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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS DUNCAN FARNSWORTH)

THE RETURN OF THE "SPACE HAWK"

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RGL e-Book Cover 2019

First published in Amazing Stories, May 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-07-11
Produced by Paul Sandery and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Cover Image

Amazing Stories, November 1941, with "The Return of the 'Space Hawk'"


Illustration

Slade could hear Gorham at his heels as he ran toward the hangar.



"CHIEF, Chief, queek—I am see something!"

Slade Fay looked up from his paper-littered desk quickly, irritation in his usually bland blue eyes. Looked up at the swarthy, visibly excited little Martian who had breathlessly uttered that frantic sentence as he burst into the mining office.

"Damn it, Kogo!" Fay snapped. "Haven't I told you never to call me Chief? Haven't you gotten that into your skull yet?" Then, calming somewhat, Fay added: "What's the trouble, been filling yourself up with that planet punch again? Seeing things?"

Kogo shook his round bald head excitedly.

"No, no. I'm not drink anyting. Just now, passing right outside mining office, I'm see Jon Gorham."

"Jon Gorham?" Fay was startled. "Not Federation Inspector Gorham?"

Kogo nodded swiftly.

"It is no other I am seeing!"

Fay's lips compressed, his slight, wiry frame went taut. Anxious concern was written in his eyes.

"Did he see you?" he demanded. Then, as an afterthought, Fay added: "That wouldn't make any difference, though. Gorham couldn't possibly remember you." Suddenly: "Where was he coming from?"

"He is come from the direction of landing base. He is go toward village and garrison," Kogo declared.

"Must have just arrived," Fay said half to himself. Then his brown hand clenched and he brought it hard upon his desk. "Damn!" he snapped. "This is a hell of a mess. If Gorham has come here with any suspicions—if he has any idea that he might find me here..." Fay broke off suddenly.

"It has been five, six, year since we are arrive here..." Kogo began.

"Eight years," Fay cut him off. "We've been here eight years, Kogo. Eight years trying to start things over again, trying to wipe a dirty slate clean, trying to live like decent, God-fearing citizens of space. Eight years that aren't going to be worth a cent on our record if Gorham is able to recognize me."

Kogo paled beneath his swarthy complexion. He grabbed at his throat in a significant gesture.

"Space pirates they are hung. Eet is not civilization that they should hang space pirates. But they do. O, yak, if these Gorham remembers, eet will be like you say, our record will not mean anyting!"

BUT Fay wasn't listening to the ominous predictions of his little Martian handyman. His blue eyes had narrowed and were fixed on the ceiling as he went over some swift reflections. He was recalling the last time he had encountered Federation Inspector Gorham.

Eight years ago, that had been...


EIGHT years ago, when Slade Fay was known only as the "Space Hawk," known only as the most feared and hated pirate in the outer strata of space. The Federation Patrols had had a staggering reward planked on the nose of his crimson single- seater space fighter in those days. A reward which few men— including the most dauntless in the Patrols—had dared to go after. For the "Space Hawk" and his pirate squadron had amassed incredible loot in their raids on the outposts of the interplanetary chain.

And eight years ago Slade Fay had been, at twenty-three, the most daring, courageous, and deadly pilot-fighter in space. For his had been a heritage of space banditry. He had been born and raised on an outlaw post in the uncharted reaches of the interplanetary chain. Grown up among freebooters and pirates, finally rising to unquestioned leadership of the most notorious of the space raiding squadrons.

Slade Fay's father had been a space freebooter—a tall, seldom smiling leader of a small brigand band. And as for Fay's mother, since he had never seen her, he presumed she had died shortly after his birth. Fay's first conscious recollection of his childhood had been a bitter, tearful day when a group of hard-fisted freebooters—who had served under his father—came to him and tried to explain, as best they could to a four year old child, that his father had been shot down in a battle with Federation Patrols.

Fay hadn't been able to understand quite well what they meant, but the child did realize that his father had gone, and would never return. And the orphaned waif of space had dug his tiny fists into his blue eyes in an effort to choke back the tears he was ashamed to shed in front of men. Then, perhaps, the future pirate leader "Space Hawk" had been born. The space waif was even nameless at that time, since his father had been known among the pirates only as Big Slade, and the uncouth outlaws referred to him as "son" or "tyke."

Later, after he'd gained leadership, he was still without a name. It was the Federation Patrols who had tacked the title "Hawk" on him, and his pillaging comrades had called him that from that day forward.

But Fay's battle to eventual leadership among the brigands of space had been—like the rest of his youthful existence—a wild, hard, and fierce one. It had taken guts, and brains of a sort, and a reckless daring and sense of timing when it came to putting a space fighting craft through its paces. Fay had been twelve when he'd soloed his first space craft, fourteen, when he went along on his first pirate raid. And bit by bit, he built a reputation among his bandit comrades. A reputation for daring and natural leadership that led him to the eventual day when he hurled his space gauntlet into the startled face of the pirate who was then the burly commander of the brigand forces.

And, according to the unwritten tradition of the freebooters, the hurling of the space gauntlet meant one thing—a challenge for the leadership of the band!

Fay was eighteen on the day he challenged, grim and unsmiling as he took his fighter craft up into the void to meet the burly commander of the pirates in a death-battle for leadership of the freebooters.

The man he downed that day was a veteran, with the heart and savage skill of more than fifteen years behind him, but Fay hadn't bothered to reckon that. The youth knew only one thing, that he was the greatest pilot of them ail, and that he would prove it in his inter-brigand death battle.

In a fight that lasted fourteen hours, Fay at last sent the space ship of his opponent hurtling downward through the void—a cinder. And when he stepped out of his craft to face the admiration of the men who were now his to command, his hands were blackened and seared by the flame of his proton guns but his grin was wide and cocky. He had won leadership, and none dared dispute him.


FROM that day on, Fay took command. None but his own comrades knew him by sight. Government and the Federation Patrols could recognize him only by the masterful manner in which he whipped his crimson ship through a hell-fight in the void. And his supreme command of space-fighter maneuvers marked him as definitely as fingerprints would have marked another man.

But then, eight years ago, there came that time when Federation Inspector Gorham had—with a squadron of fifteen fighters—trapped young Fay and his brigand band on a small outpost near Saturn. There had been fury in the void, that day, as young Fay led his squadron through the trap that Gorham set for them.

