Roy Glashan's Library
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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS DUNCAN FARNSWORTH)

PEPPERPOT PLANET

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First published in Amazing Stories, June 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-05-03
Produced by Paul Sandery and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Amazing Stories, June 1941, with "Pepperpot Planet"


Illustration

"Get down, you little fool!" said Wade harshly.



Wade Hawkins and Brad Skene ought to have known better than to mix into Martian revolutions and plots, but Tonya was beautiful—if not sincere!



IF there's anything sane or logical about a Martian, I've never noticed it. As a race, Martians are the wildest, most hot-headed, utterly unpredictable band of zanies in the entire interplanetary chain. Charming, yes. Courtly, certainly. Gallant, why, naturally. But goofy—wow!

You don't have to take my word for this. Ask Wade Hawkins, the rotund, cherubic faced space chum with whom I got my first taste of Martian hocus pocus. Wade will tell you the same thing I do, for he's still up there in that hornet's nest. Maybe I better go back to the start of the thing.

Wade and I had just gotten the bounce, the old heave-ho, from Transplanetary Spaceways Company. We jockeyed space freight back and forth along the interplanetary chain for that band of legalized robbers for about three years. I was pilot, and Wade was my co. But then there was an incident in which four quarts of Venusian gin and a wench from Saturn figured prominently. Transplanetary Spaceways didn't give us two weeks notice. They just gave us a month's pay and a don't-come-back.

We were left stranded on Mars. Of course, we had just enough left for a passage back to Earth. But that dismissal dough was burning holes in our tunic pockets, and there wouldn't be another space liner going back for another, uh, er—we ended up in a Martian Cafe.

Wade was pretty tanked as we sat at a dinky little table in that Martian night spot. I don't think I was feeling any pain, either.

"S'a damn good thing," Wade muttered, his round red face gleaming. "Been wanting to quit those penny-pinchers fer a long time!"

"Yeah," I answered, bending my elbow. "Cheapskates. Didn' 'ppreciate us anyway!"

We might have gone on like that indefinitely, giving our ex-employers hell all night, if a luscious, raven-haired, Martian cutie hadn't hipped past our table at that moment. Wade and I were on our feet simultaneously. I was a little bit more sober, so I got the words out first.

"Hiya, honey," I made a low bow. "Wouldja mind pausing to converse with a forlorn stranger?"

"Two forlorn strangers!" Wade glared balefully at me.

The Martian Miss hesitated, her white teeth flashing against that luuuhvly background of raven hair and slightly dusky complexion. I was mentally wagering my very best pair of space boots against a plugged Venusian nickle that there wasn't a prettier gal anywhere in the universe, when she answered.

"Why, I theenk I would be deelighted!"

There was a wild scramble, while Wade and I battled to get her to sit beside each of us, but she settled the dispute by pulling up a chair and sitting down between us.

"I'm Brad Skene," I told her pronto. "And this guy," I pointed to Wade, "is named Hawkins."

"Wade Hawkins," my cherubic chum put in gloweringly.

"I am so veeery glad to know you both," she smiled. "Earthmen are sooo nice." My heart was zooming up and down like a degravitator needle. "My name is Tonya, Tonya Noronha," she concluded.

I was handing out my best loving simper, with occasional glaring glances at Wade. And Wade was giving forth with his finest heart-torn glance, with mingled glares at me—when we both noticed that the smile had suddenly left Tonya's lovely red lips. She wasn't looking at either of us. Her head was turned slightly toward the door of the cafe, and her face had gone suddenly pale!

My eyes followed her gaze. Two uniformed Martian guards had just entered, big, black-haired, beetle-browed fellows, and were craning their thick necks around to give the joint the look-over.

"Queek!" Tonya's voice was a soft hiss, and she reached into the, er, ah, throat of her tunic, pulling forth a sheaf of papers. "Here," she whispered fiercely. "Hide these, please!"

Automatically, I reached out and took the papers. Automatically, I shoved them down into the side of my space boot. But my eyes were still fixed on the Martian guards. They were dressed in those spangled, purple, comic-opera uniforms that Martians love to affect. But there was nothing comic about the drawn atomic pistols they both held!


THE music was still playing, and voices around us were still babbling, but Tonya was rising to her feet.

