled
it, the tommy-gun clattered to the floor.

"Martha," said Wales.

She came, fast, her face white and scared in the dusk.

"Take this wire and tie his wrists behind him," Wales said. "Don't get
in front of my gun."

With shaking fingers, she did as he ordered. "Now shut the front door."

Wales turned the pudgy man around. "Now sit down, on the floor. First
sound you make above a whisper, you're dead."

The pudgy man spoke, in a high falsetto whisper. "You're dead, right
now. Whatever happens to me, _you_ won't get out of Castletown."

"Don't worry about us," Wales advised. "Worry about yourself. Where's
Lee Kendrick?"

The pudgy man looked at him calmly. "I don't know what you're talking
about."

Martha whispered, with astounding fierceness, "Make him tell, Jay."

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales first searched their prisoner. He found no papers on him at all,
nothing but clips for the gun. Pudgy seemed quite unperturbed.

"All right, where's Kendrick?" Wales said again.

Pudgy said, "You talking about the Kendrick that discovered Doomsday
coming? _The_ Kendrick? How should I know?"

"Who are you working for?" Wales persisted. "Who took Kendrick, who
sent you to follow me here from New York? The Brotherhood?"

Pudgy looked at him in blank surprise. "Huh?"

"The Brotherhood of Atonement," Wales said. "You're one of them, aren't
you? They've got Kendrick, haven't they? Where?"

Pudgy's face split in the beginnings of a guffaw. Wales raised his
pistol quickly, and the man choked off the laugh. But his sides shook.

"Me one of that Brotherhood? You're funny. You're really funny, Wales."

"So you know me," Wales snapped. "You know all about me, you came
trailing me when I started to hunt for Kendrick. Who sent you?"

A queer gleam came into the eyes of Pudgy, but he remained silent.

Something in that look made Wales whirl around. Their prisoner sat
facing the store-front.

Out there in the dusk, one of the two other men had come back into the
Diamond.

"Martha," whispered Wales.

"Yes?"

"Take your shotgun. If he tries to open his mouth, bring it down on his
head."

Promptly, she picked up the shotgun and stood with it raised. Pudgy
looked up at her, and winced.

Wales crept back to the front of the store and looked out. The other
man out there seemed worried, holding his Venn gun high and looking
slowly all around the Diamond. That he was worried by Pudgy's absence,
Wales knew.

The man out there got into cover behind the pedestal of the monument,
and waited. Waiting, obviously, for the man with the car to come back.

Minutes passed. The twilight was deepening into the soft May darkness.
Suddenly Martha whispered.

"Jay!"

He swung around. Her face was a queer white blur in the darkness.
"What?"

"I hear singing," she said. "Someone is singing, a way off."

"Just the wind in the wires," he said. "There's no one in the whole
town but us--and them. You keep your eye on that fellow, I think we're
due for trouble soon."

He waited again. From outside, he could hear the sound of the wind
rising and falling. Then a strange conviction crept over him.

It was not the wind. It was the rise and fall of distant voices, many
of them. Now the breeze brought it through the night a little louder,
now it ebbed back to a murmur. Carefully, Wales opened the door a crack
to listen.

He exclaimed, "It's from up on North Hill, but what in the world--"

He suddenly crouched lower again, his pistol raised. Down the hill
along North Jefferson came the long green car, racing fast.

It swung around the Diamond. The man in it leaned out and called.
The man behind the monument ran out to meet him, talking fast and
gesticulating.

But the driver of the car pointed northward and shouted. Wales could
not see his face but he could hear the raw tone of his voice, and
caught the one final word, "--coming!"

The other man leaped into the car, after a last look around the empty
Diamond. The car shot away down Washington, heading east.

"Why, they've gone, run away!" Martha exclaimed. "They left their
partner here and--"

Wales held up his hand. "Listen!"

As the roar of the receding car died away, the sound of singing came
again--and this time it was louder, much louder, and there was a steady
throb of drums beneath it.

It rolled down from the north and he thought now he could hear the
words of a chorus, endlessly repeated.

"_Halle-lu-jah! Halle-lu-jah_--"

Lights suddenly sprang into being up there on the crest of North
Jefferson Street hill. They were not steady lights, they were moving,
tossing and shaking, and there were dozens, scores of them. They were
torches.

A long, thick snake of burning torches came down the wide street
into the dark and lifeless town. Wales could see no people, only the
torches, scores of them, hundreds of them. But he could hear the loud
chanting of the people who carried those lighted brands.

"_Halle-lu-jah_--"

Crash-crash-boom, thundered drums from the forefront of the river of
torches, and Wales felt a wild quickening of their beat and of the
chanting voices, that checked his breathing.

Martha uttered a low cry. "Jay, it's the Brotherhood coming! The
fanatics coming _here_ now, to--"

The hair bristled on Wales' neck. She did not need to finish the
horrified exclamation. The nightmare shape of the looming event was
only too clear.

From town to town the Brotherhood of Atonement marched, those weak,
crazed minds unhinged by the coming of Doomsday. Brighton Falls
they had burned, and Sharon, and God knows how many other deserted
towns. And now it was the turn of Castletown to be a sacrifice and an
atonement....

