E.C Tubb - Spectrum of a Forgotten Sun

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E.C Tubb - Spectrum of a Forgotten Sun
Название: Spectrum of a Forgotten Sun
Автор: E.C Tubb
Издательство: неизвестно
ISBN: нет данных
Год: неизвестен
Дата добавления: 7 сентябрь 2018
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E.C Tubb


Spectrum of a Forgotten Sun

Chapter One


On Hoghan a man lay dying. He sprawled beneath the jagged stump of a broken tree, blood puddling the dirt around his hips, the uniform he wore ripped and torn, burned and stained. In the flame-shot darkness his voice was a tormented whisper.

"Earl?"

"Here." Dumarest knelt, feeling the squelch of mud, reaching out with his left hand to grip the other's shoulder. "Relax, Clar. You'll be all right."

"Don't lie to me, Earl." The pain-wracked voice held a bitter impatience. "Am I a raw recruit to believe a thing like that? I'm as good as dead and you know it. That laser caught me right across the guts. If I hadn't been armored I'd be dead now." The voice drew strength from pain and anger. "Damn the armor! Damn it! Damn it all to hell!"

A flare rose from a point close to hand, cold, blue-white light throwing stark shadows from the ruined buildings, the broken remains of once-decorative trees. Once the city had been a gentle place graced with statues and things of beauty; now the fury of internecine war had turned it into a shambles.

"Earl!" Clar writhed beneath Dumarest's hand. "The pain! Dear God, the pain!"

"Easy!"

"I'm burning! My guts-!" The voice became an animal-cry of searing agony. A shriek which could bring unwanted attention.

With his free hand Dumarest tore at his belt, jerking open the pouch it contained, spilling free the contents. An ampule tipped with a hollow needle rose to bury itself in the writhing man's throat. A pressure and numbing drugs laced the bloodstream. A temporary measure only; nothing available could heal the wound. In the blazing light of the drifting flare Dumarest examined it.

The armor Clar had worn, like his own, was cheap stuff, protection against low-velocity missiles, falling debris, shrapnel and ricochets. It could even give some defense against the glancing beam of a laser, melting even as it distributed the heat, but the beam which had caught Clar had been directly aimed and the plate across his stomach had flared like paper, adding molten droplets to the searing energy of the blast. Beneath the twisted metal and charred clothing the flesh was burned, black and red with char and blood, the greasy ropes of exposed intestines bulging, perforated, crisp with cauterised tissue.

"Earl?" Calmed by the drug Oar's voice was flat and dull. "It's bad?"

"Bad enough."

"I knew it." A hand rose to push the helmet from the sweating face, thin grey hair accentuating the age-lines now prominent at eyes and mouth. "A hell of a way to end. Ten years with the Corps and never a wound and now it's the end of the line. Well, it happens. A man can't live forever, Earl."

But no man had to die like a beast in the mud of a city, spilling his guts for the sake of another's ambition. From somewhere came the roar of an explosion, the rattle of small-arms fire. Flame, red and leaping, rose to dull the watching stars, the distant points of brilliance cold, remote, hostile in their indifference.

"Listen," said Clar. "Hide out until it's over. Pick a spot and crawl into it and stay there until its safe to show yourself. Wait until well past dawn and, when you move, keep your hands open and high. You understand?"

Beneath his fingers Dumarest could feel the growing acceleration of the pulse in the dying man's throat.

"Be smart, Earl. Learn from one who knows. So we've lost, so what? There'll be a penalty to pay, but later, when cool, the winners will listen to reason. Now they'll kill anything moving on sight. I…" His voice broke, returning edged with pain. "A burn like that-why is it taking so long?"

The weapon itself had seen to that, cauterising the flesh and preventing the swift loss of blood which would have brought a speedy and merciful end. An irony. In another time and place the man could have been saved, frozen, placed in an amniotic tank, the ruined tissue replaced with other grown from his own cells. Now he could only wait for death.

"Earl."

"I'm here, Clar." Dumarest tightened his hand. "My fingers, can you feel them?"

"Yes, but I can't see you. Everything's gone dark." In the light of the flare the eyes rolled, wide, the balls mottled with red. "You're a good man, Earl. The kind a man needs at his side when he goes into battle. But the life of a mercenary isn't for you. You're too smart. Too clever. Take my advice, Earl. Get out while you can. Don't waste your life. Don't- God, Earl! The pain! The pain!"

More drugs would do nothing but stave off the inevitable and the toxins flooding the man's bloodstream diminished their effectiveness. But it was all he had. Dumarest used three more of the ampules then snarled as Clar heaved beneath his hand. Old stock or diluted contents; someone, somewhere, had made an easy profit and because of it a man would die in screaming agony.

"Earl!"

Dumarest moved his hand, the fingers searching for the carotids, finding them, pressing deep to cut off the blood supply to the brain. Unconsciousness came almost at once but, as Clar relaxed, he maintained his grip. To allow the man to wake required a sadistic bent he did not possess. It was kinder to be merciful. More gentle to kill.


