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COME TO VENUS—AND DIE!

By F. Willard Grey

A beauty in distress usually finds plenty
of men ready to help her. But on Venus
you refused her quick or you kind of died!

A GROWING roar of sound drew Greg Doyle's attention from the jet flier on which ha was working. He pulled his head and shoulders out of the craft's opened engine section and peered upward over the vast expanse of the spaceport, his gray eyes narrowed In their habitual squint.

Appearing from the eternal cloud blanket of Venus, a great space liner was dropping down on the thunderously flaming column of its jets. The ship was from Earth, Doyle saw. He lifted his square shoulders in a shrug of indifference, reminding himself that he had come to Venus to forget certain things on Earth.

But as he packed his tool kit he couldn't resist glancing at the passengers who had emerged from the liner and were being jeeped past, on their way to Korremkaz, the Venusian capital, which lay just beyond the spaceport.

The people Doyle glimpsed were clean and well-dressed, obviously prosperous. People with responsibility, a goal in life. He looked at his wrinkled, sweat-soaked shirt and oil-stained flying pants, and bitterness deepened the lines of his angular, beard-stubbled face.

"A bum!" he muttered. "Financially and morally, a bum." Then he grinned wryly, thinking that few bums could boast of a string of engineering degrees after their names.

He stepped from the scaffold to one of the stubby projections that were the flier's retracted wings. From here he could reach into the open door of the cabin. He tossed the tool kit inside, gathered up his jacket and cap, and pushed the door shut. Then he swung to the ground, stretching cramped muscles in his back as he stood for a moment to survey the flier. The corners of his firm mouth quirked.

"Old tub!" The whisper held affection.

The jet flier quite clearly had seen better days. It was scratched, dented and discolored, but despite its slovenly, dissipated appearance it managed to retain a rakishly jaunty air, a quality that particularly appealed to Doyle. Most important, however, was the fact that the craft was still in excellent operating condition. That meant all the difference between independence and working at a job. If, Doyle thought, independence meant ferrying in supplies to isolated plantations in the uplands, acting as pilot on risky chartered flights, and occasionally indulging in a bit of smuggling and gun-running. He didn't intend to argue the point. It all brought In plenty of money—money he never managed to keep very long.

Doyle was wheeling away the scaffold when he became suddenly aware of figures beside him.

"You are Gregory Doyle?" a strange, hissing voice asked, above the background noise of the spaceport.

DOYLE TURNED slowly, gray eyes narrowing in a squint as they always did at anything interesting or unexpected. He found himself looking at two Venusians, startlingly man-like in shape, with leathery, greenish-bronze skin. Both were of a pattern, massively hulking, their mouths hard and their protruberant eyes arrogant. They wore the usual kilts, but their harness and gleaming headpieces were those of minor officials—special police agents.

The Venusians had been little more than barbarians when the first Earthmen had arrived among them. In the distant past they had reached a high level of culture, but natural catastrophe as well as their own warlike natures had led to degeneration. The coming of men from Earth virtually had meant being presented with civilized knowledge and luxuries on a silver platter. To their credit, however, the Venusians had made incredible progress. Currently they were self-governing to a large extent, though Earthmen still held the reins in matters directly related to their colonization and exploitation of Venus.

It was no secret that the Venusians chafed at. these last restraints, desiring the additional power and affluence which were being withheld from them. But on Earth it was almost unanimously admitted that the Venusians were not yet ready for complete autonomy. Their warlike traditions and habits were still dominant beneath their civilized veneer. For this reason certain scientific knowledge was also being withheld from them— especially that regarding atomic energy and weapons. The blood-thirsty ferocity of Venusian attacks against the first human settlers had not been forgotten, and men were cautious about putting a nuclear club in Venusian hands.

Doyle's mind was working swiftly, a band of tension tight around his chest. Smuggling wasn't a serious crime—according to Venusian law, which mimicked that of Earth with often comical results—but had he slipped up somewhere? He knew he couldn't afford to pay a fine just then, and that meant going to jail. Venusians just loved to get Earthmen in jail. It gave them the chance to work off their pent-up inferior-race feelings.

Doyle asked quietly, "What do you want?"

THE VENUSIAN who had originally spoken had a purple scar on one muscular cheek. He was evidently the leader of the pair. His companion, a closer inspection showed, ran more to brute strength than intelligence.

Purple-scar was scowling. "I asked if you were Gregory Doyle."

"That happens to be my name."

"Then why did you not admit it at once?"

"My question was an admission."

"I do not like to be answered with questions!" Purple-scar snapped.

"So you don't like it," Doyle said. He met the other's angry stare calmly and fingered a yellow okka cigarette from the pack in the breast pocket of his shirt.

"Insolent Kazko, eh?" Purple-scar demanded, glancing at his companion. Kazko was a Venusian term applied to Earthmen in a derogatory sense.

Doyle shrugged. "It's your party. Either tell me what you want, or I'm going to- my hotel. I'm tired and can use some sleep."

"Not so fast, Kazko! You will be wise to answer my questions. Now, do you often hire out your flying craft to those who wish to go on special flights?"

"Quite often."

"To anyone who wishes to hire it?"

"That depends on what I'm supposed to do... where I'm supposed to fly."

"But for enough guras you will do anything, fly anywhere, eh?" Purplescar asked slyly.

Doyle spread his hands. "I'm in business for profit, you know. Mind telling me what all this leads up to? You want to hire my ship?"

"Great Zut's claws!" the Venusian hissed. "I do not want to hire your ship, Kazko! I am here to tell you not to hire it out until further notice."

