The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 18
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"This, the new types. The new varieties of claws. We're completely at their mercy, aren't we? By now they've probably gotten into the UN lines, too. It makes me wonder if we're not seeing the beginning of a now species. The new species. Evolution. The race to come after man."
Rudi grunted. "There is no race after man."
"No? Why not? Maybe we're seeing it now the end of human beings, the beginning of the new society."
"They're not a race. They're mechanical killers. You made them to destroy. That's all they can do. They're machines with a job."
"So it seems now. But how about later on? After the war is over. Maybe, when there aren't any humans to destroy, their real potentialities will begin to show."
"You talk as if they were alive!"
There was silence. "They're machines," Rudi said. "They look like people, but they're machines."
"Use your transmitter, Major," Klaus said. "We can't stay up here forever."
Holding the transmitter tightly Hendricks called the code of the command bunker. He waited, listening. No response. Only silence. He checked the leads carefully. Everything was in place.
"Scott!" he said into the mike. "Can you hear me?"
Silence. He raised the gain up full and tried again. Only static.
"I don't get anything. They may hear me but they may not want to answer."
"Tell them it's an emergency."
"They'll think I'm being forced to call. Under your direction." He tried again, outlining briefly what he had learned. But still the phone was silent, except for the faint static.
"Radiation pools kill most transmission," Klaus said, after awhile. "Maybe that's it."
Hendricks shut the transmitter up. "No use. No answer. Radiation pools? Maybe. Or they hear me, but won't answer. Frankly, that's what I would do, if a runner tried to call from the Soviet lines. They have no reason to believe such a story. They may hear everything I say--"
"Or maybe it's too late."
"We better get the lid down," Rudi said nervously. "We don't want to take unnecessary chances."
They climbed slowly back down the tunnel. Klaus bolted the lid carefully into place. They descended into the kitchen. The air was heavy and close around them.
"Could they work that fast?" Hendricks said. "I left the bunker this noon. Ten hours ago. How could they move so quickly?"
"It doesn't take them long. Not after the first one gets in. It goes wild. You know what the little claws can do. Even one of these is beyond belief. Razors, each finger. Maniacal."
"All right." Hendricks moved away impatiently. He stood with his back to them.
"What's the matter?" Rudi said.
"The Moon Base. G.o.d, if they've gotten there--"
"The Moon Base?"
Hendricks turned around. "They couldn't have got to the Moon Base. How would they get there? It isn't possible. I can't believe it."
"What is this Moon Base? We've heard rumors, but nothing definite. What is the actual situation? You seem concerned."
"We're supplied from the moon. The governments are there, under the lunar surface. All our people and industries. That's what keeps us going. If they should find some way of getting off Terra, onto the moon--"
"It only takes one of them. Once the first one gets in it admits the others. Hundreds of them, all alike. You should have seen them. Identical. Like ants."
"Perfect socialism," Ta.s.so said. "The ideal of the communist state. All citizens interchangeable."
Klaus grunted angrily. "That's enough. Well? What next?"
Hendricks paced back and forth, around the small room. The air was full of smells of food and perspiration. The others watched him. Presently Ta.s.so pushed through the curtain, into the other room. "I'm going to take a nap."
The curtain closed behind her. Rudi and Klaus sat down at the table, still Watching Hendricks.
"It's up to you," Klaus said. "We don't know your situation."
"It's a problem." Rudi drank some coffee, filling his cup from a rusty pot. "We're safe here for awhile, but we can't stay here forever. Not enough food or supplies."
"But if we go outside--"
"If we go outside they'll get us. Or probably they'll get us. We couldn't go very far. How far is your command bunker, Major?"
"Three or four miles."
"We might make it. The four of us. Four of us could watch all sides. They couldn't slip up behind us and start tagging us. We have three rifles, three blast rifles. Ta.s.so can have my pistol." Rudi tapped his belt. "In the Soviet army we didn't have shoes always, but we had guns. With all four of us armed one of us might get to your command bunker. Preferably you, Major."
