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´╗┐Title: Fee of the Frontier
Author: Fyfe, Horace Brown, 1918-1997
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Fee of the Frontier" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Amazing Stories August 1960. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.


  _They didn't think of themselves as
   pioneers. They simply had a job to
   do. And if they had to give up
   money, or power, or love--or life
     itself--that was the_


                              FEE OF THE
                               FRONTIER


                            By H. B. FYFE


                           ILLUSTRATOR EMSH

       *       *       *       *       *



From inside the dome, the night sky is a beautiful thing, even though
Deimos and Phobos are nothing to brag about. If you walk outside,
maybe as far as the rocket field, you notice a difference.

Past the narrow developed strip around the dome, the desert land lies
as chilled and brittle as it did for eons before Earthmen reached
Mars. The sky is suddenly raw and cruel. You pull your furs around
your nose and check your oxygen mask, and wish you were _inside_
something, even a thin wall of clear plastic.

I like to stand here, though, and look out at it, just thinking about
how far those ships grope out into the dark nowadays, and about the
men who have gone out there on a few jets and a lot of guts. I knew a
bunch of them ... some still out there, I guess.

[Illustration]

There was a time when nearly everything had to be rocketed out from
Earth, before they organized all those chemical tricks that change the
Martian crops to real food. Domes weren't fancy then. Adequate, of
course; no sense in taking chances with lives that cost so much fuel
to bring here. Still, the colonies kept growing. Where people go,
others follow to live off them, one way or another. It began to look
like time for the next step outward.

Oh, the Asteroids ... sure. Not them. I did a bit of hopping there in
my own time. In fact--on account of conditions beyond my choice and
control--I spent too much time on the wrong side of the hull shields.
One fine day, the medics told me I'd have to be a Martian for the rest
of my life. Even the one-way hop back to Earth was "not recommended."

So I used to watch the ships go out. I still remember one that almost
missed leaving. _The Martian Merchant._ What joker thought that would
be a good name for an exploring ship I can't imagine, but it always
happens that way.

I was starting my cross-country tractor line then, and had just made
the run from Schiaparelli to Asaph Dome, which was not as nice as it
is now but still pretty civilized for the time. They had eight or ten
bars, taverns, and other amusements, and were already getting to be
quite a city.

One of the taverns near the western airlock was named the _Stardust_,
and I was approaching, measuring the sand in my throat, when these
spacers came out. The first one in sight was a blocky, dark-haired
fellow. He came rolling through the door with a man under each arm.

Just as I got there, he made it to his feet somehow and cracked their
heads together exactly hard enough to bring peace. He acted like a man
used to handling things with precision. He glanced quickly at me out
of a square, serious face, then plunged back through the splintered
door toward the breakup inside.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a moment, he came out again, with two friends who looked the worse
for wear. The tall, lean youngster wore a junior pilot's bands on the
sleeves of his blue uniform. His untidy hair was rumpled, as if
someone had been hanging onto it while in the process of giving him
the shiner.

The other one was shorter and a good deal neater. Even with his tunic
ripped down the front, he gave the impression of making it his life
business to be neat. He was turning gray at the temples and growing a
little bulge under his belt, which lent a dignity worthy of his trim
mustache and expression of deferential politeness. He paused briefly
to hurl an empty bottle at someone's head.

"Better take the alley there," I told the blocky one, on impulse.
"It'll bring you out at the tractor lot and I'll give you a lift to
your ship."

He wasted no time on questions, just grabbed his friends and
disappeared before the crowd came out. I walked around a couple of
corners and back to my tractor bus. This lot was only a clear space
inside the Number Four Airlock. At that time, two or three tractors
came in every day from the mines or other domes. Most of the traffic
was to and from the spaceport.

"Who's that?" asked a low voice from the shadows.

"Tony Lewis," I answered.

The three of them moved into the dim light from the airlock guardpost.

