City Of The Living Dead - Part 10

Part 10

Paron was dead and the last danger to Mak'loh from him gone forever. In his place, a new and far worse danger had sprung up. Paron would at least have preserved much of the city's knowledge and therefore much of its future. The Shoba's soldiers would only kill, loot, and destroy.

The flyer lay on the near side of a wide clearing. Sela peered through the trees and sighed with relief. There were none of the Shoba's men in sight, and the machine itself appeared to be completely intact. Perhaps the enemy hadn't come this far. She ran forward, out into the clearing.

As she did, several enemy soldiers emerged from the trees on the far side of the clearing. Sela leaped for the flyer, at the same time aiming her rifle. The soldiers grabbed arrows, and both sides let fly at the same time.

Sela's aim was good, but the range was too great for the beam of her rifle. The white fire crackled out of existence, well short of the unharmed soldiers. She screamed in frustration, then screamed in pain as one of the plunging arrows sliced into her thigh. She dropped the rifle, heaved herself into the seat of the flyer, and started the fans. More arrows whistled down about her, but this time all of them missed. Before the archers could fire a third time, the flyer was lifting off the gra.s.s. It shot straight up, hitting an overhanging branch so hard that Sela nearly lost control. Then she was climbing up and away.

She kept climbing until she was certain that nothing from the ground could hit her. She climbed even farther, until she could see the towers of Mak'loh in the distance. She firmly put out of her mind the arrow in her thigh, the pain it was causing, and everything else except reaching those towers. Then she set course for the city, as fast as the flyer would go.

Chapter 20.

It was impossible to keep secret Sela's arrival, wearing nothing but an arrow in her thigh and the blood of her victims. Rumors ran around the streets of Mak'loh, and after the rumors came panic. Even many of Geetro's old supporters seemed confused and uncertain, while those who had only left the Houses of Peace a few days before were half out of their minds with fear.

The moment he was sure Sela was in no danger, Blade took off in a flyer and headed toward where Paron's camp had been. This lay well off to the north of the city, along a stretch of the outer Wall invisible from the Warlands plains below. It was just possible that the Shoba was only launching a raid, or even an exploring party. It wasn't likely. The Shoba's commanders had been intelligent enough to notice that the Wall was no longer defended by the various force fields. They would almost certainly be intelligent enough to realize this situation might not last forever. An attack over the Wall would have to be delivered with all the strength at their command, trying for a single knockout punch. They would not risk throwing away the advantage of surprise by making small raids.

Before nightfall Blade returned to Mak'loh, knowing he'd guessed right. From the air he'd been able to see the Shoba's whole army spread out below him-at least forty thousand men and more than a hundred guns.

From the air Blade could see that a narrow valley led west, along the northern Wall of Mak'loh. Ten miles up the valley was a place where the Wall stood on top of a gentle slope gentle enough for drun cavalry, artillery, and even supply wagons, as well as infantry.

With the force fields down, it had been easy enough to approach the Wall, send scouts over it, then blow three great gaps with gunpowder. Now the Shoba's army was marching in an endless stream through those gaps. Ahead of it went a screen of mounted archers and working parties to chop a road through the forest.

Where were the Watchers? Blade saw many of them lying smashed on the ground along the Wall. A few were surrounded by a ring of corpses. Some had fought and given a good account of themselves. Apparently most simply couldn't react correctly without the warning of the Entesh Field and with their programming so unreliable. They'd attacked hesitantly and piecemeal, and been smashed by musket fire. A Watcher would be a target that even a black-powder matchlock could hardly miss. They'd gone down, and without noticeably weakening the Shoba's army.

Whatever happened in the next few days or weeks, the people of Mak'loh would have to start patrolling their own Walls. That would be an enormous step in the right direction-if the people lived long enough to take it.

It was quite possible they wouldn't. Blade summarized the situation for Geetro and Sela after his return that night.

"We can't hope for more than five or six thousand people from the Houses of Peace who will be any good in a fight. We have ten thousand soldier androids. We have rifles for all of these, and a few hundred grenade throwers. We are short of both power cells and grenades. We. . . ."

"We are making more of both, and quickly," said Geetro. "We will not be short for long."

"That is true, if the Shoba's men go away quickly," said Blade. "But consider this, Geetro. We are using more grenades and cartridges this one year than have been used in the past thousand. The supply of material to make them is not so great, and we must go outside the Wall to get more. What if the Shoba's men tighten their ring around the city until we cannot leave it?"