He wanted to turn and flee from that mad, oncoming parade. But he did
not. He crouched, watching, and he felt Martha, beside him, shivering.

"Jay, if they have Lee--he might be with them!"

"That's what I'm hoping for," he whispered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the torches were coming down into the Diamond, and now he could
see the people who carried them. They started around the oval, and the
tossing of the red burning brands was flashed back from the windows all
around, that shone like big eyes watching in amazement.

First, ahead of the torches, marched a half-dozen men and women with
drums, beating a heavy, absolutely unvarying rhythm. After them came
the main mass. He thought there might be two to three hundred of them.

Men, women, children. Torn and dusty clothes, unkempt hair, unshaven
faces, but eyes glittering with a wild, rapt emotion, voices shouting
the endless chorus of

    The Brotherhood of Atonement....

    Halle-LU-jah!

These crazed fanatics were gripped by no religious passion. The
religious folk of the world had seen God's hand in the saving of
Earth's peoples by man's newly-won knowledge. But these shouting
marchers had gone back to dark barbarism, to pagan propitiation of a
threatening fate, back beyond all civilization.

Boom-boom crashed the drums, right in front of the Dutton store, as the
van of the mad parade swept past, following a tightening path around
the oval, making room for more and more of the torch-bearers here in
the center of the old town. And presently they were all in the Diamond,
a packed mass of wild faces and shaken torches, all turned toward the
center where the monument stood.

A man with a white face and burning eyes leaped up onto the pedestal of
the monument, and the drums banged louder and a great cry went up from
the Brotherhood. He began to speak, his voice shrill and high.

"Jay, do you see Lee? I don't--"

"No," Wales said. "He's not with them."

From out there, across the waving torches, came the screeching voice.
"--burn the places of sin, and the powers of night and space will see
the shining signs of our Atonement, and withhold their wrath--"

Martha said, "Oh, Jay, they're going to burn Castletown. Can't we stop
them, somehow--"

He took her by the shoulders. She had had too much, but he could have
no hysteria now.

"Martha, we can't stop them, they'd tear us to shreds! And what
_difference_ does it make now? Don't you realize--in four months this
town and all towns will be destroyed anyway!"

Their prisoner, back in the darkness, suddenly raised his voice. Wales
leaped back, pressed his pistol against the pudgy man's body.

"You call out and you get it now!" Wales warned savagely.

Pudgy looked up at him, and said hoarsely, "Are you crazy? Those
maniacs aren't friends of mine! They're going to burn this whole town
like they burned others--we got to get out of here!"

The frantic fear in the man's voice was utterly sincere. And to Wales,
crouching beside the captive, came a shattering enlightenment.

He said, "Then you and your pals aren't working for the Brotherhood?
Then it wasn't the Brotherhood that took Lee Kendrick, after all?"

"They're maniacs!" said Pudgy, again. "For Christ's sake, Wales, are
you going to let them burn us alive?"

Wales stooped, grabbed the man by the throat. "It's not the Brotherhood
who took Kendrick, then. All right--who was it? Who wants to see
millions of people trapped on Earth? Who sent you after me? _Who?_"

Pudgy's voice turned raw and raging. "Get me out of here, and I'll tell
you. But if we stay here, we're goners."

"You'll tell me right now!"

Pudgy remained sullenly silent. Then, of a sudden, the single high
screeching voice out in the diamond ended, on a frenzied note.

_Boom-boom_, crashed out the drums again. The Brotherhood roared, as
with the single voice of a mighty beast. The men with torches began to
mill, to split off from the main mass, to run into the four main cross
streets, shaking their firebrands and shouting.

One yelling woman applied her torch to the faded canvas awning in front
of the Electric Shoe Repair Parlor. The canvas blazed up, and the
drums rolled again.

"Jay!" cried Martha.

Wales forced Pudgy to his feet, faced him toward the front windows, and
the torch-blazing chaos out beyond them.

"Martha and I are going, out the back way," Wales said. "We're leaving
_you_ here tied and helpless--unless you tell!"



                              CHAPTER VII


A throbbing, lurid light beat in through the front windows of the
store, as the flames across the Diamond swept up the fronts of old
buildings. The hoarse hallelujah-chorus of the Brotherhood, the
quickened booming of the drums, was louder. And the fiery light
illumined the bloodless, distorted face of their prisoner as he stared
up at Wales and Martha.

Wales still felt the shock of terrible surprise. He had been so _sure_
that only the mad Brotherhood could possibly be behind the plot to
seize Kendrick, the ghastly scheme to keep millions of people on Earth
until Doomsday crashed down upon them. Who else but madmen would do
such a thing? Who else would have any motive?

He didn't know. But their pudgy prisoner knew. And, even at the risk of
trapping Martha and himself in the holocaust of Castletown, he meant
to find out.

"Please," panted Pudgy. "We haven't got a chance if we stay here
longer. I've seen these maniacs and their Atonements. They won't leave
a building standing here!"

Wales looked at Martha's white face. "All right, Martha, we'll get
going. We'll leave this fellow here." He started to turn away.

