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Planet Stories VOL. 5, NO. 7 JULY, 1952

BRIDE OF THE DARK ONE

By FLORENCE VERBELL BROWN

The outcasts; the hunted of all the brighter worlds, crowded onto
Yaroto. But even here was there salvation for Ransome, the jinx-
scarred acolyte, when tonight was the night of Bani-tai... the
night of expiation by the photo-memoried priests of dark Darion
?

THE last light in the Galaxy was torch. High in the rafters of Mytor's Cafe Yaroto it burned, and its red glare illuminated a gallery of the damned. Hands that were never far from blaster or a knife; eyes that picked a hundred private hells out of the swirling smoke where a woman danced.

She was good to look at, moving in time to the savage rhythm of the music. The single garment she wore bared her supple body, and thighs and breasts and a cloud of dark hair wove a pattern of desire in the close room.

Fat Mytor watched, and his little crafty eyes gleamed. The Earth-girl danced like a she-devil tonight. The tables were crowded with the outcast and the hunted of all the brighter worlds. The woman's warm body, moving in the torchlight, would stir memories that men had thought they left light years behind. Gold coins would shower into Mytor's palm for bad wine, for stupor and forgetfulness.

Mytor sipped his imported amber kali, and the black eyes moved with seeming casualness, penetrating the deep shadows where the tables were, resting briefly on each drunken, greedy or fear-ridden face.

It was an old process with Mytor, nearly automatic. A glance told him enough, the state of a man's mind and senses and wallet. This trembling wreck, staring at the woman and nursing a glass of the cheapest green Yarotian wine, had spent his last silver. Mytor would have him thrown out. Another, head down and muttering over a tumbler of raw whiskey, would pass out before the night was over, and wake in an alley blocks away, with his gold in Mytor's pocket. A third wanted a woman, and Mytor knew what kind of a woman.

When the dance was nearly over Mytor heaved out of his chair, drew the rich folds of his native Venusian tarab about his bulk, and padded softly to a corner of the room, where the shadows lay deepest. Smiling, he tested a moist, jeweled paw on the table at which Ransome, the Earthman, sat alone.

Blue eyes looked up coldly out of a weary, lean face. The voice was bored.

I've paid for my bottle and I have nothing left for you to steaL We have nothing in common, no business together. Now, if you don't mind, you're in my line of vision, and I'd like to watch the finish of the dance."

The fat Venusian's smile only broadened.

"May I sit down, Mr. Ransome?" he persisted. "Here, out of your line of vision?"

"The chair belongs to you," Ransome observed flatly.

"Thank you."

Covertly, as he had done for hours now, Mytor studied the gaunt, pale Earthman in the worn space harness. Ransome had apparently dismissed the Venusian renegade already, and his cold blue eyes followed the woman's every movement with fixed intensity.

The music swept on toward its climax and the woman's body was a storm of golden flesh and tossing black hair. Mytor saw the Earthman's pale lips twist in the faint suggestion of a bitter smile, saw the long fingers tighten around the glass.

Every man had his price on Yaroto, and Ransome would not be the first Mytor had bought with a woman. For a moment, Mytor watched the desire brighten in Ransome's eyes, studied the smile that some men wear on the way to death, in the last moment when life is most precious.

IN THIS moment Ransome was for sale. And Mytor had a proposition.

"You were not surprised that I knew your name, Mr. Ransome?"

"Let's say that I wasn't interested."

Mytor flushed but Ransome was looking at him at the woman. The Venusian wiped is forehead with a soiled handkerchief, drummed fat fingers on the table for a moment, tried a different tack.

"Her name is Irene. She's lovely, isn't she, Mr. Ransome? Surely the inner worlds showed you nothing like her. The eyes, the red mouth, the breasts like—"

"Shut up," Ransome grated, and the glass shattered between his clenched fingers.

"Very well, Mr. Ransome." Whiskey trickled from the edge of the table in slow, thick drops, staining Mytor's white tarab. Ice was in the Venusian's voice. "Get out of my place—now. Leave the whiskey, and the woman. I have no traffic with fools."

Ransome sighed.

"I've told you, Mytor that you're wasting your time. But make your pitch, if you must."

"Ah, Mr. Ransome, you do not care to go out into the starless night. Perhaps there are those who wait for you, eh? With very long knives?"

Reflex brought Ransome's hand up in a lightning arc to the blaster holstered under...

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