"Thanks for the steer," said the blocky one, "but we can stay till
morning."

He seemed as fresh as if he had just landed. His friends were a trifle
worn around the edges.

"Keep playing that rough," I said, "and you may not make it to
morning."

He just grinned. "We have to," he said, "or the ship can't blast off."

"Oh, you three make the ship go, huh?"

"Just about. This is Hugh Konnel, the third pilot; the gent with the
dignified air is Ron Meadows, the steward. I'm Jim Howlet, and I look
after the fuel system."

I admitted that the ship could hardly do without them. Howlet's
expression suggested that he was searching his memory.

"Lewis ..." he murmured. "I've heard of Tony Lewis somewhere. You a
spacer?"

"Used to be," I told him. "Did some piloting in the Belt."

Young Konnel stopped fingering his eye.

"Oh, I've heard of you," he said. "Even had to read some of your
reports."

       *       *       *       *       *

After that, one thing led to another, with the result that I offered
to find somewhere else to relax. We walked south from the airlock,
past a careless assortment of buildings. In those days, there was not
much detailed planning of the domes. What was necessary for safety and
for keeping the air thicker and warmer than outside was done right;
the remaining space was grabbed by the first comers.

Streets tended to be narrow. As long as an emergency truck could
squeeze through at moderate speed, that was enough. The buildings grew
higher toward the center of the dome, but I stopped while they were
still two stories.

The outside of Jorgensen's looked like any other flimsy construction
under the dome. We had just passed a row of small warehouses, and the
only difference seemed to be the lighted sign at the front.

"We can stop at the bar inside while we order dinner," I said.

"Sounds good," said Howlet. "I could go for a decent meal. Rations on
an exploring ship run more to calories than taste."

The pilot muttered something behind us. Howlet turned his head.

"Don't worry about it, Hughie," he retorted. "It'll be all over the
dome by tomorrow anyway."

"But they said not to--"

"Mr. Lewis won't say anything, and he's not the only spacer who'll
guess it."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was easy to figure out. Ships did little exploring in the Belt
now--plenty of untouched rocks there but nothing really unknown.
"Exploring" could only mean that a hop to Jupiter was in the works at
last. There had already been rumors about a few wide swings outside
the Belt.

Well, it was just about time.

I would have liked to go too, and it was more than just a spacer's
curiosity. To my mind, man _had_ to move out in space. Being only
halfway in control of his own planetary system was no state to be
found in by the first interstellar visitors.

That is a meeting bound to happen sooner or later. It would be better
for the human race to be able to do the visiting, I thought.

The inside of Jorgensen's always surprised new visitors to Asaph Dome.
It was different from anything on Earth, and yet not too much like the
real Mars either. That way, Jorgensen hoped to catch both the
sandeaters and the tourists. The latter came to rough it in local
color, the former to dream of a better world.

"Hey! Look at the stars over the bar!" exclaimed Howlet.

To begin with, the bar was of pinkish sandstone, smoothed and covered
by a coating of plastic. Behind it, instead of less imaginative
mirrors or bottle displays, Jorgensen had had some drifter paint a
night desert: all dull pink and bronze crags smothering in sand under
a black sky. The stars twinkled like glass beads, which they were.
Lights were dim enough to hide the Martian austerity of the metal
furnishings.

"The Earth tourists spend a lot of time here," I told the trio. "Seems
they'd rather look at that sky than the real one outside the dome."

The dining room was for the souls of the locals, who could admire the
desert more conveniently than find a good meal. It was mostly green
and white, with a good deal of the white being crystal. In the
corners stood fake pine trees which Jorgensen had repainted every
month; but what drew the sandeaters was the little fountain in the
middle of the room.

Real water!

Of course, it was the same gallon or two pumped around and around, but
clear, flowing water is a sight on Mars. When the muddy trickles in
the canals began to make you feel like diving in for a swim, you
stopped in at Jorgensen's to watch the fountain while his quiet, husky
waiters served your dinner most efficiently.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Say, this is a cut or two above ship chow," admitted Konnel when the
food arrived. "What's that? Music too?"

