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´╗┐Title: Marley's Chain
Author: Nourse, Alan Edward, 1928-1992
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 "Marley's Chain" ***

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 If Worlds of Science Fiction September
    1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.

                            MARLEY'S CHAIN

                          By Alan E. Nourse

     _Tam's problem was simple. He lived in a world that belonged
      to someone else._

       *       *       *       *       *

They saw Tam's shabby clothing and the small, weather-beaten bag he
carried, and they ordered him aside from the flow of passengers, and
checked his packet of passports and visas with extreme care. Then they
ordered him to wait. Tam waited, a chilly apprehension rising in his
throat. For fifteen minutes he watched them, helplessly.

Finally, the Spaceport was empty, and the huge liner from the outer
Asteroid Rings was being lifted and rolled by the giant hooks and
cranes back into its berth for drydock and repair, her curved,
meteor-dented hull gleaming dully in the harsh arc lights. Tam watched
the creaking cranes, and shivered in the cold night air, feeling
hunger and dread gnawing at his stomach. There was none of the elation
left, none of the great, expansive, soothing joy at returning to Earth
after eight long years of hard work and bitterness. Only the cold,
corroding uncertainty, the growing apprehension. Times had changed
since that night back in '87--just how much he hardly dared to guess.
All he knew was the rumors he had heard, the whispered tales, the
frightened eyes and the scarred backs and faces. Tam hadn't believed
them then, so remote from Earth. He had just laughed and told himself
that the stories weren't true. And now they all welled back into his
mind, tightening his throat and making him tremble--

"Hey, Sharkie. Come here."

Tam turned and walked slowly over to the customs official who held his
papers. "Everything's in order," he said, half defiantly, looking up
at the officer's impassive face. "There isn't any mistake."

"What were you doing in the Rings, Sharkie?" The officer's voice was

"Indenture. Working off my fare back home."

The officer peered into Tam's face, incredulously. "And you come back
here?" He shook his head and turned to the other officer. "I knew
these Sharkies were dumb, but I didn't think they were that dumb." He
turned back to Tam, his eyes suspicious. "What do you think you're
going to do now?"

Tam shrugged, uneasily. "Get a job," he said. "A man's got to eat."

The officers exchanged glances. "How long you been on the Rings?"

"Eight years." Tam looked up at him, anxiously. "Can I have my papers

A cruel grin played over the officer's lips. "Sure," he said, handing
back the packet of papers. "Happy job-hunting," he added sardonically.
"But remember--the ship's going back to the Rings in a week. You can
always sign yourself over for fare--"

"I know," said Tam, turning away sharply. "I know all about how that
works." He tucked the papers carefully into a tattered breast pocket,
hefted the bag wearily, and began trudging slowly across the cold
concrete of the Port toward the street and the Underground. A wave of
loneliness, almost overpowering in intensity, swept over him, a
feeling of emptiness, bleak and hopeless. A chilly night wind swept
through his unkempt blond hair as the automatics let him out into the
street, and he saw the large dirty "New Denver Underground" sign with
the arrow at the far side of the road. Off to the right, several miles
across the high mountain plateau, the great capitol city loomed up,
shining like a thousand twinkling stars in the clear cold air. Tam
jingled his last few coins listlessly, and started for the downward
ramp. Somewhere, down there, he could find a darkened corner, maybe
even a bench, where the police wouldn't bother him for a couple of
hours. Maybe after a little sleep, he'd find some courage, hidden away
somewhere. Just enough to walk into an office and ask for a job.

That, he reflected wearily as he shuffled into the tunnel, would take
a lot of courage--

       *       *       *       *       *

The girl at the desk glanced up at him, indifferent, and turned her
eyes back to the letter she was typing. Tam Peters continued to stand,
awkwardly, his blond hair rumpled, little crow's-feet of weariness
creeping from the corners of his eyes. Slowly he looked around the
neat office, feeling a pang of shame at his shabby clothes. He should
at least have found some way to shave, he thought, some way to take
some of the rumple from his trouser legs. He looked back at the
receptionist, and coughed, lightly.