In his crimson single-seater—with the ever-present Kogo sandwiched in behind him—Fay had led his band through the blazing hell of Gorham's proton guns. Had led them through, and personally accounted for seven of the Federation's fifteen fighters, while losing only three of his own ships. Gorham and two other Federation space fighters escaped, but the rest of the government patrol were not as fortunate.

And it was only a day after that battle that the "Space Hawk," somehow sickened by the carnage he'd been guilty of, and infinitely weary of the harried existence that was his, decided to abandon his career of blood and pillage.

The Space Hawk's announcement that he was quitting the freebooter's life hadn't been popular with his brigand band. To them he had been a cunning, skillful leader, a daring general. Never in the history of space piracy had freebooters enjoyed the success that they had had under the leadership of the Space Hawk. There was little sentiment among the pirate hordes, but they knew the financial advantage of the Space Hawk's generalship. Scarcely any of them wanted to see him go.

But among those who were pleased by his decision to end his career as pirate chief tan was one Black Bart—a swarthy, black-bearded, thick-muscled Venusian renegade. He had served as one of several sub-lieutenants to the Space Hawk, lacking the daring, and speed, and brains of his slim blond leader, but having no equal in the far vast voids of space for cruelty and blood-lusting savagery.

Under the Space Hawk's constant restraint and vigilance, Black Bart's bestial wildness had been kept in check, for, like the others, he held fear and respect for the dashing young brigand leader. And it was a secret order, passed among his most trusted men, that the Space Hawk left with his brigands—"Keep Black Bart from leadership!"

The slim young pirate commander felt certain that Black Bart would not take over as his successor if the rules of the brigand bands were followed in choosing a leader to replace the Space Hawk. There were other lieutenants of equal skill in space fighting to Black Bart, and the retiring young commander felt assured that one of these would best the beetle-browed thug in the tournament-to-death for leadership of the freebooters.

The Space Hawk was not five days' travel from his outlaw planet when word came to him that, somehow, Black Bart had wrested supremacy of the brigand bands from the other lieutenants and was now free to rage the void as an unchecked, untamed menace.

But with Kogo, and an unobtrusive, unarmed space ship, plus some of the fortune he had amassed, young Fay was already headed directly for Earth—where there wasn't a chance of his being identified—to make arrangements for a fresh start on one of the interplanetary mining fields.

He thought of going back to his outlaw planet just long enough to unseat Black Bart from his new leadership, but then he shrugged inwardly and gave up the idea, realizing that he could never start afresh if he was going to have to constantly police his old companions.


ARRIVING on Earth he'd taken the name "Slade Fay," and under that name, went on to Planetoid Ninety, buying enough acreage to set up a radium drilling corporation. Kogo was the only one aware of his past existence, and there was scant risk of his ever being identified as the "Hawk." He'd seen to that, by the clothes he chose, and the ignorance he protested in connection with piloting a space ship. No one would ever think of looking for a quiet, blond, unobtrusive young man industriously operating a very legitimate business—not if they sought the "Space Hawk!"

For the "Space Hawk" had vanished eight years ago...

Slade Fay realized this, as he frowned tensely at the ceiling. He was safe here. The life he'd been living had been right, and decent, and would continue to be. He'd severed connections forever with the bloody past he'd been born to. He had a future ahead of him. A prospering business, and even a girl, here on Planetoid Ninety, whom he hoped one day to marry.

"But what is Gorham doing here?" Fay said aloud. And Kogo, still breathing in heavy excitement, shook his head unknowingly.

"Eight year long time," Kogo suggested. "Maybe Gorham no know you here. Gorham no have idea what you look like. None have any idea about that. But Fay shook his head.

"It's not as easy as that, Kogo. If any of our old cutthroat pals were captured, there's a possibility that one of them might betray me, describe me sufficiently enough for the Federation Patrols to know what sort of a chap to look for. That's the risk we've been running all these eight years."

"Eight year long time," Kogo repeated stubbornly. "If Gorham know, then why do Gorham not come quick and grab us for hanging party?"

Fay relaxed somewhat at this.

"You've got something there," he acknowledged. "We'll have to play it cozy and see what happens. If Gorham isn't here on a tip, we're safe. Keep your nail-bitten fingers crossed, Kogo."

"Me cross," said the swarthy Martian obediently. "Me like it these eight year. So restful, so good."

Fay smiled reflectively. "Yes, these eight years have been pleasant, Kogo. A lot different from the life we knew before then, eh?"

Kogo grinned. "Space pirating plenty damned exciting, but too much on the move all time. You been good influence on Kogo, Boss. Give Kogo plenty luck."

"Or," Fay amended, "it might be the other way around. When I saved your neck from a hanging party that day you stumbled into our outlaw base twelve years ago, I was doing myself a better turn than I did for you. Had nothing but good luck ever since then."

Kogo touched his throat in uncomfortable recollection.

"That right, plenty right, Boss. But here on Ninety was best luck Kogo ever have. Old outlaw life was get too fast for Kogo near the end. It seem funny, though, how you look and act these eight year, Boss. You not like outlaw a bit."

Fay mentally agreed to this. The role that he had forced himself to enact was the direct opposite of his more youthful characteristic as a leader of space brigands. Ever since his arrival on Planetoid Ninety, he had seen to it that his attitude was consistently one of outward calm, constant unassuming mildness. Even the tunics he wore were selected with an eye toward totally altering his personal appearance. They were all plainly and conservatively tailored—so unobtrusive as to be a perfect background for the mild-mannered young engineer he portrayed.

Not that Fay minded this role. The very genuineness of his effort to live for the rest of his life as a conservative citizen of society prevented him from feeling restrained by his chosen role. And, too, there was.


THIS new life had come to mean more to Fay than he ever imagined it could. It gave him a sense of honor, usefulness, decency, and made the very mundane day-to-day existence of working and living in harmony with the right half of the world something fine and exciting in itself.

"It has been fine," Fay concluded. And the thought made him instantly snap his fingers at the recollection of the finest thing about it—-one petite, brunette, and lovely Dana Forester.

"Get me the Forester residence on the televizor," Fay ordered Kogo. "We'll forget Gorham until we know more what's up."

"You got girl on brain much often," Kogo observed, shuffling to the televizor board to make the connection. "Don't let girl make for you to forget Gorham."

