OF MEGARON part 5
Melanion had mastered his sudden rage and was going coldly
to work in a
different direction. All would be done by the due process of
law. He said,
"We waste time. Let us proceed. Golgos is right. The Constitution
martial law. This is an emergency, and the people cannot meet.
corps is now in charge. I propose that Golgos, as leader of the
corps, shall hold the office of dictator while the emergency
lasts. Who is
Assent was immediate and total. Military government had voted
into power. Melanion said, "The first act of our leader
must be to rid us of
these traitors. I also invoke the ancient law against the woman
who has broken the solemn understanding of a twenty-year pairing
With regard to the full compliment of the accused, Golgos said,
is no need to take evidence. The offense is admitted before all
witnesses. Sentence can be passed by the leader. It is death
Karl shook himself free from John and went to Gelanor and Rhoda.
around them both and, in a way, glad to have the right at last
to do it
openly, he said, "Then the sentence applies equally to me."
There was a stir in the ranks. Karl had been a popular figure
except in the last difficult days, had commanded respect from
all of the
community. Golgos was no fool and knew that an extreme sentence
dissension. He thumbed the hull of a strike craft with the butt
pistol to procure silence. "We will follow the rule of law.
I decree that
Karl, Gelanor, Urion, Hepa, Melas, and Deana are to leave the
have one hour ro collect what things they can carry. Beyond that
will be declared outlaws and will be shot on sight. Is that agreed?"
There was not much enthusiasm for it, but the chorus of assent
positive enough. Golgos went on. "For the strangers, the
case is different.
They have broken no law, but they have shown that they are not
be taken into our community. Even at first, there was doubt,
and the vote to
accept them was divided. I reverse that decision. They must go.
have one hour. Beyond that time, they will be hunted down if
within ten kilometres of this place." To the surprise of
the Alphans and
their Megaronian cohorts, Golgos revealed, "The defense
corps was able to
secure the two air cars used by the strangers in their initial
Caster." It was news to John and company. They had been
certain that Caster
had retaken those cars. "Those will be the vehicles by which
ones will leave the enclave."
At a signal from Golgos, the guards at the head of the slipway
off. The whole defense corps lined the quay, pistols aimed at
below. For a moment, John thought that the judicial procedure
had been a
charade and execution would follow anyway. But there was no other
except the silent threat. Time was moving on. He gathered his
strode up the slope. It looked like animals moving two-by-two
mythical Ark. John and Helena, then Tony and Maya, Alan and Rhoda,
Gelanor, Urion and Hepa, and Melas and Deana.
Knowing that flight invites pursuit, John kept the pace unhurried.
had not been mentioned on any capital charge, but it was implied
banishment was hers along with her Alphan comrades.
Outside, the sky was lighter. The long night had finally moved
a new dawn. The ruined tower had never looked attractive. Now,
it was a
disaster area, scorched, drab, and evil-smelling. The two small
were fully fueled and laden with six passengers each and the
litter of gear
stripped from the wreck of Eagle One. They moved sluggishly for
John circled the building. Small fires still guttered at the
and a thin plume of black smoke was rising against the sky. A
dawn wind was
wrinkling the surface of the sea.
Helena asked, "Where do we go now, John?"
John followed the military maxim.
Never show doubt. Any order is better
than no order. "For a first stop, there's only one place.
Maya pointed it
out on the map. There's a deserted space program site. We'll
see of there's
any accommodation we can use, until we sort something out."
The two small cars picked up a course and moved inland down the
peninsula, away from Caster and the Outfarers both.
In the dawn light, the central plateau of the small peninsula
and barren as a Moonscape. Approaching the site on foot, it would
difficult to form an intelligent picture of the area, but from
they could see it whole. It had been a massive enterprise. A
minor city in
The remnants of a perimeter fence still stood, running in a circle
diameter that must be all of two kilometres. Set back from the
fence was a
broad inner wheel, which had been set out in eight arcs for housing
development, in squat, single-storey blocks, with circulation
leading to the centre. At the hub of the system was an oval outcrop
which had been machine-trimmed to a smooth regular shape and
lay like a long
barrow or a stranded whale. Along its broad back, three immense
covers lay like pan lids on a cooker.
