The Wild Humans were trapped in the middle of Falldyn.
Terrified, the men and women of Haafin converged and swirled in a helpless knot in the center of the street Hussir arrows from nearby windows picked them off one by one. The advancing Hussirs in the street were almost within bowshot, and the yelling, unarmed slave humans were even closer.
"Your clothes!" shouted Alan, on an inspiration "Throw away your clothes and weapons! Try to get back to the mountains!"
In almost a single swift shrug, he divested himself of the open jacket and baggy trousers and threw his bow, arrows and spear from him. Only the Silk still fluttered from his neck.
As Mara stood opemnouthed beside him, he jerked at her jacket impatiently. Suddenly getting his idea, she stripped quickly. The other Wild Humans began to follow suit The arrows of the Hussir squads were beginning to fall among them. Grabbing Mara's hand, Alan plunged headlong toward the avalanche of slave humans.
Slowed as he was by Mara, a dozen other Wild Humans raced ahead of him to break into the wall of humanity. Angry hands clutched at them as they tried to lose themselves among the slaves, and Alan and Mara, clinging to each other, were engulfed in a sudden swirl of shouting confusion.
There were naked, sweating bodies moving on all sides of them. They were buffeted back and forth like chips in the surf. Desperately, they gripped hands and stayed close together.
They were crowded to one side of the street, against the wall. The human tide scraped them along the rough stone and battered them roughly into a doorway. The door yielded to the tremendous pressure and flew inward. Somehow, only the two of them lost their balance and sprawled on the carpeted floor inside.
A Hussir appeared from an inside door, a barbed spear upraised. "Mercy, your greatness!" cried Alan in the Hussir tongue, groveling.
The Hussir lowered the spear.
"Who is your master, human?" he demanded.
A distant memory thrust itself into Alan's mind, haltingly.
"My master lives in Northwesttown, your greatness."
The spear moved in the Hussifs hand "This is Northwesttown, human," he said ominously.
"Yes, your greatness," whimpered Alan, and prayed for no more coincidences. "I belong to the merchant, Senk."
The spear point dropped to the floor again.
"I felt sure you were a town human," said the Hussir, his eyes on the scarf around Alan's neck. "I know Senk well. And you, woman, who is your master?"
Alan did not wait to find out whether Mara spoke Hussir.
"She also belongs to my lord Senk, your greatness." Another recollection came to his aid, and he added, "It's mating season, your greatness."
The Hussir gave the peculiar whistle that served for a laugh among his race. He beckoned to them to rise.
"Go out the back door and return to your pen," he said kindly. "You're lucky you weren't separated from each other in that herd."
Gratefully, Alan and Mara slipped out the back door and made their way up a dark alley to a street. He led her to the left.
"Well have to find a cross street to get out of Falldyn," he said "This is one of the circular streets."
"I hope most of the others escape," she said fervently.
"There's no one left in Haafin but the old people and the small children."
"We'll have to be careful," he said. "They may have guards at the edge of the city. We outtalked that Hussir, but you'd better go ahead of me till we get to the outskirts. It'll look less suspicious if we're not together."
At the cross street, they turned right Mara moved ahead about thirty feet, and he followed. He watched her slim white figure swaying under the flickering gas lights of FalMyn and suddenly he laugfted quietly. The memory of the blonde girl at Wiln Castle had returned to him, and it occurred to him, too, that he had never missed her.
The streets were nearly empty. Once or twice a human crossed ahead of them at a trot, and several times Hussirs passed them. For a while Alan heard shouting and whistling not far away, then these sounds faded.
They had not been walking long when Mara stopped. Alan came up beside her.
"We must have reached the outskirts," she said, waving her hand at the open space ahead of them.
They walked quickly.
But there was something wrong. The cross street just ahead curved too much, and there was the glimmer of lights some distance beyond it.
"We took the wrong turn when we left the alley," said Alan miserably. "Look straight ahead!"
Dimly against the stars loomed the dark bulk of the Star Tower.
The great metal building stretched up into the night sky, losing itself in the blackness. The park around it was unlighted, but they could see the glow of the lamps at the Star Tower's entrance, where the Hussir guards remained on duty. have to tain back," said Alan dully.
She stood close to Alan and looked up at him with large eyes.
"All the way back through the city?" There was a tremor in her voice.
