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´╗┐Title: Planet of Dread
Author: Swain, Dwight V.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Planet of Dread" ***

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



              Surrounded by its many suns, Lysor scorned
          Federation rule and plotted the destruction of our
          galaxy. So Craig Nesom came in a starship to this--

                            PLANET OF DREAD

                          By Dwight V. Swain

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                             February 1954
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Face slack, eyes glazed with terror, the Baemae wench came forward
through the gate into the walled ring.

An appreciative murmur ran through the crowd. As one, the assembled
Kukzubas barons and their ladies pressed closer about the pit-rail,
tense and eager with anticipation.

High on his dais, Lord Zenaor chuckled. "A pretty thing, is she not,
Vydys?" he queried of the woman who sat beside him, dark vision of
sinister beauty.

Hot with strange passion, the woman's eyes clung to the cringing figure
in the pit. The pink tip of her tongue flicked at her lips. "If you can
see your way to calling any Baemae woman pretty. For my part, I prefer
her in her proper role, as prey here in the games."

"So--?" Lord Zenaor raised a mocking coal-black eyebrow. "No wonder
they call you 'Vydys the Cruel' behind your back, my dear! If you had
your way, there'd soon be no Baemae left alive to serve us."

Visibly, Vydys stiffened. Her head came round--dark eyes flashing,
jet hair ashimmer; and when she spoke her words were edged with fury.
"Have a care, Zenaor! I've no taste for taunts, even from the chief of
barons."

"The truth is no taunt." Zenaor gave not a fraction. "Because pain is
your passion, you drive our serfs to rebellion."

"Rebellion--!" The woman's eyes glinted like crater diamonds. "How many
of the Baemae have flown south with their cursed discs already, off to
the djevoda ranges? There lies your rebellion--and only torture will
stop it!" Her laugh rang gall-bitter. "Or perhaps, like that Narla,
you believe we should free them?"

"Keep your tongue off my daughter!" It was a command that brooked no
discussion. "As for the free range, the discs, cross them off. They'll
soon be no menace."

"Oh?" Vydys' lips twisted, mocking. "No, doubt you have a plan, my lord
Zenaor--"

"I have a plan indeed." Zenaor's tone was icy. "One word too many, and
you'll die as its first step."

Vydys faltered.

"You see, my dear, our goals are different." Zenaor clipped, smiling
thinly. "You lust after pain, I after power. As chief of barons, I mean
to have it--and that means holding down the Baemae. But I'll waste no
time on half-way measures. When I strike, it will be in my own way, and
it will win. And"--now he leaned forward, close to Vydys--"and even one
lovely as you shall die if in that moment she plots against me."

Vydys' nostrils flared. But before she could speak, the chief of barons
turned away. He raised his voice till it echoed through the great
vaulted hall. "Wench! Are you ready?"

Below him, in the ring, the Baemae girl's lips moved in a soundless
agony of panic.

A ripple of laughter rose from the crowd. Packed bodies shifted and
pressed tighter. Hungrily, mercilessly, a thousand eyes appraised the
evening's victim.

Zenaor said, "Wench, tonight you meet the Lady Vydys' roller. If you
survive, I'll make a place for you in my own harem. If not...." He
shrugged: turned back to Vydys. "My dear--"

Vydys' high, proud breasts rose on a quick-drawn breath. Lithely, she
twisted in her seat. "My helm, serf!"

The rawboned Baemae youth who wore her livery lifted the ornate
metal headdress from its case; stepped forward. His face was pale,
sweat-beaded. His hands trembled.

Vydys' eyes distended. "Why do you shake so, carrion?"

The youth's voice quavered. "She--that girl...." He floundered, groped.
"She--she is my sister, Lady Vydys."

"Your sister!" The mask of anger fell away from Vydys' face. "You mean
she is of your blood? You love her?"

Mutely, the serfman nodded.

"And you would suffer were she to meet my roller?"

Again, the liveried Baemae's head moved in silent affirmation.

       *       *       *       *       *

A light gleamed deep in Vydys' eyes, all dark and evil. Once more, she
ran the small, pink tongue along her lips, as if savoring the tension
of the moment.

"You--you will spare her--?" The youth's words came out a hoarse,
cracked whisper.

"Spare her--and spoil the evening's entertainment?" The Lady Vydys'
ripe lips curved in a small, slow smile that was straight from hell.
"Surely, serf, you would not ask that of me!" And then: "Place my helm
upon me."

A new tremor ran through the serving-serf. Wordless, he slid the
shining metal casing down over the jet hair, seated it carefully upon
the woman's head.

Approvingly, she nodded. "Now, seat yourself before me--here, where I
can watch your face."

Stiff-lipped, the youth obeyed.

Vydys laughed softly; turned to Zenaor. "You see, my lord? Down there
in the ring will be the wench, pitting herself against my roller; while
here close by me sits her brother, suffering with her. It offers a new
kind of titillation!"

Zenaor shrugged. "As you will it."

Eyes sparkling, Vydys leaned forward. "Let in the roller!"

An iron gate lifted. A faceted four-foot sphere bowled slowly out of
the shadowed passage into the walled ring.

The roller.

A strange creature, in any evolutional pattern. Its surface was
completely covered with leathery, inch-wide octagonal pads, each
centered with a third-inch cup that served as combined mouth and mode
of movement. For through these cups it both took nourishment and pulled
itself in whatever direction it sought to go by applying differential
suction to the surface on which it rested.

Now, in the center of the ring, it hesitated; paused there, teetering,
like some great ball come to rest.

The Baemae girl caught her breath, the sound rasping over-loud in the
sudden hush that had fallen upon the crowd. Eyes wild and wide, she
shrank, back against the wall, hands splayed out flat against the
polished duroid surface.

Still smiling, Vydys spoke to her victim--gentle, coaxing: "This is
a game wench--a game betwixt you and me. Do not fear the roller. In
itself it is harmless, a mere ball of flesh with so little brain that
it barely knows enough to feed. But through this helm"--she touched her
headdress--"my thoughts can project waves that stimulate its nervous
system, so that it moves wherever I may will it. You understand?"

The girl below gave no sign that she had even heard.

Vydys pressed on: "So, now, I'll spin the roller at you, while you try
to dodge it. That is the game. To win, you have only to leap atop the
thing and scale the ring-wall."

Among the barons, someone laughed aloud, harsh and explosive.

The Baemae youth who was the victim's brother buried his face in his
hands.

Still the girl in the pit said nothing. She seemed to have eyes only
for the roller.

Zenaor's black brows drew together. "Get on with it!"

Vydys murmured, "The game begins...." Her face set in a mask of
concentration.

Down in the ring, the roller began to move once more. Slowly at first,
then faster, it bowled around in a long curve.

The girl slid along the wall, keeping space between her and the
creature.

Vydys' lips parted, peeled back over sharp white teeth. Her fingers
wrapped tight around the throne-arm.

The roller swerved sharply. Gathering speed, it hurtled towards the
girl.

She darted sideways.

The roller struck the wall with a meaty thud. Then, rotating so
rapidly its pad-facets blurred, it raced along the pitside, close on
its victim's heels.

The girl gave a small, shrill cry of panic, and fled across the center
of the ring.

Again the roller spun; lanced after her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl threw herself aside barely in time. The roller missed her by
scant inches. Racing on, once more it struck the ring-wall, even harder
than before ... caromed off like a huge ball bouncing ... hurtled back,
straight at the girl.

She stumbled to the left, seeking desperately to dodge it.

The roller veered.

The girl screamed; twisted.

But not quite far enough, nor fast enough. One side of the speeding
roller ticked her; knocked her backward. She sprawled in a heap on the
ring's floor.

The crowd roared; strained forward.

Up on the dais, the Baemae youth surged to his feet--fists clenched,
face working.

Vydys laughed aloud ... a throaty chortle, somehow hideous, more
befitting fiend than woman. "Ah, Zenaor! Was that not well turned?" Her
features shone with strange, evil radiance.

The chief of barons shrugged, face wooden.

Down in the ring, the roller came to rest. Panting, shaking, the Baemae
girl scrambled to her feet.

Vydys' smooth brow furrowed. Slowly, the roller began to move again--in
a spiral, this time, circling and converging on its fear-straught prey.

Sobbing, the girl tottered backward.

Swiftly, the roller changed course ... spun towards her.

The girl fled, running off wildly at right angles, not even pausing to
look behind her.

Veering once more, the roller raced to intercept her. Too late, the
girl threw a mad glance back over her shoulder.

But now the roller was upon her, striking at her legs even as she tried
to spring aside. There was the brittle _crack_ of a femur snapping. A
scream--high, shrill, alive with surging terror.

The crowd shrieked its delight.

Only then a new voice slashed through the uproar: "No--! No!"

The roller thudded against the wall; lay still. Heads came round,
searching for the shouter.

They found him on the dais, with Vydys and Zenaor. It was the Baemae
youth, the downed girl's brother. "Curse you!" he shouted, face white
with fury. "Curse you all, you vermin!"

He turned as he yelled; started towards Vydys.

She went rigid. Beside her, the Lord Zenaor brought up his hand in a
quick, tight gesture.

Guards lunged forward, weapons drawn and ready.

The youth whipped a knife from beneath his livery. Slashing, he leaped
back, eyes rolling wildly.

But there was no escape ... only the closing circle of hard-faced
guards with their leveled fire-guns.

The youth's face set in a sort of feverish desperation. Whirling, he
charged down from the dais, straight for the walled ring.

Curses rang from the barons, shrieks from their ladies. Bellowing,
trampling, they threw themselves clear of the flashing blade.

The youth reached the ring-wall. For an instant he poised atop it,
wavering. Then, tight-lipped, he leaped down into the pit itself and
stumbled to the side of his fallen sister.

The crowd breathed again.

On the dais, Vydys tensed and gripped the throne-arms till her knuckles
gleamed white as djevoda ivory. The scarlet lips quivered in a grimace
of hate.

Below, the roller lurched into motion. A thousand crushing, crippling
pounds of flesh and gristle, gaining momentum with every second, it
spun across the ring.

The youth leaped to meet it. Savagely, he slashed at the thing's
leathery outer hide.

But the pads turned away his blade. Ball-like, not even slowing, the
sphere knocked him aside as, moments earlier, it had the girl.

Then, while he still fought for balance, it was past him, hurtling
ever faster ... thundering towards the spot where his sister lay in a
huddled heap upon the floor.

She tried to rise. Failed.

The rocketing roller cut short her scream.

Then the creature was bowling to a stop on the ring's far side. A hush
fell over the great vaulted hall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stiffly, the rawboned Baemae youth dragged himself up from the place
where he had fallen. Wordless, shambling, he crossed the pit to where
the crumpled, broken thing that had been his sister lay; he knelt there
beside her for a moment.

Then he arose again and stared up at the packed, engulfing mass of
Kukzubas barons and their ladies ... looked on beyond and above them to
the dais--to Vydys and to Zenaor.

The silence echoed.

Thick-voiced, he spoke, then: "You've killed her, curse you--you filth
that call yourselves Kukzubas barons!"

"True, carrion." This from dark Vydys. "And now you die beside her!"

She concentrated. The roller turned, wending its blood-trailing way out
from the wall once more.

But incredibly, the youth who wore Vydys' black-and-silver livery
gave the gore-drenched thing no heed. Slowly at first, then faster
and faster, his shoulders shook till he burst out in a wild gale of
laughter.

"So I die!" It was the mirth of a madman. "Go on, you fools! Kill me!
But I die holding a secret that spells your doom, also!"

Up on the dais, Lord Zenaor stiffened. He caught Vydys' arm. "Wait!
Hold back the roller!"

The youth raved on: "Our day is coming, you cutthroats--the day of
the Baemae! We have summoned one who will sit in judgment on you,
a man from the far Federation! Already, this moment, his starship
approaches--"

Zenaor surged from his seat. His bull-roar filled the hall: "The
night's games are over! I, Zenaor, decree it!" And then, to his
guardsmen: "Take that serf to my chambers!"

The crowd swirled in tumult. Dark Vydys turned on him. "You cannot--!"

"I can, and I do!"

For a moment their eyes locked ... a taut, vibrant moment.

Then the woman looked away. "If you will it...." The words came out
sullen.

But already Zenaor was turning, striding off through the light-wall
that served as backdrop for the dais, away to the force-shift that led
to his quarters.

Out again at the seventh level, he stalked into the living-chambers.

His daughter, Narla, seated by an antique scanner unit, looked up as
he entered, grey eyes cool and speculative. "What--? Is the evening's
butchery over already?" Scorn was in her voice.

Zenaor's fists knotted. "Once too often you'll tempt me to violence,
daughter." Pivoting, he stepped to a wall-stand, slopped taxat into a
bor-glass, and drank it down.

The girl's brows drew together in the slightest of frowns. Rising in
one smooth, graceful motion that set her flaxen hair to shimmering in
the caron-light, she followed the chief of barons into the next room.
"Is something wrong, father? Were Vydys' tastes more than usually
hideous tonight?"

The shaft-bell clanged before Zenaor could answer. Stepping around his
daughter, he strode back to the entrance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Already, guards were dragging in the rawboned Baemae youth from the
pit. Blood smeared his right cheek. Shackles hung heavy upon him.

"Good," Zenaor nodded. "Leave the serf with me, and return to your
quarters."

The guard in charge stared. "Leave him with you--alone?"

"Alone."

The guard shot the Lord Zenaor a quick, sidelong glance. Then, saluting
smartly, he about-faced and left the chambers, followed by his fellows.

Curiosity flickered in Narla's grey eyes. "Father--"

He turned on her, stony-faced. "You, too."

"I--?"

"You go to your chambers--and stay there. I wish to be alone with the
prisoner."

The girl opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it again.
Flushing slightly under her father's cold, impassive gaze, she stepped
through the light-wall into her own quarters.

Now, at last, Zenaor faced the shackled Baemae.

"You know, of course, that you are doomed to die?"

Mutely, the youth nodded.

"Yet there are ways and ways of dying. Slowly, painfully. Quick, clean,
easy."

The serf said nothing.

"There are things I would know--things that have to do with Baemae
treason." Zenaor's lips drew thin. The black eyes were never colder.
"What is this nonsense of someone coming from across the void, from the
Federation? You know there are no grounds--that the Federation holds no
jurisdiction!"

All the fire seemed to have gone out of the youth. He shrugged
sullenly. "All I know is that a one called Tumek learned of some new
weapon you planned to use against the free Baemae in the djevoda lands
to the south. Secretly, then, he sent word to the Federation, saying
that if you ever used the thing you planned, it would imperil all other
worlds as well as ours."

No flicker of emotion showed in Zenaor's lean, high-boned face. "And do
you believe him?"

"Who am I to know or judge? Baemae are only good for dying!" The youth
gave vent to a bitter laugh. "But at least the far Federation thought
the peril was worth a starship."

"And the man--the one they send to weigh the facts here?"

"His name is Craig Nesom. I know no more than that about him."

Silence. An eddying sort of silence that crept in from the walls and up
from the floors and down out of the ceiling.

Then, abruptly, the Lord Zenaor laughed.

"So you'll die," he clipped. "But at least you shall go knowing that
you're the only man, Baemae or baron, to learn the truth about my
weapon. You shall judge it for me with your dying breath--prove to me
that it can truly give me power and strength for conquest...."

He was striding away even as he spoke--striding across the room to a
wall set off with a delicate interlay of panels.

One slid aside beneath his hand. Beyond lay a chill, bleak laboratory
chamber.

Still smiling, Zenaor led the shackled Baemae forward ... shoved him
through a port-like door into a transparent cubicle mounted on a stand.