Tony, fairly bouncing on his seat, said, "Do you see that,
Launching silos, Intercontinental ballistic vehicles. Or missiles?
Is it a
Karl answered, "You understand, my friends, that this is
experience, but what we have pieced together of our history says
is neither of those things. We know that the Megaronians of the
had launched ships into space. This was one of the great centres
John took them down to a perfect landing, followed with identical
finesse by Alan in the second air car, at the end of an avenue,
clear paved area surrounded the bank of silos. From ground level,
was suddenly enormous. They were midgets in a giant's playpen.
staffed, the base might well have been home and workplace for
They had it to themselves.
John could not say what he had expected to find, but he knew
for a truth
that unless he motivated his party without delay, the sheer,
weight of their surroundings would sap their will to move. "First
first. We'll look around this sector. I'd like to get the cars
out of sight.
Just in case Mestor gets a signal and takes it into his head
to look for us.
Then, a roof over our heads."
Helena, never far off of his wavelength, said, "We have
the medical kit
from Eagle One. I can run tests on any water supply we find.
But what about
food, John? Rationed out, those emergency packs won't even last
a week for
"Then we have to get something organized. Conference on
that as soon as
we're settled in. As of now, split up in twos or threes and search
Don't be too particular. It's a warm climate. We won't need anything
Helena joined him as the others moved slowly away from the cars.
could see the lines of strain on her fine-boned face. Wide-spaced
enormous. He said, "I'm, sorry, Helena. You must be tired
out. It won't be
long. Then, we can catch up on some sleep."
"No more tired than you must be. You've had the extra strain
ahead for us. I'm the doctor. I should be prescribing a rest
for you. What
do you really think, John? Can we make anything of this place?"
"There's no choice. Not in the short term. In the long run,
There were life signs from other areas. Maybe they haven't all
opted for the
way of life in Caster. We have a pair of cars. Alan can check
they give us on the fuel that's left. There are endless possibilities.
is a very select party. We have a medico, a scientist, two strong
action, and people who have made a life on this planet out of
the rubble of
one city. We're not finished yet."
Hands behind her back, she said, "I suppose I needed a lecture.
right. Let's go. Where do we look first?"
"We'll look at that silo, or whatever it is."
They crossed the wide pavement hand in hand. When they were close,
natural-rock wall towered upwards like a smooth cliff. It was
a tribute to
human skill and ingenuity. The builders had found a landscape
adapted it for their purposes. Its immense mass would give thermal
acoustic insulation for even a rocket blasting out of a silo.
It would be a
radiation screen, also. John leaned with both palms on the flat
said slowly, "When the civilization ran out of steam and
the war lords were
saturating themselves and everybody else with nuclear fallout,
a place like
this would be as safe as a deep shelter. The last men here cleaned
left it tidy. What would they think?"
"That there was a long night coming, but that in the distant
work might start again."
"Like a pharaoh, building his pyramid to outlast the millennia."
She could have reminded him that the elaborate tombs hardly lasted
decade before tomb robbers had bored their beetle way into the
vaults, but she kept it to herself. Enthusiasm was as good a
any drug in the pack. Disappointment was one thing, at least,
wait to tomorrow.
They were about a third of the way along the long axis of the
hump of rock. They walked slowly to the nearer end, examining
the side for
some way of access. There was none.
John said, "They'd need to get in there with heavy servicing
maintenance, supplies of all kinds. Maybe it all went by underground
roadways. But from where?"
Around the corner, he found part of his answer, but they had
well back to see it plain. The scale was so vast that at close
edges were lost. Fifty metres wide and twenty metres high, there
single slab, textured to meld into the face, but showing a faint
change that marked it out as a single unit.