She finished her letter at a leisurely pace, and finally looked up at
him, her eyes cold. "Well?"

"I read your ad. I'm looking for a job. I'd like to speak to Mr.

The girl's eyes narrowed, and she took him in in a rapid, sweeping
glance, his high, pale forehead, the shock of mud-blond hair, the
thin, sensitive face with the exaggerated lines of approaching middle
age, the slightly misty blue eyes. It seemed to Tam that she stared
for a full minute, and he shifted uneasily, trying to meet the cold
inspection, and failing, finally settling his eyes on her prim, neatly
manicured fingers. Her lip curled very slightly. "Mr. Randall can't
see you today. He's busy. Try again tomorrow." She turned back to

A flat wave of defeat sprang up in his chest. "The ad said to apply
today. The earlier the better."

She sniffed indifferently, and pulled a long white sheet from the
desk. "Have you filled out an application?"


"You can't see Mr. Randall without filling out an application." She
pointed to a small table across the room, and he felt her eyes on his
back as he shuffled over and sat down.

He began filling out the application with great care, making the
printing as neat as he could with the old-style vacuum pen provided.
Name, age, sex, race, nationality, planet where born, pre-Revolt
experience, post-Revolt experience, preference--try as he would, Tam
couldn't keep the ancient pen from leaking, making an unsightly blot
near the center of the form. Finally he finished, and handed the paper
back to the girl at the desk. Then he sat back and waited.

Another man came in, filled out a form, and waited, too, shooting Tam
a black look across the room. In a few moments the girl turned to the
man. "Robert Stover?"

"Yuh," said the man, lumbering to his feet. "That's me."

"Mr. Randall will see you now."

The man walked heavily across the room, disappeared into the back
office. Tam eyed the clock uneasily, still waiting.

A garish picture on the wall caught his eyes, a large, very poor oil
portrait of a very stout, graying man dressed in a ridiculous green
suit with a little white turban-like affair on the top of his head.
Underneath was a little brass plaque with words Tam could barely make

             Abraham L. Ferrel


       Founder and First President
       Marsport Mines, Incorporated

       "Unto such men as these,
        we look to leadership."

Tam stared at the picture, his lip curling slightly. He glanced
anxiously at the clock as another man was admitted to the small back

Then another man. Anger began creeping into Tam's face, and he fought
to keep the scowl away, to keep from showing his concern. The hands of
the clock crept around, then around again. It was almost noon. Not a
very new dodge, Tam thought coldly. Not very new at all. Finally the
small cold flame of anger got the better of him, and he rose and
walked over to the desk. "I'm still here," he said patiently. "I'd
like to see Mr. Randall."

The girl stared at him indignantly, and flipped an intercom switch.
"That Peters application is still out here," she said brittlely. "Do
you want to see him, or not?"

There was a moment of silence. Then the voice on the intercom grated,
"Yes, I guess so. Send him in."

The office was smaller, immaculately neat. Two visiphone units hung on
a switchboard at the man's elbow. Tam's eyes caught the familiar
equipment, recognized the interplanetary power coils on one. Then he
turned his eyes to the man behind the desk.

"Now, then, what are you after?" asked the man, settling his bulk down
behind the desk, his eyes guarded, revealing a trace of boredom.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam was suddenly bitterly ashamed of his shabby appearance, the
two-day stubble on his chin. He felt a dampness on his forehead, and
tried to muster some of the old power and determination into his
voice. "I need a job," he said. "I've had plenty of experience with
radio-electronics and remote control power operations. I'd make a good

"I can read," the man cut in sharply, gesturing toward the application
form with the ink blot in the middle. "I read all about your
experience. But I can't use you. There aren't any more openings."

Tam's ears went red. "But you're always advertising," he countered.
"You don't have to worry about me working on Mars, either--I've worked
on Mars before, and I can work six, seven hours, even, without a mask
or equipment--"

The man's eyebrows raised slightly. "How very interesting," he said
flatly. "The fact remains that there aren't any jobs open for you."