* * * * *


The tide of battle had moved to the south, gunfire echoing from the area of warehouses huddled close to the field, flames rising from burning houses, some lurid with the writhing colors of fuming chemicals. Swathes of green and orange, darts of blue and amber, a golden haze shot with the searing brilliance of burning magnesium which obliviated the need of flares and sent shadows dancing over the torn street and shattered buildings. An eruption of violence wasteful in its extravagance for, as he knew, the battle was over, the victory assured to the other side. But war did not have a tidy ending and armed men, fearful of their lives, would take no chances.

As his hand fell from the dead man's throat Dumarest heard the scuff of a boot, a sharp, metallic sound, and was moving as gunfire tore the air and missiles threw gouts of dirt from where he had knelt.

"Captain! I've got one! Here!"

The gun fired again as Dumarest rolled, the man holding it too excited to take careful aim. Bullets sprayed the ground, one tearing at the heel of a boot, another ripping through armor to graze a shoulder, the impact like the kick of a horse.

"Captain!"

Dumarest felt the jar of his helmet against stone and flung himself behind a sheltering mass of fallen debris, moving towards the end as bullets sent chips whining through the air. From cover he peered up and outwards, seeing the figure silhouetted against the lambent glow. A man, young from the sound of his voice, wearing the black and maroon of the opposing forces, a sub-machine gun cradled in his arms. A raw recruit on his first mission, forgetting elementary precautions in his excited desire to kill. A veteran would have taken cover, aimed with care, counted his shots, and Dumarest would now be dead. Instead the fool stood in full view, firing wildly, the gun failing silent as the magazine exhausted itself.

As he reloaded Dumarest rose, his own gun lifting, leveling, his finger checking on the trigger as a deep voice called from one side.

"Lorne! Down, you fool! Down!"

To fire now would be to betray his position, to invite answering fire from the man who had called. A veteran, this, knowing better than to show himself, one who would not miss.

"Captain! He's over there! Behind that stone!"

"Down, you fool! Hit the dirt!"

"But-"

"I'm using a grenade."

It exploded in a blossom of flame as Dumarest dived for the cover he had spotted, a narrow crack in a shattered wall, shrapnel whining inches from his helmet, dust stinging his eyes as he dropped to turn and stare into the flame-lit darkness. Two men at least, but the captain would not be alone, with him would probably be a patrol sent to sweep up any stragglers and, when they found no body, they would close in.

Dumarest looked upwards. The crack narrowed as it rose, to climb it would merely place him in a blind extension of the trap in which he was placed. Behind him reared a jumble of debris, stone precariously balanced which would fall if he attempted to burrow into it. The only way out was the way he had come.

"Lorne, check the area," ordered the deep voice. "And hurry!"

"One dead, Captain. He's the man the one I saw was trying to rob."

"Anything else?"

Boots scrabbled over stone and Dumarest heard the sound of ragged breathing as the young man came to investigate. A dark patch showed against the illuminated sky, light reflected from a pair of eyes, more catching a polished spot on the helmet. A target impossible to miss, but to fire would bring another grenade.

"Lorne?"

"Nothing, Captain." The young voice echoed its disappointment. "But he couldn't have got away. I'm sure I hit him and he couldn't have escaped the blast."

"Then he must be there. Look again."

The dark shape came closer, head bent, gun ready to fire. The finger on the trigger would be tense, a word, a movement and he would shoot without thought or hesitation.

Dumarest rose slowly, taking care not to touch the stone to either side. Lifting his gun he waited until the dark shape had turned away then threw it with the full power of his arm. It landed with a clatter, a sound immediately drowned in the roar of the weapon cradled in the mercenary's arms. A blast of thunder which sent echoes from the buildings and masked the thud of Dumarest's boots as he lunged forward. One hand lifted, weighed with his knife, steel gleaming, it came to a halt as it touched the bare face beneath the helmet. His other hand slammed over a shoulder to clamp over the chest and pull the body of the soldier hard against his own.

"Move and you die!" he snapped. Then, raising his voice, called, "I've got your man, Captain. Fire and you kill us both."

"Lorne?"

The man gulped as he felt the prick of the knife in the soft flesh beneath his chin.

"Answer him," said Dumarest, and dug the blade a little deeper.

"He's got me." The young voice was sullen. "A knife at my throat."

"Kill him and you burn," rasped the captain. "What do you want?"

"To live."

"You're surrendering?" The captain rose, his shape bulky against the sky. Others rose with him, four men all with weapons aimed. "Why didn't you call out before?"

"And be blasted by a trigger-happy fool?" Dumarest eased the pressure on the knife a little. "He gave me no chance. He fired as soon as he saw me-if he was my man I'd have something to say about him missing the way he did."

"He's young," said the captain. "And new-but he'll learn." He stepped forward lifting his helmet, revealing a hard face seamed and puckered with old scars. "Let him go."

"When he drops his gun."

"He won't shoot you." Reaching out the captain took the weapon. "But I may if given cause. Lorne?"

"He was robbing the dead," snapped the young man. As Dumarest released his grip Lorne stepped forward, turning to rub his throat, looking at the blood staining his hand. "A ghoul," he said bitterly. "A damned ghoul."

"He was a comrade," said Dumarest flatly. "And I wasn't robbing him. Stop trying to justify yourself, youngster. And while you're at it you can thank the captain for saving your life. If he hadn't called out you'd be dead now."

"You-"

"That's enough, Lorne!" The captain turned to where one of the others rose from his examination of the dead man. "Sheel?"

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