Fay frowned thoughtfully. This was an angle he hadn't considered. If Gorham were really here in search of him, Fay realized, the hasty exit he'd have to make would mean more than leaving an eight year start on a new life. It would mean more than leaving the prosperous mining game he'd built here on Planetoid Ninety. It would mean leaving the symbol, the essence, of everything fine he'd found in this new existence. It would mean leaving Dana Forester—the girl he loved—forever.

His lean young face was slightly strained, therefore, when he stepped before the glowing televizor board a moment later. Appearing against the orange luminance of the televizor screen was the face of Dana Forester. An oval face, framed by raven hair and centered by a pert little nose that wrinkled above an impish smile.

"Hello, Slade," Dana's voice was elfin, with the slightest husky undertone. "I was just going to get you. Our little old forsaken outpost here has been graced by a visitor, Garrison Inspector Gorham. He'll be here for several days, as Dad's guest, so I've cooked up a sort of welcome celebration for him this evening. Guess who's invited!"

Fay let out a deep sigh of relief. That was it. Gorham was here to inspect the garrison on Ninety. Then, suddenly he remembered that his face was visible to Dana. He forced a grin.

"You mean me?" he said. "Me, invited to the Forester mansion?"

Dana laughed.

"None other. And incidentally, what's eating you, Slade? You looked as worried as a Martian grizzly when you flashed on."

Fay sidestepped this.

"Am I worried now?"

Dana shook her head, eyes laughing.

"Nope. But I want you to be at the house by no later than eight. I'm saving the first dance for you. Remember now."

"It's a date, Dana." Fay's forced grin was still there. "See you then, space angel."

Kogo was watching him, as Fay turned from the televizor screen. Watching him with anxious button eyes. He shook his head sadly.

"What's wrong now?" Fay demanded.

The little Martian man-Friday sighed. "Is no good. Is not smart. You should staying away from Forester place. Should staying away from Inspector Gorham. No take chance."

Fay grinned assurance he didn't quite feel.

"It's okay, Kogo. Gorham is a Garrison Inspector now. He's just making a routine call on the outpost of Ninety."

Kogo shook his head stubbornly.

"Kogo have things ready so we get out queek, should need to do so sudden maybe."

"We won't have to leave in a hurry," Fay grinned. "But if you insist on warming up a space ship all right, then go right ahead."

"Kogo insist. Kogo go ahead," the round headed little Martian declared. Then, shaking his head from side to side, he left. Fay watched the door close after Kogo. For a moment his eyes narrowed in silent speculation and his jaw went hard.

"Gorham," Fay muttered. "Whatever you're up to, I can bluff my hand as well as you can."

Then he stepped back behind his desk, sat down, and began leafing through the papers before him. The Space Hawk had disappeared once again, and now he was Slade Fay, quiet, thorough young radium mining engineer. A very different person...


AT seven o'clock that evening, Slade Fay left his small, comfortable quarters on the edge of the settlement compound, and strolled along the narrow main street of the little planetoid. Planetoid Ninety, though but an outpost of the radium mining chains in the Interplanetary Open Territories, was large enough to boast four capacity-working radium mines, a small settlement which housed earth dwellers residing there, and an outpost military garrison consisting of five Space Patrol Officers and seven space fighting ships.

Of the four radium mines, Slade operated the smallest, and Martin Forester—Dana's father—owned the largest. The other two mines were operated on a cooperative basis by seven or eight radium engineers settled on the planetoid. The Space Patrol garrison was an important—though very seldom called upon—part of the planetoid operations. It was the duty of the Patrol to protect Planetoid Ninety and other outlying radium bases from surprise attack by marauding space freebooters—pirates of the brand Fay had once led.

In the eight years that Slade Fay had been on Planetoid Ninety, raids had been conspicuous by their absence. But then, after the mysterious disappearance of the Space Hawk from the pirate squadrons, the freebooters had apparently confined their raids to only the farthest outlying mining posts. Although attacks on these other and less protected bases had been frequent during those eight years, their fury and success had diminished somewhat. Black Bart hadn't proved to be the brigand leader that the Space Hawk had been—not as daring, not as brilliant, at any rate.

But Slade wasn't thinking of the garrison in respect to possible raids from his former brigand comrades. He thought, rather, of Gorham's purpose in visiting Planetoid Ninety. It was quite possible, of course, that Gorham—now evidently promoted to the post of Garrison Inspector—had a legitimate and routine purpose in his visit here. But there could be more to it than that. There could be complications hinging on the intense dislike which Fay and Space Patrol Leader Stacy Leed felt for one another. Leed was Garrison Commander here on Ninety. And the hatred that had grown between Fay and Leed could be traced to the fact that they both loved Dana Forester.

Leed was tall, dark-haired, handsome. But he had had a blustering braggadocio—an affected devil-may-care attitude—about him which had made Fay dislike him instantly.

Space Patrol Leader Stacy Leed wore his Federation uniform like some people would wear a Federation Medal of Merit. His constant attitude toward Fay was one of tolerant amusement. In the year that Dana Forester had been here with her father, Leed had done all that he could to intimate that Slade Fay was a drab doormat, an insipid drudge to whom the very thought of combat in space was terrifying.

This, in view of the pose Fay had been forced to adopt, grew gradually more and more irritating. And it hadn't helped him much in his courtship of Dana. The girl had a strong affection for them both, Fay knew. But as yet, her attentions were equally divided.

In the last month, however, there had been more than a hint of a change in Stacy Leed's manner toward Fay. There had been no increase in cordiality, of course, but something closer to a growing suspicion on the part of Leed toward Fay.

Fay had told himself that he was just imagining this. He told himself that Leed could never learn anything that might lead him to probe into Fay's past. However, Garrison Inspector Gorham was here. And he might very well have been summoned by Leed, perhaps on a hunch.


BUT, fishing into his pocket for a cigarette, Fay pushed these suspicions from his mind and forced himself to assume his usually bland and unexcited manner. He adjusted the tunic coat of the quiet unassuming costume he had chosen for the evening, and after lighting his cigarette, went to the additional precaution of donning the spectacles he had affected during his eight years on Ninety.

The street was quiet and deserted, like most space settlement thoroughfares after dark, and Fay moved along unhurriedly toward the large residence of Martin Forester which lay at the other end of the compound.

