Wayne considered the situation.
Two hours to get to earth. No radio. The big Cirissin ship was circling earth at an unknown distance, unknown speed and unknown direction. And although the ship was enormous, it would be impossible to spot it from earth unless you knew exactly where to look.
He said, "It would really be better, wouldn't it, if I could make the high dragon bump right here?"
O'Reilly agreed that it would be better.
"Well, let me try. You've got a good lab, and we have plenty of time. Twenty-four hours, you said? Well, give me about ten hours in the laboratory. If I can't produce a high dragon bump in that time I'll take the small ship down and get you one. Okay?"
While the Cirissin thought it over in meditative silence Wayne was aware of Sheilah watching him with cold, hostile eyes. He wished he could explain things to her, but he didn't dare try.
Finally O'Reilly said, "Hokum. Tenners in lab. Thistle."
"It'll be enough," Wayne assured him.
Sheilah was taken back to the room where Wayne had met her and the Cirissin instructed her to stay there. He closed the door but did not lock it. Then he took Wayne back to the lab.
"Neediest hulp?" he asked.
"Hulp? Help? Uh ... Why, no. No, thanks. I can manage fine by myself. In fact I'd rather work alone. Fewer distractions the better, you know."
"Hack saw lent. Wheel buzzy preparation. In trol room few deriding hulp needed." Then O'Reilly floated out the door.
Wayne was astounded. He'd taken it for granted that the Cirissin would insist on supervising him, and he'd been evolving elaborate plans for escaping his attention.
But Wayne thought he had the explanation for the Cirissins' idiotic behavior.
This ship and everything about it indicated an extremely high intelligence and an advanced culture.
Everything, that is, but the Cirissins themselves.
The idea of kidnapping him from earth to provide them with a weapon to destroy earth; kidnapping Sheilah to seduce him; the idea of even expecting him to be able to produce such a weapon--it was all idiotic.
There was only one explanation that he could see.
The Cirissins were idiots.
Some other race had produced this ship. These cosmic degenerates had somehow gotten hold of it and were on a mad binge through the universe, destroying all the worlds they didn't like.
He wondered how many they'd already wiped out. They had to be stopped.
Wayne immediately started constructing a radio transmitter from convenient materials in the laboratory. It was fairly simple.
He was not interrupted for nearly two hours. At which time he was saying into his improvised microphone: "Seven hours? That long? Can't make it any sooner than that? Five hours? Six?"
And then it was not a Cirissin voice behind him which said: "Drop that. Put up your hands and turn around!"
It was Sheilah.
Wayne turned and saw her floating at the doorway pointing a long, tubular metal object at him, her finger poised on a protruding lever.
"What's that?" Wayne asked.
Sheilah said, "It's a gun I found after lookin' all over the damn ship. I'm going to kill you. And then I'm going to kill your Cirissin friends. You're nothing but a dirty traitor, and I wouldn't seduce you if--I never did trust you scientists. Maybe I'll be killed, too, but I don't care." She was close to tears.
"You're going to kill me?" Wayne said. "With that? How do you know it's even a gun? Looks more like a fire extinguisher to me. Aw, you poor little imbecile, I haven't had a chance to explain yet, but--"
Sheilah said, "You make me sick." She pulled the trigger.
The object was not a fire extinguisher, after all. It was quite obviously a weapon of some kind.
Also it seemed obvious that Sheilah had been pointing the wrong end of the weapon toward Wayne.
One more obvious fact that Wayne had time to comprehend was that the weapon was not a recoilless type.
But by then Sheilah had gone limp and the gun had rebounded from her grasp and was sailing at Wayne's head.
He ducked but not fast enough. The object whacked him solidly on top of his head.
His brain exploded into a display of dazzling lights, excruciating pain and deafening noise.
Then the lights went out and a long, dense silence set in.
When Wayne fought through the layers of renewed pain and opened his eyes, he was still floating near his makeshift radio equipment in the laboratory.
Sheilah still hung limply in mid-air near the door. The tubular weapon wavered near the ceiling. The radio transmitter was still open.
It was just as though he'd been unconscious no more than a few minutes. But Wayne had a strong feeling that it had been more than that.
Therefore he was only shocked, rather than stunned, when a glance at his wristwatch indicated six hours and forty minutes had elapsed.
He held his head tightly in both hands to keep it from flying off in all directions at once, and he tried to think.
He knew it was important to think--fast and straight.
Six hours and forty minutes.
That was too long to be unconscious from a simple blow on the head, and his head didn't really hurt that bad.
Probably the weapon had still been firing whatever mysterious ammunition it used when it struck him; and when it bounced off his head it had turned, and he'd been caught in its blast.
But that didn't matter. That wasn't the important thing.
Six hours and forty minutes he'd been out.
The Defense Department official he'd spoken to had told him seven hours.
And thank God it wasn't five hours or six, as he'd been urging them to make it.
Anyway he had only twenty minutes now. Possibly a little more, but just as likely less.
That realization should have spurred him to instantaneous and heroic action, but instead it paralyzed him for several minutes. He couldn't think what to do. He couldn't get his muscles and nerves functioning and coordinated.
