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´╗┐Title: Master of the Moondog
Author: Mullen, Stanley
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 "Master of the Moondog" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Planet Stories July 1952. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on
    this publication was renewed.

                        MASTER of the MOONDOG

                          By STANLEY MULLEN

     _Idiotic pets rate idiotic masters. Tod Denver and Charley,
      the moondog, made ideal companions as they set a zigzag
      course for the Martian diggings--paradise for fools._

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Charley's fault, of course; all of it....

Temperature outside was a rough 280 degrees F., which is plenty rough
and about three degrees cooler than Hell. It was somewhere over the
Lunar Appenines and the sun bored down from an airless sky like an
unshielded atomic furnace. The thermal adjustors whined and snarled
and clogged-up until the inside of the space sled was just bearable.


Tod Denver glared at Charley, who was a moondog and looked like one,
and Charley glared back. Denver was fond of Charley, as one might be
of an idiot child. At the moment they found each in the other's
doghouse. Charley had curled up and attached himself to the instrument
panel from which be scowled at Denver in malignant fury.


Charley was a full-grown, two yard-long moondog. He looked like an
oversized comma of something vague and luminous. At the head end he
was a fat yellow balloon, and the rest of him tapered vaguely to a
blunt apex of infinity. Whatever odd forces composed his weird
physiology, he was undoubtedly electronic or magnetic.

In the physically magnetic sense, he could cling for hours to any
metallic surface, or at will propel himself about or hang suspended
between any two or more metallic objects. As to his personality, he
was equally magnetic, for wherever Denver took him he attracted
curious stares and comments. Most people have never seen a moondog.
Such creatures, found only on the moons of Saturn, are too rare to be
encountered often as household or personal pets.

But Tod Denver had won Charley in a crap game at Crystal City; and
thereafter found him both an inseparable companion and exasperating
responsibility. He had tried every available means to get rid of
Charley, but without success. Either direct sale or horse-trade proved
useless. Charley liked Denver too well to put up with less interesting
owners so Charley always came back, and nearly always accompanied by
profanity and threats. Charley was spectacular, and a monstrous care
but Denver ended by becoming fond of the nuisance. He would miss the
radiant, stupid and embarrassingly affectionate creature.

Charley had currently burned out a transformer by some careless and
exuberant antic; hence the mutual doghouse. Scolding was wasted
effort, so Denver merely sighed and made a face at Charley.

"Mad dogs and Martians go out in the Lunar sun," he sang as a
punishment. Charley recognized only the word "dog" but he considered
the song a personal insult; as if Denver's singing were not sufficient
punishment for a minor offense. Charley was irritated.

Charley's iridescence flickered evilly, which was enough to
short-circuit two relays and weld an undetermined number of hot
switches. Charley's temper was short, and short-circuiting all
electrical units within range was mere reflex.

Tod Denver swore nobly and fluently, set the controls on
automatic-neutral and tried to localize the damage. But for Charley
and his overloaded peeve, they would have been in Crystal City inside
the hour.

So it was Charley's fault, of course; all of it....

       *       *       *       *       *

It was beyond mere prank. Denver calculated grimly that his isolated
suit would hold up less than twenty minutes in that noon inferno
outside before the stats fused and the suiting melted and ran off him
in droplets of metal foil and glass cloth. The thermal adjustors were
already working at capacity, transmitting the light and heat that
filtered through the mirror-tone hull into stored, useful energy.
Batteries were already overcharged and the voltage regulators snapped
on and off like a crackling barrage of distant heat-guns.

Below was a high gulch of the Lunar Appenines, a pattern of dazzling
glare and harsh moonshadows. Ramshackle mine-buildings of
prefabricated plastic straggled out from the shrouding blackness under
a pinnacled ridge. Denver eyed the forbidding terrain with
hair-raising panic. He checked the speed of the racing space sled,
circled once, and tried to pick out a soft spot. The ship swooped down
like a falling rock, power off. Denver awaited the landing shock.

It was rough. Space was too cramped and he overshot his planned
landing. The spacer set down hard beyond the cleared strip, raising
spurting clouds of volcanic ash which showered his view-ports in
blinding glare.

Skids shrilled on naked rock, causing painful vibrations in the cabin.
Denver wrenched at controls, trying to avoid jagged tongues of broken
lava protruding above the dust-floor. Sun-fire turned the disturbed
dust into luminous haze blanketing ship and making vision impossible.
The spacer ground to an agonized stop. Denver's landing was rough but
he still lived.

He sat blankly and felt cold in the superheated cabin. It was nice and
surprising to be alive. Without sustaining air the dust settled almost
instantly. Haze cleared outside the ports.

Charley whined eagerly. He detached himself from the tilting control
panel and sailed wildly about like a hydrophobic goldfish in a bowl of
water. A succession of spitting and crackling sounds poured from him
as he batted his lunatic face to the view-ports to peer outside.
Pseudo-tendrils formed around his travesty of mouth, and he wrinkled
his absurd face into yellow typhoons of excitement. This was fun.
Let's do it again!

Denver grunted uncomfortably. He studied the staggering scene of Lunar
landscape without any definite hope. Something blazing from the peak
of the largest mine-structure caught his eye. With a snort of bitter
disgust he identified the dazzle.

Distress signals in Interplanetary Code! That should be very helpful
under the poisonous circumstances. He swore again, numbly, but with
deep sincerity.

Charley danced and flicked around the cabin like a free electron with
a careless disregard for traffic regulations and public safety. It was
wordless effort to express his eagerness to go outside and explore
with Denver.

In spite of himself, Tod Denver grinned at the display.

"Not this time, Charley. You wait in the ship while I take a quick
look around. From the appearance of things, I'll run into trouble
enough without help from you."

The moondog drooped from disappointment. With Charley, any emotion
always reached the ultimate absurdity. He was a flowing, flexible
phantom of translucent color and radiance. But now the colors faded
like gaudy rags in caustic solution. Charley whined as Denver went
through the grotesque ritual of donning space helmet and zipping up
his glass cloth and metal foil suiting before he dared venture
outside. Charley even tried to help by pouring himself through the
stale air to hold open the locker where the tool-belts and holstered
heat guns were kept.

Space suiting bulged with internal pressure as Denver slid through the
airlock and left the ship behind. Walking carefully against the
treachery of moonweak gravity, he made cautious way up the slope
toward the clustered buildings. Footing was bad, with the feeling of
treading upon brittle, glassy surfaces and breaking through to bury
his weighted shoes in inches of soft ash. A small detour was necessary
to avoid upthrusting pinnacles of lavarock. In the shadow of these
outcroppings he paused to let his eyes adjust to the brilliance of

A thin pencil-beam of light stabbed outward from behind the nearer
building. Close at hand, one of the lava-needles vanished in soundless
display of mushrooming explosion. Sharp, acrid heat penetrated even
the insulating layers of suit. A pressure-wave of expanding gas
staggered him before it dissipated.

Denver flung himself instinctively behind the sheltering rocks. Prone,
he inched forward to peer cautiously through a V-cleft between two
jagged spires. Heat-blaster in hand, he waited events.

Again the beam licked out. The huddle of lava-pinnacles became a core
of flaming destruction. Half-molten rock showered Denver's precarious
refuge. He ducked, unhurt, then thrust head and gun-arm above the

       *       *       *       *       *

Two dark figures, running awkwardly, detached themselves from the
huddled bulk of buildings. Like leaping, fantastic shadows, they
scampered toward the mounds of deep shadow beneath the ridge. The
route took them away from Denver, making aim difficult. He fired
twice, hurriedly. Missed. But near misses because he had not focused
for such range.

By the time he could reset the weapon, the scurrying figures had
disappeared into the screening puddles of shadow. Denver tried to
distinguish them against the blackness, but it lay in solid, covering
mass at the base of a titanic ridge. Faintly he could see a ghostly
outline, much too large for men. It might be a ship, but it would have
to be large enough for a space-yacht. No stinking two-man sled like
his spacer. And he could not be sure in that eerie blankness if it
even were a ship.