Helena said, "That's your way in, John. But how in heaven's
name do you
It was a good question. There were no easy answers to it. John
aloud. "It's like the keep of a moat and bailey castle.
This one they fix
so there's no way in from outside. So, it has to be opened from
Because the people who were inside would not expect to stay inside
"So we get inside, and then we can let ourselves out? You've
"But what else did they have in a Norman keep?"
"A well? A dungeon? A bolt hole? That's what you're getting
at. They had
a bolt hole. If the day was finally lost, they could get out
under the moat
and come up behind the enemy. Is that what you mean?"
"Something like that. But I was thinking you don't open
entrance like this one every time a crewman goes off duty. This
personnel. Somewhere, we'll find underground access for people."
"Surely, sealed. But it has to be easier to tackle than
Back at the cars, he collected a round of reports. The sector
were in had been a dormitory area. The buildings had been developed
plan. Three blocks were subdivided into suites of rooms leading
central corridor. Each unit had a lounge area, with a small food-preparation
alcove, a washroom, and two bedrooms. The fourth block of each
set was for
community use. It was divided into public rooms for dining and
The ancient Megaronians established a nice balance for the public
private aspiration of those who lived permanently on the base.
What was surprising to all of the searchers was the way that
had been left. There was no detritus of occupation, no clutter
of broken and
abandoned gear. The rooms had been systematically cleared out
and left as
empty shells. There was no glass in any window space, no door
in any frame,
but there was no rubble of broken shards or shattered woodwork.
only dust, even and undisturbed, on every horizontal surface.
Maya said, "It's amazing, Commander. It was an orderly and
shutdown. There's nothing usable to be found."
Tony added, "Yeah. But why go to that trouble if the base
in a crisis?"
Helena said, "In a widespread social disaster, there'd be
dispossessed people looking for a place to live. If there was
to attract them, they'd go elsewhere. Places like the one the
found would offer more. Perhaps that was the point? The organizers
base took a long view. they didn't want it overrun. Given the
intact, they believed they could revitalize it in another age
troubles were over."
John commented, "That speaks of a long-term view, and it
means that a
cadre of top management was still in control and still on the
site and, for
that matter, still strong enough to carry out its will."
Alan asked, "Where did they get to?"
By a kind of group suggestion, all eyes tracked around to look
monolithic mastaba in the centre of the base. It was giving away
but the clue to an enigma was there. Nothing short of a direct
hit with an
atomic warhead could breach its blank walls. There would be room
house an army.
Karl said, "You must understand that the time you are speaking
of is so
long gone that we have no records of it. I believe that those
the great upheavals were so incensed at the scientific knowledge
made it possible that they deliberately destroyed all records
that could be
John mused, "It can happen. A burning of the books. Books
rather than the use that people have made of them."
Urion spoke. "Who can say that it is not sometimes necessary?
of evil may thrive more tenaciously than the good seed. When
it may be prudent to burn the whole field and plant afresh."
It was the definitive statement to end the dialogue. John kicked
jaded mind into action. "Where's the mess hall? We'll run
the cars inside
and break out some rations. Then a spell of rest."
After the meal, Melas approached John. "I expect, Commander,
will wish one member of our party to keep watch. Allow me the
Deana joined him. "It would be a lonely vigil. I will watch
Never one to discourage volunteers, John said, "You are
friends. I had it in mind- and I thank you."
There was not much comfort to be had. But at least it was not
Already, there was warmth in the sunshine. They dragged squabs
out of one of
the cars and made a mattress for Helena and Hepa. The others
laid on smooth,
thermo-plastic tiling, with bundles of cleaning waste, from the
lockers of the cars, as a pillow. John slept like a sailor as
soon as his
head touched down.