"No, it's murder!" screamed Pudgy. "You can't leave me here, my hands
tied--"

"Then tell," Wales pressed. "Who seized Kendrick? Who's behind all
this?"

Beads of sweat stood out on Pudgy's dough-white face. His eyes rolled
horribly, and then he said hoarsely,

"Fairlie. John Fairlie. And others--"

"Fairlie? The regional Evacuation Marshal? What about him?" Wales
demanded.

"He--and friends of his, other Evacuation officials--they're the ones,"
Pudgy said. "They've got Lee Kendrick. They're the ones that want a lot
of people left on Earth."

Furious, Wales took their prisoner by his fat throat and shook him.
"All right, you had your chance," he raged. "And you tell us a brazen
lie like that. By God, we _are_ leaving you--"

Pudgy's voice rose almost to a scream. "It's the truth! You made me
tell you, now I've done it, and you won't believe me! There's a bunch
of them in it, I don't know how many. I know that besides Fairlie,
there's a couple of assistant Evacuation Marshals in other countries
and some minor officials and some others I don't know. I've seen them,
up near New York. It's where they've got Lee Kendrick. They'd kill me
for telling, and now I've told and you won't believe--"

Martha said uncertainly, "Oh, Jay, maybe he is telling the truth--maybe
that's where Lee is!"

Wales exclaimed, "Don't you see what a lie it is? John Fairlie is one
of the men charged with evacuating all the people off Earth--why would
he and other Evacuation officials want to trick millions into staying
here?"

"Because they don't want them on Mars, because they think they're scum
and ought to be left on Earth!" Pudgy cried. "I heard them talk, didn't
I? Talk about how hard it's going to be for years on Mars with too many
people there, already. And about how it'd be better for everyone if a
lot of ignorant crumb-bums and their families weren't taken to Mars to
be a load on everyone else. Didn't I hear them--"

Wales' rage at their prisoner receded, swept away by an icy tide of
terrible doubt that despite himself was rising now in his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

He remembered things, now. He remembered Fairlie's grim face as he'd
spoken broodingly of how hard a life it would be on Mars, with every
one of Earth's millions there. He remembered the bitterly contemptuous
way in which Fairlie--and Bliss and Chaumez and Holst--had spoken of
the looters, the ignorant resisters, the crazy folk, whom it would be
difficult to evacuate from Earth.

"Only fanatics would want to trap millions on Earth--" He, Wales, had
said that. He'd been thinking then of the Brotherhood. But suppose
there were other and more terrible fanatics? Fanatics who ruthlessly
decided that the more backward and ignorant of Earth's millions would
only be a burden in the hard years ahead, on Mars--and who secretly
planned to trick those millions into staying until it was too late?

Such things had been planned and done before, by egotistical,
self-appointed guardians of the public interest! And if--_if_ this was
the truth, it explained why he, Wales, had been followed, it explained
why Fairlie had made him suspect the Brotherhood, it explained many
things--

_Halle-lu-jah!_ roared the chorus of howling voices, out in the
streets. And the ruddy, throbbing light increased in intensity suddenly.

"Jay!" cried Martha, in tones of horror. He whirled around.

The front of the hardware store was on fire, with flames writhing
around the edges of the windows, outside.

"You've got us killed!" sobbed Pudgy.

Wales, his thoughts now a chaos, realized that he dared delay no
longer. He picked up the Venn gun, and then yanked their prisoner to
his feet.

"Come on, Martha," he said. "Out that back window."

Pudgy stumbled awkwardly, his hands still bound behind him. They
hurried back through the old store, with the firelight beating brighter
from behind them, and got through the window into the alley.

To their left flames shot skyward with a roar from the Penn Hotel,
showers of sparks sailing into the darkness. A glance told Wales that
the Brotherhood had fires going along whole blocks of Mercer and South
Jefferson Streets.

"This way," he cried, starting down the alley that ran southward
between the streets. He had Pudgy by the shoulder, but there was no
need to make their terrified prisoner hurry.

Wales put everything from his mind, but the necessity of escape from
the holocaust of this latest flaming Atonement. And the new suspicion
in his mind was so shocking that he didn't want to think of it until he
had to.

He knew the alleys and streets of Castletown, even in darkness. And
they had light to guide them--more and more light throbbing up into the
night sky behind them.

He cut across Mill Street, and on up southeastward to a residential
street of cottages. Here, he gave Martha his pistol and had her stand
guard over Pudgy while he himself looked for a car.

He found one, in the garage attached to the first cottage. He had to
break through the house itself to enter the garage. The rooms were just
as someone had left them, the furniture, the rugs, all the things they
could not take with them in Evacuation, still in place.

Again, Wales felt a pang. Someone had toiled and planned for this
little house and the things in it. And now it would not even endure
until the common Doomsday--it would perish in the senseless flames.

He drove out into the street, and pushed Pudgy into the back seat.
Taking no chances, he tied their prisoner's ankles too. Then, with
Martha beside him, Wales drove fast up the steep streets southeast.

"Jay--look!" she cried, when they reached a crest. She was looking
back. He stopped the car, and looked back with her.

