MacIan was a man with a secret, and it had followed him to Venus and the Legion, escape was impossible...
Silence was on the barracks like a lid clamped over tight-coiled springs. Men in rumpled uniforms-outlanders of the Stellar Legion, space-rats, the scrapings of the Solar System-sweated in the sullen heat of the Venusian swamplands before the rains. Sweated and listened.
The metal door clanged open to admit Lehn, the young Venusian Commandant, and every man jerked tautly to his feet. Ian MacIan, the white-haired, space-burned Earthman, alone and hungrily poised for action; Thekla, the swart Martian low-canaler, grinning like a weasel beside Bhak, the hulking strangler from Titan. Every quick nervous glance was riveted on Lehn.
The young officer stood silent in the open door, tugging at his fair mustache; to MacIan, watching, he was a trim, clean incongruity in this brutal wilderness of savagery and iron men. Behind him, the eternal mists writhed in a thin curtain over the swamp, stretching for miles beyond the soggy earthworks; through it came the sound every ear had listened to for days, a low, monotonous piping that seemed to ring from the ends of the earth. The Nahali, the six-foot, scarlet-eyed swamp-dwellers, whose touch was weapon enough, praying to their gods for rain. When it came, the hot, torrential downpour of southern Venus, the Nahali would burst in a scaly tide over the fort.
Only a moat of charged water and four electro-cannons stood between the Legion and the horde. If those things failed, it meant two hundred lives burned out, the circle of protective forts broken, the fertile uplands plundered and laid waste. MacIan looked at Lehn's clean, university-bred young face, and wondered cynically if he was strong enough to do his job.
Lehn spoke, so abruptly that the men started. "I'm calling for volunteers. A reconnaissance in Nahali territory; you know well enough what that means. Three men. Well?"
Ian MacIan stepped forward, followed instantly by the Martian Thekla. Bhak the Titan hesitated, his queerly bright, blank eyes darting from Thekla to Lehn, and back to MacIan. Then he stepped up, his hairy face twisted in a sly grin.
Lehn eyed them, his mouth hard with distaste under his fair mustache. Then he nodded, and said; "Report in an hour, light equipment." Turning to go, he added almost as an afterthought, "Report to my quarters, MacIan. Immediately."
MacIan's bony Celtic face tightened and his blue eyes narrowed with wary distrust. But he followed Lehn, his gaunt, powerful body as ramrod-straight as the Venusian's own, and no eye that watched him go held any friendship.