Tasso did not answer. She glanced up at him, her eyes bright in the fire light. Hendricks examined his arm. He could not move his fingers. His whole side seemed numb. Down inside him was a dull steady ache.
“How do you feel?” Tasso asked.
“My arm is damaged.”
“You didn’t get down when the bomb went off.”
Hendricks said nothing. He watched Tasso pour the coffee from the cup into a flat metal pan. She brought it over to him.
“Thanks.” He struggled up enough to drink. It was hard to swallow. His insides turned over and he pushed the pan away. “That’s all I can drink now.”
Tasso drank the rest. Time passed. The clouds of ash moved across the dark sky above them. Hendricks rested, his mind blank. After awhile he became aware that Tasso was standing over him, gazing down at him.
“What is it?” he murmured.
“Do you feel any better?”
“You know, Major, if I hadn’t dragged you away they would have got you. You would be dead. Like Rudi.”
“Do you want to know why I brought you out? I could have left you. I could have left you there.”
“Why did you bring me out?”
“Because we have to get away from here.” Tasso stirred the fire with a stick, peering calmly down into it. “No human being can live here. When their reinforcements come we won’t have a chance. I’ve pondered about it while you were unconscious. We have perhaps three hours before they come.”
“And you expect me to get us away?”
“That’s right. I expect you to get us out of here.”
“Because I don’t know any way.” Her eyes shone at him in the half-light, bright and steady. “If you can’t get us out of here they’ll kill us within three hours. I see nothing else ahead. Well, Major? What are you going to do? I’ve been waiting all night. While you were unconscious I sat here, waiting and listening. It’s almost dawn. The night is almost over.”
Hendricks considered. “It’s curious,” he said at last.
“That you should think I can get us out of here. I wonder what you think I can do.”
“Can you get us to the Moon Base?”
“The Moon Base? How?”
“There must be some way.”
Hendricks shook his head. “No. There’s no way that I know of.”
Tasso said nothing. For a moment her steady gaze wavered. She ducked her head, turning abruptly away. She scrambled to her feet. “More coffee?”
“Suit yourself.” Tasso drank silently. He could not see her face. He lay back against the ground, deep in thought, trying to concentrate. It was hard to think. His head still hurt. And the numbing daze still hung over him.
“There might be one way,” he said suddenly.
“How soon is dawn?”
“Two hours. The sun will be coming up shortly.”
“There’s supposed to be a ship near here. I’ve never seen it. But I know it exists.”
“What kind of a ship?” Her voice was sharp.
“A rocket cruiser.”
“Will it take us off? To the Moon Base?”
“It’s supposed to. In case of emergency.” He rubbed his forehead.
“My head. It’s hard to think. I can hardly—hardly concentrate. The bomb.”
“Is the ship near here?” Tasso slid over beside him, settling down on her haunches. “How far is it? Where is it?”
“I’m trying to think.”
Her fingers dug into his arm. “Nearby?” Her voice was like iron. “Where would it be? Would they store it underground? Hidden underground?”
“Yes. In a storage locker.”
“How do we find it? Is it marked? Is there a code marker to identify it?”
Hendricks concentrated. “No. No markings. No code symbol.”
“What sort of sign?”
Hendricks did not answer. In the flickering light his eyes were glazed, two sightless orbs. Tasso’s fingers dug into his arm.
“What sort of sign? What is it?”
“I—I can’t think. Let me rest.”
“All right.” She let go and stood up. Hendricks lay back against the ground, his eyes closed. Tasso walked away from him, her hands in her pockets. She kicked a rock out of her way and stood staring up at the sky. The night blackness was already beginning to fade into gray. Morning was coming.
Tasso gripped her pistol and walked around the fire in a circle, back and forth. On the ground Major Hendricks lay, his eyes closed, unmoving. The grayness rose in the sky, higher and higher. The landscape became visible, fields of ash stretching out in all directions. Ash and ruins of buildings, a wall here and there, heaps of concrete, the naked trunk of a tree.
The air was cold and sharp. Somewhere a long way off a bird made a few bleak sounds.
