Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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This missionary was no missionary to the
raiders who came
to loot a tiny world of its treasure—he was more like a devil!
IT was scarcely a week before the God-forsaken little planet of Igakuro was due for its notoriously unbearable "scorch season," when the decrepit, incalculably ancient space cargo tramp ship moved dispiritedly into mooring at that planet's single, rust-eaten spacewharf.
The name of the tramp space cargo carrier—scarcely discernible any longer through its paint-scabbed, filthy hull—was Venus Maiden; the name of its Skipper, "Cap" Hutch.
While the glamorless space tub's obsolete electrawinches began laboriously to unload its twice-yearly supplies on Igakuro's wharfside, the skipper was first ashore with the consignment receipt papers.
Cap Hutch was as lumpy, as paint-scarred and as dirty as the space ship he commanded. He was also almost as old. Rumor through interplanetary space trading posts had it that Cap had never bathed since Venus Maiden had received her last scrub down, and few people could remember that far back.
As previously stated, the afternoon of his stopover on Igakuro was scarcely one week before that planet's coming "scorch season," and consequently Igakuro was already beginning to get a taste of the terrific heat which would soon descend upon it.
Perspiration cascaded down Cap Hutch's forehead as he moved quickly across the spacewharf toward the shaded shelter of a small, duralloy dock shack standing some hundred yards off from the space mooring platform.
In his damp, pudgy right fist, Cap clutched his papers, and in his left a handkerchief with which he tried futilely to mop the waterfall from his bald forehead. Being exceedingly plump and more than a little seeped in Venusian whisky, the skipper of the Venus Maiden waddled precariously from side to side as he made for the dock shack.
By now the skipper was able to see the faint, almost scorched-out lettering inscribed on an equally bleached signboard of tawnalloy above the door of the shack.
CARDIGAN & BENNETT VARDIUM MINES FED. INC.
The space tramp skipper grunted as he saw the sign, put his head down once more, and hurried on.
"Hope Cardigan's off in his damn mines. Hope it's Bennett I have to break the news to," the skipper muttered wheezingly to himself.
By the time the skipper was three fourths of the distance from wharf to shack, he was wheezing badly, and by the time he finally clambered noisily up the steps of the shack, he could hardly stand erect. He leaned against the wall, knocked twice on the door and stood back to let those inside expend the energy of opening it for him.
STEPS sounded inside the shack, moving to answer Cap's knocking. The door opened, and a short, black haired, space-bronzed young man with incredibly wide shoulders stood there grinning at the wheezing Cap.
Although too spent to utter anything but a choked grunt, Cap Hutch thought: "Dammit—Cardigan. Why couldn't it have been Bennett?"
"Well, I'll be damned, Cap," the short, wide-shouldered young man exclaimed in sardonic amusement. "I haven't ever seen you hustle like this, even for a free quart of Venusian booze. What's up with that space sow of yours? Is she getting ready to explode?"
Still unable to talk, the tramp skipper shook his head and staggered into the small shack where he sank breathlessly grateful to a chair.
The big-shouldered young man closed the door behind them and walked across to a chair and a table where two glasses and a bottle stood waiting. Casually, he began to fill the glasses from the bottle, speaking as he did so.
"Native hooch," he commented. "Distilled in our lousiest planet swamp by one of my Igakuroan foremen. Ninety-nine and nine-tenths cosmic alki. If you had a hair left on that vacuum you call a head, it'd take it off with the first snort."
With a filled glass in either hand, the young man crossed to where the tramp skipper still sat wheezing and handed him one. Then he lifted his own aloft.
"Here's to twice-a-year, Cap. It's good I don't have to see more of you."
The young man raised his glass, drained it in a gulp, glanced at the empty bottom and smacked his lips.
"Lousy," he said, "but I've learned to love it."
Cap Hutch had finally caught his breath enough to speak. At least he opened his mouth to do so. Then he glanced at the glass in his hand, changed his mind, and lifted it to his lips. He took a long draught, downing almost half of the crimson liquid.
The young man watched him in amusement.
The skipper shuddered, made a face, looked reproachfully from the glass to the young man, then said:
"You shouldda warned me, Cardigan. I almost burned my tongue out."
"You looked like you needed it, Cap," young Cardigan said. "You almost broke your neck—in all this heat—getting over to the shack here. Mind if I ask you again what's up?"
Cardigan's question seemed to bring the skipper back jarringly to the point. He jerked back in his chair.
"Almost fergot!" he exclaimed, aghast.
Big-shouldered, short-statured Cardigan stepped over to the bottle on the table, refilled his own glass, and carried the bottle back in his other hand as he moved over to Cap Hutch again.
"Do you ever get to the point, Cap?" Cardigan demanded. "For the last time, what's up?" He frowned. "Something go wrong with any of the cargo consignments you had for me?" His voice took on a flat hardness, making the tramp spaceship skipper shake his head quickly.
"No, not on nothing like that, Cardigan. So help me. I never messed a consignment fer you yet, so help me. I—"
Cardigan cut him off impatiently.
"Get on with it, then."
"I got other kinza bad news fer you, Cardigan. I wanted to get here to the shack afore them, so's you'd be warned in advance." The skipper downed the rest of his drink with a practiced back-snap of his head. Again he shuddered.
"Them?" Cardigan asked, the humor leaving his gray eyes. "What do you mean, 'them'?"
CAP HUTCH squirmed his bulky body uneasily in his chair. He opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind, and gulped.
"Well?" Cardigan demanded impatiently. "Speak up! What's it all about? Who're 'they'?"
The space tramp skipper took a deep breath.
"My passengers," he said.
Cardigan looked amused, then puzzled.
"Passengers! Don't tell me you're starting to buck the luxury liners' business by carrying passengers?"
Hutch grinned feebly at this amiable barb at the Venus Maiden.
"Hardly so, Cardigan," the skipper said.
"Where are your passengers headed for, Hutch?" Cardigan asked casually.
"That's what I was about to tell you," the older man wheezed. "They're getting off here."
Cardigan had been filling the tramp skipper's glass. Now, at the last words he paused, glaring stonily at Hutch.
"Repeat what you just said," he ordered flatly. "Repeat it slowly."
"They're getting off here," old Hutch mumbled apologetically. "Leastwise, they plan to."
Cardigan filled the rest of the tramp skipper's glass and handed it to him. The older man took it with a slightly trembling hand.
"They'll have to alter their plans, then," Cardigan said calmly. "We don't advertize for colonists and poachers on Igakuro. You could have told them that when they booked passage. It would have saved them a lot of trouble."
"You can't stop 'em from coming here, Cardigan," the space skipper protested weakly.
"Who in the hell says I can't?" Cardigan demanded. "All workable claims on this planet are ours, by law. Any interplanetary poachers will find themselves permanently dead if they try to—"
"They ain't poachers," the skipper broke in. "They got a written and signed habitation permit from the Interplanetary Zone Governor hisself to stay here as long as they like!"
Young Cardigan stepped backward, thumped the bottle resoundingly on the old duralloy table.
"The hell you say!" he snapped.
"If you'll lemme tell you, Cardigan," the space skipper pleaded, "I'll explain why. You see, they ain't poachers, or traders, or anything like that. They're missionaries."
"Missionaries!" The word burst from young Cardigan's lips like a bombshell. He gaped incredulously at the skipper.
"S'trewth, gawdamighty!" Cap exclaimed.
"Here? For Igakuro?" The amazement was still in the space-bronzed young trader's voice.
"For here. For Igakuro," the skipper said flatly.
"How many?" Cardigan demanded, after a second's pause.
Cap Hutch wet his lips, looked imploringly at the bottle on the table, then raised his hand, showing two fingers.
"Good God!" Cardigan said disgustedly. "Two missionaries!"
"One ain't quite," said the space tramp's skipper. His eyes went back to the bottle, stayed there. "One is a—"
THE sound of footsteps ascending the steps to the shack porch sounded suddenly, then, cutting off the space skipper's sentence. Both men's glances went to the door. It was Cardigan who spoke first.
"That sounds like your passengers," he said grimly.
The footsteps had stopped now before the door. Then a swift, imperious tattoo sounded loudly upon it. The skipper looked up at Cardigan. "I tried to tell you so's you'd be in the right frame of mind when you met 'em," he said.
"I'm in the right frame of mind," Cardigan said. He stepped to the door, his hand on the knob, turning to the skipper. "They got their passage back paid for?" he demanded.
The skipper opened his mouth to answer.
"They'd better have," Cardigan said grimly. He jerked the door open, stepping back as he did so.
Two people stood there in the doorway, a tall, lean, angular middle-aged man dressed in a severe black tunic, and a small, slim, blonde young woman whose features were half-hidden, inasmuch as her companion had taken a position slightly in front of her.
"How do you do?" the tall, black-tunicked stranger said. His face was expressionless, as expressionless as the deep voice that spoke the greeting. His somber dark eyes seemed to sweep the room and its occupants disapprovingly.
"Cardigan," stammered the space tramp skipper, scrambling to his feet foolishly. "This here is Parson Zender, the missionary, and his daughter, Miss Zender. Parson, this is Cleve Cardigan."
"Reverend Zender," the tall, unsmiling missionary corrected the skipper reprovingly; "not Parson."
Cardigan's expression was now erased of emotion, though he wore a polite smile.
"The skipper was just telling me about you, Reverend Zender," he said evenly. "Won't you and—ah—" he glanced at the slim blonde girl who was still half concealed behind the missionary, "—Miss Zender step inside?"
The pair stepped into the shack, and for the first time Cardigan clearly saw the girl. His eyes widened and he drew in his breath.
She was slim and blonde, as he'd observed at first; but her face, which had been half hidden, was a remarkably pleasant surprise. Oval, untinted by the artifice of cosmetics, it was nevertheless quite lovely. A small, pert, slightly tilted nose, hazel eyes, long-lashed, a soft, pretty mouth, all combined to show Cardigan that if this girl had the same name as the man beside her the resemblance between the two stopped there.
Cardigan tried to catch her eye, but he saw that her attention had been taken by the bottle on the table. He felt, rather than saw, her shocked appraisal of the object.
Reverend Zender had seen the bottle, but evidently deciding wisely to ignore it, turned his back on the table, not taking any of the four or five chairs in the room, and addressed Cardigan.
"Skipper Hutch has explained to you why we have come here?" the missionary demanded.
"Yes," said Cardigan. "Yes, he has."
"The Governor of this Interplanetary Zone informed me that you will be only too happy to establish some sort of quarters for Miss Zender and myself," the Reverend Zender said.
"Did he?" Cardigan asked noncommittally.
"He did," Reverend Zender said firmly. "I expect they will be suitable for—"
"—An overnight stay until the Venus Maiden pulls out again tomorrow morning," Cardigan broke in.
Reverend Zender's head snapped back. He stiffened.
"What was that, sir?"
"Do you plan to stay on the planet here rather than aboard for tonight?" Cardigan asked amiably.
"I think you misunderstand me," the Reverend declared a bit testily, turning to glare at the skipper, "or that the skipper neglected to inform you fully of our plans here."
Cardigan seemed puzzled. He looked reprovingly at the haplessly squirming skipper.
"What's that, Cap? Are you staying over on Igakuro longer than a night? Staying two nights?" Cardigan asked.
"We are staying here permanently, sir," the Reverend Zender said. "Undoubtedly Skipper Hutch didn't inform you of that fact." He tried a smile, his first in Cardigan's presence. Cardigan suddenly realized why the Reverend Zender remained grave faced. He didn't look any more pleasant when smiling.
Cardigan returned the smile.
"Why, Reverend, that's quite impossible. Didn't anyone tell you?" He paused. "We don't have room for you here, and this is no place, certainly, for women or missionaries. I'm really very sorry. Someone must have misguided you concerning this place."
The Reverend Zender was frowning. "This is Igakuro planet, is it not?" he demanded. "There are poor, Godless, native Igakuroan tribes on this planet and its chain of asteroids, are there not?"
"This is Igakuro," Cardigan answered evenly. "And as for Igakuroan natives living on this planet and some of its adjoining asteroids, of course they do. However, I don't believe you could pity them to the extent of calling them poor. And as for gods, they seem pretty well equipped. One swamp tribe I know of has at least a dozen gods right at the moment."
Wrath suddenly crackled in the cold dark eyes of the Reverend Zender.
"You have been making sport of me, sir!" he snapped.
Cardigan shook his head, leaned back against the table and picked up his glass and the bottle. He poured a glass of the crimson liquid casually as he spoke.
"No," he said quietly. "I haven't been making sport of you. I have just been telling you in as polite a fashion as possible that I'm top dog on this planet. I'm Cleve Cardigan. I've staked Igakuro for twenty-five years on a thoroughly legal Federation Claim. That gives me the right to drill as much vardium out of this planet in that time as I can, providing it's peddled to the Federation. That makes me pretty damned well boss around here, understand?"
"I still do not understand you, Cardigan," the Reverend Zender said. "Are you intimating we are unwelcome here?"
Cardigan filled his glass to the brim, put the bottle back on the table, looked up at the missionary.
"That's right," he said amiably. "You aren't wanted."
To Cardigan's astonishment, as well, apparently, as that of the Reverend Zender, the girl broke in.
"Why?" she demanded suddenly. "Why aren't we welcome here, Mr. Cardigan?"
CARDIGAN still held the filled glass in his hand. He looked across the top of it almost abstractedly.
"I've stated two reasons," Cardigan said. "Two very excellent reasons. This is no place for a woman, and there is no room here for a missionary. I think those should be sufficient to make my point clear, don't you?" He looked sardonically at the girl.
She shook her head. "No, I don't," she said quietly. "In the first place, I have been with my father in many far flung space outposts. I stood the rigors of all of them. This shouldn't be different. Secondly, there is room for a missionary wherever decency and the word of God has not been spread. Igakuro is such a place."
Her head was tilted as she spoke, and her cheeks flushed slightly in anger, making Cardigan again conscious of her loveliness.
"Igakuro isn't any half-civilized Martian sub-planet, Miss," Cardigan said. "It's tougher than anything you or your father have ever encountered. The 'scorch season' is just a week away, for one thing. Have you ever heard of Igakuro's 'scorch season'?"
The Reverend Zender cut in.
"I never venture to establish a new mission on a planet about which I know nothing. I have studied the scant histories of Igakuro, its native inhabitants, the physical circumstances of the rigors of existence on it, a little of the native tongue—in short, all I could find. I am well acquainted with the nature of this planet."
"But this," said Cardigan drily, "is the first time you've ever been here."
"Nevertheless, sir," said the Reverend Zender, "you cannot send us away. I have permits perfectly in order. You can refuse us assistance, if such be your kind, but we will stay."
Cardigan abruptly turned his back on the missionary and his daughter. He spoke to Cap Hutch.
"Pete Bennett will be here in a few minutes, Cap. You can look over the consignment papers with him. He'll sign them for you."
Cardigan stepped to the door. He turned to the man and girl.
"You're right about your legal permission to stay here on Igakuro, Reverend," he said coldly. "But you're also right about my refusal to help you. You'll have to get along as best you can, with no help from me, if you're foolish enough not to leave in the morning."
"We are not leaving," the Reverend Zender replied.
"As you like. But at the moment you are standing on property which belongs to my company. I wish you'd get off as quickly as convenient."
The door slamming behind Cardigan shook the duralloy shack as if it had been tin....
THE smooth-hulled, black-sheened space cruisers that put in at Asteroid Eighty—a deserted and vardium drained spacial island in the Igakuro group—arrived there on the evening of the day the Venus Maiden had put in at Igakuro itself.
But these space cruisers—there were two in all—expected and found no welcoming delegations, native or earthmen. The men aboard the cruisers had chosen Asteroid Eighty for the very reason that they knew it to be abandoned—and knew, also, that it was both within quick striking distance of Igakuro, and outside of even casual range of attention from that planet.
