While we were fooling around with the radios, Ramon Llewellyn was telling the others what we found up the other branch of the fjord. Joe Kivelson shook his head over it.
"That's too far from the boat. We can't trudge back and forth to work on the engines. We could cut firewood down there and float it up with the lifters, and I think that's a good idea about using slabs of the soft wood to build a hut. But let's build the hut right here."
"Well, suppose I take a party down now and start cutting?" the mate asked.
"Not yet. Wait till Abe gets back and we see what he found upstream. There may be something better up there."
Tom, who had been poking around in the converters, said:
"I think we can forget about the engines. This is a machine-shop job. We need parts, and we haven't anything to make them out of or with."
That was about what I'd thought. Tom knew more about lift-and-drive engines than I'd ever learn, and I was willing to take his opinion as confirmation of my own.
"Tom, take a look at this mess," I said. "See if you can help us with it."
He came over, looked at what we were working on, and said, "You need a magnifier for this. Wait till I see something." Then he went over to one of the lockers, rummaged in it, and found a pair of binoculars. He came over to us again, sat down, and began to take them apart. As soon as he had the two big objective lenses out, we had two fairly good magnifying glasses.
That was a big help, but being able to see what had to be done was one thing, and having tools to do it was another. So he found a sewing kit and a piece of emery stone, and started making little screwdrivers out of needles.
After a while, Abe Clifford and Piet Dumont and the other man returned and made a beeline for the heater and the coffeepot. After Abe was warmed a little, he said:
"There's a little waterfall about half a mile up. It isn't too hard to get up over it, and above, the ground levels off into a big bowl-shaped depression that looks as if it had been a lake bottom, once. The wind isn't so bad up there, and this whole lake bottom or whatever it is is grown up with trees. It would be a good place to make a camp, if it wasn't so far from the boat."
"How hard would it be to cut wood up there and bring it down?" Joe asked, going on to explain what he had in mind.
"Why, easy. I don't think it would be nearly as hard as the place Ramon found."
"Neither do I," the mate agreed. "Climbing up that waterfall down the stream with a half tree trunk would be a lot harder than dropping one over beside the one above." He began zipping up his parka. "Let's get the cutter and the lifters and go up now."
"Wait till I warm up a little, and I'll go with you," Abe said.
Then he came over to where Cesario and Tom and I were working, to see what we were doing. He chucked appreciatively at the midget screwdrivers and things Tom was making.
"I'll take that back, Ramon," he said. "I can do a lot more good right here. Have you taken any of the radio navigational equipment apart, yet?" he asked us.
We hadn't. We didn't know anything about it.
"Well, I think we can get some stuff out of the astrocompass that can be used. Let me in here, will you?"
I got up. "You take over for me," I said. "I'll go on the wood-chopping detail."
Tom wanted to go, too; Abe told him to keep on with his toolmaking. Piet Dumont said he'd guide us, and Glenn Murell said he'd go along. There was some swapping around of clothes and we gathered up the two lifters and the sonocutter and a floodlight and started upstream.
The waterfall above the boat was higher than the one below, but not quite so hard to climb, especially as we had the two lifters to help us. The worst difficulty, and the worst danger, was from the wind.
Once we were at the top, though, it wasn't so bad. We went a couple of hundred yards through a narrow gorge, and then we came out onto the old lake bottom Abe had spoken about. As far as our lights would shine in the snow, we could see stubby trees with snaky branches growing out of the tops.
We just started on the first one we came to, slicing the down-hanging branches away to get at the trunk and then going to work on that. We took turns using the sonocutter, and the rest of us stamped around to keep warm. The first trunk must have weighed a ton and a half, even after the branches were all off; we could barely lift one end of it with both lifters. The spongy stuff, which changed from bark to wood as it went in to the middle, was two feet thick. We cut that off in slabs, to use for building the hut. The hardwood core, once we could get it lit, would make a fine hot fire. We could cut that into burnable pieces after we got it to camp. We didn't bother with the slashings; just threw them out of the way. There was so much big stuff here that the branches weren't worth taking in.
We had eight trees down and cut into slabs and billets before we decided to knock off. We didn't realize until then how tired and cold we were. A couple of us had taken the wood to the waterfall and heaved it over at the side as fast as the others got the trees down and cut up. If we only had another cutter and a couple more lifters, I thought. If we only had an airworthy boat....
When we got back to camp, everybody who wasn't crippled and had enough clothes to get away from the heater came out and helped. First, we got a fire started—there was a small arc torch, and we needed that to get the dense hardwood burning—and then we began building a hut against the boat. Everybody worked on that but Dominic Silverstein. Even Abe and Cesario knocked off work on the radio, and Joe Kivelson and the man with the broken wrist gave us a little one-handed help. By this time, the wind had fallen and the snow was coming down thicker. We made snow shovels out of the hard outer bark, although they broke in use pretty often, and banked snow up against the hut. I lost track of how long we worked, but finally we had a place we could all get into, with a fireplace, and it was as warm and comfortable as the inside of the boat.
We had to keep cutting wood, though. Before long it would be too cold to work up in the woods, or even go back and forth between the woods and the camp. The snow finally stopped, and then the sky began to clear and we could see stars. That didn't make us happy at all. As long as the sky was clouded and the snow was falling, some of the heat that had been stored during the long day was being conserved. Now it was all radiating away into space.
The stream froze completely, even the waterfall. In a way, that was a help; we could slide wood down over it, and some of the billets would slide a couple of hundred yards downstream. But the cold was getting to us. We only had a few men working at woodcutting—Cesario, and old Piet Dumont, and Abe Clifford and I, because we were the smallest and could wear bigger men's parkas and overpants over our own. But as long as any of us could pile on enough clothing and waddle out of the hut, we didn't dare stop. If the firewood ran out, we'd all freeze stiff in no time at all.
Abe Clifford got the radio working, at last. It was a peculiar job as ever was, but he thought it would have a range of about five hundred miles. Somebody kept at it all the time, calling Mayday. I think it was Bish Ware who told me that Mayday didn't have anything to do with the day after the last of April; it was Old Terran French, m'aidez, meaning "help me." I wondered how Bish was getting along, and I wasn't too optimistic about him.
Cesario and Abe and I were up at the waterfall, picking up loads of firewood—we weren't bothering, now, with anything but the hard and slow-burning cores—and had just gotten two of them hooked onto the lifters. I straightened for a moment and looked around. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and two of Fenris's three moons were making everything as bright as day. The glisten of the snow and the frozen waterfall in the double moonlight was beautiful.
I turned to Cesario. "See what all you'll miss, if you take your next reincarnation off Fenris," I said. "This, and the long sunsets and sunrises, and—"
Before I could list any more sights unique to our planet, the 7-mm machine gun, down at the boat, began hammering; a short burst, and then another, and another and another.
THE BEACON LIGHT
We all said, "Shooting!" and, "The machine gun!" as though we had to tell each other what it was.
"Something's attacking them," Cesario guessed.
"Oh, there isn't anything to attack them now," Abe said. "All the critters are dug in for the winter. I'll bet they're just using it to chop wood with."
That could be; a few short bursts would knock off all the soft wood from one of those big billets and expose the hard core. Only why didn't they use the cutter? It was at the boat now.
"We better go see what it is," Cesario insisted. "It might be trouble."
None of us was armed; we'd never thought we'd need weapons. There are quite a few Fenrisian land animals, all creepers or crawlers, that are dangerous, but they spend the extreme hot and cold periods in burrows, in almost cataleptic sleep. It occurred to me that something might have burrowed among the rocks near the camp and been roused by the heat of the fire.
We hadn't carried a floodlight with us—there was no need for one in the moonlight. Of the two at camp, one was pointed up the ravine toward us, and the other into the air. We began yelling as soon as we caught sight of them, not wanting to be dusted over lightly with 7-mm's before anybody recognized us. As soon as the men at the camp heard us, the shooting stopped and they started shouting to us. Then we could distinguish words.
"Come on in! We made contact!"
We pushed into the hut, where everybody was crowded around the underhatch of the boat, which was now the side door. Abe shoved through, and I shoved in after him. Newsman's conditioned reflex; get to where the story is. I even caught myself saying, "Press," as I shoved past Abdullah Monnahan.
"What happened?" I asked, as soon as I was inside. I saw Joe Kivelson getting up from the radio and making place for Abe. "Who did you contact?"
"The Mahatma; Helldiver," he said. "Signal's faint, but plain; they're trying to make a directional fix on us. There are about a dozen ships out looking for us: Helldiver, Pequod, Bulldog, Dirty Gertie..." He went on naming them.
"How did they find out?" I wanted to know. "Somebody pick up our Mayday while we were cruising submerged?"
Abe Clifford was swearing into the radio. "No, of course not. We don't know where in Nifflheim we are. All the instruments in the boat were smashed."
