He started crawling toward an easy-chair that looked like good cover. A bullet cracked above his head, so close he felt the shock wave. He got up, ran panicky, crouched, and dove behind the chair.
An inspector cracked the valve on a smoke grenade. A white fog spread through the building. They could see anyone who tried to rush them but the besiegers couldn't pick out targets.
Above the noise, he heard Rashid.
"I'm calling South Africa Station for a copter. It's the only way out of here. Until it comes, we've got to hold them back."
Read thought of the green beret he had stuffed in his pocket that morning. He stuck it on his head and cocked it. He didn't need plain clothes anymore and he wanted to wear at least a part of his uniform.
Bullets had completely shattered the wall in front of him. He stared through the murk, across the broken glass. He was Corporal Harry Read, UN Inspector Corps--a very special man. If he didn't do a good job here, he wasn't the man he claimed to be. This might be the only real test he would ever face.
He heard a shout in rapid French. He turned to his right. Men in red loincloths ran zigzagging toward the station. They carried light automatic rifles. Half of them wore gas masks.
"Shoot the masks," he yelled. "Aim for the masks."
The machine gun kicked and chattered on his shoulder. He picked a target and squeezed off a burst. Tensely, he hunted for another mask. Three grenades arced through the air and yellow gas spread across the battlefield. The attackers ran through it. A few yards beyond the gas, some of them turned and ran for their own lines. In a moment only half a dozen masked men still advanced. The inspectors fired a long, noisy volley. When they stopped only four attackers remained on their feet. And they were running for cover.
The attackers had come straight up a road that led from the Game Preserve to the station. They had not expected any resistance. The UN men had already taken over the station, chased out the passengers and technicians and taken up defense positions; they had met the Belderkans with a dozen grenades and sent them scurrying for cover. The fight so far had been vicious but disorganized. But the Belderkans had a few hundred men and knew they had wrecked the transmitter controls.
The first direct attack had been repulsed. They could attack many more times and continue to spray the building with bullets. They could also try to go around the hill and attack the station from above; if they did, the inspectors had a good view of the hill and should see them going up.
The inspectors had taken up good defensive positions. In spite of their losses, they still had enough firepower to cover the area surrounding the station.
Read surveyed his sector of fire. About two hundred yards to his left, he saw the top of a small ditch. Using the ditch for cover, the Belderkans could sneak to the top of the hill.
Gas grenades are only three inches long. They hold cubic yards of gas under high pressure. Read unclipped a telescoping rod from his vest pocket. He opened it and a pair of sights flipped up. A thin track ran down one side.
He had about a dozen grenades left, three self-propelling. He slid an SP grenade into the rod's track and estimated windage and range. Sighting carefully, not breathing, muscles relaxed, the rod rock steady, he fired and lobbed the little grenade into the ditch. He dropped another grenade beside it.
The heavy gas would lie there for hours.
Sergeant Rashid ran crouched from man to man. He did what he could to shield the wounded.
"Well, corporal, how are you?"
"Not too bad, sergeant. See that ditch out there? I put a little gas in it."
"Good work. How's your ammunition?"
"A dozen grenades. Half a barrel of shells."
"The copter will be here in half an hour. We'll put Umluana on, then try to save ourselves. Once he's gone, I think we ought to surrender."
"How do you think they'll treat us?"
"That we'll have to see."
An occasional bullet cracked and whined through the misty room. Near him a man gasped frantically for air. On the sunny field a wounded man screamed for help.
"There's a garage downstairs," Rashid said. "In case the copter doesn't get here on time, I've got a man filling wine bottles with gasoline."
"We'll stop them, Sarge. Don't worry."
Rashid ran off. Read stared across the green land and listened to the pound of his heart. What were the Belderkans planning? A mass frontal attack? To sneak in over the top of the hill?
He didn't think, anymore than a rabbit thinks when it lies hiding from the fox or a panther thinks when it crouches on a branch above the trail. His skin tightened and relaxed on his body.
"Listen," said a German.
Far down the hill he heard the deep-throated rumble of a big motor.
"Armor," the German said.
The earth shook. The tank rounded the bend. Read watched the squat, angular monster until its stubby gun pointed at the station. It stopped less than two hundred yards away.
A loud-speaker blared.
ATTENTION UN SOLDIERS. ATTENTION UN SOLDIERS. YOU MAY THINK US SAVAGES BUT WE HAVE MODERN WEAPONS. WE HAVE ATOMIC WARHEADS, ALL GASES, ROCKETS AND FLAME THROWERS. IF YOU DO NOT SURRENDER OUR PREMIER, WE WILL DESTROY YOU.
"They know we don't have any big weapons," Read said. "They know we have only gas grenades and small arms."
He looked nervously from side to side. They couldn't bring the copter in with that thing squatting out there.
A few feet away, sprawled behind a barricade of tables, lay a man in advanced shock. His deadly white skin shone like ivory. They wouldn't even look like that. One nuclear shell from that gun and they'd be vaporized. Or perhaps the tank had sonic projectors; then the skin would peel off their bones. Or they might be burned, or cut up by shrapnel, or gassed with some new mist their masks couldn't filter.