"I have thought of that," said Geetro. "There is much metal and other material in the Houses of Peace. Some of my people are calculating how to turn it into weapons. They have discovered, for example, that in a single Inward Eye machine there is enough metal to make a hundred grenades or a mortar. As for the explosives-"

Blade held up a hand, although he badly wanted to hear more. He had to force himself not to grin in triumph. Turning Inward Eye machines into weapons would be another enormous step away from the old way of life.

Unfortunately, it would also take time, which Mak'loh might not have. Blade continued.

"We have twelve mortars, people to fire them, and much ammunition. The mortars should be kept out of sight and not used unless the Shoba's men are actually climbing over the city's wall. We want to keep the mortars as a surprise for the Shoba, as they were for Paron."

Neither Geetro nor Sela needed to be convinced on that point.

"There is much we can do with what we have, but it will not be enough. As Sela knows too well, the Shoba's archers can shoot farther than our rifles. Their cannon can shoot even farther than that. We do not have enough grenade throwers or mortars to fight a battle only with those weapons."

"Do the Shoba's men know about our rifles and their bows?" said Geetro.

"They will soon enough," said Blade. "Then they may send their archers up to the city's wall, to shoot at our riflemen. When the riflemen are dead, other soldiers can run up to the wall and climb it on ladders or ropes. Or they can dig a tunnel in the earth, put powder under the wall, and blow a hole in it. Or-" He shrugged. "There are too many things they can do, if we give them time. The Shoba's men not only fight well, they see clearly and think quickly.

"So we cannot wait behind the walls of Mak'loh until they attack. We must be able to go out and meet them in battle and defeat them. For that we need the help of the people of the villages in the Warlands."

Both Geetro and Sela were too polite, or perhaps too desperate, to tell Blade to his face that he'd gone mad, but both looked skeptical. "If the Shoba's soldiers are as good as you say they are, what can the Warlands villagers do against them?" asked Geetro. "The villagers were wretched barbarians the last time we fought them. Do you know that they are better now?"

"I do." Swiftly Blade outlined his plan. Some of it was pure bluff, and some of it was educated guesswork. Much of it, though, was what he'd seen in the Warlands or learned from Twana. Irony-Twana was dead, but what she'd told Blade might lead to a great victory for both Mak'loh and for her own people. She would deserve a large place in the history books of this Dimension, although she'd probably never get it.

He finished, "If the villages of the Warlands can send seven thousand fighting men, we can carry out this plan. Even with five thousand, I might be prepared to risk it.

"So I will go to the Warland villages, in a flyer. I will start at, Twana's village, where her father, Naran, is the chief. He is said to be a brave and wise man, who will understand what must be done. If he joins us and speaks for us in the other villages, we will have less trouble. So I will leave tonight, and-"

"No, Blade," said Sela. "I will go with you. It is necessary." Both Geetro and Blade stared at her, but she ignored them. "There must be someone from Mak'loh, who can speak for the Authority. You. . . ."

"Sela!" exploded Geetro. "You have just escaped from Paron, and you are wounded as well. You cannot go with Blade!"

"I cannot walk for many days and nights; that is true," said Sela. "But I can certainly ride in a flyer and speak to village chiefs. Geetro, you have work to do here. You must get the city ready to defend itself until the Warlanders come. That is work I cannot do. Please, Geetro."

There was a pleading look in her eyes and a pleading note in her voice, both so strong that Geetro finally yielded. "Very well, Sela. Go with Blade, and bring back the Warlanders. But if you don't get her back safely, Blade, I swear I'll kill you with my bare hands!" His tone made it clear that he was not joking.

"She'll be on her way back as soon as the talking is over," said Blade. "I swear this." The two men shook hands, and Blade decided to leave Geetro alone with Sela.

As he went out the door, he heard Geetro's voice. "I think we'd better have the worker androids block off a square in the heart of the city. We must have some area we can still defend, even if they do get over the wall.

"Also, I think we should put some of the mortars on the trucks, so they can be moved-"

Blade closed the door behind him and went off down the corridor with a smile on his face. Geetro was a man who would go far and fast once you gave him a slight shove in the right direction. Blade hoped there were more like Geetro in Mak'loh.

Blade and Sela took off the next morning, just after the lookouts on the walls sighted the first of the Shoba's scouts. Blade took the flyer up to a safe alt.i.tude and headed straight toward the east.