"Well, can't you shoot the stars, Abe?" The voice—I thought it was Feinberg's—was almost as inaudible as a cat's sneeze.
"Sure we can. If you're in range of this makeshift set, the position we'd get would be practically the same as yours," Abe told him. "Look, there's a floodlight pointed straight up. Can you see that?"
"In all this moonlight? We could be half a mile away and not see it."
"We've been firing with a 7-mm," the navigator said.
"I know; I heard it. On the radio. Have you got any rockets? Maybe if you shot one of them up we could see it."
"Hey, that's an idea! Hans, have we another rocket with an explosive head?"
Cronje said we had, and he and another man got it out and carried it from the boat. I repeated my question to Joe Kivelson.
"No. Your Dad tried to call the Javelin by screen; that must have been after we abandoned ship. He didn't get an answer, and put out a general call. Nip Spazoni was nearest, and he cruised around and picked up the locator signal and found the wreck, with the boat berth blown open and the boat gone. Then everybody started looking for us."
Feinberg was saying that he'd call the other ships and alert them. If the Helldiver was the only ship we could contact by radio, the odds were that if they couldn't see the rocket from Feinberg's ship, nobody else could. The same idea must have occurred to Abe Clifford.
"You say you're all along the coast. Are the other ships west or east of you?"
"West, as far as I know."
"Then we must be way east of you. Where are you now?"
"About five hundred miles east of Sancerre Bay."
That meant we must be at least a thousand miles east of the bay. I could see how that happened. Both times the boat had surfaced, it had gone straight up, lift and drive operating together. There is a constant wind away from the sunlight zone at high level, heated air that has been lifted, and there is a wind at a lower level out of the dark zone, coming in to replace it. We'd gotten completely above the latter and into the former.
There was some yelling outside, and then I could hear Hans Cronje:
"Rocket's ready for vertical launching. Ten seconds, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one; rocket off!"
There was a whoosh outside. Clifford, at the radio, repeated: "Rocket off!" Then it banged, high overhead. "Did you see it? he asked.
"Didn't see a thing," Feinberg told him.
"Hey, I know what they would see!" Tom Kivelson burst out. "Say we go up and set the woods on fire?"
"Hey, that's an idea. Listen, Mahatma; we have a big forest of flowerpot trees up on a plateau above us. Say we set that on fire. Think you could see it?"
"I don't see why not, even in this moonlight. Wait a minute, till I call the other ships."
Tom was getting into warm outer garments. Cesario got out the arc torch, and he and Tom and I raced out through the hut and outdoors. We hastened up the path that had been tramped and dragged to the waterfall, got the lifters off the logs, and used them to help ourselves up over the rocks beside the waterfall.
We hadn't bothered doing anything with the slashings, except to get them out of our way, while we were working. Now we gathered them into piles among the trees, placing them to take advantage of what little wind was still blowing, and touched them off with the arc torch. Soon we had the branches of the trees burning, and then the soft outer wood of the trunks. It actually began to get uncomfortably hot, although the temperature was now down around minus 90 deg. Fahrenheit.
Cesario was using the torch. After he got all the slashings on fire, he started setting fire to the trees themselves, going all around them and getting the soft outer wood burning. As soon as he had one tree lit, he would run on to another.
"This guy's a real pyromaniac," Tom said to me, wiping his face on the sleeve of his father's parka which he was wearing over his own.
"Sure I am," Cesario took time out to reply. "You know who I was about fifty reincarnations ago? Nero, burning Rome." Theosophists never hesitated to make fun of their religion, that way. The way they see it, a thing isn't much good if it can't stand being made fun of. "And look at the job I did on Moscow, a little later."
"Sure; I remember that. I was Napoleon then. What I'd have done to you if I'd caught you, too."
"Yes, and I know what he was in another reincarnation," Tom added. "Mrs. O'Leary's cow!"
Whether or not Cesario really had had any past astral experience, he made a good job of firebugging on this forest. We waited around for a while, far enough back for the heat to be just comfortable and pleasant, until we were sure that it was burning well on both sides of the frozen stream. It even made the double moonlight dim, and it was sending up huge clouds of fire-reddened smoke, and where the fire didn't light the smoke, it was black in the moonlight. There wouldn't be any excuse for anybody not seeing that. Finally, we started back to camp.
As soon as we got within earshot, we could hear the excitement. Everybody was jumping and yelling. "They see it! They see it!"
The boat was full of voices, too, from the radio:
"Pequod to Dirty Gertie, we see it, too, just off our port bow... Yes, Bulldog, we see your running lights; we're right behind you... Slasher to Pequod: we can't see you at all. Fire a flare, please..."
I pushed in to the radio. "This is Walter Boyd, Times representative with the Javelin castaways," I said. "Has anybody a portable audiovisual pickup that I can use to get some pictures in to my paper with?"
That started general laughter among the operators on the ships that were coming in.
"We have one, Walt," Oscar Fujisawa's voice told me. "I'm coming in ahead in the Pequod scout boat; I'll bring it with me."
"Thanks, Oscar," I said. Then I asked him: "Did you see Bish Ware before you left port?"
"I should say I did!" Oscar told me. "You can thank Bish Ware that we're out looking for you now. Tell you about it as soon as we get in."
The scout boat from the Pequod came in about thirty minutes later, from up the ravine where the forest fire was sending up flame and smoke. It passed over the boat and the hut beside it and the crowd of us outside, and I could see Oscar in the machine gunner's seat aiming a portable audiovisual telecast camera. After he got a view of us, cheering and waving our arms, the boat came back and let down. We ran to it, all of us except the man with the broken leg and a couple who didn't have enough clothes to leave the fire, and as the boat opened I could hear Oscar saying:
"Now I am turning you over to Walter Boyd, the Times correspondent with the Javelin castaways."
He gave me the camera when he got out, followed by his gunner, and I got a view of them, and of the boat lifting and starting west to guide the ships in. Then I shut it off and said to him:
"What's this about Bish Ware? You said he was the one who started the search."
"That's right," Oscar said. "About thirty hours after you left port, he picked up some things that made him think the Javelin had been sabotaged. He went to your father, and he contacted me—Mohandas Feinberg and I still had our ships in port—and started calling the Javelin by screen. When he couldn't get response, your father put out a general call to all hunter-ships. Nip Spazoni reported boarding the Javelin, and then went searching the area where he thought you'd been hunting, picked up your locator signal, and found the Javelin on the bottom with her bow blown out and the boat berth open and the boat gone. We all figured you'd head south with the boat, and that's where we went to look."
"Well, Bish Ware; he was dead drunk, last I heard of him," Joe Kivelson said.
"Aah, just an act," Oscar said. "That was to fool the city cops, and anybody else who needed fooling. It worked so well that he was able to crash a party Steve Ravick was throwing at Hunters' Hall, after the meeting. That was where he picked up some hints that Ravick had a spy in the Javelin crew. He spent the next twenty or so hours following that up, and heard about your man Devis straining his back. He found out what Devis did on the Javelin, and that gave him the idea that whatever the sabotage was, it would be something to the engines. What did happen, by the way?"
A couple of us told him, interrupting one another. He nodded.
"That was what Nip Spazoni thought when he looked at the ship. Well, after that he talked to your father and to me, and then your father began calling and we heard from Nip."
You could see that it absolutely hurt Joe Kivelson to have to owe his life to Bish Ware.
"Well, it's lucky anybody listened to him," he grudged. "I wouldn't have."
"No, I guess maybe you wouldn't," Oscar told him, not very cordially. "I think he did a mighty sharp piece of detective work, myself."
I nodded, and then, all of a sudden, another idea, under Bish Ware, Reformation of, hit me. Detective work; that was it. We could use a good private detective agency in Port Sandor. Maybe I could talk him into opening one. He could make a go of it. He had all kinds of contacts, he was handy with a gun, and if he recruited a couple of tough but honest citizens who were also handy with guns and built up a protective and investigative organization, it would fill a long-felt need and at the same time give him something beside Baldur honey-rum to take his mind off whatever he was drinking to keep from thinking about. If he only stayed sober half the time, that would be a fifty per cent success.
Ramon Llewellyn was wanting to know whether anybody'd done anything about Al Devis.
"We didn't have time to bother with any Al Devises," Oscar said. "As soon as Bish figured out what had happened aboard the Javelin, we knew you'd need help and need it fast. He's keeping an eye on Al for us till we get back."
"That's if he doesn't get any drunker and forget," Joe said.
Everybody, even Tom, looked at him in angry reproach.
"We better find out what he drinks and buy you a jug of it, Joe," Oscar's gunner told him.