"Now ... one moment...." With quick efficiency, the chief of barons
closed the cubicle's door and sealed it. Then, taking a tiny glass
ampule from the nearest bench, he dropped it into a slot atop the
cubicle and brought down a crusher valve upon it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ampule splintered. For an instant light glinted on sparkling,
dust-like grains descending, floating out in lazy spirals through the
sealed cubicle's still air.

But only for an instant. For then, suddenly, the grains were growing,
uniting, multiplying, melding. In a finger-snap, grey slime began to
form on the unit's glistening, sterile floor.

A slime that swirled and crawled and eddied....

The shackled serfman screamed.

Not that anyone could hear it. The cubicle was far too skillfully
designed for that.

With grim satisfaction, cold appraisal, the Lord Zenaor watched the
slime-tide rippling higher. Carefully, he noted reaction time ... the
victim's grimaces and contortions and frantic terror.

So preoccupied was he that he didn't even hear Narla approaching till
her voice rang out behind him, raw with sudden shock: "_Ourobos--!_"

Zenaor spun by instinct.

His daughter's lovely face showed stiff with horror. "Father...." She
choked; retched.

Cold-eyed he waited till the spasm had passed before he spoke: "So ...
you find my secret shocking?"

"Shocking--?" The girl's eyes held disbelief. Then: "Father, not even
Vydys would do such! To bring those horrors here from Xumar--" She
shuddered. "You would not! You dare not--"

"I dare not?" Zenaor laughed harshly; gestured to the cubicle, and the
dying serfman engulfed in slime. "I have already done it!"

"Then--you would destroy our world--the Baemae--?" The girl's voice was
queer, choked.

"Are there only Baemae, then, on Lysor?" Anger carved Zenaor's jaw-line
deeper, sharper. "I am of the Kukzubas, Narla; the barons! My loyalty
is to them, for from them I draw my power."

"Your power!" Narla came erect at the word. "There is the answer,
father! Your loyalty is not to the barons or to Lysor, but to power
alone. You live for it. You bow before no other god."

"And so?" Zenaor stood inflexible as duroid.

The girl gestured helplessly. "What can I say, when not even the fate
of our world can touch you?"

"Our world--this puny dot that men call Lysor?" Zenaor laughed aloud.
"This planet of ours means nothing, Narla! By using the slime-things,
the ourobos, I can reach out across the void till even the far
Federation's chiefs will tremble! Nothing can stop me! Nothing!"

"I see." Narla's face was pale now, and her lips quivered. But she
stood proud and erect. "Then I have no choice, father. My loyalty is to
Lysor. I shall fulfill it."

"Even against me?"

"Even against you."

"So Vydys was right...." The chief of barons' coal-black eyes gleamed
hard and bitter. "Very well, then. As of this moment you shall be
treated as a prisoner--"

The clang of a com-box bell cut in upon him. Zenaor left his sentence
hanging; flicked the switch. "Yes?"

"My lord, a starship seeks to land here."

"A starship--?" Zenaor stiffened.

"Yes, my lord. The message says it bears an envoy from the Federation."

"His name?"

"Craig Nesom."

Slowly, Zenaor straightened. Cold-eyed, he glanced to the glassite
cubicle ... the dead serfman, swallowed up in the pulsing slime-mass of
the ourobos. He was hardly aware that Narla was stepping quietly from
the laboratory chamber.

Again, the voice from the com-box: "My lord...."

Harsh-voiced, face set, Zenaor threw back his answer: "Let them land."
And then, beneath his breath: "But blasting off alive will be another
matter!"



                              CHAPTER II


She was the loveliest creature Craig Nesom had ever seen.

Or perhaps that was only the hunger gnawing in him--the Earth-hunger,
the aching loneliness that comes to all men who dare to roam the far
void to the stars.

Yet here he stood, on this strange, mediaevalish world of Lysor.

And here _she_ stood before him, smiling.

Suddenly, to Craig Nesom, it didn't matter that they were met in an
alien city called Torneulan, or that she was Narla, daughter of Lord
Zenaor, whose rule here he had come to question. The crowd's clamor,
the bizarre costumes, the twin suns blazing like green balls of fire
against an emerald sky--what did they count now? For gazing into this
slim girl's eyes, he could almost forget duty and the Federation and
the starship, the darkling dreams of friends and homeland.

She said, "_Tarata, fodal_.... Welcome, voyager," and he was glad
that she paused and smiled and spoke ... glad for the psychmen's
hypnoscanner treatment that let him understand her words, her meaning.

He matched her pleasantry. "This drink called taxat--will you join me
for one?"

"A taxat--?" Her eyes danced. She took his arm. "Of course."

Only then, though her lips still curved, the grey eyes seemed to
shadow. Her voice dropped and now, all at once, it held a note of
bitterness, of tension: "If death stays its hand long enough for us to
drink it."

He stared. "_What--?_"

The shadow vanished. His companion laughed softly; tossed her head in
a gesture old as woman, so that the shimmering blonde hair swirled
and rippled. Only in her whisper did the dark undercurrent still show
through: "Please, come! Do not let your face betray us!"

For the fraction of a second Craig hesitated, weighing her with his
eyes. Of a sudden he was acutely aware of alien sounds and smells and
voices.

Only then the girl whispered, "Please...." again. Her eyes held mute
entreaty.

Stiff, wordless, Craig let her lead him through the throng and din of
the assembled barons and their ladies ... out of the emerald sunlight,
along the shadowy porticos of the tower itself.

The Central Tower. The Tower of Zenaor.

The girl darted a quick glance back over her shoulder, then whispered,
"Hurry! We must get out before they realize that we are missing!"
Catching Craig's hand in hers, half-running, she pulled him through the
nearest door, into the massive building.

There were corridors, then, and stairs and ramps, all leading downward,
till at last they moved along a dusty, dim-lit passageway that seemed
to stretch forever, echoing and empty.

Abruptly, Craig pulled the girl up short. "It's time for explanations,"
he clipped flatly.

The grey eyes rose to meet his, cool and steady. "You came to Lysor on
complaint of Tumek, did you not?"

"Yes."

"And he charged that my father planned aggression that might endanger
even your Federation?"

Again, Craig nodded.

The girl leaned close. "Do you realize what that means, Craig Nesom?
Can you imagine to what lengths the barons will go in order to keep you
from reaching Tumek?"

"But--"

A sudden echo of distant voices cut short Craig's answer. The girl went
rigid.

"Quick!" Her voice hissed taut, now; ragged. "This may be your only
chance to contact Tumek--if it is not too late already!"

After that there was no more time for words; only a hurrying through
the silent passage, till at last a ramp loomed before them and they
came out into the day once more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here the tower loomed distant and forbidding, a stark shaft lancing
up like a spear-head into the emerald sky. Here were the slums, the
quarters of the Baemae, with noise and filth and sweat-drenched bodies
that stank rank enough to turn the stomach of any Kukzubas baron.

Wordless, still gripping his hand, the girl who was Zenaor's daughter
led Craig into a low, cramped wineshop. Dirt scuffed up under his
feet. Boisterous voices rang out in shouts and curses, and the stench
of stale liquor hung all-pervasive. A couple reeled past, clinging to
each other for support. The woman's brief halter hung loose. She was
laughing drunkenly, and her near-naked body shone slick with sweat.
Beyond her, a man prodded a huge, weird, spider-like lifeform into a
shuffling dance atop a table.

Craig's jaw tightened. What was he doing in a place like this? How
foolish could even a Federation agent get?

But the girl's grey eyes still pleaded. Tense, raw-nerved, Craig,
followed her through the crowd and din to a table in the wineshop's
farthest corner.

A gaunt, stoop-shouldered oldster paused beside them. He wore the
tabard of the serf-class. "Yes?"

"Taxat." The girl spoke for Craig. Her fingers pressed hard against
his arm. Her whisper held a note almost of panic: "Quick! Smile, Craig
Nesom--before the baron's men suspect the truth and sweep down on us!"

Craig flicked a glance across the room. For the first time he became
aware of the presence of solitary loungers--cold-faced, tight-lipped
men who stood close by the walls, nursing stale drinks.

Their eyes were on him.

The back of his neck prickled. He bared his teeth in a thin, bleak
grin. "I might play better if I knew the game," he murmured beneath his
breath.

"Oh--?" the girl exclaimed, too loudly. She shot Craig a low-lashed,
coquettish glance and pushed closer, sliding her hand over his. Her
lips barely moved. "Later, you madman! For now, look at me as men look
at woman!"

She drew back as she spoke, flaunting her slim young body's charms
before him in a sinuous, sensuous motion. Her face was a pale oval
cameo of loveliness. Temptation, incarnate, came to life in the lithe
twist of her torso.

Craig caught his breath. "You devil--!"

The red lips quivered. "You see? You learn quickly!" The girl relaxed,
leaned against him. "Make love to me, voyager. Your arms--put them
about me. Kiss me...."

A numbness gripped Craig. His hands trembled.

But the girl's bare leg and hip pressed hard against him. Her hair
brushed his cheek, soft as perfumed silk, and her skin was smoother
than any satin. "Are you afraid of me, then, Craig Nesom?"

"Damn you!" he choked.

Only then her cool fingers slid beneath his uniform jacket, and all
at once his heart was pounding, pounding. The room, the noise, the
cold-eyed loungers--they faded till he could think of nothing but the
ripe lips and their invitation.

It was the loneliness, he told himself; the old Earth-hunger.

And here was this woman, Zenaor's own daughter, the antidote, his for
the taking.

He would have strained her to him, then, in spite of all his doubts and
thoughts of Federation rules and duty. But now the serving-serf was
back, bearing twin silver cones of taxat.

The girl pushed away from Craig, smoothing her tousled hair. Her face
was flushed. Her eyes dodged his.

A sort of senseless fury gripped him. "It's you who are afraid!" he
lashed. "You bring me here. You tempt me. But then you push away
again--"

The girl's eyes flashed. Once more, she leaned close. Her voice was
suddenly edged and brittle. "My task is to help you get to Tumek,
Earthman. To that end, and in order to help dispel suspicion, I have
no choice but to act like any Kukzubas woman who would rendezvous with
a lover in the Baemae quarter. But it goes no further. Now that I have
brought you here, a courier will take you on to Tumek. When he comes--"

She broke off sharply, eyes flaring sudden panic. "Craig--!"

Craig half-turned in his seat.

       *       *       *       *       *

A man stood framed in the wineshop's doorway--a tall broad-shouldered
man who wore a high-crowned metal helmet like none that Craig had ever
seen before. His sweeping shoulder-cape bore the blaze of brocaded
heraldry of Lord Zenaor's service, and his eyes, his mouth, were cruel
and grim.

Now he paused on the wineshop's threshold, sweeping the place with a
glance that held no mercy.

A hush fell over the echoing, low-ceilinged room--the hush of fear.
Men's faces paled, and women shrank back as if to hide behind their
partners.

Beside Craig, Narla whispered, "That man--he is my father's chief of
guards, the master of the rollers! They must already guess you're on
your way to Tumek--"

Once more, Craig glanced round at the doorway--and found himself
staring straight into the guard-chief's eyes.

For a taut, vibrant moment the silence echoed. Then the man in the
doorway lashed, "On your feet, Earthling!"

Craig felt Narla's nails dig into his arm. Her whisper hissed so faint
it might have been imagination: "Window--room behind this...."

A knot drew tight in Craig Nesom's belly. Stiffly, he rose ...
side-stepped out from behind the table.

The hush of the room was deafening now. The wineshop revelers sat like
creatures frozen.

"You die now, Earthling!" snarled the guard-chief. "Here, beneath the
rollers, by Lord Zenaor's own orders."

He stepped aside as he spoke. A great, bulbous sphere rolled slowly
past him through the doorway.

Instinctively, Craig fell back a step.

"Stop him!" barked the guard-chief.

The words crackled. Two hard-faced loungers by the rear wall sprang
forward.

Inside Craig Nesom, something snapped. It came to him, of a sudden,
that here lay the answer to all his tension and loneliness and homeland
hunger. Here, channeled into rage and bruising violence....

With a curse, he smashed a fist square into the face of the foremost of
his assailants. A hoarse cry of anguish burst from the man's throat. He
crashed back across the nearest table.

Like lightning, the hand of the second flashed to an ornate belt-dagger.

Craig lunged for him in chill, surging fury. Savagely, he drove his
elbow into the soft flesh below the other's rib-casing.

The man reeled--retching, knife forgotten.

Craig caught him from behind by belt and shoulder ... half-hurled him
into the path of the roller that now spun forward.

Man and sphere came together with a thud of flesh against flesh.

Man went down, screaming.

But now other guardsmen were charging in. Whirling, Craig dashed for
the door to the back room. In another instant he was through it,
racing for the window.

A bolt of green fire seared past his head.

He ducked.

But in the same instant, something struck his shoulder a hammer blow
from behind. He sprawled on his knees. Through a strange, blurred haze
of pain, it dawned on him that now his right arm hung limp and useless.

Only then hands gripped him and dragged him forward, on to the window.
Incredulously, he discovered that it was the serving-serf, the grey,
stoop-shouldered oldster who had brought the taxat.

"Hurry--!" the man panted. "Climb up! I am not strong enough to lift
you...."

With a tremendous effort, Craig dragged himself erect. Clutching the
high sill, he tried to pull himself up to it.

The panting serfman heaved and boosted. "Hurry! Hurry--!"

A final surge. Momentarily, Craig sagged on his belly on the sill.

The serf tugged up the hanging legs and swung them through the opening.

From behind Craig came a crash of splintering timbers, a ring of
curses. He threw a dazed glance back.

Someone--the serf, perhaps?--had slammed shut a heavy door between
this rear room and the wineshop proper.

Now its bolt tore loose. The door burst inward. One of Zenaor's men
clawed past it, whipping up a weapon that might have been a pistol.

The old serf threw himself upon the guardsman.

Green fire blazed. The serf fell back.

       *       *       *       *       *

Craig dropped from the window-sill into an alley. The haze of pain was
clearing now. He could run again, though his right arm still trailed
useless at his side.

Desperate, a hunted thing, he plunged off down the passage.

More cries behind him. More green fire blazing.

But these ancient alleys were like a maze, a rabbit-warren. Given ten
seconds' lead, a man had at least a gambler's chance to lose himself,
find safety.

And Craig had ten seconds ... ten seconds a grey-thatched serving serf
had bought with his own life.

The knowledge brought new sickness surging through Craig--a sickness
that drew no fragment from the pain of his wounded shoulder.

But he had no time for thoughts or bitterness or brooding. Not now. For
him, there were only the shouts behind and the blackness of the alley.

Only then, from his backtrail, a new sound rose ... the whisper of a
roller's leathery pads spinning over the cobbles.

Craig whirled.

Running blind, caroming from wall to wall as it sped through the narrow
alley, the sphere raced towards him.

Craig threw himself into the angle of the nearest doorway.

The sphere missed him by inches; hurtled on beyond.

Sweating, shaking, Craig stepped out once more.

But now the shouts came closer as guardsmen ran towards him, following
up the roller.

Pivoting, Craig stumbled on once more.

Before he had taken a dozen steps, the whispering of the roller drifted
to him.

The sphere was hurtling back again.

Panting, Craig wedged himself into the chimney-like shaft between two
buildings.

Again, the roller passed him. The guards' shouts echoed ever-louder.

It dawned on Craig that the crevice in which he stood stretched upward,
clear to a tiny wedge of emerald sky.

At least, up there, there'd be no rollers.

Wincing with pain at each movement of his wounded arm, bracing himself
with feet on one wall, back against the other, he worked his way slowly
up the shaft.

The roller again. Guards below him now.

Craig held his breath.

But they passed on without an upward glance. Painfully, he worked his
way still higher, till the emerald wedge widened into a shining vista.

Then--of a sudden, it seemed--he was out on a flat, sagging roof,
drinking in air in great, greedy gulps.

In the same instant, a shout hammered at him. He whirled.