The cold, angry flame flared up in Tam's throat suddenly, forcing out
the sense of futility and defeat. "Those other men," he said sharply.
"I was here before them. That girl wouldn't let me in--"

Randall's eyes narrowed amusedly. "What a pity," he said sadly. "And
just think, I hired every one of them--" His face suddenly hardened,
and he sat forward, his eyes glinting coldly. "Get smart, Peters. I
think Marsport Mines can somehow manage without you. You or any other
Sharkie. The men just don't like to work with Sharkies."

Rage swelled up in Tam's chest, bitter futile rage, beating at his
temples and driving away all thought of caution. "Look," he grated,
bending over the desk threateningly. "I know the law of this system.
There's a fair-employment act on the books. It says that men are to be
hired by any company in order of application when they qualify equally
in experience. I can prove my experience--"

Randall stood up, his face twisted contemptuously. "Get out of here,"
he snarled. "You've got nerve, you have, come crawling in here with
your law! Where do you think you are?" His voice grated in the still
air of the office. "We don't hire Sharkies, law or no law, get that?
Now get out of here!"

Tam turned, his ears burning, and strode through the office, blindly,
kicking open the door and almost running to the quiet air of the
street outside. The girl at the desk yawned, and snickered, and went
back to her typing with an unpleasant grin.

Tam walked the street, block after block, seething, futile rage
swelling up and bubbling over, curses rising to his lips, clipped off
with some last vestige of self-control. At last he turned into a small
downtown bar and sank wearily onto a stool near the door. The anger
was wearing down now to a sort of empty, hopeless weariness, dulling
his senses, exaggerating the hunger in his stomach. He had expected
it, he told himself, he had known what the answer would be--but he
knew that he had hoped, against hope, against what he had known to be
the facts; hoped desperately that maybe someone would listen. Oh, he
knew the laws, all right, but he'd had plenty of time to see the
courts in action. Unfair employment was almost impossible to make
stick under any circumstances, but with the courts rigged the way they
were these days--he sighed, and drew out one of his last credit-coins.
"Beer," he muttered as the barkeep looked up.

The bartender scowled, his heavy-set face a picture of fashionable
distaste. Carefully he filled every other order at the bar. Then he
grudgingly set up a small beer, mostly foam, and flung some small-coin
change down on the bar before Tam. Tam stared at the glass, the little
proud flame of anger flaring slowly.

A fat man, sitting nearby, stared at him for a long moment, then took
a long swill of beer from his glass. "'Smatter, Sharkie? Whyncha drink
y'r beer 'n get t' hell out o' here?"

Tam stared fixedly at his glass, giving no indication of having heard
a word.

The fat man stiffened a trifle, swung around to face him. "God-dam
Sharkie's too good to talk to a guy," he snarled loudly.
"Whassa-matter, Sharkie, ya deaf?"

Tarn's hand trembled as he reached for the beer, took a short swallow.
Shrugging, he set the glass on the bar and got up from his stool. He
walked out, feeling many eyes on his back.

He walked. Time became a blur to a mind beaten down by constant
rebuff. He became conscious of great weariness of both mind and body.
Instinct screamed for rest....

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam sat up, shaking his head to clear it. He shivered from the chill
of the park--the cruel pressure of the bench. He pulled up his collar
and moved out into the street again.

There was one last chance. Cautiously his mind skirted the idea,
picked it up, regarded it warily, then threw it down again. He had
promised himself never to consider it, years before, in the hot, angry
days of the Revolt. Even then he had had some inkling of the shape of
things, and he had promised himself, bitterly, never to consider that
last possibility. Still--

Another night in the cold out-of-doors could kill him. Suddenly he
didn't care any more, didn't care about promises, or pride, or
anything else. He turned into a public telephone booth, checked an
address in the thick New Denver book--

He knew he looked frightful as he stepped onto the elevator, felt the
cold eyes turn away from him in distaste. Once he might have been
mortified, felt the deep shame creeping up his face, but he didn't
care any longer. He just stared ahead at the moving panel, avoiding
the cold eyes, until the fifth floor was called.

The office was halfway down the dark hallway. He saw the sign on the
door, dimly: "United Continents Bureau of Employment", and down in
small letters below, "Planetary Division, David G. Hawke."

