Hilary's voice was strong again. With great shouts, he rallied his men. A pitiful handful; only fifteen of the fifty that had entered the valley. But Joan was alive, her face black with burned skin, otherwise unhurt. Wat's grin rose superior to a mask of raw flesh, and Grim, bleeding from a hundred wounds, was still a tower of strength.
It was a strange sight as they stood almost waist deep in the flood, the storm beating down upon them, hundreds and hundreds of bodies floating, bumping against them.
"We must clinch our victory, men," Hilary shouted above the roar of the elements. "We must go to arouse the Earth, sweep the Mercutians into the oceans while the storm lasts, or all our work will go for naught."
A great cheer went up from the little band, and without resting, without food or sleep, they waded their way out of the valley, into civilization once more, carrying their message, arousing the peoples, gathering to themselves like a tiny snowball rolling down a mountainside, a huge swelling army of jubilant Earthmen, Earthwomen, too, moving in resistless flood down upon New York.
The rest is history. Like a torrent they swept down upon the cowed, weakened Mercutians. Those that did not escape in the great diskoids back to their own torrid, waterless planet were searched out, torn to pieces by the infuriated Earth peoples.
For five days and five nights the storm raged, all over the world. The floodgates were opened; outraged nature was taking her revenge. For five days and five nights the sun was hidden behind bucketing gray skies. And for five days and five nights, Americans, English, Chinese, Zulus, Australians, Russians, Bushmen, Argentinians, animated by a common purpose, rose gleefully and smote the invaders. When the sun finally peeped once more from behind the thick blanket of clouds, not a Mercutian remained. Few had escaped; the rest would never see Mercury again.
"We've won," Joan sighed happily, after it was all over, and was able to nestle once more comfortably in Hilary's arms. "Thanks to you."
"You forget Grim Morgan and Wat Tyler, dear."
"Ye-es, they helped, too," she admitted grudgingly; "but without you, what could they have done?"
Hilary started to protest, but over her crown of shining hair, he saw Grim and Wat watching him, grinning like two monkeys. Wat's thumb was raised to his nose in an immemorial gesture.
"You're right," said Hilary defiantly. "What could they have done?"
By Robert J. Shea
For every weapon there was a defense, but not against the deadliest weapon--man himself!
Raging, Trooper Lane hovered three thousand feet above Tammany Square.
The cool cybrain surgically implanted in him was working on the problem. But Lane had no more patience. They'd sweat, he thought, hating the chill air-currents that threw his hovering body this way and that. He glared down at the three towers bordering on the Square. He spat, and watched the little white speck fall, fall. Lock me up in barracks. All I wanted was a little time off. Did I fight in Chi for them? Damn right I did. Just a little time off, so I shouldn't blow my top. Now the lid's gone.
He was going over all their heads. He'd bowled those city cops over like paper dolls, back at the Armory. The black dog was on Lane's back. Old Mayor himself was going to hear about it.
Why not? Ain't old Mayor the CinC of the Newyork Troopers?
The humming paragrav-paks embedded beneath his shoulder blades held him motionless above Newyork's three administrative towers. Tammany Hall. Mayor's Palace. Court House. Lane cursed his stupidity. He hadn't found out which one was which ahead of time. They keep Troopers in the Armory and teach them how to fight. They don't teach them about their own city, that they'll be fighting for. There's no time. From seven years old up, Troopers have too much to learn about fighting.
The Mayor was behind one of those thousands of windows.
Old cybrain, a gift from the Trooper surgeons, compliments of the city, would have to figure out which one. Blood churned in his veins, nerves shrieked with impatience. Lane waited for the electronic brain to come up with the answer.
Then his head jerked up, to a distant buzz. There were cops coming. Two black paragrav-boats whirred along the translucent underside of Newyork's anti-missile force-shield, the Shell.
Old cybrain better be fast. Damn fast!
The cybrain jolted an impulse through his spine. Lane somersaulted. Cybrain had taken charge of his motor nerves. Lane's own mind was just along for the ride.