They were over the Wall in half an hour, and Blade turned north toward He only hoped it was still standing. He doubted if the Shoba's army had been able to spend much time or effort scouring the countryside beyond the Wall., though, lay not far from the army's line of march. They might have reduced it to smoldering ruins just to protect their flank.

A few miles south of, Blade dropped down to low alt.i.tude to avoid being spotted by either friend or enemy. He swung wide to the east and came in over the same orchard from which he'd watched Twana's kidnapping.

The village stood exactly as it had been, completely intact. There seemed to be even more people than he remembered at work in the fields and pa.s.sing in and out of the gate. All of them froze as Blade's flyer sailed over the trees and hovered in front of the gate. As he landed, some people ran, others dropped flat as if he'd turned a shock rifle on them, and a few grabbed bows and spears. None of them seemed ready to go into action, but none of them seemed quite ready to be friendly, either. Blade and Sela obviously weren't part of the Shoba's army, but they were something even stranger, and perhaps just as dangerous.

Blade stepped down to the ground, hands held out in the cla.s.sic gesture of peace. "I have important words to speak to Naran, your chief," he said. "Bring me to him."

"What words?" said several people almost together. "Who are you? Why do you come to us?" Someone added, "Do you serve the Shoba?" and drew his bow taut. Blade hoped Sela would keep her hands off her rifle. It might not take much to provoke a shooting match, fatal not only to the two of them but to Mak'loh's chances of an alliance with the Warlanders.

"I am from beyond the Wall," he said in a level voice. "I do not serve the Shoba. I hate him as much as you do. His soldiers have crossed the Wall and are making war against the city there. It is called Mak'loh. If it falls, the Shoba's army will turn on you next. If you come to the aid of Mak'loh, the Shoba's army will be destroyed, and Mak'loh will-"

At this point Blade broke off, because it was obvious that the people were no longer listening to a word he was saying. They were staring at each other as if they weren't sure who was mad-Blade or them-or even if Blade were real. Then someone muttered something, out of which Blade caught only the single word "Naran," and somebody else sprinted for the village gate.

Blade stood in the middle of the circle of archers and spearmen, while the sweat began to trickle down his face and a fly settled on his nose. He didn't dare even to raise a hand to brush it off.

Then the messenger came back, and behind him the same man Blade had seen beaten and kicked by the Shoba's soldiers. The chief looked ten years older and walked with a cane, but his eyes were still sharp as they fell on Blade.

Blade turned slowly and raised both hands in salute to the chief.

"Hail, Naran; I come from beyond the Wall, to bring you news of the city of Mak'loh, of the army of the Shoba, and of your daughter Twana."

Naran had too much dignity and self-control to start at Blade's words, but his eyes opened very wide and it was a moment before be spoke. Then he said slowly, "Come with me, Blade of Mak'loh. I think we should speak together."

The "speaking together" took longer than Blade had expected. This was not because Naran was slowwitted or argumentative. It was because Blade and Sela had to explain the situation and propose the alliance three separate times. The first time they spoke with Naran alone. The second time they spoke with Naran and the subchiefs of the village of Flores. The third time they spoke with Naran and the chiefs and war leaders of a dozen other villages, whose fighting men were already in Naran's village or camped within a day's march of it.

The Shoba's army had originally come into the area to punish the villages for their "rebellion"-meaning Blade's attacks and Twana's escape. The villagers suspected this from the first and quickly confirmed it from a few captured scouts. They knew well enough what an army this size could do to them and how little they could do against it.

Yet they'd made up their minds to resist as well as they could. Some four thousand fighting men had been gathered from all the villages within three days' march of They had been a.s.sembled here in the north, to harry and ambush the Shoba's men as they moved south along the Wall. If nothing else, they could perhaps kill the sniffers and so make it possible for the people of the villages farther south to flee and hide themselves.

In fact, they'd all expected to be dead by now. Instead, the Shoba's army suddenly marched off into the hills and vanished as completely as if it had marched off the edge of the world. There were some in the villages who said they thought they'd seen something possibly happening to the Wall, but as Naran said: "This told us no more than the humming of the dragonflies over a pond in the evening."

No one quite dared to suggest that the Shoba's army was marching against the Wall. "Yet many of us began to think strange thoughts," said Naran. "Something was drawing the Shoba's men away from us. Even in the time of our remotest ancestors, there were legends of life beyond the Wall. So we have been ready to believe what you came to tell us. We have even made the fighting men of the villages ready to be led against the Shoba."

