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Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Planet Stories July 1952. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on
this publication was renewed.

[Illustration: _If I'm going to die it's going to be my way - that
was Latham's last thought._]



_Once he had been a tall, straight spaceman, free as the
galaxies. Now Joel Latham was a tsith-addict, a beach-comber
at Venusport. Maybe he'd get one last chance...._

* * * * *

His sleep-drugged mind was slow to respond. He was lying face down, he
knew that. And he ought to get up. If he didn't get up he would drown.
Something hot and heavy, like a huge hand, was pressing him deeper
into the brackish mire. He pondered. Perhaps it were better to drown.
For a moment he allowed himself the luxury of the thought, then
decided against it. Plenty of time later for drowning. First there was
something he had to do!

So it was that Joel Latham, Earthman, age thirty, occupation space
drifter, avocation tsith drinker, awakened on this most momentous of

Moaning in protest, he slowly rolled himself over. The sun slapped him
hard against the eyes. He blinked against the pain and saw that he was
still in Venusport; rather he was at the edge of the swamp near the
sprawling compound. Overhead the ionic field was aglow, humming
softly, beating back the obscurant mists.

He managed to stand up. Some of the pallid-faced gweels, out in the
swamp, stopped their work to stare at him. Latham grimaced. Every
fiber of him, especially his brain, seemed to have been squeezed dry.
Then it came. He felt it coming and there was nothing he could do to
stop it. The hammering nausea took him suddenly about the middle,
bending him double.

"I'm an Earthman," Joel Latham groaned aloud. That was invariably the
first reaction of the tsith hound, at least with Terrestrials who
indulged in the deadly stuff; a piteous protest half in defiance, half
in despair. The nausea reached up through his stomach, through his
chest and into his throat. It became more than nausea. It grew thorns
that stabbed inwardly, jagged edges that sawed away at his brain with
a terrible need. He fell forward on hands and knees ... and that's
when he saw the little Martian who crouched a few feet away, watching

"I went through mine a few minutes ago," the Martian said in a
monotone. "Yours will go away presently."

"I know ... it will. Been through this ... before."

"You obviously have. Many times."

Many times was an understatement, Latham thought wretchedly. But this
was one of the worst ones, even worse than the time on Callisto.
Thinking about it didn't help.

He turned his gaze back to the Martian. That didn't help either.

Most Martians are lean and brown and ugly. This one was that, and
more. What had once been clothes were tattered and spattered with
swamp mud. The hair was a wisp, the teeth only a memory. The skin was
tight and leathery across the bony structure of the face, the eyes
distended and yellow, the unmistakable sign of a tsith hound.

Latham grimaced, managed to grind out: "Do I look as bad as you?"

"Worse," the little Martian was matter-of-fact.

"I believe you." He looked long and hard at the Martian. "I remember
you now. Name's Kueelo. You were with me last night - "

Kueelo grinned, showing the stumps of yellowish teeth. "Correction.
Four nights ago. That's when it began."

Latham climbed to his feet. The reaction was going away but there was
still a dull apathy about his brain. Just to think was an aching

"Four days," he muttered. "How'd I come here?"

"So you don't remember that? You came on the pleasure yacht. The one
from Turibek."

* * * * *

"Turibek - " Latham was remembering now. Turibek, capital city of
Venus, far on the other side of the planet. He'd had a small stake and
was lucky at the gaming tables. Before that it was Callisto, where he
had struck it rich in the iridium fields; anyway, rich enough to keep
him supplied with tsith for a year. Before Callisto it had been Mars.
He had worked the rocket rooms of Jovian freighters, he had served as
tourist guide in the dark little streets of Ganymede City, and when
fortune was lowest he had begged in those streets and done worse
things than begging. Before that he couldn't remember. He went
wherever whim and fortune took him, but the whims were short-lived and
the fortune invariably ended at the bottom of a glass. The deadly
tsith twisted his brain awry and took its toll and drove him on. He
had been "on the beach" on half a dozen planets. Earth he shunned. He
hadn't set foot there in more years than he could remember. At first
it was because he was ashamed, but even that was gone now. Only a cold
sickness was left in the soul of Joel Latham.