She was breathing hard and fast—what a figure she made!—and there was a hunted look in those gorgeous dark eyes.

"Hey," Wade said. "Where'ya going?"

"Goodbye, gentlemen," Tonya breathed. "I will see you later."

"Hey!" I was on my feet. "Not so fast!" I was thinking of those papers in my boot. "Wait a minute!"

But Tonya, moving fast, was shoving through the crowded tables, heading for a side door of the cafe. And as I looked up, I saw the two Martian guards less than five yards away and heading for us—fast!

Wade—as I said before—was a little foggier than I, and he was gazing in open-mouthed stupidity at the girl's retreating figure. He didn't even see the Martian guards until they were on us. And then I was yanking Wade to his feet.

"Nyaaaaah!" snarled one of the guards, and I didn't like his tone. "Tonya Noronha was weeth you. She geeve you something. You geeve to us, queek!" He extended a huge paw.

Wade had just noticed the guards.

"I don't like these guys," he began is his customarily bland fashion. And then, before I could say another word, my cherubic chum had snapped forth with a right hook into the face of the uniformed Martian nearest him!

I must have reacted from sheer force of habit, because, somehow, in the space of the next three seconds, I lifted the table high and shoved it with everything I had—into the face of the Martian whose paw was extended!

The guy Wade had biffed was sprawled out flat on the floor, his atomic pistol having been lost in the shuffle. But he wasn't out, and he was clawing to his feet like an enraged bull ape, bellowing thunder. Wade was grinning delightedly, waiting for the Martian to gain his feet. The man I hit with the table didn't go out, either. But he went down, and his atomic pistol was exploding wildly at the ceiling. By now people were screaming and the whole joint was a frantic, tearing slug-fest. Everyone was picking a partner and going to it. Mars is like that. Drop a pin and you start a revolution.

I grabbed Wade by the collar, still thinking of the papers in my boot, and of Tonya's swift exit. Someone from another table was now taking care of the Martian guard Wade had bopped, so we weren't busy at that instant.

"Come on!" I shouted. "We gotta find that girl!"

Somehow we fought our way through that confusion toward the side exit which Tonya had used. And then we were out on a narrow little side street, looking wildly up and down. But there was no sight of Tonya, just a few sleepy-eyed Martian beggars leaning against the walls.

"Hell," I stormed. "She got away. Probably never see her again."

"Yeah," Wade muttered disconsolately, "and whatta babe!"

I could agree with my space buddy, but I was thinking more of those papers than anything else. I could still feel them in the side of my space boot. We were walking slowly along the dingy little street now, and I remembered that Wade had probably been too stinking pickled at the moment to notice. I told him about the papers.

He blinked foolishly. "Geeze, I didn't notice. You say you still got 'em in your space boot?"

I nodded. "Well, let's take a look at them," Wade suggested. Simple, but it hadn't occurred to me until now.

We stopped, and I bent down and pulled forth the papers. I had them in my hands when one of the sleepy-eyed beggars stepped forth. The fellow was ragged and dirty, but he didn't look like a Martian. I couldn't place his planet exactly. But I didn't have time. For in the next instant something klunked me on the back of the skull and I felt myself falling forward, forward, while a million rockets spewed silver spray into a black void ...


THERE was a familiar vibration buzzing in my bones and drumming through my aching skull when I opened my eyes again. The first thing I saw was the stretch of platenoid planking on which I was lying, and the next sight to meet my eyes was Wade Hawkin's trussed-up body lying right next to me. In another instant, after trying unsuccessfully to stretch my aching muscles, I realized that I had been expertly bound also. The vibration came from atomic motors throbbing directly beneath us, and I realized that I and my cherubic chum were in a space ship—somewhere!

The compartment in which we were lying was small, obviously built for baggage. And from its size I was able to judge that the space ship itself wasn't any too large. There was a thick, platenoid door—closed—which led to the front of the ship where our captors, whoever they were, were located.

And then I saw that Wade's blue eyes were open and he was staring at me.

"Dammit!" I said, "why didn't you say something? I thought for a minute you might be dead." Wade licked his lips.

"I might as well be," Wade muttered, "with this hangover, plus my aching bean."

"Well," I began.