Melas' hand was a centimetre from
John's shoulder when the Alphan's eyes
flicked open and his fingers closed on the butt of his laser.
said, "You sleep lightly, Commander. I wish you would have
slept longer, but
the time is up when you said I should wake you."
"You did right. Has anything happened?"
"Nothing, Commander. It is strange here. Both Deana and
I have felt the
strangeness, as we sat quietly. It is as if the spirits of those
here so long ago were watching us. But as we sensed it, they
hostile. Rather, they were curious, as though they wanted to
know what we
John debated about whether or not to awaken Helena. On balance,
decided that he would have to do it. Her independent spirit would
favors, even from him. She would want to work the same stint
else. Deana settled down in her place, and Melas composed himself
arms crossed on his chest like a stone figure on a catafalque.
The two Alphans checked all of the stores which had been transferred
hurriedly from Eagle One. Tony had made progress on the communications
panel. Helena said, "Is it worth trying to repair it? Who
do we have to
"It has more range than the cars. Who knows? We might hear
"They can't help us."
"True. But I'd like to hear them."
"Could we speak to them?"
"Not by voice. Perhaps by a Morse signal."
Protective fuses had blown on every circuit. There were no spares.
untwisted a length of multicore lead and bypassed every safety
point. It was
rough work, and any Eagle technician would have turned grey,
considered that it would hold as a temporary repair. Tony had
refitted several of the serviceable wires.
John carried the panel into a car and searched the instrument
a power source, and Helena squatted on her heels and watched
him. For her,
this was a new side of his character. "I'm impressed. I
didn't know you had
such a practical flair. I thought top pilots didn't know what
went under the
"I hope I shall always be able to surprise you."
"You'll really surprise me if Sahn's voice comes out of
In the event, Sandra's meticulous tones sounded very faintly
in the car.
they looked at each other in silence, each suddenly sidetracked
of Moonbase Alpha.
Sandra said, "Main Mission to Eagle One. Perhaps you can
signal. We will continue to keep this link open as long as there
remote chance that you could receive us. Life signs on the monitors
that you are still alive. We wish you good luck, if that can
The immense power of Alpha's transmitters could push a voice
the distance. There was no chance that the jury-rigged panel
could match it.
John rapidly dismantled the handset and used bare contacts for
a make and
break. "Koenig calling Alpha. I read you. Over."
Even at strength one, there was no mistaking the excitement in
voice. "Commander! We read you. Is there anything we can
John suddenly recognized that any transmission would be a homing
for Caster's scout cars if they decided to search. He kept it
send our greetings. Everyone's okay. Will call again in two hours.
calls only. Out."
Helena's eyes were shining. "It makes a difference. I don't
"Eventually, they will be out of range."
"I know. But we know that Alpha is operational again and
that they know
we're still alive. I can't explain it, but I still feel better
Alan and Rhoda took the next stint, then Tony and Maya. At each
change, there was a brief contact with the distant Moonbase.
afternoon, the whole party was rested and ready for the next
turned naturally to John for a definition of what that might
"As I see it, the key to the complex is behind that rock.
We have to
find the way in. It isn't wasted time. While we do it, we can
check out the
rest of the site for anything useful. We go together to the next
split and search each building, then go on to the next in line.
looking for access to a lower level."
They had the equipment belts from the wetsuits, hung about with
and the vibrators that John and Alan never discarded. Contact
with Alpha had
given the five Alphans a new surge of optimism. Rhoda had listened
Sandra's voice and was glad that she was a world away. She had
pleasure and was choosing to put a feminine twist on it. As they
she said, "This Sahn with the cool voice. Is she very pretty?"
"Very pretty. You'd like her. Everyone likes Sahn."
"You work with her?"
"She's our data analyst and sometimes communications person.
Top in the
"If she is so beautiful and so clever, you must be in love
Alan suddenly saw the pit that had been dug for him. "Ah!
Well, no. She
had what you could call this pairing arrangement with Paul Morrow."