The whole downtown section of Castletown blazed high toward the stars.
The wind whirled sparks away in burning clouds, and a great pall of
smoke lay toward them.

Southward from the center of town moved a river of torches. And from
those streets, only now just kindling, above the crackle of flames came
the distant boom of the Brotherhood drums, and their rising and falling
chant.

Martha was crying. He put his arm around her, and turned her away from
the sight.

"It doesn't mean anything, Martha. It would have only lasted the few
months till Doomsday, anyway."

Yet he could understand her emotion. It had been a long time since he
had lived in Castletown. But he wished his last look at the old town
had not been like this.

He turned toward Pudgy. "Now you can talk. Let's have it."

Pudgy said sullenly, "I've already talked too much. You didn't believe
me, anyway."

Wales' face hardened. He said, "All right. The flames will reach this
residential section in an hour. We'll leave you here."

It was enough. Their prisoner's doughy face seemed to fall apart a
little.

"All right!" he cried. "But what's the use telling you when you just
say I'm lying?"

"Nevertheless, give it to me from the first," Wales ordered.

Pudgy said, "Look, this whole scheme to keep the crummy no-goods here
on Earth--that wasn't _my_ idea. Five years ago, when they were first
organizing Operation Doomsday, I got a job in the Evacuation Police.
I did all right. Pretty soon I was a sergeant. Then--I began to hear
things about the Evacuation from one of the other sergeants."

The man paused, then went on. "Eugene--that was my friend in the
Police--told me that Fairlie and some other Evacuation officials needed
some men for special secret police work. Said the work was so important
and so secret nobody must know about it. I said okay, I'd like to be
one of these special secret Evacuation Police. So they took me in. And
Fairlie himself talked to me and a couple of others."

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales, watching Pudgy narrowly, saw him mop the sweat off his
brow. "Fairlie told us, that they weren't going to be able to get
_everybody_ off Earth before Doomsday. He said it was impossible, there
was bound to be millions would get left. He told us that he and some of
the other officials in key places in the Evacuation had decided that
since they were going to have to leave people, it'd be better to leave
a lot of crummy hillbillies and share croppers and ignorant trash. He
said they'd only make things tougher for everyone on Mars, anyway. It
was better, Fairlie said, to weed them out and leave them here."

An icy feeling of terrible conviction began to grow in Wales, despite
all his attempts to repel it.

He'd heard just that kind of talk, before. Not openly, but in sly
whispers and hints. People who felt sure of escaping from Earth
themselves had expressed aristocratic regret that _all_ Earth's people
must be saved, that they must be burdened on the new world by the
"backward."

No one had quite dared to advocate such ideas publicly. But there were
those who secretly held them. And those who did, very well might have
secretly decided to see that the "useless, backward" ones _didn't_
escape Earth. Fairlie--and others like him--could be among them--

"Fairlie told us," Pudgy went on, "that they wouldn't prevent anyone
leaving that wanted to leave. But, he said, lots of the dumber ones
wouldn't want to leave if things were managed right, and that would
solve the whole problem."

Martha interrupted. "But my brother--what of him? You said they had
Lee?"

Pudgy nodded. "I was coming to that. Fairlie called some of us in real
worried one night and told us we had to go to Castletown and grab Lee
Kendrick. He said they'd been sounding Kendrick out about helping along
the scheme, and that Kendrick wouldn't play ball."

"You mean," Wales said quickly, "that Fairlie and his group wanted
Kendrick to _help_ them trap the 'backward ones' here on Earth?"

Pudgy's head bobbed. "Near as I got it, that was it. Kendrick could
make a statement kind of throwing doubt on whether Doomsday would
happen--and the boobs would decide to stay. But I guess when Fairlie
sounded him out a little, Kendrick was horrified at the idea, and
Fairlie had to cover up fast and say he didn't mean it."

Martha clutched Wales' arm. "Jay, _that's_ why Lee was so terribly
worried, so anxious--that's why he wouldn't leave Earth! He was afraid
such a scheme was really being planned!"

Wales could imagine that. He knew Lee Kendrick, and he knew that even a
breath of suspicion of a plan so ruthless and terrible would have had a
shattering effect on him.

"So," Pudgy finished, "before Kendrick could get too suspicious and
start talking, we went to Castletown and grabbed him, and took him to
New York. And his disappearance was nearly as good as his statement
would have been--the boobs all figured Kendrick hadn't left Earth, so
they would not."

"But he's alive?" Martha cried. "They haven't killed him."

Pudgy shrugged. "Not so far. Fairlie still wants him to make that
statement, so all the scum will feel sure it's safe and will stay on
Earth till too late."

Wales suddenly felt a revulsion from all that he had heard, from the
shocking nightmare quality of it.

"It's not true, it _can't_ be true!" he exclaimed. "Martha, this man
had to tell some story to save his skin, and that's all he's done!"

Her face was white in the distant firelight. "Jay, people have done
things like that, terrible as it is. They _have_ killed millions, in
the past, for just such reasons."

He knew that, too, and it was a knowledge he fought against--struggling
against a cold conviction that he could not quite down.