"Don't ask me where we are," Wade cut in. "You and your Martian cuties. If you could stay away from women, we wouldn't be in the predicament—"

"Why!" I exploded, "you blank, blank son of an asteroid. If you hadn't lost our jobs for us in the first pla—"

"Cut it," Wade said suddenly. "This isn't going to do my head or either of us any good."

I realized he was right, and lapsed into silence. I was thinking, suddenly, about Tonya and those damned papers.

"Some joy," Wade said morosely.

"Now, if you'll just gnaw our bonds loose like a good fellow—"

"Cut the sarcasm," I broke in. "We're obviously in a jam. And obviously, we'd better start thinking a way out of it."

"Tonya's aboard the ship," Wade said matter-of-factly.

"Tonya's aboard!" My voice was an astonished bleat.

"Yeah," Wade said in that maddeningly calm voice of his. "She was trussed up beside us for some time. Then they came back and took her out of the compartment."

I felt a strange, sudden sense of relief to know that Tonya hadn't—as I suspected for an instant—been allied with our captors. Then I said:

"They? Who do you mean by ‘they'? For the love of—"

"I don't know who they happen to be," Wade said, breaking in sharply. "I'm not an ace sleuth. People. Two Martians, little and dapper and a third, tall and dark and good-looking."

I thought this over. "The papers," I said at last.

"Bright boy," Wade applauded.

And then I could see heads bobbing down toward our door. Two typically Martian faces, moving down the aisle of the space ship toward the windowed compartment in which we lay. Behind them, being half-dragged along, was Tonya!


THE door to our compartment was kicked open, and Tonya was shoved inside by the two Martians.

They were slight, dapper fellows, clad in somber black tunics. One of them had a moustache. Then they were gone, and Tonya, bound but for her shapely legs, was beside us.

"Hello," said Tonya brightly. "I am afraid I have caused you two much, much trouble."

"What's this all about?" I demanded, trying to keep my eyes from meeting hers. "Give it straight from the shoulder, Tonya."

"They wanted the papers," Tonya replied simply. Wade rolled over and groaned. "If I hear that phrase again I'll retch," he declared.

"What for?" I was trying to be patient, still trying to avoid the charm of those luuuhvly eyes.

"My father's revolution," said Tonya, and suddenly her slim shoulders were shaking with sobs, and she was bawling like a child.

And with her first sobs, even Wade lost his cynicism, and the old I-love-you gleam came back in his eyes. Me, I was as bad as Wade, or worse. When Tonya cried you wanted to go out and utterly disintegrate every unpleasant thing in the universe that might ever make her cry again. Human beings just weren't meant to stand such appeal.

While Tonya bawled, we got her story. Her old man, General Noronha, was a Martian political leader. Or at least he was the leader of one particular Martian political faction. There are as many political factions on Mars as there are asteroids in space. Tonya had gone to the night spot on instructions from her father, the General, to deliver the papers to one of his spies. They were detailed papers, plans for the exact Hour Of Revolution. Every other hour on Mars is an Hour Of Revolution to some political faction.

The spy hadn't been there when Tonya arrived, probably had been waylaid by Martian guards. So she sat down at our table to put up a front and look around. That's when the two uniformed Martians came in, and the trouble started. How Tonya had intended to get the papers back from me, after handing them over, she didn't explain. Maybe she had a plan to cover that, maybe she didn't. Martians are like that.

Tonya had been stopped by one of those phoney street beggars, probably the same guy who knocked Wade and me out cold. And now here we all were, cozy but quite definitely confined.

"Why did they bring Wade and me along when they'd gotten the papers?" I demanded.

Tonya shrugged between gentle sobs.

"They probably thought you were in on eeet all, and knew too much."

"Where are we now?" Wade asked. "Have you any idea."

"Out in space, somewhere, probably not far from Mars," the girl answered. Then, sobbing even more wildly, she added: "And at theese vereeey minute, they are probably keeling my father!"


IT was an unpleasant thought, and I felt as though I would like personally to strangle anyone who'd touch a hair of her pappy's skull. But I had to know more, so I asked: "Who are the people who brought you back to the compartment just now?"

"Martian guards," she sobbed, "Castro is piloting the ship."

"Castro?" I frowned.

"Castro is the enemy of our Cause!" Tonya said with a sharp, shuddery loathing. "He would like to be the General Commissioner of the Martian State!"