"So, she rejected you. But you still love her?"
Alan stopped and took her shoulders and turned her to face him.
man, he could only stick to the fact as he saw it. "I enjoyed
Alpha with many good friends that I miss, but if it was a choice
Alpha without you and this crazy world of Megaron with you, I
guess I should
have to choose Megaron."
Gold-flecked eyes were serious and searching. Then, her arms
impulsively around his neck. When they caught up with the column,
Helena were already searching the first block in the new sector.
It was the first of many, and John came to the conclusion that
the building on the side that they were on, was the accommodation.
parallel of the castle continued. The courtyard was for housing
The high command had its place in the tower.
They missed out a number of sectors and rounded the far end of
central rock. There was evidence here also of a huge slab entrance
equipment. A wide roadway ran straight to the perimeter. On either
buildings were long, empty storage sheds. They marked a change
building plan. The next sector was clearly not for accommodation
have been an admin silo. Floors still showed traces of discoloration
hardware had been bolted down.
Tony said, "This looks like an operations centre, John.
administer the outer zone from this point. Flow control for stores
in. All the thousand and one details to keep tabs on personnel.
Kind of a
Helena had been examining an interior wall. She called, "John!"
excitement of her voice had the whole party turning to observe
was closest and rushed to her side. Palms flat on a highly corrugated
surface, the two Alphan women lifted a flexible shutter which
into a housing in the ceiling.
When it was away for a full due, they stood in a line looking
elevator cages with dull, bronze gates. Four were closed, intact,
undisturbed. The centre one had its gate forced from its hinges
against the back wall. The centre of the floor had been broken
through in a
ragged opening almost a metre across.
It was the first evidence that others had visited the site after
careful shutdown. Tomb robbers had been at work.
A sound crossed John's audio threshold, and he knew that it had
building for some time before he recognized it. Rhoda was onto
it at the
same time. She said, "An air car!"
John ordered, "Get down. Below window level."
The hum built to a drone, and a racing shadow flicked across
The pilot was flying low, taking a look along the radial avenues.
Lying next to John, Karl said, "If he's observant, he might
of where we first landed."
John added, "It's a long chance, but we can't ignore it."
He moved to
the open door and looked out. The car had run on to the perimeter
turning. It flew back the way that it had come and was out of
Hepa said bitterly, "Even here they are hunting us. They
are not content
even to let us die in our own time."
With an arm around her shoulders, Urion comforted her. "Have
may not come to that. And nobody knows we have come here. Now
that they have
looked here and not found us, they will look elsewhere."
John went back to the elevator trunk. Leaning well against the
shone a light down the shaft. Counterweights hung in a channel
in the rear
wall. Another channel held a broad metal strip perforated with
handholds. It would be possible to hang below the cage on a crossbeam,
traverse hand over hand, and reach it. He pulled back and explained
had seen to Tony.
"That's just like you, John," he said with the usual
irreverence. "You won't rest until you've taken a look.
Maybe we should
bring the cars here and make this our base."
"I want progress. I'm not satisfied that the car has a nil
be in Caster in fifteen minutes. We could have them on our backs
less than an hour. This is the best hideaway we've seen yet.
But you have a
point." He turned to Alan. "Alan, you go with Tony,
Karl, and Melas. Get
into the cars. Load the gear and bring it along. Meantime, we'll
take a look
below. All right?"
"Check." He turned to Rhoda and said, "Back before
you know it."
The others all chimed their agreement with John's instructions.
"And watch how you go, all of you. Just in case that car
dropped a foot
patrol before we saw it."
The four men departed, and John fixed his lamp on a headband
below the cage. Maya took her place on the floor and watched
him move easily
across to the ladder. As John's feet touched the footholds, he
saw the band
shiver, and a warning was stillborn in his throat as John's weight
fully onto it. There was no time to articulate. The Alphan was
slipping away. The band was free to move.