He stared at this fellow tsith hound, this shell of a Martian, and
said, "What happened last night?"

"What always happens," Kueelo said wearily. "We used up all our
credit. Penger kicked us out."

It took Joel Latham a full minute to absorb that piece of information.
Mixed up with the agony in his eyes was a pensive look, but no
resentment; his need just now was too dire for resentment. He stared
across the swamp at the outpost's straggling street. Jake Penger was
the law here, and he owned the only supply of tsith. Latham recalled
him vaguely, a huge man, inscrutable, uncompromising.

"Penger," he muttered. "That's it. I knew there was something I was
going to do."

"What were you going to do?" Kueelo moved in closer, a sudden light of
interest in his eyes.

"See Penger, of course."


"I need tsith! And I'm going to need it worse before this day's over."

Kueelo's eyes went dull again. "We both do. How do you think you're
going to manage it?"

"I'll show you. Never let it be said that Joel Latham was helpless in
face of an emergency." With unsteady fingers he began a search of his
clothes. And that's when the final realization descended upon Joel
Latham. These weren't his clothes, not the ones he had when he came

He stared into the Martian's mango-like face. "I had a lucky piece. An
ancient Deimian jewel set in platinum. It's always been good for

Kueelo's sigh was like a wind through withered leaves. "That," he
said, "was used up two nights ago."

"I had a dis-gun, too! What happened to it?"

"We used that up last night. Penger allowed us four drinks apiece for

Latham nodded miserably. "The space yacht. I guess it's already gone."

"Two days ago. Your fine feathered friends shunned you when they
learned you were a tsith hound. But I stuck by you," Kueelo added

Latham sank heavily onto a clump of swamp grass. He stared at his
right hand. It had started trembling. He couldn't stop the trembling.
He wondered dully if he was frightened, or if that was a result of the
terrible craving that twisted and writhed within him. He stared up
into the Martian's face.

"Stranded," he said weakly. "But I'll get out of here. I'll hire out
on one of the freighters - "

"You won't." Kueelo's voice was matter-of-fact again. "Not when they
learn you're a tsith hound. And Penger will let them know, you can bet
on that. He's a devil, that Penger."

"But he's an Earthman, and I'm an Earthman!" Latham's voice was almost
a wail. His soul was withering within him.

"Tell Penger that and see what he answers you. You're on the beach, my
friend. You've been there before, but this is the final beach - the
swampside of Venus. And here you'll stay until Penger is ready to let
you go. I've been here five years."

Joel Latham put his head in his hands and tried to think. Kueelo's
voice droned on:

"You'll work for Penger. You'll work in the swamps. An Earthman, a
Martian, a Ganymedian can do ten times the work of one of these
gweels." He gestured at the pallid-faced low-Venusians who moved
listlessly through the mud, pulling up the draanga-weed. "You'll work
for the amount of tsith Penger portions out to you, and glad to get

At the word _tsith_, Latham's head came up. The dawning fear was gone
from his eyes.

"All right! I'll do it, but only for a while, mind you! I'll find a
way out of this. I'm getting back to the iridium fields on Callisto."

He plunged wildly into the mud and sank to his waist. But it was the
thought of tsith that drove him on, not Callisto. Kueelo stood by and
watched, a thin, knowing smile creasing his leathery lips.

A sort of frenzy had come upon Joel Latham. He tore at the stubborn
draanga-weed and brought it up dripping, tossing the long lengths
across his shoulder. He knew of this stuff.

When properly synthesized draanga-weed had a medicinal value on the
various planets. Penger shipped it out four times a year, at a neat
little profit.

Latham moved on. A yellowish fog had come down, the dreaded igniis
fatui. Unless one kept moving, decomposition of the blood set in,
essential salts within the body were dissolved and cellular activity
ceased. Latham grinned wryly. He doubted if it could touch him! There
was too much tsith within his alchemy. Nevertheless he moved and
worked ceaselessly. He could see that caricature of a Martian standing
back there watching.