"They have a trio that plays now and then," I told him. "Sometimes a
singer too, when not much is going on in the back room."

"Back room?" Howlet caught up the words.

"Never mind. What would you do right now with a million? Assuming you
could beat the wheel or the other games in the first place."

"Do they use ... er ... real money?" asked Meadows, cocking an
eyebrow.

"Real as you like," I assured him. "It collects in these places. I
guess lots of sandeaters think they might pick up a first-class fare
back to Earth."

"Do they?" inquired Konnel, chewing on his steak.

The string trio, which had been tuning up, eased into a quiet song as
he spoke. We listened as the question hung in the air, and I decided
that the funny feeling under my belt was homesickness, all the
stranger because I owned three homes not too far from the Martian
equator.

"As far as I know," I answered, "the luck seems to run to those who
can't go back anyway, for one reason or another. The ones just waiting
for a lucky night to go home rich ... are still waiting."

The door to the back room opened, letting through a blend of talk and
small mechanical noises. It also emitted a strikingly mismatched
couple.

The girl was dark-haired and graceful, though not very tall. She wore
a lavender gown that showed a good deal of trim back as she turned to
walk toward the musicians, and what the gown overlooked the walk
demonstrated. The man was fat enough to make him seem short until he
approached. His face and baldish dome were desert-reddened, and his
eyebrows were faded to invisibility. Jorgensen.

Nodding casually to various diners, he noticed the new faces at our
table. He ambled over lightly for one of his bulk, and it became
apparent that he was far from being blubbery. His belly stuck out, but
he could probably knock the wind out of you with it.

"Hello, Tony!" he said in a wheezy tenor. "Introducing some friends to
the best hamburger joint on Mars?"

Then he leaned on the back of Konnel's chair and told a couple of his
old prospecting yarns to make sure everybody was happy, while the girl
began to sing with the trio. She had hardly enough voice to be heard
over Jorgensen's stories. I noticed Konnel straining to listen.

Finally, Jorgensen saw it too. Leaving Howlet and Meadows grinning at
a highly improbable adventure, he slapped the boy on the shoulder.

"I see you noticed Lilac Malone, boy. Like to buy her coffee?"

"C-coffee?" stuttered Konnel.

"Made with water," I reminded him. "Awful waste here. Like champagne."

"I'll tell her she's invited," said Jorgensen, waggling a finger at
her.

"The fellows are going out in the morning," I tried to head him off.
"They don't have much time--"

"All the more reason to meet Lilac while they can!"

We watched her finish her song. She had rhythm, and the lavender dress
swirled cutely around her in the Martian gravity; but, of course,
Lilac would never have made a singer on Earth. Her voice was more
good-natured than musical.

She arrived with the coffee, said "hello" to me, waved good-bye to
Jorgensen's back, and set out to get acquainted with the others.
Catching Howlet's wink, and suspecting that he was used to getting
Konnel back to space-ships, I relaxed and offered to show Meadows the
back room.

He muttered something about his gray hairs, but came along after an
amused glance at Lilac and Konnel.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jorgensen's gambling room was different from the bar and dining room
as they were from each other. Decorations were simple. Drapes of
velvety synthetic, dyed the deep green that Martian colonists like,
covered the walls. Indirect lighting gave a pretty gleam to the metal
gadgets on the tables. Because they used a heavier ball, roulette
looked about the same as on Earth, and the same went for the dice
games.

"Interesting," Meadows murmured, feeling in his pocket.

He pointed a thumb at the _planets_ table. It was round, with a small,
rectangular projection for the operator's controls and calculator. In
the nine differently colored circular tracks, rolled little globes
representing the planets. These orbits were connected by spirals of
corresponding colors, symbolic of ship orbits swooping inward or
outward to other planets.