Several hours after disembarking, the men of the black-sheened cruisers had established themselves in the rusted and rotting mine shacks which still stood beyond the abandoned mooring wharf of the asteroid.
In the first of these shacks the leader of the group which had arrived in the cruisers assembled six of his underlings for discussion which would forge the last of their plans into a striking weapon.
The leader of the group was tall, an earthman well over six feet five inches. He was, in spite of his height, extraordinarily fat. His huge, corpulent body possessed long, thickly powerful arms which gave him an ape-like appearance further carried out by his slight stoop, massive chest, and heavy, matted shock of black hair.
In the asteroid chains off Venus this brutish giant of a man had been called "The Strangler" by the harassed members of the Interspacial Border Patrol who had sought him so long and unsuccessfully for his many depredations.
Among his varied and often hideous crimes were his gang attacks on peaceful outpost trading colonies, native villages, and small, isolated Interspacial Border Patrol posts. These attacks, always in outnumbering force and with snake-like swiftness, had torn tribute of a hundred varieties from their victims. The trading colonies paid in their small wealth, the native villages in materials which trading earthmen sought honestly, and the patrol posts in guns and ammunition for the restocking of the brigand band's arsenals. In common, they all paid in blood.
In contrast to the name bestowed on him by those who hunted him, the leader of this band was called, by his followers, "Satan." The name derived from his legal identification, "Saidun," to which he had been born, and had been bestowed on him by a space freebooter, long dead, who had been one of Satan's primary instructors when the brutish young man was but a novitiate in the field of space piracy.
Satan was no longer young, however, and though his black thatch of uncombed hair showed no gray, the villainous giant had passed forty.
His crew, consisting of twenty-three cutthroats of some seven planetary origins, were of varying ages, complexions, sizes, and temperaments. Each had been selected by Satan carefully, and each served his brigand master well.
THE six who met with the leader in the first of the abandoned mining shacks near the rotted mooring wharf of the asteroid were a fair sample of the rest.
Polo, the pockmarked Venusian renegade, was a squat, powerful, young man. Utterly hairless, he was distinguished by his completely toothless smile and jutting, rock-hard jaw.
Malveau, the most intelligent of the group, save Satan himself, was a tall, thin, mustached man with cold gray eyes, black hair, and the slim, pale hands of a woman. He was an earthman.
Uska, the Junovian, was blind in one eye, and the ugly scar-flesh which covered the eyeless gap did nothing to enhance his paste-complexioned, short-statured, doughy lumpiness. On occasions demanding his side-line specialty, Uska served as chief torturer.
Wenskus, another earthman, was of medium stature, slim-shouldered, bespectacled, round-faced, unshaven. He had been discharged from the Interspacial Lines ten years previously when, as master of one of their largest luxury liners, he had deserted his post to let eight hundred passengers perish in an uncontrollable blaze. For Satan he served as an excellent space navigator and pilot.
Saturn was represented among the brigand lieutenants by Jekka, a saffron-skinned brute with the expressionless eyes and sadistic mouth of a killer. Next to Satan, Jekka was the burliest member of the band.
The last of Satan's lieutenants was a slim young Venusian who had deserted from his service with the Space Patrol. His name was Brona, and his knowledge of atomic cannon and ray gun repair was invaluable to the arsenal of the band.
Satan nodded to each of these lieutenants as they entered the shack and took places around the short, square table in the center of the room.
He waited until all were seated, and waited fully another minute after that, gazing at the blunt ends of his big fingers, before he spoke.
"There are only two of you here who realize the full purpose of our stop on this asteroid," he said. "Wenskus, who plotted our course of escape from the Venusian chain, and Malveau, who planned our next operations with me."
There was a momentary silence, broken by Uska, the partly blind Junovian.
"Iss not thiss sstop for hideout until border patrolss are sshaken?" he demanded.
Satan's big, heavy jowled features twisted in the semblance of a smile.
"That is what most of you were told," he said.
Polo ran his tongue over toothless gums in surprise. His pockmarked, Venusian features were expressionless, however, as he said:
"Then what are the plans to be?"
Satan waited a moment before answering. Then he said cryptically:
"Our biggest haul in some time."
THERE were no murmurs of surprise from his audience. His lieutenants merely continued to fix him with their unwinking stares, waiting for him to continue.
"We are safely beyond the reach of the annoying border patrols in the Venusian belt," Satan continued. "It is possible to assume that their intensified search for our cruisers will go on for another three or four months before they realize we are no longer operating in that territory. And when they realize we have taken to our heels, the reports of our work in this sector will begin to drift into their outposts here. By that time we shall move on again. And by that time, thanks to the job ahead of us, we shall have added more men and several more cruisers to our complement."
Satan paused to look around the circle at the faces of his lieutenants once more. They were still impassively attentive.
"Our haul this time," Satan went on, "will be vardium. Vardium in such quantity that certain sources in the Martian government will be delighted to pay us handsomely for it."
Now, at last, surprise flickered briefly on the faces of his lieutenants. Several turned, to exchange glances.
"Much of the vardium I speak of has already been mined and processed into var-dust for us," Satan went on. "The rest of it will be mined and processed before the scorch season in this belt is over. We can carry enough var-dust in one cruiser to bring a small fortune from the Martian sources I mentioned before. The Martians will pay heavily for the valuable munition-making soluble of which they have been deprived by the Interplanetary Federation."*
* After the Interplanetary War I, started by Mars against Earth, Venus, Juno and Saturn was won by the latter—which then formed the Interplanetary Federation—Mars was omitted. —Ed.
Uska, the Junovian, spoke up again.
"But who iss mad enough to mine thiss vardium for uss and processs it alsso?"
Satan smiled. "Two young mining engineers on the central planet in this asteroid belt, Igakuro," he said. "Their names are Cardigan and Bennett. They've mined Igakuro for the past year without sending out any new shipments of var-dust to earth. The processed dust is stored in subterranean vaults, waiting a shipment two months after the scorch period comes on this belt. In the meantime they're working the natives extra shifts to mine and process more of the stuff before shipment time."
Brona, the slim young Venusian, spoke up now.
"What are the risks involved?" he asked. "Is Igakuro heavily armed? Are the patrols in this area heavy?"
Satan smiled again.
"There is a small detachment of Igakuroan natives which has been trained by Cardigan. They are poorly armed. Electra-rifles are their only weapons. I understand that several obsolete atomic cannon are concealed in small shacks on either side of the space mooring wharf. Otherwise, they are empty-handed."
Polo spoke now.
"The guns from our cruisers could frighten the native guards back underground," he smirked.
"WE will not have to use the cruiser guns," Satan said. "They might destroy valuable equipment for the mining that must continue after we take over. No. It will be a simple matter to surprise and overpower the two earthmen and whatever natives we encounter."
"Supposing the earthmen resist?" asked the saffron-skinned Saturnian, Jekka. "Are they to be killed?"
"Not if it can possibly be prevented," said Satan. "They are to be kept alive to work the mines and oversee the processing of the var-dust until it is collected in sufficient quantity. Our operations might be considerably hampered if we had to tend to those details ourselves. The delay might be dangerous."
"And the natives?" asked the burly Jekka.
"Kill as many of them as you think necessary. They must be impressed with our superiority," Satan said. "Those devils must work those mines as if their lives depended on it. Their lives will, in fact, depend on it."
Polo put the next question.
"When do we strike?"
"We start for Igakuro tomorrow afternoon," said the leader. "We will reach there shortly after darkness has fallen the following day. The place should be in our hands in less than an hour after that."
"How long we sstay on Igakuro?" Uska demanded.
"A month should prove sufficient," Satan said. "The scorch season will be ending, then, and the danger of patrol visits will increase. We can be out of this zone and en route to Mars before suspicion is aroused."
A murmur of approval greeted this. Satan stood up. Under the black bushes of his brows, his pale eyes glinted coldly.
"You can spread the word of our plans to the rest," he said. He turned to the tall, thin, black-moustached earthman, Malveau. "Wait a moment. I've something more to discuss with you, Malveau," he ordered.
The other five lieutenants rose on this obvious signal that the discussion was at an end. They filed out of the shack until at last there was only Satan and Malveau.
The massive, brutish leader turned to the slender, cold-eyed earthman. He grinned.
"It didn't occur to any of them to question the transportation problem we'll encounter when we use one of the cruisers to carry the var-dust," he said.
Malveau grinned briefly in reply. Then said:
"It won't occur to the others, either. But if it does, I have a simple explanation ready to assure them. You've made the selections of those who will be left on Igakuro and those who will be taken with us?"
"The choices were fairly easy. Our band should be considerably improved by the elimination of some dead timber. And, of course, the splitting of the profit on this venture will be much more simple among an even dozen of us, rather than twenty-four."
"We shall not leave them on Igakuro alive?" Malveau asked.
"And run the risk that a patrol ship might stop on the planet and clap them in custody?" Satan was amused. "Certainly not. We can't risk anything of the sort. Those twelve unfortunate selections I've made must be snuffed out before we leave Igakuro. It is the only sensible way, and it prevents any possibility of talk."
MALVEAU pulled a thin, black Junovian cigar from his tunic pocket, and bit off the end with his white, sharp teeth, lighted it, and blew a cloud of smoke ceilingward.
"Are you quite certain that your reports on the condition at Igakuro are correct?" he asked.
"Naturally," Satan said. "My Martian source had it all checked very thoroughly by an agent posing as a member of the Venus Maiden—that's a space tramper which carries supplies to the planet twice yearly—on that tub's last visit to Igakuro six months ago."
"Then the space tramp you mention should be due there at some time within this week," said Malveau, "if it makes a twice-yearly trip to the planet."
"Certainly," the massive Satan asserted. "It is moored there at this very moment. It will leave tonight, perhaps, but more likely tomorrow."
Malveau's eyebrows lifted.
"What does it carry?"
"Nothing of importance," Satan shrugged. "It would not be worth while to seize it."
"But a small crew, one cruiser, could do the job—" Malveau began.
His leader cut him off.
"You forget, Malveau," Satan declared, "that our operations are no longer on such petty scale. We no longer need bother with such small loot as the Venus Maiden would provide."
Malveau smiled faintly.
"We seem really to be branching into bigger fields, my friend," he observed.
Satan sat down, running his huge hand through the thick, tangled black shock of his hair. His eyes, for an instant, glittered more coldly than before. The expression on his face was momentarily far-off.
"If we deliver the var-dust as agreed to the Martians," he said, "we will not have to worry any longer about niggardly operations. There will be many more tasks they can find for us, for equally tremendous compensation."
Malveau's eyebrows went up again, but he said nothing.
Satan smiled to himself, then looked up at his moustached lieutenant, grinning.
"We make no mistake, eh?" he said....
FOR fully a minute after Cardigan's departure, there was an uncomfortable silence inside the shack. Finally the Reverend Zender turned to stare coldly at the bottle and glass on the table.
Cap Hutch spoke.
"I told you, Parson," he said. "This Cardigan is young, but he's tough, obstinate. He don't want nobody on Igakuro except himself, his partner, and the natives who work his vardium mines for him."
The girl spoke. "Obviously, he isn't a strongly religious person," she said. "He seems hardly God-fearing."
"Cardigan," the skipper observed wryly, "don't fear nobody. Any one in the interplanetary space trading bunch can tell you that. He fought his way to where he is, from the time he was sixteen, in ten short years. Shipped aboard his first space tramper when his folks were killed. Worked as roustabout all over space. They usta kid him about his height. But he had shoulders that were wider than any six-footer's I ever seen. Used 'em, too, as well as his fists and an atomic pistol he could shoot the whiskers offa cat with."
The Reverend Zender took his eyes from the bottle and glass on the table. He spoke to the tramp space skipper.
"You mentioned before that he has a partner with him in this vardium mining venture on Igakuro. I think I heard Cardigan call him Bennett. Is he of the same stripe?"
"Oh, Pete Bennett," Cap Hutch said. "Yup. He's Cardigan's partner. Youngster, too, this Bennett. About the same age as Cardigan. Mebbe a little older, though, mebbe closer to thirty. He's a lot more easy going than Cardigan. Tall, slim feller. As blonde as Cardigan is brunette. Mebbe he'll give you and your daughter a hand."
"Would Cardigan permit him to?" the girl asked.
"Cardigan couldn't say no," Cap Hutch declared. "They're fifty-fifty partners here, though Bennett thinks Cardigan's tops and does about the way Cardigan wants in everything."
They hadn't heard the light tread mounting the steps of the shack, and now all three were surprised as the door of the shack opened suddenly, revealing a tall, tow-headed young man who grinned at them quizzically.
"Hello there," the new arrival said. He saw Cap Hutch then and added amiably, "Hiya, Skipper. Looking for me? Where's Cleve?"
Cap Hutch rose, smiling. "Well, Petey Bennett! I was just telling this lady and gentleman, here, you'd be willing to help 'em out, since yer partner jest walked out inna huff."
The Reverend Zender stepped into the conversation, quickly identified himself and his daughter, then said:
"Your partner, Mr. Cardigan seems somehow unwilling to accommodate us on Igakuro at all, sir. The reception he gave us was not at all pleasant. He just left, after telling us to keep off your company's property if we intend to stay here."
PETE BENNETT looked from the missionary to his daughter. The big white grin he gave her was appreciative.
"Do you intend to stay on in spite of Cardigan's warnings?" Bennett asked. He spoke to the father, although his eyes were still on the girl.
"We do, sir," said the Reverend Zender grimly.
Pete Bennett took his eyes from the girl and shifted his amiable grin to her father.
"Cardigan is a fine chap, Reverend," Bennett said. "Don't draw any hasty conclusions about him from your first meeting. I'm sure he harbors nothing personal against either you or your daughter in not wanting you to stay on here."
"How decent of him," the girl declared with soft sarcasm.
"You see, sir," Bennett said, still speaking to the father but grinning briefly to the girl again, "Cardigan has had a slightly different life than most chaps his age. He's had to fight for everything he's gained. He doesn't hate religion, really, he just feels that any philosophy which teaches that one should turn the other cheek and live in meekness, and all that sort of thing, is haywire. Personally, I'm aware he's off base in that reasoning. However, he'll come around, if you're intent on staying on here."
The Reverend Zender extended his hand.
"Then you will assist us, sir?" he asked. "In spite of your partner's attitude?"
Bennett took the missionary's hand in a hearty clasp.
"Sure thing," he said. "If you've legal permission to be here, and are determined to stay, we can't very well act like barbarians to the only other earth people on Igakuro. Cardigan, as I said, will come around. In the meantime, I'll do whatever I can to fix you up with what you need. You can count on my half of the company property as being accessible to your needs." He grinned, then, turning to Cap Hutch. "Got those consignment papers ready, Skipper?"
The Reverend Zender took his daughter by the arm. At the door, he turned to young Bennett and bowed with stately formality.
"Thank you again, Mr. Bennett. My daughter and I will return to the space ship to remove our luggage in the meantime. Perhaps you could think of some quarters for us by then?"
"Certainly," Bennett said. "You'll stay somewhere around the stockade in which Cardigan and I are living. I'll be down to the spacewharf as soon as I have this business with the skipper settled."
The Reverend and his daughter left. The door no sooner closed behind them than young Bennett stepped to the bottle on the table and poured himself a stiff hooker of the native whisky. He turned to Cap Hutch.
"Your glass is empty, Cap. Cardigan been holding back on you? Fill up and have a snort, then we'll get to those papers."
For a man of his age and girth, Cap Hutch moved from his chair to the bottle on the table with amazing alacrity....
OUTSIDE, on the porch of the duralloy dock consignment shack, the Reverend Zender and his attractive daughter blinked in the white hot glare which beat mercilessly down on Igakuro.
"He seems like a decent sort, Father," the girl observed. "Very obliging, in contrast to that Cardigan person."
"Cardigan," the Reverend Zender said, his mouth tight, "seems more in need of salvation than any of the natives we shall work with."