But it was friction loaded. He was going down steadily, but with
acceleration. On a count of ten, the band shivered to a stop
and John was
looking up the well. "Maya?"
"There's a big landing and a corridor going towards the
rock. This is
the way in for personnel... And Maya..."
"No worry about getting back. There's a locking lever here
The light disappeared as he left the bottom of the shaft. Maya
on her heels, her Psychon features denoting sudden thought. There
something that did not jell, and she was thirty seconds before
she knew what
"Here's a logical puzzle, Helena. This ladder moved down
Commander's weight. He says he can fix it solid to climb up.
Now, we believe
that somebody opened the door and went down there. How did they
"You've just told me. They fixed the ladder so it was not
free to move."
"But just now, when we found it, it was free to move. Who
lever down below?"
"The last man."
"And how did he get out?"
Rhoda had been watching the exchange, looking from one to the
said, "Unless he used a rope or another ladder, he's still
As if on cue, John's voice reverberated up the shaft. "Helena!
"Your tomb robber. He didn't get very far. He's still here."
"How did he die?" Helena queried.
Helena and Maya exchanged glances. "We're coming down."
"No, just Helena!" John retorted. "Maya, stay
with the others."
Helena fixed her headband lamp and did a neat, athletic job of
along to the ladder. With more light, it was easier to see the
corridor from the circular landing area was ten metres wide and
high. It had once been lit by a continuous lighting strip recessed
roof. The floor was tessellated with blue and yellow tiles under
screen of dust. It led straight as a die to a red corrugated
closed off the far end. Footprints in the dust showed the pattern
sneakers forward and back. One other set, fainter and dusted
over, had a
Their owner was lying face down, a metre from the shutter, skeletal
hands fixed to the sides of his skull, legs drawn up, miming
the last human
gesture he had made. Something had struck silently and unexpectedly
brought his journey to full stop.
John said, "Not too close. Whatever he ran into may still
operational. I'd say he tripped some relay and triggered a protective
He looked more closely at the
footsteps. They went on to a point beyond
where the feet were lying. The killing blow had come at a point
along the site of the corpse. He went forward, half a step at
dropped to a full knee bend, keeping his head back, and took
hold of the
bony ankles. There was so little weight that he almost fell backward.
he was out of the danger zone, drawing his hollow man after him.
Clothing showed no sign of decay. He was wearing thronged sandals,
fluted metal cloth tabard of silver grey, belted at the waist,
embroidered chiton almost knee length. Hidden by the body and
with it was a curious, bulbous-nosed handgun.
No stranger to death, Helena shivered. There was something lonely
sad about the dead Megaronian. He had lain there for many centuries,
his violent end unmarked by any rites of passage. After the breakup
great cities, there would have been many lonely, wandering men
ending their days in bitterness and isolation. It was, anyway,
likely to happen to the Alphans themselves, and this was a preview.
She said, "I think you must be right. Death was sudden,
and he had no
way of avoiding it. Perhaps it was an automatic device or, perhaps,
time, the rock was still held and this was a deliberate, selective
John shone his light slowly over the roof. The tiled roof was
showed no opening which might house a beam system. There was
a call down the
shaft, and Helena went to check it out. It was Maya. "Helena,
Commander that the men are back. No trouble. As far as Tony can
was no patrol left behind."
John joined her. "I heard that. I'd like you and Alan and
here. What can we use to make a scaffold?"
"Three of the squabs?"
"Right. As soon as you like. Have Tony and the others keep
open. If Mestor sends a mopping-up party, we can hold out down
can pass the gear down."
With Alan and Karl steadying two uprights and a seat squab lying
the top, John had a working platform. He used a vibrator to slice
panel in the lighting strip and then moved slowly along. The
short lengths of tube filled with a blue gas. Every other one
had an angled,
camera-type fitting beside it.
Maya said, "They monitored this passage quite thoroughly.
come along here without being seen."