Besides, the range was too great. Uncertainty vanished as a circle of
light showed briefly. An airlock door opened and closed swiftly.
Denver stood clear of the rocks and wondered if he should risk
anything further. Pursuit was useless with such arms as he carried. No
question of courage was involved. A man is not required to play
quixotic fool under such circumstances. And there might not be time to
return to his spacer for a long-range heat gun. If he tried to reach
the strange ship, its occupants could smoke him down before he covered
half the distance. If he continued toward the buildings, they might
return and stalk him. They would, he knew, if they guessed he was

Decision was spared him. Rockets thundered. The ridge lighted up as
with magnesium flares. A big ship moved out of the banked shadows,
accelerating swiftly. It was a space-yacht, black-hulled, and showed
no insignia. It was fast, incredibly fast. He wasted one blaster
charge after it, but missed focus by yards. He ducked out of sight
among the rocks as the ship dipped to skim low overhead. Then it was
gone, circling in stiff, steep spiral until it lost itself to sight in
distant gorges.

"Close!" Denver murmured. "Too close. And now what?"

He quickly recharged the blaster. A series of sprawling leaps ate up
the remaining distance to the mine's living quarters. One whole side,
where airlock doors had been, was now a gaping, ragged hole. A haze of
nearly invisible frost crystals still descended in slow showers. It
was bitterly cold on the sharp, opaque edge of mountain-shadow.
Thermal adjustors in his suiting stopped their irregular humming.
Automatic units combined chemicals and began to operate against the
biting cold. With a premonition of ugly dread, Denver clambered into
the ruined building.

Inside was airless, heatless cell, totally dark. Denver's gloved hand
sought a radilume-switch. Light blinked on as he fumbled the button.

Death sat at a metal-topped table. Death wore the guise of a tall,
gaunt, leathery man, no longer young. It was no pretty sight, though
not too unfamiliar a sight on Luna.

The man had been writing. Frozen fingers still clutched a cylinder
pen, and the nub adhered to the paper as the flow of ink had
stiffened. From nose, ears and mouth, streams of blood had congealed
into fat, crimson icicles. Rimes of ruby crystals ringed
pressure-bulged eyes. He was complete, perfect, a tableau of cold,
airless death.

The paper was a claim record, registered in the name of Laird Martin,
Earthman. An attached photograph matched what could be seen of face
behind its mask of frozen blood. Across the foot of the sheet was a
hurried scrawl:

     _Claim jumpers. I know they'll get me. If I can hide this
      first, they will not get what they want. Where Mitre Peak's
      apex of shadow points at 2017 ET is the first of a series of
      deep-cut arrow markings. Follow. They lead to the entrance.
      Old Martian workings. Maybe something. Whoever finds this,
      see that my kid, Soleil, gets a share. She's in school on
      Earth. Address is 93-X south Palma--_

The pen had stopped writing half-through the word. Death had
intervened hideously. Imagination could picture the scene as that
airlock wall disappeared in blinding, soundless flash. Or perhaps
there had been sound in the pressured atmosphere. His own arrival may
have frightened off the claim jumpers, but too late to help the
victim, who sat so straight and hideous in the airless tomb.

There was nothing to do. Airless cold would embalm the body until some
bored official could come out from Crystal City to investigate the
murder and pick up the hideous pieces. But if the killers returned
Denver made sure that nothing remained to guide them in their search
for the secret mine worked long-ago by forgotten Martians. It was
Laird Martin's discovery and his dying legacy to a child on distant

Denver picked up the document and wadded it clumsily into a
fold-pocket of his spacesuit. It might help the police locate the
heir. In Martin's billfold was the child's picture, no more.

Denver retraced his steps to the frosty airlock valve of his ship.
Inside the cabin, Charley greeted his master's return with extravagant
caperings which wasted millions of electron volts.

"Nobody home, Charley," Denver told the purring moondog, "but we've
picked up a nasty errand to run."

It was a bad habit, he reflected; talking to a moondog like that, but
he had picked up the habit from sheer loneliness of his prospecting
among the haunted desolations of the Moon. Even talking to Charley
was better than going nuts, he thought, and there was not too much
danger of smart answers.

He worked quickly, repairing the inadvertent damage Charley's pique
had caused. It took ten full minutes, and the heat-deadline was too
close for comfort. He finished and breathed more freely as
temperatures began to drop. He peeled off the helmet and unzipped the
suit which was reaching the thermal levels of a live-steam bath.

He ran tape through the charger to impregnate electronic setting that
would guide the ship on its course to Crystal City. "We were on our
way, there, anyhow," he mused. "I hope they've improved the jail. It
could stand air-conditioning."


Crystal City made up in violence what it lacked in size. It was a
typical boom town of the Lunar mining regions. Mining and a thriving
spacefreight trade in heavy metals made it a mecca for the toughest
space-screws and hardest living prospector-miners to be found in the
inhabited worlds. Saloons and cheap lodging-houses, gambling dens and
neon-washed palaces of expensive sin, the jail and a flourishing
assortment of glittery funeral parlors faced each other across two
main intersecting streets. X marked the spot and life was the least
costly of the many commodities offered for sale to rich-strike suckers
who funneled in from all Luna.

The town occupied the cleared and leveled floor of a small ringwall
"crater," and beneath its colorful dome of rainbowy perma-plastic, it
sizzled. Dealers in mining equipment made overnight fortunes which
they lost at the gaming tables just as quickly. In the streets one
rubbed elbows with denizens from every part of the solar system; many
of them curiously not anthropomorphic. Glittering and painted
purveyors of more tawdry and shopworn goods than mining equipment also
made fortunes overnight, and some of them paid for their greedy
snatching at luxury with their empty lives. Brawls were sporadic and
usually fatal.

Crystal City sizzled, and the Lunar Police sat on the lid as uneasily
as if the place were a charge of high-explosive. It was, but it made
living conditions difficult for a policeman, and made the
desk-sergeant's temper extremely short.

Tod Denver's experience with police stations had consisted chiefly of
uncomfortable stays as an invited, reluctant guest. To a hard-drinking
man, such invitations are both frequent and inescapable. So Tod Denver
was uneasy in the presence of such an obviously ill-tempered desk
sergeant. Memories are tender documents from past experience, and
Denver's experiences had induced extreme sensitivity about jails.
Especially Crystal City's jail.

Briefly, he acquainted irritable officialdom with details of his find
in the Appenines. The sergeant was fat, belligerent and

"You stink," said the sergeant, twisting his face into more repulsive
suggestion of a distorted rubber mask.

Tod Denver tried to continue. The sergeant cut him off with a rude

"So what?" added the official. "Suppose you did run into a murder. Do
I care? Maybe you killed the old guy yourself and are trying to cover
up. I don't know."

He scowled speculatively at Denver who waited and worried.

"Forget it," went on the sergeant. "We ain't got time to chase down
everybody that knocks off a lone prospector. There's a lot of punks
like you I'd like to bump myself right here in Crystal City. Even if
you're telling the truth I don't believe you. If you'd thought he had
something valuable you'd have swiped it yourself, not come running to
us. Don't bother me. If you got something, snag it. If not, shove

The suggestion was detailed, anatomical.

Charley giggled amiably. Startled, the sergeant looked up and caught
sight of the monstrosity. He shrieked.

"What's that?"

"Charley, my moondog," Denver explained. "They're quite scarce here."

Charley made eerie, chittering noises and settled on Denver's
shoulder, waiting for his master to stroke the filaments of his blunt

"Looks like a cross between a bird and a carrot. Try making him scarce
from my office."

"Don't worry, he's housebroke."

"Don't matter. Get him out of here, out of Crystal City. We have an
ordinance against pets. Unhealthy beasts. Disease-agents. They foul up
the atmosphere."

"Not Charley," Denver argued hopelessly. "He's not animal; he's a
natural air-purifier. Gives off ozone."