Tarn felt the sinking feeling in his stomach, and opened the door
apprehensively. It had been years since he had seen Dave, long years
filled with violence and change. Those years could change men, too.
Tam thought, fearfully; they could make even the greatest men change.
He remembered, briefly, his promise to himself, made just after the
Revolt, never to trade on past friendships, never to ask favors of
those men he had known before, and befriended. With a wave of warmth,
the memory of those old days broke through, those days when he had
roomed with Dave Hawke, the long, probing talks, the confidences, the
deep, rich knowledge that they had shared each others dreams and
ideals, that they had stood side by side for a common cause, though
they were such different men, from such very different worlds. Ideals
had been cheap in those days, talk easy, but still, Tam knew that Dave
had been sincere, a firm, stout friend. He had known, then, the
sincerity in the big lad's quiet voice, felt the rebellious fire in
his eyes. They had understood each other, then, deeply,
sympathetically, in spite of the powerful barrier they sought to tear

The girl at the desk caught his eye, looked up from her work without
smiling. "Yes?"

"My name is Tam Peters. I'd like to see Mr. Hawke." His voice was
thin, reluctant, reflecting overtones of the icy chill in his chest.
So much had happened since those long-dead days, so many things to
make men change--

The girl was grinning, her face like a harsh mask. "You're wasting
your time," she said, her voice brittle.

Anger flooded Tarn's face. "Listen," he hissed. "I didn't ask for your
advice. I asked to see Dave Hawke. If you choose to announce me now,
that's fine. If you don't see fit, then I'll go in without it. And you
won't stop me--"

The girl stiffened, her eyes angry. "You'd better not get smart," she
snapped, watching him warily. "There are police in the building. You'd
better not try anything, or I'll call them!"

"That's enough Miss Jackson."

The girl turned to the man in the office door, her eyes disdainful.

The man stood in the doorway, a giant, with curly black hair above a
high, intelligent forehead, dark brooding eyes gleaming like live
coals in the sensitive face. Tam looked at him, and suddenly his knees
would hardly support him, and his voice was a tight whisper--


And then the huge man was gripping his hand, a strong arm around his
thin shoulders, the dark, brooding eyes soft and smiling. "Tam,
Tam--It's been so damned long, man--oh, it's good to see you, Tam.
Why, the last I heard, you'd taken passage to the Rings--years ago--"

Weakly, Tam stumbled into the inner office, sank into a chair, his
eyes overflowing, his mind a turmoil of joy and relief. The huge man
slammed the door to the outer office and settled down behind the desk,
sticking his feet over the edge, beaming. "Where have you _been_, Tam?
You promised you'd look me up any time you came to New Denver, and I
haven't seen you in a dozen years--" He fished in a lower drawer.

"No, no--thanks. I don't think I could handle a drink--" Tam sat back,
gazing at the huge man, his throat tight. "You look bigger and better
than ever, Dave."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dave Hawke laughed, a deep bass laugh that seemed to start at the
soles of his feet. "Couldn't very well look thin and wan," he said. He
pushed a cigar box across the desk. "Here, light up. I'm on these
exclusively these days--remember how you tried to get me to smoke
them, back at the University? How you couldn't stand cigarettes? Said
they were for women, a man should smoke a good cigar. You finally
converted me."

Tam grinned, suddenly feeling the warmth of the old friendship
swelling Back. "Yes, I remember. You were smoking that rotten corncob,
then, because old Prof Tenley smoked one that you could smell in the
back of the room, and in those days the Prof could do no wrong--"

Dave Hawke grinned broadly, settled back in his chair as he lit the
cigar. "Yes, I remember. Still got that corncob around somewhere--" he
shook his head, his eyes dreamy. "Good old Prof Tenley! One in a
million--there was an honest man, Tam. They don't have them like that
in the colleges these days. Wonder what happened to the old goat?"

"He was killed," said Tam, softly. "Just after the war. Got caught in
a Revolt riot, and he was shot down."

