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the statue of the god, in a coat of mail. When he had the sword in his hand
the power of it drew him to his feet. He looked round expectantly.
A section of the continuous mural-wall opened into a door, and a figure
entered the temple. It was dressed in a neat, plain uniform, and its face was
lean and severe. It looked like a man, but it was not a man, for no blood
gushed out when the sword hewed in.
Joyfully, thoughtlessly, he hacked the plastic-bodied figure into a dozen
pieces. Then he stood swaying over it, drained and weary. The metal pommel of
the sword grew suddenly hot in his hand, so that he had to drop it. All this
had happened before, again and again.
This painted door opened once more. This time it was a real man who entered,
a man dressed in black, who had hypnotic eyes under bushy brows.
"Tell me your name," the black-uniform ordered. His voice compelled.
"My name is Jor."
"And mine?"
"You are Katsulos," said Jor dully, "the Esteeler secret police."
"Yes. And where are we?"
"In space, aboard the Nirvana II. We are taking the High Lord Nogara's new
space-going castle out to him, out to the rim of the galaxy. And when he
comes aboard, I am supposed to entertain him by killing someone with a sword.
Or another gladiator will entertain him by killing me."
"Normal bitterness," remarked one of Katsulos' men, appearing in the doorway
behind him.
"Yes, this one always snaps right back," Katsulos said. "But a good subject.
See the brain rhythms?" He showed the other a torn-off piece of chart from
some recording device.
They stood there discussing Jor like a specimen, while he waited and
listened. They had taught Jor to behave. They thought they had taught him
permanently-but one of these days he was going to show them. Before it was
too late. He shivered in his mail coat.
"Take him back to his cell," Katsulos ordered at last. "I'll be along in a
moment."
Jor looked about him confusedly as he was led out of the temple and down some
stairs. His recollection of the treament he had just undergone was already
becoming uncertain; and what he did remember was so unpleasant that he made
no effort to recall more. But his sullen determination to strike back stayed
with him, stronger than ever. He had to strike back, somehow, and soon.
Left alone in the temple, Katsulos kicked the pieces of the plastic dummy
into a pile, to be ready for careful salvage. He trod heavily on the
malleable face, making it unrecognizable, just in case someone beside his own
men should happen to see it.
Then he stood for a moment looking up into the maniacal bronze face of Mars.
And Katsulos' eyes, that were cold weapons when he turned them on other men,
were now alive.
A communicator sounded, in what was to be the High Lord Nogara's cabin when
he took delivery of Nirvana II. Admiral Hemphill, alone in the cabin, needed
a moment to find the proper switch on the huge, unfamiliar desk. "What is it?"
"Sir, our rendezvous with the Solarian courier is completed; we're ready to
drive again, unless you have any last-minute messages to transmit?"
"Negative. Our new passenger came aboard?"
"Yes, sir. A Solarian, named Mitchell Spain, as we were advised."
"I know the man, Captain. Will you ask him to come to this cabin as soon as
possible? I'd like to talk to him at once."
"Yes sir."
"Are those police still snooping around the bridge?"
"Not at the moment, Admiral."
Hemphill shut off the communicator and leaned back in the thronelike chair
from which Felipe Nogara would soon survey his Esteeler empire; but soon the
habitually severe expression of Hemphill's lean face deepened and he stood
up. The luxury of this cabin did not please him.
On the blouse of Hemphill's neat, plain uniform were seven ribbons of scarlet
and black, each representing a battle in which one or more berserker machines
had been destroyed. He wore no other decorations except his insignia of rank,
granted him by the United Planets, the anti-berserker league, of which all
worlds were at least nominal members.
Within a minute the cabin door opened. The man who entered, dressed in
civilian clothes, was short and muscular and rather ugly. He smiled at once,
and came toward Hemphill, saying: "So it's High Admiral Hemphill now.
Congratulations. It's a long time since we've met."
"Thank you. Yes, not since the Stone Place." Hemphill's mouth bent upward
slightly at the corners, and he moved around the desk to shake hands. "You
were a captain of marines, then, as I recall."
As they gripped hands, both men thought back to that day of victory. Neither
of them could smile at it now, for the war was going badly again.
"Yes, that's nine years ago," said Mitchell Spain. "Now-I'm a foreign
correspondent for Solar News Service. They're sending me out to interview
Nogara."
"I've heard that you've made a reputation as a writer." Hemphill motioned
Mitch to a chair. "I'm afraid I have no time myself for literature or other
nonessentials."
Mitch sat down, and dug out his pipe. He knew Hemphill well enough to be sure
that no slur was intended by the reference to literature. To Hemphill,
everything was nonessential except the destruction of berserker machines; and [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]