"Now wait a minute," I broke in. "Isn't Castro allied with the present Martian government?"

Tonya shrugged her carefully tied shoulders. "That"—there was scorn in her voice—"is due to fall any day. No, Castro is not one of the present government. He is the leader of another political party. He would like to take over the government, and keep my father from the post of General Commissioner of the Martian State!"

I gulped. This was complex, and no maybe. A revolution against a revolution—to see who would perform the revolution supreme! The puzzle must have hit Wade the same way, for he sputtered helplessly. However, this was a Martian setup, and anything went. Besides, Tonya was Tonya, as beautiful as a thousand asteroid angels, and quite sufficient unto herself. "Okay," I finally managed to say. "Now we have a rough idea. Where are we going?"

Tonya's tear stained cheeks lifted, and she gazed into my eyes ... and when the compartment stopped spinning, she answered:

"No place. No place at all!"

"You mean we're just cruising aimlessly around out here in space?" I blurted.

Tonya nodded. "Passing time, until Castro's evil men have had time to keel my father, had time to thwart heese plans."

I had been looking away from Tonya's eyes, and so I suddenly saw a slight protrusion in the platenoid planking on which we were lying. It gave me an idea.

"Tonya, your feet are unbound; do you think you could pry up the edge of that planking there? It looks like a floor door leading to the motors of this ship!"

Wade rolled over to watch in sudden interest, and Tonya, nodding excitedly, stepped to the loose planking. Bit-by-bit the planking came away, as Tonya pried it loose. Then we were looking down onto the atomic motors thrumming away in the bowels of the ship.

Rolling and inching myself along, I got to the edge of the opening. The motor turbines were red hot, and less than three feet from the floor. I pushed myself over the opening until I was lying on it with my hands—which were tied behind me—dangling down toward the red hot turbine covers.

Tonya was watching me, so everything was all right when my flesh seared along my wrists as they touched the turbine covers. My wrist bonds seared too, and the stench of burned matter wasn't too pleasant. Then I rolled off, hands free, wrists badly scorched!

"There," I said, biting hard on my lower lip. "Now we can get into action!"


THE look in Tonya's eyes made me want to go back and burn myself all over again, just for a repeat performance from her. But I was busy untying Wade's bonds, and he was staring at me with a sort of wordless envy; like a jealous school kid who's seen another punk steel his thunder. Tonya's bonds were next. And then we were all on our feet, breathing fast in the sudden excitement of escape.

"We've got to take it easy," said Wade, obviously trying to get back into the running with Tonya by assuming instant leadership. But he wasn't going to do it as easy as that. I shoved him aside and stepped to the compartment door.

"Yeah, we'll have to take it easy. You wait here with Tonya, and I'll go forward alone."

The compartment door opened easily enough, for they hadn't locked it, realizing that we were bound. As I stepped out, I saw Wade's face, set grimly and burning with envy. I smiled.

"Hold the fort. I'll take care of the rest."

I moved down the aisle of the middle compartment cautiously. Evidently the two Martians and Castro were up in the pilot's compartment. On my way down the aisle, I grabbed a chemextinguisher, and now I held it ready for a weapon. There was a panel of glass between the middle compartment and the pilot's compartment. But a shade had been drawn down it from the inside.

I hesitated. Supposing, as they probably were, the boys in the pilot's compartment were armed? I had only a chemextinguisher—a good weapon, but not against an atomic pistol or two, or three.

But then I saw those eyes of Tonya's again, mentally. And I felt very brave, and very foolish, and oh-so-damned-dumb. I stepped up to the door of the pilot's compartment and swung it open.

"Hold everything!" I shouted dramatically, springing into the compartment and waving my makeshift weapon. But I didn't get any answer—or any argument. The three men were stretched out cold on the long seat before the instrument panels—snoozing!

And then I saw the whyfor. A quart bottle of Martian hooch sat atop the shelf over the instrument panel. Around it were three empty glasses. Dead drunk, all three revolutionists, some fun!

Those eyes of Tonya's came back to me again, and then I did something slightly on the low side. I found some hempwire and tied the tall, handsome revolutionist, Castro, and his two dapper, black-tuniced Martian chums until they were more securely bound than a birthday package. Then I hid the glasses and the bottle, thanking God that the Martian hooch was odorless. As a final touch, I tipped over a few things, to make it look like a struggle.