The Helldiver, which had been closest to us when our signal had been picked up, was the first ship in. She let down into the ravine, after some maneuvering around, and Mohandas Feinberg and half a dozen of his crew got off with an improvised stretcher on a lifter and a lot of blankets. We got our broken-leg case aboard, and Abdullah Monnahan, and the man with the broken wrist. There were more ships coming, so the rest of us waited. Joe Kivelson should have gone on the Helldiver, to have his broken arm looked at, but a captain's always the last man off, so he stayed.
Oscar said he'd take Tom and Joe, and Glenn Murell and me, on the Pequod. I was glad of that. Oscar and his mate and his navigator are all bachelors, and they use the Pequod to throw parties on when they're not hunting, so it is more comfortably fitted than the usual hunter-ship. Joe decided not to try to take anything away from the boat. He was going to do something about raising the Javelin, and the salvage ship could stop here and pick everything up.
"Well, one thing," Oscar told him. "Bring that machine gun, and what small arms you have. I think things are going to get sort of rough in Port Sandor, in the next twenty or so hours."
I was beginning to think so, myself. The men who had gotten off the Helldiver, and the ones who got off Corkscrew Finnegan's Dirty Gertie and Nip Spazoni's Bulldog were all talking about what was going to have to be done about Steve Ravick. Bombing Javelin would have been a good move for Ravick, if it had worked. It hadn't, though, and now it was likely to be the thing that would finish him for good.
It wasn't going to be any picnic, either. He had his gang of hoodlums, and he could count on Morton Hallstock's twenty or thirty city police; they'd put up a fight, and a hard one. And they were all together, and the hunter fleet was coming in one ship at a time. I wondered if the Ravick-Hallstock gang would try to stop them at the water front, or concentrate at Hunters' Hall or the Municipal Building to stand siege. I knew one thing, though. However things turned out, there was going to be an awful lot of shooting in Port Sandor before it was over.
Finally, everybody had been gotten onto one ship or another but Oscar and his gunner and the Kivelsons and Murell and myself. Then the Pequod, which had been circling around at five thousand feet, let down and we went aboard. The conning tower was twice as long as usual on a hunter-ship, and furnished with a lot of easy chairs and a couple of couches. There was a big combination view and communication screen, and I hurried to that and called the Times.
Dad came on, as soon as I finished punching the wave-length combination. He was in his shirt sleeves, and he was wearing a gun. I guess we made kind of a show of ourselves, but, after all, he'd come within an ace of being all out of family, and I'd come within an ace of being all out, period. After we got through with the happy reunion, I asked him what was the situation in Port Sandor. He shook his head.
"Not good, Walt. The word's gotten around that there was a bomb planted aboard the Javelin, and everybody's taking just one guess who did it. We haven't expressed any opinions one way or another, yet. We've been waiting for confirmation."
"Set for recording," I said. "I'll give you the story as far as we know it."
He nodded, reached one hand forward out of the picture, and then nodded again. I began with our killing the monster and going down to the bottom after the cutting-up, and the explosion. I told him what we had seen after leaving the ship and circling around it in the boat.
"The condition of the hull looked very much like the effect of a charge of high explosive exploding in the engine room," I finished.
"We got some views of it, transmitted in by Captain Spazoni, of the Bulldog," he said. "Captain Courtland, of the Spaceport Police, has expressed the opinion that it could hardly be anything but a small demolition bomb. Would you say accident can be ruled out?"
"I would. There was nobody in the engine room at the time; we were resting on the bottom, and all hands were in the wardroom."
"That's good enough," Dad said. "We'll run it as 'very convincing and almost conclusive' evidence of sabotage." He'd shut off the recorder for that. "Can I get the story of how you abandoned ship and landed, now?"
His hand moved forward, and the recorder went on again. I gave a brief account of our experiences in the boat, the landing and wreck, and our camp, and the firewood cutting, and how we had repaired the radio. Joe Kivelson talked for a while, and so did Tom and Glenn Murell. I was going to say something when they finished, and I sat down on one of the couches. I distinctly remember leaning back and relaxing.
The next thing I knew, Oscar Fujisawa's mate was shaking me awake.
"We're in sight of Port Sandor," he was telling me.
I mumbled something, and then sat up and found that I had been lying down and that somebody had thrown a blanket over me. Tom Kivelson was still asleep under a blanket on the other couch, across from me. The clock over the instrument panel had moved eight G.S. hours. Joe Kivelson wasn't in sight, but Glenn Murell and Oscar were drinking coffee. I went to the front window, and there was a scarlet glow on the horizon ahead of me.
That's another sight Cesario Vieria will miss, if he takes his next reincarnation off Fenris. Really, it's nothing but damp, warm air, blown up from the exhaust of the city's main ventilation plant, condensing and freezing as it hits the cold air outside, and floodlighted from below. I looked at it for a while, and then got myself a cup of coffee and when I had finished it I went to the screen.
It was still tuned to the Times, and Mohandas Feinberg was sitting in front of it, smoking one of his twisted black cigars. He had a big 10-mm Sterberg stuffed into the waistband of his trousers.
"You guys poked along," he said. "I always thought the Pequod was fast. We got in three hours ago."
"Who else is in?"
"Corkscrew and some of his gang are here at the Times, now. Bulldog and Slasher just got in a while ago. Some of the ships that were farthest west and didn't go to your camp have been in quite a while. We're having a meeting here. We are organizing the Port Sandor Vigilance Committee and Renegade Hunters' Co-operative."
When the Pequod surfaced under the city roof, I saw what was cooking. There were twenty or more ships, either on the concrete docks or afloat in the pools. The waterfront was crowded with men in boat clothes, forming little knots and breaking up to join other groups, all milling about talking excitedly. Most of them were armed; not just knives and pistols, which is normal costume, but heavy rifles or submachine guns. Down to the left, there was a commotion and people were getting out of the way as a dozen men come pushing through, towing a contragravity skid with a 50-mm ship's gun on it. I began not liking the looks of things, and Glenn Murell, who had come up from his nap below, was liking it even less. He'd come to Fenris to buy tallow-wax, not to fight a civil war. I didn't want any of that stuff, either. Getting rid of Ravick, Hallstock and Belsher would come under the head of civic improvements, but towns are rarely improved by having battles fought in them.
Maybe I should have played dumb and waited till I'd talked to Dad face to face, before making any statements about what had happened on the Javelin, I thought. Then I shrugged that off. From the minute the Javelin had failed to respond to Dad's screen-call and the general call had gone out to the hunter-fleet, everybody had been positive of what had happened. It was too much like the loss of the Claymore, which had made Ravick president of the Co-op.
Port Sandor had just gotten all of Steve Ravick that anybody could take. They weren't going to have any more of him, and that was all there was to it.
Joe Kivelson was grumbling about his broken arm; that meant that when a fight started, he could only go in swinging with one fist, and that would cut the fun in half. Another reason why Joe is a wretched shot is that he doesn't like pistols. They're a little too impersonal to suit him. They weren't for Oscar Fujisawa; he had gotten a Mars-Consolidated Police Special out of the chart-table drawer and put it on, and he was loading cartridges into a couple of spare clips. Down on the main deck, the gunner was serving out small arms, and there was an acrimonious argument because everybody wanted a chopper and there weren't enough choppers to go around. Oscar went over to the ladder head and shouted down at them.
"Knock off the argument, down there; you people are all going to stay on the ship. I'm going up to the Times; as soon as I'm off, float her out into the inner channel and keep her afloat, and don't let anybody aboard you're not sure of."
"That where we're going?" Joe Kivelson asked.
"Sure. That's the safest place in town for Mr. Murell and I want to find out exactly what's going on here."
"Well, here; you don't need to put me in storage," Murell protested. "I can take care of myself."
Add, Famous Last Words, I thought.
"I'm sure of it, but we can't take any chances," Oscar told him. "Right now, you are Fenris's Indispensable Man. If you're not around to buy tallow-wax, Ravick's won the war."
Oscar and Murell and Joe and Tom Kivelson and I went down into the boat; somebody opened the port and we floated out and lifted onto the Second Level Down. There was a fringe of bars and cafes and dance halls and outfitters and ship chandlers for a couple of blocks back, and then we ran into the warehouse district. Oscar ran up town to a vehicle shaft above the Times Building, careful to avoid the neighborhood of Hunters' Hall or the Municipal Building.
There was a big crowd around the Times, mostly business district people and quite a few women. They were mostly out on the street and inside the street-floor vehicle port. Not a disorderly crowd, but I noticed quite a few rifles and submachine guns. As we slipped into the vehicle port, they recognized the Pequod's boat, and there was a rush after it. We had trouble getting down without setting it on anybody, and more trouble getting out of it. They were all friendly—too friendly for comfort. They began cheering us as soon as they saw us.
Oscar got Joe Kivelson, with his arm in a sling, out in front where he could be seen, and began shouting: "Please make way; this man's been injured. Please don't crowd; we have an injured man here." The crowd began shoving back, and in the rear I could hear them taking it up: "Joe Kivelson; he's been hurt. They're carrying Joe Kivelson off." That made Joe curse a blue streak, and somebody said, "Oh, he's been hurt real bad; just listen to him!"
