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"Then you press this little knob and Neat, isn't it?"
Kartr had to agree with the Zacathan that the results of pressing the little knob were neat. Water, clear, honest, fresh water splashed out of a spout disguised as a monster's head and fell into a basin set in the floor, a basin large enough to accommodate with ease even Kartr's inches.
"Go ontry it!" urged Zinga. "I didtwice! And you don't see me any the worse for it, do you?" He turned slowly around flexing his muscles and grinning toothily.
Rolth leaned back against the edge of the doorway and watched the flood suspiciously.
"What about the water supply? Could our friends down below shut it off if they wanted to?"
Kartr had unbuckled and thrown aside belt and tunic. Now he paused uncertainly. It might be wiser to conserve water instead of wasting it on baths. But the Zacathan shook his head.
"The pipes carrying this run up through the walls. If they shut us off they will probably have to shut off their own supply also. Anywayif a siege is included in their future plans we'd be fools to allow ourselves to get bottled up here any longer than it would take us to climb down that outer wall. Don't be a spoilsport," he ended. "Or do you like to go dirty?"
Kartr peeled off the rest of his clothing and kicked it across the floor. He had one clean outfit in his bag and he reveled in the thought of using it.
"I wonder what they looked like" He tried the temperature of the pool with his toes and found it to be pleasantly warmmuch more comfortable than the mountain stream.
"Who? Oh, you mean the builders of this delightful spot? Well"Zinga indicated the mirrored walls"they were not ashamed to look themselves in the face. Wonder if those ever before reflected any bathers as ugly as you two"
Kartr laughed and splashed water at the Zacathan. "Speak for yourself, Zinga. I'll have you know that my face is not considered suitable for frightening children"
Or did that still hold true, he wondered suddenly, and for the first time surveyed his reflection critically as it appeared in the mirror which ran the full length of the wall behind the basin.
The deep brown skin which proclaimed his space-borne occupation had only a few lines as yet. Of course, above that dark expanse the color of his hair did look rather odd. But its soft cream and red brown in waving strips was perfectly natural for a son of Ylene. He had two eyes, green, set slightly aslanta straight nosea mouth centrally placedall proper for a human.
"Teeth too small"
Kartr flushed and watched the dark crimson creep up along his sharply defined cheek bones.
"Freeze and blast you, Zinga! Can't you leave a man's thoughts alone?"
"Admiring himself, was he? But I don't agree about the teethlarge ones aren't marks of beauty among our kind, you know"
Zinga was standing open-jawed just before his own section of mirror. "And why not? Useful and beautiful both. I'd like to see either of you two puny humans take part in one of our warrior duelsno talonsno proper teethyou wouldn't last a minute!"
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and conditioned by upbringing," announced the Faltharian. "Now Kartr's people have two-shaded hairso does their ideal of beauty. My race"he had been shedding helmet and tunic as he talked"have white hair, white skinpale eyes. Sofor us those attributes are necessary to be considered handsome."
"Oh, you are all answers to the sighs of maidens." Fylh's voice deflated from the doorway. "Why not finish up that absurd splashing about in liquid and come and eat. Such a stupid waste of time"
But Kartr refused to be hurried and Rolth was as leisurely in enjoying Zinga's discovery. When they were again clad and followed Fylh into the outer room they found the Trystian curled up on the ledge of an open window exchanging trills with several large birds.
"Gossiping again," commented Zinga. "And where is this food that it was so important that we eat? I'll wager two credits that he's passed it out to those feathered friends of his!"
"Serve you right if I had. But you'll find it just beyond your noses."
The concentrated rations were twice as tasteless to anyone who had recently dined on roasted meat and the fresh fruits of the wilderness. Kartr chewed and swallowed conscientiously and longed to return to the past.
"I'll take it back." Zinga gagged realistically after he downed the last cube. "Fylh wouldn't pass this offal onit would kill the birds and he likes birds"
"What are we doing here anyway?" There was the whir of wings as the birds went and Fylh dropped to the floor, closing the window. "We should have stayed out there. This is a dead place and there is no sense in trying to bring it to life!"
"Don't worry. We'll probably be outside again sooner than we bargain for. Let's go down and agree to go hunting like good little rangers and then goand never come back!"