Then, feeling enormously pleased with myself, I went back to get Tonya and Wade.

"It's okay," I told them cheerfully.

"You can come along now, Wade!" I added a dig: "It's safe!"


WHEN Tonya, Wade and myself got back to the pilotless, litter strewn pilot's compartment, Wade let out a gasp.

"Good Lord, Brad, you certainly fixed these chumps up proper!"

But I wasn't paying any attention to Wade and the envy that dripped from his voice. I was leaning nonchalantly over the controls of the ship, fishing for a smoke in my tunic pocket, and looking out of the corner of my eye to see how Tonya was taking this display of magnificent bravery. Her face was calm, unperturbed, and she turned to me.

"Was eet difficult, Brad?" Her voice was gentle.

"Rather," I raised a cigarette to my lips, making a show of my burned wrist, "but a few taps on their heads with the chemextinguisher fixed them up!"

Tonya nodded. "Yes, and the knock-you-out drops I put in their wheesky when they led me up here before!" Those eyes had somehow changed, and I felt like a thousand squirming snakes. Wade burst into hooting laughter. I damned myself for a thousand fools. The girl herself had left a drug in their whiskey!

"Where to, now?" Wade said at last, assuming control of things. Tonya gave him a smile that turned my soul to acid.

"We must hureeey back to Mars, Wade," she said, ignoring me. "Already they are probably tracking down my father!" She looked at the chronograph on the instrument panel of the little space ship. "But we have time!"

I still don't know why, with a ship in our hands and a chance to get back to Earth, we turned the nose of the crate back toward the prince of screw-loose planets—Mars. The answer, of course, is Tonya, and those eyes of hers. Wade was at the controls, and I slipped in beside him. Tonya sat on the other side, next to Wade, and we gave the little ship hell, gunning it toward Mars. ...


TIME and space slipped by in a blur, and finally we were nosing into a little spacelanding runway to which Tonya had directed us. She had removed a sheaf of papers from Castro's slumbering form just before we were making ready to moor down, and I gathered that they were the same papers for which we'd all gone through so much hell.

Wade was easing the rocket power, now, having cut the atomic motors completely, and finally we slid to a stall landing on the little runway platform. I had divested the two dapper little men and Castro of their atomic pistols, so Tonya, Wade and myself were armed as we kicked open the door of the ship and stepped down onto the landing.

"You said this was your father's hangout base?" I asked Tonya. She favored me with a cold nod. After the little trick heroics I had pulled, Wade had been getting all the warm attention. And was he lapping it up!

"You heard Tonya, Brad," my cherubic chum cut in. "She said this was the base for her father's revolutionaries. That's enough for me!" I could have punched him in his grinning pan at that moment. But it wouldn't have helped, especially with Tonya.

Moving over to the edge of the runway platform, I could see an array of domed structures, about twenty of them, scattered around the terra firma beneath the platform.

Tonya and Wade had moved up beside me, and the girl spoke more to him than to me when she said: "Thees is the revolutionary base. In the domed buildings down there, my father, the General, has his men ready to strike for the Cause!"

Even though I was in Tonya's doghouse, the way she said those last words was enough to make me get shivery all over—like a 1990 crate in a 50 G space dive.* I felt as though I'd willingly give my life for the Cause, whatever it was. There hadn't been a soul on the runway. Now, however, figures were clambering onto the platform from the far end and were moving toward us.

* In interstellar space, a space-dive, so-called, even though there is no specific direction which might be called "down," takes place when a space ship descends toward a planet. A 50 G dive would be a descent made at a speed of 50 gravity attractions. Earth gravity being the standard, since the gravity attraction of each world differs. Thus, a 50 G dive would be made at the speed with which a body would fall toward a world with fifty times the gravity of Earth.—Ed.

"How about Castro and those other two back in the ship?" Wade asked. "Have you got them trussed up securely?"

I gave him a look of infinite scorn. "Of course," I snapped. "I'm quite capable, if you get to know me!" I edged toward my cherubic pain-in-the-neck, fists balling for a swing.

"Boys!" Tonya's voice halted the impending brawl.

"Here come my father's men now," she said a moment later.

Little black haired Martians, clad in crimson uniform tunics came swiftly up on us. Then their leader, a bearded little man with flashing white teeth, smiled, recognizing Tonya.