"You pick yourself two planets," I explained. "For better odds, pick a
start and a destination. The man throws his switch and each little
ball is kicked around its groove by a random number of electrical
impulses."

"And how do I win?"

"Say you pick Venus-to-Saturn. See that silver spiral going out from
Venus and around the table to the orbit of Saturn? Well, if Venus
stops within that six-inch zone where the spiral starts _and_ if
Saturn is near where it ends, you scoop in the stardust."

Meadows fingered his mustache as he examined the table.

"I ... ah ... suppose the closer you come, the more you win, eh?"

"That's the theory. Most people are glad to get anything back. It's
honest enough, but the odds are terrific."

A couple of spacers made room for us, and I watched Meadows play for a
few minutes. The operator grinned when he saw me watching. He had a
lean, pale face and had been an astrogator until his heart left him in
need of Martian gravity.

"No coaching, Tony!" he kidded me.

"Stop making me look like a partner in the place!" I answered.

"Thought one night you were going to be.... No winners, gentlemen.
Next bets!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The spheres had come to rest with Pluto near one end of a lavender
spiral and Mercury touching the inner end, but no one had had the
insanity to bet that way. Meadows began to play inner planet
combinations that occasionally paid, though at short odds. He made a
bit on some near misses, and I decided to have a drink while he lost
it.

I found Howlet, Konnel, and Lilac Malone in the bar admiring the
red-bronze landscape. When he heard about Meadows, Howlet smiled.

"If it isn't fixed, they better prepare to abandon," he laughed.
"People look at that face and won't believe he always collects half
the ship's pay."

Lilac saw a chance to do her duty, and suggested that we all go in to
support Meadows. I stayed with my drink until Jorgensen drifted in to
have a couple with me and talk of the old days.

After a while, one of his helpers came up and murmured something into
his big red ear. He shrugged and waved his hand.

The next time it happened, about twenty minutes later, I was on the
point of matching him with a story about a petrified ancient Martian
that the domers at Schiaparelli dug out of a dry canal. Jorgensen
lowered his faded eyebrows and strode off like a bear on egg-shells,
leaving me there with the unspoken punch line about what they were
supposed to have dug up with the Martian.

_Well, that build-up was wasted_, I thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

Quite a number of sandeaters, as time passed, seemed to drift in and
out of the back room. Finally, Howlet showed up again.

"How'd you make out?" I asked when he had a drink in his hand.

"I left my usual deposit," he grinned, "but you ought to see Meadows!
Is he ever plugging their pipes! He ran Mercury to Pluto, and it paid
off big."

"It ought to; no one ever makes it."

"He did it _twice_! Plus other combinations. With him making out our
daily menus, I'll never know why I'm not lucky too. Know what he's
doing?"

I lifted an eyebrow.

"He's lending money to every loafer that puts the beam on him. But the
guy has to show a non-transferrable ticket for passage to Earth."

"Darn few can," I grunted.

"That's why he keeps sending them out with the price of one and the
promise to stake them when they get back. I never saw such
expressions!"

At that point, Jorgensen sailed through the curtained doorway between
the bar and back room. A craggy, desert look had settled on his red
moon-face. He introduced me to two men with him as if someone were
counting down from ten.

"Glad to meet you and Mr. Howlet," said the one called McNaughton.

I recognized "Mr. V'n Uh" as Van Etten, a leading citizen of the dome
who had been agitating with McNaughton and others of the Operating
Committee to form a regular police department. Jorgensen seemed to
have something else on his mind.

"Howlet, how about having a word with your shipmate?"

"What's he done wrong?" asked Howlet blandly.

Jorgensen scowled at a pair of baggy-seated sandeaters who strode
through the front door with pale green tickets clutched in their
hands. They sniffed once at the bar, but followed their stubbled chins
into the back room at max acc.

"I don't say it's wrong," growled Jorgensen, glaring after the pair.
"It just makes the place look bad."