When we got up to the editorial floor, Dad and Bish Ware and a few others were waiting at the elevator for us. Bish was dressed as he always was, in his conservative black suit, with the organic opal glowing in his neckcloth. Dad had put a coat on over his gun. Julio was wearing two pistols and a knife a foot long. There was a big crowd in the editorial office—ships' officers, merchants, professional people. I noticed Sigurd Ngozori, the banker, and Professor Hartzenbosch—he was wearing a pistol, too, rather self-consciously—and the Zen Buddhist priest, who evidently had something under his kimono. They all greeted us enthusiastically and shook hands with us. I noticed that Joe Kivelson was something less than comfortable about shaking hands with Bish Ware. The fact that Bish had started the search for the Javelin that had saved our lives didn't alter the opinion Joe had formed long ago that Bish was just a worthless old souse. Joe's opinions are all collapsium-plated and impervious to outside influence.
I got Bish off to one side as we were going into the editorial room.
"How did you get onto it?" I asked.
He chuckled deprecatingly. "No trick at all," he said. "I just circulated and bought drinks for people. The trouble with Ravick's gang, it's an army of mercenaries. They'll do anything for the price of a drink, and as long as my rich uncle stays solvent, I always have the price of a drink. In the five years I've spent in this Garden Spot of the Galaxy, I've learned some pretty surprising things about Steve Ravick's operations."
"Well, surely, nobody was going around places like Martian Joe's or One Eye Swanson's boasting that they'd put a time bomb aboard the Javelin," I said.
"It came to pretty nearly that," Bish said. "You'd be amazed at how careless people who've had their own way for a long time can get. For instance, I've known for some time that Ravick has spies among the crews of a lot of hunter-ships. I tried, a few times, to warn some of these captains, but except for Oscar Fujisawa and Corkscrew Finnegan, none of them would listen to me. It wasn't that they had any doubt that Ravick would do that; they just wouldn't believe that any of their crew were traitors.
"I've suspected this Devis for a long time, and I've spoken to Ramon Llewellyn about him, but he just let it go in one ear and out the other. For one thing, Devis always has more money to spend than his share of the Javelin take would justify. He's the showoff type; always buying drinks for everybody and playing the big shot. Claims to win it gambling, but all the times I've ever seen him gambling, he's been losing.
"I knew about this hoard of wax we saw the day Murell came in for some time. I always thought it was being held out to squeeze a better price out of Belsher and Ravick. Then this friend of mine with whom I was talking aboard the Peenemuende mentioned that Murell seemed to know more about the tallow-wax business than about literary matters, and after what happened at the meeting and afterward, I began putting two and two together. When I crashed that party at Hunters' Hall, I heard a few things, and they all added up.
"And then, about thirty hours after the Javelin left port, I was in the Happy Haven, and who should I see, buying drinks for the house, but Al Devis. I let him buy me one, and he told me he'd strained his back hand-lifting a power-unit cartridge. A square dance got started a little later, and he got into it. His back didn't look very strained to me. And then I heard a couple of characters in One Eye Swanson's betting that the Javelin would never make port again."
I knew what had happened from then on. If it hadn't been for Bish Ware, we'd still be squatting around a fire down on the coast of Hermann Reuch's Land till it got too cold to cut wood, and then we'd freeze. I mentioned that, but Bish just shrugged it off and suggested we go on in and see what was happening inside.
"Where is Al Devis?" I asked. "A lot of people want to talk to him."
"I know they do. I want to get to him first, while he's still in condition to do some talking of his own. But he just dropped out of sight, about the time your father started calling the Javelin."
"Ah!" I drew a finger across under my chin, and mentioned the class of people who tell no tales. Bish shook his head slowly.
"I doubt it," he said. "Not unless it was absolutely necessary. That sort of thing would have a discouraging effect the next time Ravick wanted a special job done. I'm pretty sure he isn't at Hunters' Hall, but he's hiding somewhere."
Joe Kivelson had finished telling what had happened aboard the Javelin when we joined the main crowd, and everybody was talking about what ought to be done with Steve Ravick. Oddly enough, the most bloodthirsty were the banker and the professor. Well, maybe it wasn't so odd. They were smart enough to know what Steve Ravick was really doing to Port Sandor, and it hurt them as much as it did the hunters. Dad and Bish seemed to be the only ones present who weren't in favor of going down to Hunters' Hall right away and massacring everybody in it, and then doing the same at the Municipal Building.
"That's what I say!" Joe Kivelson was shouting. "Let's go clean out both rats' nests. Why, there must be a thousand hunter-ship men at the waterfront, and look how many people in town who want to help. We got enough men to eat Hunters' Hall whole."
"You'll find it slightly inedible, Joe," Bish told him. "Ravick has about thirty men of his own and fifteen to twenty city police. He has at least four 50-mm's on the landing stage above, and he has half a dozen heavy machine guns and twice that many light 7-mm's."
"Bish is right," somebody else said. "They have the vehicle port on the street level barricaded, and they have the two floors on the level below sealed off. We got men all around it and nobody can get out, but if we try to blast our way in, it's going to cost us like Nifflheim."
"You mean you're just going to sit here and talk about it and not do anything?" Joe demanded.
"We're going to do something, Joe," Dad told him. "But we've got to talk about what we're going to do, and how we're going to do it, or it'll be us who'll get wiped out."
"Well, we'll have to decide on what it'll be, pretty quick," Mohandas Gandhi Feinberg said.
"What are things like at the Municipal Building?" Oscar Fujisawa asked. "You say Ravick has fifteen to twenty city cops at Hunters' Hall. Where are the rest of them? That would only be five to ten."
"At the Municipal Building," Bish said. "Hallstock's holed up there, trying to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is happening."
"Good. Let's go to the Municipal Building, first," Oscar said. "Take a couple of hundred men, make a lot of noise, shoot out a few windows and all yell, 'Hang Mort Hallstock!' loud enough, and he'll recall the cops he has at Hunters' Hall to save his own neck. Then the rest of us can make a quick rush and take Hunters' Hall."
"We'll have to keep our main force around Hunters' Hall while we're demonstrating at the Municipal Building," Corkscrew Finnegan said. "We can't take a chance on Ravick's getting away."
"I couldn't care less whether he gets away or not," Oscar said. "I don't want Steve Ravick's blood. I just want him out of the Co-operative, and if he runs out from it now, he'll never get back in."
"You want him, and you want him alive," Bish Ware said. "Ravick has close to four million sols banked on Terra. Every millisol of that's money he's stolen from the monster-hunters of this planet, through the Co-operative. If you just take him out and string him up, you'll have the Nifflheim of a time getting hold of any of it."
That made sense to all the ship captains, even Joe Kivelson, after Dad reminded him of how much the salvage job on the Javelin was going to cost. It took Sigurd Ngozori a couple of minutes to see the point, but then, hanging Steve Ravick wasn't going to cost the Fidelity & Trust Company anything.
"Well, this isn't my party," Glenn Murell said, "but I'm too much of a businessman to see how watching somebody kick on the end of a rope is worth four million sols."
"Four million sols," Bish said, "and wondering, the rest of your lives, whether it was justice or just murder."
The Buddhist priest looked at him, a trifle startled. After all, he was the only clergyman in the crowd; he ought to have thought of that, instead of this outrageous mock-bishop.
"I think it's a good scheme," Dad said. "Don't mass any more men around Hunters' Hall than necessary. You don't want the police to be afraid to leave when Hallstock calls them in to help him at Municipal Building."
Bish Ware rose. "I think I'll see what I can do at Hunters' Hall, in the meantime," he said. "I'm going to see if there's some way in from the First or Second Level Down. Walt, do you still have that sleep-gas gadget of yours?"
I nodded. It was, ostensibly, nothing but an oversized pocket lighter, just the sort of a thing a gadget-happy kid would carry around. It worked perfectly as a lighter, too, till you pushed in on a little gismo on the side. Then, instead of producing a flame, it squirted out a small jet of sleep gas. It would knock out a man; it would almost knock out a Zarathustra veldtbeest. I'd bought it from a spaceman on the Cape Canaveral. I'd always suspected that he'd stolen it on Terra, because it was an expensive little piece of work, but was I going to ride a bicycle six hundred and fifty light-years to find out who it belonged to? One of the chemists' shops at Port Sandor made me up some fills for it, and while I had never had to use it, it was a handy thing to have in some of the places I had to follow stories into, and it wouldn't do anybody any permanent damage, the way a gun would.
"Yes; it's down in my room. I'll get it for you," I said.
"Be careful, Bish," Dad said. "That gang would kill you sooner than look at you."