Dave looked at him, his eyes suddenly sad. "A lot of honest men went
down in those riots, didn't they? That was the worst part of the
Revolt. There wasn't any provision made for the honest men, the really
good men." He stopped, and regarded Tam closely. "What's the trouble,
Tam? If you'd been going to make a friendly call, you'd have done it
years ago. You know this office has always been open to you--"

Tam stared at his shoe, carefully choosing his words, lining them up
in his mind, a frown creasing his forehead. "I'll lay it on the line,"
he said in a low voice. "I'm in a spot. That passage to the Rings
wasn't voluntary. I was shanghaied onto a freighter, and had to work
for eight years without pay to get passage back. I'm broke, and I'm
hungry, and I need to see a doctor--"

"Well, hell!" the big man exploded. "Why didn't you holler sooner?
Look, Tam--we've been friends for a long time. You know better than to
hesitate." He fished for his wallet. "Here, I can let you have as much
as you need--couple hundred?"

"No, no--That's not what I'm getting at." Tam felt his face flush with
embarrassment. "I need a job, Dave. I need one bad."

Dave sat back, and his feet came off the desk abruptly. He didn't look
at Tam. "I see," he said softly. "A job--" He stared at the ceiling
for a moment. "Tell you what," he said. "The government's opening a
new uranium mine in a month or so--going to be a big project, they'll
need lots of men--on Mercury--"

Tam's eyes fell, a lump growing in his throat. "Mercury," he repeated

"Why, sure, Tam--good pay, chance for promotion."

"I'd be dead in six months on Mercury." Tam's eyes met Dave's, trying
to conceal the pain. "You know that as well as I do, Dave--"

Dave looked away. "Oh, the docs don't know what they're talking

"You know perfectly well that they do. I couldn't even stand Venus
very long. I need a job on Mars, Dave--or on Earth."

"Yes," said Dave Hawke sadly, "I guess you're right." He looked
straight at Tam, his eyes sorrowful. "The truth is, I can't help you.
I'd like to, but I can't. There's nothing I can do."

Tam stared, the pain of disillusionment sweeping through him. "Nothing
you can do!" he exploded. "But you're the _director_ of this bureau!
You know every job open on every one of the planets--"

"I know. And I have to help get them filled. But I can't make anyone
hire, Tam. I can send applicants, and recommendations, until I'm blue
in the face, but I can't make a company hire--" He paused, staring at
Tam. "Oh, hell," he snarled, suddenly, his face darkening. "Let's face
it, Tam. They won't hire you. Nobody will hire you. You're a Sharkie,
and that's all there is to it, they aren't hiring Sharkies. And
there's nothing I can do to make them."

Tam sat as if he had been struck, the color draining from his face.
"But the law--Dave, you know there's a law. They _have_ to hire us, if
we apply first, and have the necessary qualifications."

The big man shrugged, uneasily. "Sure, there's a law, but who's going
to enforce it?"

Tam looked at him, a desperate tightness in his throat. "_You_ could
enforce it. You could if you wanted to."

       *       *       *       *       *

The big man stared at him for a moment, then dropped his eyes, looked
down at the desk. Somehow this big body seemed smaller, less
impressive. "I can't do it, Tam. I just can't."

"They'd have to listen to you!" Tam's face was eager. "You've got
enough power to put it across--the court would _have_ to stick to the

"I can't do it." Dave drew nervously on his cigar, and the light in
his eyes seemed duller, now. "If it were just me, I wouldn't hesitate
a minute. But I've got a wife, a family. I can't jeopardize them--"

"Dave, you know it would be the right thing."

"Oh, the right thing be damned! I can't go out on a limb, I tell you.
There's nothing I can do. I can let you have money, Tam, as much as
you need--I could help you set up in business, maybe, or anything--but
I can't stick my neck out like that."

Tam sat stiffly, coldness seeping down into his legs. Deep in his
heart he had known that this was what he had dreaded, not the fear of
rebuff, not the fear of being snubbed, unrecognized, turned out. That
would have been nothing, compared to this change in the honest,
forthright, fearless Dave Hawke he had once known. "What's happened,
Dave? Back in the old days you would have leaped at such a chance. I
would have--the shoe was on the other foot then. We talked, Dave,
don't you remember how we talked? We were friends, you can't forget
that. I _know_ you, I _know_ what you believe, what you think. How can
you let yourself down?"