Then it happened; the thing happened which was to prove both a promise
and a despair. Joel Latham felt a hardness at his heel, an irritating
lump inside his neoprene boot.

He moved back to higher ground, lifted his foot from the mire and
removed the boot. He shook something out into his hand. It was round
and hard and shiny, perhaps an inch in diameter. He held it aloft
between thumb and forefinger. The filtering sunlight struck it and
sent back lambent fires.

Joel Latham stared and gasped, felt his senses reeling.

"Purple!" he sobbed. "A purple Josmian!"

* * * * *

He was clambering back toward Kueelo. Forgetting the sweat in his eyes
and the insufferable heat, he held the thing aloft.

"Look at it!" he sobbed again. "Look at it shine! Look at the size!"

Kueelo was indeed looking. His yellowish eyes bulged. "A Josmian," he
whispered. "We've struck it rich!"

Joel Latham regarded the little caricature with astonishment.
Something of sanity came back to Joel Latham. "We?" he said. "I found
it. It's mine. I never knew you until four days ago!"

"But I stood by you," the Martian wailed. "Your friends deserted you,
but I stood by. Aren't we partners?"

Latham considered that. "No," he decided. "You stood by me as long as
I had credit for tsith! Until my money and lucky piece and dis-gun and
clothes were gone. Did you offer to help me out there?" he waved at
the swamp. "This Josmian is going to get me back to Callisto! Penger
ought to give me plenty for it."

What happened next was too swift for Latham's reeling senses. A
claw-like hand darted out, and Kueelo snatched the Josmian; his other
hand swung around and caught Latham hard across the throat, sending
him back into the swamp where he staggered for a moment and sat down

"Hey!" Latham protested. "Hey, look here - "

But the Martian was scuttling away like a huge fiddler crab, the
Josmian clutched in one scrawny fist.

Joel Latham came slowly up out of the mud, shaking his head and
grinning stupidly. It was very unkind of Kueelo to treat him like
this. He watched the Martian's departing figure. He made no effort to
follow - not at once - not until a strange new emotion, part frustration
and part despair, rose up in his breast, and close upon that the
dawning realization that he was being cheated of a last hope.

Even then he didn't hurry. He followed Kueelo, swinging along in slow
loping strides, but not gaining. He felt weak and sick. That jagged
need for tsith was again sawing away at his entrails. His feet tangled
in the outlying swamp grass, he plunged headlong and picked himself

Kueelo was heading for higher ground away from the compound. Kueelo
was yelling as he ran. Latham wondered why the devil he was yelling.
Then, some distance ahead, Latham could see a third man lifting
himself from the ground. The Jovian! Suddenly Latham remembered him.
The Jovian had been with them last night too. Now Kueelo was tugging
at the man, yelling, showing him the Josmian.

The Jovian hoisted his bulk erect, turned and waited for Latham,
grinning broadly. The grin didn't fool Latham. All Jovians grinned.
Some of them grinned while breaking a man's vertebrae. This was one of
the big ones, Latham noticed, and he was ugly, with long reaching arms
and wiry hair and a face that looked as if he'd slept in it.

Latham stopped just short of him and reached out a hand. "I want the
Josmian," said Joel Latham.

The Jovian came a step forward. "You leave Kueelo alone. Kueelo, he's
my friend."

"I'm going to have that Josmian," said Joel Latham.

The Jovian thrust out a huge fist with amazing speed. Latham caught at
it and hung on grimly. The Jovian brought his other hand around in an
arc that caught the Earthman across the face, sent him sprawling ten
feet away.

"Josmian belongs to us, now. You leave us alone."

Joel Latham sat there wiping blood from his face, watching the bestial
pair as they headed around the compound and into the matted jungle.
His last glimpse, just before darkness swallowed them up, was of
Kueelo grinning gleefully back at him.

Latham sighed. He stood up. The blow had shaken some of the resolve
out of him. He turned east, northeast, east-by-north, like a compass
on a binge. Then he saw Penger watching him from the outer gate of the
compound. Apparently Penger had seen it all.

Latham turned and ran toward Jake Penger.