"Who, me?" Bish staggered into a table and caught hold of it. "Who'd wanna hurt me? I'm just good ol' Bish Ware. Good ol' Bish! nobody hurt him; he'sh everybody's friend." He let go of the table and staggered into a chair, upsetting it. Then he began to sing:
"Come all ye hardy spacemen, and harken while I tell Of fluorine-tainted Nifflheim, the Planetary Hell."
Involuntarily, I began clapping my hands. It was a superb piece of acting—Bish Ware sober playing Bish Ware drunk, and that's not an easy role for anybody to play. Then he picked up the chair and sat down on it.
"Who do you have around Hunters' Hall, and how do I get past them?" he asked. "I don't want a clipful from somebody on my own side."
Nip Spazoni got a pencil and a pad of paper and began drawing a plan.
"This is Second Level Down," he said. "We have a car here, with a couple of men in it. It's watching this approach here. And we have a ship's boat, over here, with three men in it, and a 7-mm machine gun. And another car—no, a jeep, here. Now, up on the First Level Down, we have two ships' boats, one here, and one here. The password is 'Exotic,' and the countersign is 'Organics.'" He grinned at Murell. "Compliment to your company."
"Good enough. I'll want a bottle of liquor. My breath needs a little touching up, and I may want to offer somebody a drink. If I could get inside that place, there's no telling what I might be able to do. If one man can get in and put a couple of guards to sleep, an army can get in after him."
Brother, I thought, if he pulls this one off, he's in. Nobody around Port Sandor will ever look down on Bish Ware again, not even Joe Kivelson. I began thinking about the detective agency idea again, and wondered if he'd want a junior partner. Ware & Boyd, Planetwide Detective Agency.
I went down to the floor below with him and got him my lighter gas-projector and a couple of spare fills for it, and found the bottle of Baldur honey-rum that Dad had been sure was around somewhere. I was kind of doubtful about that, and he noticed my hesitation in giving it to him and laughed.
"Don't worry, Walt," he said. "This is strictly for protective coloration—and odoration. I shall be quite sparing with it, I assure you."
I shook hands with him, trying not to be too solemn about it, and he went down in the elevator and I went up the stairs to the floor above. By this time, the Port Sandor Vigilance Committee had gotten itself sorted out. The rank-and-file Vigilantes were standing around yacking at one another, and a smaller group—Dad and Sigurd Ngozori and the Reverend Sugitsuma and Oscar and Joe and Corkscrew and Nip and the Mahatma—were in a huddle around Dad's editorial table, discussing strategy and tactics.
"Well, we'd better get back to the docks before it starts," Corkscrew was saying. "No hunter crew will follow anybody but their own ships' officers."
"We'll have to have somebody the uptown people will follow," Oscar said. "These people won't take orders from a woolly-pants hunter captain. How about you, Sigurd?"
The banker shook his head. "Ralph Boyd's the man for that," he said.
"Ralph's needed right here; this is G.H.Q.," Oscar said. "This is a job that's going to have to be run from one central command. We've got to make sure the demonstration against Hallstock and the operation against Hunters' Hall are synchronized."
"I have about a hundred and fifty workmen, and they all have or can get something to shoot with," another man said. I looked around, and saw that it was Casmir Oughourlian, of Rodriguez & Oughourlian Shipyards. "They'll follow me, but I'm not too well known uptown."
"Hey, Professor Hartzenbosch," Mohandas Feinberg said. "You're a respectable-looking duck; you ever have any experience leading a lynch mob?"
Everybody laughed. So, to his credit, did the professor.
"I've had a lot of experience with children," the professor said. "Children are all savages. So are lynch mobs. Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. Yes, I'd say so."
"All right," Dad said. "Say I'm Chief of Staff, or something. Oscar, you and Joe and Corkscrew and the rest of you decide who's going to take over-all command of the hunters. Casmir, you'll command your workmen, and anybody else from the shipyards and engine works and repair shops and so on. Sigurd, you and the Reverend, here, and Professor Hartzenbosch gather up all the uptown people you can. Now, we'll have to decide on how much force we need to scare Mort Hallstock, and how we're going to place the main force that will attack Hunters' Hall."
"I think we ought to wait till we see what Bish Ware can do," Oscar said. "Get our gangs together, and find out where we're going to put who, but hold off the attack for a while. If he can get inside Hunters' Hall, we may not even need this demonstration at the Municipal Building."
Joe Kivelson started to say something. The rest of his fellow ship captains looked at him severely, and he shut up. Dad kept on jotting down figures of men and 50-mm guns and vehicles and auto weapons we had available.
He was still doing it when the fire alarm started.
CIVIL WAR POSTPONED
The moaner went on for thirty seconds, like a banshee mourning its nearest and dearest. It was everywhere, Main City Level and the four levels below. What we have in Port Sandor is a volunteer fire organization—or disorganization, rather—of six independent companies, each of which cherishes enmity for all the rest. It's the best we can do, though; if we depended on the city government, we'd have no fire protection at all. They do have a central alarm system, though, and the Times is connected with that.
Then the moaner stopped, and there were four deep whistle blasts for Fourth Ward, and four more shrill ones for Bottom Level. There was an instant's silence, and then a bedlam of shouts from the hunter-boat captains. That was where the tallow-wax that was being held out from the Co-operative was stored.
"Shut up!" Dad roared, the loudest I'd ever heard him speak. "Shut up and listen!"
"Fourth Ward, Bottom Level," a voice from the fire-alarm speaker said. "This is a tallow-wax fire. It is not the Co-op wax; it is wax stored in an otherwise disused area. It is dangerously close to stored 50-mm cannon ammunition, and it is directly under the pulpwood lumber plant, on the Third Level Down, and if the fire spreads up to that, it will endanger some of the growing vats at the carniculture plant on the Second Level Down. I repeat, this is a tallow-wax fire. Do not use water or chemical extinguishers."
About half of the Vigilantes, businessmen who belonged to one or another of the volunteer companies had bugged out for their fire stations already. The Buddhist priest and a couple of doctors were also leaving. The rest, mostly hunter-ship men, were standing around looking at one another.
Oscar Fujisawa gave a sour laugh. "That diversion idea of mine was all right," he said. "The only trouble was that Steve Ravick thought of it first."
"You think he started the fire?" Dad began, and then gave a sourer laugh than Oscar's. "Am I dumb enough to ask that?"
I had started assembling equipment as soon as the feint on the Municipal Building and the attack on Hunters' Hall had gotten into the discussion stage. I would use a jeep that had a heavy-duty audiovisual recording and transmitting outfit on it, and for situations where I'd have to leave the jeep and go on foot, I had a lighter outfit like the one Oscar had brought with him in the Pequod's boat. Then I had my radio for two-way conversation with the office. And, because this wasn't likely to be the sort of war in which the rights of noncombatants like war correspondents would be taken very seriously, I had gotten out my Sterberg 7.7-mm.
Dad saw me buckling it on, and seemed rather distressed.
"Better leave that, Walt," he said. "You don't want to get into any shooting."
Logical, I thought. If you aren't prepared for something, it just won't happen. There's an awful lot of that sort of thinking going on. As I remember my Old Terran history, it was even indulged in by governments, at one time. None of them exists now.
"You know what all crawls into the Bottom Level," I reminded him. "If you don't, ask Mr. Murell, here. One sent him to the hospital."
Dad nodded; I had a point there. The abandoned sections of Bottom Level are full of tread-snails and other assorted little nasties, and the heat of the fire would stir them all up and start them moving around. Even aside from the possibility that, having started the fire, Steve Ravick's gang would try to take steps to keep it from being put out too soon, a gun was going to be a comforting companion, down there.
"Well, stay out of any fighting. Your job's to get the news, not play hero in gun fights. I'm no hero; that's why I'm sixty years old. I never knew many heroes that got that old."
It was my turn to nod. On that, Dad had a point. I said something about getting the news, not making it, and checked the chamber and magazine of the Sterberg, and then slung my radio and picked up the audiovisual outfit.
Tom and Joe Kivelson had left already, to round up the scattered Javelin crew for fire fighting. The attack on the Municipal Building and on Hunters' Hall had been postponed, but it wasn't going to be abandoned. Oscar and Professor Hartzenbosch and Dad and a couple of others were planning some sort of an observation force of a few men for each place, until the fire had been gotten out or under control. Glenn Murell decided he'd go out with me, at least as far as the fire, so we went down to the vehicle port and got the jeep out. Main City Level Broadway was almost deserted; everybody had gone down below where the excitement was. We started down the nearest vehicle shaft and immediately got into a jam, above a lot of stuff that was going into the shaft from the First Level Down, mostly manipulators and that sort of thing. There were no police around, natch, and a lot of volunteers were trying to direct traffic and getting in each other's way. I got some views with the jeep camera, just to remind any of the public who needed reminding what our city administration wasn't doing in an emergency. A couple of pieces of apparatus, a chemical tank and a pumper marked SALAMANDER VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY NO. 3 came along, veered out of the jam, and continued uptown.
