This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely




НазваниеThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely
страница5/29
Дата21.09.2012
Размер1.12 Mb.
ТипДокументы
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   29
Chapter Six

I scrambled to the edge of the pit and played the light around inside. It shelved back at one side, and a dark mouth showed, sloping down into the earth—the hiding place from which the globes had swarmed.

Foster was wedged in the opening. I scrambled down beside him, tugged him back to the level ground. He was still breathing; that was something.

I wondered if the pub owner would come back, now that the lights were gone—or if he'd tell someone what had happened, bring out a search party. Somehow, I doubted it. He didn't seem like the type to ask for trouble with the ghosts of ancient sinners.

Foster groaned, opened his eyes. "Where are . . .  they?" he muttered.

"Take it easy, Foster," I said. "You're OK now."

"Legion," Foster said. He tried to sit up. "The Hunters . . ."

"OK, call 'em Hunters if you want to. I haven't got a better name for them. I worked them over with the flashlights. They're gone."

"That means . . ."

"Let's not worry about what it means. Let's just get out of here."

"The Hunters—they burst out of the ground—from a cleft in the earth."

"That's right. You were halfway into the hole. I guess that's where they were hiding."

"The Pit of the Hunters," Foster said.

"If you say so," I said. "Lucky you didn't go down it."

"Legion, give me the flashlight."

"I feel something coming on that I'm not going to like," I said. I handed him the light and he flashed it into the tunnel mouth. I saw a polished roof of black glass arching four feet over the rubble-strewn bottom of the shaft. A stone, dislodged by my movement, clattered away down the 30 degree slope.

"Hell, that tunnel's man-made," I said, peering into it. "And I don't mean Neolithic man."

"Legion, we'll have to see what's down there," Foster said.

"We could come back later, with ropes and big insurance policies," I said.

"But we won't," said Foster. "We've found what we were looking for—"

"Sure," I said, "and it serves us right. Are you sure you feel good enough to make like Alice and the White Rabbit?"

"I'm sure. Let's go."

Foster thrust his legs into the opening, slid over the edge and disappeared. I followed him. I eased down a few feet, glanced back for a last look at the night sky, then lost my grip and slid. I hit bottom hard enough to knock the wind out of me, I got to my hands and knees on a level, gravel-strewn floor.

"What is this place?" I dug the flashlight out of the rubble, flashed it around. We were in a low-ceilinged room ten yards square. I saw smooth walls, the dark bulks of massive shapes that made me think of sarcophagi in Egyptian burial vaults—except that these threw back highlights from dials and levers.

"For a couple of guys who get shy in the company of cops," I said, "we've a talent for doing the wrong thing. This is some kind of Top Secret military installation."

"Impossible," Foster replied. "This couldn't be a modern structure, at the bottom of a rubble-filled shaft—"

"Let's get out of here fast," I said. "We've probably set off an alarm already."

As if in answer, a low chime cut across our talk. Pearly light sprang up on a square panel. I got to my feet, moved over to stare at it. Foster came to my side.

"What do you make of it?" he said.

"I'm no expert on stone-age relics," I said. "But if that's not a radar screen, I'll eat it."

I sat down in the single chair before the dusty control console, and watched a red blip creep across the screen. Foster stood behind me.

"We owe a debt to that ancient sinner," he said. "Who would have dreamed he'd lead us here?"

"Ancient sinner?" I said. "This place is as modern as next year's juke box."

"Look at the symbols on the machines," Foster said. "They're identical with those in the first section of the journal."

"All pot-hooks look alike to me," I said. "It's this screen that's got me worried. If I've got it doped out correctly, that blip is either a mighty slow airplane—or it's at one hell of an altitude."

"Modern aircraft operate at great heights," Foster said.

"Not at this height," I said. "Give me a few more minutes to study these scales . . ."

"There are a number of controls here," Foster said, "obviously intended to activate mechanisms—"

"Don't touch 'em," I said. "Unless you want to start World War III."

"I hardly think the results would be so drastic," Foster replied. "Surely this installation has a simple purpose—unconnected with modern wars—but very possibly connected with the mystery of the journal—and of my own past."

"The less we know about this, the better," I said. "At least, if we don't mess with anything, we can always claim we just stepped in here to get out of the rain—"

"You're forgetting the Hunters," said Foster.

"Some new anti-personnel gimmick."

"They came out of this shaft, Legion. It was opened by the pressure of the Hunters bursting out."

"Why did they pick that precise moment—just as we arrived?" I asked.

"I think they were aroused," said Foster. "I think they sensed the presence of their ancient foe."

I swung around to look at him.