When he reached the Forester residence, Fay could see, from the lights in the place, that Dana's welcoming celebration for Gorham was already well under way. Dana met Fay at the door of the wide, sprawling duraloid dwelling. She was laughing; she had a glass in her hand; and she was prettier than Fay had ever seen her before.

Stacy Leed, uniform resplendent and not missing a trick where his rival was concerned, had followed Dana to the door and now stood directly behind her.

"You're late," Dana said in mock accusation. "I'll bet you hate to tear yourself away from those charts of yours."

Fay smiled. But his eyes, which flicked momentarily to Leed, weren't smiling. He knew that, in less than five minutes, he would come face-to-face with Gorham. And then and only then would he know how the land lay.

Was there a glitter of expectation, of malice, in Leed's eyes when he added:

"Absolutely, Fay. We've all been waiting for your arrival. You have to meet our guest, y'know."

Fay let it go at that, and forced himself to smile and say something banal in reply. Then, with Dana at his side, he was moving through the spacious Forester living room where practically all of the Earth colonists of Ninety were gathered.

Dana's small, cool hand found Fay's once as they moved through the guests, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Fay could hear Leed, still with them, say:

"You'll enjoy meeting Gorham, old man. Not every day a rugged industrialist like yourself can meet a first-class fighting man."

Fay felt his cheeks grow hot under the scornful inference of Leed's words. But he held himself in check and forced another one of those increasingly difficult smiles.

At the end of the room, standing beside the blocky form of old Martin Forester—was Gorham!

Fay had a wild impulse to turn, to lose himself in the crowd before Gorham saw him. But then he steadied himself, praying inwardly that the sudden fear he'd felt hadn't been noticed by Dana or Stacy Leed. Apparently it hadn't for Leed was saying something to Dana and neither of them had been looking at him in that instant.

"There's Garrison Inspector Gorham," Dana said, "standing beside Dad. Come on, Slade, I want you to meet him."

Fay smiled and nodded.

"Might as well. I don't want to offend your guest of honor."

Stacy Leed was silent. But he stood beside them when Dana, holding lightly to Fay's arm, introduced Gorham.

"This is Slade Fay, Inspector. And of course you know Stacy Leed, Inspector."


AS Fay grabbed Gorham's outstretched hand, his eyes met and held with those of the gray-haired, uniformed garrison inspector. Gorham had been eight years younger the last time Fay had glimpsed his face. And that glimpse had been gotten while riding the tail of Gorham's rocket fighter in an effort to send him downward through space as a blazing cinder. Yes, Gorham had been younger then, and Fay had seen his face, coolly turned to look back at him, behind the glass turret of a space helmet.

But Fay remembered, even to the expression.

"Glad to know you, Fay," was all that Gorham said, however. "I'll be seeing more of you, I hope. Intend to be around Ninety for several days, you know."

Then, somehow, Fay managed to steer Dana away, leaving Stacy Leed with Gorham and Martin Forester. Music had started, and it was with vast relief that Fay took Dana in his arms and moved onto the small circle that had been cleared for dancing.

He kept Dana between himself and Gorham's group, watching as best he could without attracting suspicion, if there was anything passing between Gorham and Stacy. But the trio of Stacy Leed, Gorham and Martin Forester didn't seem to be noticing them, and for the first time since Kogo's announcement of that afternoon, Fay felt as though the ground beneath him were more secure.

"I don't know, Slade," Dana was saying, "what seems to be wrong with you, but you do seem preoccupied about something or other. Has anything gone wrong at the mines?"

"Perhaps I'm getting senile, business crazy," Fay grinned disarmingly. "But, for the life of me, I swear I haven't been deliberately worrying about anything." Which, he realized as the music stopped, was at least half the truth.

A hubbub of conversation started, then, drowning out Dana's reply. And in the next moment, just as the music started, Stacy Leed stood before them.

"Mind?" he asked, voice directed at Dana, eyes at Fay.

Fay caught Dana's glance, was about to speak, but Leed had already encircled her waist with his arm. Fay shrugged, and stepped back off the dance floor.

And at that moment someone began pounding loudly, insistently, on the door of the Forester residence. People looked up, but the music continued. It was old Martin Forester, followed by Gorham and several others, who moved swiftly across the room toward the insistent pounding.

The door was visible to all in the room, and when Martin Forester opened it, Fay was startled to see an excited wire-phone orderly from the Space Patrol garrison moving excitedly into the room and talking rapidly to Gorham.

Gorham's jaw set, and Fay could see the look of shocked surprise register on Martin Forester's features at the fellow's words. Gorham half-turned, facing the section of the room where the dancers were.

"Space Patrol Leader Leed," he shouted, "come here!"

Fay saw Leed frown, then leave Dana, hurrying through the crowded room, acutely conscious of his bedecked uniform. Then, Dana, seeing Fay, came hurriedly over to him.

"What's happened, Slade?" There was anxious concern in Dana's voice.

Fay shook his head.

"I don't know." He grabbed Dana's arm. "Come on, let's find out. Something serious, obviously." A moment later, and they were part of the circle around Gorham, the garrison wire-phone orderly, Leed, and Martin Forester.

It was Gorham who held up his hand, calming the clamor and questions from those in the room.

"Take it easy," he said. "Nothing terribly serious. Nothing to affect any of you immediately, at any rate. One of your neighboring planetoids—number Eighty-Seven, to be exact—has been attacked by Black Bart's pirate squadron. The defenses of Eighty-Seven need what help we can send them."


IT was Leed who spoke now.

"We've four ships, and we can spare them all. We've men enough to man them. There'll be time to arrive at Eighty-Seven before Black Bart's crew can wreak any havoc."

Fay started to speak, then he saw the admiration that flashed into Dana's eyes at Leed's last words. But it wasn't because of that that he checked himself. It was because Black Bart, the brigand who'd taken over the freebooters after he'd left eight years before, Black Bart, who was at this very moment carrying out precisely the same clever mode of attack that he, Slade Fay—alias the Space Hawk—had devised in many of the raids he'd conducted in his freebooting days. For Fay was morally certain, deadly certain, that Black Bart was creating a disturbance over Planetoid Eighty-Seven merely to draw Planetoid Ninety's defense forces away.

It was sickeningly simple. Once Leed and his small squadron left for Eighty-Seven, once Planetoid Ninety was left unprotected, a squadron of Black Bart's raiders would swoop down on the defenseless outpost, collect its plunder, and be off before Leed's forces could return.