Blade smiled. "I wish I could lead them straight over the Wall tomorrow morning. But those you have here are not enough. Also, it would be wiser to cross the Wall farther to the south. That way we shall reach Mak'loh more swiftly and give the Shoba a great surprise."

Naran frowned. "Then the help of other villages will be needed?"

"Yes. However brave the four thousand you have here might be, they would be going to their deaths."

"Very well then. It will be necessary to travel about among the other villages and speak to their chiefs. Will you carry me in your flying machine?"

Both Blade and Sela stared at the old man. Their surprise seemed to amuse him. "Why not?" he said. "I am too old to walk all the way, even if we had the time. Your machine is strange, but not, I think, evil. That no man of has ever ridden in one before does not worry me."

He sighed. "I had thought the old ways of our village would go on, into the time of my children's children's children. Now I can see that they will not even go on to the end of my own time, whether I wish it or not. Certainly no one in any of the villages will be unhappy if we no longer have to stand alone against the Shoba."

Blade, Sela, and Naran spent the next several days flying from village to village, calling on them to send out their fighting men to aid Mak'loh against the Shoba. Nearly all the chiefs and war leaders were more than willing, provided that Mak'loh would feed them and also give them some of its powerful fire-throwers.

Food would be no problem-the food factories could produce enough for an army ten times larger than the villages could send. Blade had his doubts about handing out the shock rifles, but Sela was enthusiastic. In several villages she made the suggestion without even being asked.

Village after village promised their men, until Blade knew that he would have at least ten thousand and probably many more. All that remained was to gather the Warlands army and pa.s.s it through the Wall. Naran would give all the orders needed for the first job, and Blade and Sela quickly made the necessary arrangements for the second one.

The night before they were to fly to join the army, Blade and Sela sat in a hut in Between them on the floor lay the remains of a roasted goat, a jug of beer, and two tallow candles that cast a flickering light around the low room.

Blade poured more beer into the cups, and they drank a toast to the future of Mak'loh and its allies and the doom of the Shoba. Then Blade asked, "Sela-why have you been so free offering shock rifles to these people? I know the rifles are easy to use, but have you no fear they may be used against Mak'loh in time?"

"Perhaps," said Sela. "But if the Warlanders turn the rifles against us, we need only stop giving them the power cells. Then the rifles will be useless. Meanwhile, they will no longer be in Mak'loh. Thus Geetro will have the excuse he wants, to give out those rifles which remain in the city only to those people he trusts."

Blade nodded politely without saying anything. So Geetro was thinking of setting himself up as dictator-or at least strongman-of the new Mak'loh? Well, Mak'loh was reviving every other part of civilization, so they might as well revive politics! Certainly he could hardly expect to do anything about it in whatever time he had left in this Dimension.

Before he could think anymore along those lines, Sela rose painfully to her feet. She undid the coa.r.s.e wool robe that was her only garment and let it slip to the floor. The candlelight sent gleams up and down her body as she took Blade's hand and led him to the pile of furs in the corner.

As they lay together afterward, Sela gave a long, luxurious sigh and said, with her mouth half-m.u.f.fed against his chest, "This must be the last time for us."

"Geetro?" said Blade.

"Yes. He and I will do well together, I think. He has many of your qualities, and he is also of Mak'loh. You are of England, and sooner or later you will be going back there."

"That is true," said Blade. "I'm glad you've seen this without my having to tell you." Unseen in darkness, he smiled. Were any of Geetro's qualities as important to Sela as his probably being the next ruler of Mak'loh? Blade wondered.

Well, Geetro might end up ruling Mak'loh, but Sela would very likely rule Geetro. The city and its people could do much worse.

Blade stood at the bottom of the hill and watched the flyer swooping low over the Wall. Sela was at the controls of the flyer, and at a radio signal from her the explosives placed under a section of the Wall would be detonated. The way into Mak'loh would be open for the army of the Warland villages.

Blade turned and looked at the fighting men of the villages, twelve thousand of them drawn up and ready to march. They carried spears, swords, bows, and axes. The two thousand shock rifles they'd been promised would be handed out when they reached Mak'loh.

As Blade turned, the sun glinted from a ma.s.sive collar he wore around his neck, over his faded black Authority coveralls. Each piece of the collar was a bar of gold weighing nearly a pound, and Blade felt that it would crumble his collarbone into powder if he had to wear it much longer.

It was the War Collar of a High Chief of all the villages. Blade smiled as he remembered what Naran had said as he fastened the collar around Blade's neck.