"I see the way your thoughts are running," I said. "You're their Ancient Foe, now, huh? Just let me get this straight: that means that umpteen hundred years ago, you personally had a fight with the Hunters—here at Stonehenge. You killed a batch of them and ran. You hired some kind of Viking ship and crossed the Atlantic. Later on, you lost your memory, and started being a guy named Foster. A few weeks ago you lost it again. Is that the picture?"

"More or less."

"And now we're a couple of hundred feet under Stonehenge—after a brush with a crowd of luminous stinkbombs—and you're telling me you'll be nine hundred on your next birthday."

"Remember the entry in the journal, Legion? 'I came to the place of the Hunters, and it was a place I knew of old, and there was no hive, but a Pit built by men of the Two Worlds . . .' "

"Okay," I said. "So you're pushing a thousand."

I glanced at the screen, got out a scrap of paper, and scribbled a rapid calculation. "Here's another big number for you. That object on the screen is at an altitude—give or take a few percent—of thirty thousand miles."

I tossed the pencil aside, swung around to frown at Foster. "What are we mixed up in, Foster? Not that I really want to know. I'm ready to go to a nice clean jail now, and pay my debt to society—"

"Calm down, Legion," Foster said. "You're raving."

"OK," I said, turning back to the screen. "You're the boss. Do what you like. It's just my reflexes wanting to run. I've got no place to run to. At least with you I've always got the wild hope that maybe you're not completely nuts, and that somehow—"

I sat upright, eyes on the screen. "Look at this, Foster," I snapped. A pattern of dots flashed across the screen, faded, flashed again . . . 

"Some kind of IFF," I said. "A recognition signal. I wonder what we're supposed to do now."

Foster watched the screen, saying nothing.

"I don't like that thing blinking at us," I said. "It makes me feel conspicuous." I looked at the big red button beside the screen. "Maybe if I pushed that . . ." Without waiting to think it over, I jabbed at it.

A yellow light blinked on the control panel. On the screen, the pattern of dots vanished. The red blip separated, a smaller blip moving off at right angles to the main mass.

"I'm not sure you should have done that," Foster said.

"There is room for doubt," I said in a strained voice. "It looks like I've launched a bomb from the ship overhead."

* * *

The climb back up the tunnel took three hours, and every foot of the way I was listening to a refrain in my head: This may be it; this may be it; this may be . . . 

I crawled out of the tunnel mouth and lay on my back, breathing hard. Foster groped his way out beside me.

"We'll have to get to the highway," I said, untying the ten-foot rope of ripped garments that had linked us during the climb. "There's a telephone at the pub; we'll notify the authorities . . ." I glanced up.

"Hold it!" I grabbed Foster's arm and pointed overhead. "What's that?"

Foster looked up. A brilliant point of blue light, brighter than a star, grew perceptibly as we watched.

"Maybe we won't get to notify anybody after all," I said. "I think that's our bomb—coming home to roost."

"That's illogical," Foster said. "The installation would hardly be arranged merely to destroy itself in so complex a manner."

"Let's get out of here," I yelled.

"It's approaching us very rapidly," Foster said. "The distance we could run in the next few minutes would be trivial by comparison with the killing radius of a modern bomb. We'll be safer sheltered in the cleft than in the open."

"We could slide down the tunnel," I said.

"And be buried?"

"You're right; I'd rather fry on the surface."

We crouched, watching the blue glare directly overhead, growing larger, brighter. I could see Foster's face by its light now.

"That's no bomb," Foster said. "It's not falling; it's coming down slowly . . . .like a—"

"Like a slowly falling bomb," I said. "And it's coming right down on top of us. Goodbye, Foster. I can't claim it's been fun knowing you, but it's been different. We'll feel the heat any second now. I hope it's fast."

The glaring disc was the size of the full moon now, unbearably bright. It lit the plain like a pale blue sun. There was no sound. As it dropped lower, the disc foreshortened and I could see a dark shape above it, dimly lit by the glare thrown back from the ground.

"The thing is the size of a ferry boat," I said.

"It's going to miss us," Foster said. "It will come to ground several hundred feet to the east of us."

We watched the slender shape float down with dreamlike slowness, now five hundred feet above, now three hundred, then hovering just above the giant stones.

"It's coming down smack on top of Stonehenge," I yelled.

We watched as the vessel settled into place dead center on the ancient ring of stones. For a moment they were vividly silhouetted against the flood of blue radiance; then abruptly, the glare faded and died.

"Foster," I said. "Do you think it's barely possible—"

A slit of yellow light appeared on the side of the hull, then it widened to a square. A ladder extended itself, dropping down to touch the ground.

"If somebody with tentacles starts down that ladder," I said, in an unnaturally shrill voice, "I'm getting out of here."