"Two hours you've got to get him out of here. Two hours. Out of town.
I hope you go with him. If he don't stink, you do. If I have any
trouble with either of you, you go in the tank."

Tod Denver gulped and held his nose. "Not your tank. No thanks. I want
a hotel room with a tub and shower, not a night in your glue factory.
Come on, Charley. I guess you sleep in the ship."

Charley grinned evilly at the sergeant. He gave out chuckling sounds,
as if meditating. To escape disaster Tod Denver snatched him up and

       *       *       *       *       *

After depositing Charley in the ship, he bought clean clothes and
registered for a room at the Spaceport Hotel. After a bath, a shave
and a civilized meal he felt more human than he had for many lonely
months. He transferred his belongings to the new clothes, and opened
his billfold to audit his dwindling resources. After the hotel and the
new clothes and the storage-rent at the spaceport for his ship, there
was barely enough for even a bust of limited dimensions. It would have
to do.

As he replaced the money a battered photograph fell out. It was the
picture of Laird Martin's child. A girl, not over four. She was plump
and pretty in the vague way children are plump and pretty. An old
picture, of course; faded and worn from frequent handling. Dirty and
not too clear. How could anyone trace a small orphan girl on Earth
with the picture and the incomplete address? She would be older, of
course; maybe six or seven. Schools do keep records and lists of the
pupils' names might be available if he had money to investigate. Which
he hadn't.

His ship carried three months of supplies. Beside the money in his
billfold, he had nothing else. Nothing but Charley, and the sales of
him had always backfired. At best, a moondog was not readily
marketable. Besides, could he part with Charley?

Maybe if he looked into those old Martian workings, the money would be
forthcoming. After all, the dying Laird Martin had only asked that a
share be reserved for his daughter. Put some aside for the kid. Use
some to find her. Keep careful accounting and give her a fair half.
More if she needed it and there wasn't too much. It was a nice
thought. Denver felt warm and decent inside.

For the moment some of his thoughts verged upon indecencies.

He lacked the price but it cost nothing to look. He called it
widow-shopping, which was not a misnomer in Crystal City. There were
plenty of widows, some lonely, some lively. Some free and uninhibited.
And he did have the price of the drinks.

The impulse carried him outside to a point near the X-like
intersection of streets. Here, the possibilities of sin and evil
splendor dazzled the eye.

Pressured atmosphere within the domed city was richer than Tod Denver
was used to. Oxygen in pressure tanks costs money; and he had
accustomed himself to do with as little as possible. Charley helped
slightly. Now the stuff went tingling through nostrils, lungs and on
to his veins. It swept upward to his brain and blood piled up there,
feeling as if full of bursting tiny bubbles like champagne. He felt
gay and feckless, light-headed and big-headed. Ego expanded, and he
imagined himself a man of destiny at the turning point of his career.

He was not drunk, except on oxygen. Not drunk yet. But thirsty. The
street was garish with display of drinkeries. In neon lights a tilted
glass dripped beads of color. There was a name in luminous

_Pot o' Stars._

Beneath the showering color stood a girl. Tod Denver's blood pressure
soared nimbly upward and collided painfully with blocked safety
valves. The look was worth it. Tremendous. Hot stuff.


When bestially young he had dreamed lecherously of such a glorious
creature. Older, bitter experience had taught him that they existed
outside his price class. His eyes worked her over in frank admiration
and his imagination worked overtime.

She was Martian, obviously, from her facial structure, if one noticed
her face.

Martian, of course. But certainly not one of the Red desert folk, nor
one of the spindly yellow-brown Canal-keepers. White. Probably sprang
originally from the icy marshes near the Pole, where several odd
remnants of the old white races still lived, and lingered painfully on
the short rations of dying Mars.

She was pale and perilous and wonderful. Hair was shimmering bright
cascade of spun platinum that fell in muted waves upon shoulders of
naked beauty. Her eyes swam liquid silver with purple lights dwelling
within, and her sullen red lips formed a heartshaped mouth, as if
pouting. Heavy lids weighed down the eyes, and heavier barbaric
bracelets weighted wrists and ankles. Twin breasts were mounds of
soft, sun-dappled snow frosted with thin metal plates glowing with
gemfire. Her simple garment was metalcloth, but so fine-spun and
gauzelike that it seemed woven of moonlight. It seemed as un-needed as
silver leafing draped upon some exotic flowering, but somehow enhanced
the general effect.

Her effect was overpowering. Denver followed her inside and followed
her sweet, poisonous witchery as the girl glided gracefully along the
aisle between ranked tables. As she entered the glittering room talk
died for a moment of sheer admiration, then began in swift whispered
accents. Men dreamed inaudibly and the women envied and hated her on

She seemed well-known to the place. Her name, Denver learned from the
awed whispering, was--Darbor....

_The Pot o' Stars_ combined drinking, dancing and gambling. A few
people even ate food. There was muffled gaiety, glitter of glass and
chromium, and general bad taste in the decoration. The hostesses were
dressed merely to tempt and tease the homesick and lovelorn
prospectors and lure the better-paid mine-workers into a deadly
proximity to alcohol and gambling devices.

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl went ahead, and Denver followed, regretting his politeness
when she beat him to the only unoccupied table. It had a big sign,
_Reserved_, but she seemed waiting for no one, since she ordered a
drink and merely played with it. She seemed wrapped in speculative
contemplation of the other customers, as if estimating the possible
profits to the house.

On impulse, Denver edged to her table and stood looking down at her.
Cold eyes, like amber ice, looked through him.

"I know I look like a spacetramp," he observed. "But I'm not
invisible. Mind if I pull up a cactus and squat?"

Her eyes were chill calculation.

"Suit yourself ... if you like to live dangerously."

Denver laughed and sat down. "How important are you? Or is it
something else? You don't look so deadly. I'll buy you a drink if you
like. Or dance, if you're careless about toes."

Her cold shrug stopped him. "Skip it," she snapped. "Buy yourself a
drink if you can afford it. Then go."

"What makes you rate a table to yourself? I could go now but I won't.
The liquor here's probably poison but who pays for it makes no
difference to me. Maybe you'd like to buy me a short snort. Or just
snort at me again. On you, it looks good."

The girl gazed at him languorously, puzzled. Then she let go with a
laugh which sparkled like audible champagne.

"Good for you," she said eagerly. "You're just a punk, but you have
guts. Guts, but what else? Got any money?"

Denver bristled. "Pots of it," he lied, as any other man would. Then,
remembering suddenly, "Not with me but I know where to lay hands on
plenty of it."

Her eyes calculated. "You're not the goon who came in from the
Appenines today? With a wild tale of murder and claim-jumpers and old
Martian workings?"

Quick suspicion dulled Denver's appreciation of beauty.

She laughed sharply. "Don't worry about me, stupid. I heard it all
over town. Policemen talk. For me, they jump through hoops. Everybody
knows. You'd be smart to lie low before someone jumps out of a
sung-bush and says boo! at you. If you expected the cops to do
anything, you're naive. Or stupid. About those Martian workings, is
there anything to the yarn?"

Denver grunted. He knew he was talking too much but the urge to brag
is masculine and universal.

"Maybe, I don't know. Martian miners dabbled in heavy metals. Maybe
they found something there and maybe they left some. If they did, I'm
the guy with the treasure map. Willing to take a chance on me?"

Darbor smiled calculatingly. "Look me up when you find the treasure.
You're full of laughs tonight. Trying to pick me up on peanuts. Men
lie down and beg me to walk on their faces. They lay gold or jewels or
pots of uranium at my feet. Got any money--now?"

"I can pay ... up to a point," Denver confessed miserably.