A guard was running towards him across one of the nearby roofs. While
he watched, another appeared, then another.

Ring-like, they surrounded him, hemming him in with a circle of death.

And him with no weapon but the rooftop rubble.

Savagely, he cursed aloud--Zenaor, and Lysor, and the Federation,
and his job, and duty, and the girl called Narla; baron and Baemae,
Earth-worlds and aliens.

Why should he die here, alone and forgotten?

Yet die he would: he knew that now.

But at least, it would cost them.

He fumbled up a brick-sized stone ... took his stand against the
roof-edge, spraddle-legged.

The guards closed in--warily, now, but moving ever closer.

It was in that moment that the shadow fell across him.

At first Craig thought it was a cloud that had drifted between him and
the twin emerald suns.

Then he glimpsed the guards' faces, and knew it was not.

Dropping to one knee, left arm held high to shield his face, he stared
up at the thing now skimming towards him.

It was a disc--a shining, circular chip somehow suspended in the sky. A
man in a Baemae tabard balanced lithely on it.

Now, while Craig watched, the disc tilted and raced towards him.

A guard shouted. As one, he and his fellows lunged forward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Craig hurled his stone. By more luck than good judgment, it caught the
foremost guard square in the forehead.

The man went down like an axed ox. His fellows stopped short.

In the same instant the disc whipped round in a tight spiral close by
Craig's side. "Get on! Flat between my legs...." The rider's voice
rasped raw and urgent.

Craig threw himself aboard.

Angry cries from the guards. Green fire spurting.

A shout from the discman: "Hold tight!"

Barely in time. Craig caught the disc's rim.

For as he did so, the disc's Baemae rider shifted weight sharply. With
startling suddenness, the saucer tilted to a forty-five degree angle.

Another shift. The disc cartwheeled round in a fast spin that had Craig
clinging with teeth and toenails.

Then the strange craft was climbing and spinning at once, faster and
faster. Even the Baemae pilot dropped to his knees and gripped the
disc's edge.

They cleared the roof ... peeled off in a wide arc that carried them
out and away from the building, still climbing.

The guards' shouts welled to a furious chorus of frustration. Craig
glimpsed more streaks of flame.

But they burned out far short of their target. The disc wheeled on, the
whole of the ancient Baemae quarter spread out below it.

The serf's fingers dug into Craig's shoulder. He was laughing now--a
fierce, bubbling chortle of triumphs. "You see, Earthman? These discs
will free Lysor of its thrice-cursed barons! With your aid, Craig
Nesom--"

Craig started. "You ... know my name--?"

"Did you think I came here to save you by mere chance?" The discman
chuckled. "No. I was your contact, to help take you to Tumek. But
Zenaor's guardsmen got to you before me. So I stood by and waited, in
hopes I could save you."

Craig nodded slowly. "Then you can give me some answers, too--about
this whole business."

"A few." The discman straightened. "But that can wait till we have
landed...."

Skillfully, he guided the disc off, away from the city; brought it down
on a tiny, brush-clotted river island. Stepping clear, he helped Craig
up and gripped his hand. "They call me Bukal."

"And you know me already."

They both laughed. Then the discman's broad, bronzed face sobered. "You
seek explanations...."

"At least, they'd help me," Craig nodded, grinning wryly.

"Then they must be brief. That Zenaor's a devil. He'll trace us in
minutes, on a daylight landing." Bukal kicked the disc. "Do you know
what this is?"

Craig eyed it curiously. Flat, polished, of plastic or metal, it
measured a good six feet across. Beyond that, he could tell little,
save that it had neither moving parts nor control equipment, so far as
he could see.

"It flies, and it saved my neck," he said finally. "That's all I know
about it."

Again, Bukal laughed. A grim laugh without mirth. "Then I'll tell you
rover. This thing is a weapon--a weapon of peace, one that can't kill;
yet it's going to break the cursed Kukzubas barons' power forever."

"But how--?" Craig groped for words.

"How does it work, you mean?" The bronzed, stocky Bukal chuckled.
"Magnetic waves--you know about them?"

"Yes, after a fashion."

"Then think of them flowing from pole to pole like some great river."

Craig stared. "You mean--these discs of yours ride the current--?"

"As chips ride a stream," the other nodded. "The secret lies in
the alloy's basic pattern, its molecular structure. It serves as a
filter--a trap that catches enough wave-power to lift and carry."

"And to maneuver--"

"You tilt the disc. That breaks the flow-pattern." Shifting, Craig's
rescuer peered out through the brush that fringed the river's edge. He
gestured. "When our visitors get closer, I'll show you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Craig followed the other's movement: saw a boatload of men in guards'
regalia cutting swiftly toward the islet from the river's near shore.

"They're quick," he acknowledged. And then, prompting: "You said discs
were weapons."

Bukal's eyes went dark, brooding. "How much do you know of our ways
here on Lysor?"

"Only that you have two groups, barons and Baemae--"

"Do you know how the barons hold their power?"

"No."

"They do it with a weapon--a barrier ray, they call it--" Bukal's mouth
had a bitter twist--"It sets up zones of death around the cities, the
great estates--binds us to our serfdom."

"And the discs--"

"They give us a bridge across the barrier--a highway to freedom to end
our thousand years of bondage!" Of a sudden a tight wolf-grin wiped the
bitterness from Bukal's broad face. He surged to his feet. "Here. Let
me show you!"

A cry of excitement rose from the guardsmen out on the river. The boat
arced towards Craig and bronzed Bukal.

The Baemae laughed aloud. Bending, he seized the disc and lifted it on
edge. "You see? It is light!"

Craig brought up his own hand beneath it. For all its size, the thing
seemed hardly heavier than balsa.

Gesturing him back, Bukal swung the disc clear of the ground, holding
it waist-high, plate-flat. "Now, I spin it...." He whipped it round as
if its center were mounted on a pivot, pulling through with his right
hand, guiding with the left.

The boat was almost to the island now. The guards were readying their
weapons.

Faster, till the wave-flow catches.... The disc was spinning like a top
now, parallel with the ground.

Craig threw a quick glance at the guard-boat. A trickle of sweat rilled
down his spine.

He looked back to Bukal and the saucer.

Suddenly, there was the slightest of jerks. The disc seemed to vibrate.

Bukal dropped his hands. For a moment the disc hung in the air,
spinning free.

And then, incredibly, instead of falling, slowly it began to rise!

Open-mouthed, Craig stared, still not quite believing.

But already, Bukal, was moving. Nimbly, he threw himself forward, flat
on the disc.

The plate stopped spinning. As if by magic, it hung suspended in the
air, swaying gently.

Bukal clambered to his feet, balancing on the polished surface as a
bather might upon a surfboard. Tilting skillfully, he sideslipped the
strange craft down a fraction lower. "Get on!"

Sucking in a breath, Craig slid aboard.

Bare yards away, the boat beached. Guards swarmed ashore, cursing and
shouting.

Nonchalantly, Bukal threw them a salute, and brought the disc round in
a lazy, climbing spiral.

Green fire, falling short. Fuming rage, wild curses.

"You see--?" The elation of triumph rang in Bukal's voice. "It's the
end of the barons, Earthman! How can any barriers hold back the Baemae,
when with discs like this we can sail above them? To the south, there's
the whole djevoda range and freedom! Already, we've colonies of our own
down there, free colonies, spread out so the barons can't strike at
them. We're turning out these discs by hundreds--emptying the cities,
stripping the estates to their last serfman--"

Frowning, narrow-eyed, Craig stared down at the panorama spread out
below them, then off to the glittering towers of Torneulan.

"Why send for me, then?" he cut in on the other. "Who's Tumek? What
made him call for help from the Federation?"

The discman's face sobered. "Why--?" He shrugged. "That I can't tell
you; it's still Tumek's secret."

"And ... who is he?"

"Tumek?" Light came back to Bukal's bronzed face. "Call him genius:
that says it."

"But--"

"A statue-caster by trade; old, now; one of the free Baemae craftsmen.
These discs--he devised them. The colonies, too--they're part of his
plan."

"Yet he sent for help...." Craig's frown deepened.

"He heard rumors of some new scheme of Zenaor's." Bukal shifted,
glanced up into the darkening sky. Tilting the disc, he crept it in
towards the outskirts of the city's bleak Baemae quarter. "When the
green day suns, Boh and Koh, set, and night comes, I'll drop you off
near him. He's hiding in the shop of a friend, Notal, in the Street of
Arts, waiting for you."

Craig nodded slowly. Thoughtfully, he looked away to the west, where
the nose of the starship showed above the buildings like a slim silver
lance-tip. "Good. Meantime...."

"Yes?"

"Meantime--"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a sentence never finished. Suddenly, out of a gap in the
roof of a ruined building below them, a blurred bulky mass vomited
towards them. Spreading as it hurtled upward, it stretched into
loose-patterned cordage.

Bukal went rigid. "A net-gun--!" He sideslipped the disc. It careened
low over the hovels.

But green flame speared up in their path--a great, roaring gout of it,
ten times the size of the blast that might come from any hand weapon.

Bukal jerked back. The disc spun crazily.

Then they were falling, men and disc alike, clinging precariously.
Barely in time, the craft leveled off a fraction, then tilted once more
to spill both Craig and Bukal to the ground, a jarring, ten-foot fall.

Guardsmen lunged up from cover, converging upon them.

Craig lurched to his feet, trying to shake the haze from his eyes.

But Bukal was ahead of him--shoving him bodily back into an alley. "Run
for it, you fool! I'll hold them--"

Staggering, half-falling, Craig fled into the shadows.

The starship. That was the answer. If he could only reach the starship!
This thing was beyond any one man's handling....

Panting, he crawled up a crumbling stair, searching the skyline for
some glimpse of the silver prow to guide him.

Then there it was, off to the west.

Craig's jaw tightened. That slim silver craft represented the strength
of the whole Federation. One word from it, and a fleet would come
roaring down upon Lysor.

But first, that word must be spoken.

He phrased the message in his mind: "DETAILS LACKING BUT NO DOUBT OF
ZENAOR AGGRESSIVE INTENTIONS AS SHOWN IN ATTEMPTS TO KILL ENVOY...."

He started to turn, to make his way back down the stairs.

But in that instant the sky went suddenly bright with a blaze of
light ... a light so dazzling that it left Craig blind and shaking.

A light that centered on the starship.

Craig clapped his hands across his eyes. A wave of sudden panic gripped
him.

Grimly--desperately, almost--he fought it down.

Slowly, his vision cleared. He let his hands fall.

Then he wished he had not.

For now the starship's silver prow no longer stood silhouetted against
the distant western sky. As if by magic, it had vanished, its passage
marked only by a slowly settling dust-smoke haze.

So this was Zenaor's answer to the Baemae challenge. He had destroyed
the Federation starship.

Craig Nesom stood on Lysor alone....



                              CHAPTER III


The Street of Arts. Narrow and winding, lined with the small, cramped
shops of skilled craftsmen who wrought wondrous things of wood and
leather, glass and metal. Here you could buy the finest filigree of
silver... paintings on porcelain or plastic ... figurines carved from
djevoda tusks ... fabrics that glinted with threads of Xumarian thril
and Odak's orlon.

And here hid Tumek.

Tumek, the statue-caster. Tumek, the sculptor.

Tumek, genius of the Baemae ... the man who had devised the flying disc
and harnessed the power that surged through his world's magnetic waves.

Yet even Tumek had cringed before Zenaor's sadistic schemings and
pleaded across a million drals of void for Federation aid.

Now, on Bukal's word, he lay in hiding here in the shop of his fellow
caster Notal, waiting for the Federation's envoy to arrive.

At least, Craig Nesom hoped so.

Pausing in the shadows across from Notal's shop, he hesitated for a
moment, studying the darkened front with its display of busts that
peered out, wan and ghost-like, in the blue night-sun Roh's dim light.

Somewhere at the back of the shop, a gleam of yellow flickered.

So there was really someone there. Taut-nerved, Craig started forward.

Only then, off to his right, metal clanged on metal.

Craig froze again.

More sounds crept to him ... sounds of shuffling feet, of men in
movement.

Silent as any spectre, he drew back against the building behind him ...
slid left along it till he was lost in the pitch-black angle where the
next shop joined it.

The shuffling feet drew nearer. Craig caught the hiss of whispering
voices. Shapes took form--the shapes of men stalking stealthily,
skulking in the shadows.

Warily, Craig edged forward a fraction and peered along the front of
the shop to his left.

But here, too, shapes were emerging from the murk. A stray blue beam
glinted on what might have been a weapon.

Craig slid back into his angle.

The two groups met in mid-street, scant yards out from him. There was a
buzz of whispered consultation. Then, silently, both groups drew back.
The men spread out, ranging themselves along the wall on his side of
the street.

Craig held his breath.

But already one figure was shuffling towards him, slouching against the
wall bare inches from his shoulder. "A curse on the Baemae and their
plots!" the intruder muttered. "Night's a time for wine and wenches,
not for raiding."

Craig grunted wordless affirmation.

The stranger turned, peered at him. "Who are you, friend? Which
company?" And then, in sudden shock: "You! You're not--"

With all his might, Craig slashed a stiff hand-edge across the other's
windpipe, his Adam's apple. The man's voice cut off in mid-syllable.

Craig crashed the heel of his hand up under a stubbled chin, thanking
the stars that his shoulder was no longer stiff. The intruder's head
snapped back against the stonework. Hard.

Then his knees were buckling. He started to fall.

Craig caught him, held him erect.

In the same instant a whistle shrilled. The other shadow-skulkers
leaped forward from their hiding places, converging on the shop
across the street where Tumek had his refuge. They made no effort at
concealment now. There were shouts; a splintering crash as the door
burst in.

       *       *       *       *       *

Icy sweat drenched Craig. Shaking, he eased his unconscious prisoner to
the ground in the shadows of the angle and stripped him of the weapon
in his belt--one of the pistol-things that blazed green fire.

Inside Notal's shop, another door went down. Craig glimpsed struggling
figures silhouetted against a backdrop of yellow light.

All along the street, windows swung wide and doors opened. Lights
flared. Voices rang out in a startled babble.

A man appeared in the entrance of the shop before which Craig stood,
rubbing sleep from his eyes. "What--?"

In three quick steps Craig was beside him--jamming the fire-gun against
his fat belly; shoving him back on his own tracks into the building;
slamming and bolting the door behind them.

Fear flared in the fat man's button eyes. His blubbery face went slack.

"Quiet!" Craig stabbed the pistol against him harder. "One sound and I
kill you!"

The other's mouth worked, but no words came. He tottered backward and
slumped down onto a bench.

Craig opened the door a crack and shot a quick glance out.

The raiders were leaving Notal's shop now. They dragged a captive with
them, a short, balding man whose face showed the wrinkles of age.

Craig turned back to his own prisoner. "Who is that?"

The fat man's voice shook: "He is called ... Tumek."

Tumek....

A chill shook Craig Nesom.

Across the street, the last of the raiders inside the shop paused by
the display window. Deliberately, he picked up one bust after another
and smashed it. The last he hurled through the window itself, then
swaggered out to join the others. Their laughter echoed raucously.

Then someone barked a command. The laughter ceased. With chill
efficiency a group fell in, formed a double rank facing Notal's shop.

Another command. Two of the guardsmen caught the prisoner by the arms
and jerked him forward, slamming him back hard against one of the
uprights of the shop-front. Then, quickly, they stepped aside.

Again, the harsh voice of command.

The double rank raised weapons.

Inside the shop across the street, Craig went rigid.

Out there, mere feet away, stood the man who'd brought him to this
planet, the Baemae genius, Tumek.

Tumek, the one man who could tell him the things he so needed to
know--the baron's plans; the dreams and schemes and power of Zenaor.

Only Tumek stood before a firing squad. Ten seconds more and he'd be
dead.

Craig acted by instinct, then; not logic.

