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25

There were few coherent memories of the ride. Some things stood out sharply like the spaceship-sized lump of burning scoria that had plunged into a lake near them, showering the line with hot drops of water. But mostly it was just a seemingly endless ride, with Jason still too weak to care much about it. By dawn the danger area was behind them and the march had slowed to a walk. The animals had vanished as the quake was left behind, going their own ways, still in silent armistice.

The peace of mutually shared danger was over; Jason found that out when they stopped to rest and eat. He and Plies went to sit on the soft grass, near a fallen tree. A wild dog had arrived there first. It lay under the log, muscles tensed, the ruddy morning light striking a red glint from its eyes. Plies faced it, not three meters away, without moving a muscle. He made no attempt to reach one of his weapons or to call for help. Jason stood still as well, hoping the Pyrran knew what he was doing.

With no warning at all the dog sprang straight at them. Jason fell backward as Plies pushed him aside. The Pyrran dropped at the same time-only now his hand held the long knife, yanked from the sheath strapped to his thigh. With unseen speed the knife came up, the dog twisted in midair, trying to bite it. Instead it sank in behind the dog's forelegs, the beast's own weight tearing a deadly gaping wound the length of its body. It was still alive when it hit the ground, but Plies was astraddle it, pulling back the bony-plated head to cut the soft throat underneath.

The Pyrran carefully cleaned his knife on the dead animal's fur, then returned it to the sheath. "They're usually no trouble," he said quietly, "but it was excited. Probably lost the rest of the pack in the quake." His actions were the direct opposite of the city Pyrrans. He had not looked for trouble nor started the fight. Instead he had avoided it as long as he could. But when the beast charged, it had been neatly and efficiently dispatched. Now, instead of gloating over his victory, he seemed troubled over an unnecessary death.

It made sense. Everything on Pyrrus made sense. Now he knew how the deadly planetary battle had started-and he knew how it could be ended. All the deaths had not been in vain. Each one had helped him along the road a little more toward the final destination. There was just one final thing to be done.

Plies was watching him now and he knew they shared the same thoughts. "Explain yourself," Plies said. "What did you mean when you said we could wipe out the junkmen and get our freedom?"

Jason didn't bother to correct the misquote; it was best they consider him a hundred percent on their side.

"Get the others together and I'll tell you. I particularly want to see Naxa and any other talkers who are here."

They gathered quickly when the word was passed. All of them knew that the junkman had been killed to save this off-wonder, that their hope of salvation lay with him. Jason looked at the crowd of faces turned toward him and reached for the right words to tell them what had to be done. It didn't help to know that many of them would be killed doing

—~ it.


"We all want to see an end to the war here on Pyrrus. There is a way, but it will cost human lives. Some of you may die doing it. I think the price is worth it, because success will bring you everything you have ever wanted." He looked around at the tense, waiting circle.

'We are going to invade the city, break through the perimeter. I know how it can be done. . .

A mutter of sound spread across the crowd. Some of them looked excited, happy with the thought of Idiling their hereditary enemies. Others stared at Jason as if he were mad. A few were dazed at the magnitude of the thought, this carrying of the battle to the stronghold of the heavily armed enemy. They quieted when Jason raised his hand.

"I know it sounds impossible," he said. "But let me explain. Something must be done-and now is the time to do it. The situation can only get worse from now on. The city Pyrr. . . the junkmen can get along without your food, their concentrates taste awful but they sustain life. But they are going to turn against you in every way they can. No more metals for your tools or replacements for your electronic equipment. Their hatred will probably make them seek out your farms and destroy them from the ship. All of this won't be comfortable-and there will be worse to come. In the city they are losing their war against this planet. Each year there are less of them, and some day they will all be dead. Knowing how they feel, I am sure they will destroy their ship first, and the entire planet as well, if that is possible."

"How can we stop them?" someone called out.

"By hitting now," Jason answered. "I know all the details of the city and I know how the defenses are set up. Their perimeter is designed to protect them from animal life, but we could break through it if we were really determгned."

'What good would that do?" Plies snapped. "We crack the perimeter and they draw back-then counterattack in force. How can we stand against their weapons?"

"We won't have to. Their spaceport touches the perimeter, and I know the exact spot where the ship stands. That is the place where we will break through. There is no formal guard on the ship and only a few people in the area. We will capture the ship. Whether we can fly it or not is unimportant. Who controls the ship controls Pyrrus. Once there we threaten to destroy it if they don't meet our terms. They have the choice of mass suicide or cooperation. I hope they have the brains to cooperate."

His words shocked them into silence for an instant, then they surged into a wave of sound. There was no agreement, just excitement, and Plies finally brought them to order.

"Quiet!" he shouted. 'Wait until Jason finishes before you decide. We still haven't heard how this proposed invasion is to be accomplished."

"The plan I have depends on the talkers," Jason said. "Is Naxa there?" He waited until the fur-wrapped man had pushed to the front. "I want to know more about the talkers, Naxa. I know you can speak to doryms and the dogs here-but what about the wild animals? Can you make them do what you want?"

"They're animals-course we can talk t' them. Th' more talkers, th' more power. Make 'em do just what we want."

"Then the attack will work," Jason said excitedly. "Could you get your talkers all on one side of the city-the opposite side from the spaceport-and stir the animals up? Make them attack the perimeter?"

"Could we!" Naxa shouted, carried away by the idea. "We'd bring in animals from all over, start th' biggest attack they ev'r saw!"

"Then that's it. Your talkers will launch the attack on the far side of the perimeter. If you keep out of sight, the guards will have no idea that it is anything more than an animal attack. I've seen how they work. As an attack mounts, they call for reserves inside the city and drain men away from the other parts of the perimeter. At the height of the battle, when they have all their forces committed across the city, I'll lead the attack that will break through and capture the ship. That's the plan and it's going to work."

Jason sat down then, half fell down, drained of strength. He lay and

listened as the debate went back and forth, Plies ordering it and kee1 ing it going. Difficulties were raised and eliminated. No one could fin a basic fault with the plan. There were plenty of flaws in it, things th~ might go wrong, but Jason didn't mention them. These people wante his idea to work and they were going to make it work.

It finally broke up and they moved away. Rhes came over to Jason.

"The basics are settled," he said. "All here are in agreement. The are spreading the word by messenger to all the talkers. The talkers ai the heart of the attack, and the more we have, the better it will go of We don't dare use the screens to call them; there is a good chance th~ the junkmen can intercept our messages. It will take five days before i~ are ready to go ahead."

"I'll need all of that time if I'm to be any good," Jason said. "Now let get some rest."



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