Kartr looked up. He could understand that plea of Zinga's, and part of him wanted to do just what the Zacathan suggested. And he could participate in Fylh's feeling that this was a dead place returned to an unnatural life. Butthere were women and children below in the city and there was a cold season approachingunless Cummi had lied about that also. Maybe the intal planters, and some of the other passengers had hunted, but could their efforts supply all the needs of the community? And that woman today, she had appealed to Rolth, believed in their help just because they wore the Comets.
"It is like this," the sergeant began slowly, trying to put all these tangled feelings into the right words, to spread out before the others both sides of the question. "Do we have any right to walk out when we may be needed? On the other hand, if Cummi's anti-Bemmy talk puts you two in danger, you must go"
Zinga interrupted Fylh. "We don't go yet. But I see your point. Only, let me warn you, Kartr, there are times when a manor a Bemmyhas to harden his heart. We needn't make any decisions tonight. A good rest"
"Locked door or not, I'm suggesting a watch," Fylh stated.
"They won't try to reach usthat way." Kartr shook his head.
"You meanmind touch!" Rolth whistled. "Then Fylh and I won't be much help."
"True. So Zinga and I will divide the night."
There followed uneasy hours. Three rolled in bedrolls, one on guard, slipping on unbooted feet from room to room, up and down, listening with both ears and mind. They did it in two-hour watches and Kartr had taken to his bed for the second time when Zinga hailed him with a low hiss. The sergeant pulled out with a sigh to join the Zacathan at an open window.
"Smitt is comingacross that other roof"
The Zacathan was right; the mind pattern of the com-techneer identified him. And only a trained ranger could have sighted him. His dodging from shadow to shadow, his use of every bit of cover was Patrol work at its best.
"I'll go down to meet him." Before Zinga could protest Kartr was through the window and on that ladder of block design. Fortunately it was a cloudy night and he thought that unless someone were watching him through vision lenses he could not be seen, his uniform being almost the same shade as the stone.
As the sergeant came within a foot or two of the roof over which Smitt was advancing he gave a soft whistle of Patrol recognition. There was a moment of silence and then he was answered and the com-techneer came running to join him.
"Thank the Spirit of Space! I've been trying to reach you for hours!"
"The menthose against Cummi. They've taken our appearance here as a signal to fight him. The idiotic fools! He has a disruptor mounted in every main corridor, they can't get anywhere near him. And that Can-hound has knocked out two of the leadersput them to sleep the same way you did Snyn back in the ship. It'll be nothing but raw murder if they try to storm Cummi's quarters! He had Jaksan locked up with the medicoand the techneers are under guard. He'll wipe out all opposition"
"He's planted a force bomb at the foot of your tower stairs. If you try to come downfinish! And he and the Can-hound are cooking up something special to smoke you out"
Something special! If the Ageratan believed that he was only dealing with a sensitive of equal powers there were many things he could try. But against a six point six and Zinga such attacks might backfire.
"I've got to get back." Smitt nursed his blaster in one hand. "I've got to keep those fools from attacking head on. Is there anything you can do?"
"I don't know. But we'll try. Hold off your men as long as you can. Maybe we can turn the tables"
Smitt melted away into the night. If he kept his mental guard he was going to be a formidable addition to the rebel forces. Neither the Ageratan nor the Can-hound could get to him that way. Kartr climbed back up to the tower window to discover all the rangers waiting for him.
"That was Smitt." As usual darkness had not confused Rolth. "What did he want?"
"There's a rebellion against Cummi. The other side took our arrival for the signal to break loose."
"And Cummi, of course, has not been slumbering peacefully meanwhile. What have his merry men prepared for us?"
"Yes"Rolth added his question to Fylh's"what is ready and waiting for us?"
"Smitt said a force bomb at the foot of the stairs, ready to go off as we go down"
"Play rough, don't they? Do you know, I think that somebody should put the old healthy fear of the Patrol into these gentlemen"
"Where's Zinga?" Kartr interrupted the Faltharian.
"Gone below to do what he calls `listening.' " Fylh laid a torch on the floor, pulled the edge of his bedroll partially over it and by the shielded light began to count out the extra clips for their blasters. It did not, unfortunately, take him very long to finish the task.