"If Lee is still alive, Lee could tell us!" she was saying. "If we
could reach him, rescue him--"

Wales turned back to the sullen-faced Pudgy. "You said that Fairlie and
the others were holding Kendrick near New York. Just where?"

"Where he's right handy and near, yet where nobody can walk in on him,"
said Pudgy. "Bedloe's Island, in New York harbor. You know, the old
Statue of Liberty island."

Wales thought, his mind a turmoil. Now the flames were marching up the
hillside streets toward them, and now the sound of drums and distant
chanting came from away southward.

The Brotherhood were leaving Castletown, on their way to make some
other lifeless city a fiery sign of their atonement.

"I still," said Wales, "can't believe it. But we'll prove it, one way
or another. We'll go back to New York, and see if Lee is really on that
island."

"You haven't got a prayer!" said Pudgy, his voice rising into a high
whine. "They've got him guarded there."

"And you," Wales said, "can tell us just where the guards are and how
best to pass them. Yes, you're going with us."

He ignored the man's frantic objections, and started the car. He headed
eastward, to skirt the flaming city at a safe distance.

The danger ahead, the hunters who would still be seeking him, Wales
ignored. What was there anywhere but danger, on an Earth rocking toward
Doomsday?



                             CHAPTER VIII


Thunder rolled and bellowed across the night sky, mounting to a
deafening crescendo. Up into the starry heavens rose a great black
bulk, climbing starward on a column of fading fire. And hardly had
its echoes ebbed than the dull explosions came again, and another
rocket-ship took off in the unending Marslift.

Crouching with Martha in the darkness of an old pier, with the
murmuring black vagueness of the Upper Harbor in front of them, Wales
looked over his shoulder at the fiery finger that pointed out to man's
new home in the sky. He turned back to Martha, as she whispered to him.
She was staring out over the dark water.

"I don't see any lights, Jay. Not one."

"They wouldn't show lights," he said. "They'd not advertise the fact
that they're there."

"_If_ they're there," she said. "If Lee's there."

He took her roughly by the shoulders. "Martha, don't lose your nerve
now. Think what depends on this."

He jerked his head in the direction of the distant New Jersey
Spaceport, as still another Mars-bound ship rode up in majestic thunder
and flame.

"There should be twice as many ships, twice as many evacuees, going out
now as there are! All the people who doubt, who hold back, who refuse
to go--Lee is the key to saving them."

"But if we only had _help_, Jay! The authorities--"

Wales said, "Fairlie, as regional Evacuation Marshal, _is_ the top
local authority here now. And don't you see--if that story is true,
Fairlie is the last man we dare let know we're here."

He took her hand. "Come on. We've still got to find a skiff of some
kind."

They started along the dark waterfront. They were, Wales figured,
somewhere in the southern Jersey City docks. Out in the dark harbor lay
Bedloe's Island, and it was past midnight and there was little time.

He and Martha, with their prisoner, had come across Pennsylvania by
unused, deserted back roads during the day. The circuitous route had
taken time, and a few hours of sleep snatched in a thicket off the road
had taken more time. But Wales had not dared to risk being seen.

If Pudgy's story was true, Fairlie was the enemy. Fairlie was the
man who had sent hunters after him. And it would be so easy for
the Evacuation Marshal, with his regional authority, to have Wales
proclaimed an outlaw on some phony charge, and set every Evacuation
Police post around New York looking for him.

They dared seek aid of no one. If Kendrick was a prisoner on the little
island, they must attempt the rescue themselves. And that would not be
easy, judging from what Pudgy had said.

Wales had driven into an alley in deserted Jersey City, and had dragged
their bound prisoner into an empty store.

"Now," said Wales, "we're going to leave you here."

"Tied hand and foot?" cried Pudgy. "Why not kill me and get it over
with? This town is closed out, I could yell all day and nobody would
hear me. I'll starve! No one will ever come--"

"_We'll_ come, and free you," Wales said. "After we've got Kendrick
off that island. But of course, if we fail, if they get us, then we'll
never be back. I want you to think about that."

Pudgy had thought about it, and it was clear that he did not like that
thought at all. When it had sunk in, Wales said,

"Now you tell us all you know about the set-up on that island. How many
guards, where they usually are, how they're armed, where Kendrick is
kept. Everything. If you brief us well enough, we _may_ succeed--and
then we'll be back for you."

Pudgy had got the point. He had talked long and rapidly, feverishly
giving Wales every scrap of information he possessed.

They had left him there, and had come by foot to the waterfront, and
now if they had a boat, the island was only a little way ahead.

But there was no boat, not a canoe even, along these dark docks. Wales
led the way farther along the waterfront. He dared not flash a light,
and they might search all night amid these dark piers without success.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was beginning to despair, when they came to a small boatyard. He
found a skiff by stumbling over it in the dark. There were no oars,
but he soon forced the door of the dark office-shack and found those.

"Now before we start, Martha--" He was fitting the oars into locks that
he'd made as silent as possible by rag mufflings. "--when we reach the
island, I want you to stay on the shore and wait."

"I'm not afraid--" she began, but Wales cut her short.

"Listen, it's not that. I'll be in the dark there. If I have to shoot,
I want to be sure I'm not shooting you by mistake."

