Only a cosmic miracle could save mankind from extinction on Mercury...
Release date: December 22, 2014
Print pages: 94
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The twisting rivers were stopped; and banked by clawing fingers of palely glimmering white that shone wanly in the dim glow of the sun.
Earth was dead!
Earlier, while there had still been time, Mankind had fled the planet and spiralled inward, towards the dying sun. For Man did not die when the Earth did. There had been colonies on Venus, but these had lasted less than fifty years. Then they in turn had fallen, deserted and ruined, under the ever-thickening layers of carbon-dioxide snow.
Even here, there had been survivors. The cataclysmic fury of another Ice Age had merely served to advance scientific knowledge by two hundred years. Men had looked first towards the stars that seemed to promise so much. But these were, without exception, beyond reach in the empty, black infinities of interstellar space.
The end was something of an anti-climax after these high hopes and ideals. There remained only Mercury on which to find even temporary respite. In the narrow strip of the Twilight Zone, where the glaring disc of the sun bobbed up and down in an endless rhythm against a jagged horizon of black, lifeless rocks. But here, conditions were not unlike those of Earth.
Science progressed rapidly in response to the challenge of an alien planet. Life for the ruling classes, the Overlords, was made as sybaritic as possible. Atomics changed the face and outlook of the human race, but made little difference to the face of the planet.
The mass of the people, the workers, existed on the sunward side, in the vast neutronium Shells that had been thrown up on the bottom of the shallow lakes of molten lead. Travel for the workers was naturally restricted. It wasn’t in the best interests of the Overlords to allow the people to know too much of what was going on. That would have been asking for trouble. So the vast majority lived out their miserable lives in the humid, artificial, grey atmosphere of the Shell in which they were born.
Then too, there were the Phranix. The great, beaked, nightmare furies of the Dark Side with their senseless, ageless way against the Xenonactls, the only other dominant species of Mercury, whose natural habitat was the scorching hell of the sunward hemisphere.
And Man, the interloper, was in the middle. For the only battleground they had in common, was the narrow emptiness of the Twilight Zone.
Eight generations of workers had suffered at the evil avaricious hands of the Overlords when Martin Zennek was born. And the baleful star that shone at his birth was the far-off planet of Earth that had long been forgotten….
The revolt was a dismal failure. It was finished almost before it had begun. In the taut stillness of the narrow room, overlooking the twisting street, the silence grew and grew until it was almost tangible.
There were four men seated round the small wooden table in the centre of the room, while outside, there was nothing but noise. The ugly susurration of mob sounds. A cacophony of shouting, an inhuman yelling that grated on the ear, set the teeth on edge, and ate at the nerves like acid. But it was fading slowly.
The soldiers were moving in. And there were robots with them. Great, animated cylinders of steel and transparent glassite. All whirring discs and flicking, many-jointed, retractable arms. And unlike the green-uniformed military men who followed close behind them, they were virtually indestructible. Nothing short of a direct hit from a neutronic cannon could stop them in any way.
Completely automatic, they had been primarily designed to aid in the smooth running of the Shell. Their job was to eliminate any kinks in the complicated life of the community.
The revolt was just such a kink. And now, they were all busy, rectifying it. They went about it skilfully, breaking up the mass of the people into sizeable groups. Ripping and kicking and smashing. Obeying no orders apart from the complex electronic impulses that had been incorporated into their make-up.
Although divided, the workers were still fighting. But they were isolated and leaderless. Soon, it would be all over.
Even the firing was sporadic. But it was still clearly audible above the shouting of men killing men. A vague smattering of sound that seemed to strike a responsive chord in one of the men.
Khava Zennek looked up sharply and pursed his lips. Like the others seated round the small table, he was of medium height, white-skinned and fair-haired. His eyes were pale grey beneath non-existent brows, and were set a little too close against the pinched nose for good looks.
He fidgeted nervously, almost convulsively, with the small, but deadly, blaster in his right hand. They would have to rearrange their tentative plans—but not much. It would be impossible for anyone to get out of the Shell now. Every single exit would be securely guarded.
But how had the Overlords known? He groped mentally for the memory of anything that had been said, an unwary word perhaps that had been allowed to slip out. But he found nothing. So that wasn’t it. That left only one other explanation, though at first he shrank from thinking about it.
But it was the first coherent thought to push its way through the dulled channels of his brain, so there must have been something behind it all. When he finally put his thoughts into words, his voice was husky, edged with quiet tension. And there was an odd ring about it. Steely and hard.