The absence of gravity didn't help. He thrashed about futilely.
But at last, almost by accident, his feet touched a metal support beam, and he pushed himself toward Sheilah. He grabbed her around the waist with one arm and with his free hand pulled both of them through the door.
It seemed a long, long time before he got Sheilah to the reconnaissance ship. By then the twenty minutes were up. His life was going into overtime.
Sheilah was conscious but still disorganized and limp, struggling weakly and ineffectually. Wayne fumbled with the door, got it open and shoved her inside.
Then he pulled himself in and closed the door.
They might make it yet. They still had a chance.
He studied the control board, deciding on the proper button to push.
From behind him Sheilah screamed, "The bomb! You've got the bomb and you're going to--Well, you're not!"
Her body slammed against his shoulders and her arms encircled his neck. Her fingers clawed at his eyes.
Wayne struggled, not to free himself, but only to get one hand loose, to reach the control board. When he did get a hand free, they had floated too far from the controls.
"Stop it, you stupid bitch!" Wayne snarled. "You're going to kill us both!"
Wayne said, "Listen, there's a guided missile from earth heading straight for this ship, and it has a hydrogen bomb warhead. It'll get here any minute now and when it--"
His words were broken off by the tremendous roar and concussion of the hydrogen bomb.
Wayne's last thought before oblivion swallowed him was that they wouldn't have had time to escape, anyway.
But that wasn't the end. Wayne woke up enough to refuse to believe he was alive, and O'Reilly was somewhere near, telling him: "Cirissins full of grate your forts. Radio eggulant blan. Thankel normous. Rid of earth now. Blasted away. Givish good high dragon bump. Yukon gome now."
Wayne groaned. The meaning of O'Reilly's words was trying to get through to his brain, and he was trying desperately to keep the meaning out.
O'Reilly's voice receded into a thick gray fog. "Keep shib. Shores. Presirent felpings. Gluck."
Metal slammed against metal. Wayne slammed against something hard. And darkness closed in once again.
But this time it wasn't so smothering and didn't last nearly so long.
When he opened his eyes his head was clear. He wasn't floating. He was lying on something hard--a floor surface of the Cirissin landing ship. He didn't ache anywhere.
All in all he felt pretty good.
For the first few seconds.
Then he started remembering things, and he wished he hadn't bothered to wake up.
Sheilah was standing by the control panel, her back to him. She blocked the view screen, but Wayne didn't want to see it anyway. He wasn't even curious.
Sheilah turned, saw him, smiled broadly.
She said, "Gee, mister, I guess you're a hero. I dunno how you done it, but you made 'em go away, and you made 'em turn us loose." Wayne could detect no mockery or bitterness in her voice.
"Aw, shut up," he growled.
"You still mad at me cause of what I done? Well, gee, I'm sorry. I didn't get whatcha were up to. I guess I still don't, but ... Oh, hell, let's don't fight about it. It don't matter now, does it?"
Wayne shook his head wearily. "No," he agreed. "It doesn't matter now."
Sheilah moved away from the control board and came toward him. In her filmy, transparent costume, she was the quintessence of womanly allure.
Wayne gasped and stared, but not at her.
The view screen had become visible when she'd moved.
It showed earth.
Or a curved, cloud-veiled slice of earth. Intact, serene and growing steadily larger.
"What the hell! Why, I thought ..." Wayne jumped to his feet, brushed past Sheilah and peered more closely at the view plate. There was no mistaking it. Earth.
"What's a matter with you, mister?" Sheilah asked.
Wayne felt dizzy. O'Reilly had said, "Earth blasted away," hadn't he? And the H-bomb hadn't destroyed the Cirissin ship. Therefore ... Well, therefore what?
In the first place what O'Reilly had actually said was, "Rid of earth now. Blasted away." It wasn't quite the same as ...
O'Reilly had never said anything about destroying earth.
Quite a sizeable re-evaluation project was taking place in Wayne's mind. It took several minutes for all the pieces to fall into their proper places. But once he was willing to realize that the Cirissins had known what they were doing, everything seemed obvious.
"Oh, good Gawd!" he muttered. "What utter idiots!"
"The Cirissins?" Sheilah asked.
"No, I mean us. Me. Good Lord, just because O'Reilly's English wasn't perfect! What did I expect for only three weeks? Hummm. The atomic structure of the entire ship must be uniformly charged to ... Damn! High dragon bump!"
"I don't getcha," Sheilah said. "What's with this high dragon bump business? I thought they wanted a hydrogen bomb to destroy earth, and I thought you'd agreed to help 'em, and so I thought ..."
"Oh, never mind," Wayne said. "I know what you thought, and you weren't any more stupid than I was. We were both wrong.
"Look, the Cirissins must have been stalled--out of gas, sort of. Something had gone wrong with their nuclear drive units. They had some emergency fuel, but they didn't want to use it. Like having a can of kerosene in the car when the tank runs dry, I suppose. It will work, but it messes up the engine. You understand so far?"