He pushed out onto the water, and bent to the oars, rowing steadily.
The tide was running, and he had to allow for that, but there was only
a little choppiness on the Upper Harbor.

Wales thought again how unreal everything on Earth seemed by now. And
this scene most of all! This harbor had once been the busiest in the
world, and by night the lights of shipping, of docks, of bridges, had
flared everywhere, with the electric glow of Manhattan blazing over
everything.

And now there was silence and darkness on the waters. All the millions
who had lived around these shores had left Earth long ago, and their
cities were dark and still. Only the downtown tip of Manhattan still
showed patterns of lighted windows, where the ceaseless activities of
Operation Doomsday centered.

Wales rowed on, and then rested his oars a moment and turned and peered
ahead in the darkness. He saw a lofty shadow now against the stars, and
knew that it was the great Statue. He lifted the oars again, rowing now
with infinite care to make no sound.

_Brr-rumble--oom--oom--oom--_

Up into the sky westward rose another of the mighty Marslift
rocket-ships, and then in quick succession, two more.

The flare of them in the heavens sent a wild, shaking light over the
waters, over the little skiff.

"Get down!" Wales whispered frantically, and he and Martha crouched low
in the little craft.

The _oom--oom--oom_ faded away in muttering echoes. Wales could but
pray that they had not been seen from the island ahead, and row on.

He hoped desperately that there would be no more rocket-ships taking
off, no more flares in the sky, until he reached the island. It seemed
to him that he rowed eternally, and got nowhere.

Then, in the darkness, Martha whispered warning. The skiff bumped land.
Wales made out a low bank rising above them. He picked up the Venn gun
and climbed ashore.

He whispered, "Stay in the skiff, Martha. You can push off if I fail."
And added quickly, "Don't you see, if I do fail, you'll be the last
hope left."

He gave her no time to argue. He gripped the Venn gun, and started
through the darkness.

There was no doubt about directions. Huge now against the stars loomed
the Statue. And in it, if Pudgy had told truth, were Lee Kendrick--and
the four of Fairlie's secret police who guarded him.

Wales crossed the park with his stubby gun held high. The grass was
tall and ragged from long lack of care. And there was not a sound, or a
light, on the little island.

He circled around to the front of the Statue, and stared up at the
parapet of the mighty pedestal, and the entrance to the giant figure.

Nothing. No light, no sound of movement.

Wales felt a chill of dismay. He had not realized how much he had begun
to hope, until now.

_Brr-rumble--_

He heard the first preliminary roar from the west, and immediately he
dropped flat behind a shrub.

       *       *       *       *       *

The full thunderous diapason of take-off broke around him, and the
flaming exclamation point in the heavens blazed brightly.

And Wales saw a man, with a gun under his arm, standing on the parapet.

The flare of light died, and the rocket-roar grumbled away.

But now, as he rose to his feet, Wales felt a wild triumph. The guard
was there, as Pudgy had said, and that meant--

He moved forward, and started up the steps. He was more than halfway up
them, moving softly, when he heard a movement above.

Wales froze. The guard above might not have heard him. But he could
take no chances, with all that depended on him now.

He crouched waiting on the steps, the Venn gun raised. It seemed to him
that hours went by.

_Rumble-boom-boom--_

As the distant rocket-roar crashed again, as the column of fire
streaked across the sky, by its light Wales saw the man on the parapet
peering down toward him with his gun alertly raised.

Instantly, Wales shot him. He shot to kill.

The man dropped. Wales raced on up the steps, hoping that the brief
burst of his Venn gun would not have been heard in the rocket-roar.

But a door above swung open, and light spilled out from inside the
base of the giant Statue. Two men appeared in the doorway, drawing
pistols.

"What--" one cried.

Wales fired, a prolonged burst. He had no intention whatever of taking
extra risks by sparing life. These men, and the men they worked for,
would have taken the lives of millions. There was no mercy in him.

One of the two in the doorway fell. The other, blood welling from his
shoulder, tried to shift his pistol to his other hand.

Wales, racing up to them, heard pounding footsteps inside the statue,
and he took no time to shoot again. He clubbed the Venn gun's barrel
down over the head of the wounded man, and sprang over him and the dead
one in the doorway, right into the base of the lofty figure.

A light burned in here. He ran to the foot of the winding stair that
led upward. Frantic feet running up above him made reverberating
echoes. He glimpsed a pair of legs on the stair--

He shot, and the legs crumpled and a man came sliding back down the
stair, screaming and trying to aim his gun. Wales triggered again, and
when the scream of richocheting steel and the echoes of gunfire died
away, there was silence unbroken.

He started running up the stair. In a minute he heard Martha's voice
calling, from down beneath.

"Jay!"

He shouted back down, and ran on, his heart pounding, his lungs pumping.

He came into the grotesque room of angled steel that was the inside
of the giant head. There was a carefully shaded light here. And a man
huddled on the floor near it, shackled to the wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales turned the light full on him. A bearded face looked at him, with
wild dark eyes--a face he could hardly recognize.

"Lee?" he said. And then suddenly, he was sure. "Lee Kendrick."