Dave Hawke's eyes avoided Tam's. "Times have changed. Those were the
good old days, back when everybody was happy, almost. Everybody but me
and a few others--at least, it looked that way to you. But those days
are gone. They'll never come back. This is a reaction period, and the
reaction is bitter. There isn't any place for fighters now, the world
is just the way people want it, and nobody can change it. What do you
expect me to do?" He stopped, his heavy face contorted, a line of
perspiration on his forehead. "I hate it," he said finally, "but my
hands are tied. I can't do anything. That's the way things are--"

"But _why_?" Tam Peters was standing, eyes blazing, staring down at
the big man behind the desk, the bitterness of long, weary years
tearing into his voice, almost blinding him. "_Why is that the way
things are?_ What have I done? Why do we have this mess, where a man
isn't worth any more than the color of his skin--"

Dave Hawke slammed his fist on the desk, and his voice roared out in
the close air of the office. "Because it was coming!" he bellowed.
"It's been coming and now it's here--and there's nothing on God's
earth can be done about it!"

Tam's jaw sagged, and he stared at the man behind the desk.
"Dave--think what you're saying, Dave--"

"I know right well what I'm saying," Dave Hawke roared, his eyes
burning bitterly. "Oh, you have no idea how long I've thought, the
fight I've had with myself, the sacrifices I've had to make. You
weren't born like I was, you weren't raised on the wrong side of the
fence--well, there was an old, old Christmas story that I used to
read. Years ago, before they burned the Sharkie books. It was about an
evil man who went through life cheating people, hating and hurting
people, and when he died, he found that every evil deed he had ever
done had become a link in a heavy iron chain, tied and shackled to his
waist. And he wore that chain he had built up, and he had to drag it,
and drag it, from one eternity to the next--his name was Marley,

"Dave, you're not making sense--"

"Oh, yes, all kinds of sense. Because you Sharkies have a chain, too.
You started forging it around your ankles back in the classical Middle
Ages of Earth. Year by year you built it up, link by link, built it
stronger, heavier. You could have stopped it any time you chose, but
you didn't ever think of that. You spread over the world, building up
your chain, assuming that things would always be just the way they
were, just the way you wanted them to be."

The big man stopped, breathing heavily, a sudden sadness creeping into
his eyes, his voice taking on a softer tone. "You were such fools," he
said softly. "You waxed and grew strong, and clever, and confident,
and the more power you had, the more you wanted. You fought wars, and
then bigger and better wars, until you couldn't be satisfied with
gunpowder and TNT any longer. And finally you divided your world into
two armed camps, and brought Fury out of her box, fought with the
power of the atoms themselves, you clever Sharkies--and when the dust
settled, and cooled off, there weren't very many of you left. Lots of
us--it was your war, remember--but not very many of you. Of course
there was a Revolt then, and all the boxed up, driven in hatred and
bloodshed boiled up and over, and you Sharkies at long last got your
chain tied right around your waists. You were a long, long time
building it, and now you can wear it--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam's face was chalky. "Dave--there were some of us--you know there
were many of us that hated it as much as you did, before the Revolt.
Some of us fought, some of us at least tried--"

The big man nodded his head, bitterly. "You thought you tried, sure.
It was the noble thing to do, the romantic thing, the _good_ thing to
do. But you didn't really believe it. I know--I thought there was some
hope, back then, some chance to straighten things out without a
Revolt. For a long time I thought that you, and those like you, really
meant all you were saying, I thought somehow we could find an equal
footing, an end to the hatred and bitterness. But there wasn't any
end, and you never really thought there ever would be. That made it so
safe--it would never succeed, so when things were quiet it was a nice
idea to toy around with, this equality for all, a noble project that
couldn't possibly succeed. But when things got hot, it was a different
matter." He stared at Tam, his dark eyes brooding. "Oh, it wasn't just
you, Tam. You were my best friend, even though it was a hopeless,
futile friendship. You tried, you did the best you could, I know. But
it _just wasn't true_, Tam. When it came to the pinch, to a real jam,
you would have been just like the rest, basically. It was built up in
you, drummed into you, until no amount of fighting could ever scour it