"You saw them!" Latham wailed. "You saw it. They stole my Josmian!
You've got to stop them!"

* * * * *

Penger planted his feet wide apart and surveyed the snivelling
Earthman. Penger's dark face was hard-cut and impassive. He'd seen
these tsith hounds before. They came here and died here. He hated them

Penger said, "They did what?"

"The Josmian, the purple Josmian! I found it and they stole it from
me. You've got to help me, Penger!"

Penger said, "You're crazy."

"But I found it, I tell you! A big one. I'll sell it to you, Penger.
I'll - "

Penger said, "You're crazy with tsith. There hasn't been a Josmian
found in this swamp for ten years."

"Penger, listen to me - "

Penger said, "Forget it. You want tsith? You'll have tsith. But you'll
work and you'll work hard. You'll get the draanga-weed out."

"Penger, I'm an Earthman! I'm asking you as one Earthman to another - "
Latham stopped. He shivered. He looked into Penger's colorless eyes
and what he saw made his soul curl up within him.

"You're a what? An Earthman? You _were_ an Earthman! Now you're a
grubby little specimen of the genus tsith! You're a miserable, whining
little speck of matter wriggling toward the final transfixation! In
another year you won't even be that. You'll be dead and forgotten.
Don't come crawling to me talking about Earthmen!" The voice scraped
across Latham's naked nerve-ends. Penger's eyes blazed, and in his
trembling anger he almost raised a fist.

Latham cringed away. From out of his forgotten past something came to
Latham. He stared at the loom of jungle where Kueelo and the Jovian
had disappeared.

"I've seen the day," he complained miserably, "when they wouldn't get
away with this!"

"You've seen the day - period!"

"I'm asking you once more, Penger. Help me! At least give me back the

"The dis-gun? Now what would you want with the dis-gun? You'd only
come trading it back to me. You bring in the draanga-weed, that's all
I'm interested in! And if you work especially hard, there'll be some
tsith - enough for your needs."

Latham's eyes went fever-bright. His lips writhed back, a fit of
trembling took possession of his limbs. Almost, he succumbed to the
immediate vision of the tsith; almost, he forgot about the Josmian.
But somewhere deep in his alchemy was a well of stubbornness he never
knew he possessed.

He clutched at Penger's sleeve as the man turned away. He found
himself screaming, "Then I'll go without the gun! I'm going to get
that Josmian, do you hear? You'll believe me then! You'll believe when
you see it, Penger!"

Penger shook him away. "Sure, sure. You bring me a Josmian. Then we'll
talk a deal."

He wanted to ask for a drink, just one drink of tsith right now, but
Latham had learned the essential fact that there could be no
compromising with this man. He reeled away. His brief outburst had
left him weak and trembling. Nevertheless, he went stumbling toward
the looming wall of jungle.

He heard Penger's voice, a little annoyed: "Where are you going?"

Latham stumbled on.

"You fool, you don't know these jungles! You'll die in there! You
won't last an hour!"

Latham didn't look back. Penger didn't call again. Latham could almost
imagine the man's shrug of indifference.

Vision stopped five yards away. A soft glutinous muck, worse than the
outer swamp, tugged at his ankles. Corrupt fungi-growth and giant
spiked ferns reached far above him in the blanketing fog.

Penger was wrong! He wouldn't die in here. Latham knew where he was
going. Kueelo had told him of the gweel village a mere few miles away,
where the foothills came down to touch the jungle edge. Kueelo and the
Jovian had undoubtedly headed for there and planned to lie low for a
while; when the time was propitious, they would sneak back to the
outpost and make a deal with Penger for the Josmian.

The route was long and circuitous, hugging the fringe of jungle. The
gweels traveled it every day. But Latham had a better plan. By cutting
directly through the morass, he might just arrive there ahead of them!

He would arm himself somehow and wait ... the element of surprise ...
that's all he could hope for now.

He left the glutinous path, and to his surprise it wasn't so bad. The
growths towered many times higher but were not so dense. Occasionally
the sun evidenced itself against the paling of mists hundreds of feet
above. Lusty, primeval odors were almost an opiate to his senses.