His body snapped into a stiff dive position. He began to plummet down, picking up speed. His mailed hands glittered like arrowheads out in front. They pointed to a particular window in one of the towers. A predatory excitement rippled through him as he sailed down through the air. It was like going into battle again. A little red-white-and-green flag fluttered on a staff below the window. Whose flag? The city flag was orange and blue. He shrugged away the problem. Cybrain knew what it was doing.
The little finger of his right hand vibrated in its metal sheath. A pale vibray leaped from the lensed fingertip. Breakthrough! The glasstic pane dissolved. Lane streamed through the window.
The paragrav-paks cut off. Lane dropped lightly to the floor, inside the room, in battle-crouch. A 3V set was yammering. A girl screamed. Lane's hand shot out automatically. A finger vibrated. Out of the corner of his eye, Lane saw the girl fold to the floor. There was no one else in the room. Lane, still in a crouch, chewed his lip.
His head swung around and he peered at the 3V set. He saw his own face.
"Lashing police with his vibray," said the announcer, "Lane broke through the cordon surrounding Manhattan Armory. Two policemen were killed, four others seriously injured. Tammany Hall has warned that this man is extremely dangerous. Citizens are cautioned to keep clear of him. Lane is an insane killer. He is armed with the latest military weapons. A built-in electronic brain controls his reflexes--"
"At ease with that jazz," said Lane, and a sheathed finger snapped out. There was a loud bang. The 3V screen dissolved into a puddle of glasstic.
Lane strode to the window. The two police boats were hovering above the towers. Lane's mailed hand snapped open a pouch at his belt. He flipped a fist-sized cube to the floor.
The force-bomb "exploded"--swelled or inflated, really, but with the speed of a blast. Lane glanced out the window. A section of the energy globe bellied out from above. It shaded the view from his window and re-entered the tower wall just below.
Now the girl.
He turned back to the room. "Wake up, outa-towner." He gave the blonde girl a light dose of the vibray to slap her awake.
"Who are you?" she said, shakily.
Lane grinned. "Trooper Lane, of the Newyork Special Troops, is all." He threw her a mock salute. "You from outa-town, girlie. I ain't seen a Newyork girl with yellow hair in years. Orange or green is the action. Whatcha doing in the Mayor's room?"
The girl pushed herself to her feet. Built, Lane saw. She was pretty and clean-looking, very out-of-town. She held herself straight and her blue-violet eyes snapped at him.
"What the devil do you think you're doing, soldier? I am a diplomat of the Grassroots Republic of Mars. This is an embassy, if you know what that means."
"I don't," said Lane, unconcerned.
"Well, you should have had brains enough to honor the flag outside this window. That's the Martian flag, soldier. If you've never heard of diplomatic immunity, you'll suffer for your ignorance." Her large, dark eyes narrowed. "Who sent you?"
"My cybrain sent me."
She went openmouthed. "You're Lane."
"I'm the guy they told you about on the 3V. Where's the Mayor? Ain't this his place?"
"No. No, you're in the wrong room. The wrong building. That's the Mayor's suite over there." She pointed. "See where the balcony is? This is the Embassy suite. If you want the Mayor you'll have to go over there."
"Whaddaya know," said Lane. "Cybrain didn't know, no more than me."
The girl noticed the dark swell of the force-globe. "What's that out there?"
"Force-screen. Nothing gets past, except maybe a full-size blaster-beam. Keeps cops out. Keeps you in. You anybody important?"
"I told you, I'm an ambassador. From Mars. I'm on a diplomatic mission."
"Yeah? Mars a big city?"
She stared at him, violet eyes wide. "The planet Mars."
"Planet? Oh, that Mars. Sure, I've heard of it--you gotta go by spaceship. What's your name?"
"Gerri Kin. Look, Lane, holding me is no good. It'll just get you in worse trouble. What are you trying to do?"
"I wanna see the Mayor. Me and my buddies, we just come back from fighting in Chi, Gerri. We won. They got a new Mayor out there in Chi. He takes orders from Newyork."
Gerri Kin said, "That's what the force-domes did. The perfect defense. But also the road to the return to city-states. Anarchy."