"If they know another way down, maybe we'd better follow them," Murell suggested.
"They're not going down. They're going to the lumber plant, in case the fire spreads upward," I said. "They wouldn't be taking that sort of equipment to a wax fire."
I looked at him. "I thought you were in the wax business," I said.
"I am, but I'm no chemist. I don't know anything about how wax burns. All I know is what it's used for, roughly, and who's in the market for it."
"Well, you know about those jumbo molecules, don't you?" I asked. "They have everything but the kitchen sink in them, including enough oxygen to sustain combustion even under water or in a vacuum. Not enough oxygen to make wax explode, like powder, but enough to keep it burning. Chemical extinguishers are all smothering agents, and you just can't smother a wax fire. And water's worse than useless."
He wanted to know why.
"Burning wax is a liquid. The melting point is around 250 degrees Centigrade. Wax ignites at 750. It has no boiling point, unless that's the burning point. Throw water on a wax fire and you get a steam explosion, just as you would if you threw it on molten metal, and that throws the fire around and spreads it."
"If it melts that far below the ignition point, wouldn't it run away before it caught fire?"
"Normally, it would. That's why I'm sure this fire was a touch-off. I think somebody planted a thermoconcentrate bomb. A thermoconcentrate flame is around 850 Centigrade; the wax would start melting and burning almost instantaneously. In any case, the fire will be at the bottom of the stacks. If it started there, melted wax would run down from above and keep the fire going, and if it started at the top, burning wax would run down and ignite what's below."
"Well, how in blazes do you put a wax fire out?" he wanted to know.
"You don't. You just pull away all the wax that hasn't caught fire yet, and then try to scatter the fire and let it burn itself out.... Here's our chance!"
All this conversation we had been screaming into each other's ears, in the midst of a pandemonium of yelling, cursing, siren howling and bell clanging; just then I saw a hole in the vertical traffic jam and edged the jeep into it, at the same time remembering that the jeep carried, and I was entitled to use, a fire siren. I added its howls to the general uproar and dropped down one level. Here a string of big manipulators were trying to get in from below, sprouting claw hooks and grapples and pusher arms in all directions. I made my siren imitate a tail-tramped tomcat a couple of times, and got in among them.
Bottom Level Broadway was a frightful mess, and I realized that we had come down right between two units of the city power plant, big mass-energy converters. The street was narrower than above, and ran for a thousand yards between ceiling-high walls, and everything was bottlenecked together. I took the jeep up till we were almost scraping the ceiling, and Murell, who had seen how the audiovisual was used, took over with it while I concentrated on inching forward. The noise was even worse down here than it had been above; we didn't attempt to talk.
Finally, by impudence and plain foolhardiness, I got the jeep forward a few hundred yards, and found myself looking down on a big derrick with a fifty-foot steel boom tipped with a four-clawed grapple, shielded in front with sheet steel like a gun shield. It was painted with the emblem of the Hunters' Co-operative, but the three men on it looked like shipyard workers. I didn't get that, at all. The thing had been built to handle burning wax, and was one of three kept on the Second Level Down under Hunters' Hall. I wondered if Bish Ware had found a way for a gang to get in at the bottom of Hunters' Hall. I simply couldn't see Steve Ravick releasing equipment to fight the fire his goons had started for him in the first place.
I let down a few feet, gave a polite little scream with my siren, and then yelled down to the men on it:
"Where'd that thing come from?"
"Hunters' Hall; Steve Ravick sent it. The other two are up at the fire already, and if this mess ahead doesn't get straightened out...." From there on, his remarks were not suitable for publication in a family journal like the Times.
I looked up ahead, rising to the ceiling again, and saw what was the matter. It was one of the dredgers from the waterfront, really a submarine scoop shovel, that they used to keep the pools and the inner channel from sanding up. I wasn't surprised it was jammed; I couldn't see how they'd gotten this far uptown with it. I got a few shots of that, and then unhooked the handphone of my radio. Julio Kubanoff answered.
"You getting everything I'm sending in?" I asked.
"Yes. What's that two-em-dashed thing up ahead, one of the harbor dredgers?"
"That's right. Hey, look at this, once." I turned the audiovisual down on the claw derrick. "The men on it look like Rodriguez & Oughourlian's people, but they say Steve Ravick sent it. What do you know about it?"
"Hey, Ralph! What's this Walt's picked up about Ravick sending equipment to fight the fire?" he yelled.
Dad came over, and nodded. "It wasn't Ravick, it was Mort Hallstock. He commandeered the Co-op equipment and sent it up," he said. "He called me and wanted to know whom to send for it that Ravick's gang wouldn't start shooting at right away. Casmir Oughourlian sent some of his men."
Up front, something seemed to have given way. The dredger went lurching forward, and everything moved off after it.
"I get it," I said. "Hallstock's getting ready to dump Ravick out the airlock. He sees, now, that Ravick's a dead turkey; he doesn't want to go into the oven along with him."
"Walt, can't you ever give anybody credit with trying to do something decent, once in a while?" Dad asked.
"Sure I can. Decent people. There are a lot of them around, but Mort Hallstock isn't one of them. There was an Old Terran politician named Al Smith, once. He had a little saying he used in that kind of case: 'Let's look at the record.'"
"Well, Mort's record isn't very impressive, I'll give you that," Dad admitted. "I understand Mort's up at the fire now. Don't spit in his eye if you run into him."
"I won't," I promised. "I'm kind of particular where I spit."
Things must be looking pretty rough around Municipal Building, I thought. Maybe Mort's afraid the people will start running Fenris again, after this. He might even be afraid there'd be an election.
By this time, I'd gotten the jeep around the dredger—we'd come to the end of the nuclear-power plant buildings—and cut off into open country. That is to say, nothing but pillar-buildings two hundred yards apart and piles of bagged mineral nutrients for the hydroponic farms. We could see a blaze of electric lights ahead where the fire must be, and after a while we began to run into lorries and lifter-skids hauling ammunition away from the area. Then I could see a big mushroom of greasy black smoke spreading out close to the ceiling. The electric lights were brighter ahead, and there was a confused roar of voices and sirens and machines.
And there was a stink.
There are a lot of stinks around Port Sandor, though the ventilation system carries most of them off before they can spread out of their own areas. The plant that reprocesses sewage to get organic nutrients for the hydroponic farms, and the plant that digests hydroponic vegetation to make nutrients for the carniculture vats. The carniculture vats themselves aren't any flower gardens. And the pulp plant where our synthetic lumber is made. But the worst stink there is on Fenris is a tallow-wax fire. Fortunately, they don't happen often.
Now that we were out of the traffic jam, I could poke along and use the camera myself. The wax was stacked in piles twenty feet high, which gave thirty feet of clear space above them, but the section where they had been piled was badly cut up by walls and full of small extra columns to support the weight of the pulp plant above and the carniculture vats on the level over that. However, the piles themselves weren't separated by any walls, and the fire could spread to the whole stock of wax. There were more men and vehicles on the job than room for them to work. I passed over the heads of the crowd around the edges and got onto a comparatively unobstructed side where I could watch and get views of the fire fighters pulling down the big skins of wax and loading them onto contragravity skids to be hauled away. It still wasn't too hot to work unshielded, and they weren't anywhere near the burning stacks, but the fire seemed to be spreading rapidly. The dredger and the three shielded derricks hadn't gotten into action yet.
I circled around clockwise, dodging over, under and around the skids and lorries hauling wax out of danger. They were taking them into the section through which I had brought the jeep a few minutes before, and just dumping them on top of the piles of mineral nutrients.
The operation seemed to be directed from an improvised headquarters in the area that had been cleared of ammunition. There were a couple of view screens and a radio, operated by women. I saw one of the teachers I'd gone to school to a few years ago, and Joe Kivelson's wife, and Oscar Fujisawa's current girl friend, and Sigurd Ngozori's secretary, and farther off there was an equally improvised coffee-and-sandwich stand. I grounded the jeep, and Murell and I got out and went over to the headquarters. Joe Kivelson seemed to be in charge.
I have, I believe, indicated here and there that Joe isn't one of our mightier intellects. There are a lot of better heads, but Joe can be relied upon to keep his, no matter what is happening or how bad it gets. He was sitting on an empty box, his arm in a now-filthy sling, and one of Mohandas Feinberg's crooked black cigars in his mouth. Usually, Joe smokes a pipe, but a cigar's less bother for a temporarily one-armed man. Standing in front of him, like a schoolboy in front of the teacher, was Mayor Morton Hallstock.
"But, Joe, they simply won't!" His Honor was wailing. "I did talk to Mr. Fieschi; he says he knows this is an emergency, but there's a strict company directive against using the spaceport area for storage of anything but cargo that has either just come in or is being shipped out on the next ship."