"Oh, it's good advertising, Jorgy," laughed McNaughton. "People were
forgetting that game could be beaten. Now, Mr. Howlet--"

Jorgensen talked him under.

"It's not losing a little money that I mind--"

Some of the drink I was sneaking slipped down the wrong way.

"Well, it's _not_!" bellowed Jorgensen. "But if they all pick up the
broadcast that this is where to get a free ride home, I'll have just
another sand trap here."

Howlet shrugged and put down his glass. Van Etten nudged me and made a
face, so I got up first.

"Never mind," I said. "Being the one that took him in there, I'll
check."

Two more men came through the front door. The big one looked like a
bodyguard. The one with the dazed look carried a small metal case that
could be unfolded into a portable desk. He went up to Jorgensen and
asked where he could set up a temporary ticket office for Interplanet.

While I was watching over my shoulder, three or four sandeaters coming
out of the back room shoved me aside to get at him. The last I saw
before leaving was Van Etten shushing Jorgensen while McNaughton
grabbed Howlet by the tunic zipper for a sales talk.

Inside, after getting through the crowd at the _planets_ table, I
could see that a number of betters were following Meadows' plays,
making it that much worse for Jorgensen. Even Konnel had a small pile
before him, although he seemed to be losing some of Lilac's attention
to Meadows. While the little spheres spun in their orbits, the steward
counted out money into twitching palms, wrote names on slips of paper,
and placed bets. Somehow, he hit a winner every five or six bets,
which kept his stack growing.

       *       *       *       *       *

I joggled Lilac's elbow and indicated Konnel.

"How about taking him out for a drink so an old customer can squeeze
in for a few plays?" I said.

The money-glow faded gradually from her eyes as she focused on me. She
took her time deciding; but from the way she snuggled up to Konnel to
whisper in his ear, it looked as if she might really be stuck on him.
He winked at me.

Such a gasp went up as we changed places that I thought my cuff must
have brushed Pluto, but it was just Meadows making a long-odds hop
from Earth to Uranus. The operator no longer even flinched before
punching the distances and bet on his little computer, and groping in
his cash drawer to pay off.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stood there a few minutes, wondering if the game could be fixed
after all. Still, the man who invented it also made encoding machines
for the Earth space fleet. Meadows must be having a run of blind
luck--no time to interrupt.

On my way out, Howlet caught me at the door of the bar.

"How about some coffee?" he asked. "We'll have to start back soon.
You'll be surprised at the time. Dining room still open?"

"Always. Okay, let's sober up and watch the fountain."

Only two or three women and a dozen men sat in the restaurant now. The
part-time musicians had disappeared for a few hours of sleep before
their usual jobs. We ordered a thermos pot of coffee and Howlet asked
me about McNaughton.

"I guess it was on the level," he said when I described the man's
Committee position. "He got a boost out of how they had to patch up
some troublemaker he knew, after that bar fight we had. Wanted to make
me chief cop here."

"Some domes have regular police forces already," I confirmed.

"So he said. Claimed a lot of police chiefs have been elected as
mayors. Then he said that someday there will be a Martian Assembly,
and men with a start in dome politics will be ready for it, and so
on."

"He's exactly right," I admitted. "When do you figure to start?"

"Maybe the next time I pass through." He winked. "If it's still open."

I relaxed and grinned at him. Somehow, I liked his looks just then.

"You shouldn't be gone too long. It's a good spot to put your ladder
down."

He helped himself to more coffee and stared into his cup. I knew--the
watches near the end of a hop when you wondered about the dead, oily
air, when the ones off watch kept watching the astrogator's
expression, when you got the idea it was time to come in out of the
dark before you made that one slip.

_How many pick their landing?_ I thought. _How many never know how
close they come to making their mistake, or being a statistic in
somebody else's?_

"Why the double trance?" asked Meadows.