"We're not in business, kid. But champagne's on me. Don't worry about
it. I own the joint up to a point. I don't, actually. Big Ed Caltis
owns it. But I'm the dummy. I front for him because of taxes and the
cops. We'll drink together tonight, and all for free. I haven't had a
good laugh since they kicked me out of Venusport. You're it. I hope
you aren't afraid of Big Ed. Everybody else is. He bosses the town,
the cops and all the stinking politicians. He dabbles in every dirty
racket, from girls to the gambling upstairs. He pays my bills, too,
but so far he hasn't collected. Not that he hasn't tried."

Denver was impressed. Big Ed's girl. If she was. And he sat with her,
alone, drinking at Big Ed's expense. That was a laugh. A hot one.
Rich, even for Luna.

"Big Ed?" he said. "The Scorpion of Mars!"

Darbor's eyes narrowed. "The same. The name sounds like a gangsters'
nickname. It isn't. He was a pro-wrestler. Champion of the
Interplanetary League for three years. But he's a gangster and
racketeer at heart. His bully-boys play rough. Still want to take a
chance, sucker?"

A waitress brought drinks and departed. Snowgrape Champagne from Mars
cooled in a silver bucket. It was the right temperature, so did not
geyser as Denver unskilfully wrested out the cork. He filled the
glasses, gave one to the girl. Raising the other, he smiled into
Darbor's dangerous eyes.

"The first one to us," he offered gallantly. "After that, we'll drink
to Big Ed. I hope he chokes. He was a louse in the ring."

Darbor's face lighted like a flaming sunset in the cloud-canopy of

"Here's to us then," she responded. "And to guts. You're dumb and
delightful, but you do something to me I'd forgotten could be done.
And maybe I'll change my mind even if you don't have the price. I
think I'll kiss you. Big Ed is still a louse, and not only in the
ring. He thinks he can out-wrestle me but I know all the nasty holds.
I play for keeps or not at all. Keep away from me, kid."

Denver's imagination had caught fire. Under the combined stimuli of
Darbor and Snowgrape Champagne, he seemed to ascend to some high,
rarified, alien dimension where life became serene and uncomplicated.
A place where one ate and slept and made fortunes and love, and only
the love was vital. He smoldered.

"Play me for keeps," he urged.

"Maybe I will," Darbor answered clearly. She was feeling the champagne
too, but not as exaltedly as Denver who was not used to such potent
vintages as Darbor and SG-Mars, 2028. "Maybe I will, kid, but ask me
after the Martian workings work out."

"Don't think I won't," he promised eagerly. "Want to dance?"

Her face lighted up. She started to her feet, then sank back.

"Better not," she murmured. "Big Ed doesn't like other men to come
near me. He's big, bad and jealous. He may be here tonight. Don't push
your luck, kid. I'm trouble, bad trouble."

Denver snapped his fingers drunkenly. "That for Big Ed. I eat

Her eyes were twin pools of darkness. They widened as ripples of alarm
spread through them. "Start eating," she said. "Here it comes!"

Big Ed Caltis stood behind Denver's chair.


Tod Denver turned. "Hello, Rubber-face," he said pleasantly. "Sit down
and have a drink. You're paying for it."

Big Ed Caltis turned apoplectic purple but he sat down. A waitress
hustled up another glass. Silence in the room. Every eye focused upon
the table where Big Ed Caltis sat and stared blindly at his uninvited

Skilfully, Denver poured sparkling liquid against the inside curve of
the third glass. With exaggerated care, he refilled his own and the
girl's. He shoved the odd glass toward Big Ed with a careless gesture
that was not defiance but held a hint of something cold and deadly
and menacing.

"Drink hearty, champ," he suggested. "You'll need strength and Dutch
courage to hear some of the things I've wanted to tell you. I've been
holding them for a long time. This is it."

Big Ed nodded slowly, ponderously. "I'm listening."

Denver began a long bill of particulars against Big Ed Caltis of
Crystal City. He omitted little, though some of it was mere scandalous
gossip with which solo-prospectors who had been the objects of a
squeeze-play consoled themselves and took revenge upon their tormentor
from safe distance. Denver paused once, briefly, to re-assess and
recapture the delight he took in gazing at Darbor's beauty seated
opposite. Then he resumed his account of the life and times of Big Ed,
an improvised essay into the folly and stupidity of untamed greed
which ended upon a sustained note of vituperation.

Big Ed smiled with sardonic amusement. He was in his late forties,
running a bit to blubber, but still looked strong and capable. He
waited until Tod Denver ran down, waited and smiled patiently.

"If you've finished," he said. "I should compliment you on the
completeness of the picture you paint of me. When I need a biographer,
I'll call on you. Just now I have another business proposition. I
understand you know the location of some ancient Martian
mine-workings. You need a partner. I'm proposing myself."

Denver paled. "I have a partner," he said, nodding toward the girl.

Big Ed smiled thinly. "That's settled then. Her being your partner
makes it easy. What she has is mine. I bought her. She works for me
and everything she has is mine."

Darbor's eyes held curious despair. But hatred boiled up in her.

"Not altogether," she corrected him evenly. "You never got what you
wanted most--me! And you never will. I just resigned. Get yourself
another dummy."

But Ed stood up. "Very good. Maudlin but magnificent. Let me offer my
congratulations to both of you. But you're mistaken. I'll get
everything I want. I always do. I'm not through with either of you."

Darbor ignored him. "Dance?" she asked Denver. He rose and gallantly
helped her from her chair.

Big Ed Caltis, after a black look, vanished toward the offices and
gambling rooms upstairs. He paused once and glanced back.

Denver laughed suddenly. Darbor studied him and caught the echo of her
own fear in his eyes. He mustered a hard core of courage in himself,
but it required distinct effort.

"When I was a kid I liked to swing on fence-gates. Once, the hinges
broke. I skinned my knee."

Her body was trembling. Some of it got into her voice. "It could
happen again."

He met the challenge of her. She was bright steel, drawn to repel
lurking enemies.

"I have another knee," he said, grinning. "But yours are too nice to
bark up. Where's the back door?"

The music was Venusian, a swaying, sensuous thing of weirdest melodies
and off-beat rhythms. Plucked and bowed strings blended with wailing
flutes and an exotic tympany to produce music formed of passion and
movement. Tod Denver and Darbor threaded their way through
stiffly-paired swaying couples toward the invisible door at the rear.

"I hope you don't mind scar tissue on your toes," he murmured, bending
his cheek in impulsive caress. He wished that he were nineteen again
and could still dream. Twenty-seven seemed so aged and battered and
cynical. And dreams can become nightmares.

They were near the door.

"Champagne tastes like vinegar if it's too cold," she replied. "My
mouth is puckery and tastes like swill. I hope it's the blank
champagne. Maybe I'm scared."

They dropped pretense and bolted for the door.

In the alley, they huddled among rubbish and garbage cans because the
shadows lay thicker there.

       *       *       *       *       *

The danger was real and ugly and murderous. Three thugs came boiling
through the alley door almost on their heels. They lay in the stinking
refuse, not daring to breathe. Brawny, muscular men with faces that
shone brutally in the blazing, reflected Earthlight scurried back and
forth, trying locked doors and making a hurried expedition to scout
out the street. Passersby were buttonholed and roughly questioned. No
one knew anything to tell.

One hatchetman came back to report.

Big Ed's voice could be heard in shrill tirade of fury.

"You fools. Don't let them get away. I'll wring the ears off the lot
of you if they get to the spaceport. He was there; he was the one who
spotted us. He can identify my ship. Now get out and find them. I'll
pay a thousand vikdals Martian to the man who brings me either one.
Kill the girl if you have to, but bring him back alive. I want his
ears, and he knows where the stuff is. Now get out of here!"

More dark figures spurted from the dark doorway. Darbor gave
involuntary shudder as they swept past in a flurry of heavy-beating
footsteps. Denver held her tightly, hand over her mouth. She bit his
hand and he repressed a squeal of pain. She made no outcry and the
pounding footsteps faded into distance.

Big Ed Caltis went inside, loudly planning to call the watch-detail at
the spaceport. His word was law in Crystal City.

"Can we beat them to the ship?" Denver asked.

"We can try," Darbor replied....

