I inserted the clip, and lay there with my fore-sight following the disk ship in its steady circling flight. Just where would an armor-piercing steel bullet do the most harm? I shot the clip out at the great round body of the thing, trying to guess where a hit might damage machinery or pierce fuel tanks. There was no visible result, and I gave the flying disks up as a bad job. How did I know they were built to resist meteors in ultra high-speed space flight? It didn't even occur to me.
"Where're your buddies?" I asked Holaf. He lay beside me peering down into the street below.
"Gone to join the Shinro. They are storming the doors of the palace now." He gestured toward the street.
I leaned over the parapet. Below in the street the hideous, mutilated bodies of the Shinro moved in a mass. They had brought up a huge beam, and were pounding it against the great palace doors. Others climbed toward the tall barred windows, some of them slipped through. But of the white-robed Jivros there was now no visible sign.
I was about to send a few shots through those same windows, when a waving white cloth from a window near the top of the huge structure drew my eyes. A sudden fear struck my heart. Could that be my Zoorph, left there--could that be Carna? I felt sure it was, and something warm and pitiful seemed to flutter in my chest as I thought of her alone among those hopping Jivros. I got to my feet, started across the roof.
"Where are you going, earthman?" asked Holaf, placing a hand on my shoulder.
"I am going into that place, but there is no need you accompanying me. I think I saw Carna at her window, a prisoner! I would like to free her."
Holaf gave a cry of unbelief.
"No, you cannot do that! The Croen means to destroy that place down to the ground. Carna will have to perish with it. It is too bad, but you cannot enter there. I know what is going to happen."
Even as he spoke, a great white blossom of flame spurted suddenly over our heads, spread and spread across the sky above the circling ships. Looking up, my eyes were struck blind. I dropped to the roof surface with agony. Then came the terrific, stunning concussion. The prince was letting off the fireworks at last! I exulted, even as I despaired. Somehow I only now realized that this waiting, strange Zoorph in her prison, who faced death because forgotten by her friends--must not die! In my heart some warm thing she had waked there with her magic breathed, moved, sprang into complete life. I could not see her die! I must get into that place that I saw was doomed, even as I now saw two of the great ships above falter in flight, turn and slide downward at increasing speed. The concussion had broken them, perhaps destroyed the life within them. I realized that in a short time the same thing was going to happen to the headquarters of the Jivros.
Below, the booming of the great ram against the palace door ceased, there came wild shouts, cheers, running feet, terrible screams of agony. I ran down the ramps up which we had ascended to the roof. Heedless of danger, I raced along the dark street, across the wide-open space surrounding the palace.
About the palace door the dead were sprawled in mangled heaps. Among the dead were several white robes, now stained with the pale blood of the Jivros. I surmised the frightened creatures had opened the door, intending to kill the men wielding the ram--and had been unable to do a complete job. The doors gaped open. I stumbled over the reeking heap of slain. A dying man raised one horrible crab claw to me, called out my name! It was Jake, his ugly face now a horror. I had not even known he had received the reviving shot of the Croen medicine.
I bent to hear his words, but he only looked at me for a second, his lips formed one word: "Gold!" He laughed bitterly, repeated it: "Gold, hell!" and then his head dropped lifeless.
I raced on into the place, and at my heels came Holaf. In his hands he held the vibro gun, and on his face was a wild triumph. He kept crying aloud: "Death to the Jivros! An end to tyranny!"
I had no time for the political angles which so inspired Holaf. I raced upward along the same paths by which Prince Genner had led me to my own detention quarters. I did not know how to reach Carna's room except that it lay directly above my own. I raced into the open door of the prince's quarters, and to that window by which Carna had entered. I leaned out, shouted at the top of my voice.
"Zoorph, are you there?"
Her voice came to me with a message of relief, yet it justified my worse fears. She was here, and the place was about to be blasted by some titanic explosive of the Croen science creation! Her words were indistinct, but the tone was almost mocking, and I thought I heard her laugh.
"Can you come down, Carna, or do I have to come after you?"
Seconds later the knotted drape she had used before swayed down into sight, I grasped it to steady it. Her bare legs followed, and now her voice came to me with a sweet mockery: "Never let it be said that Carna required a lover to climb to her window! Rather let it be said that passion made Carna risk...."
Overhead another of the terrible blasts of flame blazed across the sky. The light blazed all about us, and Carna leaped from the window ledge into my arms even as the concussion struck at us. I lost my balance; we fell to the floor together ... and her voice went calmly, mockingly on, loud in the sudden ensuing silence: "... death itself to be at her lover's side! And it sounds as if we both risked death this night!"