Fay was certain of this because he, himself, had devised the scheme almost ten years ago. And now Black Bart was resurrecting it again. And from Leed's announcement, and from the agreement he saw on Gorham's face, Black Bart was employing the device successfully!

Black Bart didn't concern himself merely with plunder. Bart was ruthless, and blood-lusting. His depredations had often caused arguments between Fay and himself in the old days. Fay had been able to hold him down, then. But there would be no rein over the huge brigand's passion for carnage this time.

Fay bit deep into his lower lip, his hands unconsciously clenching into fists at his side. He had to stop this scheme of Leed and Gorham. Had to stop it before it was too late. There was no real danger for the inhabitants of Planetoid Eighty-Seven, Fay knew. There was no real danger' because—according to the strategy of Black Bart's plan—the force harassing Eighty- Seven was ridiculously small, dummied out to appear as being of great strength. According to Black Bart's plan, the really deadly squadron of raiders was that which was probably right now skulking within electragun distance of Planetoid Ninety.

"Wait a minute!" Fay heard his own voice speaking before he was conscious that he'd uttered the words. There was a swift silence of wondering surprise, and Fay could feel everyone's eyes fixed questioningly on him.

"It's stupid, and needless, for us to send our Patrol to the defense of Planetoid Eighty-Seven. Utterly stupid. There's no real danger of Eighty-Seven being actually looted. It's a trap, a lure, on the part of Black Bart to draw us away from the essential defense of our own base." Fay was conscious of the incredulous expressions on the faces around him, of the scorn in Leed's eyes.

"And what," Stacy Leed said acidly, "do you pretend to know about space patrol maneuvers, or space fighting, for that matter? I think we can do without your sage advice, Fay." He paused. "Your fear of a raid on your mining deposits can be appreciated," his sarcasm was obvious now, "but there are women and children on Eighty-Seven whose lives are more important than financial interests. Or," he added venomously, "the interests of your own hide."


THE muscles in the corner of Fay's jaw hardened, and he started a hot reply, but Stacy Leed was continuing mercilessly, squeezing every last drop out of this situation which allowed him to make Fay appear craven in the eyes of Dana Forester.

"If less of your type of meddling citizenry were around to run at the mouth," Leed said caustically, "we of the Space Patrol would find our job easier. You drab, mousey devils are always the kind to figure you know everyone else's business as well as you know your own. Well, my business happens to be a tough one, Fay, one which I'm sure you and your ilk wouldn't like very well. It's a business that takes stuff known as courage, not to mention a little brains. But of course," and Leed's voice grew even more caustic, "I can't blame you for not knowing much about courage. After all, a man who is perfectly willing to risk the lives of women and children on another planet, in order to keep his own hide intact, can't be expected to know anything about courage—or decency!"

Fay stepped forward, eyes blazing, fists clenched. But Gorham, at that moment, stepped between Fay and Leed.

"Easy, Fay," Gorham said quietly, "that won't help anything." Then, to Leed: "A little less rancor would be a better attitude, Patrol Leader. Fay, here, just advanced a reason for another course of action. That shouldn't bring down a tirade."

But Leed, carefully watching Dana's strained face, suddenly smiled. He could afford to be magnanimous now that his below-the- belt punches had irreparably damaged his rival.

"Perhaps you're right, Inspector. Fay's bland disregard of military tactics can probably be excused through his ignorance of them. I apologize for that part of it, although I can hardly excuse the gentleman's lack of concern for the women and children on Eighty-Seven."

Fay fought to keep control of himself while he said:

"There are women and children on Planetoid Ninety, Leed, remember that. I'm only trying to tell you that I think you're acting rashly, heedlessly, and leaving this planetoid wide open to attack through your stupidity!"

Stacy Leed's face went dark.

"If you weren't the weakling that you are, and if I hadn't urgent business elsewhere, I'd take time off and remove my uniform long enough to teach you an unpleasant lesson!"

Gorham broke in again, before Fay could reply.

"Patrol Leader, enough of his squabbling! Need I remind you that, no matter what course of action you choose, there is a decision to be made? That decision is the important matter at hand!"

"You're right, Inspector," Leed said, blandly smiling again, "this is no time for me to be swatting flies."

Fay felt the blood pounding to his temples. Someone in the crowd laughed unpleasantly. The only face on which there was not written contemptuous derision was that of Gorham, who seemed to be measuring Fay with that coolly appraising gaze of his. Fay wanted to blaze forth with the truth, wanted to tell them why he knew what he did, and why his information was positive. And then his eye caught Dana's, and the look she gave him was unbelieving, disappointed, hurt.

He felt a sudden growing surge of rage, and his jaw clamped shut. He knew that to them, to everyone present, he was but a bespectacled, slender blonde with an utterly unheroic status. He'd played his self-adopted role too well during his eight years on Ninety to convince them that he was anything but what he had wanted them to believe he was.

And a revelation of the truth would shatter his own life, his own hopes and ambitions, utterly, completely; would end it on a gallows. So Slade Fay, shoulders suddenly slumping, held his tongue.


GORHAM suddenly spoke.

"Perhaps there's not as much nonsense in what Fay says as you'd like to believe, Leed. Consider his reasoning first."

There was a murmur through the crowd. Although Gorham was a higher ranking Federation Officer than Leed, he was merely on an inspection tour, and in that capacity had no command over any individual base. All he could do in the present situation was what he was doing at the moment, serving as advisor. The final command of Ninety's garrison lay in the hands of Leed. But the handsome, dark-haired young Space Patrol leader was inflamed by the reception his first words had gotten from the crowd. Obviously, now, his most desirable course of action was the immediate rocketing of his squadron to the aid of Eighty-Seven. It was reckless, courageous, daring—a fine gesture for a gallant young officer. He shook his head.

"I'm afraid there's only one course open to us, Inspector Gorham. We'll go to the immediate aid of Eighty-Seven."

The swelling noise of approval from the crowd, and the look in Dana Forester's eyes was reward enough for Stacy Leed. Turning dramatically, he walked to the door. His fellow officers had left their groups, and were now beside him.

Fay, watching all this, realized sickly that Dana had left his side, and was saying goodbye to Stacy, while old Martin Forester, giving Fay one swift glance of scorn, was pumping the hands of the other officers beside Leed.