The spaceport was a blaze of light. Tod Denver expertly picked the
gatelock. The watchman came out of his shack, picking his teeth. He
looked sleepy, but grinned appreciatively at Darbor.

"Hi, Tod! You sure get around. Man just called about you. Sounded mad.
What's up?"

"Plenty. What did you tell him?"

The watchman went on picking his teeth. "Nothing. He don't pay my
wages. Want your ship? Last one in the line-up. Watch yourself. I
haven't looked at it, but there've been funny noises tonight. Maybe
you've got company."

"Maybe I have. Lend me your gun, Ike?"

"Sure, I've eaten. I'm going back to sleep. If you don't need the gun,
leave it on the tool-locker. If you do, I want my name in the papers.
They'll misspell it, but the old lady will get a kick. So long. Good
luck. If it's a boy, Ike's a good, old-fashioned name."

Tod Denver and Darbor ran the length of the illuminated hangar to the
take-off pits at the far end. His space sled was the last in line.
That would help for a quick blast-off.

Darbor was panting, ready to drop from exhaustion. But she dragged
gamely on. Gun ready, he reached up to the airlock flap.

Inside the ship was sudden commotion. A scream was cut off sharply.
Scurried movement became bedlam. Uproar ceased as if a knife had cut
through a ribbon of sound.

Denver flung open the flap and scrabbled up and through the valve to
the interior.

Two of Big Ed's trigger men lay on the floor. One had just connected
with a high-voltage charge from Charley. The other had quietly
fainted. Denver dumped them outside, helped Darbor up and closed the
ship for take-off. He switched off cabin lights.

He wasted no time in discussion until the ship was airborne and had
nosed through the big dome-valves into the airless Lunar sky.

A fat hunk of Earth looked like a blueberry chiffon pie, but was
brighter. It cast crazy shadows on the terrain unreeling below.

Darbor sat beside him. She felt dazed, and wondered briefly what had
happened to her.

Less than an hour before she had entered the _Pot o' Stars_ with
nothing on her mind but assessing the clients and the possible
receipts for the day. Too much had happened and too rapidly. She could
not assimilate details.

Something launched itself through darkness at her. It snugged tightly
to shoulder and neck and made chuckling sounds. Stiff fur nuzzled her
skin. There was a vague prickling of hot needles, but it was
disturbing rather than painful. She screamed.

"Shut up!" said Denver, laughing. "It's just Charley. But don't excite
him or you'll regret it."

From the darkness came a confused burble of sounds as Charley explored
and bestowed his affections upon a new friend still too startled to
appreciate the gesture. Darbor tried vainly to fend off the lavish

Denver gunned the space sled viciously, and felt the push of
acceleration against his body. He headed for a distant mountain range.

"Just Charley, my pet moondog," he explained.

"What in Luna is that?"

"You'll find out. He loves everybody. Me, I'm more discriminating, but
I can be had. My father warned me about women like you."

"How would he know?" Darbor asked bitterly. "What did he say about
women like me?"

"It's exciting while it lasts, and it lasts as long as your money
holds out. It's wonderful if you can afford it. But Charley's
harmless. He's like me, he just wants to be loved. Go on. Pet him."

"All males are alike," Darbor grumbled. Obediently, she ran fingers
over the soft, wirelike pseudo-fur. The fingers tingled as if weak
charges of electricity surged through them.

"Does it--er, Charley ever blow a fuse?" she asked. "I'd like to have
met your father. He sounds like a man who had a lot of experience with
women. The wrong women. By the way, where are we going?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Tod Denver had debated the point with himself. "To the scene of the
crime," he said. "It's not good, and they may look for us there. But
we can hole up for a few days till the hunt dies down. It might be the
last place Big Ed would expect to find us. Later, unless we find
something in the Martian workings, we'll head for the far places.

Darbor shrugged. "I suppose. But then what. I don't imagine you'll be
a chivalrous jackass and want to marry me?"

The space sled drew a thin line of silver fire through darkness as he
debated that point.

"Now that I'm sober, I'll think about it. Give me time. They say a man
can get used to to anything."

A ghostly choking sounded from the seat beside him. He wondered if
Charley had blown something.

"Do they say what girls have to get used to?" she asked, her voice
oddly tangled.

Tod Denver tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. "We'll see how the
workings pan out. I'd want my money to last."

What Darbor replied should be written on asbestos.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their idyl at the mines lasted exactly twenty-seven hours. Denver
showed Darbor around, explained some of the technicalities of
moon-mining to her. The girl misused some precious water to try
washing the alley-filth from her clothes. Her experiment was not a
success and the diaphanous wisps of moonsilver dissolved. She stood in
the wrapped blanket and was too tired and depressed even to cry.

"I guess it wasn't practical," she decided ruefully. "It did bunch up
in the weirdest places in your spare spacesuit. Have you any old rag I
could borrow?"

Denver found cause for unsafe mirth in the spectacle of her blanketed
disaster. "I'll see." He rooted about in a locker and found a worn
pair of trousers which he threw to the girl. A sweater, too shrunken
and misshapen for him to wear again, came next. Dismayed, she
inspected the battered loot; then was inspired to quick alterations.
Pant-legs cut off well above the baggy knees made passable shorts; the
sweater bulged a trifle at the shoulders, it fit adequately
elsewhere--and something more than adequately.

Charley fled her vicinity in extremes of voluble embarrassment as she
changed and zipped up the substitute garments.

"Nice legs," Denver observed, which was an understatement.

"Watch out you don't skin those precious knees again," she warned

Time is completely arbitrary on the Moon as far as Earth people are
concerned. One gets used to prolonged light and dark periods. Earth
poked above the horizon, bathing the heights of the range with intense
silver-blue light. But moonshadows lay heavily in the hollows and the
deep gorges were still pools of intense gloom. Clocks are set to the
meaningless twenty-four hour divisions of day and night on Earth,
which have nothing to do with two-week days and nights on Luna. After
sunset, with Earthlight still strong and pure and deceptively
warm-looking, the landscapes become a barren, haunted wasteland.

Time itself seems unreal.

Time passed swiftly. The idyl was brief. For twenty-seven Earth-hours
after their landing at the mines came company...!

An approaching ship painted a quick-dying trail of fire upon the black
vault of sky. It swooped suddenly from nowhere, and the trapped
fugitives debated flight or useless defense.

Alone, Denver would have stayed and fought, however uneven and
hopeless the battle. But he found the girl a mental block to all
thoughts of open, pitched battle on the shadowy, moonsilvered slopes.
He might surprise the pursuers and flush them by some type of ambush.
But they would be too many for him, and his feeble try would end
either in death or capture.

Neither alternative appealed to him. With Darbor, he had suddenly
found himself possessed of new tenacity toward life, and he had
desperate, painful desire to live for her.

He chose flight.


The ship dropped short-lived rocket landing flares, circled and came
in for a fast landing on the cleared strip of brittle-crusted ash.

Some distance from the hastily-patched and now hastily abandoned mine
buildings, Tod Denver and Darbor paused and shot hasty, fearful
glances toward the landed ship. By Earthlight, they could distinguish
its lines, though not the color. It was a drab shadow now against the
vivid grayness of slopes. Figures tiny from distance emerged from it
and scattered across the flat and up into the clustered buildings. A
few stragglers went over to explore and investigate Denver's space
sled in the unlikely possibility that he and the girl had trusted to
its meager and dubious protection.

Besides the ship, the hunters would find evidence of recent occupation
in the living quarters, from which Denver had removed the frozen
corpse before permitting Darbor to assist with the crude remodeling
which he had undertaken. Afterward, when the mine buildings and
exposed shafts had been turned out on futile quest for the fugitives,
the search would spread. Tracks should be simple enough to follow,
once located. Denver had anticipated this potential clue to the
pursuit, and had kept their walking to the bare, rocky heights of the
spur as long as possible.