Kendrick said, hesitantly, "Why it's Jay Wales. But you were on
Mars. How--" And then Kendrick's eyes suddenly flamed and he shouted
hoarsely. "Wales, you don't know what's happened, what they're
planning--"

"I know," Wales said, stooping by him. "Take it easy. Please--"

Kendrick clutched him, babbling, pleading. Not until Martha came in,
and stooped beside her brother, crying, could Wales get away.

He said, "Try to quiet down. There must be a key to these shackles
somewhere."

He went back down the stair. The man he had shot in the shoulder and
then stunned, was now stirring and groaning.

Wales made a rough bandage for the bleeding shoulder, and then tied the
man's wrists with his own belt. He thought it would hurt, when the man
came to. He hoped it would.

He searched pockets until he found keys, and then went back up.
Kendrick seemed to have got control of himself. He talked feverishly as
Wales tried keys.

"There's still time before Doomsday, isn't there?" he pleaded. "Still
time to get everybody off Earth? It isn't too late?"

"I think there may be time enough," Wales said. He got the shackles
unlocked, and helped Kendrick to his feet. "But we've still Fairlie to
reckon with."

Kendrick broke into raging curses, and Wales stopped him sharply.
"Cut it, Lee. I feel exactly the same way about it but we've no time
for hysteria. It'll be tricky trying to get to Fairlie in his own
stronghold, over in New York. Tell me--has he come here often?"

"He hasn't been here for two weeks," Kendrick said. "He--and Bliss and
the others in it with him--you know what they wanted of me? They wanted
me to issue statements saying that Nereus might not hit Earth after
all. They said they'd leave me here for Doomsday, if I didn't. Damn
them--"

Again, Wales calmed him down. "Those guards didn't go over to New York
to report to him, did they? Did they use radiophone?"

Kendrick looked startled. "Why, yes, they did. I've heard them. But I
don't know what secret wavelength they used."

"Maybe," said Wales tightly, "we can find that out. Martha, you help
him down the stairs. A few steps at a time, till his legs steady."

He hurried back down again. The wounded man he had tied up had
recovered consciousness. He sat, his face a pallor of pain, and looked
up at Wales with wide, fearful eyes.

"Yes," said Wales softly. "I'd love to kill you. You're right about
that. But maybe I won't. What's your name?"

"Mowler."

"You know how to call Fairlie, on the portable radiophone? Well, you're
going to call him. You're going to tell him just what I say."

By the time he found the radiophone and brought it, Kendrick was coming
shakily down the last steps with Martha steadying him.

Wales asked Mowler, "What's the wavelength for Fairlie's private
phone?"

Mowler, looking up into his face, shivered and told him. He set the
dial.

Then he told the wounded man what to say. He finished, "Don't do it
wrong."

Again looking into Wales' face, Mowler said, "I won't."

       *       *       *       *       *

Wales touched the call-button. He held the instrument in front of
Mowler. And presently a voice came from it.

"Fairlie speaking."

"Mowler here," said Mowler. "Our guest wants to see you. He says he's
ready to make that statement now--any statement you want."

"About time," growled Fairlie's voice. "All right, I'll come."

Wales switched off the instrument and took it away. He went out on the
parapet, and waited in the darkness with the Venn gun in his hands.

Martha and Kendrick came out, and as another Marslift ship flamed up
across the sky, he saw that her face was white and strained.

She said, "Don't kill him, Jay."

He said, without turning, "The Evacuation has been delayed, and there
may not be enough time to make up that delay. We may not get everyone
off Earth in time. And every one of those who are left to face
Doomsday will have been killed by Fairlie and his pals."

"I know," she said. "But don't, Jay."

He would make no promise, or answer. He waited. And they heard the purr
of the fast power-boat, less than an hour later.

Dawn was gray in the eastern sky when Fairlie, and one armed man in
Evacuation Police uniform, came up the steps to the pedestal.

Wales stepped out, the Venn gun levelled, and Kendrick came out behind
him.

Fairlie stopped. The Police officer with him made an uncertain sound
and movement.

"Don't be stupid," Fairlie said. "He's got us cold."

He came up a few more steps. He looked up at Wales, and there was in
his powerful face an immense disgust.

"You're proud, aren't you, Wales?" said Fairlie. "You think you've
done something big and gallant. You've saved, or tried to save, a lot
of human lives and that makes you happy." He suddenly raged. "Human
refuse! The weak, the unfit, the no-damned-good, that we've been
saddled with all our lives here on Earth--and now we must take them
with us to drag us all down on Mars."

"Don't, Jay," whispered Martha, and her voice was a painful sound.

Fairlie said:

"Let him. I'd sooner go out now as see all human civilization dragged
down out there by the weight of the useless rabble who would be better
dead."

Wales said, "You're so sure, just who should live and who should die.
You felt such a big man, making secret decisions like that, didn't you?
Fairlie, who knows what's best for everybody. You and your pals liked
that feeling, didn't you? There have always been characters like you--"

He paused, and then he said, "We're going over to New York. We're going
to have Kendrick tell his story to all the millions still on Earth, and
it's a story that two of your own men will back up. We're going to try
to get every last soul off Earth before Doomsday. But if we don't--"

"If you don't?" sneered Fairlie.