"I'm afraid so." He put his aim around her shoulders and they turned away from the Star Tower. He fumbled at his scarf as they walked slowly back down the street His scarf! He stopped, halting her with a jerk. The Silk!
He grasped her shoulders with both hands and looked down into her face.
"Mara," he said soberly, "we aren't going back to the mountains. We aren't going back out tf the city. We're going into the Star Tower!"
They retraced their steps to the end of the spoke street. They raced across the last and smallest of the circular streets, vaulted the rail, slipped like wraiths into the shadows of the park.
They moved from bush to bush and from tree to tree with the quiet facility of creatures born to nights in the open air. Little knots of guards were scattered all over the park. Probably the guard had been strengthened because of the Wild Human invasion of Falklyn. But the guards all had small, shaded lights, and Hussirs could not see well in the dark. The two humans were able to avoid them easily.
They came up behind the Star Tower and circled it cautiously. At its base, the entrance ramp was twice Alan's height There were two guards, talking in low tones under the lamps that hung on each side of the dark, open door to the tower.
"If we could only have brought a bow!" exclaimed Alan in a whisper. "I could handle one of them without a weapon, but not two."
"Couldn't both of us?" she whispered back.
"No! They're little, but they're strong. Much stronger than a woman."
Against the glow of the light, something projected a few inches over the edge of the ramp above them.
"Maybe it's a spear," whispered Alan. "I'll lift you up."
In a moment she was down again, the object in her hands.
"Just an arrow," she muttered in disgust. "What good is it without a bow?"
"It may be enough," he said. "You stay here, and when I get to the foot of the ramp, make a noise to distract them. Then run for it "
He crept on his stomach to the point where the ramp angled to the ground He looked back. Mara was a lightness against the blackness of the corner.
Mara began banging against the side of the ramp with her fists and chanting in a low tone. Grabbing their bows, both Hussir guards moved quickly to the edge. Alan stood up and ran as fast as he could up the ramp, the arrow in his hand.
Their bows were drawn to shoot down where Mara was, when they felt the vibration of the ramp. They turned quickly.
Their arrows, hurriedly loosed, missed him. He plungpd his own arrow througji the throat of one and grappled with the other. In a savage burst of strength, he hurled the Hussir over the side to the ground below, Mara cried out A patrol of three Hussirs had been too close. She nearly reached the foot of the ramp, when one of them plunged from the darkness and locked his arms around her hips from behind. The other two were hopping up the ramp toward Alan, spears in hand.
Alan snatched up the bow and quiver of the Hussir he had slain. His first arrow took one of the approaching Hussirs, halfway down the ramp. The Hussir that had seized Mara hurled her away from him to the ground and raised his spear for the kill.
Alan's arrow only grazed the creature, but it dropped the spear, and Mara fled up the ramp.
The third Hussir lurched at Alan behind its spear. Alan dodged. The blade missed him, but the haft burned his side, almost knocking him from the ramp. The Hussir recovered like lightning, poised the spear again. It was too close for Alan to use the bow, and he had no time to pick up a spear.
Mara leaped on the Hussii's back, locking her legs around its body and grappling its spear arm wilh both her hands. Before it could shake her ofi, Alan wrested the spear from the Hussir's hand and dispatched it.
The other guards were coming up from all directions. Arrows rang against the sides of the Star Tower as the two humans ducked inside.
There was a light inside the Star Tower, a softer light than the gas lamps but more effective. They were inside a small chamber, from which another door led to the interior of the tower.
The door, swung back against the wall on its hinges, was two feet thick and its diameter was greater than the height of a man. Both of them together were unable to move it.
Arrows were coming through the door. Alan had left the guards' weapons outside. In a moment the Hussirs would gain courage to rush the rainp.
Alan looked around in desperation for a weapon. The metal walls were bare except for some handrails and a panel from which projected three metal sticks. Alan wrenched at one, trying to pull it loose for a club. It pulled down and there was a hissing sound in the room, but it would not come loose. He tried a second, and again it swung down but stayed fast to the wall.
Mara shrieked b&ind him, and he whirled.
The big door was closing, by itself, slowly, and outside the ramp was raising itself from the ground and sliding into the wall of the Star Tower below them. The few Hussirs who had ventured onto the end of the ramp were falling from it to the ground, like ants.