He hoped to be able to locate the old Martian working, but the chance
was slim. Calculating the shadow-apex of Mitre Peak at 2017 ET was
complicated by several unknown quantities. Which peak was Mitre Peak?
Was that shadow-apex Earth-shadow or Sun-shadow? And had he started
out in the correct direction to find the line of deep-cut arrow
markings at all?

The first intangible resolved itself. One mitre-shaped peak stood out
alone and definite above the sharply defined silhouettes of the
mountains. It must be Mitre Peak. It had to be.

The next question was the light source casting the shadow-apex. There
were two possible answers. It was possible to estimate the approximate
location of either sun or Earth at a given time, but calculations
involved in working out too many possibilities on different Earth-days
of the Lunar-day made the Earth's shadow-casting the likeliest
prospect. Neither location was particularly exact, and probably Laird
Martin had expected his directions to be gone into under less
harrowing circumstances than those in which Denver now found himself.
With time for trial and error one could eventually locate the place.

But Denver was hurried. He trod upon one of the markings while he
still sought the elusive shadow apex.

After that, it was a grim race to follow the markings to the old
mines, and to get under cover behind defensible barricades in time to
repel invasion.

They played a nerve-wracking game of hare and hounds in tricky floods
of Earthlight, upon slopes and spills of broken rock, amid a goblin's
garden of towering jagged spires. It was tense work over the bad
going, and the light was both distorted and insufficient. In shadow,
they groped blindly from arrow to arrow. In the patches of Earthglare,
they fled at awkward, desperate speed.

Life and death were the stakes. Life, or a fighting chance to defend
life, possible wealth from the ancient workings, made a glittering
goal ahead. And ever the gray hounds snapped at their heels, with
death in some ugly guise the penalty for losing the game.

Charley was ecstatic. He gamboled and capered, he zoomed and
zigzagged, he essayed quick, climbing spirals and almost came to
grief among the tangled pinnacles on the ridge of the hogback. He
swooped downward again in a series of shallow, easy glides and began
the performance all over again. It was a game for him, too. But a game
in which he tried only to astound himself, with swift, dizzy miracles
of magnetic movement.

Charley enjoyed himself hugely. He was with the two people he liked
most. He was having a spirited game among interlaced shadows and
sudden, substantial obstacles of rock. He nuzzled the fleeing pair
playfully, and followed them after his own lazy and intricate and
incredibly whimsical fashion. His private mode of locomotion was not
bounded by the possibilities involved in feet and tiring legs. He
scampered and had fun.

It was not fun for Tod Denver and Darbor. The girl's strength was
failing. She lagged, and Denver slowed his pace to support her
tottering progress.

Without warning, the mine entrance loomed before them. It was old and
crumbly with a thermal erosion resembling decay.

It was high and narrow and forbiddingly dark.

Tod Denver had brought portable radilumes, which were needed at once.
Inside the portals was no light at all. Thick, tangible dark blocked
the passage. It swallowed light.

Just inside, the mine gallery was too wide for easy defense. Further
back, there was a narrowing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Denver seized on the possibilities for barricading and set to work,
despite numbed and weary muscles. Walking on the Moon is tiring for
muscles acquired on worlds of greater gravity. He was near exhaustion,
but the stimulus of fear is strong. He worked like a maniac, hauling
materials for blockade, carrying the smaller ingredients and rolling
or dragging the heavier. A brief interval of rest brought Darbor to
his side. She worked with him and helped with the heavier items.
Fortunately, the faint gravity eased their task, speeded it.

For pursuit had not lagged. Their trail had been found and followed.

From behind his barricade, Denver picked off the first two hired thugs
of the advance guard as they toiled upward, too eagerly impatient for
caution. A network of hastily-aimed beams of heat licked up from
several angles of the slope, but none touched the barricade. The
slope, which flattened just outside the entrance made exact shooting
difficult, made a direct hit on the barricade almost impossible,
unless one stood practically inside the carved entrance-way. Denver
inched to the door and fired.

The battle was tedious, involved, but a stalemate. Lying on his belly,
Denver wormed as close as he dared to the break of slope outside the
door. There, he fired snap shots at everything that moved on the
slopes. Everything that moved on the slopes made a point of returning
the gesture. Some shots came from places he had seen no movement.

It went on for a long time. It was pointless, wanton waste of
heat-blaster ammunition. But it satisfied some primal urge in the
human male without solving anything.

Until Darbor joined him, Denver did not waste thought upon the
futilities of the situation. Her presence terrified him, and he urged
her back inside. She was stubborn, but complied when he dragged her
back with him.

"Now stay inside, you fool," she muttered, her voice barely a whisper
in his communication amplifier.

"You stay inside," he commanded with rough tenderness. They both
stayed inside, crouched together behind the barricade.

"I think I got three of them," he told her. "There seemed to be eight
at first. Some went back to the ship. For more men or supplies, I
don't know. I don't like this."

"Relax," she suggested. "You've done all you can."

"I guess it's back to your gilded cage for you, baby," he said. "My
money didn't last."

"Sometimes you behave like a mad dog," she observed. "I'm not sure I
like you. You enjoyed that butchery out there. You hated to come
inside. What did it prove? There are too many of them. They'll kill
us, eventually. Or starve us out. Have you any bright ideas?"

Denver was silent. None of his ideas were very bright. He was at the
end of his rope. He had tied a knot in it and hung on. But the rope
seemed very short and very insecure.

"Hang on, I guess. Just hang on and wait. They may try a rush. If they
do I'll bathe the entrance in a full load from my blaster. If they
don't rush, we sit it out. Sit and wait for a miracle. It won't happen
but we can hope."

Darbor tried to hug the darkness around her. She was a Martian,
tough-minded she hoped. It would be nasty, either way. But death was
not pleasant. She must try to be strong and face whatever came. She
shrugged and resigned herself.

"When the time comes I'll try to think of something touching and
significant to say," she promised.

"You hold the fort," Denver told her. "And don't hesitate to shoot if
you have to. There's a chance to wipe them out if they try to force in
all at once. They won't, but--"

"Where are you going? For a walk?"

"Have to see a man about a dog. There may be a back entrance. I doubt
it, since Martian workings on the Moon were never very deep. But I'd
like a look at the jackpot. Do you mind?"

Darbor sighed. "Not if you hurry back."

Deep inside the long gallery was a huge, vaulted chamber. Here, Denver
found what he sought. There was no back entrance. The mine was a trap
that had closed on him and Darbor.

Old Martian workings, yes. But whatever the Martians had sought and
delved from the mooncrust was gone. Layered veins had petered out,
were exhausted, empty. Some glittering, crystalline smears remained in
the crevices but the crystals were dull and life-less. Denver bent
close, sensed familiarity. The substance was not unknown. He wetted a
finger and probed with it, rubbed again and tested for taste.

The taste was sharp and bitter. As bitter as his disappointment. It
was all a grim joke. Valuable enough once to be used as money in the
old days on earth. But hardly valuable enough, then, even in real
quantity, to be worth the six lives it had cost up to now--counting
his and Darbor's as already lost. First, Laird Martin, with his last
tragic thoughts of a tiny girl on Earth, now orphaned. Then the three
men down the slope, hideous in their bulged and congealing death.
Himself and Darbor next on the list, with not much time to go. All for
a few crystals of--Salt!

       *       *       *       *       *

The end was as viciously ironic as the means had been brutal, but
greed is an ugly force. It takes no heed of men and their brief,
futile dreams.

Denver shrugged and rejoined his small garrison. The girl, in spite of
the comradeship of shared danger, was as greedy as the others outside.
Instinctively, Denver knew that, and he found the understanding in
himself to pity her.

"Are they still out there?" he asked needlessly.

Darbor nodded. "What did you find?"

He debated telling her the truth. But why add the bitterness to the
little left of her life? Let her dream. She would probably die without
ever finding out that she had thrown herself away following a mirage.
Let her dream and die happy.

"Enough," he answered roughly. "But does it matter?"

