"Is the ship near here?" Tasso slid over beside him, settling down on her haunches. "How far is it? Where is it?"
"I'm trying to think."
Her fingers dug into his arm. "Nearby?" Her voice was like iron. "Where would it be? Would they store it underground? Hidden underground?"
"Yes. In a storage locker."
"How do we find it? Is it marked? Is there a code marker to identify it?"
Hendricks concentrated. "No. No markings. No code symbol."
"What sort of sign?"
Hendricks did not answer. In the flickering light his eyes were glazed, two sightless orbs. Tasso's fingers dug into his arm.
"What sort of sign? What is it?"
"I--I can't think. Let me rest."
"All right." She let go and stood up. Hendricks lay back against the ground, his eyes closed. Tasso walked away from him, her hands in her pockets. She kicked a rock out of her way and stood staring up at the sky. The night blackness was already beginning to fade into gray. Morning was coming.
Tasso gripped her pistol and walked around the fire in a circle, back and forth. On the ground Major Hendricks lay, his eyes closed, unmoving. The grayness rose in the sky, higher and higher. The landscape became visible, fields of ash stretching out in all directions. Ash and ruins of buildings, a wall here and there, heaps of concrete, the naked trunk of a tree.
The air was cold and sharp. Somewhere a long way off a bird made a few bleak sounds.
Hendricks stirred. He opened his eyes. "Is it dawn? Already?"
Hendricks sat up a little. "You wanted to know something. You were asking me."
"Do you remember now?"
"What is it?" She tensed. "What?" she repeated sharply.
"A well. A ruined well. It's in a storage locker under a well."
"A well." Tasso relaxed. "Then we'll find a well." She looked at her watch. "We have about an hour, Major. Do you think we can find it in an hour?"
"Give me a hand up," Hendricks said.
Tasso put her pistol away and helped him to his feet. "This is going to be difficult."
"Yes it is." Hendricks set his lips tightly. "I don't think we're going to go very far."
They began to walk. The early sun cast a little warmth down on them. The land was flat and barren, stretching out gray and lifeless as far as they could see. A few birds sailed silently, far above them, circling slowly.
"See anything?" Hendricks said. "Any claws?"
"No. Not yet."
They passed through some ruins, upright concrete and bricks. A cement foundation. Rats scuttled away. Tasso jumped back warily.
"This used to be a town," Hendricks said. "A village. Provincial village. This was all grape country, once. Where we are now."
They came onto a ruined street, weeds and cracks criss-crossing it. Over to the right a stone chimney stuck up.
"Be careful," he warned her.
A pit yawned, an open basement. Ragged ends of pipes jutted up, twisted and bent. They passed part of a house, a bathtub turned on its side. A broken chair. A few spoons and bits of china dishes. In the center of the street the ground had sunk away. The depression was filled with weeds and debris and bones.
"Over here," Hendricks murmured.
"To the right."
They passed the remains of a heavy duty tank. Hendricks' belt counter clicked ominously. The tank had been radiation blasted. A few feet from the tank a mummified body lay sprawled out, mouth open. Beyond the road was a flat field. Stones and weeds, and bits of broken glass.
"There," Hendricks said.
A stone well jutted up, sagging and broken. A few boards lay across it. Most of the well had sunk into rubble. Hendricks walked unsteadily toward it, Tasso beside him.
"Are you certain about this?" Tasso said. "This doesn't look like anything."
"I'm sure." Hendricks sat down at the edge of the well, his teeth locked. His breath came quickly. He wiped perspiration from his face. "This was arranged so the senior command officer could get away. If anything happened. If the bunker fell."
"That was you?"
"Where is the ship? Is it here?"
"We're standing on it." Hendricks ran his hands over the surface of the well stones. "The eye-lock responds to me, not to anybody else. It's my ship. Or it was supposed to be."
There was a sharp click. Presently they heard a low grating sound from below them.
"Step back," Hendricks said. He and Tasso moved away from the well.
A section of the ground slid back. A metal frame pushed slowly up through the ash, shoving bricks and weeds out of the way. The action ceased, as the ship nosed into view.
"There it is," Hendricks said.
The ship was small. It rested quietly, suspended in its mesh frame, like a blunt needle. A rain of ash sifted down into the dark cavity from which the ship had been raised. Hendricks made his way over to it. He mounted the mesh and unscrewed the hatch, pulling it back. Inside the ship the control banks and the pressure seat were visible.