Hendricks stirred. He opened his eyes. “Is it dawn? Already?”
Hendricks sat up a little. “You wanted to know something. You were asking me.”
“Do you remember now?”
“What is it?” She tensed. “What?” she repeated sharply.
“A well. A ruined well. It’s in a storage locker under a well.”
“A well.” Tasso relaxed. “Then we’ll find a well.” She looked at her watch. “We have about an hour, Major. Do you think we can find it in an hour?”
“Give me a hand up,” Hendricks said.
Tasso put her pistol away and helped him to his feet. “This is going to be difficult.”
“Yes it is.” Hendricks set his lips tightly. “I don’t think we’re going to go very far.”
They began to walk. The early sun cast a little warmth down on them. The land was flat and barren, stretching out gray and lifeless as far as they could see. A few birds sailed silently, far above them, circling slowly.
“See anything?” Hendricks said. “Any claws?”
“No. Not yet.”
They passed through some ruins, upright concrete and bricks. A cement foundation. Rats scuttled away. Tasso jumped back warily.
“This used to be a town,” Hendricks said. “A village. Provincial village. This was all grape country, once. Where we are now.”
They came onto a ruined street, weeds and cracks criss-crossing it. Over to the right a stone chimney stuck up.
“Be careful,” he warned her.
A pit yawned, an open basement. Ragged ends of pipes jutted up, twisted and bent. They passed part of a house, a bathtub turned on its side. A broken chair. A few spoons and bits of china dishes. In the center of the street the ground had sunk away. The depression was filled with weeds and debris and bones.
“Over here,” Hendricks murmured.
“To the right.”
They passed the remains of a heavy duty tank. Hendricks’ belt counter clicked ominously. The tank had been radiation blasted. A few feet from the tank a mummified body lay sprawled out, mouth open. Beyond the road was a flat field. Stones and weeds, and bits of broken glass.
“There,” Hendricks said.
A stone well jutted up, sagging and broken. A few boards lay across it. Most of the well had sunk into rubble. Hendricks walked unsteadily toward it, Tasso beside him.
“Are you certain about this?” Tasso said. “This doesn’t look like anything.”
“I’m sure.” Hendricks sat down at the edge of the well, his teeth locked. His breath came quickly. He wiped perspiration from his face. “This was arranged so the senior command officer could get away. If anything happened. If the bunker fell.”
“That was you?”
“Where is the ship? Is it here?”
“We’re standing on it.” Hendricks ran his hands over the surface of the well stones. “The eye-lock responds to me, not to anybody else. It’s my ship. Or it was supposed to be.”
There was a sharp click. Presently they heard a low grating sound from below them.
“Step back,” Hendricks said. He and Tasso moved away from the well.
A section of the ground slid back. A metal frame pushed slowly up through the ash, shoving bricks and weeds out of the way. The action ceased, as the ship nosed into view.
“There it is,” Hendricks said.
The ship was small. It rested quietly, suspended in its mesh frame, like a blunt needle. A rain of ash sifted down into the dark cavity from which the ship had been raised. Hendricks made his way over to it. He mounted the mesh and unscrewed the hatch, pulling it back. Inside the ship the control banks and the pressure seat were visible.
Tasso came and stood beside him, gazing into the ship. “I’m not accustomed to rocket piloting,” she said, after awhile.
Hendricks glanced at her. “I’ll do the piloting.”
“Will you? There’s only one seat, Major. I can see it’s built to carry only a single person.”
Hendricks’ breathing changed. He studied the interior of the ship intently. Tasso was right. There was only one seat. The ship was built to carry only one person. “I see,” he said slowly. “And the one person is you.”
“You can’t go. You might not live through the trip. You’re injured. You probably wouldn’t get there.”
“An interesting point. But you see, I know where the Moon Base is. And you don’t. You might fly around for months and not find it. It’s well hidden. Without knowing what to look for—”
“I’ll have to take my chances. Maybe I won’t find it. Not by myself. But I think you’ll give me all the information I need. Your life depends on it.”