"Ahh," he said with a courtly, sweeping bow. "The General's daughter!"

"Take us to my father," Tonya said imperiously. "We have an urgent message for him!"


GENERAL NORONHA didn't look at all like the father of a creature as lovely as Tonya. In fact he looked like something torn from the pages of an ancient, twentieth century cartoon strip. He seemed quite surprised, but not enormously pleased, to see us. He rose as we entered his sanctum, a fat, bald, pinheaded little man in a garishly decorated crimson tunic.

He was smoking a rank Venusian cigar, and he peered owlishly over the clouds he puffed.

"Well," he said unenthusiastically, "well."

Tonya extended the papers she had gotten from Castro. Her gesture dripped with drama.

"Here, Father," she said. "You are saved from Castro's space dogs. These men here," and she named us, me last, "were responsible for the safe delivery of these papers."

General Noronha took the papers and stuffed them carelessly in a drawer at his elbow. "Thank you," he beamed courteously at Wade and me. "I shall give you a decoration just as soon as I think of one."

Wade was still shooting for a hit with Tonya. He stepped forward.

"We don't want any decorations, General. Anything we've done to help the Cause, was done because I have faith in it!"

The look that Tonya gave him after that speech made me turn several shades of green. But I had noticed the General's face as Wade spoke. The old duck seemed to flinch.

"Ah, yes," he said. "The Cause."

Then he turned to Tonya. "Daughter," he said, "would you step out of the room for a moment? I have something very secret to tell these gentlemen." Tonya didn't like it, but she left, after favoring Wade with another one of those special looks.

When Tonya had gone, the General turned to Wade and me. He coughed delicately.

"My daughter has ideas," he began, "about Causes." He seemed hesitant to continue, but went on. "She is a fiery little vixen, Tonya, and likes to be in on things, so to speak. Through her mother's side of the family, she is more Martian than I am." He smiled opaquely. "Perhaps that accounts for her temperament. To keep her pleased, and, uh, er, out of my hair I let her compose a brief statement for our, er, Cause. It is very idealistic, and worked wonderfully in appealing to the Martians. They like idealistic Causes, and we had none until Tonya composed hers—for me."

"You mean," I began.

The General raised his hand, continuing. "It was also to keep her out of my, ah, er, hair, that I gave her the sheaf of papers to be delivered at the night club in which you gentlemen met her. It was unfortunate that both the members of the government forces and the members of the counter-revolutionary forces got the idea that she was carrying important papers. For as a matter of fact, they were quite valueless. I only arranged the thing to keep her out of the way. She can become so very enthusiastic, that I was afraid she would disrupt the morale of our forces. However, I was always sure that no harm would befall her." He smiled. "Nothing can happen to Tonya, for she's far too much like her mother, who, as I said before, was more Martian than I."

"Then you aren't in danger of being killed?" Wade blurted out.

"Not immediately. Castro, true enough, sent members of his counterrevolutionary group to seek me out. But they failed. For the information the papers contained was incorrect."

The General smiled. "Castro is such an enthusiastic lad, it is a pity he is so idealistic, and on the wrong side. Handsome fellow, too."

I shuddered at the thought of Castro's enthusiasm, feeling pretty damned certain that he would enthusiastically have disintegrated us sooner or later in the space ship. And then I was thinking of Tonya, and of those eyes, and that face, and figure. It was the damnedest jumble I ever encountered in all my life. But I was still willing to do and die for that Martian Miss, in spite of what her pappy had said.


WADE was looking like someone had kicked him in the stomach.

Like me, he was probably thinking of the hell and highwater we'd gone through to bring these phoney papers intact to the General, all because of Tonya.

So we were standing there in a sort of terrible embarrassed silence. I was looking apologetically at Wade, and Wade was looking sheepishly at me—while the General was beginning to look a trifle bored.

At which moment, someone came barging in through the door.

He was a little Martian. His face was bloody, and his crimson tunic was smeared with dirt and tatters. He stumbled up to the General's desk, gasping for breath and sagging slightly at the knees.

"General!" he gasped. "They have come, they have found you, they, the forces of the government—" And then, smiling queerly, the little Martian pitched over on his face. I guess he was dead.