The door dosed with a dang of finality. The hissing in the room went on for a moment, then stopped. It was as still as death in the Star Tower.
They went through the inner door, timidly, holding hands. They were in a curved corridor. The other side of the corridor was a blank wall. They followed the corridor all the way around the Star Tower, back to the door, without finding an entrance through that inner wall.
But there was a ladder that went upward. They climbed it, Alan first, then Mara, They were in another corridor, and another ladder went upvard.
Up and up they climbed, past level after level, the blank inner wall gave way to spacious rooms, in which was strange furniture. Some were compartmented, and on the compartment doors for three levels, red crosses were painted.
Both of them were bathed with perspiration when they reached the room with the windows. And here there were no more ladders.
"Mara, we're at the top of ihe Star Tower!" exclaimed Alan.
The room was domed, and from head level all the dome was windows. But, though the windows faced upward, those around the lower periphery showed the lighted city of FaBdyn spread below them. There was even one of them that showed a section of the park, and the park was right under them, but they knew it was the park because they could see the Hussirs scurrying about in the light of the two gas lamps that still burned beside the closed door of the Star Tower.
All the windows in the upper part of the dome opened on the stars.
The lower part of the walls was covered with strange wheels and metal sticks and diagrams and little shining circles of colored lights.
"We're in the top of the Star Tower!" shouted Alan in a triumphant frenzy, "I have the Silk and I shall sing the Song!"
Alan raised his voice and the words reverberated back at them from the walls of the domed chamber.
"Twinkle, twinkle, golden star, I can reach you, though you're jar.
Shut my mouth and find my head, Find a worm thafs striped with red, Feed it to the turtle shell, Then go to sleep, JOT all is well"
Alan sang the second verse, and still nothing happened. "Do you suppose that if we went back out now the Hussirs would let all humans go free?" asked Mara doubtfully.
"That's silly," he said, staring at the window where an increasing number of Hussirs was crowding into the park. "It's a riddle. We have to do what it says."
"But how can we? What does it mean?"
"It has something to do with the Star Tower," he said thoughtfully. "Maybe the 'golden star' means the Star Tower, though I always thought it meant the Golden Star in the southern sky. Anyway, we've reached the Star Tower, and it's silly to tfoyilr about reaching a real star.
"Let's take the next line. 'Shut my mouth and find my head.' How can you shut anyone's mouth before you find their head?"
"We had to shut the door to the Star Tower before we could dimb to the top," she ventured.
'That's it!" he exclaimed "Now, let's 'find a worm thats striped with red!'"
They looked all over the big room, in and under the strange crooked beds that would tflt forward to make chairs, behind the big, queer-looking objects that stood all over the floor. The bottom part of the walls had drawers and they pulled these out, one by one.
At last Mara dropped a little disc of metal and it popped in half on the floor. A flat spool fell out, and white tape unrolled from it in a tangle.
"Worm!" shouted Alan. "Find one striped with red!"
They popped open disc after metal disc and there it was: a tape crossed diagonally with red stripes. There was lettering on the metal discs and Mara spelled out the letters on this one.
"EMERGENCY. TERRA. AUTOMATIC BLASTDOWN".
Neither of them could figure out what that meant So they looked for the "turtle shell" and of course that would be the transparent dome-shaped object that sat on a pedestal between two erf the chair-beds.
It was an awkward job trying to feed the striped worm to the turtle shell, for the only opening in the turtle shell was under it and to one side. But with Alan lying in one cushioned chair-bed and Mara lying in the other, and the two of them working together, they got the end of the worm into the turtle shell's mouth.
Immediately the turtle shell began eating the striped worm with a clicking chatter that lasted only a moment before it was drowned in a great rumbling roar from far down in the bowels of the Star Tower.
Then the windows that looked down on the park blossomed into flame that was almost too bright for human eyes to bear, and the lights of Falklyn began to fall away in the other windows around the rim of the dome. There was a great pressure that pushed them mightily down into the cushions on which they lay, and forced their senses from them.
Many months later, they would remember the second verse of the song. They would go into one of the chambers marked with a cross, they would sting themselves with the bugs that were hypodermic needles and sink down in the sleep of suspended animation.
But now they lay, naked and unconscious, in the control room of the accelerating starship. In the breeze from the air conditioners, the silken message to Earth fluttered pink against Alan's throat