"We have seldom needed a High Chief, we don't really need one now, and we probably won't need one after all this is over. If we do need one, you'll have to give the collar back. Meanwhile, though, you're doing what a High Chief is chosen to do-leading all the villages into a great war. So we might as well give you the collar." Then he lowered his voice and spoke so that only Blade could hear, "I do this also out of grat.i.tude for what you did for Twana."

Blade looked up at the hill, raised his rifle, and fired into the air three times. Sela's flyer climbed away from the Wall, until it circled above the Warlanders. The radio signal flashed down from it, and suddenly half a mile of Wall vanished in gray smoke.

Seconds later the roar of the explosion reached Blade's ears, and the ground began to shiver under his feet. The roar and the shivering built steadily, and the smoke billowed higher and higher, as if the earth were catching fire. In the grayness Blade saw darker chunks, first rising and then falling-bits of the wall hurled into the air.

At last the smoke began to drift away, and Blade saw more bits of the Wall rolling down the hill toward him. Long before they reached him, the last of the smoke was gone. Along the whole half mile the Wall was crumbling into dust and gravel. Behind him Blade could hear the swelling cheers of the Warlanders.

In throwing Mak'loh open to its new allies, Geetro had certainly chosen to make a grand gesture!

Chapter 21.

The march of the Warland villagers started off with a literal bang, but rapidly became a first-cla.s.s headache for Richard Blade. The villagers had great enthusiasm and great endurance, but they had no real discipline. They straggled behind, they ran on ahead, they made camp when and where they pleased, they built fires until Blade was sure the smoke would warn the Shoba's army. None of the men would willingly follow the orders of any chief but his own, and none of the chiefs would take orders from anybody at all except Blade and Naran. Blade was certain these people would be brave enough on the battlefield-if he could get them that far without throttling half of them in sheer frustration. He was not at all sure if that courage would be enough against the disciplined advance and firepower of the Shoba's infantry or the hammering charges of his cavalry.

The villagers could not really hope to face the Shoba's army in the open field. Neither could the people and androids of Mak'loh, not when the Shoba's archers could outrange the shock rifles. How could they avoid such a battle, though, unless the Shoba's men could be baited into an attack on the city itself?

Blade's beard grew longer and his temper grew shorter as he led the twelve thousand villagers in a wide swing to the south. They came up on the opposite side of the city from the Shoba's army and made camp under cover of the forest beyond the range of the enemy's scouts. It was five days since they'd pa.s.sed through the breach in the Wall.

Luck was on their side. The Shoba's commanders knew their business well-too well to risk dispersing their forces in the face of an enemy whose powers had not yet been fully revealed. So they set up a vast, fortified camp three miles from the northern edge of the city. That was well beyond the range of the mortars, and Blade wondered at first if the enemy had guessed Mak'loh's secret weapon. A quick flight over the camp set his doubts to rest. The camp site had been chosen because it lay between two streams, and therefore had plenty of fresh water.

The camp was a formidable thing, a square over a mile on a side. It was surrounded by a protective ditch, high earth embankments, and a palisade of sharpened logs on top of the embankment. It would take the mortars to do much against the camp, but to get within range they would have to be brought out of the city. In that case they'd have to be protected, and protecting them against the Shoba's army would take every man the city and the villagers had between them. Otherwise, the mortars would be quickly overrun, and with them would go Mak'loh's best chance of victory.

It would have to be a battle in the open field, however unsuited this weirdly a.s.sorted army Blade led might be for such a battle. He resigned himself to this fact and set about planning the best tactics.

The Shoba's army kept a close watch on the northern wall of the city. In fact, they cleared all the ground between their camp and the city until nothing larger than a rabbit could get in or out without being noticed. On the other three sides of the city, they kept watch with nothing more than occasional cavalry patrols. They seemed to be waiting for Mak'loh to show its hand.

Blade would be happy to let them wait as long as they pleased. The night after the Warlands army made camp, a convoy of trucks rolled out of a gate in the south wall of the city. It brought to the camp a month's food and the promised two thousand shock rifles, then returned before dawn brought the enemy's patrols. Doubtless the drun-riders saw the wheel tracks, but could not follow them up. Druns were stronger than horses and faster on level ground, but much less surefooted. As long as the villagers were shielded by the forest, they'd be safe from detection.

A number of Geetro's people came out in the convoy to instruct the villagers in using the rifles. Blade gave them their orders, then flew back into the city, and sat down with Geetro and Sela to make their plans for the battle.