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The last great empire of Mars, a series of fertile islands in the heart of a shallow marshlike sea near the equator, came abruptly to an end sometime in the Dark Ages of Earth. Less than a thousand Martian years have passed since the led sands swallowed the Sea of Raba and its several score doomed cities and towns. . . .

It was in the last years of the empire that science reached its peak. During the reign of Raba Dagan, the Wise, scientists shook o? the shackles of gravitation and voyaged in huge metal ships to the moons, and to Venus and Earth. The trading ships of Raba exploited the savage tribes existing at either pole, and her miners reopened long-abandoned mines rimming the dead sea bottoms.

Then, with the death of Reba Dagan, came the first of a series of plundering Voldurians, better known as Toads, gray-fleshed, lumpy, four-foot entities from outer space. And almost overnight the Sea of Raba vanished. The hungry red sands, unchecked now, swallowed the ravaged islands and buried the domes.

To the north and to the south fled the survivors, there to battle and mingle their blood with the dwindling savage descendants of earlier civilizations. Yet the memory of their vanished fertile homeland persisted in their legends and was woven into the intricate structure of their theism.

The dune-buried islands and dead cities became a lost paradise that was to he eventually restored to its pristine culture and fertility. . . .

From "Ancient Cultures ol Mars"
by Redford Blys, published by
Red Planet Pubs., Inc., 2041 A.D

JUD LEE ran stubby brown fingers through his snowy hair before he let the pressure helmet drop back in place. Despite the laboring pressure pumps the air in the leaky cabin of the prospecting helicopter was uncomfortably thin. For the last three days he had lived, eaten, and slept almost exclusively in his pressure suit.

"Lopez!" he called as he snapped on the ship-to-ship audiophone.

The receivers in his helmet rattled in response. Have to check for loose connections or use the spare helmet, he decided. He bumped the transparent faee-plate with a hooded wrist and the voice cleared.

". . . speaking."

"Almost in the heart of Raba Depression," he said, his eyes continuing their endless sweep of the desolate dunes and ridged hollows. "No sign of water or desert growth. Two ruined cities off to the north. One just ahead."

"No luck here either." Vincent Lopez's voice was unsteady. "We have but a week remaining, my friend."

"If we could only blast the Toads out of the northern canals, we'd have water in plenty. Ten cruisers from Earth would do the trick. But we do nothing. Let them force us off Mars or use all our profits buying water!"

"Si," agreed Lopez bitterly, "but the Rhett Peace Pact says no. For no longer raiding Venus and Earth, we give the northland of Mars to the invaders."

"South Mars Limited maybe had a finger in the pie. Their polar waterways are free of grafting Voldurians."

Lopez grunted assent. "Reminds me—seen anything of that SML passenger liner reported missing yesterday?"

"Nope. Uh, wait a minute. Something down here. Outcrop of rock maybe, or a building. . . .

"Dropping down to a hundred feet. . . . Uh, oh! It's the ship all right. Half buried in a dune and shattered. Must have exploded."

"What's your position, Jud?" Lee snapped back the readings, easing the heli down toward the base of the marching dune.

"Stepping out to look her over, Lopez. Stand by."

"Heading for you. Visibility almost zero. Sandstorm kicking up." Lopez snapped out something in disgusted Spanish.

"Not bad. here. Better climb above it. So long."

Lee took his featherweight sand spade and left the heli's cabin on the side opposite the stiff southern breeze. He swung to the left, around the swirling turtle-paced toe of the marching hillock of ruddy sand. Here it was more sheltered and in a dozen paces he had reached the twisted debris of the half-covered wreck.

He cleared away the sand swiftly. In two minutes he had wriggled through the burst-open cabin's wall. He gulped at what he saw.

A minute later he was calling Lopez. "Five passengers and three crew members. All dead."

"Emergency call made it six passengers, one female."

"All men." Lee frowned at the slowly advancing wall of sand particles. The breeze was growing in power. "She may have been thrown free. Cabin split open like a nut."

"We'll radio from the base." Lopez's voice was strained. "Getting really knotty here, Jud. Better take off before it gets you."

The transmitter of the little Mexican partner of Jud Lee clicked off. The water prospectors and mineralogists of Northern Mars Incorporated always worked in pairs. And never at greater distances than forty" miles from one another. So the desert storm would soon be upon Lee.

He took off, the sudden blast of thin air as he topped the dunes almost smashing him downward again. He climbed as fast as the sky prop's blades permitted. And his hands froze on the controls.

A pinpoint of light blossomed in the growing dusk of swirling dust clouds and endured for brief seconds—an emergency flare. Less than a quarter mile to the north it was. He headed toward it and finally spotted a pressure-suited shape kneeling in the shelter of a minor dune.

Somehow he landed less than a dozen feet beyond the woman. She came crawling through the blast of the sky prop and he yanked her into the cabin. He sent the ship lurching skyward, and, once clear of the sand, locked its controls for 500 feet.

The helmet slid from the woman's dusty head. He saw a tear-stained face and long reddish-brown hair. Her eyes were big, blue and staring with the terror she had known. Lee took in the flabby cheeks and the pouting lips and did not like what he saw.

"I'm thirsty," she said. "Give me some water."

Lee held a water flask for her and pushed her hands away after the first swallows. "Uh, uh," he said.

"Give me that water, Grandpa," she snarled weakly at him. "My father'll put you back at mining if you don't."

"Your father will?" Lee laughed. "And who's he?"

"Commander Banton, you fool! Now give me that drink."

Lee stuffed the flask into his pressure suit's zippered belly pouch. He snapped on the transmitter, calling Lopez again. Between calls for his comrade he studied his unwelcome passenger.

"So you're 'Louse' Banton," he mused. "Worst spoiled brat on Mars. And from South Mars, too!"

"My name is Lois!" the girl fairly screamed, "and I am not a brat!"

"Shut up," ordered Lee abruptly. "Yeah, this's Lee. You okay, Lopez? Great. . . .

"Got the girl. Jet-happy little dame left the wreck and started off on foot! Hon...

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