"What if they're already there?" Klaus said.
Rudi shrugged. "Well, then we come back here."
Hendricks stopped pacing. "What do you think the chances are they're already in the American lines?"
"Hard to say. Fairly good. They're organized. They know exactly what they're doing. Once they start they go like a horde of locusts. They have to keep moving, and fast. It's secrecy and speed they depend on. Surprise. They push their way in before anyone has any idea."
"I see," Hendricks murmured.
From the other room Ta.s.so stirred. "Major?"
Hendricks pushed the curtain back. "What?"
Ta.s.so looked up at him lazily from the cot. "Have you any more American cigarettes left?"
Hendricks went into the room and sat down across from her, on a wood stool. He felt in his pockets. "No. All gone."
"What nationality are you?" Hendricks asked after awhile.
"How did you get here?"
"This used to be France. This was part of Normandy. Did you come with the Soviet army?"
"Just curious." He studied her. She had taken off her coat, tossing it over the end of the cot. She was young, about twenty. Slim. Her long hair stretched out over the pillow. She was staring at him silently, her eyes dark and large.
"What's on your mind?" Ta.s.so said.
"Nothing. How old are you?"
"Eighteen." She continued to watch him, unblinking, her arms behind her head. She had on Russian army pants and s.h.i.+rt. Gray-green. Thick leather belt with counter and cartridges. Medicine kit.
"You're in the Soviet army?"
"Where did you get the uniform?"
She shrugged. "It was given to me," she told him.
"How--how old were you when you came here?"
Her eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
Hendricks rubbed his jaw. "Your life would have been a lot different if there had been no war. Sixteen. You came here at sixteen. To live this way."
"I had to survive."
"I'm not moralizing."
"Your life would have been different, too," Ta.s.so murmured. She reached down and unfastened one of her boots. She kicked the boot off, onto the floor. "Major, do you want to go in the other room? I'm sleepy."
"It's going to be a problem, the four of us here. It's going to be hard to live in these quarters. Are there just the two rooms?"
"How big was the cellar originally? Was it larger than this? Are there other rooms filled up with debris? We might be able to open one of them."
"Perhaps. I really don't know." Ta.s.so loosened her belt. She made herself comfortable on the cot, unb.u.t.toning her s.h.i.+rt. "You're sure you have no more cigarettes?"
"I had only the one pack."
"Too bad. Maybe if we get back to your bunker we can find some." The other boot fell. Ta.s.so reached up for the light cord. "Good night."
"You're going to sleep?"
The room plunged into darkness. Hendricks got up and made his way past the curtain, into the kitchen.
And stopped, rigid.
Rudi stood against the wall, his face white and gleaming. His mouth opened and closed but no sounds came. Klaus stood in front of him, the muzzle of his pistol in Rudi's stomach. Neither of them moved. Klaus, his hand tight around his gun, his features set. Rudi, pale and silent, spread-eagled against the wall.
"What--" Hendricks muttered, but Klaus cut him off.
"Be quiet, Major. Come over here. Your gun. Get out your gun."
Hendricks drew his pistol. "What is it?"
"Cover him." Klaus motioned him forward. "Beside me. Hurry!"
Rudi moved a little, lowering his arms. He turned to Hendricks, licking his lips. The whites of his eyes shone wildly. Sweat dripped from his forehead, down his cheeks. He fixed his gaze on Hendricks. "Major, he's gone insane. Stop him." Rudi's voice was thin and hoa.r.s.e, almost inaudible.
"What's going on?" Hendricks demanded.
Without lowering his pistol Klaus answered. "Major, remember our discussion? The Three Varieties? We knew about One and Three. But we didn't know about Two. At least, we didn't know before." Klaus' fingers tightened around the gun b.u.t.t. "We didn't know before, but we know now."
He pressed the trigger. A burst of white heat rolled out of the gun, licking around Rudi.
"Major, this is the Second Variety."
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 18
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol X Part 18 summary
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