"That all we have?" Kartr asked grimly.
"You have the charges now in your weapons and the extras in your belt loopsif you've followed regulations. These are the rest."
"All right. It comes to three apiece and the one over for Rolth. If this is to be a night fight we might as well give the advantage to the one who can make the best us of it."
The Faltharian was busy at a task of his own, securing their packs. If they did not have to make a run for it, they might be able to bring off their equipment too.
"They've moved our sled into the hallway down there and it is probably under guard now. If we win through"
"If we win," Fylh broke in, "we can march right in and take it. We might just do that anyway. What's keeping the old lizard?"
Kartr had wondered about that, too, enough to send a questing thought which was answered instantly with a strong impression of danger. The sergeant scooped up his share of the blaster clips and tucked them into his belt before he crossed the room and went down to the green fish chamber. Zinga stood pressed against the door as if he wished to melt into its surface. Kartr joined him to "listen."
There were movementsnot too far awaymaybe just beyond the foot of the staircase. Two living things withdrew, a third remainedthat was the Can-hound. But why did they leave that one on guard unless
Unless, Zinga's thought answered him in a second's flash, they suspect that youor Iare not what we seem. But they cannot know the full truth or they would not leave the Can-hound. Not after the way you handled him before. They must have discovered that
Or is hebait? Kartr thought back to Zinga, reveling in the freedom of this exchange which he had always longed to experience but had never found before.
That we shall see. This time the task is minebrother!
Kartr withdrew mind touch and concentrated only on trying to sense the approach of any other who might break Zinga's control. He felt the Zacathan's body grow tense and guessed the agony Zinga was feeling.
It was as if they had stepped out of timeplanet time. Kartr never knew how long they fought their soundless battle before he had to give a warning.
"One comes." He said that aloud, not daring to break in by thought.
Zinga hissed a long sigh. "He was bait of a sort," he answered in words, as if his thought power was almost exhausted. "But not as we had feared. He has been under observation all the timeif he withdrew against orders then they could assume that we were powerful enough to control him. So they suspectbut they do not know."
"You saytheywe face more than Cummi and the Can-hound?"
"Cummi has learned to tap the mind energy of some othershow many I do not know. If a five point nine can do that"
"What will he be able to raise himself to?" A great deal of Kartr's confidence was wiped out by the thought of that. Even with Zinga could he face down a Cummi so reinforced?
"I suggest," Zinga said a little dryly as if he were shaken also, "that we continue to stick to blasters as offensive weapons for a while. That way the odds are easier to assess."
"And we'll have to get out of here to be able to use those. If we leave, that thing below will know it at once."
"Which leaves us only one answerwe'll have to split up for now. You and Rolth take the outside route down and see what you can do in the general melee. Fylh and I shall hold the fort and try to make two think as four."
Kartr could see the wisdom in that. As humans Rolth and he would have a better chance of getting co-operation from the rebels. At the same time the Bemmy scouts would be safe from ruthless shooting.
The climb down to the roof top across which Smitt had come was ridiculously easy. They paused there long enough to pull on their boots, and then snaked over it from shadow to shadow. When they reached the parapet Rolth looked over. Then he dropped back and put his lips close to Kartr's ear.
"One floor below there is a ledge. It leads to a lighted window. The drop is sheer, I do not think that anyone who may be in that room would expect company to arrive through the window"
"And how do you reach the ledge?"
"Our belts hooked together and passed around thishere" The Faltharian put his hand on a tooth-shaped projection ornamenting the parapet.
If Kartr had an instant picture of what it meant to dangle so precariously over the edge of a sheer drop he did not betray himself.
"It is good that we are both tall." Rolth buckled his belt to the one the sergeant reluctantly passed over. "A short man could not make it."
The Faltharian slipped the loop in one end of his improvised rope over the projection and climbed over the parapet. Holding his body at an angle he half slid, half walked down the stone. Kartr huddled against the edge and forced himself to watch. Then Rolth stopped and the belt swung loosely in the sergeant's fingers.
Not so skillfully as Rolth, Kartr made the same trip, keeping his eyes fast on the stone before him, trying not to think of the darkness below. He inched downward for an eternity and then Rolth's hand pulled him straight and his boots touched the path of the ledge. He found that it was wider than it appeared from above, he could get all but a small scrap of heel onto it.