Doyle squinted. The cigarette became motionless half-way to his lips. Finally he said, "By whose orders?"

"The orders of persons who will cancel your flying permit if you do not obey."

"Persons in the Venusian government, in other words."

"Important ones," Purple-scar admitted. "You are under Venusian authority in this matter, Kazko, do not forget that. It should now be clear that you had better cooperate."

DOYLE DREW thoughtfully on his cigarette. He suspected that politics—the ham-handed and often bloody Venusian type—was involved. He didn't try to figure out how or why just then. What mattered most at the moment was that his means of livelihood was in danger of being cut off. Not permanently, but the phrase "until further notice" might mean the same thing.

"This order," ha said at last. "It applies to anyone who might want to hire my ship?"

The Venusian with the scar hesitated, his protuberant eyes lidding slyly. "Certain persons, Kazko."

"Only an Earth woman," the other Venusian abruptly put in. He grunted in pain as his partner jabbed an elbow into his side.

"Muzzag, you fool, didn't I tell you to keep your mouth shut?"

Muzzag's thick lips drooped sullenly. "Why talk and say nothing? Let us get this task over with."

"Zut curse you, be silent!"

Doyle smiled grimly. It seemed he wasn't supposed to have been told too much, merely given blanket orders. Muzzag had clumsily tipped the hand of his unknown superior.

Doyle said, "So an Earth woman is the only one I'm not supposed to hire my ship to?"

Purple-scar jerked his bulky shoulders, in obvious fury. "An Earth woman, yes. A girl, to be exact. Young, pretty, according to Earth standards. Under no conditions are you to fly her anywhere. Do you understand, Kazko?"

Doyle shook his rumpled brown head. "To tell the truth, I don't."

PURPLE-SCAR thrust his scowling face close to Doyle's. He said with menacing deliberation, "But you understand that your permit can be cancelled? You understand that certain important persons could also see to it that something... unpleasant happened to you?"

Doyle blew smoke slowly from his nostrils. He said nothing.

Purple-scar straightened, his wide mouth twisted in a sneer. "You have been warned, Kazko. Conduct yourself accordingly." Turning, he shoved his companion roughly into motion, and they strode away with the arrogant swagger that was a mark of their profession.

Doyle watched them go, squinting. What did it all mean? An Earth girl seemed likely to hire his ship. Certain persons in the Venusian government wished to prevent it. Persons, It was evident, so highly placed in authority that they could issue orders through special police agents.

But what was this mysterious Earth girl's purpose? Why should important government officials want to oppose her? And above all, why should they take such a secretive means of doing so?

Doyle shook his head. It didn't make sense. Only one thing seemed clear: helping the girl would mean the loss of his flying permit—and worse, if Purple-Scar was to be taken seriously. Doyle didn't like the idea of losing his permit. He had worn himself a comfortable rut in this part of Venus, and starting over again somewhere else wouldn't be easy.

Besides, he told himself, no woman was worth the trouble. He had gone into exile to nurse the wounds one had inflicted—wounds that even yet hadn't quite healed.

He shrugged and started toward the spaceport exit. He was going to his hotel. He needed sleep. If the girl showed up, he'd inform her she could go to blazes.

DOYLE HAD just clutched Purplescar by his harness, pulled him forward, and swung a crashing blow against the Venusian's jaw. His knuckles produced a flat, rapping sound. That was wrong, somehow. And what was worse, the rapping went on even after Purple-scar dropped with satisfying limpness.

Grappling with the problem, Doyle struggled up from sleep. He realized that someone was knocking at the door of his room.

He sat up on the bed, suddenly wide awake. "Who is it?" he called out.

"I... I want to speak to Gregory Doyle."

Doyle squinted into the darkness. That had been a girl's voice. Was it the girl he had been warned against?

"Just a minute," he called back. He swung out of bed and switched on a light. A quick glance at his watch showed he had been asleep several hours. It was early evening, according to the Venusian day.

Doyle dressed hurriedly, then unlocked the door and swung it open. He stared, a name rushing to his lips. But in the next instant he saw he had made a mistake. It wasn't the same girl—the girl he had come to Venus to forget. There was the same auburn hair, the same pert nose and creamy skin; but this was a different girl. The past was to stay buried after all.

Doyle got himself under control. "I'm Greg Doyle," he said. "Will you come in?"

The girl nodded hesitantly, and he stood aside as she went past him, into the room. She stood in the middle of the floor, stiff with unease, watching him. He gestured at the only chair, and she seated herself gingerly, her hands twisting at the small accessory case in her lap.

She seemed aware, Doyle thought, that visiting a strange man in his hotel room wasn't exactly the thing to do. He felt a grudging admiration for her. Whatever the purpose that drove her, it had taken a special brand of courage to come this far.

He saw that she was looking around the room, at the bare walls, the cheap furniture, the carelessly scattered clothing; at the table, with its overflowing ashtray, litter of newssheets, and half-empty bottle of keth liquor. He felt a surge of defiance. Just a cheap hotel room, kept none too neat, but it was home to him. What did he care for what she thought?

Doyle took a cigarette from a pack on the table and sat down on the bed.

The girl said abruptly: "I was told that you often hire out your jet flier on chartered flights."

Doyle blew a cloud of smoke and nodded. Her eyes were brown, he saw, steady and direct. Her features were small and even, holding vivacity and humor instead of just the empty doll-like prettiness of the girl she so startlingly resembled. She wore a hooded cape over a mannish ...

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