Her eyes rewarded his deceit, but the light was too poor for him to
see them. It was easy enough to imagine stars in them, and even a man
without illusions can still dream.

"Maybe it will matter," she replied. "We can hope for a miracle. It
will make all the difference for us if the miracle happens."

Denver laughed. "Then the money will make a difference if we live
through this? You mean you'll stay with me?"

Darbor answered too quickly. "Of course." Then she hesitated, as if
something of his distaste echoed within her. She went on, her voice
strange. "Sure, I'm mercenary. I've been broke in Venusport, and again
here on Luna. It's no fun. Poverty is not all the noble things the
copybooks say. It's undignified and degrading. You want to stop
washing after a while, because it doesn't seem to matter. Yes, I want
money. Am I different from other people?"

Denver laughed harshly. "No. I just thought for a few minutes that you
were. I hoped I was at the head of your list. But let's not quarrel.
We're friends in a jam together. No miracle is going to happen. It's
stupid to fight over a salt mine, empty at that, when we're going to
die. I'm like you; I wanted a miracle to happen, but mine didn't
concern money. We both got what we asked for, that's all. If you bend
over far enough somebody will kick you in the pants. I'm going out,
Darbor. Pray for me."

The blankness of her face-plate turned toward him. A glitter, dark and
opaque, was all he could make out.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I know it was the wrong answer. But don't be a
fool. He'll kill you, and I'm afraid to be in the dark, alone."

"I'll leave Charley with you."

Denver broke the girl's clasp on his arm and edged slow to the
doorway. He shouted.

"Hey, Caltis!"

There was stunning silence. Then a far, muted crackle in his

A voice answered, "Yes? I'm here. What's on your mind, funny boy?"

"A parley."

"Nuts, but come on out. I'll talk."

"You come up," Denver argued. "I don't trust you."

Big Ed Caltis considered the proposition. "How do I know you won't try
to nail me for hostage?"

"You don't. But I'm not a fool. What good would it do even if I killed
you. Your men are down there. They'd still want the mine. I don't
think they care enough about you to deal. They'd kill us anyhow. Bring
your gun if it makes you feel more like a man."

After an interval Big Ed Caltis appeared in the doorway. As he entered
Denver retreated into the shadow-zone until he stood close beside the
rude barricade.

"I'll bargain with you, Caltis. You can have the workings. Let us go
free, with an hour's start in my space sled. I'll sign over any share
we could claim and agree never to bother you again. It's no use to a
corpse. Just let us go."

Caltis gave a short laugh. In the earphones, it sounded nasty.

"No deal, Denver. I hate your guts. And I want Darbor. I've got both
of you where I want you, sewed up. We can sit here and wait. We've
plenty of air, food and water. You'll run short. I want you to come
out, crawling. She can watch you die, slowly, because I'm not giving
you any air, water or food. Then I want her to squirm a while before I
kick her back into the sewers. You can't bargain. I have her, you, the
workings. I've got what I want."

Hate and anger strangled Denver's reply. Caltis skulked back out of
sight. Without moving, Denver hailed him again.

"Okay, puttyface!" Denver screamed. "You asked for it. I'm coming out.
Stand clear and order off your thugs or I'll squeeze you till your
guts squirt out your nose like toothpaste from a tube. I'll see how
much man there is left in you. It'll be all over the slope when I'm

His taunt drew fire as he had hoped it would. He dodged quickly behind
the shelter of the barricade. A beam of dazzling fire penciled the
rock wall. It crackled, spread, flaring to incredible heat and light.
It exploded, deluging the gallery with glare and spattering rock.

After the glare, darkness seemed thick enough to slice.

In that second of stunned reaction blindness, Denver was leaping the
barricade and sprinting toward the entrance. Caltis came to meet him.
Both fired at once. Both missed. The random beams flicked at the
rough, timbered walls and lashed out with thunderous violence.

Locked together, the men pitched back and forth. They rocked and
swayed, muscles straining. It was deadlock again. Denver was youth and
fury. Caltis had experience and the training of a fighter. It was
savage, lawless, the sculptured stance of embattled champions. Almost
motionless, as forces canceled out. The battle was equal.


While they tangled, both blocked, Darbor slipped past them and stood
outside the entrance. She was exposed, a clear target. But the men
below dared not fire until they knew where Caltis was, what had
happened to him. She held the enemy at bay. Gun ready, Darbor faced
down the slopes. It was not necessary to pull trigger. Not for the
moment. She waited and hoped and dared someone to move.

Neither man gave first. It was the weakened timbering that supported
the gallery roof. Loose stones rained down. Dry, cold and brittle wood
sagged under strain. Both wild shots had taken shattering effect.
Timbers yielded, slowly at first, then faster. Showering of loose
stones became a steady stream. A minor avalanche.

Darbor heard the sound or caught some vibration through her helmet
microphones. The men were too involved to notice. Caltis heard her. He
got a cruel nosehold, twisted Denver's nose like an instrument dial.
Denver screamed, released his grip. In the scramble, his foot slipped.
Darbor cried out shrill warning.

Breaking free, Caltis bolted in panic toward the entrance.

The fall of rock was soundless. It spilled down in increasing
torrents. Larger sections of ceiling were giving away.

Above the prostrate Denver hovered a poised phantom of eerie light.
Charley, bored, had gone to sleep. Awakening, he found a game still
going on. A fine new game. It was fascinating. He wanted to join the
fun. Like an angle of reflected light cast by a turning mirror, he

The running figure aroused his curiosity. Charley streamed through the
collapsing gallery. He caught up with Caltis just inside the entrance.
With a burble of insane, twittering glee, he went into action. It was
all in the spirit of things. Just another delightful game.

Like a thunderbolt he hurtled upon Caltis, tangled with him. It was
absurd, insane. Man and moondog went down together in a silly sprawl.
Sparks flew, became a confused tesseract of luminous motion. Radiance
blazed up and danced and flickered and no exact definition of the
intertwined bodies was possible. Glowing lines wove fat webs of living
color. It was too swift, too involved for any sane perception.

A wild, sprawling of legs, arms and body encircled and became part of
the intricacies of speeding, impossible light.

It was a mess.

Some element or combination of forces in Charley, inspired by
excitement and sheer delight, made unfortunate contact with ground
currents of vagrant electricity. Electricity ceased to be invisible.
It became sizzling, immense flash, in which many complexities made
part of a simple whole. It was spectacular but brief. It was a flaming
vortex of interlocked spirals of light and color and naked force. It
was fireworks.

And it was the end of Big Ed Caltis. He fried, and hot grease
spattered about him. He sizzled like a bug on a hot stove.

When Denver reached the entrance, man and moondog lay in a curious
huddle of interrupted action. It was over.

Charley was tired, but he still lived and functioned after his curious
fashion. For the moment, he had lost interest in further fun and
games. He lay quietly in a corner of rough rock and tried to rebuild
his scattered and short-circuited energies. He pulsed and crackled and
sound poured in floods of muffled static from the earphones in
Denver's helmet.

But this was no time for social amenities. Big Ed Caltis was dead,
very dead. But the others down the slope were still alive.

Like avenging angels, Denver and Darbor charged together down the
slope. Besiegers scattered and fled in panic as twinned beams of
dreadful light and heat scourged their hiding places. They fled
through the grotesque shadow patterns of Lunar night. They fled back,
some of them, to the black ship which had brought them. And there,
they ran straight into the waiting arms of a detail from Space Patrol

       *       *       *       *       *

Tod Denver's friend, the watchman, had talked. From spaceport he had
called the Space Patrol and talked where it would do some good. A bit
late to be of much use, help had arrived. It took the Space Patrol
squads a half hour to round up the scattered survivors.

Darbor went back to the mine-buildings with the Space Patrol
lieutenant as escort. Denver trudged wearily back up the slope to
recover Charley.

