Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/53

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in snow-white curls. Crayne looked in the mirror and saw his own ruddy thatch was the color of ivory. His arms went out, his hand touched Murphy, and suddenly the boy had clutched him in a tight grasp of young arms.

"Maybe it's real, an' it's you an' me alone some day. We'd better keep, on speakin' terms." He tried to laugh, then suddenly dashed from the cabin.

In three hours the Birmingham was repaired and tested, and they set to work smoothing a stretch of ice where she could race for the take-off. In the galley cubby, Mose was singing jazz, and between preparations for a meal, darting to the mirror to stare at his white, straight hair. An excited but silent company took their last look at the reflection of that vast and awful source of the world's atomic energy, the light of which men call the Aurora Borealis.

Then the flight began, and with it an eery moaning of winds that blow between the worlds. They stood at salute, faces toward the Bowl, a gesture of honor and farewell to Captain Ek and Bjornsen.

Then came the fight with gales that howled, drove frozen snow like flails in a constant tattoo on the wings and body of the Birmingham, until she was tossed like a bird. The weary mechanics slept. Crayne was at the throttle. Mose crouched in a heap with the fragments of rock in his arms, his teeth chattering as he saw the strain on the faces of Crayne and Murphy.

Suddenly Crayne cried out, and Murphy leaped to his side.

"The stick's gone," he yelled above the fury of elemental cataclysms about them.

The end came suddenly—a downward plunge, a crash, then flames leaping. Crayne was on his feet in a moment. The cabin of the Birmingham had burst like an eggshell, and from it rolled Mose still clutching the rock, and Murphy. Of the others—the two sleeping mechanics—they had not sight or sound. Flame soared and roared, the black smoke streaked through the storm, and what had been a steel-thewed bird of flight was a roaring inferno, the heat of which must have brought merciful death to the poor wretches stunned by the crash.

Glowing framework was all that was left of her in but a few minutes. Crayne, Mose and Murphy faced the bitter blast without food, fire or shelter.

It was Crayne who roused the other two from stupefaction.

"We can't be far from the ship. We die if we hesitate. Let's go."

And buffeting the storm they went, three puny forms, without compass or star; went until Mose staggered from exhaustion and plunged on his face in the snow. Then without a word they lifted him, drew his arms over their shoulders and pressed on.

"But," said Crayne at the end of hours of torture, "it's true, I think. We were due to slip out when she crashed. We're due to go down now. Man can't live in this wind up here, and I'm not even tired. How about you?"

"Nope. Seems like it's right, boy. Bimini stuff, maybe. An' if that ain't a ship's mast-head light, I'm a liar. An' hear the dogs! We've come some distance, no rest, no grub, no anything. They was something in it. Bimini!"