Quite coolly, he brought up the fire-gun he'd taken from the
guardsman ... leveled it with grim precision at the squad's commander.

The man passed some remark to Tumek. But the oldster only shook his
head and stood the straighter, face calm, serene ... almost spiritual.

Craig corrected his aim a fraction.

The firing squad's commander pivoted ... sucked in air to give the
final order.

Craig squeezed the fire-gun's trigger.

A green shaft of flame lanced out. It struck the squad chief square
in the chest. He slammed backward--face contorted in a death's-head
grimace; already toppling.

The squad seemed to freeze in its tracks. Then, as the spell broke, one
man started to whirl, whipping round his own weapon.

Craig dropped him where he stood.

Chaos descended on the guardsmen. Frantically, they lunged for cover.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crouched, shadow-silent, Craig slipped from the shop and moved through
the murk towards the spot where the prisoner had stood, trusting to
confusion and the dark to shield him. "Tumek...."

Someone roared, "Look out! It's the Earthman!"

The night turned dazzling green with fire-blasts.

Craig dived through the shop's shattered window, skidding across the
floor on one shoulder.

A hand clutched his arm. A cracked voice choked, "Craig Nesom--!"

Craig twisted. Tumek's wrinkled face loomed, a dim blur in the gloom.

"Quick! This way--" The old man wormed towards the rear of the building.

Craig followed.

Only then a dark figure was rising and shouting. A fire-gun blazed,
close at hand.

Craig shot back. The looming antagonist fell away.

Old Tumek fell with him.

Stumbling to his feet, Craig heaved up the oldster's limp body.
With a strength born of sheer desperation, heedless of shouts and
fire-blasts, he lunged on, out the rear door of the building.

A guard rose in their path.

Craig shot him down and charged blindly on, deep into the black alley
shadows.

A thin whisper from Tumek: "Right ... next crosspath.... Door ...
unlocked...."

Craig veered. In seconds he was pushing past a heavy gate ... easing it
shut behind him once more.

The sounds of the guards' rage faded. Gently, Craig lowered Tumek to
the ground.

An acrid scent rose in his nostrils ... the scent of charred flesh.
With a shock, he became aware of the old Baemae's hoarse, labored
breathing.

Numbly, he ran cautious fingers over the other's withered body.

The flesh along Tumek's right rib-casing _crackled_!

Then, slowly, the old eyes opened. The cracked voice spoke, the
faintest of whispers: "You ... are the Earthman--the Federation agent?"

Mute sick, Craig nodded.

"Good." The eyes closed again, as if suddenly too heavy.

But only for a moment: "Earthman...."

"Yes."

"Ourobos ... from Xumar--they are Zenaor's weapon."

"Ourobos--?" Craig strained close. "Tumek, what are they?"

"A ... lifeform. Zenaor's daughter can tell you." The voice of the old
Baemae grew weaker.

"Zenaor's daughter--!"

"Yes. Narla...."

"But--"

"Only ... one weapon ... against ourobos--crystal."

"Crystal--?"

"Ourobos...." The old man's face was slack now, his words thick and
mumbled. It was as if he could no longer hear Craig's questions.
"Other planets, too ... not just Lysor. That's ... why I asked help.
Zenaor ... dreams of conquest."

"Tumek--!" Craig choked. "Tumek, the crystal--tell me about that!"

But again, he could not know if the other even heard.

"Narla ..." the old man whispered, "see Narla...." And then: "Disc ...
on roof ... here...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The words died in a rattle. Muscles tensed in a small convulsive
movement.... The mouth fell open. The old head sagged back.

Tumek died.

For a long, long moment, Craig Nesom slumped beside him.

It was no end for genius. Not here, in a dirt-floored hovel off an
alley.

Only that was death's way. It paid no heed to propriety or convenience.

Nor to right, either, nor the needs of men.

Without Tumek, the Baemae cause might go down to disaster. Lord Zenaor
could yet live to fulfill his dream of conquest, carve his path across
the universe with the ourobos.

Unless the crystal stopped him.

"The crystal"--that was all Tumek had said about it. Not what it was,
nor how to use it.

But ... there was still Narla.

Narla, of the cool grey eyes and flaxen hair. Narla, who laughed and
tempted--and then went cold with sudden fury.

Narla, Lord Zenaor's own daughter.

Tumek had said to see her.

Slowly, Craig got up. Stiff, shuffling, weary, he made his way to the
room's one slot-like window.

The night outside was brighter now, blue with Roh's chill rays. The
Kukzubas towers loomed sleek and shining, sheer to the very sky.

And there was the Central Tower, also; the Tower of Zenaor--rising even
higher and more starkly than the rest.

How could any man hope to get into that grim crypt to talk to Narla?
Every door would be locked, every entrance guarded.

At least, on the lower levels.

But higher, perhaps....

Thoughtfully, Craig appraised the towering structure.

Invading it would be madness, pure and simple.

And yet, with the starship shattered, what did he have to lose?

Besides, Zenaor owed him a debt ... a debt that only blood could cancel.

Blood. The blood of the starship's crew, and of the Baemae. Of Tumek,
and a grey-thatched serving-serf without a name.

And on the roof here, Tumek had said, a disc lay ready.

A disc, and a debt of blood, and the Tower of Zenaor.

And Narla.

Why was he hesitating?

Cold-eyed, tight-lipped. Craig Nesom groped towards the stair....



                              CHAPTER IV


The disc came down to the roof like a drifting feather. Stepping from
it, Craig paused for a moment, staring out with brow furrowed at the
spangled night of Torneulan. City of barons or city of Baemae, there
was beauty here in this silent moment.

Only now was no time for beauty. Not here, atop Lord Zenaor's sleek,
shining fortress tower.

Craig turned.

A stair-housing rose near one edge of the flat, parapeted roof.
Crossing to it, he kicked out the door's translucent panel.

Inside, now. The stairwell yawned like a black, bottomless pit.
Silently, Craig crept down the steps.

There was another locked door at the bottom--and this one had no panel.

Craig kicked it.

It held firm. He kicked it again--unrestrained, now--and again, and
again, till the echoes rang round him in thunder-chorus.

From beyond the portal came a beat of running feet. Someone fumbled
with the door's handle.

Craig drew his fire-gun ... waited....

The door opened, a bare inch.

Craig kicked it with all his might.

The door burst open. A guard reeled back, clutching his face where the
swinging edge had struck him.

Craig kicked him, too--first in the belly; then, when he doubled over,
in the face.

The guard crumpled; lay still.

Craig strode down the hall, trying doors. But the rooms they sealed
were empty, unfinished.

Craig went back to the guard.

The man was moaning now. His fingers dug spasmodically at the naked
tiles of the floor.

Dragging him erect, Craig shoved him back flat against the wall.

Slowly, the other's sagging head lifted. The glazed eyes cleared a
little.

Craig held his voice cold and level: "Where's Zenaor?"

"At ... this hour?" The swollen lips bubbled. "Down--seventh level."

"And between?"

"The guest chambers--Lady Vydys--her party."

"Vydys...." Craig paused--frowning, searching his memory. Where had he
heard that name before? From Tumek, or Narla? Or in a report, while he
briefed for this mission?

He scowled, probing. "Why are you here, then, when this level's empty?"

"Why--? With Vydys in the tower?" The bloodshot eyes widened. "My lord
Zenaor loves life. He knows better than to trust her."

The memories came back with a rush, if not their source. Vydys the
Cruel, chief of all Zenaor's rivals! Here, in this tower, tonight!

Craig drew his lips thin.

"Where's your post, scum?"

"Below--force shaft." The guard gestured. "Heard you--kicking."

Craig stepped aside. "Get back to it, then." He motioned with the
fire-gun.

The guard shot him a bleared, uncertain glance. Then, shuffling, not
quite steady, one hand to the wall, the man moved ahead of Craig down
the hall to an alcove backed with twin sliding panels. Clutching the
grip of the one on the right, he pushed it back.

Beyond lay a small, square room like a closet, but without floor or
ceiling.

The guard stepped across the threshold.

It was as if he had moved out onto an invisible platform. Erect,
motionless, he sank slowly down the shaft.

Craig shot one breath-taking glance into the pit, and followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Instantly, a pulsing vibrance seemed to grip and hold him. Taut-nerved,
he stood rigid, drifting slowly down against the lift of an upward flow
of some strange current.

Below him, the guard reached out and caught a metal hand-hold jutting
from the shaft's wall, then slid back a panel like the one above and
stepped out into a broad hall.

But where the top level had shown stark and bare here lay luxury to
stagger man's imagination. The walls were a shimmering tapestry of
translucent color. Craig's feet sank into raaltex carpeting so thick
and soft that it was like stepping onto a cloud.

He gripped the guard's arm. "Now--Vydys!"

"This way." The other turned, shuffling ahead. "End chamber...."

Craig shifted the fire-gun in his hand; laid the butt hard across the
guard's head behind the ear.

The other crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Stripping off the man's
harness, Craig donned the livery himself and lashed his prisoner's
wrists and ankles, rolling him out of sight behind a long, sofa-like
seat.

Then he was at the door, the door to the Lady Vydys' chambers.

He paused for a moment, listening with his ear against the panel.

No sound came.

He gripped the handle ... turned it slowly ... let the weight of his
shoulder press against the door.

Ever so slowly, it swung open a fraction. Craig peered into the living
room beyond--a place fully as ornate as the corridor, with furnishings
sleekly trimmed in polished chromite.

Craig slipped inside and closed the door behind him.

On the far side of the room, another door stood open. Noiselessly,
Craig crossed to it ... looked into a bedroom. A sleeping-couch, all
gold and white, rested against the far wall, framed in darkly glinting
mirrors.

While he watched, the coverlet moved. A body shifted.

Gripping the fire-gun, Craig walked warily to the couch-side.

Black hair rippled against white pillows. A sleek body
twisted--sensuous, cat-like.

Then the head turned. For the first time, Craig saw the face.

A woman's face. The face of evil, incarnate, living in the fleshly form
that men called Lady Vydys.

Yet she was lovely. Even here, even now, Craig Nesom's heart pounded as
he looked down on her.

He rested his weight against a chair-arm; raised the fire-gun.
"Vydys...."

She stirred in her sleep. The shadow of a frown crossed the lovely face.

"Vydys!"

Slowly, the soot-black lashes lifted. The dark eyes opened.

Craig said softly, "Quiet my lady! Don't make me kill you!"

She showed no sign of fear--no sudden tensing, no quick tremor. "You
know, of course, that your heart will be torn from your body for this,
carrion." Her voice was low and silky.

"Will it?" Mirthlessly, Craig chuckled.

Vydys' black eyes widened. She twisted beneath the coverlet. "You
are no guardsman!" And then--staring, rocked back with sudden shock:
"You--the Earthman--!"

"Yes, the Earthman," Craig nodded bleakly.

"But--what do you want--?"

"You know a girl called Narla? Zenaor's daughter?"

The dark eyes narrowed. "Yes...."

"Would you trade me even for her?"

A note of bafflement; a shifting: "Trade you--even....?

"Yes." Craig leaned forward. "I want her, Vydys--and I'll give you
Zenaor's own head for her!"

Vydys' hand came up to the ripe swell of her bosom. Scarlet lips peeled
back from small, sharp white teeth. "Zenaor's head--!"

Again, Craig nodded. He let his own lips part in a tight wolf-grin.
"Let's talk straight, Vydys. You hate Zenaor for his power as chief
of barons. You know that the first safe chance he gets he'll cut your
lovely throat."

"And so--?"

"So your only chance is to get him first--before he finishes the
Baemae and decides to turn his full force on you."

Of a sudden an irregularity developed in Vydys' breathing. The dark,
eyes smouldered. "You ... would help me with this, Earthman--?"

Wordless, Craig tilted his head in affirmation.

"Now--tonight--?"

"Yes."

"But why? What is your reason?"

Craig smiled--a crooked smile. "I said I wanted Zenaor's daughter
Narla, Vydys. That means alive--both of us. I'll need help to handle
it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The last traces of Vydys' hesitation vanished. She twisted; sat up on
the sleeping-couch, her face aglow with dark excitement.

"He is on the seventh level, Earthman. If anyone should question,
tell him that you carry a message to Zenaor for me. Here, take this
signet--" She stripped a ring set with a carved black gem from a
slender finger; held it out to Craig.

Not touching it, he said, "I've got a better idea."

Vydys' smooth brow furrowed, ever so slightly. "What--?"

"You go with me."

She caught her breath.

"You see?" Craig laughed harshly. "The picture changes when your neck's
in the noose along with mine." He got up; gestured peremptorily with
the fire-gun. "Come on!"

Her nostrils flared. "And if I will not?"

Craig paused; brought his weapon's muzzle up, steady and level. "A
blast from this at close range would sear your breasts till they
crackled, my lady."

A quick-drawn breath. Fear was in the dark eyes now--fear, and ...
something else, something strange, hard to define.

Then, wordless, the woman slid from the bed and pulled on shoes and a
diaphanous outer garment.

Craig came close behind her. "Time's short."

She shrugged; leaned against him for a moment. "Why do you want her,
Earthman--that pale slut, Narla?"

Involuntarily, Craig stiffened, then stood wooden-faced, unmoving. "Why
does any man want a woman, my lady?"

"A woman--?" Vydys' laugh held an edge of scorn ... or was it fury?
"You call that creature a woman, Earthman? There's water in her veins,
not blood!"

Craig stepped away from her, not answering.

For an instant lines of quick anger slashed Vydys' face. Then the
tempest faded. Together, the two of them, they went out through the
corridor to the force shaft. Rode it down in pulsing silence to the
seventh level. Walked echoing halls where the tension crawled like a
living thing.

Ahead, an intersection loomed. Down the right-hand passage, a guard
paced slowly.

Vydys breathed in sharply. "There--he watches over Zenaor's chambers!"

Craig pushed her forward.

The guard came about, his face a bleak mirror of suspicion. His hand
hovered by his weapon.

Vydys said, "I seek the Lord Zenaor."

"At this hour?" Irritation pushed aside distrust. "My lord sleeps."

Ever so casually, Craig eased closer.

"Are you sure?" Vydys' hand came up in a helpless, perplexed gesture.
"They told me--"

Craig turned and side-stepped, as if to hear them both the better.

The guard scowled. "Listen--"

Craig brought up a hand as if to scratch his head--and then, pivoting,
smashed a blow to the guard's temple.

The man staggered, clawing for his weapon.

Craig caught his wrist in both hands; twisted.

It spun the other around--off balance, still staggering. A kick to the
back of his knees buckled his legs. He sprawled flat on his face.

Then, before Craig could move, Vydys threw herself on their fallen
foeman like a tigress. A slender, stilleto-like knife flashed in her
hand, lancing down into the soft hollow at the base of the guard's
skull.

The man's body jerked once, spasmodically, then lay still.

       *       *       *       *       *

Vydys came to her feet in one smooth, sinuous motion. She was breathing
hard. A strange, hot light of excitement gleamed in her eyes.

Craig snatched the bloody knife out of her hand. "Why did you do that?
We could have tied him--"

"So that he could talk later?" Teeth bared, she laughed, high and
keening. "No, Earthman! This way is better!"

Craig looked from the dead guard to the knife. He could feel the hair
along the back of his neck rising.

As if reading his thoughts, Vydys laughed again--low, this time;
taunting. "Did you think to find me defenseless, Earthman? Me, Vydys of
Cadilek?" She swayed close against him. "You have daring, warrior! That
is why I came with you; not out of fear."

Craig pushed past her. "Come on, then--before Zenaor's men surprise
us." Bending, he dragged the dead guard up by the harness.

Vydys' face was a mask, the dark eyes unfathomable. She turned and
pulled back the door's handle.

The portal swung open. Wordless, Craig followed her into the room
beyond, dragging the corpse with him.