"Mr. Bennett and the space skipper told us much that might explain him," the girl ventured.
The Reverend Zender shook his head forebodingly. "Scarcely. There is little excuse for such an attitude in a man blessed by birth with a civilized status in this universe."
They started down the steps of the shack, and, less than an instant later, almost collided headlong with a tall, sinewy massive, half-naked creature who had come around the side of the shack in a great hurry and started up the same steps they were descending.
Both the Reverend Zender and his daughter stepped back instinctively in surprise. The creature with whom they had almost collided also stepped back, looking up at them from a lower step a little stupidly. He had a low, wide skull, completely hairless. His nose was small, almost a round blob in the middle of his moon face. His lips were thick, his eyes round, red, and staring. His skin was a verdant green hue.
Zender was the first to speak.
"Why," he declared, "an Igakuroan!"
The Igakuroan was staring at Zender and his daughter with almost equal surprise. His interest seemed especially centered on the girl; his round eyes moving from her to her father and back again.
"Who are you, my good man?" the Reverend Zender asked. "Do you have a name?"
The massive, half-stripped Igakuroan didn't answer. He continued to stare at the two, his red, round eyes flickering weirdly against the green of his face.
"Try his dialect, Father," the girl suggested.
The Reverend Zender hesitated a moment. He summoned up what he knew of his scanty fund of Igakuroan dialectics, then haltingly rephrased his question in the native's tongue.
Still the Igakuroan didn't answer. He continued to stare at the two.
The shack door opened behind the missionary and his daughter. They heard Pete Bennett's voice.
"Come on, Torgan. What's been keeping you?"
The massively muscled Igakuroan stepped around the missionary and his daughter and started up the steps, looking back over his shoulder at the two earth people as he did so.
"Coming, Bennett Boss," the Igakuroan who'd been called Torgan said gutturally. "Stop to look, see two new earthmen. Who they?"
The Reverend Zender suddenly flushed crimson. His daughter smiled faintly, touched her father's arm.
"We'd better get our baggage from the space ship, Father," she suggested.
They moved down the steps and started toward the wharf....
WHEN Cleve Cardigan left the dock shack, he went directly to the combination compound-stockade some three miles from the mooring wharf, where the Cardigan-Bennett Company had its headquarters, and where he and his partner had established living premises for themselves.
During the three mile journey to the compound-stockade, the terrain which lay between there and the wharf-mooring location became increasingly heavy with an astera-tropical jungle growth, Cardigan and Bennett had originally decided on the location of their headquarters because it was conveniently established in regard to the small shaft mines they'd first bored within a ten mile radius of it, and also centrally located near one of the largest Igakuroan tribal camps from which they drew their mining labor supply.
Now, even though the shaft borings were being carried out in increasingly more distant locations, Cardigan and his partner had decided to keep their compound-stockade headquarters and living establishment where it was, since it continued to be valuable in proximity to the space landing wharf of Igakuro.
Arriving a little later at the compound-stockade, Cardigan, still angrily disturbed over the argument he'd had with the missionary and his daughter, had nevertheless managed to force himself into getting some sleep, before starting on his every-other-night inspection of their mines lying back in the astera-tropical jungles.
Cardigan and his partner alternated nightly on these inspection trips of the mines. And because of the approach of Igakuro's "scorch season," during which time they would be forced to operate their mines entirely at night, these trips were now increasingly important in the gradual establishment of night-operating mining crews.
When Cardigan had had sufficient sleep, consequently, he rose and attired himself in the astera-tropical garb needed for his inspection tour, and set out into the jungle slightly before dusk.
It was due to his absence, and the additional fact that the Reverend Zender and daughter were unable to get their luggage unloaded from the Venus Maiden until almost dusk, that Cardigan was unaware of his partner's establishing the missionary and the girl in the compound-stockade until almost noon of the next day, when he came back from his inspection.
When he came up the trail to the compound-stockade, in view of the first of the native huts which flanked it, Cardigan encountered the girl.
Cardigan was tired, mire-splashed, unshaven. His nerves were none too settled from an unusually troublesome inspection round. Over his shoulder was slung an electra-rifle, and strapped to one side, an atomic pistol.
The girl had just come from one of the native huts. She wore a white tunic which, in spite of the severity of line, wasn't quite able to conceal the slim, appealing youthfulness of a decidedly attractive figure.
But Cardigan noticed none of this.
He felt only a sudden swift surge of rage. He stood there in the trail as the girl, seeing him, started smilingly in his direction.
"Just back from the mines, Mr. Cardigan?" the girl called, still moving toward him. "Mr. Bennett set my father and me up in one of your extra compounds. I hope you'll forgive us, but we couldn't sleep on the docks, you know."
Cardigan still didn't speak, until the girl was several yards from him.
"I thought I made myself clear yesterday as to what I thought about you and your father's staying on?" Cardigan demanded then.
The smile left the girl's face. She stopped.
"I thought you'd at least be a good sport about it, now that you realize we're determined to stay."
"Is the Venus Maiden still in dock?" Cardigan asked.
The girl nodded.
"Then you and your father still have time to get yourselves back aboard her," Cardigan said.
"We have no intention of doing so," the girl answered.
Cardigan started to say something, then clamped his jaws shut, gave the girl a savagely angry glare, and stepped around her. He stamped off down the path to his compound in silence....
PETE BENNETT was playing a game of solitaire on a porch table when Cardigan stamped up the steps to their compound.
"'Allo, Cleve," he said amiably. "How was the tour?"
Cardigan unslung his electra-rifle, unbuckled the belt which held his atomic pistol holster, and dropped the weapons into a corner. He turned to Bennett, both hands on his hips, eyes filled with disgust and anger.
"I thought you'd be out at prayer meeting, Pete!" he snapped.
Bennett grinned at this and continued to turn over cards in search of a red Jack for a black Queen.
"There haven't been any yet, Cleve," he answered casually. "But we ought to sit in on the Reverend Zender's first one, at that, don't you think?"
"The hell I think!" Cardigan exploded.
Bennett found a red Jack for the black Queen and quite triumphantly placed it in order.
"I was beginning to think that would never turn up," he said.
Cardigan's lips worked, but he cut off the words that started to them.
"To hell with your game!" he snorted. Then he turned away and stamped off the porch into the compound.
Pete Bennett smiled for a moment, then put down the cards, rose, and followed Cardigan inside. He found his partner stripping his soaked and dirty tunic shirt from his wide, muscular young torso.
Bennett stood at the door to Cardigan's room, watching him with the same amiable smile on his lips. Then he said:
"Come on, Cleve. Snap out of it. You're acting like a five year old kid."
Cardigan didn't answer that. He sat down on the edge of his bunk and began to doff his insulated vardium boots. He grunted and cursed through the process, still paying no attention to Bennett.
"You're making yourself ridiculous, old man," Bennett said easily. "We've no right to throw the Zenders off. The only rights that are exclusively ours on this planet are the vardium rights. Since there's nothing that can be done to get them off, and since they'll be the only other earth people on Igakuro, we might as well make the best of it."
Cardigan removed his right boot with a vicious tug. He let it thud heavily to the duralloy floor, then glared up at his partner.
"You have it all figured out, haven't you?" he asked with thick sarcasm.
"Hell, Cleve. You figure it out some other way."
Cardigan stood up. "All right," he said, suddenly calm. "I'll tell you another way I've figured it out. I'll tell you things you should be bright enough to figure out yourself."
"Sure, Cleve, go ahead," Bennett said.
"Number one—and of first importance," Cardigan began, holding up one finger. "This is no time of year for us to be involved with outside trouble, of any sort. The scorch is coming on, and it's a tough enough job mining our vardium and keeping the natives in hand during that period under any circumstances. That reason would hold against the desirability of strangers here no matter who they were. You understand that?"
"Sure," Bennett began, "but—"
Cardigan cut his partner off, holding up a second finger beside his first, and plunging on.
"Reason number two," he said, "is idiotically clear, and it is tied to the first reason. I said strangers—no matter who they were, mind you—are poison on this planet now. These strangers are double poison. They're missionaries."
"Wait a minute—" Bennett began again.
But Cardigan ignored the interruption. He continued.
"They are here with one purpose—to stick their noses into the affairs and lives of our natives."
"We don't own the natives," Bennett smiled.
"No!" Cardigan snapped. "But we pay their wages and keep them healthy with our medicines, and clean and somewhat sanitary in the compounds we've had constructed for them."
"And they," Bennett observed, "mine our vardium for us in return. It isn't as one-sided as you like to think it, Cleve."
Cardigan snorted. "You oughtta run for mayor of this place, Pete. You're really the friend of the common peeeeeepul!"
Bennett sighed, then shrugged and grinned.
"All of this doesn't get anywhere, Cleve," he said amiably. "The missionaries are here and there's nothing we can do about that part of it. And as far as I can see, there's nothing we can do about them during their stay here. In view of that, why not act sensible and treat them humanly?"
Cardigan scowled, frowned.
"They're here, all right. And there isn't anything we can do to throw them off. But there might be something we could do to make them want to leave."
"Such as?" Bennett asked.
Cardigan scowled again. "I'm not sure, yet. But I'll think of something. I can promise you that."
"Don't depend on my helping you scheme against them," he said. He started to turn away. Cardigan's words made him pause.
"Is it because of the girl?" Cardigan sneered. "The sight of a pretty face and a trim figure too much for you?"
Bennett looked at his partner speculatively a moment. He didn't smile as he answered.
"Don't be an ass!" he said.
Cardigan's eyebrows lifted in sardonic triumph.
"So it is the dame, eh?"
Bennett turned and left the doorway without saying anything more. Cardigan heard him clumping out onto the veranda. He grinned humorously and snorted.
THE blue murkiness of Igakuroan twilight had enveloped the veranda of the compound when Cardigan arrived there for the evening meal several hours later.
Cap Hutch, Bennett, the missionary Zender, and his daughter were already seated at the table which had been improvised to seat the unexpected guests.
Bennett sat at one end of the table, and had left the chair at the opposite end unoccupied for his partner. The missionary's daughter sat on Bennett's right, the father on his left. Cap Hutch, looking considerably uncomfortable, sat to the left of the Reverend.
Cardigan took his seat silently, not acknowledging the presence of the girl and her father with so much as a nod.
Torgan, the massive, green-skinned, red-eyed Igakuroan was supervising the service for the table. A small, thin native did the actual waiting and menial chores.
The silence which had been created by Cardigan's entrance was broken suddenly by Bennett, who turned to the girl and said:
"You were telling us about one of the missions your father and you established in the Junovian chain," he said.
Cardigan looked up sharply, glowered, and snorted. His blond partner ignored him and continued, as Cardigan turned his attention to the food on his plate.
The girl seemed to hesitate an instant as Bennett said:
"I was interested. I wish you'd continue."
"That's about all there was to tell," the girl said softly. "It proved to be a great success, and won the natives over admirably. Father and I didn't have the slightest trouble with them thereafter."
"Miss Zender was telling us about the time she and her father ran into a little trouble with some natives on the Junovian asteroid chain, Cleve," Bennett said amiably. "It seems that a chief of one of the Junovian interior tribes was—"
Cardigan's cold sentence cut his partner off.
"I'm not interested in missionary twaddle," he said. "The next thing you know we'll be shown illustrated slides and a plate will be passed in collection."
The silence was electric. The Reverend Zender broke it. The sound of his knife clattering to the table was like an electra-cable clattering to the deck of a space tube.
The missionary rose, glaring at Cardigan.
Cardigan looked up at him, meeting the stare unwinkingly.
"We will not trouble you any longer, sir," said the Reverend Zender. He was controlling himself with the greatest of difficulty, his voice shaking with rage and humiliation. He turned to his daughter. "Come, Carol. We'll find someplace on this planet where we will be less of an annoyance to Mr. Cardigan."
The girl was white-faced, sharing her father's anger and hurt. The look she gave Cardigan was cold, venomous. She rose from the table and followed her father to the door of the veranda.
Cardigan looked sardonically amused. He finally replied to the missionary's declaration.
"That will suit me just fine," he said.
BENNETT was on his feet by the time the girl and her father were at the door. His amiable tolerance had gone. The look he gave his partner was one of disgusted anger.
"Please, Reverend Zender, Miss Zender—" he began.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Bennett," said the missionary. "You have been very kind. But Mr. Cardigan's hostility leaves us no other choice."
The missionary and his daughter stepped out into the darkness. Bennett turned on Cardigan, his lips tight in anger. Wordlessly, he glared at his partner.
Cardigan met Bennett's stare unflinchingly, challengingly.
"You ignorant lout!" Bennett snapped at last.
Cardigan laughed, and turned his attention back to his food.
The door slammed behind Bennett as he left the veranda in pursuit of the missionary and his daughter.
Cardigan looked up at Hutch, the sole survivor of the scene. He grinned.
"You like to finish the meal with me, Cap?" he asked.
The skipper of the tramp space ship was flushed, uncomfortable, perspiring. He mopped his brow with a dirty handkerchief. He sighed and managed a feeble grin.
"You sure are some host, Cardigan. Got any of that atomic hooch on hand? I need a stiff jolt."
Cardigan looked up at Torgan. The big Igakuroan had watched the scene impassively.
"Break out a bottle of the best, Torgan," he said. "The wet blanket has been lifted from the party."
Torgan grinned lopsidedly and went away to get the liquor. Cardigan turned back to Hutch.
"I think maybe you could wait around another day, Hutch. You stand a good chance of having a couple of passengers to take back to where they came from."
The tramp spaceship skipper tried to look neutral.
"I got some rocket trouble I could lay over to repair," he said. "It might be a good idea if I took this chance to attend to it, I think."
Cardigan laughed. "I think so, too," he said.
There was a momentary silence. Torgan appeared with a bottle and glasses. He set them before Cardigan. Cardigan broke the seal on the bottle, poured the scorching liquid into two tumblers, handed one to Hutch.
"Here's to bigger and better missionaries—on other planets," he toasted.
Hutch imitated the gesture of his host, raising his glass and tossing off half the liquid with a snap of his head. He put the glass back on the table, making a face and shuddering.
"It don't seem good to see any ruckus between you and Pete Bennett," the tramp skipper observed. "It ain't at all like either of you. You two was always the best of buddies."
Cardigan scowled, tossed off the rest of his drink. He stared at Hutch, lips pursed thoughtfully.
"Didn't I tell you missionaries make nothing but trouble?" he demanded.
Hutch opened his mouth, as if to refute the reasoning behind Cardigan's statement. Then he decided that it would not be the better part of discretion to remind the wide-shouldered, stocky young man that all the trouble caused to date had been his own doing.
"Didn't I tell you that?" Cardigan repeated belligerently, refilling his glass.
"Yeah," Hutch said noncommittally. "Yeah, you certainly did, Cardigan. You certainly did."
"Of course I did," Cardigan snapped. "Drink up. You're falling behind me in this bout."
"This gonna be a bout?" asked Hutch with quickened interest.
"You're damned right it is," Cardigan promised. "Come on. Drink up."
Cap Hutch swallowed the liquor left in his glass and extended it to Cardigan. The young man filled it to the brim again, and grinned.
"To hell with Bennett," Cardigan said.
Cap Hutch was busy working on his second drink....
WHEN Pete Bennett came back to their compound considerably later in the evening, he saw Torgan clearing a litter of glasses and bottles from the table on the veranda.
"Where's Boss Cardigan?" Bennett demanded.
"Cardigan Boss on Venus Maiden. Cardigan Boss and Hutch Boss damn drunk. Take plenty bottles. Go drink on space ship, they say."
Bennett kept his anger from the Igakuroan foreman. But his lips were tight in rage as he stalked through the compound into his bedroom.
When Bennett had dressed for bed, he sat on the edge of his bunk for over an hour, smoking and frowning alternately. He rose, then, checked his astera-tropical gear for his trip to the mines in the interior the following day.