I lay there staring into those mysterious depths of her strange wide-spaced eyes, and she giggled a little. I could not help laughing. Even as I struggled to retain sense an almost hysterical laugh of relief broke from me.
We got to our feet, and in spite of the terrible danger, our arms kept hold of each other, our eyes still held together, and our lips were drawn together and burned there for minutes.
"This is madness, woman, we must get out of here. The Croen has made bombs for the prince's ships. He has rebelled against the Jivros, released the Croen, Cyane, they will blast this place, perhaps the whole city, before this night is over!"
"So no one placed any value on the life or the help of Carna but the earth man! Why did you come here for me, Carl?"
"I saw your scarf at the window. I learned then what I did not know before--I could not let you die! Do you know what I felt when I knew you were still in this prison?"
"Of course I know. You see, Carl, the magic of the Zoorphs is really a magic of love. You love me, and I willed it so. You will always love me now!"
I was not entranced by her words.
"We have no time for a discussion of metaphysics or of love, woman. Come, we must get out."
Carna gestured toward the doorway. I whirled, stood frozen with startled nerves. There stood the old Jivro whom I had met in the council beside the queen. In his hands were no weapons, and at his back were no tall Schree guards. I wondered if the desertion of the Jivros had been so complete. Even as I stooped to retrieve the heavy rifle from the floor, his hands gestured, and the rifle eluded my reach, seeming to glide across the floor. I followed it, and he gestured again.
Some force seemed to freeze me. It had not been nerves that held me before, I learned, but his eyes upon me! Unwinking, the ancient master of what worlds unknown to me, regarded me, and I knew I was helpless before the power he controlled. My lips moved, but no sound came out.
A sudden blast of light came from the window, and the vast concussion shook the building terribly. For an instant I felt freedom in my limbs. I tugged out the .45 at my belt, leveled it, fired. The Old One staggered, his eyes blazed at me, and his hand gestured again. The gun fell from my hands, and some terrible black thing struck into my brain, tearing, rending. I fell forward into blackness....
Swirling nothingness, a dry cachination as of some dead-as-dust thing laughing at life itself, a shuddering vibrance flooding through my flesh in waves of terrible nausea, a dim glow that grew and grew into terrifying painful brilliance, then paled and died again into the swirling blankness that was not death, but a knowledge of deep injury....
Again and again the swirling horror of my brain slowed, almost stopped. My eyes almost opened into the painful light, and the deep interior vibrating sensation swelled into overpowering violence. I sank again into darkness. Over and over I struggled almost to the doors of consciousness, only to be shoved back by the consciously controlled exterior force.
At last the sickness passed, and my mind quieted. I struggled into wakefulness. As I opened my eyes, the face of the old Jivro gaped with its noseless, bulging eyes not a foot away, the thin, wide lips and mouth hanging open like a trap, the ridges across the mouth like a fish, white and horrible.
I retched at the repellent sight, and the mouth moved, the words came out so strangely, like a mechanical voice: "Tell me, earthman, how is the weapon with which you shot my men on the roof made? What are the details of its construction, and the formula for its explosive?"
I almost laughed.
"You are ridiculous, old insect! Such things are known only to technicians in factories, not to mining men like myself."
Again the blinding light struck at me, the sickening shaking of the vibrance welled through me. I sank and was raised again to consciousness.
Still the same foolish old insect face, the same bulging ignorant eyes. The words: "Tell, then, how this Croen and the forces of Prince Genner may be overcome? Speak, earthman."
The compulsion moved me, and I answered: "There is no way you can overcome them, Jivro. You are doomed, and there is no hope for your tyranny over the Schrees to continue. They have tired of the Jivros, and you deserve what you are going to get."
Again the sickening application of force and again the exterior compulsion to speak. I said: "Your only chance to get back power is to get forces from your home in space, wherever that may be. You cannot overcome these fighting men and their weapons, which are as good as your weapons, for you Jivros have relied for too long upon the Schrees and Shinros for your fighting, and for your thinking too, by the questions you ask. Have you not done any thinking in your life, that you ask me such silly questions?"
A change came over the old creature. I knew he was wounded, for I had seen the glistening milky fluid pouring from the wound in his breast. He leaned weakly against the table to which I was strapped, his eyes on mine glazing over with death. The wide lips at the very bottom of the flat face, moved: "The Jivro Empire is ending, I think, earthman. We dug our own grave when we relegated all unpleasant duties to our conquered races. For an age the Jivro has been a creature shunning all work and effort, even thinking. We were bound to lose our grip. I see now that I am really foolish, and not a strong being of intellect. Our doom is written, and the day of the writing was that day when we conquered and enslaved the Schrees."