He brought with him a vague memory of departing chatter and tramping
feet in the background. Howlet shoved out a chair for him.

"Everything okay?" asked Jorgensen, bustling up. "Buy anyone a
drink?"

"What have they got there ... coffee?" asked Meadows, sniffing.

"Jimmy!" yelled Jorgensen to a waiter. "Pot of coffee for Ron! Hot!"

He slapped Meadows' shoulder and took his glowing red face away.

"What makes him your buddy?" I asked Meadows.

"In the end, I missed Mercury by ten inches and they got most of it
back!"

Then was no answer to that. He must have been half a million ahead.

"What about the sandeaters you promised to stake?" asked Howlet,
grinning like a man who has seen it happen before but still enjoys it.

"Some of them helped me lose it," said Meadows. "Now they will all
just have to use those tickets, I suppose. Where's Hughie and his
little friend? Coffee all around and we'll get on course, eh?"

"Thought he was with you," answered Howlet.

"I'll look in the bar," I volunteered, remembering the kid had left
with more of a roll than Meadows had now.

A casual search of the bar and back room revealed both nearly empty, a
natural condition just before dawn. No one had seen Konnel,
apparently, so I went outside and squinted along the dim, narrow
street. Four or five drunks, none tall enough to be Konnel, were
slowly and softly singing their way home. The door slid open behind me
and the other two came out quickly.

"Oh, there you are! I asked around too," said Howlet in a low voice.
"Can you trust that Jorgensen? They wouldn't let me in the office
behind the back room."

"He's a better sport than he looks," I said.

"I wonder," murmured Meadows. "He looked queer when I was so far
ahead. Or maybe one of his huskies got ideas about keeping a handy
hostage...."

Howlet suddenly looked dangerous. I gathered that he thought something
of the boy, and was heating up to the door-smashing stage.

"Let's check one other place," I suggested, "before we make a
mistake."

       *       *       *       *       *

My starting off fast up the street left him the choice of coming
quietly or staying to wonder. They both came. I could feel them
watching me.

I turned right into a narrow street, went along it about fifty yards,
and paused where it was crossed by a still narrower alley. Hoping I
remembered the way, I groped along the lefthand branch of the alley. A
trace of light had begun to soften the sky over the dome, but had not
yet seeped down to ground level.

Howlet's soft footsteps trailed me. I knocked on what seemed to be the
right door. There was no answer--only to be expected. I hammered
again.

"No one aboard, it would appear," murmured Meadows.

It was meant as a question. I shrugged in the darkness and banged
longer and louder. Finally, listening at the flimsy panel, I detected
muffled footsteps.

The door opened a crack.

"It's Tony Lewis, Lilac."

       *       *       *       *       *

The black opening widened, until she must have seen the two behind me.
She wore a thin robe that glimmered silver in the dim light.

"Send the boy out, Lilac," I said.

"Why should I?"

That much was good; she might have pretended not to have him there.

"He has to catch his ship, Lilac."

Behind me, I heard Howlet stir uneasily. The door began to close, but
my foot was in the track. Howlet could not see that.

"Don't shut it, sister," he said, "or we'll smash it down!"

He could have too, in about ten seconds, the way they build on Mars.

"You wanna get yourself lynched?" Lilac warned him.

"Over a--on account of _you_?"

"Shut up, Howlet!" I interrupted. "Let me talk to the lady alone!"

He must have understood my tone; he let Meadows pull him away a few
steps.

"And less of the 'lady' business outa _you_," said Lilac, but low
enough to keep it private. "We both know Mars, so let's take things
the way they are."

"That's why I came, Lilac. Taking things that way means he has to go."

"What're you gonna say? He has a job to do, or some such canal dust?"

"Not exactly. They might pick up another third pilot. They might
manage somehow without any. But he won't like himself much, later, for
missing his chance."

She swung the edge of the door back and forth in impatient little
jerks. Finally, she took her hand off the latch and let it roll free.
She still blocked the opening, however, and I waited.

