She threw the bomb. It sailed in an arc, an expert, rolling and bouncing to the entrance of the bunker. Two Wounded Soldiers stood uncertainly by the brick pile. More Davids poured from behind them, out onto the plain. One of the Wounded Soldiers moved toward the bomb, stooping awkwardly down to pick it up.
The bomb went off. The concussion whirled Hendricks around, throwing him on his face. A hot wind rolled over him. Dimly he saw Tasso standing behind the columns, firing slowly and methodically at the Davids coming out of the raging clouds of white fire.
Back along the rise Klaus struggled with a ring of claws circling around him. He retreated, blasting at them and moving back, trying to break through the ring.
Hendricks struggled to his feet. His head ached. He could hardly see. Everything was licking at him, raging and whirling. His right arm would not move.
Tasso pulled back toward him. "Come on. Let's go."
"Klaus--He's still up there."
"Come on!" Tasso dragged Hendricks back, away from the columns. Hendricks shook his head, trying to clear it. Tasso led him rapidly away, her eyes intense and bright, watching for claws that had escaped the blast.
One David came out of the rolling clouds of flame. Tasso blasted it. No more appeared.
"But Klaus. What about him?" Hendricks stopped, standing unsteadily. "He--"
They retreated, moving farther and farther away from the bunker. A few small claws followed them for a little while and then gave up, turning back and going off.
At last Tasso stopped. "We can stop here and get our breaths."
Hendricks sat down on some heaps of debris. He wiped his neck, gasping. "We left Klaus back there."
Tasso said nothing. She opened her gun, sliding a fresh round of blast cartridges into place.
Hendricks stared at her, dazed. "You left him back there on purpose."
Tasso snapped the gun together. She studied the heaps of rubble around them, her face expressionless. As if she were watching for something.
"What is it?" Hendricks demanded. "What are you looking for? Is something coming?" He shook his head, trying to understand. What was she doing? What was she waiting for? He could see nothing. Ash lay all around them, ash and ruins. Occasional stark tree trunks, without leaves or branches. "What--"
Tasso cut him off. "Be still." Her eyes narrowed. Suddenly her gun came up. Hendricks turned, following her gaze.
Back the way they had come a figure appeared. The figure walked unsteadily toward them. Its clothes were torn. It limped as it made its way along, going very slowly and carefully. Stopping now and then, resting and getting its strength. Once it almost fell. It stood for a moment, trying to steady itself. Then it came on.
Hendricks stood up. "Klaus!" He started toward him. "How the hell did you--"
Tasso fired. Hendricks swung back. She fired again, the blast passing him, a searing line of heat. The beam caught Klaus in the chest. He exploded, gears and wheels flying. For a moment he continued to walk. Then he swayed back and forth. He crashed to the ground, his arms flung out. A few more wheels rolled away.
Tasso turned to Hendricks. "Now you understand why he killed Rudi."
Hendricks sat down again slowly. He shook his head. He was numb. He could not think.
"Do you see?" Tasso said. "Do you understand?"
Hendricks said nothing. Everything was slipping away from him, faster and faster. Darkness, rolling and plucking at him.
He closed his eyes.
Hendricks opened his eyes slowly. His body ached all over. He tried to sit up but needles of pain shot through his arm and shoulder. He gasped.
"Don't try to get up," Tasso said. She bent down, putting her cold hand against his forehead.
It was night. A few stars glinted above, shining through the drifting clouds of ash. Hendricks lay back, his teeth locked. Tasso watched him impassively. She had built a fire with some wood and weeds. The fire licked feebly, hissing at a metal cup suspended over it. Everything was silent. Unmoving darkness, beyond the fire.
"So he was the Second Variety," Hendricks murmured.
"I had always thought so."
"Why didn't you destroy him sooner?" she wanted to know.
"You held me back." Tasso crossed to the fire to look into the metal cup. "Coffee. It'll be ready to drink in awhile."
She came back and sat down beside him. Presently she opened her pistol and began to disassemble the firing mechanism, studying it intently.
"This is a beautiful gun," Tasso said, half-aloud. "The construction is superb."
"What about them? The claws."
"The concussion from the bomb put most of them out of action. They're delicate. Highly organized, I suppose."
"The Davids, too?"
"How did you happen to have a bomb like that?"
Tasso shrugged. "We designed it. You shouldn't underestimate our technology, Major. Without such a bomb you and I would no longer exist."
Tasso stretched out her legs, warming her feet in the heat of the fire. "It surprised me that you did not seem to understand, after he killed Rudi. Why did you think he--"
"I told you. I thought he was afraid."
"Really? You know, Major, for a little while I suspected you. Because you wouldn't let me kill him. I thought you might be protecting him." She laughed.
"Are we safe here?" Hendricks asked presently.
"For awhile. Until they get reinforcements from some other area." Tasso began to clean the interior of the gun with a bit of rag. She finished and pushed the mechanism back into place. She closed the gun, running her finger along the barrel.
"We were lucky," Hendricks murmured.
"Yes. Very lucky."
"Thanks for pulling me away."
Tasso did not answer. She glanced up at him, her eyes bright in the fire light. Hendricks examined his arm. He could not move his fingers. His whole side seemed numb. Down inside him was a dull steady ache.
"How do you feel?" Tasso asked.
"My arm is damaged."
"You didn't get down when the bomb went off."
Hendricks said nothing. He watched Tasso pour the coffee from the cup into a flat metal pan. She brought it over to him.
"Thanks." He Struggled up enough to drink. It was hard to swallow. His insides turned over and he pushed the pan away. "That's all I can drink now."
Tasso drank the rest. Time passed. The clouds of ash moved across the dark sky above them. Hendricks rested, his mind blank. After awhile he became aware that Tasso was standing over him, gazing down at him.
"What is it?" he murmured.
"Do you feel any better?"
"You know, Major, if I hadn't dragged you away they would have got you. You would be dead. Like Rudi."
"Do you want to know why I brought you out? I could have left you. I could have left you there."
"Why did you bring me out?"
"Because we have to get away from here." Tasso stirred the fire with a stick, peering calmly down into it. "No human being can live here. When their reinforcements come we won't have a chance. I've pondered about it while you were unconscious. We have perhaps three hours before they come."
"And you expect me to get us away?"
"That's right. I expect you to get us out of here."
"Because I don't know any way." Her eyes shone at him in the half-light, bright and steady. "If you can't get us out of here they'll kill us within three hours. I see nothing else ahead. Well, Major? What are you going to do? I've been waiting all night. While you were unconscious I sat here, waiting and listening. It's almost dawn. The night is almost over."
Hendricks considered. "It's curious," he said at last.
"That you should think I can get us out of here. I wonder what you think I can do."
"Can you get us to the Moon Base?"
"The Moon Base? How?"
"There must be some way."
Hendricks shook his head. "No. There's no way that I know of."
Tasso said nothing. For a moment her steady gaze wavered. She ducked her head, turning abruptly away. She scrambled to her feet. "More coffee?"
"Suit yourself." Tasso drank silently. He could not see her face. He lay back against the ground, deep in thought, trying to concentrate. It was hard to think. His head still hurt. And the numbing daze still hung over him.
"There might be one way," he said suddenly.
"How soon is dawn?"
"Two hours. The sun will be coming up shortly."
"There's supposed to be a ship near here. I've never seen it. But I know it exists."
"What kind of a ship?" Her voice was sharp.
"A rocket cruiser."
"Will it take us off? To the Moon Base?"
"It's supposed to. In case of emergency." He rubbed his forehead.
"My head. It's hard to think. I can hardly--hardly concentrate. The bomb."