"You'll know it," said Wales, and now he was shaking. "Because you,
Fairlie, will not leave Earth till every last soul is evacuated. If any
human being faces Doomsday here, you'll face it right with him."



                              CHAPTER IX


Over New York there hung in the sky a new moon, big and red and
terrifying.

Once it had been a mere track, on an astronomical photo, a figure in a
calculation. Once it had been a threat, but an abstract one. Now it was
real at last. Week by week, it had grown from a spark to a speck to a
little moon, and now Kendrick's World was rushing in fast toward the
fatal rendezvous with its bigger, sister world.

Wales sat at his desk in the office high in the UN tower, and looked
out the window at the skyscrapers looming strange in the bloody light.
There was a great silence everywhere. The frantic thunder of the
Marslift was stilled at last. The last-but-one rockets had left at
dusk, and now as night advanced it seemed that the whole Earth was
hushed and waiting.

He felt a weariness that smothered all happiness of success. For they
_had_ succeeded, in these four frantic months. After Lee Kendrick had
told his story to the world, after the plotters who had ruthlessly
condemned millions "for the good of the race" had been exposed and
arrested, those millions of dubious folk had suddenly felt the full
panicky shock of truth, had realized at last that Doomsday was real.

They had poured into New York, in fear-driven mobs that could hardly be
handled. And Wales, as the hastily appointed new Evacuation Marshal,
had felt in his soul that it was too late, that some would surely be
left.

He had reckoned without that quality in human beings that draws their
greatest strength out of peril. The Marslift had been speeded up,
speeded up farther, speeded up until rocket-crews fainted of fatigue at
their posts. But it had, at last, been done....

The door opened, and Martha came across the office to where Wales sat
hunched and weary with his hands spread out on the empty desk.

"It's time, Jay," she said. "Lee and the others are waiting."

He looked slowly up at her. "We got them all off," he said.

"Yes. We got them all off."

"About one thing," he said, "Fairlie was right. It'll be hard on Mars
for us, harder because of all those last millions. But I don't think
anyone will ever complain."

He thought of the people who had streamed through New York, into the
Marslift rockets, these last weeks and days.

He thought of Sam Lanterman and his people from Pittsburgh, and
Lanterman complaining, "Hell, I got to own a whole city and what
happens--I get scared out of it! Oh well, I guess it won't be so bad
out there."

Martha touched his shoulder gently. "Come, Jay."

He got to his feet and walked heavily with her to the lift.

They went down through the silent, empty building to the empty street.
Empty, except for the car in which Kendrick and the two others waited,
looking up silently at the crimson face of the thing that was coming
fast, fast, toward Earth.

The car bore them fast through the empty streets, and the lifeless
metropolis fell behind them and they rushed across a countryside
already wearing a strange and ominous new aspect, to the Spaceport.

The last rocket waited, a silvery tower flashing back the red light
from the sky. They got out of the car and walked toward it.

Hollenberg had won the honor of being the last rocket-captain to leave
Earth. But he did not look as though he enjoyed that honor now.

"We're ready," he said.

Wales asked, "Is Fairlie aboard?"

Hollenberg nodded grimly. "Aboard, and locked up. He was the last
evacuee taken on, as per orders."

They stood, looking at each other. It came to Wales what was the
matter. They stood upon Earth, and it was the last time that they might
ever stand upon it.

He said harshly, "If we're ready, let's go."

The rocket-ship bore them skyward on wings of flame and thunder, and an
Earth empty of man lay waiting.

       *       *       *       *       *

A million miles out in space, they watched from the observation port.
They could see the planetoid only as a much smaller, dark mass against
the blue, beautiful sphere of Earth.

"One minute, fifteen seconds," said Kendrick, in a dry, level voice.

Martha sobbed, and hid her face against Wales' shoulder, and he held
her close.

"Thirty seconds."

And all Wales could think of was the cities and their silent streets,
the little houses carefully locked and shuttered, the quiet country
roads and old trees and fields, with the red moon looming over them,
coming down upon them, closer, closer--

"She's struck," said Kendrick. And then, "Look--look--"

Wales saw. The blue sphere of Earth had suddenly changed, white steam
laced with leaping flames enwrapped it, puffing out from it. Giant
winds tore the steam and he glimpsed tortured continents buckling,
cracking, mountains rising--

He held Martha close, and watched until he could watch no more, and
turned away. Kendrick, with his telescope set up, was talking rapidly.

"The continental damage isn't too bad. The seas are all steam now, but
they'll condense again in time. Terrific volcanoes, but they'll not
last too long. In time, it'll cool down--"

In time, Wales thought. In their time? Maybe not until their children's
time?

He looked ahead, at the red spark of Mars, the world of refuge. It
would be hard living on Mars, yes, for all the millions of men. But
there were other worlds in space, and they had the knowledge and the
ships. He thought they would go farther than Mars, much farther. He
thought that they could not guess now, how far.

But someday, they or their children would come back to old Earth again.
Of that, he was very sure.



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