“If I find the Moon Base in time, perhaps I can get them to send a ship back to pick you up. If I find the Base in time. If not, then you haven’t a chance. I imagine there are supplies on the ship. They will last me long enough—”
Hendricks moved quickly. But his injured arm betrayed him. Tasso ducked, sliding lithely aside. Her hand came up, lightning fast. Hendricks saw the gun butt coming. He tried to ward off the blow, but she was too fast. The metal butt struck against the side of his head, just above his ear. Numbing pain rushed through him. Pain and rolling clouds of blackness. He sank down, sliding to the ground.
Dimly, he was aware that Tasso was standing over him, kicking him with her toe.
“Major! Wake up.”
He opened his eyes, groaning.
“Listen to me.” She bent down, the gun pointed at his face. “I have to hurry. There isn’t much time left. The ship is ready to go, but you must tell me the information I need before I leave.”
Hendricks shook his head, trying to clear it.
“Hurry up! Where is the Moon Base? How do I find it? What do I look for?”
Hendricks said nothing.
“Major, the ship is loaded with provisions. I can coast for weeks. I’ll find the Base eventually. And in a half hour you’ll be dead. Your only chance of survival—” She broke off.
Along the slope, by some crumbling ruins, something moved. Something in the ash. Tasso turned quickly, aiming. She fired. A puff of flame leaped. Something scuttled away, rolling across the ash. She fired again. The claw burst apart, wheels flying.
“See?” Tasso said. “A scout. It won’t be long.”
“You’ll bring them back here to get me?”
“Yes. As soon as possible.”
Hendricks looked up at her. He studied her intently. “You’re telling the truth?” A strange expression had come over his face, an avid hunger. “You will come back for me? You’ll get me to the Moon Base?”
“I’ll get you to the Moon Base. But tell me where it is! There’s only a little time left.”
“All right.” Hendricks picked up a piece of rock, pulling himself to a sitting position. “Watch.”
Hendricks began to scratch in the ash. Tasso stood by him, watching the motion of the rock. Hendricks was sketching a crude lunar map.
“This is the Appenine range. Here is the Crater of Archimedes. The Moon Base is beyond the end of the Appenine, about two hundred miles. I don’t know exactly where. No one on Terra knows. But when you’re over the Appenine, signal with one red flare and a green flare, followed by two red flares in quick succession. The Base monitor will record your signal. The Base is under the surface, of course. They’ll guide you down with magnetic grapples.”
“And the controls? Can I operate them?”
“The controls are virtually automatic. All you have to do is give the right signal at the right time.”
“The seat absorbs most of the take-off shock. Air and temperature are automatically controlled. The ship will leave Terra and pass out into free space. It’ll line itself up with the moon, falling into an orbit around it, about a hundred miles above the surface. The orbit will carry you over the Base. When you’re in the region of the Appenine, release the signal rockets.”
Tasso slid into the ship and lowered herself into the pressure seat. The arm locks folded automatically around her. She fingered the controls. “Too bad you’re not going, Major. All this put here for you, and you can’t make the trip.”
“Leave me the pistol.”
Tasso pulled the pistol from her belt. She held it in her hand, weighing it thoughtfully. “Don’t go too far from this location. It’ll be hard to find you, as it is.”
“No. I’ll stay here by the well.”
Tasso gripped the take-off switch, running her fingers over the smooth metal. “A beautiful ship, Major. Well built. I admire your workmanship. You people have always done good work. You build fine things. Your work, your creations, are your greatest achievement.”
“Give me the pistol,” Hendricks said impatiently, holding out his hand. He struggled to his feet.
“Good-bye, Major.” Tasso tossed the pistol past Hendricks. The pistol clattered against the ground, bouncing and rolling away. Hendricks hurried after it. He bent down, snatching it up.
The hatch of the ship clanged shut. The bolts fell into place. Hendricks made his way back. The inner door was being sealed. He raised the pistol unsteadily.