A man's quarters, these--bleak, severe, without ostentation. Here no
mirror walls threw back the glint of polished chromoid. The raaltex
carpeting of the chambers above in this room was replaced with ostran
tile and schalagat. Dark leathers gleamed dully against the flat
contrast of iron-grey duroid.

Cat-like, slim Vydys tiptoed to the sleeping chamber's entry. Her
breath hissed in the stillness as she looked in.

Taut-nerved, Craig lowered the dead guard to the floor.

But already Vydys was back beside him, slim hand outthrust. "My knife!"
It was a command.

Craig stepped past her, not answering. In his turn, he peered through
the arch into the other chamber.

Zenaor lay there, sleeping. Yet even at rest, the lean, high-boned
face showed no trace of slackness. The muscled hands still curled to
fists.

"My knife!" Vydys whispered again, close to Craig's ear. "You promised
me his head, Earthman!"

Craig stared down at her.

The dark eyes glowed like twin coals now, and the skin of her face
seemed suddenly to have stretched tighter, replacing curves with planes
and hollows. The fingers that strained towards the dagger trembled
with a naked urgency, somehow obscene, as if in the blood-lust of this
moment the woman's very soul were spread out to the viewer, dark and
evil.

Craig turned away ... looked again at the sleeping Zenaor.

"Curse you, Earthman--!" Vydys panted. She clawed for the knife.

For an instant their bodies strained together in silent struggle. Then,
suddenly, Vydys ceased to writhe and twist. Her body pulsed against
Craig's.

His heart pounded. He clutched the woman to him.

A voice said, "If you move, you die!"

Craig froze. Ever so slowly, he brought his head round.

Narla stood framed against a drape-shrouded door to his right. She
gripped a fire-gun in her hand.

She raised her voice before he could speak. "Father!"

Zenaor came awake with a twist, a jerk of covers. The coal-black eyes
gleamed beneath the heavy brows. "So--visitors!" And then, to Narla:
"My daughter...."

"It's nothing. They spoke too loudly. I heard them."

The fire-gun in her hand stayed very steady.

"You'll not regret it." Zenaor groped a weapon of his own from a
stand by his sleeping-couch. His lips set in a thin, mirthless smile.
"Welcome, Vydys. You come in strange company."

"He ... forced me...."

"He forced you!" Mockery rang in Zenaor's harsh laughter. And then, the
mirth dying: "Woman, you go back to your chambers. Under open guard,
this time, with every man ordered to kill you if you so much as smile
at him."

Vydys' lovely face flushed. "Zenaor, you dare not!"

"Because if I do you'll kill me?" Of a sudden Zenaor's voice echoed
flat menace. "You'll try, you mean, you bitch--just as you tried here,
tonight. And you'll fail again. Only perhaps by then I'll have less
need to let you live for the sake of Kukzubas unity, and I can watch
you writhe and die instead, as you should die now!"

There was silence, then--a taut, hate-surging silence. Eyes
smouldering, white to the lips, Vydys smoothed her gown, her hair.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zenaor turned to Craig Nesom. "You, Earthman--now you, too, shall join
ranks with your fellows who died in the starship."

Craig shrugged. In this time, this place, words were wasted.

"But slowly," the chief of barons continued. "There are many things I
would ask you--things best brought out under torture: how you got here,
into my chambers; the plans of the Baemae; your relations with Vydys.
So, you die--but by inches."

Craig shrugged again.

The baron's eyes narrowed. A spark that might have been grim mirth
lighted behind them. "And ... there is another thing you should
know...." He spoke almost softly. "Your serf genius, Tumek, sought to
defeat me. With this."

Left-handed, he reached into the stand beside the sleeping-couch once
more, and brought out a flat, black case perhaps six inches across. His
thumb touched a spring. The cover flew open.

A great crystal gleamed on black orlon.

In spite of himself, Craig Nesom went rigid.

"You see? It ends here!" Zenaor chuckled. "What it means, how the serfs
were to use it against the weapon I plan to defeat them with, I do not
know. But whatever its purpose, I have it, and its maker lies dead."

He snapped shut the case, dropped it back into the stand. "Back, now,
both of you, while I call the guards."

The pulse in Craig Nesom's temple pounded. Turning, he started past
Narla towards the door.

Her grey eyes dodged his. She stepped aside, fire-gun lowered.

"Guards...." That was Zenaor, at the com-box.

Craig stopped breathing, stopped thinking. Like lightning striking, he
leaped sidewise, pivoting--back, behind Narla.

Zenaor roared a curse.

But already, Craig was clawing the girl close against him, snatching
her fire-gun, blazing a flare straight at the baron.

Zenaor dived over the sleeping-couch. The fireball seared into the wall.

Craig jammed the gun against Narla. "Zenaor! If I die, she burns with
me!"

Time stood still. Silence echoed.

Again Craig lashed out: "Do you love her, Zenaor? Do you want her to
burn?"

He could hear the rasp of the other's quick-drawn breath. "Curse you,
Earthman--!"

"And curse _you_, Zenaor!" New recklessness surged through Craig.
"Curse you for all the blood you've shed; your arrogance, your lust for
power, your cruelty!" And then: "Vydys! Bring me that crystal!"

Tension. The fire-gun's muzzle, leveling.

Wordless, the woman obeyed.

Craig gripped the jewel-case. "I'm leaving now, Zenaor--and Narla goes
with me! Warn your guards of that!"

Silence again, broken only by the sound of heavy breathing.

Craig drew Narla back, tight against him, a living shield. Holding her
close, he backed through the exit door. The girl was trembling now. He
could feel her heart pound.

Then they were out in the corridor once more ... the same bleak,
echoing passageway through which he'd come with dark Vydys.

Only that seemed an eternity ago, now.

Jerking the door shut, dragging the girl by one wrist, Craig raced for
the force shaft. Slamming back the panel on the down-side, he jammed
it ajar. Then, sliding open the other unit, he pulled Narla into the
lift-current, closed the gate behind them, and let go of the hand-hold.

Together, they surged upward, level after level.

Narla's face showed pale and drawn. "Where ... are you taking me?"

Craig laughed aloud. His head swam, as if he were suddenly drunk on
danger and recklessness and tension. "You'll see."

Overhead, the shaft-cap loomed closer ... closer. They reached the top
level, hung there, suspended.

Then Craig slid back the panel, and they stepped out into the bare,
echoing hallway's darkness. Still gripping the girl's wrist, he groped
his way up the stairway and out onto the flat top of the tower.

       *       *       *       *       *

The disc still lay where he had left it. Far to the west, the sky was
already turning turquoise, Roh's blue beams dimming. In minutes the
great green morning sun called Boh would climb above the far horizon.

Pulling Narla to the edge of the roof, Craig peered down.

Ant-like, men were moving through the street below--spreading out,
forming a cordon.

"Too bad I'll have to miss the reception." He chuckled and turned back
to Narla. "Now; about the crystal--"

"The crystal--?" Her grey eyes clouded. "I know nothing of it."

Craig stared. "But Tumek said--"

"He sent it to me to hold for him. That was all. He never told me its
use."

A numbness gripped Craig.

The girl said, "Besides, even if I did know, why should I trust
you--you, who came as murderers come, with that creature Vydys to whom
only pain is passion?"

Craig turned on her. "What--?"

"You held her, did you not? Else how could I surprise you--?"

"Are you jealous, then--because it was she I held, and not you?"

Narla's face turned white with fury. "Not even a sadat would say such
a thing!" She jerked free of Craig's hand, beat her small fists on his
chest. "Go, you rabble! Leave me! Go back to the scum, the Baemae!"

Craig reached for her hands.

She jumped back and slapped his face.

The sting of her palm was like a trigger. With a curse, he lunged for
her and caught her to him, still struggling and flailing.

"Is this what you want?" Savagely, brutally, he kissed her.

Her lips were like ice. Her eyes blazed grey fire. "Is that quite all,
Earthman?"

Craig sucked in air. "No. Not quite." Pinioning her arms, once again
he glanced down at the cordon of guards in the street below. "You
see ... you're going with me."

"No!"

"Yes." He flashed a tight, hard grin. "Without a knowledge of how to
use Tumek's crystal, the Baemae will need a weapon against your father.
And what better could they find than you, his daughter, as a hostage?"

Shoving her aside, he lifted the great disc from the rooftop; spun it.

It jerked ... caught ... hovered.

"Please, Craig Nesom...."

"Please indeed, my lady Narla! We're sailing south this morning--away
from Torneulan, beyond the reach of your father and his cursed Kukzubas
barons."

"You mean--?"

"Yes!" Bodily, he lifted her and set her on the hovering disc. "We are
traveling south to the djevoda range, and freedom!"



                               CHAPTER V


Below them now stretched rolling grasslands, mile after green-gold
mile. Afar, the darker green of shrubs and trees marked water-holes
or fringed the meandering streams that glinted in the clear white
light of Yoh, Lysor's midday sun. A fragrance--of flowers, of
foliage--drifted upward even to the disc, high above it all, still
gliding southward.

A paradise, it was. But a paradise apparently without human population.
Craig still could find no sign of habitation--only the tiny, moving
dots that were herds of some unknown animal grazing.

Then, off to the west, a thin wisp of smoke curled skyward.

Craig shifted his weight so that the disc wheeled towards the distant
streamer. "Narla...."

The girl's blonde head moved just a fraction--barely enough to tell him
that she, too, saw the far-off feather. That was all. She didn't speak.

A little of Craig's elation left him. Again, as a thousand times
before, he wondered about the slim girl crouching on the disc between
his feet.

She was Zenaor's daughter.

Yet ... she had also helped to bring him, Craig Nesom, into contact
with the Baemae.

Whose side was she really on?

Or did she even know herself?

Craig wondered.

But whatever the answer, she was here with him, in his power--his
weapon to break her father's grip on Lysor.

He should have been glad for it. It was what he'd sought, the thing he
needed to help avenge his friends who'd died aboard the starship. Only
somehow, now, it brought no sense of surging triumph. If anything, the
thing he felt was guilt, an ugly gnawing of his own conscience because
he'd forced her to come with him.

Ahead, a huddle of buildings came into view below the smoke-wisp.

Craig changed course a fraction.

The buildings showed clearer now--shanties straggling out behind a
palisade, across a broad, hill-sheltered plain that sloped down gently
to a river. For the first time, Craig could see people moving about.

He tilted the disc, coasting down towards the village in a long,
looping arc.

But now those below glimpsed the saucer. A flurry of excitement
flared. Fingers pointed. Men ran towards the largest of the buildings.

But not for shelter. For suddenly they were back again, out in the
open, carrying discs. In seconds a whole company had taken to the air.

Craig banked sharply as they raced towards him.

But a fierce cry rang out from above him. He jerked around just in time
to see a host of other discs slashing down out of the blue.

Then one peeled off, lanced closer. Craig glimpsed a lean, half-naked
body ... bared teeth ... a fierce bronzed face.

The rider's arm snaked out. A long black whip flicked towards Craig.
Before he could move, the lash twined about his upflung wrist.

The rider above twisted sharply. His disc sideslipped away from Craig.

The next instant the Earthman was flying through the air, jerked clear
of his carrier by the whiplash.

Dimly, he heard Narla scream.

Then he was swinging free, like a plumb-bob on a string. Cold sweat
drenched him. He clutched at the whiplash, clinging to it with both
hands.

Now the disc from which he hung climbed in slow spirals, circling away
from the village. Behind and below him Craig glimpsed Narla, similarly
suspended, swinging pendulum-like below a second saucer.

The other discs drew in, grouping about the captives in loose
formation. Still climbing, the whole flight topped the crest of the
hills behind the village.

Here browsed a great herd of the animals Craig had seen grazing.
Sweeping low over them, the discs wheeled towards a log stockade atop a
knoll, hovered above it for a moment, and then settled slowly.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last Craig's feet touched ground inside the stockade. Shaking, he
sank to the grass, fumbling to free his wrist from the whiplash.

It came free. Scrambling up, he stumbled to where Narla lay in a
crumpled, sobbing heap, and tugged loose the lash that held her.

She clung to him, sobbing, her whole body shaking.

Overhead, the discs still hovered almost motionless, making no move to
land.

Anger flared in Craig. Instead of releasing the whip, he surged up
suddenly, jerking on it with all his might.

The disc from which Narla had been suspended tilted sharply. The
whipman pitched off, arms flailing, and sprawled spread-eagled in the
grass.

Craig dived onto him before he could even catch his breath--pinning
him, gouging at his throat.

But already the other discs were plummeting. Sinewy, work-worn hands
dragged Craig back.

Then a bronzed young giant who wore a high ceremonial helmet that must
once have belonged to some baron's guard came striding forward. "Hold,
friend!" He was laughing.

Craig stared. "Bukal!"

"No other." The strapping Baemae gripped Craig's hand.

"But--the guards--I thought you dead."

"And so did I, for a while, there." Bukal chuckled. "But perhaps the
gods have marked me to die in the pit with Vydys' rollers. For at the
last moment somebody stumbled and I made it away through the alleys,
found a new disc, and fled south, here, to my home village."

"So I see." Craig shook his head dazedly.

"As for you, just now, you were not recognized in time." The Baemae
was suddenly apologetic. "You'll not begrudge it that we protect our
village? After all, the barons have tried a hundred tricks to trap
us--so now we bring all strangers here for scrutiny before we pass them
on to full fellowship among us."

"Of course not." Craig matched the other's grin. "But is this"--he
gestured to the log walls--"much of a prison?"

Bukal smiled grimly. Leading Craig to the nearest crevice, he pointed
out between the logs. "The djevoda stand guard for us."

"The djevoda--?" Craig peered out.

They were strange creatures. Taller than two men they
towered--heavy-bodied, six-legged, elephantine. Great tusks gleamed
below broad, pig-like snouts.

"Watch!" Bukal commanded.

He drew an ornate dagger from his belt-harness as he spoke. Catching
the sun in its jewels, he flashed a beam into the eyes of one of the
creatures.

It was as if it were a signal. A roar like that of a maddened bull
burst from the djevoda's great throat. Tiger-fast, avalanchal, it
lunged up the slope of the knoll, straight for the stockade. The logs
rocked under the impact of its hurtling body. A great tusk tore through
a crack, bare inches from Craig's arm.

The Earthman leaped back, cursing.

His bronzed friend laughed again. "A wonderful creature, the djevoda.
Tons of solid meat, ready for the slicing. But definitely not to be
domesticated."

"So I see," Craig agreed, a trifle sourly.

"They charge movement on sight," his guide went on. "Killing them,
save from directly above, takes a deal of doing. So, they roam these
southern plains by hundreds. That's why this range was never settled,
till Tumek gave the flying disc to the Baemae. But overhead, we're safe
from them. We can herd them with our whips like cattle, or kill them
at will with a bolt at the base of the brain. They feed us, clothe us,
protect us, give us freedom...." He broke off. "But I talk too much of
our own affairs. Tell me, how did you escape--and what of Tumek?"

Craig said, "Tumek ... is dead."

The laughter left the bronzed man's face. "Tumek dead--!" He cursed
aloud. "How did it happen?"

Briefly, Craig told him ... showed him the crystal ... mentioned the
ourobos.

Only one thing did he leave out.

Narla.

He didn't know why. It made no sense, even to him.

Yet somehow, he could not bring himself to reveal her lineage ... tell
how she came to be here, put her forward in the role of hostage.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bukal was frowning when Craig finished. "There's too much here I
don't understand," he grunted. "Ourobos are not of Lysor, but of
our sister-planet, Xumar--a loathsome, crawling horror beyond man's
controlling. Innoculations with a rare oil will repel them, but no one
has ever found a way to kill them. If Zenaor were mad enough to bring
them here, to Lysor...." He shuddered and left his sentence hanging.

"And the crystal--?" Craig displayed it.