As they reached the site of the long-gone execution, he broke
strip running to the end of the footsteps. There was a new feature.
shaped fitting of bright metal filled the lighting trough. An
it would cover the corridor from wall to wall. Using his laser
back, he sent a searing beam at the inlet and where it appeared
level. The whole structure glowed and began to deform. Finally,
free and dropped clear.
At the same moment of time, the whole lighting strip glowed into
brilliant life, and Tony called urgently down the shaft, "John!
squadron of cars circling the complex!"
John weighed the options. The Megaronians were determined to
A last stand on the surface might make them pay dearly for it,
but it could
only end one way. On balance, they were better to dig in where
they were. He
organized the movement of as much of their stores as they could
then gathered his party in the vault.
He posted Alan at the bottom of the shaft. The first Megaronian
his head through the gap in the floor would have it ventilated
terminal hole. Even if they went to work methodically and breached
the elevator cages, so that more than one at a time could drop
to the lower
level, the advantage still lay with the defense. Meanwhile, the
possibility of progress was to enter the rock fortress. First
to see whether he had scotched the protective beam-gear.
A movement caught his eye. Urion had been talking to Helena and
the score. Before anybody could stop him, he walked firmly down
corridor, past the rickety dolmen of seat squabs and on toward
John's shout of, "Wait!" went unnoticed or unheard.
Urion had closed
his mind to any outside interference. He reached the closed end
and unharmed and turned around to face them. He said simply,
"It is safe."
Hepa was first to join him. She said, "That was very brave.
have been killed."
"I am nearest to oblivion of our party. I can most easily
"Not by me."
"I am old."
"What has age got to do with it, when minds are in tune?"
Almost shyly, he took her hand and kissed it. "You are very
kind to say
John and Karl joined them. John said, "We are all very grateful.
have to open this door. The engineers who devised it were contemporaries
those who built the city block. They might have used the same
Search the walls and floor for release gear."
Maya found it, shoulder high in the right-hand wall; a section
pivoted away to reveal a recess. Inside were the familiar levers.
"Good girl," Tony said to his favorite Psychon. The
shutter was stiff
from centuries of non-use, and Tony and John could not budge
it. John nodded
in affirmation at Maya, whose form altered to become that of
Those of the party not yet privy
to Maya's extraordinary ability started
backward in alarm before being calmed by Rhoda's reassuring hands.
Simian palms flat on the shutter, the ape creature heaved away
it lift. It was waist high when John suddenly thought that there
other protective gimmickry behind it. "Hold it there, Maya."
The gorilla, through Maya's spiritual control of its brain, understood
the command, and John dropped to his knees to look through the
interior was well lit, with no visible light source. Surfaces
free, clean, and shining. Walls, floor, and ceiling were clinically
Directly ahead and twenty metres off, a flight of wide, shallow
bronze handrails ran up to the next floor. Craning his neck to
he saw feet on the top landing and then the whole person of an
ancient man in a blue, belted robe.
The advantage in the encounter was all with the oldster. He knew
visitor was, crouched on hands and knees at the foot of the throne.
voice was hardly more than a wheeze, but it carried the distance.
Koenig. You may bring your people in. I shall not harm you."
John was on his feet, laser in hand. There had been enough surprises
Megaron. He said harshly, "Your protective ray would have
been all you
needed. Why this change in heart?"
"I switched it off when I gave you light."
It could have been true. Keeping his eyes on the oldster, John
the Maya ape, "Take it up, Maya."
The gorilla fully lifted the shutter, and it slid away into its
Maya resumed her lovely female form.
The old man, clearly impressed but not particularly startled
metamorphic ability, spoke again. "I welcome you, Alphans
and Outfarers. I
am Cydon, the last custodian of the old wisdom. With me, the
light goes out
It was a big claim to make, and before John could comment on
was a further complication. Alan called urgently down the corridor.
Cydon said, "You have no choice, Commander. You will have
to trust me.