Lane said, "Yeah? Well, we done what they wanted us to do. We did the fighting for them. So we come back home to Newyork and they lock us up in the Armory. Won't pay us. Won't let us go nowhere. They had cops guarding us. City cops." Lane sneered. "I busted out. I wanna see the Mayor and find out why we can't have time off. I don't play games, Gerri. I go right to the top."
Lane broke off. There was a hum outside the window. He whirled and stared out. The rounded black hulls of the two police paragrav-boats were nosing toward the force-screen. Lane could read the white numbers painted on their bows.
A loudspeaker shouted into the room: "Come out of there, Lane, or we'll blast you out."
"You can't," Lane called. "This girl from Mars is here."
"I repeat, Lane--come out or we'll blast you out."
Lane turned to the girl. "I thought you were important."
She stood there with her hands together, calmly looking at him. "I am. But you are too, to them. Mars is millions of miles away, and you're right across the Square from the Mayor's suite."
"Yeah, but--" Lane shook his head and turned back to the window. "All right, look! Move them boats away and I'll let this girl out!"
"No deal, Lane. We're coming in." The police boats backed away slowly, then shot straight up, out of the line of vision.
Lane looked down at the Square. Far below, the long, gleaming barrel of a blaster cannon caught the dim light filtering down through Newyork's Shell. The cannon trundled into the Square on its olive-drab, box-shaped caterpillar mounting and took up a position equidistant from the bases of the three towers.
Now a rumble of many voices rose from below. Lane stared down to see a large crowd gathering in Tammany Square. Sound trucks were rolling to a stop around the edges of the crowd. The people were all looking up.
Lane looked across the Square. The windows of the tower opposite, the ones he could see clearly, were crowded with faces. There were white dot faces on the balcony that Gerri Kin had pointed out as the Mayor's suite.
The voice of a 3V newscaster rolled up from the Square, reechoing against the tower walls.
"Lane is holding the Martian Ambassador, Gerri Kin, hostage. You can see the Martian tricolor behind his force-globe. Police are bringing up blaster cannon. Lane's defense is a globe of energy similar to the one which protects Newyork from aerial attack."
Lane grinned back at Gerri Kin. "Whole town's down there." Then his grin faded. Nice-looking, nice-talking girl like this probably cared a lot more about dying than he did. Why the hell didn't they give him a chance to let her out? Maybe he could do it now.
Cybrain said no. It said the second he dropped his force-screen, they'd blast this room to hell. Poor girl from Mars, she didn't have a chance.
Gerri Kin put her hand to her forehead. "Why did you have to pick my room? Why did they send me to this crazy city? Private soldiers. Twenty million people living under a Shell like worms in a corpse. Earth is sick and it's going to kill me. What's going to happen?"
Lane looked sadly at her. Only two kinds of girls ever went near a Trooper--the crazy ones and the ones the city paid. Why did he have to be so near getting killed when he met one he liked? Now that she was showing a little less fear and anger, she was talking straight to him. She was good, but she wasn't acting as if she was too good for him.
"They'll start shooting pretty quick," said Lane. "I'm sorry about you."
"I wish I could write a letter to my parents," she said.
"Didn't you understand what I said?"
"What's a letter?"
"You don't know where Mars is. You don't know what a letter is. You probably can't even read and write!"
Lane shrugged. He carried on the conversation disinterestedly, professionally relaxed before battle. "What's these things I can't do? They important?"
"Yes. The more I see of this city and its people, the more important I realize they are. You know how to fight, don't you? I'll bet you're perfect with those weapons."
"Listen. They been training me to fight since I was a little kid. Why shouldn't I be a great little fighter?"
"Specialization," said the girl from Mars.
"Specialization. Everyone I've met in this city is a specialist. SocioSpecs run the government. TechnoSpecs run the machinery. Troopers fight the wars. And ninety per cent of the people don't work at all because they're not trained to do anything."
"The Fans," said Lane. "They got it soft. That's them down there, come to watch the fight."
"You know why you were kept in the Armory, Lane? I heard them talking about it, at the dinner I went to last night."