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Stalemate   By: (1912-2003)

Stalemate by Basil Wells

First Page:

STALEMATE

BY BASIL WELLS

Illustrated by Leo Summers

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction November 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: The rules of a duel between gentlemen are quite different from the rules of war between nations. Is it because gentlemen do not fight wars, or is it that men in war cease to be gentlemen? ]

The bullet slapped rotted leaves and dirt into Gram Treb's eyes. He wormed backward to the bole of a small tree.

"Missed!" he shouted. He used English, the second tongue of them both. "Throw away your carbine and use rocks."

"You tasted it anyhow," Harl Neilson's shrill young voice cried. "How was the sample?"

"That leaves you two cartridges," taunted Treb. "Or is it only one?"

The sixth sense that had brought him safely through two of these bloody war duels here in space made him fling his body to the left. He rolled over once and lay huddled in a shallow depression. He knew all the tiny hollows and ridges they were his insurance on this mile wide island high above Earth.

Something thudded into the tree roots behind him. He hugged the ground, body flattened. His breath eased raggedly outward, and caught. The waiting the seconds that became hours! If the grenade rolled after him, down the slope into his shelter, he was finished.

There was nothing he could do. His palms oozed sweat....

The grenade exploded. It was like a fist slammed against his skull. He was numbed for a long instant. Then he checked.

Unharmed. The depression had saved his neck this time. He wanted to shout at Neilson, tell him he was down to a lone grenade, but that was poor strategy. Now he must withdraw, make Neilson think him injured or dead, and trap him in turn.

They were the last of the belligerents here within Earth Satellite. For two months, since what would be May on Earth, they had carried on this mad duel. Of the other eighteen who had started the war in November of the preceding year, only four had survived their wounds. The United Nations' supervisory seconds had transported them to their homes in Andilia and in Baryt....

Treb wormed his way as noiselessly as possible into the undergrowth, sprawling at last in the shelter of an earthen mound thirty feet from the grenade's raw splash. He waited and thought.

Memories can be unpleasant. He could see his comrades of the three battles as they had fallen, wounded or gray with death. Too many of them had he helped bury. He remembered the treasured photos.

The draining wound in his right forearm throbbed....

The enemy dead too. He had killed several of them more than his share, he thought savagely. They too were young despite the ragged beards some of them cultivated.

Treb felt like an old man. And he was old. He was twenty nine. He had a son also named Gram, a boy of five, and little Alse, who was two. Had little Alse's mother lived he would never have volunteered for this third United Nations' war duel.

He would have been with her in the mountain valley of Krekar working hard, and gradually erasing those other ugly episodes here on Earth Satellite One....

Minutes crawled by, lumped together into hours. Birds sang in the trees so laboriously maintained here in the satellite's disk shaped heart. And, a hundred feet overhead, where the true deck of the man made island in space began, other birds nested in the girders.

An ant crawled over Treb's earth stained hand and passed under his outstretched carbine's barrel.

There was a movement in the clustering trees off to his right. Neilson had circled and was coming in from an opposite angle. Treb thumbed off the safety and waited.

An earth colored helmet, with a trace of long pale hair around its rim, came slowly into view... Continue reading book >>




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