Dave Hawke stood up, walked over to the window, staring out across the
great city. Tam watched him, the blood roaring in his ears, hardly
able to believe what he had heard from the big man, fighting to keep
his mind from sinking into total confusion. Somewhere a voice deep
within him seemed to be struggling through with confirmation, telling
him that Dave Hawke was right, that he never really _had_ believed.
Suddenly Dave turned to him, his dark eyes intense. "Look, Tam," he
said, quickly, urgently. "There are jobs you can get. Go to Mercury
for a while, work the mines--not long, just for a while, out there in
the sun--then you can come back--"

Tam's ears burned, fierce anger suddenly bursting in his mind, a
feeling of loathing. "Never," he snapped. "I know what you mean. I
don't do things that way. That's a coward's way, and by God, I'm no

"But it would be so easy, Tam--" Dave's eyes were pleading now.

Tam's eyes glinted. "No dice. I've got a better idea. There's one
thing I can do. It's not very nice, but at least it's honest, and
square. I'm hungry. There's one place where I can get food. Even
Sharkies get food there. And a bed to sleep in, and books to
read--maybe even some Sharkie books, and maybe some paper to write
on--" He stared at the big man, oddly, his pale eyes feverish. "Yes,
yes, there's one place I can go, and get plenty to eat, and get away
from this eternal rottenness--"

Dave looked up at him, his eyes suspicious. "Where do you mean?"

"Prison," said Tam Peters.

"Oh, now see here--let's not be ridiculous--"

"Not so ridiculous," snapped Tam, his eyes brighter. "I figured it all
out, before I came up here. I knew what you were going to say. Sure,
go to Mercury, Tam, work in the mines a while--well, I can't do it
that way. And there's only one other answer."

"But, Tam--"

"Oh, it wouldn't take much. You know how the courts handle Sharkies.
Just a small offense, to get me a few years, then a couple of attempts
to break out, and I'd be in for life. I'm a Sharkie, remember. People
don't waste time with us."

"Tam, you're talking nonsense. Good Lord, man, you'd have no freedom,
no life--"

"What freedom do I have now?" Tam snarled, his voice growing wild.
"Freedom to starve? Freedom to crawl on my hands and knees for a
little bit of food? I don't want that kind of freedom." His eyes grew
shrewd, shifted slyly to Dave Hawke's broad face. "Just a simple
charge," he said slowly. "Like assault, for instance. Criminal
assault--it has an ugly sound, doesn't it, Dave? That should give me
ten years--" his fist clenched at his side. "Yes, criminal assault is
just what ought to do the trick--"

The big man tried to dodge, but Tam was too quick. His fist caught
Dave in the chest, and Tam was on him like a fury, kicking,
scratching, snarling, pounding. Dave choked and cried out, "Tam, for
God's sake stop--" A blow caught him in the mouth, choking off his
words as Tam fought, all the hate and bitterness of long weary years
translated into scratching, swearing desperation. Dave pushed him off,
like a bear trying to disentangle a maddened dog from his fur, but Tam
was back at him, fighting harder. The door opened, and Miss Jackson's
frightened face appeared briefly, then vanished. Finally Dave lifted a
heavy fist, drove it hard into Tam's stomach, then sadly lifted the
choking, gasping man to the floor.

The police came in, seconds later, clubs drawn, eyes wide. They
dragged Tam out, one on each arm. Dave sank back, his eyes filling, a
sickness growing in the pit of his stomach. In court, a Sharkie would
draw the maximum sentence, without leniency. Ten years in prison--Dave
leaned forward, his face in his hands, tears running down his black
cheeks, sobs shaking his broad, heavy shoulders. "Why wouldn't he
listen? Why couldn't he have gone to Mercury? Only a few months, not
long enough to hurt him. Why couldn't he have gone, and worked out in
the sun, got that hot sun down on his hands and face--not for long,
just for a little while. Two or three months, and he'd have been dark
enough to pass--"


       *       *       *       *       *

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