"No one will emerge," Foster said quietly. "I think we'll find, Legion, that this ship of space is at our disposal."

* * *

"I'm not going aboard that thing," I said for the fifth time. "I'm not sure of much in this world, but I'm sure of that."

"Legion," Foster said, "this is no twentieth century military vessel. It obviously homed on the transmitter in the underground station, which appears to be directly under the old monument—which is several thousand years old—"

"And I'm supposed to believe the ship has been orbiting the earth for the last few thousand years, waiting for someone to push the red button? You call that logical?"

"Given permanent materials, such as those the notebook is made of, it's not impossible—or even difficult."

"We got out of the tunnel alive. Let's settle for that."

"We're on the verge of solving a mystery that goes back through the centuries," said Foster, "a mystery that I've pursued, if I understand the journal, through many lifetimes—"

"One thing about losing your memory: you don't have any fixed ideas to get in the way of your theories."

Foster smiled grimly. "The trail has brought us here. We must follow it—wherever it leads."

I lay on the ground, staring up at the unbelievable shape across the field, the beckoning square of light. "This ship—or whatever it is," I said; "it drops down out of nowhere and opens its doors. And you want to walk right into the cozy interior."

"Listen!" Foster cut in.

I heard a low rumbling then, a sound that rolled ominously, like distant guns.

"More ships—" I started.

"Jet aircraft," Foster said. "From the bases in East Anglia probably. Of course, they'll have tracked our ship in—"

"That's all for me," I yelled, getting to my feet. "The secret's out—"

"Get down, Legion," Foster shouted. The engines were a blanketing roar now.

"What for? They—"

Two long lines of fire traced themselves across the sky, curving down—

I hit the dirt behind the stone in the same instant the rockets struck. The shock wave slammed at the earth like a monster thunderclap, and I saw the tunnel mouth collapse. I twisted, saw the red interior of the jet tailpipe as the fighter hurtled past, rolling into a climbing turn.

"They're crazy," I yelled. "Firing on—"

A second barrage blasted across my indignation. I hugged the muck and waited while nine salvoes shook the earth. Then the rumble died, reluctantly. The air reeked of high explosives.

"We'd have been dead now if we'd tried the tunnel," I gasped, spitting dirt. "It caved at the first rocket. And if the ship was what you thought, Foster, they've destroyed something—"

The sentence died unnoticed. The dust was settling and through it the shape of the ship reared up, unchanged except that the square of light was gone. As I watched, the door opened again and the ladder ran out once more, invitingly.

"They'll try next time with nukes," I said. "That may be too much for the ship's defenses—and it will sure be too much for us—"

"Listen," Foster cut in. A deeper rumble was building in the distance.

"To the ship!" Foster called. He was up and running, and I hesitated just long enough to think about trying for the highway and being caught in the open—and then I was running, too. Ahead, Foster stumbled crossing the ground that had been ripped up by the rocket bursts, made it to the ladder, and went up it fast. The growl of the approaching bombers grew, a snarl of deadly hatred. I leaped a still-smoking stone fragment, took the ladder in two jumps, plunged into the yellow-lit interior. Behind me, the door smacked shut.

I was standing in a luxuriously fitted circular room. There was a pedestal in the center of the floor, from which a polished bar projected. The bones of a man lay beside it. While I stared, Foster sprang forward, seized the bar, and pulled. It slid back easily. The lights flickered and I had a moment of vertigo. Nothing else happened.

"Try it the other way," I yelled. "The bombs will fall any second—" I went for it, hand outstretched. Foster thrust in front of me. "Look!"

I stared at the glowing panel he was pointing to—a duplicate of the one in the underground chamber. It showed a curved white line, with a red point ascending from it.

"We're clear," Foster said. "We've made a successful take-off."

"But we can't be moving—there's no acceleration. There must be soundproofing—that's why we can't hear the bombers—"

"No soundproofing would help if we were at ground zero," Foster said. "This ship is the product of an advanced science. We've left the bombers far behind."

"Where are we going? Who's steering this thing?"

"It steers itself, I would judge," Foster said. "I don't know where we're going, but we're well on the way."

I looked at him in amazement. "You like this, don't you, Foster? You're having the time of your life."

"I can't deny that I'm delighted at this turn of events," Foster said. "Don't you see? This vessel is a launch, or lifeboat, under automatic control. And it's taking us to the mother ship."

"Okay, Foster," I said. I looked at the skeleton on the floor behind him. "But I hope we have better luck than the last passenger."

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   29

Похожие:

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely iconThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely

Разместите кнопку на своём сайте:
Библиотека


База данных защищена авторским правом ©lib.znate.ru 2014
обратиться к администрации
Библиотека
Главная страница