As for Gorham, he fished calmly into his pocket, found a cigarette and lighted it. The expression on his face hadn't changed. His eyes were on Fay, questioning, and, for an instant, Fay forgot his immediate problem long enough to wonder how much Gorham really knew.

There were few among those who had been gathered at the Forester residence who didn't follow the Space Patrol down to the landing base to witness the take-off of the squadron.

Stacy Leed, preparing his Flight Patrol for the take-off, was like an overly obnoxious athlete playing to a grandstand. And while he checked over the fighting gear on his ships and mapped out orders for his men, he swaggered back and forth with braggadocio that would have done credit to an actor. And what made matters worse for Fay, was the fact that it was Dana Forester who said the last goodbye to Stacy Leed when the patrol leader climbed into his space fighter.

It was but five hundred yards from the space landing platforms to the squadron hangers, and as the five space-fighting ships rocketed from the landing platforms out into the void, Slade Fay anxiously paced back and forth before the hangers, smoking one cigarette after another.

"I should have stopped them," he muttered savagely. "If I'm right, and I'm dead certain that I am, Black Bart's squadron will be done on us inside of an hour." And then he cursed himself miserably for not having made a stand of it, not having declared himself at any cost.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and Fay wheeled, startled, to face Gorham. He was unsmiling, still with that questioning expression on his face.

"I'm afraid our young Space Patrol leader is somewhat hot- headed," Gorham said dryly. "I might have tried harder to override his judgment, but I knew it wouldn't work." Then, casually, he added, "For a mining promoter you seem to have some advanced ideas about space battle tactics, especially from Black Bart's viewpoint."

"What do you mean by that?" Fay's voice was edged, tense from the strain he felt.

"Just what I said," Gorham replied "You know, I have the darndest feeling of having met you somewhere before, Fay. Although, to be utterly frank, I can't remember where."

Fay felt his heart hammer hard against his ribs. Gorham was.

"Perhaps you have. I've been around."


THE last of Leed's squadron had left, now, and the crowd was moving toward the hangars. Some collected around the wire-phone shack, where the excited orderly sat beside a phone-avisor, getting bulletins from Planetoid Eighty-Seven, and relaying to them the information that the rescue ships were on the way.

Fay, keeping away from the crowds, was pacing back and forth with increasing desperation, lighting one cigarette after another. Gorham had left him to go over to the wire-phone shack, and Fay could see Dana over there also. Once she turned, and he was certain that she saw him. But she made no move to come toward him. Fay clinched his fists angrily at the agonizing thought of what might happen to Dana should Black Bart and his squadron swoop down upon them.

And then, after perhaps an hour had passed, there was the sudden deafening detonation of rocket exhausts, and a black, single-seater space ship drove screaming down over the wire-phone shack, proton cannons blasting.

There was a horrible bursting of orange flame, and the shack exploded from the blast of the guns. Some of the men and women who had been grouped around the shack screamed wildly, and Fay knew that the raider's guns had deliberately included them in his range.

Black Bart's squadron was sweeping down from the inky void above them. Was sweeping down, and had already destroyed Planetoid Ninety's only chance of communicating with Leed's departing patrol. They were trapped, helplessly trapped, just as Fay had feared they would be!

Other space fighters—also single seaters—were swooping down, loosing the terrible orange flame of their proton guns on the milling crowds, driving everyone to shelter. This, too, was part of the technique as Fay knew it. Once the inhabitants of an outpost were driven to shelter, the raiders could land unmolested.

But Fay had ground out a cigarette savagely beneath his heel, his jaw gone hard with sudden determination. He raced down to the door of the hanger at the bottom of the hill, pulling it open frantically. There, in the darkness inside, was a single-seater Space Patrol ship.

He shouted to several men running past the hangar, and with their help he was soon rolling it out onto the landing platform runway. As he was hastily checking the rocket discharge indicators, a hand grabbed his shoulder, spinning him around. Gorham faced him. Gorham, with his temple bloody against his gray hair, his face no longer calm.

"What in the devil do you intend to attempt?" Gorham demanded.

"What in the hell does it look like?" Fay snapped back. "I'm going up there, into the void, and not to sell radium deposits. Do I make myself clear?"

Gorham looked wordlessly at Fay, that same measuring gleam in his eyes. His jaw set grimly.

"This is fighting equipment, Fay, and it takes a good man to use it."

"Obviously," Fay snapped. "I know what I'm doing!"

Gorham stood there, regarding Fay silently, a contemplative look on his face. Then he turned quickly on his heel, barking one sentence over his shoulder.

"There's another one of these, so roll it out!" was all the Inspector said.

While they were rolling out the remaining Space Patrol ship for Gorham, he turned to Fay.

"I've got a hunch where I saw you before, and when," he said tersely. "Maybe I'm right, perhaps I'm wrong. But you don't look like a mining engineer when you're checking instrument board indicators!"

Fay looked up but once.

"Perhaps you're right," he said. And even as Gorham trotted over to the other space fighter, Fay felt the tightening of a noose around his neck. Once up in space, once working his proton cannons, Gorham would have enough damning evidence against him to send him to hell for eternity!


SOMEONE handed him a helmet and space gear.

His hesitation before climbing into his space fighter was only momentary, and was dispelled at the thought of Dana in the hands of the stinking devil who was Black Bart. Then he was behind the controls. Behind the controls for the first time in eight years; his hands caressing the familiar trigger-end of proton cannons once more.

"Chief, queek. Make it for me room!"

Fay looked up, startled, to see the round head of Kogo poking into the cabin. Kogo was clad in space gear.

"You know who's up there, Kogo?" Fay demanded.

"Pirates, Black Bart," Kogo said grinning delightedly. "They try to bother decent citizens like you, me. We fix 'em, eh, Chief?"

"You can stay out, Kogo," Fay said, "and avoid the noose. We'll be tagged properly after this performance if we come back."

"Kogo got strong neck," was all the little Martian said. And Fay felt a sudden lump in his throat as he answered:

"Climb in, then!"

Black Bart's raiders had tried to prevent their taking off, but somehow Fay's and Gorham's fighters were rocketing off into space unmolested. Excellent maneuvering on the part of both of them had enabled them to avoid the electraguns and proton cannons of Black Bart's raiders as they climbed void-ward.