Some fifteen minutes later Bennett stretched out on his bunk, finished another smoke, and mentally cursed the stubborn streak in his partner until he fell asleep.
CARDIGAN staggered into the compound some six hours later. Early Igakuroan dawn was breaking, and the dark-haired, wide-shouldered young man was exceptionally drunk. Too drunk to remove his clothes before falling into a dead slumber across his bunk.
When Bennett rose and donned his astera-tropical attire, an hour after that, he stopped in Cardigan's room long enough to pick up his partner's electra-rifle, two or three other small items of equipment, and to scratch a brief note on a pad atop the table beside the bunk.
Bennett left, then, and went out onto the veranda where the tireless Torgan had breakfast waiting. The blond young mining engineer ate his morning snack in silence, the Igakuroan foreman watching him curiously.
"Any talk for Cardigan Boss?" Torgan asked, as Bennett finished the breakfast and started toward the veranda door.
Bennett hesitated a moment, then shook his head.
"None, Torgan. I'll be back from this inspection stretch early tomorrow morning, if he should ask. The Number Twenty vardium shafts need some extra supervision."
The big Igakuroan nodded solemnly. "I tell Cardigan Boss same," he said. Bennett left the compound. Moments later he was striding down the trail into the thick vegetation which fringed the swamplands of Igakuro....
HALF a day away from Asteroid Eighty, the crews of the twin, black-sheened space cruisers were busy on the decks of the swiftly moving vessels. Satan and Malveau were breakfasting while delivering orders to lieutenants concerning the preparation and armament necessary for the raid.
The brief rehearsal for the raid would take place, verbally, in Satan's compartment, within a few hours. And a few hours after that, Igakuro would come into view.
Malveau held a thin Junovian cigar between his white teeth, a small cup of Venusian coffee almost daintily in his slender, woman-like hand. He was smiling at an observation just made by his leader.
Satan, busily gorging his great, obese body, talked as he munched food.
"Those we have decided to eliminate later will comprise the first of our raiding party to land," he said. "Should some of them be stupid enough to be killed, we shall be saved considerable trouble later." He paused. "In fact, I think it might be wise if we planned the raid so as to make it almost inevitable that some of that first group in the landing party are eliminated."
Malveau took the thin cigar from his teeth, sipped his coffee, and chuckled.
"An excellent idea," he agreed.
"Uska," Satan went on, around a mouthful of food, "shall be designated to lead that first group."
"Uska?" Malveau was surprised.
Satan nodded. "I have noticed a certain tendency on the part of the Junovian to think too much for himself. I am not at all sure that his loyalty could be trusted should he have a chance to bring the men in behind him."
"Surely you don't think that thick-witted Junovian would contemplate challenging your leadership?" Malveau demanded.
Satan stopped munching food long enough to smile.
"I make it a point to keep in touch with the trends of—ah—thought among my men," he said. "I have heard it said that Uska has made several questioning statements on several occasions."
"It seems he questioned our leaving the scene of Venusian operations so soon," the leader declared. "It seems his greed was not at all balanced with good judgment or faith in my decisions."
Malveau was wordless. He put down his Venusian coffee, put the thin Junovian cigar back between his white teeth. He looked at Satan. The leader glanced up sharply, smiling ambiguously.
"Any one," said Satan, "who thinks himself clever enough to take control from my hands has only to try."
Malveau didn't say anything. The smile he essayed was only a reasonably passable one. His cold gray eyes were, momentarily, clouded and shifty.
Satan chuckled and went on eating .. .
CLEVE CARDIGAN'S head was heavy and aching, and his tongue was coated as if by cellucotton. He blinked uncomfortably through red-rimmed, burning eyes and looked around.
He was in his room, on his bunk. He was fully dressed and his tunic was wrinkled and dirty. He groaned and sat up.
The noise of his feet striking the floor must have told Torgan that Cardigan had awakened, for the massive Igakuroan appeared at the door of the squat, wide-shouldered young man's room an instant later, a glass in his hand.
"Cardigan Boss pick up," said Torgan. He handed Cardigan the glass.
Cardigan shuddered as he drained the contents. He was never at all certain what mixture Torgan concocted to bring him out of his hangovers from native whisky, but it tasted utterly foul.
Cardigan handed the glass back to Torgan.
"Breakfast," he said. "Now."
Torgan nodded and left.
The heaviness was leaving Cardigan's head, and his eyes burned less. The perspective of the room regained normalcy. Torgan's pick-up was working according to schedule.
Cardigan rose, sticking out his tongue and touching it with his forefinger. He made an expression of distaste. Then he grinned, wondering how the skipper of the Venus Maiden was feeling.
As Cardigan was discarding his rumpled, slept-in tunic for fresh garments he noticed the note on the table beside his bed. It was from Bennett, stating merely that he was starting early for his inspection junket because of the necessity to make another supervision check on the Number Twenty shafts. It was signed merely with Bennett's initials.
Cardigan crumpled the note into a ball, tossed it carelessly into a corner and continued with his dressing.
When Cardigan stepped onto the veranda the sunlight was glazing, exceptionally hot, indicating another day closer to the scorch season. He sat down to the breakfast Torgan had had prepared for him, and asked the massive Igakuroan what time it was.
"Noon?" Cardigan blinked in answer to Torgan's statement. "My God—half the day shot! The Venus Maiden still in mooring?"
As Cardigan ate his breakfast he determined to seek out the missionary and his daughter immediately afterward. He would indicate to them in no uncertain terms that they would have their last chance to leave Igakuro on the Venus Maiden. He wondered where they had put up for the night. Probably in the compound Bennett had been ass enough to give them. It was utterly unlikely that the Reverend's indignation had gone as far as refusal to use any of the company property.
THE breakfast served to stabilize Cardigan against the effects of his drinking bout even further, and he rose from the table feeling much better.
"Earthman, earthwoman," Cardigan said to Torgan. "They sleep inside stockade, in compound?"
The big Igakuroan looked puzzled. Cardigan repeated his question, adding that he wished to know in which compound Bennett Boss had put the earth people.
"Far side stockade." Torgan said. "They not there now."
"Where are they? Are they meddling around in the native huts outside the stockade?"
Torgan shook his head.
"They leave early morning. Dawn not break."
Cardigan was surprised, then suspicious.
"With Bennett Boss?" he asked.
Again Torgan shook his head.
"Before Bennett Boss go. They go inside." Torgan waved his hand to indicate the depths of the jungle and swamp lands.
Cardigan's expression went hard.
"They went into the interior? Did you tell Bennett Boss? That why Bennett Boss leave early?"
Torgan shook his head. "I no tell Bennett Boss. Bennett Boss no ask Torgan."
"Those damned fools!"
Torgan shook his head.
"I watch them go. I think not wise. I not person to tell them. They alone."
Cardigan stood there a moment, his face angry, his manner indecisive. He began to swear, and continued to do so uninterruptedly for over a minute. Then his lips went tight. He shrugged.
"To hell with them," he said. "It's their worry, not mine. Maybe it's best. It's an easy way to get rid of them. And, at any rate, it's a damned sight better that Bennett didn't find out the damned fools were pulling up stakes."
He turned to Torgan. "Don't say anything about this to Skipper Boss on Venus Maiden, understand?"
Torgan nodded slowly, puzzledly. Cardigan Boss was sometimes very hard to understand. But the moods of the earthman were no concern of Torgan's. What Cardigan Boss or Bennett Boss commanded, Torgan did gladly....
ABOARD the Venus Maiden, the fat little skipper of the tramp spaceship stared moodily at the breakfast brought into his quarters by the steward. Hutch had a blinding hangover, and his only emotion was remorse.
"I'm an old ass." he told himself ruefully, "To think I can keep up with a two-fisted young rioter like Cardigan."
He shuddered, and mopped his damp forehead.
The Venus Maiden's scrawny spaceradio operator, attired in a worn, incredibly dirty uniform tunic, appeared at the tramp skipper's door, then, saluting sloppily.
"Well, Suran," Hutch demanded irritably, "what is it?"
Suran looked worried, but he took time deciding on his opening line. Finally he blurted:
"I was making vizascreen testings," said Spaceradio Operator Suran, "and I picked up the disturbance shadows."
Cap Hutch glared impatiently at Suran.
"What in thunder you talking about? What disturbance shadows?"
"On the screen, sir," said Suran. "The disturbance shadows on the vizascreen. I was making tests, beaming the screen out to see what distance I could get from it, and these two shadow disturbances begin to blot in and out on it."
Hutch's irritation formed in sarcasm.
"Two disturbance shadows, eh?" he said. "And what were they, Martian battleships?"
"The outlines seemed like they were cruiser-size ships, sir, commercial design. But they could be interspacial patrol craft on the prowl."
Cap Hutch's sarcasm and irritation vanished immediately. He pushed aside the tray from which he had been eating breakfast, rising from the edge of his bunk.
"Are you sure? I mean, are you sure that there could possibly be interspacial patrol craft prowling around?"
The spaceradio officer nodded worriedly.
"That's why I came right to you, sir," he said. "I know we don't want any patrol officers snooping around the cargo of the Venus Maiden. That smuggled shipment bound for Juno—the one we picked up in Venus—could get us all into a lot of trouble, sir."
The skipper of the Venus Maiden was pale.
"Mebbe I better have a look-see at that vizascreen," he said shakily.
The skipper of the Venus Maiden stood beside his spaceradio officer several minutes later, staring at the glowing pink surface of the vizascreen in the craft's communications compartment.
In the upper corner of the screen two black shadows blotted on and off the surface with irregular repetition. Cap Hutch was frowning as he stared at the screen, but the expression on his florid face was considerably less worried. At last he turned to Suran and scowled.
"Those can't be patrol craft," he said positively. "They're probably a couple of trading space cruisers."
Suran, the spaceradio officer was vastly relieved at this decision. But he asked:
"What would trading cruisers be doing in this belt, Skipper? I mean, there isn't trade to amount to anything here."
"Off their courses, mebbe," he said. "I dunno. Could be a hundred reasons. But they don't interest me now. All I wanted to make sure about was that they wasn't patrol craft. That's certain, so what's there to worry about?"
The spaceradio officer scratched his head, grinned, and said he didn't know. Cap Hutch grunted and waddled out of the communications compartment. He was back again in the battle with his hangover. That was all that concerned him for the present.
In this compartment again Hutch groaned and stretched out on his bunk. He closed his eyes and fought off the demons with the skull hammers. He would have to tell Cardigan about the cruisers after a bit. They could be poachers, nosing around to drop miners on some of the outlying asteroids in the belt. They could be—
The skipper of the Venus Maiden fell asleep....
IT was late afternoon when Torgan burst excitedly in on Cardigan in the duralloy office shack near the space wharfs. The broad-shouldered young man had been busy with engineering problems the better part of the afternoon, and looked up startledly from a disordered mess of papers.
"What's on your mind?" he asked.
"Torgan talk to stevedore, Venus Maiden. Stevedore say spaceships near Igakuro. Stevedore say Spaceradio Boss tell Skipper Boss and rest of crew few hours back."
Cardigan's black eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"You sure of that?" he asked.
Cardigan got up and went to the door.
"Come along," he said. "We're going to pay a visit to the Venus Maiden."
Cap Hutch was visibly perplexed when he was called up from the rocket room to find young Cardigan and the Igakuroan, Torgan, waiting for him on the deck of the Venus Maiden.
"What's the matter Cardigan?" the skipper of the tramp cargo carrier asked uneasily. "Something wrong with the supply consignments I unloaded?"
Cardigan shook his head.
"What about the spaceships your operator picked up on the vizascreen earlier today? Torgan heard about it from a winch hand on the wharf."
Cap Hutch snapped his fat fingers in genuine alarm.
"Damn, Cardigan," he said. "I forgot to tell you."
Cardigan stared coldly at him.
"Then tell me now, and make it quick," he said.
Hutch flushed beneath the younger man's stare, and told him in detail what he knew of the matter.
"That was several hours back?" Cardigan asked, when Hutch had concluded.
The skipper of the tramp ship nodded.
"Your spaceradio officer pick them up on the screen since then?"
Hutch shook his head.
"No. He ain't been testing since then."
Cardigan turned in the direction of the communications compartment. Torgan moved along beside him.
"Come on," Cardigan snapped. "We're going to have another look at that screen."
Suran, the operator, was inside when Hutch, Cardigan, and Torgan entered. He looked up in surprise, then connected the vizascreen beam apparatus as Cardigan told him what he wanted. In a moment the screen was glowing pink, and Suran was twisting the dial beneath it to set the beam on the same wave at which it had been the other time.
The black outlines of two space cruisers, vastly larger than before, appeared on the screen thirty seconds later. Hutch gasped as he saw the undeniable outlines of armament on the decks of both space craft.
It was Cardigan who broke the startled silence.
"Trading craft, eh, Hutch?" he said, sarcastically.
"My God!" Hutch exclaimed whitely. "Patrol ships!"
Cardigan looked narrowly at the tramp ship's skipper.
"Supposing they are patrol craft, Cap? What's the reason to turn gray over that?" he demanded.
"They didn't look like patrol craft the first time," Hutch was mumbling. "They didn't at all. They didn't at all. It must be some new design they're using. Ohmygawd!"
CARDIGAN had stepped in front of Hutch, and was staring at him in surprise. He repeated his question, and the words seemed to bring Hutch out of his momentary shock. He blinked at Cardigan, then flushed.
"You gotta help me, Cardigan!" he exclaimed. "You gotta help me! Those spaceships are coming in here—there don't seem to be no doubt about it. They'll snoop through the Venus Maiden, as sure as hell. They'll find the consignment."
"An unlicensed one I picked up at Venus," Hutch said redly. "I—uh—yeah, I smuggled it out. I'm supposed to carry it to Juno."
"What is it?" Cardigan asked.
"Explosive medium," Hutch said, "for making atomic turbine heads. There's a hell of a tariff on the stuff. The persons who gave me the consignment order wanted to skip the tariff charges at both ports. It would save 'em a small fortune. I—uh—hell—I ain't got so much business that I can turn down a fat proposition like that. I accepted the job and packed the stuff under the hull of the Venus Maiden. A hundred cases of malium. Hell, if the patrol officers snoop and find it there and ask to see my tariff-release papers, I'll catch a fine that'll ruin me forever!"
Cardigan looked disgusted.
"Yes, and perhaps a few months in a Federation prison," he said. "But what in the hell do you think I can do to cover up for you?"
"You can get some of your natives to unload the stuff from the Venus Maiden," Hutch said hoarsely, "and hide it away in one of the shack sections by the swamp lands. The patrol officers won't hang around long. Then we can get the stuff back aboard the Venus Maiden and I'll get going."
"That's a marvelous idea, Cap," Cardigan said with heavy sarcasm. "And contains absolutely no risk to me."
Hutch's face fell and he looked miserable.
"What'll I do?" he asked.
"Maybe, if they're patrol officers, they won't snoop," Cardigan suggested. "There's no certainty that they will. It's a fifty-fifty chance, as long as you don't arouse any suspicion. Besides, I'm not thoroughly convinced that those are patrol craft."
"But they're armed, and—" Hutch began.
Cardigan nodded grimly. "I know. I can see the outlines of deck guns as clearly as you can. Nevertheless, there's no certainty that those space cruisers are part of the Interspacial Patrol. Until we know better, I don't think either of us can do much."
Cap Hutch was perplexed.
"But, Cardigan," he protested, "if they ain't part of the patrol, what are—"
Cardigan cut him off. He shrugged as he spoke.
"I'm not good at guessing. But sometimes my hunches aren't so bad."
Hutch went one shade grayer.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "You don't suppose they could be—"
Cardigan cut him off again, speaking to Torgan.
"You'd better call out your boys," he said. "Break out a case of electra-rifles and have them ready to stand by."
"Cardigan!" Hutch exclaimed in alarm.