Again, the other shook his head. "For all I know, it might as well be
nothing but a lamp-lens." He straightened, thin-lipped. "But at least
we'll make our masters pay for Tumek! This very night!"

Pivoting as he spoke, he strode back towards the waiting discmen.
"These two"--he gestured to Craig and Narla--"they are accepted. Take
them to the village."

Only then did it dawn on Craig that the Baemae had asked not a question
about the girl.

But there was little time for pondering on that. The men spun their
discs; helped Earthman and girl to board them. The ground, the
stockade, fell away.

Then the hills, too, lay behind, and they were gliding down beyond the
palisade, into the village.

A withered crone led Craig and Narla to a hut. "Rest here, warrior--you
and your woman. Tomorrow will be time enough to think of work and duty."

She left them, then, closing the door behind her as she departed.

Silence echoed through the room. Wordless, Craig turned to leave.

But Narla's voice stopped him: "Wait, Craig Nesom...."

He swung round. "What--?"

She said, "You didn't tell them that I was Zenaor's daughter. You let
them believe I was your woman." A note of strain, of puzzlement, crept
into her tone. "Why, Earthman? Why?"

Craig shrugged. "What point was there? Did it matter?"

"Yes, Craig." The grey eyes were thoughtful now. "Yes, it matters very
much. You brought me here to use as a weapon against my father--yet now
you keep my secret. Why?"

Craig shrugged again, not speaking.

"Because Zenaor's daughter would have received a different welcome,
Craig; so very different. You know that, surely."

He nodded slowly. "Yes, I knew it."

"Then why--?"

"Because there's been too much of blood and killing." He lashed out the
words in sudden fury, out of all proportion. "I wouldn't turn in a dog
to be tormented...."

The girl came to him, through the shadows, till she was close ... so
very close. "Then ... it was not for anything that you felt towards me
that you saved me?"

She swayed as she spoke--swayed forward, against him. He could feel the
slow beat of her heart, the measured pressure of her breathing. The
fragrance of her hair rose in his nostrils.

"No," he said. "No. There was nothing."

For a long, long moment she stood still, not moving. Then, very softly,
she said, "You lie, Craig Nesom!"

Something inside Craig let go like a taut spring snapping. "Damn
you--!" he choked, and crushed her to him, hard against him.

She came willingly, body warm and vibrant; eyes closed, lips parted.

Red lips ... softer than any dream of Vydys.

Craig drank deep of them.

Then, at last, the kiss was ended. They stood there, breathing hard,
clinging to each other in the semi-darkness; and Narla said, "They
spoke truly, Craig Nesom. I am--will always be--your woman."

He kissed her again, then, while a knot drew tight in his belly, and
his throat swelled, and his eyes stung.

But all he could whisper was "Narla ... Narla...."

Outside someone knocked on the door.

Craig stiffened; straightened. "What is it?"

"It's me Bukal. Roh's coming up. Would you raid with us?"

Craig looked at Narla.

Pain was in her eyes, but her voice stayed steady: "Your life's your
own, voyager. And ... I'll be waiting."

Craig called, "I'm coming, Bukal!"

They kissed again, and then he left her, striding out into the pale
green light of the ebbing day.

       *       *       *       *       *

Over by the disc-shed, men were working--stacking the saucers one upon
the other till they formed neat cylinders, each half-a-dozen discs high.

Laughing, bronzed Bukal gestured to them. "You see, Craig? These are
our weapons! Why should we kill, when we can hurt the cursed barons
worse by sending their serfs through the skies to freedom?"

Craig nodded.

Another man came up. "We're ready, Bukal."

"Good!" The Baemae leader strode to the shed and caught up a disc.
"Here, Craig. Lend a hand!"

Following his lead, Craig dragged a single saucer out into the open and
spun it till it hovered on the wave-force.

"Now lash it fast atop a unit."

Moving the saucer to the nearest pile, Craig tied it down. A tilt--a
shove--and all seven saucers took the air.

A man scrambled aboard each cylinder as it rose.

"North, now!" cried Bukal. "We'll see how the Lady Vydys likes running
her estates without the Baemae!"

Vydys--!

Dark loveliness, rising from a dead guard's corpse with her knife still
dripping blood.

Craig shuddered.

Only then they were rising, circling, and there was no time for
thoughts or shudders. High through the emerald sky they flashed while
the hills fell away and the village vanished. Koh's green ball sank
from sight beyond the horizon. Roh climbed afar, tinting Lysor's fields
all blue and purple.

And still they raced north, the night wind whipping at hair and
garments.

Then, far below, a black line scarred the grasslands. Craig caught a
faint shout: "The barrier!"

Again, he was above the land of the Kukzubas barons.

Ahead, the stocky Bukal waved a sweeping signal. Discs slipped
earthward.

Another signal. They dropped lower ... lower ... came at last to ground
in the shadow of a grove of great sefopp trees.

Out of the murk, the dim figure of a burly man hurried towards them.
"Thank the gods, you've come!"

Craig could see Bukal stiffen. "Why? Is there trouble?"

"Is there anything _but_ trouble?" the other shot back, hoarse-voiced.
"Someone betrayed your contact man to the Lady Vydys when she arrived
back from Torneulan this morning. He died by her own hand in the
torture chambers."

Bukal cursed. "Did he talk?"

"Would I be here if he had?" the burly man snarled back. He scrubbed
his palms on the front of his loose Baemae tabard. "The others are
waiting for me to bring the word of your coming."

"Then get them!"

The burly man vanished into the shadows.

Bukal pivoted back to his helpers. "Hurry! Unlash the saucers!"

In seconds, the cargo of discs was spread out. Already, more men from
the estate shuffled from the grove's blackness.

Then the burly man, too, returned. "All here," he grunted.

Bukal shot a quick glance around. "No women--?"

"No." The man shifted. "We thought you'd want fighters."

"Fighters--?" Bukal stiffened. "What do you mean? Why would we need
fighters?"

The burly one fumbled. "Why ... to meet Zenaor's raiding party...."

"_Raiders--!_"

"Yes. Had you no warning?" The informer choked on his own spittle.
"Vydys herself brought the word. Last night an alien from another
system stole Zenaor's daughter and disced south with her. Now Zenaor
swears--"

Bukal swung round, eyes blazing. "Earthman! Is this true?"

Numbly, Craig nodded.

"That girl! Zenaor's own daughter!" Bukal choked with fury. "You
brought her to our village! You gave no warning!"

Craig held his voice chill: "So? Could you ask for a better hostage?"

"No. Not if we had known. But now--" Bukal broke off and whirled round.
"You"--this to the burly man--"take your people and head south to
protect our village. The rest of us will run the barrier and try to
intercept the raiders. As for you, alien"--he turned back to Craig,
eyes hot and scornful--"you'll go south also. But as prisoner, not one
of us."

Craig looked to the others; searched their faces.

Their eyes held no mercy.

"All right, you. Come on!" The burly man started towards Craig.

       *       *       *       *       *

Craig whipped up his fire-gun and laid the barrel hard along the
other's temple.

The man slumped to the ground.

Craig said tightly, "To hell with the lot of you! I'm no man's
prisoner!"

"Curse you, alien!" Bukal took a quick step forward.

Craig leveled the fire-gun at the flat, bronzed belly.

Bukal halted.

Craig flicked the weapon's muzzle to the nearest of the Baemae. "You!
Spin me a disc!"

Seconds stretched to eternity. Then the man's eyes fell. Wordless, he
shuffled through the echoing silence, tilted up a disc, and whipped it
round.

The magnetic currents caught it; held it, hovering.

Craig vaulted aboard it. "Death's waiting for the man that follows...."

He threw his weight to one side, then back again. Rocking, the saucer
swirled upward.

Again he tilted; sent it careening around the far end of the line of
trees.

Behind him, Bukal shouted an order. There was a rush of feet, a flurry
of movement.

Craig leaned far out, so that the disc almost doubled on its course,
sliding back on the other side of the masking sefopp trees. Then,
dropping it swiftly back to the ground, he leaped off and dragged it
into the shadows.

Saucers sped past the end of the grove, riders and discs alike
silhouetted dimly against the blue-black sky. Craig crept deeper into
the undergrowth, flat on his belly.

More aching tension. More seconds dragging by, turning into minutes.

Then discs swept down again. Craig heard someone rasp, "He's gone,
Bukal. We couldn't spot him." And then Bukal, cursing: "We can't wait
any longer. Not with Zenaor prowling."

Again, discs tilted skyward. All of them, this time.

Silence once more, broken only by the whisper of breeze and trees, the
chirp of insects.

Craig crept back to his own saucer and wheeled it out into the open.
Ten seconds later he, too, was climbing into Lysor's dark night sky.

Climbing--to what end, with every man's hand against him? Bukal or
Zenaor, Baemae or barons, one and all sought his blood.

All but Narla.

Somehow, he had to reach her.

Grim, tight-lipped, he set a course southeast, veering just far enough
north of the village so that he might pass Vydys' serfs undetected.
Their very numbers might slow them. There was at least a bare chance
that a lone man might reach Narla ahead of them.

Only then, as he sped on, he caught a sound.

He hesitated, straining his ears.

The noise came again--a muffled, rhythmic clanking.

Craig veered a fraction; raced towards the sound.

       *       *       *       *       *

Below Craig, dots appeared against the blue-grey shimmer of the
grasslands ... dots that crawled grimly, steadily southward.

He knew, then--knew what the dots meant, and the clanking. A chill ran
through him.

These were heavy vehicles in motion! This was Zenaor's column,
grinding towards the village. They'd passed the barrier far ahead of
Bukal.

And Vydys' serfs would never stand a chance against their power, their
numbers.

That left it up to him.

Only what could one man do?

Cursing, Craig circled far ahead of the raiders--searching the rolling
hills below, praying for some miracle of terrain, some inspiration.

But no miracle came. There were only the grasslands, the great
straggling herds of the djevoda.

_The djevoda--!_

Craig came up short. Here was his miracle! Here his allies!

Sideslipping his disc in a flashing arc, he surveyed the ground beyond
the column.

The vehicles were following the low ground, moving towards a pass of
sorts in the hills that sprawled east and west across their path.

Craig raced south again. A long way south, till at last he passed above
the distant range and swept down on its far side.

How long did he have? An hour? Or only half that?

A knot of djevoda moved restlessly as his disc's shadow fell across
them.

Craig slashed back closer.

Rumbling their irritation, the huge, ungainly beasts turned west,
drifting towards the pass.

Craig searched out another, larger group and turned it, too. Then
another. Another.

Across the hills, Zenaor's column was creeping closer. Sweat rilled
down Craig's back. He crowded his growing herd of djevoda harder.

The beasts were angry now--bellowing their rage through the stillness
of the night; lunging at him, tusks high, when he swept too close.

If he should slip or fall--! He shuddered.

Then the first of the creatures began to funnel into the mouth of the
pass. Craig raced his saucer back, moving up others to press in behind
the leaders.

Now, again, the clanking of Zenaor's carriers drifted to Craig. He
maneuvered his disc in a tight spiral--climbing, climbing.

The grasslands fell away below him. The range spread out like a problem
in tactics set on a sand table: here were the djevoda, straggling into
the pass. Beyond the hills, Zenaor's column twisted towards them,
snake-like, as if hastening to join battle.

Already, the lead vehicles were swinging south into the rift.

Craig plummeted down ahead of the first djevoda.

Roaring, they fell back.

The Earthman raced away in a monstrous circle--driving in the beasts,
crowding them together in a milling herd that numbered hundreds.

The column was in the pass now, hurrying forward faster, as if its
commanders realized the danger of such close quarters.

Craig rounded up the last straggling djevoda ... hovered just above and
beyond them, waiting.

       *       *       *       *       *

Down the pass, lights gleamed. Drifting dust set Craig to coughing. The
rumble and clanking echoed like distant thunder.

Craig dropped to one knee on his disc; brought out his fire-gun.

The approaching lights shone brighter. A beam sprayed across the first
of the djevoda.

The creatures' great, tusked snout-heads lowered. Huge feet churned up
choking clouds of dust.

Craig held his breath.

The lead carrier rocked over a bump. Metal clanged on metal. The lights
flashed into the djevodas' eyes.

It was a signal. With a deafening roar, a djevoda lunged forward.

The carrier's brakes screamed.

But already the mountainous beast was thundering down upon it. Like
an avalanche of flesh and bone, it crashed into the vehicle. Screams
clashed with the shriek of rending metal.

Craig blazed with the fire-gun at the packed, elephantine mass of
animated death below him.

Bellowing with rage and pain, the whole herd swept forward--on into the
pass, following the already-charging leaders.

More carriers braked and crashed into each other.

Then the herd was upon them, smashing at them. Green fire seared
through the night, mingling with the crashing thunder of some other,
heavier weapon. Craig glimpsed a djevoda torn asunder in mid-stride,
its six massive legs gone suddenly limp and sprawling.

But no human power could stop that hurtling, murderous tidal wave of
flesh. Through the whole column the djevodas raged--crushing carriers,
overturning them, stomping them to masses of shapeless metal.

At the far end of the pass, the last of the vehicles wheeled about in
blind, desperate haste. Engines roaring, they raced for the safety of
the open grasslands.

Only then, flashing shapes lanced down out of the skies to the north.
Men dropped from discs onto carrier-tops, clamping their capes across
the vision-slits.

Vehicles ground to a halt. Crews stumbled out, hands high in panic and
surrender.

Craig surged to his feet; sent his own disc climbing.

Too late. For now saucers hung above him, too, hemming him in ...
saucers ridden by Bukal's lean, bronzed raiders.

And there was Bukal.

"Craig, friend--!" he shouted. "Hold, Craig Nesom!"

Craig stood rigid atop his disc.

But then the other was beside him, waving and laughing. "Can you
forgive me, Craig? Without this blow you've struck, without the
firing-sounds to guide us, we'd never have caught up with this column."

"And ... Narla--?"

Bukal swept the whole sky with his gesture. "Go to her, Earthman! After
this night's work I'd even give you Zenaor!"

He signaled as he spoke. The discs above Craig moved aside.

His throat all at once too tight to speak, Craig waved back and
spiraled his own disc upward.

But as he did so, another saucer swept down--a saucer ridden by a woman
he'd never seen before, a woman with an anguished, strain-taut face.
"Alien!" Her voice broke ragged. "Where is Bukal?"

"Here, T'clar!" He glided up beside her. "What is it? Is there trouble?"

"The village--" Again her voice broke, and for a moment Craig thought
she was going to faint. Then, rallying, she burst out, "Bukal, the men
from the estate of Lady Vydys--"

"Yes, T'clar--?"

"They were her guards, not of the Baemae."

A numb horror gripped Craig. He hardly heard the rush of words between
them.

But ... he had to know.

He blurted: "The woman who was with me--Narla--"

And then, the answer: "Alien, it was she they came for. Now they are
gone again--and she is with them!"



                              CHAPTER VI


Morning. Pale green morning, and the vast estate of dark Vydys the
Cruel.

Bukal begged, "Give it up, Craig Nesom. There is no hope. Besides, this
is between the Kukzubas, the barons. Vydys seized your Narla only as a
weapon against Lord Zenaor. She will not harm her."

Craig cursed him.

The bronzed Baemae's lips drew thin. "What would you have us do, then,
alien? Throw our discs against her defenses? Gut ourselves on her
guards' weapons?"

Bleakly, Craig stared up at the shining ramparts. Bitterness seethed in
him.

And yet ... was it his right to be bitter? These were brave men,
dedicated to the Baemae's fight against the barons. But Narla was not
of them. The things she meant to him lay between two only.

He said, "Forgive me, Bukal. You and your people--you have troubles
enough. I could not give you more."

"Then what--?"

"I'll go alone."