"What's this all about?" Murell asked.
"Fieschi, at the spaceport, won't let us store this wax in the spaceport area," Joe said. "We got to get it stored somewhere; we need a lot of floor space to spread this fire out on, once we get into it. We have to knock the burning wax cylinders apart, and get them separated enough so that burning wax won't run from one to another."
"Well, why can't we store it in the spaceport area?" Murell wanted to know. "It is going out on the next ship. I'm consigning it to Exotic Organics, in Buenos Aires." He turned to Joe. "Are those skins all marked to indicate who owns them?"
"That's right. And any we gather up loose, from busted skins, we can figure some way of settling how much anybody's entitled to from them."
"All right. Get me a car and run me to the spaceport. Call them and tell them I'm on the way. I'll talk to Fieschi myself."
"Martha!" Joe yelled to his wife. "Car and driver, quick. And then call the spaceport for me; get Mr. Fieschi or Mr. Mansour on screen."
Inside two minutes, a car came in and picked Murell up. By that time, Joe was talking to somebody at the spaceport. I called the paper, and told Dad that Murell was buying the wax for his company as fast as it was being pulled off the fire, at eighty centisols a pound. He said that would go out as a special bulletin right away. Then I talked to Morton Hallstock, and this time he wasn't giving me any of the run-along-sonny routine. I told him, rather hypocritically, what a fine thing he'd done, getting that equipment from Hunters' Hall. I suspect I sounded as though I were mayor of Port Sandor and Hallstock, just seventeen years old, had done something the grownups thought was real smart for a kid. If so, he didn't seem to notice. Somebody connected with the press was being nice to him. I asked him where Steve Ravick was.
"Mr. Ravick is at Hunters' Hall," he said. "He thought it would be unwise to make a public appearance just now." Oh, brother, what an understatement! "There seems to be a lot of public feeling against him, due to some misconception that he was responsible for what happened to Captain Kivelson's ship. Of course, that is absolutely false. Mr. Ravick had absolutely nothing to do with that. He wasn't anywhere near the Javelin."
"Where's Al Devis?" I asked.
"Who? I don't believe I know him."
After Hallstock got into his big black air-limousine and took off, Joe Kivelson gave a short laugh.
"I could have told him where Al Devis is," he said. "No, I couldn't, either," he corrected himself. "That's a religious question, and I don't discuss religion."
I shut off my radio in a hurry. "Who got him?" I asked.
Joe named a couple of men from one of the hunter-ships.
"Here's what happened. There were six men on guard here; they had a jeep with a 7-mm machine gun. About an hour ago, a lorry pulled in, with two men in boat-clothes on it. They said that Pierre Karolyi's Corinne had just come in with a hold full of wax, and they were bringing it up from the docks, and where should they put it? Well, the men on guard believed that; Pierre'd gone off into the twilight zone after the Helldiver contacted us, and he could have gotten a monster in the meantime.
"Well, they told these fellows that there was more room over on the other side of the stacks, and the lorry went up above the stacks and started across, and when they were about the middle, one of the men in it threw out a thermoconcentrate bomb. The lorry took off, right away. The only thing was that there were two men in the jeep, and one of them was at the machine gun. They'd lifted to follow the lorry over and show them where to put this wax, and as soon as the bomb went off, the man at the gun grabbed it and caught the lorry in his sights and let go. This fellow hadn't been covering for cutting-up work for years for nothing. He got one burst right in the control cabin, and the lorry slammed into the next column foundation. After they called in an alarm on the fire the bomb had started, a couple of them went to see who'd been in the lorry. The two men in it were both dead, and one of them was Al Devis."
"Pity," I said. "I'd been looking forward to putting a recording of his confession on the air. Where is this lorry now?"
Joe pointed toward the burning wax piles. "Almost directly on the other side. We have a couple of men guarding it. The bodies are still in it. We don't want any tampering with it till it can be properly examined; we want to have the facts straight, in case Hallstock tries to make trouble for the men who did the shooting."
I didn't know how he could. Under any kind of Federation law at all, a man killed committing a felony—and bombing and arson ought to qualify for that—is simply bought and paid for; his blood is on nobody's head but his own. Of course, a small matter like legality was always the least of Mort Hallstock's worries.
"I'll go get some shots of it," I said, and then I snapped on my radio and called the story in.
Dad had already gotten it, from fire-alarm center, but he hadn't heard that Devis was one of the deceased arsonists. Like me, he was very sorry to hear about it. Devis as Devis was no loss, but alive and talking he'd have helped us pin both the wax fire and the bombing of the Javelin on Steve Ravick. Then I went back and got in the jeep.
They were beginning to get in closer to the middle of the stacks where the fire had been started. There was no chance of getting over the top of it, and on the right there were at least five hundred men and a hundred vehicles, all working like crazy to pull out unburned wax. Big manipulators were coming up and grabbing as many of the half-ton sausages as they could, and lurching away to dump them onto skids or into lorries or just drop them on top of the bags of nutrient stacked beyond. Jeeps and cars would dart in, throw grapnels on the end of lines, and then pull away all the wax they could and return to throw their grapnels again. As fast as they pulled the big skins down, men with hand-lifters like the ones we had used at our camp to handle firewood would pick them up and float them away.
That seemed to be where the major effort was being made, at present, and I could see lifter-skids coming in with big blower fans on them. I knew what the strategy was, now; they were going to pull the wax away to where it was burning on one side, and then set up the blowers and blow the heat and smoke away on that side. That way, on the other side more men could work closer to the fire, and in the long run they'd save more wax.
I started around the wax piles to the left, clockwise, to avoid the activity on the other side, and before long I realized that I'd have done better not to have. There was a long wall, ceiling-high, that stretched off uptown in the direction of the spaceport, part of the support for the weight of the pulpwood plant on the level above, and piled against it was a lot of junk machinery of different kinds that had been hauled in here and dumped long ago and then forgotten. The wax was piled almost against this, and the heat and smoke forced me down.
I looked at the junk pile and decided that I could get through it on foot. I had been keeping up a running narration into my radio, and I commented on all this salvageable metal lying in here forgotten, with our perennial metal shortages. Then I started picking my way through it, my portable audiovisual camera slung over my shoulder and a flashlight in my hand. My left hand, of course; it's never smart to carry a light in your right, unless you're left-handed.
The going wasn't too bad. Most of the time, I could get between things without climbing over them. I was going between a broken-down press from the lumber plant and a leaky 500-gallon pressure cooker from the carniculture nutrient plant when I heard something moving behind me, and I was suddenly very glad that I hadn't let myself be talked into leaving my pistol behind.
It was a thing the size of a ten-gallon keg, with a thick tail and flippers on which it crawled, and six tentacles like small elephants' trunks around a circular mouth filled with jagged teeth halfway down the throat. There are a dozen or so names for it, but mostly it is called a meat-grinder.
The things are always hungry and try to eat anything that moves. The mere fact that I would be as poisonous to it as any of the local flora or fauna would be to me made no difference; this meat-grinder was no biochemist. It was coming straight for me, all its tentacles writhing.
I had had my Sterberg out as soon as I'd heard the noise. I also remembered that my radio was on, and that I was supposed to comment on anything of interest that took place around me.
"Here's a meat-grinder, coming right for me," I commented in a voice not altogether steady, and slammed three shots down its tooth-studded gullet. Then I scored my target, at the same time keeping out of the way of the tentacles. He began twitching a little. I fired again. The meat-grinder jerked slightly, and that was all.
"Now I'm going out and take a look at that lorry." I was certain now that the voice was shaky.
The lorry—and Al Devis and his companion—had come to an end against one of the two-hundred-foot masonry and concrete foundations the columns rest on. It had hit about halfway up and folded almost like an accordion, sliding down to the floor. With one thing and another, there is a lot of violent death around Port Sandor. I don't like to look at the results. It's part of the job, however, and this time it wasn't a pleasant job at all.
The two men who were guarding the wreck and contents were sitting on a couple of boxes, smoking and watching the fire-fighting operation.
I took the partly empty clip out of my pistol and put in a full one on the way back, and kept my flashlight moving its circle of light ahead and on both sides of me. That was foolish, or at least unnecessary. If there'd been one meat-grinder in that junk pile, it was a safe bet there wasn't anything else. Meat-grinders aren't popular neighbors, even for tread-snails. As I approached the carcass of the grinder I had shot I found a ten-foot length of steel rod and poked it a few times. When it didn't even twitch, I felt safe in walking past it.
I got back in the jeep and returned to where Joe Kivelson was keeping track of what was going on in five screens, including one from a pickup on a lifter at the ceiling, and shouting orders that were being reshouted out of loudspeakers all over the place. The Odin Dock & Shipyard equipment had begun coming out; lorries picking up the wax that had been dumped back from the fire and wax that was being pulled off the piles, and material-handling equipment. They had a lot of small fork-lifters that were helping close to the fire.