Cardigan shrugged. "There's no sense in getting worked up, and there's no sense in jumping to conclusions," he said. "However, it's a damned good idea to be ready for anything."
IN THE oppressive damply malignant heat of the tropical swamp trails, the Reverend Zender and his daughter Carol had made far less progress in their journey than had originally been planned.
With each succeeding hour after the breaking of dawn, their halts had become more and more frequent. By noon the girl was white-faced and exhausted; her father grimly aware that he had overestimated himself.
The four Igakuroans who had accompanied them as guides and porters sat apart from the earthman and his daughter among the equipment they carried. Their green faces were impassive, their round, red eyes unwinkingly fixed on Zender and his daughter.
"I was a fool to bring you along on this, Carol," the missionary said sickly. "I was a fool to decide to strike out for the villages on the other side of the swamps in the first place. We had only natives' word for the distance, and only their word for the existence of the village beyond there. There is nothing for us to do but swallow our pride and turn back," he concluded bitterly.
"How long has it been since we left the stockade?" the girl asked.
"Perhaps eight hours," said her father. "Perhaps a little less. It is impossible to learn from the natives how much longer the journey is. They don't seem to be able to understand what I wish to know."
"It might not be much farther," the girl said weakly. "It might be less than our return would be."
The missionary ran his big-boned hand through his hair.
"It might be," he admitted. "But if it isn't—" He let the sentence trail off.
The Reverend Zender rose. He walked over to the four impassive porters. They interpreted his action to mean a continuation of the journey, and leaped to their feet. The tall, somber-faced missionary wiped the sweat from his eyes, and shook his head. He gestured for them to sit down again. Then he pointed back in the direction from which they had come. Painfully, then, he used his knowledge of the native dialect as best he could. It seemed to him, after some three minutes of this, that they finally understood him.
Zender went back to his daughter.
"I think I made it clear that we are to rest a little longer, then start back," he said.
The girl looked at her father, and there were tears in her eyes. He seemed utterly defeated, sickly exhausted....
ON board the foremost of the two black-sheened space cruisers, Malveau stood on the glassicade enclosed bridge deck. Beside him was Uska, the Junovian.
"The tramp, Venus Maiden lies at the far end of the wharf," Malveau was saying, "Obviously the fool of a skipper had some reason for delaying his departure."
"I wonder if it iss ssome ssort of a trap," Uska said.
Malveau looked at him sharply.
"Of course not," he snapped.
"Our sspaceradio operator reportss that there iss no activity on the wharfss or otherwisse," said Uska troubledly.
Malveau put scorn in his question.
"Are you afraid?"
Uska stared coldly at Malveau with his single eye. His features twisted into a grimace of anger.
"You ssay that to me?" he demanded.
"I had reason to ask," Malveau countered. "Your remarks indicated unusual concern over possible danger."
Satan came onto the bridge then, his huge body shrugging through the bulkhead entrance with little room to spare. He spoke to Uska.
"You'd better get below with the first crew, my friend," he smiled. "The mooring we make at the wharf is going to be precisely timed. We must spill from the side hatches onto the wharf with speed. The speed of our attack will be the essence of surprise."
Uska turned away, then paused.
"You have taken into consideration the tramp sspacesship lying at the far end of the wharf?" he asked.
"Naturally. It is an unexpected factor, but not troublesome. Our second cruiser will draw alongside the tramp and blast it to fragments with atomic cannon fire. From such close range, the tramp ship will be disposed of in several minutes."
Uska nodded, relieved.
"That iss good," he said. "It troubled me."
Malveau and Satan watched the ugly, one-eyed Junovian leave the bridge. Then Satan laughed.
"The fool evidently is losing all confidence in my leadership," he said. "It troubled him—hah! More than that will trouble him very shortly."
"You have arranged for his disposal?" Malveau asked.
Satan nodded. "One of the men in his landing party is to dispose of him. Atomic pistol, in the back. Simple."
Malveau smiled thinly at this, and uneasiness returned to his eyes. Satan detected it.
"Come now, does the idea bother you?" he asked.
The thin, moustached Malveau shook his handsome head quickly—too quickly. He laughed, and the laugh was hollow.
"I was just thinking of the ease with which you win your way," he said.
"Yes," the brutish giant agreed amiably. "Yes. I plan everything most carefully." He suddenly had an atomic pistol in his hand. It was centered on Malveau's chest.
The expression on Malveau's face was one of sudden frozen horror. He opened his mouth to scream, but only a choked wheeze came to his trembling lips.
Satan's atomic pistol crackled in the next instant, and a searing bolt of flame crumpled Malveau's tall, thin figure like a scorched doll.
The massive brigand stared down at the hideously burned corpse of his lieutenant. He smiled, and replaced the weapon in its holster. He stepped over to the communications screen in the corner of the bridge, snapped it on.
Briefly, Satan asked the navigator at the forward controls of the cruiser how long it would be before Igakuro's wharfside was reached. He was told two hours. He snapped off the screen, stepped around Malveau's charred body, and left the bridge...
CARDIGAN had issued electra-rifles to the skipper and members of the crew of the Venus Maiden, ordered them from the ship, and placed them along the walls of the compound-stockade.
Torgan's native squadron, also armed with electra-rifles, Cardigan had placed in the swamp fringes several hundred yards from the wharfside, after stationing a two man crew from their numbers at each of the two atomic cannon concealed in the shacks on either side of the space mooring wharf. Then Cardigan joined Torgan's riflemen in the swamp fringes to wait.
The waiting had been hellish, until finally, after an hour, the faintly discernible dots in the strata had appeared. An hour more and these dots were larger. But twilight was falling, and Cardigan sensed that the approaching cruisers were moving in now at half-speed in order to make certain of arriving in darkness.
Cardigan no longer considered the possibility that the approaching space cruisers were patrol craft. And now the waiting was charged with a new excitement, as Cardigan sent a native runner into the swampland with a message for Bennett.
Another hour passed, and Igakuro was blanketed in blackness. The throbbing of the rocket motors of the approaching cruisers was now faintly audible, and for another ten minutes grew increasingly more distinct. Then the sound was cut off, and Cardigan sensed that the cruisers were moving in with atomic mooring motors.
Hutch arrived from the stockade compound. He came stealthily through the swamp brush to Cardigan's side.
"The men along the stockade walls are getting out of hand," he whispered huskily. "What in the hell can I tell 'em?"
"Tell them to carry out orders," Cardigan said quietly, "unless they want to die quickly. You realize, of course, that those aren't patrol craft coming in?" he added sarcastically.
Hutch nodded, mopping his brow with a crumpled handkerchief.
"Hell yes, and so do the men. But what're we expected to do?"
"Hold fire until we break from this swamp fringe and make for the stockade. Then open up to cover our retreat. For Godsake tell them to keep their fire high and well over our heads. When we get to the stockade, I'll take over."
The skipper of the tramp ship left, and Cardigan went forward to have a hurried consultation with each of the gun crews on either side of the mooring wharf. He instructed them to hold fire until the cruisers were actually moored. Then he returned to Torgan's riflemen at the swamp edge.
It happened with incredible swiftness just five minutes later.
Torgan saw the black hulls of the space cruisers before Cardigan did. He grabbed Cardigan's arm excitedly, pointing wordlessly. And then Cardigan saw them.
ONE of the cruisers was leading the other—it seemed for a moment. Then, abruptly, the rear cruiser was swinging up parallel to the Venus Maiden into a range less than twenty yards off, while the other slid silently to motor mooring at the other end of the wharf side.
The gun crew at the atomic cannon concealed in the shack to the left of the wharf opened fire, the flash of flame spitting toward the cruiser at mooring.
There was a sudden wild whoop from a dozen throats, and men were tumbling from the side hatches of the moored cruiser to the wharf. A blasting bolt of crimson from the gun deck of that cruiser answered the atomic cannon in the right shack an instant later, and flame leaped high with explosive brilliance as the right shack burst into fragments.
Cardigan gave the order to Torgan, and the native guards opened fire at the running figures on the dock, using the momentary glare from the demolished shack to sight their human targets.
Electra-rifles snapped back their answer, and the cannon on the deck of the motor moored cruiser sent a blast of crimson flame flashing into the compound-stockade. The explosion there was terrific.
Cardigan was cursing, demanding profanely to know why the gun crew in the left shack hadn't opened fire. And then he saw the fleeing figures in the darkness—figures dashing from the shack toward the comparative safety of the swamp brush. His face went rigid with rage at the realization that the native gun crew had deserted the atomic cannon in terror without firing a shot.
Cardigan put his own electra-rifle to his shoulder, aimed carefully, and fired.
The foremost of the panic stricken deserters flopped forward several yards from the swamp fringe. Cardigan fired again, and the second native toppled over dead.
Cardigan turned back to the battle, and saw that several of the attackers already lay dead on the wharf from the accurate fire of Torgan's Igakuroan crew. The others had taken shelter behind bales, packing cases, and pilings, and were keeping up a steady answering fire at Cardigan's position.
The second cruiser, the one which had run up parallel to the Venus Maiden, opened fire then. And Cardigan saw its purpose instantly as the first shot from that craft smashed explosively into the tramp ship's stern. The Venus Maiden was to be decimated, and thus block any possible retreat in her.
The cruiser stood off and sent a second atomic cannon blast into the side of the Venus Maiden slightly forward of midships. And in the next instant the planet rocked to the incredible explosion that shook the wharfside and bathed the entire landscape in a sheet of flame.
Cardigan was thrown forward on his face through the terrific concussion of the blast. He picked himself up, ears ringing, nose bleeding, while the ground still trembled beneath him.
The wharf near where the Venus Maiden had been moored was nothing but a twisted scar of molten duralloy. The tramp ship and the cruiser which had fired on her from a range of twenty yards were nowhere to be seen.
And suddenly Cardigan was laughing almost hysterically in the realization of what had happened. The brigand cruiser had fired into the hold compartments where Hutch's smuggled cases of highly explosive malium had been stored. The resultant blast had utterly destroyed both the Venus Maiden and her attacker.
CARDIGAN looked for the first cruiser which had moored at the other end of the wharf, wildly hoping that it had suffered some damage from the blast, when the deck gun of that craft opened fire again with furious rapidity, sending bolt upon bolt of flame blasting into the compound-stockade.
The thunderous explosions behind him told him of the devastating bombardment Hutch and his crew were receiving. And the futile hysteria of answering electra-rifle fire told him of the panic of its defenders. Cardigan turned to Torgan and shouted the order for withdrawal to the stockade.
There were but half a dozen native riflemen left of Torgan's original squad of twenty, even though only five lay dead in the swamp bushes. Cardigan realized that the others had fled in the confusion of the battle, and he cursed them futilely as he and Torgan rallied the remnants of the band for the retreat to the compounds.
The individual fire from the attackers on the wharf had ceased completely, but the cruiser's deck gun continued to blast explosive blots of flame unerringly into the stockade.
Cardigan and Torgan had nursed the half dozen native riflemen through several hundred yards of swamp brush and were still a hundred yards from the compounds when it became apparent that their objective was no longer suitable for either shelter or defense.
The compound-stockade was an inferno of flame, torchlighting the terrain around it for more than a hundred yards. All sign of resistance from it had ceased, and Cardigan was sickly certain that Hutch and the dozen or more members of his crew had perished in the brutal bombardment.
Cardigan turned wordlessly to the massive Torgan. The huge Igakuroan was staring dumbly at the blazing ruins of the stockade, the flames from which were already spreading to the native village just outside it.
The bombardment suddenly ceased and, save for wild shouting from the attackers on the wharfside, the only sound was the crackling of the blazing settlement.
Torgan's mouth was taut, his face rigid. He tore his eyes from the blazing ruins and looked at Cardigan.
"They be here soon," the huge native said slowly. "We move hell out of here quick." He pointed into the swampy jungles.
Cardigan nodded, and turned away to follow Torgan into the thick, enveloping blackness of the tangled swampland. The rest of the native riflemen had deserted, but neither Cardigan nor his faithful native companion gave any sign of knowing it. Behind them the yells of the triumphant brigands grew faint, swallowed in the oppressive curtain of jungle blackness.
Soon there was no sound except that of their own legs slogging knee-deep through the treacherous marshes of the swamp wastes....
BENNETT had started back immediately when the message carried by the frightened native runner arrived. There had been no time for him to rally any of the natives in the mines, and the effort would have been useless since there were no weapons in the vardium fields with which to arm them. He was aware, also, that the native miners, on hearing the tale of impending attack from the messenger who had brought Cardigan's note to him, would undoubtedly take to the jungle for safety and hiding until the trouble was over. But trying to prevent such a reaction, he knew, would also be futile.
There was nothing for him to do, Bennett knew, save continue toward the compound-stockade alone and as swiftly as possible. En route, he could at least prepare plans to cover several possibilities he might encounter when he got there.
Bennett had left all heavy equipment, save his electra-rifle and atomic pistols, behind him when he'd started back, and was consequently able to make excellent time through the tangled underbrush of the short-cut he had selected.
He ran with a loping, easy gait that ate up distance, and slowed to a walk each quarter of an hour to refurbish his strength. He had proceeded this way less than two hours when the sounds of battle finally came to his ears. As he struggled onward, he was soon able to recognize the explosive shriek of atomic cannonading, and tell, further, that it was not the sound made by the obsolete atomic guns which he and Cardigan had mounted for protection on the wharfside.
The sickening explanation for this was instantly apparent to Bennett. Their own atomic cannon were either unmanned or put out of action. The other atomic cannon was that of the raiding party. The situation was consequently highly unfavorable.
Bennett's loose stride was jerky, stumbling, now, and his lean young face blackened with grime and streaming sweat. Each breath was as a burning sob in his lungs; and a creeper vine sent him spilling forward to the thick slime of the marshland a few moments later.
As Bennett struggled to his feet and started forward again, the stabbing fire of pain in his left ankle brought an involuntary groan from his lips. He hobbled to a stop, forcing himself to pause long enough to wrest the thick boot from his foot.
A glance at the rapidly swelling bruise below his ankle told him, more than the pain itself, that the sprain was particularly bad. He gritted his teeth, and forced his heavy boot back over the foot, the pain of the effort lancing brutally through his weary body.
Bennett made two efforts to continue forward. The first sent him sprawling to the slime again the moment he threw his weight upon his bad ankle.
He picked himself up, sobbing, unslung his electra-rifle and tried to use it as a crutch. The butt of the weapon sank suckingly into the slime, slipping swiftly forward and pitching Bennett over on his side.
IT was then that the thundering reverberation of the blast from the wharfside shook the ground beneath Bennett, stunning him momentarily, deafening his eardrums, and shaking the planet with earthquaking violence.
Dazedly, Bennett lifted himself to one elbow, shaking his head to clear his stunned senses of sight and hearing. He inched forward until his groping hand found his electra-rifle, then, using the weapon as a staff, he pulled himself to a sitting position, and tried again to rise.
The effort this time was more successful, though it drenched his already soaked body with a cold wave of sweat. He stood there, teetering against the electra-rifle's support, gathering strength enough to continue.
Then he started forward again, slowly, painfully, hobbling in a lurching sort of see-saw.
Ten yards further Bennett stumbled and pitched forward to the slime again. He lay motionless for perhaps a minute, then began the exhausting ritual of rising once more. The atomic cannonading from the wharfside was still uninterrupted, the sporadic electra-rifle fire blending dimly into the background.
Voices were faint in Bennett's ears, now. Voices blurring into the background of battle. He struggled slowly forward again, and five yards further on, fell once more.
Bennett heard the voices more clearly, now, and the crashing of bodies through the underbrush. He raised his head, turning himself on his side as he did so, sliding his elbow beneath his body to form a bridge for the electra-rifle which he slowly brought to a firing position. The angry noises of battle continued, as did the crashing sounds in the underbrush and the approach of voices.