There was a shattering roar. The ship burst up from its metal cage, fusing the mesh behind it. Hendricks cringed, pulling back. The ship shot up into the rolling clouds of ash, disappearing into the sky.
Hendricks stood watching a long time, until even the streamer had dissipated. Nothing stirred. The morning air was chill and silent. He began to walk aimlessly back the way they had come. Better to keep moving around. It would be a long time before help came—if it came at all.
He searched his pockets until he found a package of cigarettes. He lit one grimly. They had all wanted cigarettes from him. But cigarettes were scarce.
A lizard slithered by him, through the ash. He halted, rigid. The lizard disappeared. Above, the sun rose higher in the sky. Some flies landed on a flat rock to one side of him. Hendricks kicked at them with his foot.
It was getting hot. Sweat trickled down his face, into his collar. His mouth was dry.
Presently he stopped walking and sat down on some debris. He unfastened his medicine kit and swallowed a few narcotic capsules. He looked around him. Where was he?
Something lay ahead. Stretched out on the ground. Silent and unmoving.
Hendricks drew his gun quickly. It looked like a man. Then he remembered. It was the remains of Klaus. The Second Variety. Where Tasso had blasted him. He could see wheels and relays and metal parts, strewn around on the ash. Glittering and sparkling in the sunlight.
Hendricks got to his feet and walked over. He nudged the inert form with his foot, turning it over a little. He could see the metal hull, the aluminum ribs and struts. More wiring fell out. Like viscera. Heaps of wiring, switches and relays. Endless motors and rods.
He bent down. The brain cage had been smashed by the fall. The artificial brain was visible. He gazed at it. A maze of circuits. Miniature tubes. Wires as fine as hair. He touched the brain cage. It swung aside. The type plate was visible. Hendricks studied the plate.
For a long time he stared at the plate. Fourth Variety. Not the Second. They had been wrong. There were more types. Not just three. Many more, perhaps. At least four. And Klaus wasn’t the Second Variety.
But if Klaus wasn’t the Second Variety—
Suddenly he tensed. Something was coming, walking through the ash beyond the hill. What was it? He strained to see. Figures. Figures coming slowly along, making their way through the ash.
Coming toward him.
Hendricks crouched quickly, raising his gun. Sweat dripped down into his eyes. He fought down rising panic, as the figures neared.
The first was a David. The David saw him and increased its pace. The others hurried behind it. A second David. A third. Three Davids, all alike, coming toward him silently, without expression, their thin legs rising and falling. Clutching their teddy bears.
He aimed and fired. The first two Davids dissolved into particles. The third came on. And the figure behind it. Climbing silently toward him across the gray ash. A Wounded Soldier, towering over the David. And—
And behind the Wounded Soldier came two Tassos, walking side by side. Heavy belt, Russian army pants, shirt, long hair. The familiar figure, as he had seen her only a little while before. Sitting in the pressure seat of the ship. Two slim, silent figures, both identical.
They were very near. The David bent down suddenly, dropping its teddy bear. The bear raced across the ground. Automatically, Hendricks’ fingers tightened around the trigger. The bear was gone, dissolved into mist. The two Tasso Types moved on, expressionless, walking side by side, through the gray ash.
When they were almost to him, Hendricks raised the pistol waist high and fired.
The two Tassos dissolved. But already a new group was starting up the rise, five or six Tassos, all identical, a line of them coming rapidly toward him.
And he had given her the ship and the signal code. Because of him she was on her way to the moon, to the Moon Base. He had made it possible.
He had been right about the bomb, after all. It had been designed with knowledge of the other types, the David Type and the Wounded Soldier Type. And the Klaus Type. Not designed by human beings. It had been designed by one of the underground factories, apart from all human contact.
The line of Tassos came up to him. Hendricks braced himself, watching them calmly. The familiar face, the belt, the heavy shirt, the bomb carefully in place.
As the Tassos reached for him, a last ironic thought drifted through Hendricks’ mind. He felt a little better, thinking about it. The bomb. Made by the Second Variety to destroy the other varieties. Made for that end alone.
They were already beginning to design weapons to use against each other.