A lot of the wax was getting so soft that it was hard to handle, and quite a few of the plastic skins had begun to split from the heat. Here and there I saw that outside piles had begun to burn at the bottom, from burning wax that had run out underneath. I had moved around to the right and was getting views of the big claw-derricks at work picking the big sausages off the tops of piles, and while I was swinging the camera back and forth, I was trying to figure just how much wax there had been to start with, and how much was being saved. Each of those plastic-covered cylinders was a thousand pounds; one of the claw-derricks was picking up two or three of them at a grab....
I was still figuring when shouts of alarm on my right drew my head around. There was an uprush of flame, and somebody began screaming, and I could see an ambulance moving toward the center of excitement and firemen in asbestos suits converging on a run. One of the piles must have collapsed and somebody must have been splashed. I gave an involuntary shudder. Burning wax was hotter than melted lead, and it stuck to anything it touched, worse than napalm. I saw a man being dragged out of further danger, his clothes on fire, and asbestos-suited firemen crowding around to tear the burning garments from him. Before I could get to where it had happened, though, they had him in the ambulance and were taking him away. I hoped they'd get him to the hospital before he died.
Then more shouting started around at the right as a couple more piles began collapsing. I was able to get all of that—the wax sausages sliding forward, the men who had been working on foot running out of danger, the flames shooting up, and the gush of liquid fire from below. All three derricks moved in at once and began grabbing wax cylinders away on either side of it.
Then I saw Guido Fieschi, the Odin Dock & Shipyard's superintendent, and caught him in my camera, moving the jeep toward him.
"Mr. Fieschi!" I called. "Give me a few seconds and say something."
He saw me and grinned.
"I just came out to see how much more could be saved," he said. "We have close to a thousand tons on the shipping floor or out of danger here and on the way in, and it looks as though you'll be able to save that much more. That'll be a million and a half sols we can be sure of, and a possible three million, at the new price. And I want to take this occasion, on behalf of my company and of Terra-Odin Spacelines, to welcome a new freight shipper."
"Well, that's wonderful news for everybody on Fenris," I said, and added mentally, "with a few exceptions." Then I asked if he'd heard who had gotten splashed.
"No. I know it happened; I passed the ambulance on the way out. I certainly hope they get to work on him in time."
Then more wax started sliding off the piles, and more fire came running out at the bottom. Joe Kivelson's voice, out of the loudspeakers all around, was yelling:
"Everybody away from the front! Get the blowers in; start in on the other side!"
THE TREASON OF BISH WARE
I wanted to find out who had been splashed, but Joe Kivelson was too busy directing the new phase of the fight to hand out casualty reports to the press, and besides, there were too many things happening all at once that I had to get. I went around to the other side where the incendiaries had met their end, moving slowly as close to the face of the fire as I could get and shooting the burning wax flowing out from it. A lot of equipment, including two of the three claw-derricks and a dredger—they'd brought a second one up from the waterfront—were moving to that side. By the time I had gotten around, the blowers had been maneuvered into place and were ready to start. There was a lot of back-and-forth yelling to make sure that everybody was out from in front, and then the blowers started.
It looked like a horizontal volcanic eruption; burning wax blowing away from the fire for close to a hundred feet into the clear space beyond. The derricks and manipulators and the cars and jeeps with grapnels went in on both sides, snatching and dragging wax away. Because they had the wind from the blowers behind them, the men could work a lot closer, and the fire wasn't spreading as rapidly. They were saving a lot of wax; each one of those big sausages that the lifters picked up and floated away weighed a thousand pounds, and was worth, at the new price, eight hundred sols.
Finally, they got everything away that they could, and then the blowers were shut down and the two dredge shovels moved in, scooping up the burning sludge and carrying it away, scattering it on the concrete. I would have judged that there had been six or seven million sols' worth of wax in the piles to start with, and that a little more than half of it had been saved before they pulled the last cylinder away.
The work slacked off; finally, there was nothing but the two dredges doing anything, and then they backed away and let down, and it was all over but standing around and watching the scattered fire burn itself out. I looked at my watch. It was two hours since the first alarm had come in. I took a last swing around, got the spaceport people gathering up wax and hauling it away, and the broken lake of fire that extended downtown from where the stacks had been, and then I floated my jeep over to the sandwich-and-coffee stand and let down, getting out. Maybe, I thought, I could make some kind of deal with somebody like Interworld News on this. It would make a nice thrilling feature-program item. Just a little slice of life from Fenris, the Garden Spot of the Galaxy.
I got myself a big zhoumy-loin sandwich with hot sauce and a cup of coffee, made sure that my portable radio was on, and circulated among the fire fighters, getting comments. Everybody had been a hero, natch, and they were all very unbashful about admitting it. There was a great deal of wisecracking about Al Devis buying himself a ringside seat for the fire he'd started. Then I saw Cesario Vieira and joined him.
"Have all the fire you want, for a while?" I asked him.
"Brother, and how! We could have used a little of this over on Hermann Reuch's Land, though. Have you seen Tom around anywhere?"
"No. Have you?"
"I saw him over there, about an hour ago. I guess he stayed on this side. After they started blowing it, I was over on Al Devis's side." He whistled softly. "Was that a mess!"
There was still a crowd at the fire, but they seemed all to be townspeople. The hunters had gathered where Joe Kivelson had been directing operations. We finished our sandwiches and went over to join them. As soon as we got within earshot, I found that they were all in a very ugly mood.
"Don't fool around," one man was saying as we came up. "Don't even bother looking for a rope. Just shoot them as soon as you see them."
Well, I thought, a couple of million sols' worth of tallow-wax, in which they all owned shares, was something to get mean about. I said something like that.
"It's not that," another man said. "It's Tom Kivelson."
"What about him?" I asked, alarmed.
"Didn't you hear? He got splashed with burning wax," the hunter said. "His whole back was on fire; I don't know whether he's alive now or not."
So that was who I'd seen screaming in agony while the firemen tore his burning clothes away. I pushed through, with Cesario behind me, and found Joe Kivelson and Mohandas Feinberg and Corkscrew Finnegan and Oscar Fujisawa and a dozen other captains and ships' officers in a huddle.
"Joe," I said, "I just heard about Tom. Do you know anything yet?"
Joe turned. "Oh, Walt. Why, as far as we know, he's alive. He was alive when they got him to the hospital."
"That's at the spaceport?" I unhooked my handphone and got Dad. He'd heard about a man being splashed, but didn't know who it was. He said he'd call the hospital at once. A few minutes later, he was calling me back.
"He's been badly burned, all over the back. They're preparing to do a deep graft on him. They said his condition was serious, but he was alive five minutes ago."
I thanked him and hung up, relaying the information to the others. They all looked worried. When the screen girl at a hospital tells you somebody's serious, instead of giving you the well-as-can-be-expected routine, you know it is serious. Anybody who makes it alive to a hospital, these days, has an excellent chance, but injury cases do die, now and then, after they've been brought in. They are the "serious" cases.
"Well, I don't suppose there's anything we can do," Joe said heavily.
"We can clean up on the gang that started this fire," Oscar Fujisawa said. "Do it now; then if Tom doesn't make it, he's paid for in advance."
Oscar, I recalled, was the one who had been the most impressed with Bish Ware's argument that lynching Steve Ravick would cost the hunters the four million sols they might otherwise be able to recover, after a few years' interstellar litigation, from his bank account on Terra. That reminded me that I hadn't even thought of Bish since I'd left the Times. I called back. Dad hadn't heard a word from him.
"What's the situation at Hunters' Hall?" I asked.
"Everything's quiet there. The police left when Hallstock commandeered that fire-fighting equipment. They helped the shipyard men get it out, and then they all went to the Municipal Building. As far as I know, both Ravick and Belsher are still in Hunters' Hall. I'm in contact with the vehicles on guard at the approaches; I'll call them now."
I relayed that. The others nodded.
"Nip Spazoni and a few others are bringing men and guns up from the docks and putting a cordon around the place on the Main City Level," Oscar said. "Your father will probably be hearing that they're moving into position now."
He had. He also said that he had called all the vehicles on the First and Second Levels Down; they all reported no activity in Hunters' Hall except one jeep on Second Level Down, which did not report at all.
Everybody was puzzled about that.
"That's the jeep that reported Bish Ware going in on the bottom," Mohandas Feinberg said. "I wonder if somebody inside mightn't have gotten both the man on the jeep and Bish."
"He could have left the jeep," Joe said. "Maybe he went inside after Bish."
"Funny he didn't call in and say so," somebody said.
"No, it isn't," I contradicted. "Manufacturers' claims to the contrary, there is no such thing as a tap-proof radio. Maybe he wasn't supposed to leave his post, but if he did, he used his head not advertising it."