"Look, Tony," she said after a pause, "what makes you think I couldn't
settle down with him? I never figured to be an ... entertainer ... all
my life. With the stake I already got together, we could start
something. A mine, maybe, or a tractor service like yours. Mars is
growing--"

"Pull your head inside the dome and breathe right!" I snapped at her.
"I don't mind your dreaming, Lilac, but there isn't any more time."

It was light enough now to see her stiffen. She glared at me.

"You tryin' to say I couldn't make a home here? You know better, Tony.
Some of the best known women on Mars didn't exactly come here
first-class!"

I held up my hand. She was beginning to get loud.

"It wouldn't matter if you were a princess. It's not what he'd think
of you; it's what he'd wonder about himself, piloting a sand-buggy
instead of a rocket."

In the alley, one of the spacers shuffled his feet impatiently. I
hurried on, hoping to clinch it before she turned stubborn.

"_You_, at least, ought to understand men better than most, Lilac.
Maybe it doesn't make sense, but it would be smarter to grab him after
he's had his share of space instead of before."

It was hard to breathe without sounding loud in the stillness. Just as
I had to swallow or choke, Lilac's shoulders slumped an inch or two.

"I'll wake him up," she said in a tired voice.

Feeling as if I had struck her, I stepped back into the alley. A few
minutes later, Konnel slipped out and shut the door behind him. No one
said a word. From the set of his shoulders, it seemed that he might be
just as glad the alley was dim; but he simply trailed along behind.

       *       *       *       *       *

We walked back to Number Four Airlock in a silence that had me
counting the footsteps. When we reached the tractor parking lot, I
cleared my throat.

"Wait a minute. I'll warm up my sand-saucer and give you a lift to
your ship."

"Maybe we won't need to impose on you any more, Tony," said Howlet.
"Looks like those machines over there are going out."

I followed his gesture and, by luck, caught the eye of a driver I
knew. I waved and jerked my thumb at the spacers beside me.

"Let's go!" said Howlet as the tractor slowed. "Thanks for everything,
Tony. Get yourself some sleep; the night watches in these domes are
rough."

Konnel waited until they were a few steps away. Even then, he
hesitated.

"Forget it!" I said. "You aren't the first spacer they had to pump out
of some odd corner. Look me up when you get back!"

He shook hands and trotted after his friends. They scrambled up the
ladder to the cab. The tractor picked up speed, lumbering into the
airlock.

Later, a little after noon, I crawled out of bed and watched the flare
of their pipes as the ship streaked up into the dark Martian sky. I
hoped they would make it--almost as much as I wished it could have
been me.

Well, I still come out to the wall of whatever dome I find myself in,
to watch the sky a while--not that I'll see _those_ boys coming down
at this late date! They must have splattered to a puddle on Jupiter,
or slipped back into the sun, or taken up a cold, dark orbit out where
they'll never bother anyone. Nobody will ever know for sure, I
suppose.

If I had it to do over again?

No, of course I don't feel funny about it. If they weren't the ones,
it would have been another crew. By the law of averages, a certain
number of bad tries seems to go with every new push out into space.
Maybe there's no reason it has to be like that, but it always has.
When the bad luck is used up, someone makes a new frontier.

Why say "superstition"? Each new orbit out from the sun has cost
plenty in money, ships, and lives; it's the admission price.

Sure, it was too bad about Konnel and his little girl--who, by the
way, later married a very important man in Asaph Dome. It would have
been nice to see Meadows wind up rich, or for Howlet to become mayor
of the dome, but what could I do? Which one should I have talked into
staying for the sake of love or money or power, without even being
able to go in his place?

Every time Man pushes ahead a little, a percentage of the pushers pay
the fare. Still, it will be healthier if we push out of this planetary
system before someone else pushes in.

For all we know, they may be on the way.

THE END

       *       *       *       *       *





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