The hot light left Bukal's eyes. He gripped the Earthman's arm. "No,
Craig--"

"Yes, Bukal." Craig pulled free of the other's hand.

"But--"

Of a sudden Craig was weary of argument, of empty phrases. Tilting his
disc, he raced away from the Baemae leader, skimming out as the swallow
swoops, straight for the gates of Vydys' shaft-like Tower of Cadilek.

But green fire blazed from the port-slots. Veering sharply, Craig sped
away again, climbing along the wall in the shelter of the angle bastion.

Then he had topped the lowest level's battlements. Leveling off, he
glided across the roof to a point beyond the central obelisk where none
could see him.

There, at last, he brought his disc to rest.

But no attack from above would baffle Vydys. Not after that night of
blood of Torneulan.

Ignoring the roof-ports, Craig crossed quickly to the parapet along the
rear wall. A coil of rope, stripped from his waist, gave him a line
down. In seconds he was upon the ground.

Fire-gun in hand, then, he moved along the wall to a deep-set,
shrubbery-shrouded postern.

The door opened at his first pressure. A dim-lit, stone-walled corridor
loomed, inviting.

An invitation to death, perhaps....

Cat-footed, Craig slipped inside ... stood taut and breathless, waiting.

But no sound came, no sign of guards or trouble.

Craig's scalp prickled. This was too pat, too easy.

But trap or not, here lay his only chance at Vydys, his only hope of
reaching Narla.

Shadow-silent, he moved down the hallway to twin kresh-wood doors, one
set on each side of the passage.

Craig pressed each in turn. But they were locked; they would not budge.

Raw-nerved, he moved on again.

Now came a short stair, leading down. At the bottom, a heavy door
barred the passage.

Walking softly, the Earthman descended. Reached for the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

It swung wide before he even touched it. Light blazed, so bright he
fell back a step, half-blinded. A voice said, "Welcome, Craig Nesom!"

The voice of Vydys.

Craig pivoted.

But now, behind him, the kresh-wood doors had opened. Guards stood at
the ready, weapons poised.

Craig faced the light again.

It shone like a dazzling wall. Even shielding his eyes, Craig could see
nothing for its brilliance.

Vydys' voice commanded, "Come forward, alien! I would not harm you."

He sucked in a breath; stepped across the threshold.

Hands shot out ... seized him ... held him helpless while they wrenched
away his fire-gun and his dagger.

Then, incredibly, Vydys was saying, "Away, guards! Leave us." And he
was free again and stumbling forward, the door slamming shut behind him.

Groping, he drew himself erect; turned, searching for the woman.

But still there was only the blazing silver light, dazzling him to
blindness. Her laughter rippled out of nowhere, a sound to sting him to
impotent fury.

He lashed out: "How long do I stand here, woman? Do you fear to face
me?"

"Fear you--?" She laughed again, and now there was a new note in her
voice, an element he could not name or place. "No, warrior, I do not
fear you."

Even as she spoke, the dazzling light was fading. Like a wall
dissolving, the veil of its brilliance fell away.

Vydys stood before Craig, high on a dais.

Blinking, he stared up at her.

The ripe lips curved into a smile. Sinuous cat-graceful, she moved
towards him, sleek silvery body-sheath shimmering as she descended.
"You see, Earthman? I told you I did not fear you."

He stared down into the midnight eyes, black and unfathomable as the
void itself. "Then what--?"

The scarlet lips parted. She swayed against him. "Kiss me, alien!"

Involuntarily, Craig stiffened. "What--!"

The woman laughed softly. "Is it so strange a concept, alien? Am I so
old, so drab, so ugly?"

Craig could find no words.

"We are as one in so many ways, Craig Nesom," dark Vydys went on. "Fear
is not in us, nor yet mercy. We know what it means to strike with
daring. Both of us hold ruthless to our hatred for Lord Zenaor."

Still Craig did not move. "And because we both hate Zenaor, I should
kiss you?"

"If we stand together, we can defeat him." The dark eyes half mocked,
half measured. "Some say that pain is my only passion. That is not
true. I love also as a woman. There are men, Kukzubas barons, who would
sell their souls for my embrace."

"Then why not give it?"

"Why--?" The throaty laughter rippled. "Because they desire me does not
mean I want them, Earthling. I seek a man of blood and iron as well as
passion--a champion to aid me against Zenaor."

In spite of himself, Craig smiled thinly. "Some might call that a
tribute. To me, it seems left-handed."

Vydys frowned, ever so slightly. "I do not understand you, alien. Would
it be such punishment to sit beside me, ruling Lysor?" And then, eager
again: "For we can do it, with your valor and the weapon they say you
received from the one called Tumek."

"The weapon--!"

"Yes. A crystal, to win power even over the Xumarian ourobos my spies
say Zenaor plans to use against the Baemae. You have it, do you not?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She drew closer as she spoke. Her hands slid over him, touched the
jewel-case where it lay flat against his body. Before he could stop
her, she had it out and open.

"So--! This is the thing! A pretty bauble...."

Craig didn't answer.

"How do you use it, alien?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know!" The smooth face stiffened. "Or ... is it that you
won't tell me?"

Craig shrugged. "Have it as you want it."

For an instant the woman's nostrils flared. Then, once again, she was
close to him--her breasts, her body, smooth and firm against him.
"Please, Earthman! Do not make me believe that you are one of those who
can love no woman!"

Craig held his silence.

A flush came to Vydys' dark, lovely face. She stepped back, eyes bright
with anger. "Is it another, then--that blonde hag, Narla?"

Craig's fists clenched. His shoulders stiffened.

"It is, then! You'd scorn me for her!" Vydys' scarlet lips peeled back.
"Very well! You shall have her--as soon as you give me the secret of
the crystal!"

Sweat came to Craig Nesom's forehead. "I can't tell you what I don't
know."

"You leave me little choice, then." Vydys was almost purring. "I must
have protection against Zenaor and his ourobos. Unless you share the
crystal's secret with me, I shall be forced to sell the wench back to
her father for tanagree oil to drive off the slime-monsters."

Dry-lipped, Craig said, "So be it."

"But I had such pleasant fantasies of how I would amuse myself with her
in my torture chambers!" Vydys' eyes grew wide and doleful. "There are
so many things that one can try! And a young, nubile girl may live for
hours...."

Craig bit down hard to keep from shuddering.

"But since you will not help me--" Vydys sighed, turned, walked up the
dais. "At least, your death shall entertain my favorites."

Craig would have lunged for her, then.

But she struck a great gong sharply. Instantly, the dazzling light-wall
blazed forth to shield her. Guards leaped from nowhere to seize the
Earthman. Their blows made his head ring.

"To the pit with him!" Vydys cried shrilly. "To the pit!"

Craig's world resolved into a nightmare of dank corridors and blows and
blackness.

Then, suddenly, he was in the open once again, tottering on the rim of
a deep, walled trench that ran about a side-shaft of the Vydys' tower
like a sort of moat.

"Look down, alien!"

Blear-eyed, Craig stared down into the pit.

Great tusks speared up at him. The bellow of an enraged djevoda rang in
his ears.

Vydys said, "You and your Baemae friends are said to be clever with
these creatures, alien. Especially with a whip." She turned to one of
her retinue. "Give him the lash!"

The man brought out a long Baemae whip and handed it to Craig.

"Down with him!"

In seconds, Craig swung into the moat at the end of a rope-loop.

He was still staggering when the djevoda charged, thundering its rage.

Craig lashed out with the whip.

But without avail. The stinging lash brought a new roar of fury from
the great creature. Savagely, it lunged again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Barely in time, Craig leaped out of the way. Desperately, he ran
through the trench in search of some exit, some chance for escape.

There was none.

Again the djevoda charged.

Once more Craig side-stepped in the nick of time.

Above him, on the pit's rim, Vydys laughed her silvery, sadistic laugh.

Hate surged through the Earthman ... hate mingled with fear.

Was he to die here--tusked high into the air; trampled under the great
hammer-feet?

If at least the hell-bitch above only could die with him--!

He fell back to the moat's far edge ... but not at the djevoda. No.
Higher, this time. Higher--and straight at Vydys!

The long lash slashed through the air. Almost lazily, it seemed, it
drifted. The snapper lifted ... curled ... wrapped round Vydys' slim
waist.

She screamed, then.

Too late. Because now Craig was surging back on the whipstock with all
his strength, a savage jerk.

The woman lurched forward, across the parapet. Down the steep face she
slid, straight into the trench.

Along the rim, tumult erupted. Guards shouted. Serfs raced this way and
that. Fire-guns blazed down at the djevoda. A ladder appeared, shoved
down from above.

Dropping the whipstock, Craig lunged for the ladder.

A guard was scrambling down it. Catching him from behind, Craig knocked
him sprawling. When another head appeared above the parapet, Craig
butted low, not slowing.

Blood--blows--violence. A race for the postern. As from afar, Craig
caught the echo of Vydys' scream: "The alien! Stop him!"

So she still lived....

More guards. Veering, Craig darted through the nearest door and pounded
through a maze of echoing corridors and stairways.

If only he could reach the roof, his saucer....

Locked doors. Dead-end hallways. Men racing towards him.

Craig sprinted towards a window.

Below lay the outer grounds.

Craig leaped.

As he did so, a familiar shadow swooped low--the shadow of a disc.

Bukal. He brought the disc down in a fast sideslip. "Quick--!"

Craig dived onto the saucer.

Then they were climbing--up, away from Vydys' Tower of Cadilek, away
from guards and clenched fists and shouted imprecations.

Still panting, Craig said, "That was close, Bukal. Thanks."

Bukal didn't answer.

Craig craned round, peered up at him. "Bukal! What's the matter?"

The bronzed face stayed bleak and bitter. "It is the end, Earthman," he
answered heavily. "The end of my people and their dream of freedom."

"The end--?" Staring, Craig fought down a numbness. "You don't mean--?"

"Yes." Bukal's slash-mouth twisted. "Zenaor has carried out his threat.
In a hundred spots south of the barrier, the ourobos are unleashed
against us!"



                              CHAPTER VII


Restlessly, the djevodas lumbered through the grasslands--a large herd,
numbering over half a hundred.

A tension seemed to hang about the creatures. Great snout-heads lifted
as if sniffing the morning breeze, then lowered again, swinging to and
fro, watchful and surly.

"You see?" Bukal clipped. "They sense that today they are the hunted,
not the hunters."

Frowning, Craig nodded.

"Come now. The nearest of the places we seek is farther south."

Craig tilted his disc, following Bukal as the Baemae leader skimmed his
own saucer away, high above the ranges.

Below them, another herd appeared. Another.

Bukal shouted, "Observe, Craig Nesom! They move north--all of them!"

The Earthman stared. Bukal's words were true. The scene below was like
some vast migration--a sudden shift that turned the behemoths ever
northward towards the barrier that separated this free land from the
tyranny of the Kukzubas barons.

Too, these new herds were moving faster, hardly pausing to tusk up the
rich roots on which the monsters fed.

They crossed a river. Bukal drifted his disc in close to Craig's.
"Watch, now. From here on we may find ourobos."

Even as he spoke, a wild scream of rage, of terror, rose from a distant
group of the djevoda.

"Quick--!" Bukal raced ahead.

Craig followed, sweeping low behind him.

Then they were above the monstrous sextupeds--hovering, peering.
Craig glimpsed grey movement amidst the green-gold grass-clumps ... a
shimmering as of slime that crawled and eddied. He started to glide
lower.

"No--!" Bukal cried. "Stop, Craig! Don't chance it!"

There could be no mistaking the urgency of his tone. Discing higher,
Craig studied the ground below in careful detail.

Now it dawned on him that more than one grey splotch showed. Here lay
another; there, two more. Like water, they seemed to seep across the
land in slithering tendrils.

The djevodas were bunching now, crowding together. Their great feet
hammered at the earth. They tusked up clods in sudden furies.

Bukal hung close. "You see? They are surrounded." His voice was bitter.

It was true. Everywhere, grey patches hemmed in the djevoda.
While Craig watched, they linked and joined, eddying together ...
grew larger, larger, till they lay on the range like a sodden,
ever-spreading blanket.

The djevodas stomped and pawed. Rage echoed in their roaring
bellows ... rage, and something more, something close akin to panic.

The grey took on new thickness. As if feeding on the very air itself,
it piled in glistening layers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, rippling in Boh's green glow, a tendril crept from the mass,
slithering through the grass towards the djevodas.

Slowly ... slowly....

It touched a great foot ... curled about the ankle.

Still unaware, the djevoda started to turn.

The slime swirled about the foot--clinging, holding.

The djevoda's bellow went shrill with terror. Aware of the danger now,
it lunged savagely.

The foot tore free.

But now panic was upon the giant sextuped. Roaring, it charged across
the clear space, straight into the mass of circling grey.

Its fellows followed.

Like a hideous grey wave, the slime swept in upon them--miring them,
surging high onto their lumbering bodies.

The djevodas screamed and slashed and struggled.

But it was as if they were wallowing in quicksand. Each lunge, each
tusk-slash, only brought the grey tide rolling higher. Splattering,
each grey patch grew as it touched its quarry. In bare seconds the
wave-thing engulfed the struggling giants.

The last scream died, swallowed up in the grey death of the ourobos.
Folds of slime rippled over final, paroxysmal spasms.

Shuddering, Craig whipped his disc into a tight, climbing spiral. The
breeze was suddenly chill upon him, and he retched till his quivering
stomach emptied.

Grim-faced, Bukal hovered beside him. "A pretty picture, is it not?"

Craig couldn't answer.

"So it goes everywhere across the grasslands. Like a tide, the ourobos
sweep over the south, pausing and gathering only long enough to kill,
then spreading out once more in ever-greater numbers...." His voice
trailed off.

"But--is there nothing--?"

"--Nothing that will stop them? No." Bukal's jaw jutted, hard and
angry. "No, Craig. Nothing. Our people learned that long ago, on
Xumar, the ourobos' home planet. Tanagree oil injections will render
man distasteful to them; otherwise even the barons' military stations
there would have had to be abandoned."

"Then--the oil--"

"They do not like it; that is all. It doesn't harm them."

"Oh."

"Already, our villages are emptying. By tomorrow the whole of the free
Baemae will be crowded close along the border. The day after--who
knows?"

Craig frowned. "Tumek thought he had an answer."

Bukal's face didn't change. "Tumek lies in his grave, and Vydys holds
his crystal." His bitterness ate like acid.

Craig had no words. Silently, he stared away, off across the rolling
southern grasslands.

Was there no solution anywhere to this monstrous scheme of Zenaor's?
Would other planets go down before it like the Baemae? And his own
life ... must he resign himself to defeat and death? Was that to be
his destiny, the end of his assignment here on Lysor?

Bleakly, he wondered.

Then, afar off, a moving speck appeared, racing through the sky. Craig
stiffened. "Bukal...."

The Baemae shaded his eyes. "A disc," he clipped, tight-lipped. "More
trouble...."

Together, Lysorian and Earthman lanced towards the approaching saucer.

Then it was close at hand, and Craig could hardly believe his eyes. For
a woman rode it--a slim, young girl with golden hair that rippled and
shimmered in the sunlight.

"Narla--!" he choked. "Narla!"

She swept close, then, and they grounded their discs on a knoll and she
was in his arms again, laughing and crying at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pushing her back at last, Craig held her at arm's length, feasting his
eyes upon her. For today she was a different Narla. Her heavy Kukzubas
cape was gone, replaced by the scanty scarlet halter and paneled belt
of the free Baemae. A fire-gun hung at her hip, a jeweled ceremonial
dagger across her thigh, and she carried one of the long black whips
with which Bukal's men herded the djevoda.

Laughing, she pirouetted. "You see, Craig? This time I come as one of
you, not Zenaor's kidnapped daughter."

Craig nodded. "Yes, I see. But--what of your father? How did you get
here?"