Bennett clenched his teeth, blinking away the sweat and pain that blurred his vision, peering grimly along the sights of his electra-rifle as he trained it on the spot in the underbrush ahead from which the sound of approaching voices was loudest.
He waited, the sweat rolling over his face in cold waves. Waited, as he tried to concentrate his dazed and weary mind upon the sound of the voices against the confusing sound pattern of the battle.
Bennett saw the underbrush move, then. Move directly before the sights of his weapon. His thumb went taut against the firing button, the pressure a scant hair-weight from that required to send an electra-bolt flashing directly into the moving brush.
He was almost able to discern the shadowy bulk of the person crashing through the brush toward him, and grimly decided to hold his fire only long enough for a split-second identification of the approaching bush-prowler.
If it were Cardigan, or some loyal Igakuroan, or even old Hutch, such split-second recognition would be simple. But should it be otherwise, Bennett determined to shoot first and identify at leisure.
Now the voices had stopped abruptly.
The brush was parting....
THE firing had ceased by his order, and now Satan stood on the shattered wharfside of Igakuro, grimly surveying the cost of his raid.
The explosion of the other cruiser had been a catastrophic shock to the massive earth renegade. It had been an integral factor in the completion of his sacking of the planet. But he had pushed the disaster temporarily from his mind, inasmuch as there had been the attack to carry out.
Uska had been slain as Satan had ordered, by an atomic pistol blast from behind as the lieutenant led the first wave of the raiders onto the docks. The dark, lean, effeminate earthman had been eliminated by Satan himself. Uska had been dispatched by Jekka. Each of these slayings according to plans conceived before the disaster to the second cruiser occurred.
Satan's renegade navigator-skipper had been one of those who perished in the explosion of the second craft. And Satan had never intended to dispatch that necessary lieutenant to his plans.
Polo had gathered the brigands together on the shattered wharf, once the firing had ceased by the massive leader's order. And there were now scarcely more than a dozen of them left.
Satan moved along the space mooring dock wordlessly, identifying those who had been slain by the electra-rifles of Igakuro's futile defenders. Then he returned to the Junovian, Polo, and ordered him to place two men on watch aboard the remaining cruiser, sending the rest forward to occupy the ruins of the compound-stockade.
"We will remain until dawn," Satan told his stocky lieutenant. "And then we shall hunt the var-dust caches underground. The loss of our sister ship makes it impossible to plan on waiting here for any further supply of the alloy to be wrested from the mines. We have but one vessel on which to carry what we can seize. Our plans have consequently been considerably altered."
Polo nodded, turned and bellowed instructions to the dozen or so brigands who waited patiently on the dock. Two returned to take watch aboard the black-sheened cruiser, and the remainder moved slowly for the ruins of the compound-stockade.
"What of continued resistance?" Polo demanded. "Do you think we will find any more?"
"I can tell you that," Satan said, "when we count corpses in the compound-stockade and along the underbrush fringe from which their principle electra-rifle fire came."
Satan shrugged, his dark features glowering.
"Until then," he added, "we must wait." His voice was ragged, angry. He started out for the ruins of the compound-stockade, his thug lieutenant following along behind him.
It was fully a dozen minutes later when Polo and Satan finished their inspection of the dead in the compound-stockade.
"There are enough to fully account for the crew aboard the space tramper," Polo said quietly. "We can be certain they are all eliminated."
Satan shrugged his massive shoulders, staring down at a body crumpled beside his feet.
"Perhaps," he said. "But there was none among these dead who could have been Bennett or Cardigan."
"We have yet to inspect the underbrush fringe from which the electra-rifle fire came," Polo put in.
Satan glowered, prodding the body with his foot. There was a faint moan, and the massive brigand leader's eyes flashed to meet Polo's then back to the body.
"This one survived, it seems," Satan said.
The faint moan was repeated.
Satan pulled an atomic pistol from his hip-holster. He turned the body with his foot, rolling it over face upward.
The badly burned features that looked sightlessly up at Satan and his lieutenant were those of Cap Hutch. The burned, puffed lips parted and another faint moan escaped them.
Satan trained his atomic pistol on the wounded space tramp skipper's head. He fired once, unerringly, and what was left of Hutch stirred and groaned no longer.
Satan turned to Polo.
"Come," he snapped irritably, shoving the weapon back into its holster. "We must search for the bodies of Cardigan and Bennett."
THE Reverend Zender and his daughter were several hours from their return to the compound-stockade when the noises of the sudden battle reached their ears.
The missionary had been at the fore of their tiny safari, directly behind the lead guide. For part of the journey he had carried his exhausted daughter in his arms, and for much of it she had been able to walk along the slimy mire of the trail beside him with just the assistance of his arm.
The front Igakuroan guide heard the gunfire before either the missionary or his daughter did. His abrupt halt and frightened face, therefore, were puzzling to Zender and his daughter, Carol.
It was only when the native bolted, dashing back along the line of porters and screaming wild gibberish at them, that the opening cannonading reached the ears of the two earth people.
And before either of them could adjust themselves to the swift purpose of their guides, the Igakuroans had fled into the thick concealment of the underbrush.
That was the last that Reverend Zender or his daughter Carol saw of their guides. Their equipment was dumped crazily into the short brush and thick slime of the trail, and the Igakuroans had vanished but seconds later.
The gaunt, somber-visaged missionary stared wordlessly, grimly, in the direction of the battle sounds, his daughter holding tightly to his arm.
Finally he turned to her.
His face was bleak, washed of all emotion save the pity that shone from his eyes for the girl.
"Carol," he began. Suddenly he choked, impulsively placing his big, gnarled hands on her shoulders. "You know what this—this means?"
Carol made a brave attempt to hide her fear. Her white teeth bit into her full underlip and she smiled tremulously, shaking her head.
"It is a brigand raid of some sort," the missionary said quietly. "There could be no other explanation. It is not a native revolt, otherwise our Igakuroan guides would have turned on us instead of fleeing."
"What are we to do?" the girl asked.
The tall, gaunt Zender hesitated for just a moment.
"You are not afraid, Carol?"
"No," the girl answered.
He took his hands from her shoulders.
"Then there is only one thing for us to do," he declared quietly. "We must continue with all haste to the compound-stockade. Cardigan and Bennett will need whatever assistance we can give them."
"Yes, Father," Carol Zender said. "It is the only thing for us to do."
The tall missionary turned, surveying the trail ahead. He spoke as if to himself, though his words were addressed to the girl.
"If there were some place of safety for you," he said huskily, "I would leave you there. However, we do not know if the brigands have landed at other points on the planet, and it is more certain to find safety for you inside the stockade."
"But without the Igakuroan guides," the girl began, "we—"
Her father cut her off.
"I realize," he admitted, "that we will have difficulty in finding our way through the trail tangles back to the compound-stockade. However, we must attempt it. I shall do my best."
The girl nodded, and her father slipped his arm about her slim shoulders, giving her needed support as they set off slowly along the swampy marsh-line of the trail....
CARDIGAN and the huge Igakuroan, Torgan, reached Vardium Shaft Eighty shortly before dawn broke on the tiny planet. The short, wide-shouldered young earthman and the massive native were each comparatively fresh, although the short-cut course through some of the most treacherous swampland on the planet had been especially arduous.
Cardigan glanced around the deserted drill shacks, the empty shaft workings, and looked bitterly at Torgan.
"They all got the hell away in a hurry," he observed. "I don't imagine an Igakuroan skull will poke out of the swamp jungle brush for another year."
Torgan shuffled his big, naked feet uncomfortably and looked away. The bitterness left Cardigan's mouth, and he touched the native's hugely muscled forearm apologetically.
"It's all right. I don't suppose I can blame them. It isn't their fight. Your sticking by makes up for as much as your comrades-under-the-green-skin could have done."
"Bennett Boss come back here?" Torgan asked.
Cardigan nodded, frowning.
"I hope to hell he does. He should have sense enough to realize what's happened to the resistance we offered on the wharfside and from the stockade, once he gets within reconnaissance range of things. The message I sent him should have reached him shortly before the fight opened up. His departure from here would bring him almost half the distance back to the stockade before the mess stopped. That would give him time, however, to be here waiting to rendezvous with us by now."
"Bennett Boss maybe not turn back for here," Torgan suggested.
Cardigan shrugged. "Perhaps not. But he'd realize, of course, that any brigand raid would be directed at our var-dust supply, and inasmuch as the var-dust is cached underground only a few hundred yards off the trail, here, he'd know that any retreat we'd make would be to protect it."
"Bennett Boss see maybe all dead. Think maybe you dead. Maybe take cover other side planet," Torgan said.
Cardigan said nothing to this. He walked over to the shaft edge and sat down wearily, unslinging his electra-rifle and dropping it to his lap.
Torgan turned and went off down the trail a few yards. He stood there motionless, facing the direction of the stockades. Cardigan watched the massive native expressionlessly. After several minutes, Torgan turned and came back to Cardigan.
"No follow us. No person on trail," he said.
Cardigan nodded in satisfaction.
"That's some consolation. They probably don't realize as yet that any one came out from under their attack alive. They'll probably put a check on their start for the var-dust cache until they can count heads and reorganize. The blow-up of the extra cruiser was obviously not in their plans. I figure they'll get under way from the stockade—or what's left of it—sometime around dawn."
TORGAN nodded solemnly at what he digested of Cardigan's summation.
"Then what we do, Cardigan Boss?" he asked.
Cardigan looked up sharply at the huge native. A flicker of a grin touched his mouth.
"You can ask the damnedest questions, Torgan," he said.
Torgan nodded agreeably to the statement.
"Maybe Cardigan Boss think I take post down trail, keep watch," the Igakuroan said.
"A good idea," Cardigan agreed. "Mile, half mile, down main trail. Keep look-out."
Torgan nodded and turned away, moving swiftly down the trail in the direction of the stockade. His huge green-skinned body was lost from sight in the thick tangle of the verdant undergrowth a few minutes later.
Cardigan rose, carrying his electra-rifle under his arm, and began to pace nervously back and forth before the deserted mine shaft.
"Damn him," he muttered anxiously. "What's happened to him?"
After five more minutes of this irritable panthering back and forth, Cardigan returned to the shaft side and sat down again. He remained in this position for several minutes, then rose abruptly.
"Dammit!" he snapped explosively. "This waiting has gone on too long. Something's happened to Pete! Maybe those devils have done him in!"
Cardigan slung his electra-rifle over his shoulder and began a swift, swinging trot along the trail in the direction Torgan had taken. A moment later and he was beating aside the overhanging tangle of swamp vegetation that marked the entrance of the tunnel-like trail. Five minutes after that, still swinging along at his swift, loose pace, he came upon Torgan.
The huge native stepped out from the concealment of brush beside the trail.
"Something wrong, Cardigan Boss?"
Cardigan said: "Bennett Boss. Too long overdue. Must find, Torgan. What short cut would he take in hell of a hurry?"
Torgan thought a moment.
"We go back shaft," he said.
Cardigan nodded, and let the huge Igakuroan lead him as they started back to the shaft. When they were back in the drill clearings and at the shaft again, Torgan surveyed the scene.
Cardigan waited patiently, while the swamp-wise Igakuroan searched for some sign of the short-cut on which Bennett had started. Several minutes passed.
At last, stopping before a small gap-tunnel leading into the underbrush at the edge of the clearing, Torgan turned to Cardigan.
"Think maybe Bennett Boss start here," the massive native said.
"Let's get going," Cardigan said.
Torgan grunted something in his own tongue and shouldered into the inky opening at the edge of the clearing. The saffron of Igakuroan dawn was slanting into the sky over the clearing as the two entered the thick tangle of the swamp jungle again. In a moment the dawn was replaced by the blackness of the astera-tropical jungle around them.
THROUGH the thick slime of the marshland underfooting, Cardigan followed the guidance of the massive Igakuroan doggedly. The massive native moved with the easy certainty of one born to swamp lore, seemingly able to pierce the blackness with a vision that was beacon-like.
Now and again Torgan stopped, inspecting a print, or a tell-tale fragment of thread on a thorn-crusted creeper vine. Cardigan grimly marveled at the native's certainty in inspecting each of these signs, but was breathlessly relieved every time another tell-tale mark further along gave assurance that the last clue had not been misread.
Several times Cardigan slipped forward in the stinking slime of a marsh, only to climb cursing to his feet, while the massive native waited patiently. Then they would be off again, Torgan leading the way with a swift, tireless stride that knew no uncertainty.
Only after an hour passed did Torgan halt, insisting that Cardigan spend several minutes regaining his strength and bringing the wind back to his aching lungs. Cardigan cursed the native, then, insisting that he was still able to continue. But after the short rest, he realized the soundness of his guide's decision when they were able to proceed again with considerably more speed.
Half an hour further on, Torgan halted, turning to Cardigan, pointing to an indistinct smear across the gray-black slime of the marshland mud.
Cardigan looked questioningly at Torgan.
"What does it mean?"
"Bennett Boss, not far ahead," Torgan said.
"Thank God!" Cardigan gasped.
The undergrowth was thicker, the tangier and creeper vines much more treacherous as Cardigan started on behind the hulking frame of the huge Igakuroan.
Torgan used his huge body and his electra-rifle as both wedge and scythe to clear the way for Cardigan following him. Cardigan was cursing jubilantly, now, in a relief that was almost hysterical. Torgan accompanied this with pleased grunts and gabblings of pride.
Less than three minutes later Torgan slashed through the brush and out into a small clearing, Cardigan directly on his heels.
It was Torgan who grunted:
And then Cardigan saw his partner. Bennett was lying at the other edge of the tiny clearing, propped up on one elbow, electra-rifle grasped tightly in white-knuckled hands, pointed unwaveringly at them!
"Pete!" Cardigan cried out.
The electra-rifle wavered, then the barrel of the weapon nosed forward and the rifle slid from Bennett's hands.
"You dope!" Bennett gasped, a sickly grin forcing the corners of his mouth up momentarily. Then, face ashen, his head dropped forward into the black-gray ooze of marsh slime.
Torgan was across the tiny clearing in an instant, Cardigan several paces behind. The huge Igakuroan bent over and lifted the lean, wiry body of Cardigan's pardner into his arms in a gentle effortless gesture. He turned to face Cardigan.
"We go back?"
"Right, old blood-hound!" he grinned. He stepped over and picked up the electra-rifle that had fallen from Bennett's grasp when he'd fainted. He slung this over his shoulder beside his own and followed Torgan back across the tiny clearing the way they had come. Torgan paused at the edge of the clearing.
"Quick way Bennett Boss pick not damn quick enough for Torgan," he said.
"You know a shorter way?" Cardigan demanded.
Torgan nodded. "Shorter. Harder. Take?"
"Take," said Cardigan ...
AS the Reverend Zender and his daughter, Carol, made their way laboriously back through the oppressive blackness of the swamp jungles, the sounds of conflict came increasingly, ominously, louder to their ears.
Zender had used these sounds of battle to guide their progress, however, and through them managed to regain bearings when the swamp marsh tangle seemed to thwart them utterly.
The occasions on which the two were forced to pause for rest were numerous; for the girl, though grimly determined not to falter, found the strain of the battle against the astera-tropical jungle increasingly more exhausting.
In spite of this, however, their progress was swift, and they soon found themselves at a trail fork which was at last recognizable to the tall, gaunt missionary.
Almost simultaneous with their discovery of this familiar trail fork, the sounds of battle ceased abruptly.
The missionary had demanded that his daughter rest a few moments once more, and they were seated at the side of the fork when the eerie strangeness of the sudden battle lull became at once apparent to them both.
The sharp glance of alarm that Carol gave her father was anxiously questioning.
"They've stopped," she said. "What does that mea—"
The Reverend Zender answered his daughter's question before it was completed.
"It might perhaps signify a lull of but a few moments," he said gravely. "Or it might mean that the battle is done." His expression was wooden. "We should learn which it is within a few more minutes," he added.
