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gunfire, he would lose. PPG shots were globs of superhot phased helium plasma. Once they made contact with any surface they began to lose integrity. With this angle, he might be able to sort of blister his enemy's face. Meanwhile, Bester had a variety of weapons to choose from, including slug throwers, which would work much better in this situation.

He couldn't wait for that. He had to do something. It had already been too long-what, five minutes? Ten? Bester wouldn't hang around much longer.

He couldn't go up. He had tried to flex like Hercules and break the chute with the mighty strength of his limbs-no luck there, not even the slightest reason to hope. He couldn't go down, either.

"Wait a minute," he breathed. Why couldn't he go down? What was he standing on, anyway? Not the foundation-he hadn't dropped far enough for that.

He raised his right heel the full five inches he could manage, and kicked down. Kicked again.

Something gave, slightly.

He kicked with the other foot, then punched down with both feet.

"Making a lot of noise down there, Mr. Garibaldi." Bester's voice sounded as if it were right in his ear, and for an instant he thought it must be telepathy. His skin crawled to think Bester might once again be in his head. But, no, it was just the acoustics of the shaft.

He fired up the chute without looking. Jumped and kicked, fired again. Jumped and kicked.

The air grew warm in the chute, thanks to the dispersing plasma. But something was certainly giving way beneath him.

He fired again, and this time the PPG didn't recharge. He dropped it, and used his arms as best he could to shove down, down, against the weakening floor of the shaft. At least he desperately hoped it was weakening.

Something finally broke beneath his feet, and he
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