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A space-trip from Venus to Earth was what Jim Weston wanted-what he got was a shanghaied trip on a Mars-bound rocket, as a member of Saturnian Slane's slave-crew. And when they crashed on Mars' red desert, to be made captives of the torture-loving Vens, this Earthman showed a Saturnian bully that on any planet it's guts, not size, that makes the man!


CEASELESS rain dripped from the low-hanging clouds, only to rise again in wisps of steam as it struck the gleaming sidewalks. From the fetid green Venusian jungles that encircled the town, drifted brightly colored spores, like bits of confetti, fioat-ing lightly in the thick mist. Death to anyone whose lungs they entered, for the spores feasted on human tissue. Multiplying with frightful rapidity, they choked the lungs, the blood stream, causing swift, sure death.

Jim Weston, standing under the overhang of a grey crystalloid building, adjusted the spore-mask that covered his mouth and nose, eyed the opaque fog with a disconsolate shake of his head. Venus in all its doubtful glory! It made a man feel as though he had been tossed into a giant's cauldron of stewing spinach. Jim's hands touched the heavy lead container strapped to his belt. Twenty ounces of radium, his pay as chief engineer on the Jovian aqueduct job. Enough to take him to Earth a hundred times over. . . and he was forced to stay in this steaming hellhole until a terrestial-bound ship made port! Which might be months, with the Venusian grain trade so slack of late. Two years fighting mud, gravity, and methane gas on the oozy surface of Jupiter, the maddeningly long Jovian-Venus space trip, and now the prospect of months on this green hothouse planet. Jim sighed dismally, set out in the direction of the space port. Perhaps the captain of one of those rusty freighters now unloading at the docks might be persuaded to m a ke this trip to Earth. . . .

The space port was a desolate sight. Quick-rooting fennis weeds sprouted from between chinks in the sagging masonry, forced apart the massive stones of the docks. A few crystalloid warehouses and grain elevators, a wet, scum-covered administration building, several slatternly, patched-plated tramps, lying like huge grey slugs in the slimy mud of the landing field. The only signs of life about the spaceport emanated, in the form of tawdry multiphone music, from a little cafe sandwiched between two warehouses. Jim made his way toward it, pushed open the door, stepped into the cafe's tiny spore-lock. After a five minute soaking in germicide-laden air, he slapped the dead spores from his coat, stepped through the inner entrance.

The tavern was worse, Jim thought, than even the dives of Jupiter. Smoke from a dozen strange narcotics dimmed the light of the radite lamps; the too-sweet odor of Venusian thole mingled with the smell of Martian tong and Terrestrial whisky; pallid, overly made-up women, all but nude in their sheer cellosilk dresses, sat hopefully at tables, sipping apparently endless glasses of thole. The men who lined the bar were for the most part space-hands, tiny red-skinned Martians, squat Jovians, and nondescript waifs from the asteroids, the moons of Saturn. Jim stepped up to the rail, beckoned to the bartender.

"Where can I get information on those freighters outside?" he demanded. "I want to ship out of this green hell."

Before the bartender could answer, a heavy hand fell upon Jim's shoulder.

"Ship out?" a. deep voice boomed. "You've come to the right place lad. I'm Slane, skipper of the Astric. As soon as I can muster up a crew from among these rats, I'm leaving for Mars."

Jim glanced up at the owner of the deep voice. The man was huge, nearly seven feet tall and amazingly broad in proportion. His arms were long, gorilla-like, and the sweat-soaked shirt, clinging damply to his skin, revealed great rippling muscles that spoke of inhuman strength. The giant was, to judge from his narrow, reddish eyes, his absolutely hairless head, a Saturnian; his neck still bore the reddish chafe of a Swenson helmet. Most significant of all, his wrists were circled with wide silvery scars, scars that could only have been made by the tightly welded fetters of the Saturnian prison colony. Clearly the big man's past had been a checkered one.

"Well?" Slane's coarse features broke into an expansive grin. "Outward appearances don't hold for ships nor men. You'll find the Astric a tidy craft and me a thoughtful skipper. ('omc-, lad, I need men to replace those of my crew who were knocked off by these blasted Venusian spores. You're a bit scrawny" . . . his gaze swept Jim's slender, wiry frame . . . "but beggars can't be choosers. We'll sign articles, all fair and square, and you'll get fifty thaels when we land on Mars."

JIM eyed the man narrowly. There was something in his tone, a cunning persuasiveness, that did not ring quite true.

"Mars?" he shook his head. "Earth's my destination. And I didn't figure on working my way. Small difference between Mar's red-hot deserts and this fever-ridden pest hole. What I've been dreaming of these three years is the cool sweet fields of Earth."

"A passenger!" Slane's red eyes became mere slits. "That smacks of money. Earth's none too healthy for me just now, my little friend. but perhaps for a price. . . ." He picked up his spore-mask from the bar, turned toward the door. "Hardly a matter to discuss in this thieves' nest. Outside on the decks we'll have privacy. Come along."<...

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