A shadow crossed the lovely face. But the girl's grey eyes stayed
clear, her voice steady. "Once, Craig Nesom, I told you that I
was--would ever be--your woman. That is what brought me here; that
only. My father took me from Vydys, yes, trading tanagree oil for my
life. But he could not hold me. Not when you stood here, fighting with
the Baemae. I fled from the Central Tower to an old friend among the
Baemae. She gave me this garb and saucer, and told me where to find
you. So, now"--she shrugged smooth shoulders--"I am here, to stand
beside you."

Wordless, unable to speak, Craig again embraced her.

Only then Bukal was talking, breaking in upon them. "The ourobos come
closer," he clipped. "There's no time to waste. My people need me."

Spinning their discs, the three took to the air and ranged north till
they reached the river and the village.

The village. Tension crawled through it now, lined on every face,
reflected in every movement. Men, women, children--they crowded round
as the trio stepped from their discs.

Bukal searched the frightened faces. "What is it?"

"New nests of ourobos!" a man burst out; and another croaked,
"Already, the djevodas are in flight. By tonight--"

He broke off. There was no need to say more.

"Then ... we have no choice." Bukal shrugged, bronzed shoulders heavy.
"We must join the others along the barrier."

"Must we?" This from a woman. "Must we, Bukal--when we hold Zenaor's
daughter as our prisoner?"

Taut silence echoed, sudden as summer thunder.

Frowning, Bukal looked down at the speaker. "What nonsense--?" he began.

But a man shoved forward and cut in upon him: "No nonsense, Bukal!" he
flashed fiercely. "All morning, the amplifiers have been blaring across
the barrier. Zenaor says he'll leave us free, safe from the ourobos, in
trade for this wench and her alien lover!"

More echoing silence. More vibrant tension.

Then Bukal snapped, "Enough of this drivel! Zenaor's daughter or not,
this girl's cast her lot with us. As for Craig Nesom--"

From one side, a rawboned, ape-like discman smashed a blow to the back
of Bukal's head. The leader spilled to the ground.

Like wolves, the crowd surged forward.

Craig drove a fist into the face of the man who'd struck Bukal; lashed
a kick to the groin of another, beside him.

Then green fire blazed, a blast that seared between him and the Baemae.

The crowd stopped short; fell back.

Fire-gun in hand, bronzed body glistening, Bukal lurched to his feet.
Blood dripped from his earlobe. "You scum, would you buy your lives
with treason?"

No one moved. No one spoke.

"Craig...."

The Earthman shifted to his friend's side in one quick movement. "Yes,
Bukal."

The Baemae chief's eyes stayed on the crowd, his finger tight on the
fire-gun's trigger. Face a bleak, expressionless mask, he said, "I
see that I can no longer control my people. But at least you need not
suffer for it. Take Narla and go!"

Wordless, Craig nodded. The girl beside him, he backed to the nearest
discs.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Baemae fell back before him. He could feel their eyes on his back
as he spun the saucers. Their hate surged over him like the magnetic
waves on which the discs lifted.

Into the air again, rising ... passing over palisades and circling
hills, racing away northwest towards the barons' barrier.

Where could they go? What would they do?

Bleakly, Craig mulled dark thoughts. He was glad that she kept her own
counsel, till he saw her brush at her eyes and knew she was crying.

Yet what solace could anyone offer her in this nightmare?

Now other villages passed below them. Grey folds ringed one, glistening
in Yoh's white light as they closed in upon it.

Craig closed his ears to the screams of the doomed and sent his disc
hurtling faster.

Then the black line of the barrier loomed ahead. The blare of
amplifiers rose faintly.

Craig turned. "Hover here awhile, while I reconnoiter."

Mutely, Narla nodded. He sped away.

More villages, more djevoda, more grey patches. The amplifiers,
bellowing: "Bring in my daughter, Baemae! Bring in my daughter and the
alien!"

No refuge.

Craig circled back.

Only now, two discs swayed where one had hung before. And one was
sweeping down on the other.

On Narla.

Craig whipped his own saucer higher, and then higher.

A man in high-fronted metal helmet rode the second disc, the one that
was gliding down towards the girl. While Craig watched, he swung out
his long black djevoda whip ... tilted his disc till it plummeted like
a speeding arrow.

Craig raced towards them.

Now Narla, too, saw the stranger. She tried to tilt her saucer.

But the man in the helmet pancaked his disc down, level ... swung the
whip. The lash curled round Narla's wrist.

She jerked back in a panic. Tottered.

Then her disc tilted and she was sliding--falling--

Craig careened his own carrier down.

The stranger's head came round. He clawed for the fire-gun in his
belt-holster.

Craig shifted sharply. His disc's edge dropped. Before Narla's attacker
could twist or duck, the edge hit him.

He bounced backward, out into empty air, flailing wildly. The handle of
his whip sang by Craig's head.

With a desperate lunge, the Earthman caught it ... clung to it while
Narla swung in a wide arc beneath him.

The stranger's scream died in the thud of his body striking.

Sweat-drenched, gasping, Craig maneuvered his own disc down till
Narla's feet were on the ground once more. Another moment, and he was
stumbling to her, hugging her shaking body to his. "My darling ... my
darling...."

How long did they stand so? An hour? A minute?

Only then, at last, they were no longer shaking. Once more, Craig could
taste her lips and smell her fragrance and feel the softness of her
hair as it rippled like ripe rangeland grasses.

But with that consciousness came other things--a far-off scream ... a
panic-straut knot of djevoda, fleeing ... the faint, rank distant scent
of the ourobos.

Away, beyond the barrier, the amplifier bellowed, "Give up my daughter,
Baemae! Give up my daughter and the alien!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Narla's cheek was soft against Craig's ... softer than any satin. He
kissed her eyes ... tasted the salt of the tears that welled from them.

His Narla, crying.

Again the amplifier roared its message: "Give up my daughter, Baemae!
That is the price of life! Give up my daughter and the alien!"

Bleakly, Craig turned and looked back across the grasslands.

No longer were they a serfman's refuge. Not now. Not with the ourobos'
slime upon them.

A flurry of movement caught his eye. Faintly, he heard djevoda bellow
panic.

The panic that came with the ourobos. The same kind that turned free
Baemae into wolves, hunting down his Narla.

"If you do not give them up, I'll know my daughter's dead and you will
die with her!" the amplifier shrieked. "Give her up, Baemae! Give her
up and live! Why should you care what happens to the alien, Nesom?"

Why indeed?

Tight-lipped, Craig pivoted.

His thoughts must have shown on his face, or in his eyes. Narla clung
to him--grey eyes tear-filled, lips aquiver. "No, Craig! No!"

He held her to him for a moment.

Hoarse shouts. Djevoda screaming. Rippling eddies, grey and obscene,
amid the green-gold of the grasslands.

"Give them up, Baemae! Give them up or die!"

Craig said, "It doesn't matter, Narla. Not really. I've fought and I've
lost, and a man has to play the cards fate deals him. But there's no
reason for the others, the Baemae, to die with me. Not if there's even
the slimmest chance for them to live if I surrender. As for you, your
father wants you back, that's all. He'll never harm you."

She was still sobbing as he lifted her onto the saucer....



                             CHAPTER VIII


The Central Tower of Torneulan, the Tower of Zenaor. Hard-faced guards.
Echoing passageways. The bleak metal and leather of Zenaor's private
chambers.

And Zenaor.

The Lord Zenaor, high chief of all Kukzubas barons.

The lean face was set in cruel lines now, the jet eyes narrowed to
black diamonds beneath their heavy brows.

"So, alien...." His voice rasped, thick with menace. "At last you come
to me, begging for mercy--"

"Mercy? From you?" Craig Nesom shrugged in spite of the guards'
restraining hands, the shackles. "No, Zenaor. I beg nothing of you,
neither life nor lenience. The things I've done I'd do again. I've
given up only to stop this senseless slaughter."

"An altruistic gesture, alien," Zenaor chuckled. "But a trifle late."

He rose as he spoke and stepped to a paneled wall behind his seat.
A carved section slid back at his touch, revealing a bleak, compact
laboratory chamber.

A transparent, closet-sized cubicle stood on a stand in the
compartment's center ... a cubicle whose every inch and crack and
crevice seethed and eddied with the swirling grey slime of ourobos.

In spite of himself, Craig Nesom stiffened; caught the whisper of
Narla's quick-drawn breath.

Zenaor pivoted, still chuckling. "You see, alien? Here we have ourobos!"

Craig nodded slowly.

"And what is the ourobos?" Zenaor was gloating now, caught up in the
excitement of his own revelation. "It is what your science would term
a thallophyte, Earthman--a semi-intelligent thallophyte, a sort of
deadly, highly-mobile fungus for which no specific weapon has been
discovered!"

"A fungus--!"

"Yes, alien! That's why no weapon prevails against it! Blast it, even
with fire, and still asexual spores fly out, each to form the nucleus
for another of its kind, a new ourobos!"

Craig's lips were dry. His voice shook. "Then--this planet, Lysor--"

"Lysor is doomed, you mean?" Triumph rang in the chief barons' voice.
"Indeed it is, alien! Now that I've brought the ourobos from Xumar,
nothing can stop them! Your sacrifice is wasted! There's barely enough
tanagree oil to treat a handful of our barons!"

Craig choked. "No, Zenaor! Not even you could doom a whole race--"

But Zenaor still was speaking: "This is my answer to the free Baemae,
Earthman! They wanted Lysor--they shall have it! As for the rest of
us--my friends among the Kukzubas, a few loyal serfmen--I have ships
already ramped to take us off to Odak, third planet of our system."

Craig stood numb, unable to move or speak.

So now, at last, he knew the truth--the secret behind Zenaor's dark
dream of conquest.

Only now was too late. Now was a nonexistent second between the moment
of the chief of barons' flight and the time when he'd lay down his
challenge to a hundred, a thousand, other planets, backed by the
horrid, devastating threat of the ourobos.

And Narla--

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly, desolately, Craig turned to look at her ... to see again the
helpless anguish stamped on her lovely, horror-blanched face.

"Now you look to my daughter for solace, Earthman?" Again, it was
Zenaor speaking. "You seek to drown the bitterness of death and failure
in the knowledge that she, at least, will live because you came in and
surrendered?"

New tendrils fluttered in Craig Nesom's belly. He swung back; stared at
his lean, merciless captor.

"Shall I tell you more, alien--another thing you did not know?" The
chief of barons bared his teeth in a grin that belonged on a bleaching
skull. He leaned forward, voice dropping lower: "Though I raised her as
such, Narla is not my daughter!"

The very walls rang with shock. Even the cold-eyed guards went rigid.

Zenaor said: "Her father was of the Baemae, alien--and I lusted after
the Baemae wife who bore his daughter, Narla. So I slew him, and took
wife and child alike into my harem."

"Father--Zenaor...." Narla's poise was cracking.

Ruthlessly, the other pressed on: "She is not of my blood, alien. No
ties coerce me to forgive her treason. So she dies here with you--with
you, and all my enemies, Baemae or baron!"

A madness seized Craig Nesom. Savagely, he hurled himself at his
tormentor.

But the guards were too quick, too strong. Brutally, they jerked him
back.

He writhed helpless, raging.

Only then a voice--a woman's voice, low and gentle as the hiss of the
asp is gentle: "Your enemies, Zenaor--like me, perhaps?"

Craig went rigid. The guards, too; Zenaor; Narla.

A hanging moved aside. Dark Vydys the Cruel stood framed in a
doorway--fire-gun in hand, liveried warriors behind her.

"_Vydys--!_" Zenaor's color was draining.

The woman laughed softly. "Surely, my lord, my coming does not surprise
you? By way of a test, I injected some of the fluid you gave me into a
serfman, then sent him out to meet the ourobos. But they swallowed him
up as they would any other, so I came here to discuss it." Airily, she
gestured. "Of course, there was some small difficulty with your men at
the gates. My troops had to slay them--"

Zenaor sucked in air.

Vydys said, "Your plans for the spaceships--they please me. The fleet
shall blast for Odak according to schedule." A pause. A cat's smile.
"Of course, you'll not be with it. It's better that you stay here with
the Baemae."

"Vydys, in the name of our ancestors--our common blood as Kukzubas--"

"I remember it, Zenaor. You shall not stand unprotected." Vydys
brought a flat object from beneath her waist-cape, tossed it onto a
table. "Here. I leave you this weapon."

It was the jewel-box that held Tumek's crystal.

Zenaor's fists clenched. "Curse you, Vydys--!"

She turned away as if he had not spoken. Smiling at Craig, she purred,
"A last chance for you, Earthling. Would you join me?"

Craig's eyes met Narla's. Then, quietly, he said, "You know my answer,
Vydys."

Her face contorted. "Die, then, you fool!"

She started to turn back to Zenaor.

Only then, incredibly, a fire-gun was in his hand, too, whipping up
from beneath his scarlet cloak.

They fired together.

Vydys screamed in the same instant. For the fraction of a second green
flame seemed to envelope her. A great black char-scar spread across her
naked belly.

She tottered. Her guards lunged forward.

But already Zenaor was leaping into the laboratory chamber. Headlong,
he dived for the transparent cubicle in the center and wrenched its
hatch open.

       *       *       *       *       *

Like a wave of slime, the ourobos belched forth, spilling across the
floor in a hideous, writhing blot.

The foremost of Vydys' charging guards screamed and tried to stop.

Too late. He pitched into the fungous tide; screamed just once more.

A bubbling scream....

The room erupted into chaos. Alike, Vydys' men and Zenaor's fled in
shrieking panic.

Craig thrust a foot across one's path; snatched a fire-gun as the man
fell sprawling.

The room was empty, then ... empty save for dead Vydys and her guard,
and Zenaor, and Narla, and Craig Nesom.

And the ourobos.

Coolly, Zenaor stood his ground beside the cubicle. Ourobos swept in
close about his feet, then eddied back. They would not touch him.

He laughed; gestured. "You see, alien? The tanagree oil is in my veins;
they will not touch me. But you...." He laughed again.

Craig said, "Much good may it do you, Zenaor. A corpse is a corpse,
even if the worms won't eat it."

He raised the fire-gun.

Zenaor's laughter died. He half-turned. "Wait, Earthman--"

He whipped up his own weapon.

Craig fired.

Zenaor died.

Then Narla was in the Earthman's arms again, heedless of the ourobos'
creeping tendrils. "So we die, Craig Nesom. But at least we die
together."

Craig held her close. "No, Narla."

"No--?" He could feel her body stiffen. "But--what--?"

"I said no, Narla. We don't die. Neither of us."

She stared at him.

He said, "Don't you see? The ourobos--they're thallophytes. That's the
answer." And then, when she still showed no comprehension: "Tumek knew.
That's why he said his crystal was the only weapon that would stop
them. And Bukal hit it right--by accident--when he looked at the thing
and said it might as well be a lamp-lens."

"Craig, I don't understand--"

"I'll show you." Pushing the girl back, Craig took the jewel-case from
the table where Vydys had tossed it and crossed to the nearest lamp ...
carefully replaced the focus prism with the crystal.

The beam sprayed out, all green and purple.

Tilting the lamp, Craig brought it to bear on the encroaching slime of
the ourobos.

Before his and Narla's very eyes, the creatures shriveled. The grey
wave drew back.

Craig clipped, "This crystal concentrates some ray that's deadly to
the ourobos, just as on my world quartz glass lets ultraviolet pass.
That was Tumek's secret. Somehow, he discovered Zenaor's plans and then
worked out this answer.

"Now, Baemae craftsmen can duplicate the formula and produce crystals
by the thousands. It means the end of the ourobos."

He moved the light. More grey slime dried to sticky viscous blackness.

Then, arm in arm, together, he and Narla walked out into Yoh's bright
noonday light, shining down on the free-world-to-be of Lysor.



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ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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