"Anyone in the room?" Rolth demanded as they crept toward the window.
Kartr sent out the probe. "Not in the roomnear though"
The Faltharian answered that with a ghost of laughter. "We're almost as good as some of Fylh's feathered friends. Here goes!" He caught at the window frame and pulled himself against it, jamming open the casement with his knee. It gave a faint squeak of protest and Rolth landed lightly on his feet within where Kartr joined him a second later.
They were in a chamber where someone was at home. A pile of bedding lay on a bunk bed which had been obviously torn out of ship's fittings. Two expensive Valcunite luggage bags stood against the wall and a table, also ship use, was piled almost to the sagging point with personal belongings.
Rolth's nostrils wrinkled. "What a stink!" he commented under his breath.
Kartr tried to remember where he had smelled that too-sweet cura blossom fragrance before.
"Fortus Kan!" When they had run against the secretary in the corridor that morning he had certainly carried cura lily with him.
And as if that identification had been either a summons or an entrance cue, the Vice-Sector Lord's man was coming toward them now. Kartr had warning enough to plaster himself back against the wall by the door, and Rolth, seeing his move, did the same on the other side of the portal.
There was apprehension to be read in the mind of the man who was fumbling with the intricate ancient fastening. Fortus Kan was afraid. The fastening was defying him, too, so that exasperation began to drown out the fear. He lost command enough to kick the panel as it gave. With such a medley of emotions uncovered it would be easy for Kartr to
The sergeant allowed him four steps into the room before he put the flat of his hand against the door and sent it shut again. Fortus Kan spun aroundto face the small and deadly mouths of two Patrol blasters. And at the sight all his resistance crumbled at once.
"Please!" His hands went up to his working mouth. He retreated backward, without looking where he was going, until the cot caught him behind the knees and he plumped down upon it as if he were as boneless as a Lydian gelisar.
As Kartr walked toward him the little man cringed as if he wanted to burrow into the tangle of bedding.
"One would begin to think, Kartr, that this gentleman has a guilty conscience"
Rolth's words might have been the lash of a Tullan slaver's whip the way Fortus Kan reacted. He stopped trying to pull himself under the covers and sat stone still, his mouth trembling, his eyes glassy withKartr recognizedpure fear.
"Please" The secretary had to work to get that one word out, but it was a stopper which had held up the flood. "PleaseI had nothing to do with itnothing! I advised him not to antagonize the Patrol. I know the law Why, I have a second cousin who is the clerk in your administration office on Sexti. I wouldn't go against the Patrolnever. I had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with it!"
His fear was so rank that it was almost an odor in the room. But what was he afraid ofthe planting of the force bomb, that trick with the Can-hound? There was only one way to get at the full truth. And for the second time in his life Kartr ruthlessly invaded a fellow human's mind, breaking down the feeble block, exploring, learning what he wantedin part. Fortus Kan whimpered, was quiet. He would be quiet for a while now. Kartr turned away. There was a lot to do. A pity that Cummi had not trusted the little man more, there were such big gaps in his informationgaps which might be fatal if the rangers were not careful.
The sergeant came back to Rolth. "There's a force bomb under the tower stairs, all right. And the Can-hound is set to trick us out and blow it up. Everyone is being moved out of the top floors here before it goes off. Kan came back for some precious personal possessions. The stairs are under guard"
"We could blast throughrather noisy though."
"Yes. One thing I'm wondering aboutwhy all these staircases when they had gravity wells, too. Oddmaybe important."
"This was a state building," Rolth reminded him. "Might use stairs for reasons of ceremony. Like those Opolti who fly everywhere except in the Affid's quarter. No evidence of any other way down from here. What about the boys? If that Can-hound gets tired of waiting for them to come out he may just set the bomb off anyway and trust to luck to bag the game."
Kartr stood stiffly. He was blacking out, first the corridors, then this room, his awareness of Rolth, of Fortus Kan, of his own person. He did it! His mind touched Zinga's! He gave the warning. Then he was back in the frowzy room, shaking his head dazedly, to see Rolth crouched by the door listening. Mentwothree of them were coming along the hall outsidestraight for this room!
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