Tasso came and stood beside him, gazing into the ship. "I'm not accustomed to rocket piloting," she said, after awhile.
Hendricks glanced at her. "I'll do the piloting."
"Will you? There's only one seat, Major. I can see it's built to carry only a single person."
Hendricks' breathing changed. He studied the interior of the ship intently. Tasso was right. There was only one seat. The ship was built to carry only one person. "I see," he said slowly. "And the one person is you."
"You can't go. You might not live through the trip. You're injured. You probably wouldn't get there."
"An interesting point. But you see, I know where the Moon Base is. And you don't. You might fly around for months and not find it. It's well hidden. Without knowing what to look for--"
"I'll have to take my chances. Maybe I won't find it. Not by myself. But I think you'll give me all the information I need. Your life depends on it."
"If I find the Moon Base in time, perhaps I can get them to send a ship back to pick you up. If I find the Base in time. If not, then you haven't a chance. I imagine there are supplies on the ship. They will last me long enough--"
Hendricks moved quickly. But his injured arm betrayed him. Tasso ducked, sliding lithely aside. Her hand came up, lightning fast. Hendricks saw the gun butt coming. He tried to ward off the blow, but she was too fast. The metal butt struck against the side of his head, just above his ear. Numbing pain rushed through him. Pain and rolling clouds of blackness. He sank down, sliding to the ground.
Dimly, he was aware that Tasso was standing over him, kicking him with her toe.
"Major! Wake up."
He opened his eyes, groaning.
"Listen to me." She bent down, the gun pointed at his face. "I have to hurry. There isn't much time left. The ship is ready to go, but you must tell me the information I need before I leave."
Hendricks shook his head, trying to clear it.
"Hurry up! Where is the Moon Base? How do I find it? What do I look for?"
Hendricks said nothing.
"Major, the ship is loaded with provisions. I can coast for weeks. I'll find the Base eventually. And in a half hour you'll be dead. Your only chance of survival--" She broke off.
Along the slope, by some crumbling ruins, something moved. Something in the ash. Tasso turned quickly, aiming. She fired. A puff of flame leaped. Something scuttled away, rolling across the ash. She fired again. The claw burst apart, wheels flying.
"See?" Tasso said. "A scout. It won't be long."
"You'll bring them back here to get me?"
"Yes. As soon as possible."
Hendricks looked up at her. He studied her intently. "You're telling the truth?" A strange expression had come over his face, an avid hunger. "You will come back for me? You'll get me to the Moon Base?"
"I'll get you to the Moon Base. But tell me where it is! There's only a little time left."
"All right." Hendricks picked up a piece of rock, pulling himself to a sitting position. "Watch."
Hendricks began to scratch in the ash. Tasso stood by him, watching the motion of the rock. Hendricks was sketching a crude lunar map.
"This is the Appenine range. Here is the Crater of Archimedes. The Moon Base is beyond the end of the Appenine, about two hundred miles. I don't know exactly where. No one on Terra knows. But when you're over the Appenine, signal with one red flare and a green flare, followed by two red flares in quick succession. The Base monitor will record your signal. The Base is under the surface, of course. They'll guide you down with magnetic grapples."
"And the controls? Can I operate them?"
"The controls are virtually automatic. All you have to do is give the right signal at the right time."
"The seat absorbs most of the take-off shock. Air and temperature are automatically controlled. The ship will leave Terra and pass out into free space. It'll line itself up with the moon, falling into an orbit around it, about a hundred miles above the surface. The orbit will carry you over the Base. When you're in the region of the Appenine, release the signal rockets."
Tasso slid into the ship and lowered herself into the pressure seat. The arm locks folded automatically around her. She fingered the controls. "Too bad you're not going, Major. All this put here for you, and you can't make the trip."
"Leave me the pistol."
Tasso pulled the pistol from her belt. She held it in her hand, weighing it thoughtfully. "Don't go too far from this location. It'll be hard to find you, as it is."
"No. I'll stay here by the well."
Tasso gripped the take-off switch, running her fingers over the smooth metal. "A beautiful ship, Major. Well built. I admire your workmanship. You people have always done good work. You build fine things. Your work, your creations, are your greatest achievement."
"Give me the pistol," Hendricks said impatiently, holding out his hand. He struggled to his feet.
"Good-bye, Major." Tasso tossed the pistol past Hendricks. The pistol clattered against the ground, bouncing and rolling away. Hendricks hurried after it. He bent down, snatching it up.