The moondog was in a bad way. He bulged badly amidships and seemed
greatly disturbed, not to say temperamental. With tenderness and
gentle care, Denver cradled the damaged Charley in his arms and made
his way back to the living shack at the mine. Space Cops were just
hustling in the last of the prisoners and making ready to return to
civilization. Denver thanked them, but with brief curtness, for
Charley's condition worried him. He went inside and tried to make his
pet comfortable, wondering where one would look on the Moon for a
veterinary competent to treat a moondog.

Darbor found him crouched over Charley's impoverished couch upon the
metal table.

"I want to say goodbye," she told him. "I'm sorry about Charley. The
lieutenant says I can go back with them. So it's back to the bright
lights for me."

"Good luck," Denver said shortly, tearing his attention from Charley's
flickering gyrations. "I hope you find a man with a big fat bankbook."

"So do I," Darbor admitted. "I could use a new wardrobe. I wish it
could have been you. If things had worked out--"

"Forget it," Denver snapped. "There'd have been Martin's kid. She'd
have got half anyhow. You wouldn't have liked that."

Darbor essayed a grin. "You know, I've been thinking. Maybe the old
guy was my father. It could be. I never knew who my old man was, and I
did go to school on Earth. Reform school."

Denver regarded her cynically. "Couldn't be. I'm willing to believe
you don't know who your father was. Some women should keep books. But
that kid's not Martian."

Darbor shrugged. "Doesn't matter. So long, kid. If you make a big
strike, look me up."

The Space Patrol lieutenant was waiting for her. She linked arms with
him, and vanished toward the ship. Denver went back to Charley.
Intently he studied the weird creature, wondering what to do.

A timid knock startled him. For a moment, wild hope dawned. Maybe

But it wasn't Darbor. A strange girl stood in the doorway. She pushed
open the inner flap of the airlock and stepped from the valve.

"I was looking around," she explained. "I bummed my way out with the
Patrol Ship. Do you mind?"

Denver scowled at her. "Should I?"

The girl tried a smile on him but she looked ill-at-ease. "You look
like one of the local boy scouts," she said. "How about helping a lady
in distress?"

"I make a hobby of it," he snarled. "I don't even care if they're
ladies. But I'm fresh out of romance and slightly soured. And I'm
worried about the one friend who's dumb enough to stick by me. You
picked a bad time to ask. What do you want?"

The girl smiled shyly. "All right, so you don't look like a boy scout.
But I'm still a girl in a jam. I'm tired and broke and hungry. All I
want is a sandwich, and maybe a lift to the next town. I should have
gone back with the Patrol ship but I guess they forgot me. I thought
maybe, if you're going somewhere that's civilized, I could bum a lift.
What's wrong with your friend?"

Denver indicated Charley. "Frankly, I don't know." He balked at trying
to explain again just what a moondog was. "But who are you? What did
you want here?"

The girl stared at him. "Didn't you know? I'm Soleil. My father owned
this mine. He thought he'd found something, and sent for me to share
it. It took the last of our money to get me here, but I wanted to
come. We hadn't seen each other for twenty years. Now he's dead, and
I'm broke, alone and scared. I need to get to some place where I can
dream up an eating job."

"You're Martin's kid?"

Soleil nodded, absently, looking at Charley. The moondog gave a
strange, electronic whimper. There was an odd expression on the girl's
face. A flash of inspiration seemed to enlighten her.

"I'll take care of this," she said softly. "You wait outside."

Somewhat later, after blinding displays of erratic lightnings had
released a splendor of fantastic color through the view-ports to
reflect staggeringly from the mountain walls, a tired girl called out
to Tod Denver.

She met him inside the airlock. In her arms snuggled a pile of
writhing radiance, like glowing worms. Moonpups. A whole litter of

"They're cute," Soleil commented, "but I've never seen anything quite
like this before."

"It must have been a delayed fuse," said Denver, wilting. "Here we go

He fainted....

       *       *       *       *       *

Awakening was painful to Denver. He remembered nightmare, and the
latter part of his memory dealt with moonpups. Swarms of moonpups. As
if Charley hadn't been enough. He was not sure that he wanted to open
his eyes.

He thought he heard the outer flap of the airlock open, then someone
pounding on the inner door. Habit of curiosity conquered, and his
eyelids blinked. He looked up to find a strange man beside his bed.
The man was fat, fussy, pompous. But he looked prosperous, and seemed

Denver glanced warily about the room. After all, he had been strained.
Perhaps it was all part of delirium. No sign of the girl either. Could
he have imagined her, too? He sighed and remembered Darbor.

"Tod Denver?" asked the fat, prosperous man. "I got your name from a
Sergeant of Security Police in Crystal City. He says you own a
moondog. Is that true?"

Denver nodded painfully. "I'm afraid it is. What's the charge?"

The stranger seemed puzzled, amused. "This may seem odd to you, but
I'm in the market for moondogs. Scientific laboratories all over the
system want them, and are paying top prices. The most unusual and
interesting life form in existence. But moondogs are scarce. Would you
consider parting with yours? I can assure you he'll receive kind
treatment and good care. They're too valuable for anything else."

Denver almost blanked out again. It was too much like the more
harrowing part of his dreams. He blinked his eyes, but the man was
still there.

"One of us is crazy," he mused aloud. "Maybe both of us. I can't sell
Charley. I'd miss him too much."

Suddenly, as it happens in dreams, Soleil Martin stood beside him. Her
arms were empty, but she stood there, smiling.

"You wouldn't have to sell Charley," she said, giving Denver a
curious, thrusting glance. "Had you forgotten that you're now a
father, or foster-grandfather, or something. You have moonpups, in
quantity. I had to let you lie there while I put the little darlings
to bed. And it's not Charley any more, please. Charlotte. It has to be

Denver paled and groaned. He turned hopefully to the fat stranger.

"Say, mister, how many moonpups can you use?"

"All of them, if you'll sell." The man whipped out a signed, blank
check, and quickly filled in astronomical figures. Denver looked at
it, whistled, then doubted first his sanity, then the check.

"Take them," Denver murmured. "Take them, quick, before you change
your mind, or all this evaporates in dream."

A moondog has no nerves. Charley--or Charlotte--had none, but the
brood of moonpups had already begun to get on whatever passed for
nerves in his electronic make-up. He was glad and relieved to be rid
of his numerous progeny. He, or she, showed passionate and
embarrassing affection for Denver, and even generously included Soleil
Martin in the display.

Denver stared at her suddenly while she helped the commission agent
round up his radiant loot and make ready for the return to town. It
was as if he were seeing her for the first time. She was pretty. Not
beautiful, of course. Just pretty. And nice. He remembered that he was
carrying her picture in his pocket.

She was even an Earth-girl. They were almost as scarce in the moon
colonies as moondogs.

"Look here," he said. "I have money now. I was going out prospecting
but it can wait. I kind of inherited you from your father, you know.
Do you need dough or something?"

Soleil laughed. "I need everything. But don't bother. I haven't any
claim on you. And I can ride back to the city with Mr. Potts. He looks
like a better bet. He can write such big checks, too."

Denver made a face of disgust. "All women are alike," he muttered
savagely. "Go on, then--"

Soleil frowned. "Don't say it. Don't even think it. I'm not going
anywhere. Not till you go. I just wanted you to ask me nice. I'm
staying. I'll go prospecting with you. I like that. Dad made me study
minerals and mining. I can be a real help. With that big check, we can
get a real outfit."

Denver stopped dreaming. "But you don't know what it's like out there.
Just empty miles of loneliness and heat and desert and mountains of
bare rock. Not even the minimum comforts. Nights last two Earth weeks.
There'd just be you and me and Charlotte."

Soleil smiled fondly. "It listens good, and might be fun. I like
Charlotte and you. I'm realistic and strong enough to be a genuine

Tod Denver gasped. "You sure know what you want--Partner!" He grinned.
"Now we'll have a married woman along. I was worried about wandering
around, unprotected, with a female moondog--"

Soleil laughed. "I think Charlotte needs a chaperone."

       *       *       *       *       *

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