"Now you are talking sense, Old One. You see what is plain to all others; at last it becomes clear to you. But you are dying, and it is too late for wisdom to come to the Jivros. Once you set your feet on the path to greatness; but when you did evil, your feet naturally turned to the downward path of decadence. Evil is not a way of life, it is a way of death."
The bulging eyes on mine flickered with a fierce inner fire for an instant, then the head bent lower. For an instant he tottered there beside me, then crashed to the floor with a sound like a bundle of dry sticks.
I turned my head, saw that I was in the chamber of my first interrogation, and the sound of feet about me was the Jivro "doctors," moving to carry away their ruler. I saw the sleek body of Carna on a table but a dozen feet away. Three of the tall white-robed insects bent over her, one moving a control in a great lamp device, another scribbling on a pad, and the third was speaking. Evidently the Zoorph was getting the third degree, too. I lay back weakly. I felt as if I had been through a washing machine and some of my buttons left in the wringer.
As I closed my eyes, a vast boom crashed into my ears, the table jumped beneath me, pieces of masonry fell bounding on the floor and I raised my head, staring wildly. Evidently the prince and the Croen were still bombing the place.
I tugged at the straps on my wrists and ankles. They gave a little. I kept on tugging, turning my head as far as I could to see how the insect men were taking their bombardment. They stood, near fifty of them, in a group by the door. Evidently they had started to run out when the crash came, but had stopped when it was evident the roof was going to remain intact. If those things had any sense they would be in the deepest sub-basement they could find, I figured. The Schrees must have been carrying them as helpless parasites for too many centuries to realize they could do without them, for them to be so inept.
Straining my neck, I watched the grotesque high-breasted white figures about the doorway, they were tittering to each other in some tongue I did not know, a strange sound like the rasping of corn husks under squeaking wagon wheels. Suddenly the whole palace shook terribly, the floor seemed to reel, an unbearable sound raged at my ears. I cringed from the pain of the sound. When I opened my eyes, the whole mass of the Jivro medicals was jammed in the doorway, struggling to get over each other, and the squeaking and rasping increased into a bedlam of sound. I laughed, a deep "ha ha," and from the neighboring table Carna cried: "See what wonderful creatures are the tyrants when things are not going their way. If I had known they were like that in war, I would have killed them all myself long, long, ago. I would have poisoned them, and when they asked me who did it, I would have said, boo and they would all have run away and hid!"
As the last of them got through the door, I gave my loosened straps one mighty pull, and the heavy leather tore. I could hear it part in the sudden silence. Again and again I strained, and at last the leather parted entirely. My right hand was free. Feverishly I tore at the other fastenings. There could be but little time left us before that bombing struck dead center and brought the whole palace down. We had to get out. I knew it quite as well as those fleeing insect men.
Free at last, I rolled off the table, landed on all fours, leaped to Carna's side, and released the buckles of the straps. As she sat up, her face level with mine, she pursed her lips, and I gave her a hearty smack. As her arms went about my neck, I picked her up, raced through the doorway, along the passage, down the ramps. I was weaponless, but I had no longer any fear of the Jivros. I saw a group of them busy in a big chamber as I passed, but I raced on, spinning around the next corner, down the ramps and on ... on ... until I felt the coolness of fresh air ahead, ran out beneath the stars again, and along the shadowed street.
Putting my Zoorph back on her feet, we raced toward that breach in the wall. Over our heads the great blasting explosions went on, and I saw but three of the circling disks left to the defense of the city.
Outside the city wall we stopped to catch our breath, leaning against the wall in the shadow.
Carna said, musingly: "It is all over for the ancient Empire of the Jivros, if help does not come for them tonight. For, now that they are seen to be so helpless without their slaves and their fighting men, the news will spread. Planet after planet will rise against them. This is their finish!"
"They expected to conquer earth, Carna. They could never have done it. For a little while, perhaps, but not for long."
"They might have! They are like ants; they have a highly developed pattern of activity. But when that pattern is disrupted, they are lost. They do not think--they remember."
"We've got to make contact with the queen and with Genner and the Croen. We will be left out of things." I was wondering what Carna's future plans were.
"You are interested in the beautiful sister of the Prince?" asked Carna.
"You are interested in the so handsome Prince?" I answered in the same tone of voice.
"Of course, what woman would not be! But I am more interested in you, for I fell in love with you. But I can fall out again, and maybe--who knows...." she laughed.
"What's more to the point, Carna, is she interested in me?"
"I could tell you," said Carna, her eyes mysterious on my own, luminous and huge in the darkness.
"Well, perhaps you had better tell me, then."
"Why? I love you!"
"You mean she is interested in me!"
"Very much, and she is a very smart woman who has ways of getting what she wants. I am very much afraid she will take you with her to space when they go, and leave poor Carna in her ruined city, with no one but the wild beasts and the dead bodies. This will be the end of this place."