Read shut his eyes. All around him he heard heavy breathing, mumbled comments, curses. Clothes rustled as men moved restlessly.
But already the voice of Sergeant Rashid resounded in the murky room.
"We've got to knock that thing out before the copter comes. Otherwise, he can't land. I have six Molotov cocktails here. Who wants to go hunting with me?"
For two years Read had served under Sergeant Rashid. To him, the sergeant was everything a UN inspector should be. Rashid's devotion to peace had no limits.
Read's psych tests said pride alone drove him on. That was good enough for the UN; they only rejected men whose loyalties might conflict with their duties. But an assault on the tank required something more than a hunger for self-respect.
Read had seen the inspector who covered their getaway. He had watched their escort charge three-to-one odds. He had seen another inspector stay behind at Miaka Station. And here, in this building, lay battered men and dead men.
All UN inspectors. All part of his life.
And he was part of their life. Their blood, their sacrifice, and pain, had become a part of him.
"I'll take a cocktail, Sarge."
"Is that Read?"
"Who else did you expect?"
"Nobody. Anybody else?"
"I'll go," the Frenchman said. "Three should be enough. Give us a good smoke screen."
Rashid snapped orders. He put the German inspector in charge of Umluana. Read, the Frenchman and himself, he stationed at thirty-foot intervals along the floor.
"Remember," Rashid said. "We have to knock out that gun."
Read had given away his machine gun. He held a gas-filled bottle in each hand. His automatic nestled in its shoulder holster.
Dozens of smoke grenades tumbled through the air. Thick mist engulfed the tank. Read stood up and ran forward. He crouched but didn't zigzag. Speed counted most here.
Gunfire shook the hill. The Belderkans couldn't see them but they knew what was going on and they fired systematically into the smoke.
Bullets ploughed the ground beside him. He raised his head and found the dim silhouette of the tank. He tried not to think about bullets ploughing through his flesh.
A bullet slammed into his hip. He fell on his back, screaming. "Sarge. Sarge."
"I'm hit, too," Rashid said. "Don't stop if you can move."
Listen to him. What's he got, a sprained ankle?
But he didn't feel any pain. He closed his eyes and threw himself onto his stomach. And nearly fainted from pain. He screamed and quivered. The pain stopped. He stretched out his hands, gripping the wine bottles, and inched forward. Pain stabbed him from stomach to knee.
"I can't move, Sarge."
"Read, you've got to. I think you're the only--"
Guns clattered. Bullets cracked.
"Sergeant Rashid! Answer me."
He heard nothing but the lonely passage of the bullets in the mist.
"I'm a UN man," he mumbled. "You people up there know what a UN man is? You know what happens when you meet one?"
When he reached the tank, he had another bullet in his right arm. But they didn't know he was coming and when you get within ten feet of a tank, the men inside can't see you.
He just had to stand up and drop the bottle down the gun barrel. That was all--with a broken hip and a wounded right arm.
He knew they would see him when he stood up but he didn't think about that. He didn't think about Sergeant Rashid, about the complicated politics of Africa, about crowded market streets. He had to kill the tank. That was all he thought about. He had decided something in the world was more important than himself, but he didn't know it or realize the psychologists would be surprised to see him do this. He had made many decisions in the last few minutes. He had ceased to think about them or anything else.
With his cigarette lighter, he lit the rag stuffed in the end of the bottle.
Biting his tongue, he pulled himself up the front of the tank. His long arm stretched for the muzzle of the gun. He tossed the bottle down the dark throat.
As he fell, the machine-gun bullets hit him in the chest, then in the neck. He didn't feel them. He had fainted the moment he felt the bottle leave his hand.
The copter landed ten minutes later. Umluana left in a shower of bullets. A Russian private, the ranking man alive in the station, surrendered the survivors to the Belderkans.
His mother hung the Global Medal above the television set.
"He must have been brave," she said. "We had a fine son."
"He was our only son," her husband said. "What did he volunteer for? Couldn't somebody else have done it?"
His wife started to cry. Awkwardly, he embraced her. He wondered what his son had wanted that he couldn't get at home.
A FILBERT IS A NUT.
By Rick Raphael
That the gentleman in question was a nut was beyond question. He was an institutionalized psychotic. He was nutty enough to think he could make an atom bomb out of modeling clay!
Miss Abercrombie, the manual therapist patted the old man on the shoulder. "You're doing just fine, Mr. Lieberman. Show it to me when you have finished."
The oldster in the stained convalescent suit gave her a quick, shy smile and went back to his aimless smearing in the finger paints.
Miss Abercrombie smoothed her smock down over trim hips and surveyed the other patients working at the long tables in the hospital's arts and crafts shop. Two muscular and bored attendants in spotless whites, lounged beside the locked door and chatted idly about the Dodgers' prospects for the pennant.