Now Tonya came dashing in through the open door. She had evidently heard everything, or heard the sound of battle which was beginning to rise outside. Her face was pale, but quite as maddeningly lovely as before. Her presence seemed to send sparks shooting all over Wade and myself. Tonya was looking at her father.

"They are outside, swarming over the grounds, the men from the government forces." Then she was looking at Wade and myself.

The General was strapping on a belt which held two atomic pistols. I still had the gun which we'd taken from Castro's trio on the space ship—and so did Wade. Then I guess all three of us were jammed up at the door at once, trying to squeeze through to get out to see the excitement.

We heard the shouting and shooting before we reached the outside, and by the time we'd left the little domed building behind us, we were in a welter of confusion and carnage. The government forces had arrived, all right. Their purple tunics were everywhere, many stretched across the ground. It looked like what had started out to be a raid had turned into a first class revolutionary battle. Someone had placed a proton cannon atop the landing platform, and was turning it down on the makeshift revolutionary headquarters. Now and again it would fire with a harsh, whining scream, and a lot more Martians would die.


I WAS trying to catch some sight of Tonya, but she'd disappeared. Wade was still beside me, as was the General, and all three of us were playing those atomic pistols for all they were worth. Every time I'd see a purple clad Martian looking in my direction, I'd pull that atomic pistol lever and the creature would fade away before my eyes. I don't think I'd had time to get the least bit fidgety about the mess. It was a battle royal and that was that.

Once or twice I was able to get in a few honest-to-god heroics, when several Martians took turns coming up fast and unannounced on the General. I managed to pluck them off with my atomic pistol just as though they were grapes on a vine. Wade was doing quite well for himself too, thank you.

But I was the chump who climbed the landing platform and nonchalantly captured the proton cannon. I don't know what in the hell I was thinking of when I waltzed into the face of that weapon, for I might as well have been walking into the face of Death. But maybe I saw Tonya's eyes again. Anyway I did it, and turned the damned thing on the government forces.

Wheeeeeengsplat! Wkeeeeeeengsplat!

I was playing that proton gun for all it was worth, and the purple clad ranks of the government forces were rapidly disappearing. This was the break the revolutionaries had needed. And now they were taking advantage of it, and mopping up in great style.

Once or twice I got a glimpse of Wade from atop the platform. He was down in the thick of things, beside the General, doing a fine bit cleaning up. But there wasn't a sight of Tonya, until I suddenly realized that she had come up and was standing beside me! I wheeled.

"Get down you little fool. This is no place for you!"

But Tonya only smiled, and there was something in her eyes which I had seen the first time I scorched my wrists up in the space ship.

"Theeese was so brave!" Tonya marveled. "Eeet is winning for the Cause!"

"Yes," I said, "the Cause." And then I shoved her, hard, so she sprawled to the platform. "Stay down there!" I bellowed, "and don't look up until I tell you it's safe." Tonya stayed there, and now and then I caught her eyes looking up at me in that marveling way. I worked that proton cannon, now, not giving a damn for anything in the world but that gal and her screwball Cause. I knew that I'd never give a damn for anything else.

And now the crimson clad revolutionaries were shouting wildly, triumphantly. The government forces had been defeated.

It was one of those dam fool moments. I turned to Tonya.

"Look, kid," I said. "I love yuh. Cause or no Cause, you're wonderful." We seemed to melt together and everything was spinning like hell. When the fog cleared I knew Tonya had kissed me and that the entire revolutionary army had watched on and was now shouting its approval.

Wade didn't like the way things went. But after a while he cooled off. I guess he knew he was licked.

The General seemed very happy about his victory, and very happy about Tonya and me. He made Wade an Adjutant right on the spot, and told him there was plenty of room for promotion in his army. This had an appeasing effect on Wade, who was always a sucker for a uniform.

I did some more swift talking, and, with the aid of the General, was able to persuade Tonya that the Cause was won and that a little rest on Earth wouldn't hurt either of us. The General took me aside after that, and told me that if I could keep his daughter on Earth, he would make it well worth my while. Which was all right with me, for I wanted no more of Mars.

You see, if there's anything sane or logical about a Martian, I've never noticed it. As a race, Martians are the wildest, most hotheaded, utterly unpredictable band of zanies in the entire interplanetary chain. I ought to know. I'm married to one—


THE END