The girl nodded wordlessly, her eyes filled with sudden fear.
The minutes passed, while the ominous silence held. Zender wiped the perspiration from his gaunt face, glancing at his daughter. He rose, then, abruptly.
"I think it best that we continue on, Carol," he said. "The battle, I am almost certain, has come to an end." He ran a big hand through the matted tangle of his lank dark hair, and his wide, thin-lipped mouth went tight in determination.
The girl rose instantly.
"If the fight is over," she began, "do you suppose that—"
Her father cut off her question.
"It is impossible to tell who has been the victor, Carol. We will have no way of knowing until we arrive at the compound-stockade. Then—" He broke off.
"If the others have won?" the girl asked.
"We must do what we can," Zender answered. "But until we arrive, there is no certainty of that."
"Father," Carol said swiftly, "you don't intend to—" She was unable to finish the question.
"I must do all that I can," the missionary answered simply.
"But you are unarmed!" the girl protested. "If the brigands have won the stockade, and the wharf is in their hands, there is nothing you could do, Father. If Bennett and Cardigan and their native guards were unable to beat off the attack, surely it is madness for you to think that you could succeed where they have failed!"
"I said merely that I will do what I am able," the missionary declared. "And I repeat, we cannot tell what lies ahead until we come to it."
They started off along the trail again, and the silence was more ominous than the noise of battle had been before.
It was scarcely half an hour later when they heard the first of the brigand voices, and caught the first flickerings of flame from the stockade dimly ahead in the blackness.
Save for a short, swift tension in his arm around Carol's shoulder, Zender did not betray an emotional response to this. They continued onward for another quarter of a mile, at which point the missionary wordlessly guided his daughter into the thick fringes of the jungle trail.
"Our concealment will be more simple, should any of them be coming in this direction," he explained....
IT was considerably later when the missionary and his daughter at last arrived at the edge of the jungle clearing in which lay the ruined huts of what had been the Igakuroan village just beyond the compound-stockade.
The scene before them was one of charred devastation, utter destruction. Not a hut in the village had been spared by what had obviously been swiftly speeding flame.
The girl remained in the clearing fringes, while Zender went stealthily forward to investigate. When he returned some fifteen minutes later his mouth was a tight, hard line of cold anger.
"The natives managed to flee to the jungles," he reported. "There was no trace of any of their—their bodies in the ashes of the village ruins. The stockade beyond, however," and he paused, his great fists working in rage, "is a scene of carnage. All of the crew from the Venus Maiden seem to have been slaughtered while defending the stockade walls. The brigands are in what's left of the compound buildings. They've evidently posted several men aboard their raiding cruiser off the wharf."
The girl listened to her father with white-faced horror, her lips compressed into a thin line of anger. As he paused, she interrupted him quietly.
"What do you imagine they plan next, Father?"
"The var-dust deposits cached away in Cardigan and Bennett's underground vaults are undoubtedly what they're after," he said. "I was able to overhear two sentries mentioning the underground vault. The plan is to start for there at dawn."
"And where is the vault located?"
"In the vicinity of Shaft Eighty," the missionary said. "Young Bennett mentioned it to me the evening of our arrival."
There was a silence. Carol Zender finally broke it.
"And what do you plan to do, Father?"
"I'm not sure, yet," he declared. "Just now there is nothing to do. You must rest. If we withdraw a little more into the jungle we will be safe temporarily. I'll stand guard while you sleep, and I shall be able to rest somewhat myself."
The girl rose, her face suddenly calm.
"Very well, Father," she said....
THE missionary woke his daughter shortly before the Igakuroan dawn broke. As the girl sleepily opened her eyes, she saw the electra-rifle which her father carried in the crook of his arm, and her face was suddenly startledly anxious.
"I found this beside the body of an Igakuroan guard," Zender explained. "Evidently the brigands did not get around to looting all the dead."
It was then that Carol became aware of the voices in the distance. She turned her head sharply in the direction from which they came—the direction of the compound-stockade and the desolated native village.
"They are awake and preparing to start for Shaft Eighty," the missionary said. "I am not certain but I believe they number ten at the most, not including those two left aboard their space cruiser. We will wait until they are on their way."
"Then?" the girl asked.
"Then to the cruiser," Zender said. "I don't believe the guards left aboard will remain awake once their comrades start into the jungle. From a hiding place near the wharfside I heard them bemoaning the fact that they were forced to go sleepless while their companions rested."
The voices coming from the compound-stockade suddenly became less audible, dwindling slowly until they ceased entirely.
The missionary and his daughter exchanged glances.
"They are getting under way," Zender declared. "Wait here."
The girl shook her head.
"No, Father. I'm going with you. There are two aboard that cruiser."
The Reverend Zender stared wordlessly at the girl a moment, then answered. "I am not going to the cruiser until I am certain the others are on their way," he said. "Please remain here, Carol, until I return."
The girl started to object, then bit her underlip and said nothing.
"Will you promise to remain here?" her father asked.
Silently, the girl nodded.
The missionary stepped forward and touched the girl's shoulder briefly, wordlessly, his eyes speaking his emotions.
The silence held for several moments. Then he said:
He turned away then, and strode into the thick green tangle of the undergrowth. The girl watched her father disappear into the verdant jungle wall, then waited until the sound of his body crashing through the brush was dim in the distance.
Then she set out after him ...
THE missionary watched the brigands pass along the trail a scant fifty yards from where he crouched in the concealment of the jungle brush. He held his electra-rifle in his hands, his knuckles going white as his fingers tightened on the stock.
When the last of the small procession had passed, Zender stepped out onto the trail and started back in the direction from which they had come. It was many minutes later when the gaunt, grim figure of the missionary stepped back into the concealment of the green swamp jungles, striking through the brush to bring himself to the edge of the clearing near the space mooring wharf.
There he crouched and watched, scarcely breathing, his eyes steadily regarding the black-sheened space cruiser moored at the extreme end of the wharf.
Satisfied at last that he saw no signs of life, Zender emerged from his concealment and moved swiftly across the clearing toward the space cruiser. He ran low, bent well forward, his tall frame silhouetted grotesquely against the gray murkiness of dawn.
He reached the wharf unchallenged, and gained the side of the big cruiser split-seconds later, moving swiftly toward the disembarkation hatch that yawned blackly open a scant twenty yards on.
There was no sign there of the two sentries who had guarded the cruiser from that post several hours before. Silently, Zender moved up the sloping gangwalk into the sidehatch opening. He almost stumbled over a dozing guard sprawled there.
The fellow snorted, spluttered, and started to cry out. In swift and vicious repetition the missionary brought his electra-rifle butt smashing down on his skull again and again. The guard was no longer breathing when Zender bent over his body moments later.
The missionary had scarcely turned away from his victim when he heard the puzzled shout of the other guard ring through the darkness. The voice came from a compartment at the end of the corridor onto which the sidehatch had opened. The sharp query was in Venusian.
The missionary shouted back instantly, in the same tongue, and was rewarded by the sound of a door slamming and feet running down the corridor toward the sidehatch opening.
Zender stepped back and waited.
He reappeared just as the second guard stumbled upon the body of his comrade in the darkness. Reappeared and swung the weapon in his hand, club-fashion, against the back of the Venusian brigand's neck. The sound of snapping bone was sharp and satisfying, and the brigand grunted and toppled forward across the body of his comrade.
The missionary waited, not daring to breathe, listening intently. There might have been a change. There might be more than two. A minute passed, and the silence held. There were no others. The Reverend Zender expelled his breath heavily, and leaned back against the sidehatch.
He stared at the bodies in the darkness at his feet, and suddenly realized that he was trembling from head to foot. He looked at the rifle in his hands, horror and disgust flooding him as his big fingers touched the sticky stock. Sickly, he let it drop to the floor.
The Reverend Zender drew in a deep, shuddering breath and fought off the nausea that momentarily assailed him. His wide, thin-lipped mouth went taut, and he straightened his shoulders.
He looked around for another weapon, and saw the small pouch lying near the hatch opening. The bulge of the small, round objects in the pouch told him what it contained. He stepped over to it and picked it up....
THE Reverend Zender found Carol lying beside the trail when he started back from the cruiser some ten minutes later. The girl was unconscious, and a purple bruise marked her forehead. The rock against which she had fallen was less than a foot from her head, and the thorny crawler-vine that had tripped her was in evidence.
He stared at her for a moment of horror, then bent and lifted her into his arms. She was breathing softly, but regularly, and her heartbeat was strong.
The missionary looked around him in despair. There was no place he could safely leave her, and no time in which to bring her back to consciousness. He made his decision without further hesitation, and started down the trail in the direction the brigands had taken, his daughter still in his arms....
TORGAN'S route proved to be incredibly more difficult and treacherous than the one over which the giant Igakuroan and the rugged Cardigan had tracked down Bennett. But as the green-skinned guide had promised, it was considerably more direct.
The trio arrived at Shaft Eighty in but half the time the outward leg of the journey had taken. The bright heat of early Igakuroan morning had supplanted the saffron shafts of dawn which had lighted the wide drill clearing when they had first set out from it.
Although in his time estimate on the potential movements of the brigands Cardigan had predicted that they would wait until dawn to start out for the var-dust loot, he took no chances on his calculations being overly optimistic. He sent Torgan back along the main trail to guard against any premature approach of the brigands, while he went to work on Bennett's ankle with supplies from the medicine kits he took from the drill shaft shacks.
Bennett had regained consciousness, and through his partner's ministrations of strong restoratives, was clear-headed and considerably less exhausted than when they'd found him in the swamp jungles.
At Bennett's insistence, Cardigan had permitted his partner to try to walk. But the effort had been futile, and brought a fresh wave of nausea and dizzying pain to Bennett.
The blond young engineer sat weakly back, biting his underlip as tears came to his eyes.
"Dammit, Cleve," he cursed, "I'm a drag, not a help. You should shoot me and travel light."
Cardigan snapped his fingers.
"That's a hell of a fine idea," he exclaimed.
Bennett looked at him somewhat startledly, as Cardigan turned away, dashed into a drill shack, and returned again a few moments later with a small box in his hand.
"Off with that space boot again," Cardigan said. He removed the boot from Bennett's injured foot as the other gritted his teeth against the pain.
Then Cardigan busily began to unwind the bandage wrappings he had so painstakingly put on his partner's horribly swollen ankle moments before.
Bennett watched hopefully, as Cardigan opened the small box he'd taken from the drill shack. Cardigan brought forth a hypo needle and a small glass tube which he inserted in it.
He looked up at Bennett and grinned.
"We're going to shoot your leg," he said. "Full of novophene. Strictly local anesthetic. It'll leave you your reflex control and sensation in that foot without any further pain. I'll slap the brace wrappings back on the foot once it's full of the stuff. That'll prevent any motion of it which might be permanently injurious. In ten minutes you'll be able to put that foot under a drill driver without a touch of pain."
Bennett's grin was broad and appreciative.
"You're a conniving cutthroat," he said. "Any medical society would oust you for a stunt like that. But go ahead, butcher. I love it."
Cardigan drove the needle into Bennett's ankle.
"What the hell," he said. "No one can snatch my medical license. I haven't got one."
Cardigan had predicted, Bennett was able to move around on his feet again in ten minutes, even though he hobbled slightly. Torgan came back to the clearing as Bennett was slapping his partner's back.
"They on way along trail!"
The grin left Cardigan's face. "How far away?" he asked.
"They no know trail. Move damn slow," Torgan said, frowning in calculation. "They mile and half away now, closer two mile. Take maybe half hour, maybe little more half hour."
Bennett broke in.
"How many come?" he demanded.
"All many," said Torgan, holding up both hands, fingers spread.
"Ten, eh?" Cardigan frowned. "And we're three," he added thoughtfully. He turned to Bennett, still frowning. "If we're gonna save our hides and our fortune, Pete," he said, "we'll have to think fast. Any ideas?"
"Trail ambush," Bennett suggested after a moment.
"We're only three," Cardigan said, shaking his head. "We'd have damn little chance for that."
Bennett nodded in agreement.
"You're right," he admitted. "It was just the first thing that popped into my skull."
"Blow up once," Torgan said regretfully, referring to the explosion—caused by the Venus Maiden—which had destroyed the second of the raiding space cruisers. "Too bad no chance blow up again." He shrugged his big shoulders disappointedly.
Bennett and Cardigan spoke almost simultaneously, the latter's voice an instant later than his blond partner's.
"Damn, Cleve, that's an idea!"
"The nitrosite!" Cardigan exclaimed.*
* Nitrosite, a highly developed explosive used extensively for shaft blasting in interplanetary mining operations. —Ed.
They both stopped abruptly, looked at the puzzled Torgan, and broke into exultant laughter.
"Lord, Cleve," Bennett said, "there's enough of the explosive in the shack by the var-dust cache to do the job!"
Torgan stared at them puzzledly, wondering how his wishful thinking aloud had helped.
"We can barricade ourselves in the tunnel leading to the var-dust underground supply stores," Cardigan said. "Make it look strictly last ditch defense. That small ridge across the center of the clearing around the var-dust cache will seem like a natural for them to select as a breastwork from which to pick us off. The ridge is within excellent range of the underground cache tunnel and they won't hesitate to line themselves up behind it for the siege." Bennett nodded.
"Perfect. And all we do is have the ridge mined with the nitrosite sticks, have the sticks fused in on a central charge wire which we set off from the tunnel entrance, once they're nicely grouped for the killing!"
"Brother," said Cardigan, "you're talking lovely language. But let's get started. We'll have to work fast. We can't afford to post Torgan on watch along the trail, since we'll need his expert hand in covering up any trace of our nitrosite planting."
THE var-dust cache was located in a slightly smaller clearing some two hundred yards from the open area around the shaft and drill shacks of Eighty. It was accessible only through a thick jungle of astera-tropical vegetation some fifty yards deep and three hundred yards long.
The cache itself lay at the far end of the clearing and consisted of an underground duralloy constructed shelter sixty yards long and twenty yards wide. It had but one entrance and exit, that consisting of a sloping tunnel which ran from the surface of the clearing twenty feet down into the vault.
Lying less than fifty yards from the tunnel entrance—and almost directly in the center of the clearing—was the natural mud ridge breastwork in which Cardigan and Bennett had determined to plant the nitrosite.
Save for the squat shack in the far corner of the clearing where the nitrosite had been stored out of range of shaft blasting operations, the rest of area was open.
Cardigan, Bennett, and Torgan quickly emptied the squat shack of its nitrosite supply, carrying the boxes of the foot-length explosive charges directly to the mud ridge breastwork in the center of the clearing.
Bennett buried the charges as Cardigan wired them. Following behind their operations, Torgan cleverly removed all betraying traces of the planted explosives.
At length the mine field was laid, covering the entire length of the natural breastwork and an area of a dozen yards behind it. Cardigan unwinding the charged wire from the breastwork to the tunnel, Torgan followed along cunningly concealing the evidences of its presence.
The planting of the mine trap took almost half an hour, and when it was accomplished, Bennett, Cardigan and Torgan retired to a position in the mouth of the vault tunnel to wait.
The moments passed like separate eternities. Torgan, of the three, was the only one showing no impatience. He lay sprawled forward on the tunnel floor with Cardigan at his right and Bennett just beyond, moving not a muscle as he held his electra-rifle trained on the edge of the clearing through which the brigand band would be most likely to appear.
Cardigan cursed in a steady, almost inaudible monotone betraying his impatience and anxiety, while Bennett shifted his position again.
Finally, after more minutes which were seemingly centuries, Torgan looked up from the sights on his electra-rifle to announce: "They coming."
Cardigan's cursing stopped abruptly. Bennett quit his restless shifting, and his lean, long body stiffened tautly. A minute passed, and then Cardigan and his partner were able to hear the sounds which Torgan had caught before them.
Voices, low and cautious, and the noise of bodies pushing through the thick jungle brush.