"You are wrong!" I smiled, thinking the girl was flattering me.
"No, not wrong, dear earthman. I am very much afraid of the future, for I am to lose you, but I have a way of avoiding that."
"And what is that way?"
"You will find out when the time comes, and you may like it very much!"
"Let's get away from this wall where we can see what's going on...."
We plodded across the level, grassy valley floor, walking backward some of the time, watching the great circling ships above the city's center, and the lancing blue paths of their rays stabbing at some darting adversary high above them.
Then from the western sky came a series of round low shapes, speeding so rapidly the eye could hardly distinguish them from the darkly glowing horizon. After their passage, in a close series, came the air-scream of falling missiles, high-pitched, then came a terrific cannonading of explosions. Fountains of fire sprang up in exact sequence, one after the other. The ground shook and shook underfoot, each shock seeming greater, to add its strength to the one preceding it. I knew that this was for the Jivros the end of their plans on earth.
Simultaneous with the arrow-swift flight, two great blazing lances of blue fire shot downward from the ships far overhead, transfixed the circling spheres one after the other. They tilted, plunged slowly, faster and faster--ended in great splashes of fire and sound somewhere in the city below.
I mopped my face. The night was hot, and relief flooded me.
"We got out of there just in time, Miss Mystic!"
She nodded, her white smile in the night a beautiful thing.
"What is this Miss Mystic word you use?"
"It means Zoorph, Carna. It is U.S.A. speech."
"U.S.A. speech," she parroted. "Some day I will talk U.S.A. speech, too, like you!"
"I hope so. This tongue of yours gives me cramps in the jaws."
We plodded on across the grass, heading for the cliff ledge where we had met. I knew no where else to go.
Quite suddenly came a soft sussuration overhead, a light-beam lanced down, pinning us there. I tossed Carna aside, rolled myself out of the path of light. But mercilessly the light beam spread, until we were again within the circle of illumination.
But no blue death ray followed. The dark shape settled to the earth beside us, and the door in the side opened.
I sprang to my feet in glad surprise to see Holaf in the round doorway, motioning us to enter. He cried: "Come, the day of the Jivro has ended, there is work now for men to do!"
Carna laughed happily, ran to the doorway, and as Holaf caught her waist and swung her up, she kissed him on the cheek, still laughing in abandoned joy to know that finally the centuries-long nightmare fastened on her people was ended. I followed more sedately, wondering what now? I thought of poor cross-eyed Jake Barto, and of the three fortune-hunters who had gone the same path--and as I shook Holaf's hand, questioned the ecstatic confidence of release upon his face.
"Suppose the Empire sends ships here, will they not destroy all you have gained? Why do you feel so sure their power is broken? They were but few here?"
"They will not send ships, for no messenger got away. What do you think the ships of the prince have been doing? This is the beginning of their end!"
"How did you get out of the palace? The last I saw you, you were storming the place, gun in hand, and cheering...."
"When the bombs began to burst against the very roof, I got out. I killed a few Jivros first, though! It has been a good time; the best of my life!"
"Were you picked up as you picked us up?"
"Of course. Look there who it is that has done us the honor...."
My eyes followed his finger pointing through the far arched doorway to the control room. At the bank of levers and dials, her face intent upon the scene through the circular plastic dome, sat Wananda. Inadvertently my eyes went to Carna's face; she nodded once, vigorously. I knew she meant: "See, I have told you the truth. She knew where you were, her heart told her, who else would descend to pick you up while the fighting was still going on?"
I went to her, and stood for a moment beside her, watching her swift hands, the light on her midnight hair, the delicate superb chiseling of her forehead and nose, the exquisite aura of womanhood about her--she was every inch a queen.
She turned, startled to find me there, then smiled, and a warm flush spread slowly from her neck upward to her temples. She knew that I knew! She laughed a little quiet sound to herself.
"That is why the Zoorphs are hated, earthman. One can never keep a secret!"
"You must have the powers of Carna yourself, to know that she told me." I answered.
"I have studied their methods. One comes by such talents hereditarily. The Zoorph is only an organization which concentrates on taking in and teaching such gifted children. I, as a princess, had a tutor of their sect. I know that you love her, too, you know."
"And not yourself. But she confesses that I love her only because of her skill at hypnosis, or something of the kind. To me that seems unfair, but I cannot help it. I love her, though I am drawn to you. But why should we concern ourselves with these matters? You will go back to space with your ships to carry rebellion to the other Jivro strongholds. I will be left behind to mourn you both."
"Why should you be left behind? Do you find the Schree or the Zerv company so repellent?"