Then they were in the thick of a unit squadron of Black Bart's ships. Two ships were above Fay, diving down, and two more were beneath him, rocketing upward. When each found range, they unleashed their forward proton cannons. The orange puffs of flame merely scorched Fay's tiny fighter, however.

Kogo gulped.

"Pretty damn close, Chief!"

And then Fay's fingers pressed the triggers of his front guns at precisely the right second. One of the two ships above him burst into an orange puff of smoke and blazed downward. Blazed downward, and straight into the upcoming pirate ship beneath Fay's fighter. The two met with a horrible wrenching of burning metal, and together tumbled downward.

"Chalk two right off," Kogo chattered happily.

The other two space ships that had been harrying Fay zoomed suddenly sideward, getting hastily out of range. Fay had time to take a sideward glance to his right, where he saw Gorham's ship hemmed in by three of the brigand squadron. One of the three brigand ships was totally black, an orange streak slashed down its side, and Fay's heart did a sudden side-slip as he recognized the personal insignia of Black Bart. Diving at a screaming right angle, Fay swept down on the group harassing Gorham's ship.

He came up unnoticed and behind the tail of a pirate fighter who was at that instant angling in broadside to Gorham's space craft. It was short work, and the poor devil was plummeting downward after three electragun bursts from Fay's side mounts.

"Chalk three," Kogo gurgled happily.


AND then, side by side with Gorham's ship, Fay climbed out of immediate range of the six remaining brigand ships. He connected his voice panel with Gorham's for the first time.

"Three down," he shouted. "How many did you manage to get?"

"Same," Gorham's voice came back through the instrument board receiver. "That gives us six out of eleven."

"Black Bart is still circulating," Fay cut in. "He's mine, don't forget."

"Okay, Fay."

And now, dropping the nose of his single-seater, he rocketed into a screaming grav dive that pushed him back against his seat until his ears were ringing and his nostrils ran crimson. Beneath the trigger sights of his proton gun was the black fighter ship of Black Bart.

But the brigand leader had seen his dive, and now rolled over and out of range. But Fay, his reflexes acting with the precision of eight years ago, kept hard on his tail. Now he opened with his proton cannons. But Black Bart still was out of range.

Then, from out of nowhere, there were two brigand ships on his own tail, and Fay could feel their electraguns scorching close to his cockpit. Suddenly, the chatter of their electraguns ceased, and Fay took one look over his shoulder to see Gorham's ship zooming upward from the kill. Two blazing space ships dropped swiftly downward as a result of Gorham's deadly marksmanship.

Fay switched on his voice panel again.

"Gorham?" he shouted.

Gorham's voice came back to him.

"What is it?"

"This is mine from now on—you promised, don't forget." Fay answered. "Get in position to keep the remainder away from me while I take care of Black Bart!"

"It's as good as done," Gorham's voice answered. "Good luck and go to it!"

Fay made an adjustment on his voice panel box, an adjustment that would put him on the wave band of the pirate craft. Then he was talking, clearly, forcefully.

"Black Bart," Fay called. "Black Bart!" There was an answering, inaudible static, and Fay knew that the brigand chieftain had picked up his call.

"Black Bart," Fay repeated, knowing that the remaining pirate craft all could hear him, "this is the gauntlet, Bart, the challenge!"

And then Fay grinned grimly, for he knew that the pirate commander, as well as the freebooters in the remaining outlaw craft, all had heard the challenge, and all knew that someone who was once of their kind was demanding a death-duel according to the unwritten law of their kind.

"It's the gauntlet," Fay repeated, "thrown from the ship on your tail. Level out, you bloodthirsty scoundrel, and prepare to battle. I'll ride my ship free and give you time to set yourself!"

The challenge was heard, that much was obvious now. And that it was accepted was also apparent, as Fay saw Black Bart's black, orange-slashed ship suddenly level off and start in a wide arc that would bring it around facing Fay's craft. Fay, too, pulled the nose of his ship up into a half-stall, and then back into line with the black, orange-striped ship of his adversary.

Kogo was babbling excitedly, now.

"Oh, yak, yak, yak, these make great excitement for me. We blaze Black Bart eh Chief?"

Fay's jaw was grim.

"I hope so, Kogo. I hope this makes excitement instead of a shroud." He was thinking of the eight years rust that was his disadvantage in the battle to come. It hadn't shown yet. Indeed, his tactical maneuvering, and reflex timing seemed better than it had ever been.

But he might have been riding on a lot of luck until now. And too, Black Bart had been fighting in space during the years Fay had been inactive, and Fay wasn't certain how great the burly brigand's skill now was. He was certain, however, that this Black Bart would be far superior in space combat compared to the Black Bart of eight years ago. The inevitable laws of time and experience guaranteed that much.

But the challenge had been hurled. The black space fighter had squared off for a combat to the death!


MENTALLY, Fay was running through countless maneuvers he had used in his space fighting days. Maneuvers based on skill and cunning, made to draw an enemy into a futile defense of his weakest points. Fay had always planned his tactics—like a superior chess player—three or four moves in advance.

But first he would have to test Black Bart, size him up, determine the flaws in the brigand's tactical armor. Fay hauled on his throttle, giving his tiny space fighter full rockets, and blasted into a steep climb. From his visor board, he could see that Bart's black ship was following him upward, unwilling to be outclimbed.

In the middle of his climb, Fay snapped his controls hard to one side. The swiftness, and unexpectedness of the move pulled him close to—but not within range of—the black, orange-slashed belly of the enemy space craft.

The move worried Black Bart. This was instantly apparent by the sudden leveling off.

Fay was above him now, the first step in his maneuver being successfully completed. Looking quickly at his visor board, Fay saw Black Bart's craft rocketing swiftly to the right, in an effort to get out of range.

Turning the nose of his ship downward, Fay gave it full power and slipped it into a screaming dive. A screaming dive that brought him down onto the tail of the black ship with incredible speed. Now, at precisely the right instant, Fay opened up with both proton cannons, sending flame-splashed death hurtling after his opponent.

But Black Bart was an old hand at space fighting; a sudden, counter-climb climaxed by a snap-roll brought the black ship out of range of Fay's cannon. But as Fay followed upward, he could see that his blast hadn't been without damage. The rear rocket tube on Black Bart's craft was disabled.

This, however, meant little, for Black Bart's craft suddenly climbed again with amazing grav pull, and a moment later Fay experienced the unpleasant realization that Bart was above him, setting for a dive down on his tail.

