THE FIGHT IN THE TOWER
So far we had not laid eyes on a Han. The tower seemed deserted. Erhart and Joyce, however, assured me that there would be at least one man on "duty" in the military offices, though he would probably be asleep, and two or three in the library proper and the projectoscope plant.
"We've got to put them out of commission," I said. "Did you bring the 'dope' cans, Wilma?"
"Yes," she said, "two for each. Here," and she distributed them.
We were now two levels below the roof, and at the point where we were to separate.
I did not want to let Wilma out of my sight, but it was necessary. According to our plan, Fabre was to make his way to the projectoscope plant, Erhart and I to the library, and Wilma and Joyce to the military office.
Erhart and I traversed a long corridor, and paused at the great arched doorway of the library. Cautiously we peered in. Seated at three great switchboards were library operatives. Occasionally one of them would reach lazily for a lever, or sleepily push a button, as little numbered lights winked on and off. They were answering calls for electrograph and viewplate records on all sorts of subjects from all sections of the city.
I apprised my companions of the situation.
"Better wait a bit," Erhart added. "The calls will lessen shortly."
Wilma reported an officer in the military office sound asleep.
"Give him the can, then," I said.
Fabre was to do nothing more than keep watch in the projectoscope plant, and a few moments later he reported himself well concealed, with a splendid view of the floor.
"I think we can take a chance now," Erhart said to me, and at my nod, he opened the lid of his dope can. Of course, the fumes did not affect us through our helmets. They were absolutely without odor or visibility, and in a few seconds the librarians were unconscious. We stepped into the room.
There ensued considerable cautious observation and experiment on the part of Joyce, working from the military office, and Erhart in the library; while Wilma and I, with drawn swords and sharply attuned microphones, stood guard, and occasionally patrolled nearby corridors.
"I hear something approaching," Wilma said after a bit, with excitement in her voice. "It's a soft, gliding sound."
"That's an elevator somewhere," Fabre cut in from the projectoscope floor. "Can you locate it? I can't hear it."
"It's to the east of me," she replied.
"And to my west," said I, faintly catching it. "It's between us, Wilma, and nearer you than me. Be careful. Have you got any information yet, Erhart – Joyce?"
"Getting it now," one of them replied. "Give us two minutes more."
"Keep at it then," I said. "We'll guard."
The soft, gliding sound ceased.
"I think it's very close to me," Wilma almost whispered. "Come closer, Tony. I have a feeling something is going to happen. I've never known my nerves to get taut like this without reason."
In some alarm, I launched myself down the corridor in a great leap toward the intersection whence I knew I could see her.
In the middle of my leap my ultrophone registered her gasp of alarm. The next instant I glided to a stop at the intersection to see Wilma backing toward the door of the military office, her sword red with blood, and an inert form on the corridor floor. Two other Hans were circling to either side of her with wicked-looking knives, while a third, evidently a high officer judging by the resplendence of his garb, tugged desperately to get an electrophone instrument out of a bulky pocket. If he ever gave the alarm, there was no telling what might happen to us.
I was at least seventy feet away, but I crouched low and sprang with every bit of strength in my legs. It would be more correct to say that I dived, for I reached the fellow head on, with no attempt to draw my legs beneath me.
Some instinct must have warned him, for he turned suddenly as I hurtled close to him. But by this time I had sunk close to the floor, and had stiffened myself rigidly, lest a dragging knee or foot might just prevent my reaching him. I brought my blade upward and over. It was a vicious slash that laid him open, bisecting him from groin to chin, and his body toppled down on me as I slid to a tangled stop.
The other two, startled, turned. Wilma leaped at one and struck him down with a side slash. I looked up at this instant, and the dazed fear on his face at the length of her leap, registered vividly. The Hans knew nothing of our inertron belts, it seemed, and these leaps and dives of ours filled them with terror.
As I rose to my feet, a gory mess, Wilma, with a poise and speed which I found time to admire even in this crisis, again leaped. This time she dove head first as I had done, and with a beautifully executed thrust, ran the last Han through the throat.
Uncertainly, she scrambled to her feet, staggered queerly, and then sank gently prone on the corridor. She had fainted.
At this juncture, Erhart and Joyce reported with elation that they had the record we wanted.
"Back to the roof, everybody!" I ordered, as I picked Wilma up in my arms. With her inertron belt, she felt as light as a feather.
Joyce joined me at once from the military office and at the intersection of the corridor, we came upon Erhart waiting for us. Fabre, however, was not in evidence.
"Where are you, Fabre?" I called.
"Go ahead," he replied. "I'll be with you on the roof at once."
We came out in the open without any further mishap, and I instructed Gibbons in the ship to light the knob on the end of the ultron wire. It flashed dully a few feet away from us. Just how he had maneuvered the ship to keep our end of the line in position, without its swinging in a tremendous arc, I have never been able to understand. Had not the night been an unusually still one, he could not have checked the initial pendulum-like movements. As it was, there was considerable air current at certain of the levels, and in different directions too. But Gibbons was an expert of rare ability and sensitivity in the handling of a rocket ship, and he managed, with the aid of his delicate instruments, to sense the drifts almost before they affected the fine ultron wire, and to neutralize them with little shifts in the position of the ship.
Erhart and Joyce fastened their rings to the wire, and I hooked my own and Wilma's on, too. But on looking around, I found that Fabre was still missing.
"Fabre, come!" I called. "We're waiting."
"Coming!" he replied, and indeed, at that instant, his figure appeared up the ramp. He chuckled as he fastened his ring to the wire and said something about a little surprise he had left for the Hans.
"Don't reel in the wire more than a few hundred feet," I instructed Gibbons. "It will take too long to wind it in. We'll float up, and when we're aboard, we can drop it."
In order to float up, we had to dispense with a pound or two of weight apiece. We hurled our swords from us, and kicked off our shoes as Gibbons reeled up the line a bit, and then letting go of the wire, began to hum upward on our rings with increasing velocity.
The rush of air brought Wilma to, and I hastily explained to her that we had been successful. Receding far below us now, I could see our dully shining knob swinging to and fro in an ever-widening arc, as it crossed and recrossed the black square of the tower roof. As an extra precaution, I ordered Gibbons to shut off the light, and to show one from the belly of the ship, for so great was our speed now, that I began to fear we would have difficulty in checking ourselves. We were literally falling upward, and with terrific acceleration.
Fortunately, we had several minutes in which to solve this difficulty, which none of us, strangely enough, had foreseen. It was Gibbons who found the answer.
"You'll be all right if all of you grab the wire tight when I give the word," he said. "First I'll start reeling it in at full speed. You won't get much of a jar, and then I'll decrease its speed again gradually, and its weight will hold you back. Are you ready? One – two – three!"
We all grabbed tightly with our gloved hands as he gave the word. We must have been rising a good bit faster than he figured, however, for it wrenched our arms considerably, and the maneuver set up a sickening pendulum motion.
For a while all we could do was swing there in an arc that may have been a quarter of a mile across, about three and a half miles above the city, and still more than a mile from our ship.
Gibbons skillfully took up the slack as our momentum pulled up the line. Then at last we had ourselves under control again, and continued our upward journey, checking our speed somewhat with our gloves.
There was not one of us who did not breathe a big sigh of relief when we scrambled through the hatch safely into the ship again, cast off the ultron line and slammed the trap shut.
Then we discussed the information that Erhart and Joyce had between them extracted from the Han records, and the advisability of ultrophoning Ciardi at once.