Bring your people inside and close the seal. I will complicate
John came to a decision. Cydon's offer, good or bad, had to be
than a slow war of attrition which could only end one way. He
tell Alan to fall back. The two of you bring as much of our equipment
can. Helena, pick up your Medical kit. They can have the rest
of the stores.
I have a feeling we won't be needing them."
As the three rejoined the main body, Maya, again simian, closed
shaft. As it hit floor level, there was a definitive click and
subterranean rumble. The counterweight system had been disconnected.
was no way in for the attackers. And no way out for the besieged.
on his heel. The stairway was empty. Cydon's wheeze came from
particular. "Do not be concerned. I was never with you.
Come forward. You
will have no difficulty in finding me."
Once more in her Psychon form, Maya remarked, "Projection?
feasible. A thee-dimensional freestanding projection. This is
interesting, Commander. At last, we may see how far the Megaronians
with their technology."
Cydon was the soul of truth in one thing at least. There was
in finding him. At the head of the stairway, there was an oval
a circular kiosk where a commissionaire might once have sat.
opened off. Only one was lit. The twelve visitors followed it
oval interchange and on through another lighted corridor. At
the end, there
was an elevator with its hatch open, waiting to receive them.
It took them
for a short, swift ride and stopped at a landing, where the character
set showed a change. It was executive country: deep-pile carpets
paneled in light-yellow wood like pine.
A section of paneling slid silently aside. Cydon, if this was
man and not another trick image, was standing on a strip of blue
a room that was partly furnished as a lounge area and partly
filled out with
very sophisticated hardware. He was as tall as John, thin to
the point of
emaciation, eyes deep sunk in a time-ravaged face. The eyes,
were golden brown and contained all the vitality that the years
had left to
him. He said, as though each word was fought over, "Be seated.
You are not
strangers to me. I watched from the moment that you left your
base on the
Moon. It is a great pleasure to speak again at last. I have not
Helice died. that must be twenty years ago."
John could not help the thought that if the silence had been
little earlier, they would have been saved a lot of grief. He
asked, "Do you
have the power to speak to Alpha?"
"Indeed I do. This base was the nerve centre of our space
On the same wavelength as John, Tony queried, "Didn't you
would have welcomed a reply to our signals?" John nodded
in agreement. The
question was more than valid.
Cydon night have been old, but was far from stupid. He understood
criticism behind it and looked around the circle before answering.
did answer, it was obliquely. "You Alphans are a young and
The civilization of Megaron was old when your ancestors on home
turned from a nomadic way of life to that of small, settled communities."
nodded at Maya, "The same applies to your people as well,
Maya of Psychon."
Looking back at John and Tony, he continued with his main point.
great differences between us."
Helena said, "But finally,
you decided to help us. You could have left
us to die outside your barrier. We thank you for allowing us
Tony asked, "How is it you know so much about us?"
The ancient man answered, "Through a tap on your computer
system. It was
very discrete and I do assure you a peaceable move on my part.
naturally curious about you." He gave a long sigh. The strain
personal contacts after his long solitude was beginning to tell.
was barely audible as he said, "There is much to discuss
with you, and I
have very little time. We have watched the people of Caster for
It is time they awoke from their long sleep. Do not judge them
What was done there went wrong, but the intention was not bad
"Not bad?" Tony asked incredulously.
"You cannot understand the great trauma which what you call
spirit suffered on Megaron. The Outfarers here have no doubt
rudiments of our history to you. Those who set up the system
in Caster were
protecting the community from the unfettered excesses of the
which had almost ended life on Megaron. As head of Security on
Moonbase, Mr. Verdeschi, this consideration must often be on
Tony could relate. He nodded.
Cydon continued, "But in doing what they did, they stifled
and the good, which also exist."
Karl said, "I have seen more of the evil than the good."
"Just so. Just so... But I must speak, while I can, to the
Perhaps I can help you. Look."