"Not good," Kogo squealed sharply. "Black Bart come queek soon, watch it!"

But Fay didn't give his enemy a chance to set for the inevitable dive. He took an immediate, and strategically clever offensive, pointing the nose of his ship upward in a steep climb toward the ebon belly of Black Bart's space fighter. The maneuver caught his adversary napping, and Fay brought the electraguns into play, now, sending a sweeping stream across the belly of the black ship.

But a quick-thinking roll on the part of Black Bart, brought the brigand leader around in position to open up on Fay's craft with both proton cannons on its side mounts.

A shuddering concussion at the rear of his little ship told Fay that his enemy had scored twice, negating two rocket tubes. Smoke was already scorching up to the nose of the little craft, and Kogo, coughing harshly, chattered:

"No good, now. No good. Make same on him!"

The muscles in Fay's jaw were bunched, and he planked his fighter nose-down in a sudden dive to escape the searing heat of Black Bart's guns. Then, rolling sharply over, he climbed again. Sweat was streaking Fay's face, and the smoke sooted over it, clouding his vision.

Black Bart's ship had arced wide, being unable to follow Fay's sharp maneuver, and Fay took advantage of this to start another climb. On the instant he leveled out, Fay, playing but three rocket tubes, fell into a grav dive that dropped him with sickening swiftness through the void, directly down toward Black Bart.

It was an age-old trick of Fay's, and no one ever dared to wait him out to see if he really intended to crash their space craft. Black Bart was no different. With an orange burst of rocket flame, he high-tailed it downward in an effort to get out from under Fay's falling craft.

Fay threw the rockets full throttle, now, and crept slowly up on the black space fighter with the orange streak on the side. Black Bart was streaking his ship downward in an effort to lose Fay, but suddenly the brigand leader came sharply out of his dive.

Fay was still on his tail. No one had ever shaken the Space Hawk that easily before, and they weren't going to now.

Fay had been looking up over his shoulder, out of the cowling mirrors, at Gorham's ship for a moment, and the sudden sharp turn on the part of Black Bart's ship took him unawares. The black space fighter was now hurtling straight at him, proton guns blasting fiery death.

Instantly, Fay's guns answered. And his hand tightened on the controls, almost freezing them, as he held his own hurtling craft on a direct line with the brigand leader's.

"It's you or me, Bart," Fay muttered tensely, and then, with split-second timing, he triggered the electraguns. Black Bart's ship burst into flame a scant hundred yards away, but Fay didn't have to veer off. The pirate craft dropped suddenly downward, a sickening twisted, burning meteor!


THERE were two remaining pirate craft.

Gorham bagged one, and Fay cleaned up the other as it tried to make a run for safety. Kogo was counting incessantly, delightedly, from one to eleven.

"That Gorham," he remarked naively to the weary Slade Fay. "He make one damn good space pirate, huh?"

But Fay was too weary and sick inside to smile. He flicked on the voice panel.

"Gorham?" he said. "Naturally you know now where you saw me before."

Gorham's voice came back flatly.

"I think I do, Fay, in fact I'm sure I do."

Fay's voice held no bitterness.

"We could make a run for it," he choked, "but what the hell, it makes no difference now. I'll follow you down on one condition—that you forget about Kogo. He's never done harm. He's about as menacing as a mascot." Then, dully: "This will make it quite a day for you, Inspector."

Gorham's voice came back.

"Quite a day, I agree with you. Don't worry about Kogo, just follow me down." Fay wiped the sweat from his face and nosed his ship in behind Gorham's, marveling at the stern relentless sense of duty that ruled men of the Federation. Kogo kept up an incessant, happily unaware, chatter....


THE citizenry of Planetoid Ninety swarmed in around the occupants of the two space-fighting craft as they emerged from their ships and stepped onto the landing platform. But Dana Forester was the first to reach Fay.

"Slade, Slade," she said huskily. Then, unashamed, she threw her arms about him. "Oh, Slade," she murmured, "I've been such a stupid fool. You've no reason to forgive me for what I thought, but I can at least ask you to do so."

Fay felt a sick nausea assail him. Here was Dana, at last, as he had always hoped she would be—his, beyond a doubt. But now she would never be his.

Through the press of bodies around him, Fay could see Gorham, still utterly, calmly, inscrutable, advancing toward him. Looking down at Dana, Fay fought for words, groped for some way to tell her that this was the final scene for him.

"Fay!" Gorham's voice carried above the others. Then he was before them, looking first at Dana, then at the sooty, sweat- blackened Fay. His eyes were still unreadable, untraced by emotion of any sort.

Fay put one arm around Dana's waist, lips twisting bitterly as he faced the man whose prisoner he was.

"There's no need to tell Dana about this, Gorham. I can do that, if you please."

Gorham's eyes were still fathomless, but the corners of them wrinkled as he spoke.

"Tell her about what, Fay? Tell her that your battle up there was like nothing I've ever seen before, with the possible exception of a fracas staged by a chap who used to be called the Space Hawk?" Then his face creased in a great grin. "Or should I tell her that she's soon going to be the wife of a man who greatly resembles a chap I encountered eight years or so ago?"

Fay was gasping in astonishment, joy, and overwhelming gratitude, fighting a multitude of conflicting emotions. His eyes grew dim and his hand groped for Gorham's.

"This chap you resemble," Gorham was continuing, "was killed eight years ago. He's the same one I spoke of a moment ago. A pirate called the Space Hawk. Good thing he died, eh? Pirates are such unpleasant devils, what?"

"Damn it, Inspector," Fay choked for the words, "you aren't only a great fighter, you're a grand guy!"

Gorham grinned at the bewildered Dana.

"Pay no attention to him, Miss Forester, he's in the habit of mixing things up."

But Slade Fay, after one more grateful glance at Inspector Gorham, turned to Dana and put his arms about her. For the next five minutes he made certain that nothing was mixed up, and that everything was done extremely well.

Which, under the circumstances, was a good thing. For it prevented Fay from hearing the remark made by the round little Martian butterball, Kogo.

"Inspector," said Kogo thumping Gorham on the back and viewing Fay's actions with obvious distaste, "there goes one damn good space pirate, don't you thinking?"

Kogo frowned perplexedly at Gorham's instant roaring laughter, and then turned his sorrowful gaze on Slade Fay—who was still plenty busy...


THE END


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