"They're at the edge of the drill shaft clearing," Cardigan whispered. "They'll be pushing through to this clearing in a minute or so."
THE voices were slightly more audible, but still indistinguishable, now, and definitely drawing closer with every instant. Then there was the sound of bodies moving through the underbrush once more, and Bennett exchanged glances with his partner.
"Open as accurate fire as we can from this distance the moment one of them pokes his head out of the clearing," Cardigan whispered. "If you can pick a couple off, so much the better. We want to make it seem like we're trying to keep 'em from gaining the breastwork."
"Right," Bennett muttered.
Torgan's grunt indicated pleasure at the suggestion.
The first of the brigands stepped from the brush into the clearing less than four seconds later.
Torgan's electra-rifle crackled, and the brigand, a short, swarthy man, dropped quickly to the ground, shouting something in sharp alarm.
"You're too high," Cardigan said.
Torgan's grunt of disgust was drowned by sudden shouts from the underbrush as the rest of the brigand band piled out into the clearing and, hurling themselves to the ground, immediately opened an incredibly swift answering fire.
Both Bennett and Cardigan were firing as rapidly as possible, now, as the brigands poured forth from the jungle thickets. The air was electric with the crackling exchange of fire.
"Got one!" grunted Cardigan as a brigand stepped from the underbrush and pitched back into it with a sprawling, wide-armed lurch.
"Another!" Bennett exclaimed an instant later, as the first of the attackers tried to rise and sprawled face forward, arms outthrust.
The fire from the brigand line suddenly ceased, the silence being shattered only by the electra-rifle crackling from the tunnel now.
"Hold it," Bennett snapped.
Torgan and Cardigan ceased firing.
"How many piled out?" Bennett asked. "I counted six."
"So did I," Bennett said. "As long as they keep their heads low we can't get any more from this range."
"There's four still in cover in the brush, then," Bennett declared.
In confirmation of his statement, a fresh burst of electra-rifle volleying started from the brush at the edge of the clearing.
"Low!" Cardigan snapped. Bennett and Torgan followed his example and hugged the tunnel floor. The fire from the electra-rifles crackled perilously close to their position.
"Cover fire," Bennett said, grimly satisfied, "while the four already out of the clearing make a dash for the breastwork!"
Cardigan grinned crookedly, reaching back to touch the charge switch on the mine plants lovingly.
"That suits me fine," he said. "I hope none of 'em stumbles."
"They've made the breastwork," Bennett reported a moment later, as he raised his head slightly again.
Electra-rifle fire began to crackle from the breastwork gained by the attackers, now, and it was just as effective in keeping Torgan, Cardigan and Bennett from response as the fire from the brush had been.
Cardigan lifted his head slightly.
"Another covering fire stunt," he reported. "The four from the brush are making a dash for the breastworks. There's a huge son-of-a-spacebum out in front of that dash. Damn—he's almost Torgan's proportions!"
CARDIGAN dropped back and reached for the switch that would throw the explosion charge on the nitrosite buried under the mud ridge breastwork.
"Take a peek," he grunted to Bennett, "and let me know the minute they're all lined up for the trip to hell. We can't run the risk of one of 'em getting wise from that range and tossing an atomic grenade into our tunnel. We gotta make this short and sweet."
"Hold it," Bennett snapped. "We aren't certain that there aren't any more of them. If there are, they'll pop out an' line up with their pals behind the ridge in another few minutes. If there aren't, we'll know pretty quickly."
"Dammit, hurry!" Cardigan insisted.
The electra-fire, from the breastwork ceased suddenly. Bennett raised himself on one elbow, peering forward.
"Just a few seconds longer," he cautioned Cardigan. "We'll know if there'll be others in a moment."
A voice coming from behind the mud ridge breastwork suddenly broke the silence.
"One chance," it boomed across to them. "Come out now, hands high, minus weapons. We want only the var-dust. You can save yourselves if you come out, hands high, now!"
"Sure, give it to 'em on a platter, and then end up with our heads on the same platter!" Cardigan snorted. "We'll do no coming out, but they certainly will, right now!"
"Damn it!" Bennett snapped. "Hold it a moment longer. There might be others. That proposition rings suspicious to me."
"But not suspicious enough to me," Cardigan growled. "Here they go—up in smoke!"
At that instant another voice rang out across the clearing. A voice eerily familiar to both Cardigan and Bennett.
"Stop!" the voice cried. "Cease this carnage!"
The three in the tunnel turned instantly in the direction from which this new voice came, turned to see the tall, gaunt, black-tunicked figure to whom the voice belonged striding out into the clearing from the far corner.
"My God—the Reverend!" Bennett gasped.
"Zender!" Cardigan exclaimed.
The tall, big-boned, awkward figure of the missionary was moving slowly, majestically, toward the breastwork of mud ridge shielding the brigands. Cardigan and Bennett exchanged sick, wordless glances as the missionary threw his long arms wide and boomed forth another command.
"Repent, ye spawn of the devil!" the Reverend Zender thundered. "Repent, before more blood stains your hands!"
The tall, somber-tunicked figure had acted almost hypnotically on both sides of the battle line, and the ridiculously booming pulpit-like commands had furthered the electric spell.
"They'll plug him soon as they believe their eyes and ears!" Cardigan whispered huskily. "I'd better throw the switch pronto!"
"You can't!" Bennett grabbed his partner's arm savagely. "He's in range of the explosion. It would blow him spaceward with the others!"
CARDIGAN'S lips moved wordlessly in silent profanity. He glared from Bennett back to the gauntly commanding figure of the Reverend Zender who had now paused less than ten yards from the mud ridge breastwork and stood rigidly, arms still outstretched, facing the brigands.
"The damned fool!" Cardigan grated.
"The crazy damned fool!"
"Good God!" Bennett exclaimed hoarsely. "I think I know what the idiot is trying to do!"
"Trying to do—nothing," Cardigan rasped. "He's gone raving mad, I tell you. He doesn't know what he's doing!"
"Don't you see?" Bennett choked. "He thinks he's creating diversion enough to get us the hell out of this apparent trap in the tunnel mouth. He's giving us our only possible break to make a dash for the jungle fringe. The poor damned fool would naturally have no idea that we're holed up here by choice. He thinks he's making the great sacrifice!"
Cardigan's expression was one of futile rage.
"If he's bent on making himself a sacrificial pig, we might as well blow the works up right now!" he argued.
"No!" Bennett snapped. He raised himself on his elbows and started wriggling from the tunnel mouth.
"Stay here, you idiot!" Cardigan hissed. "You can't help him."
But Bennett was already beyond Cardigan's frantic reach for his legs, wriggling rapidly over the clearing toward Zender. The tall, gaunt missionary's distraction still held the attention of the brigands behind the mud-ridge breastwork for the moment, and they weren't aware of Bennett's sudden action as yet.
Neither was the Reverend Zender.
"Put down your arms!" he roared. "Put down your arms and end this carnage!"
An electra-rifle crackled suddenly, and the Reverend Zender toppled sideward to the ground. Cardigan turned, to see Torgan, who had fired the shot at the missionary, methodically sighting his weapon for another blast at the man he'd downed.
"Torgan!" Cardigan hissed angrily.
The big Igakuroan turned an impassive green face to Cardigan. He looked surprised.
"Mission Boss in way; Torgan put out of way," he said. Then he added apologetically, "Only catch in leg. Better this time."
Cardigan grabbed the barrel of the weapon with one hand.
"Hold your fire," he whispered hoarsely.
Zender had fallen close by the front of the breastworks, and was apparently not seriously wounded. The missionary was trying to rise and having difficulty in doing so.
Bennett, at the sound of Torgan's shot, had stopped snaking forward toward the missionary, and now hugged the ground in the scant cover of a shallow ditch.
And then the brigand fire opened.
Cursing, Cardigan released his grasp on Torgan's gun and opened fire with his own rifle.
"All right," he shouted. "Fire now—at the one behind the mud ridge, not at the other two! Try to give Bennett Boss some sort of covering fire!"
CARDIGAN concentrated on seeking a target at any point along the breastworks, raking his fire evenly along the mud ridge in an effort to keep any of the brigands from exposing themselves long enough to draw an accurate bead on Bennett.
The crackling of fire and counter fire was an unbroken din, now; and Torgan, seeing Cardigan's method of fire, complemented it with a cross fire, working along from the opposite point of the breastworks.
Cardigan cursed volubly again, as he saw Bennett wriggle forward from the shallow ditch and continue toward the fallen Zender who, close to the edge of the mud ridge, was out of the brigand's line of fire.
But Zender had seen Bennett at last, and was dragging himself from his position of temporary safety. Dragging himself out toward the center of the clearing between the two battle lines, and ignoring Bennett's line of approach.
Cardigan continued to work his electra-rifle steadily back and forth along the top of the mud ridge, and Torgan kept up his counter directional fire.
Bennett had paused again, hugging the ground, on seeing Zender's strange reaction to assistance from him.
"That should teach the damned lunatic a lesson, if he lives through it," Cardigan snarled. "His heroic rescue is a dud, as far as that mad-man Zender's willingness to be rescued goes."
The crackle of electra-rifle fire continued unabated, and Zender was now almost equidistant between the tunnel mouth and the mud ridge breastwork.
Torgan stopped firing long enough to jab Cardigan's arm with his thumb.
"Maybe blow-up now," he suggested. "Bennett Boss and Mission Boss both out of bad-close distance."
For once Cardigan cursed himself. He had forgotten the mine switch completely in the ensuing excitement after Bennett had started for Zender. Profanely, Cardigan told himself so, while ordering Torgan to take up the fire again as he reached back for the switch.
Cardigan found the detonation switch and turned, wanting one last assurance that both Bennett and the wounded missionary were out of range.
It was then that he saw Zender rise lurchingly to his feet.
The missionary was apparently oblivious to the fact that he was exposing himself utterly to a blazing crossfire. He seemed only concerned in fumbling at his black tunic jacket in search of something inside it.
Jaw rigid, Cardigan watched, his hand still on the detonator. What in the hell was the mad-man doing?
And then Cardigan saw. Zender's hand came forth from his black tunic jacket holding a silver metal ball the size of a huge egg.
"Good God!" Cardigan exploded, "An atomic hand grenade!"
The Reverend Zender let fly with the missile in the next instant. Let fly unerringly, hurling the missile into the center of the brigand breastworks.
THE explosion was immediate and deafening! The ground shook and smoke billowed whitely upward, obscuring the entire mud ridge. The shock of the burst threw Zender to the ground; and as Cardigan looked up again, the missionary took another atomic grenade from his tunic jacket and hurled it at what remained of the brigand defense works.
The second detonation was just as deafening as the first, and considerably more final in its results. There was nothing remaining of the mud ridge when the smoke cleared.
Bennett was on his feet, then, running toward the prostrate missionary. Cardigan, climbing from the tunnel, was followed by Torgan in a dash toward the same spot.
When they reached the missionary, Bennett had already assisted the Reverend Zender to his feet. The gaunt-faced man was dazed, and blood ran from his mud smeared features, but he smiled weakly.
"I think that took care of them, gentlemen," he said.
"Your daughter?" Bennett asked. "Where is your daughter?"
"She is safe," the missionary said. "Somewhere in the thicket fringes of the clearing."
Bennett went off instantly in the direction the missionary had indicated, leaving Cardigan and Torgan to help the Reverend Zender.
The missionary made a grimace of pain as he hobbled along between Cardigan and the huge native.
"I hope I didn't interfere with your plans too much, Mr. Cardigan," he said dryly.
Cleve Cardigan suddenly exploded.
With cold anger at first—anger ultimately giving way to searing rage—he told the missionary just how much and in what fashion he had interfered with the mine trap which had been set for the brigands. And as Cardigan lapsed into lurid verbal estimation of the interference, the Reverend Zender grew increasingly tight-lipped and white-faced.
Cardigan finished with:
"And therefore, Zender, if you're pinning medals on yourself for your lunacy and luck, you know what you—"
Torgan cut Cardigan off.
"But Cardigan Boss," he said puzzledly, "blow-up trap not work. You throw blow-up switch once and it not work."
Cardigan gaped at Torgan in astonishment.
"What in the hell are you talking about?" he demanded.
"When Mission Boss stand up to throw egg, I see your hand, Cardigan Boss, throw switch by mistake. I wait for blow-up. But blow-up not come. Not come until egg from Mission hit mud ridge."
"You mean I accidentally threw the switch just before he tossed the grenade?" Cardigan exploded. "You're crazy, Torgan. Why, if I threw that switch it would have made an instantaneous detonation of those mines and—" He paused, suddenly white faced. "Just a minute," he said weakly.
Cardigan turned away and walked swiftly back to the tunnel entrance. He bent over the detonation switch box which had been left there. The switch had been pushed to "contact." He gulped, straightening up. Then a wire leading from the box to the tunnel edge caught his eye, and he saw why the detonator would never have exploded the mines. One of the sharp edges of the duralloy tunnel had somehow caught the wire and severed it.
Cardigan returned to the missionary and Torgan slowly. His face was crimson.
"Reverend," he said huskily, "I want you to do me a favor. I want you to use your kicking foot on my backside as soon as that leg of your heals again."
The Reverend Zender smiled.
"I'll be very glad to, Mr. Cardigan," he said....
CARDIGAN looked up as the Reverend Zender, leg swathed in bandages, limped onto the shattered veranda of a badly scarred compound many hours later. Cardigan had put away a quarter of the bottle of whiskey on the table before him, and was well on his way toward finishing off the rest.
The missionary took a seat across the table from the wide-shouldered young man.
"You mind, Reverend?" Cardigan asked uncomfortably, indicating the bottle on the table.
The missionary shrugged, smiling faintly.
"I didn't come here to convert you, Cardigan. I came to serve as a missionary for the natives."
Cardigan grinned. "That's good," he said. Then he added: "How's your daughter?"
"Just fine," said the Reverend Zender. "It is just as well she was unconscious in those thickets when I marched out to—ah—" he smiled wryly, "upset your plans. Otherwise, I'd have had trouble keeping her out of the thick of things."
"I take it, then, that she is stubborn," Cardigan said.
The Reverend Zender winced.
"Even more than her mother was," he said. He smiled. "Yes, Carol is a very determined girl. Though few people realize it, she more or less rules me, you know."
"Is that so?" Cardigan said. He filled his glass, took a sip, sighed. "She's having Pete Bennett show her around the shambles of the wharfside at the moment, isn't she?"
The missionary nodded. "I think she has taken a fancy to young Mr. Bennett."
"Have a drink, why don't you?" Cardigan asked suddenly.
The Reverend Zender shook his head. "Frankly, I'd like to. I don't disapprove of a little now and then in—ah—moderation. But," and his grin was suddenly wry, "my daughter will not permit me to indulge."
Cardigan had a hard time keeping his face straight.
"Then she drastically disapproves?" he asked.
The missionary nodded.
Cardigan broke into a grin which he could no longer conceal. He took a deep draught from his glass, put it down, and began to chuckle.
The Reverend Zender looked at him curiously.
Cardigan stopped chuckling, and, still smiling, explained:
"I was thinking of my partner, Pete Bennett," he said. "He has taken the same fancy to your daughter as she has to him. Supposing they're married?"
"They will be," said the missionary, smiling, "She told me she had decided to marry him, and she always has her way."
Cardigan's laughter was unrestrained. Between whoops he said: "Don't get me wrong. She's a beautiful girl. But Pete's habits are—well—as bad as mine. I was just thinking ... how quick he'll have them changed."
The Reverend Zender's grin was wide.
"They will be changed so swiftly his head will swim," he promised. Then he sighed. "But I am looking forward to that marriage, young man. For you see, once Carol has young Bennett to boss, I'll gain my own freedom."
Cardigan broke into laughter, and this time the missionary joined him. They were still laughing as Pete Bennett and Carol Zender came up the veranda steps.
Neither Bennett nor the girl knew why....
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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