“There’s no getting away from it. Someone must have talked. How else could they possibly have known when and where the attack was due to begin? They knew everything. Not just the broad details. That would have been understandable. But this—” he waved his hand towards the open window, “—is too much of a coincidence.”
Angrily, he stared across the table into the clear grey eyes of Krina Gomez. The other nodded slowly. There was a grim parody of a smile on his lips that made a thin, hard line across the middle of his bloodless face. He tapped idly with his long fingers on the polished table top for a long moment before answering.
Finally, he said: “You’re right, of course. What other explanation can there be?” His voice was soft and he spoke hesitantly. Like a man who has nothing to say, but realises that something is expected of him. As though seeking further information, he glanced quickly to the younger man who sat on his right.
Ryn Keller shrugged his thin, stooping shoulders. He moved his lean body uneasily in his chair. Then he ran his fingers through his blond hair. It was a quick, unconscious movement.
“I’ve nothing to add to what has already been said,” he muttered thinly. “Though I suppose that if we look at everything objectively, this all adds up to the fact that we’re finished. Rinner and the rest of the Overlords have been trying to pin something like this on us for the past seven years. They’ve suspected for a long time, that we’re the leaders. But until now, they haven’t been able to prove a thing.”
He licked his thin lips uncomfortably. Then he glanced up at Zennek with puzzled unease. Fatigue was written all over his drawn features. There were blue shadows smudged under his eyes and the fine lines around the edges of his mouth seemed to have deepened slightly.
Zennek said: “That’s right, of course. In the beginning, we had to start with a tiny core of men. Just a few, who had the courage and vision to believe in the same things as we did. Not many are still alive now. It’s been a tough life during the past few years, trying to keep under cover, meeting only in the long night periods, dodging secret police and informers.”
His hand on the table slowly opened from a tight-balled fist. There was a little snap in his voice as he went on:
“The first thing we did in those days was to spread our best men throughout the Shells. A couple here and there, quietly and unobtrusively. We built up supplies, weapons and food, ready for the day when we could stand in the open—and fight.”
His voice dropped in pitch. The feeling of past exultation sagged and he felt suddenly cold again. He sighed and tried to force his body to relax. The cold metal of the chair pressed hard against his back. It was uncomfortable and stiff. His head still ached a little from the noise outside, the shouting and the continual hiss of stun-guns, and there was a bitter taste in his mouth. The taste of defeat. His eyes were sore and tender, heavy with sleeplessness.
He jerked erect as the fourth man, Conrad Menson, got to his feet, scraped back his chair a couple of inches, and crossed over to the window. He stood for a long moment, looking out at the scene below. His pale face was completely devoid of any expression.
“They’re mopping up now,” he said unnecessarily, letting the words slide out between his teeth. He pointed to the street. The others joined him. An electric tension seemed to leap like a spark from one to the other. Every sound and untoward movement was enough to bring them upright, immediately alert.
Khava Zennek looked out. It was getting near the beginning of the night period. Already, the clouds of darkness were swirling over the curved roof of the massive dome, blotting out the atomic discs of the artificial lighting system. The air that drifted in through the open window was cool but somehow, there was a smell about it that he didn’t like. The reek of uncontrollable, primeval fear mingled with the fuming odour of vibrator discharges and charred metal.
But it was still light enough to pick out the groups of huddled bodies, twisted and unmoving, strewn along the red-stained autoways. And the green-coated military men who were stationed at the far end of the street. They were almost entirely hidden from sight behind a hastily erected barricade.
They all seemed to be waiting for something. And that was the trouble, reflected Khava bitterly. Everything seemed to be waiting. If only things had turned out differently.
But they hadn’t. They never could, because this rebellion was not merely an armed uprising of a crowd of men, intent on killing the Overlords the first chance they got. It was something more than that. It personified the inbred desire of the ordinary people to gain for themselves a decent way of life. True, Earth had died when the sun cooled for some inexplicable reason. And no one had been to blame for that. Venus had crumbled too and the same thing applied there.
But surely on Mercury, it was up to the people to make the best of an impossible situation. No one possessed the right to set himself up as God. And that was what the Overlords were intent on doing. They sat alone in their neutronium Shells on the rocky greyness of the Twilight Zone and played games with the destinies and the souls of men and women.
His thoughts were push. . .
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