He plunged on for some ten minutes before he began to doubt. Gradually
the gloom came alive with motion and sound and unseen terrors. He
tried to segregate those that might mean danger. There came first a
gentle whirring of wings through the mist, sweeping close above him
and away. There came a gentle ripple through the foliage beside him, a
slither of sound that kept pace endlessly.

Was this what Penger meant? Still Latham had seen nothing. He wished
he had his dis-gun, though.

He wished it desperately, as a heavier sound came near. A grayish bulk
charged directly across his path. It was monstrous, semi-reptilian,
with wings arched sinuously along its spine as it half reared toward
him. Latham fell back against a tree bole and stood motionless,
staring into glittering feral eyes. The beast coughed raucously and
went thrashing back into the welter of jungle and mud.

Latham stepped away. His foot caught in a root and he fell headlong.
Instantly, tiny spheres of diaphanous substance showered about his
head, to burst in a scatter of violet spores. Those that touched his
skin turned instantly blood-red, and seemed to grow, burrowing deep.
Frantically he pulled them from his flesh, leaving raw red sores.

There was no trail to guide him now, but he did not immediately mind
that. He trekked the South Mars Desert and he had weathered the
jungles of Io. Tsith hound or no, he had an unerring instinct for
direction. He was sure the foothills couldn't be far ahead. But he
must have a weapon!

* * * * *

A silent dark shadow floated down. He glimpsed a razor-clawed
reptilian body, ten feet from wing to wing, its serpentine neck
darting wickedly. Latham threw himself aside as the tremendous whirr
of wings beat the air above his head. Close upon it came three others,
and Latham hit the mud. Looking back, he saw that one of the creatures
in its mad rush had hurtled into a giant fern, impaling itself upon a
four-foot thorn where it hung, screaming raucously as its life-fluid
ebbed away.

Latham crawled from the spot. Reaching another fern, he managed to
climb high enough to tear away one of the thorns. It was crude, but it
would serve as a weapon!

He was realizing his error now. He should have gone by the outer
route. He would never reach the gweel village ahead of Kueelo and the
Jovian, if indeed he reached it at all! Danger and death lay
everywhere about him. Time and again those serpentine shapes winged
down, silent and unwarning. He fended them off. Twice he speared them,
saw ocherous blood spill from their shiny integument. Other times he
wasn't so lucky, as sharp claws left a row of furrows in his back. The
miasmic yellow fog bit deep into his wounds.

Hours resolved into a nightmare of mud and heat and battle. Other
creatures crossed his path or curved at him from out of the tangled
fronds. He was becoming awfully weak, but a terrible madness lay
across Latham's mind like a patina, driving him on. Through feverish
turmoil, through waves of heat and pain and nausea that encompassed
the universe, Joel Latham pursued his course.

He never remembered the end. He never remembered coming out of that
deadly jungle. He pressed with his palms against moist earth, and
thought he must have been lying there for some time. His left arm was
shredded. His back was shredded. Inside his clothes he felt the warm
stickiness of his own blood. Outside his clothes was other substance
which he knew wasn't his blood.

Something long and shiny lay beneath his hands. The thorn! He clutched
at it frantically.

He felt if he could just lie there a moment, strength would come back
to him. But he didn't lie there. He tottered to his feet, and just a
few yards ahead the foothills sheered up and away from the jungle.

Every step was an agony. He followed along the foothills, trying to
find the gweel village. He had to find it! That much he remembered. A
tiny Martian and a brute of a Jovian were there, and they had
something that belonged to him. He had quite forgotten now what it
was, but it meant something to him, he knew, it meant a great deal.

He came upon the village, a cluster of clay huts high upon an
escarpment. Latham began climbing. He had to be careful now, something
pounded that warning into his brain. He saw groups of frail,
pallid-faced gweels moving about. They were harmless enough, Latham
knew that; but if those other two were here -

He reached the level of the village and moved nearer, staying behind
rocks and clumps of growth. Then he saw Kueelo! The Martian huddled
beside an open fire, stirring some substance in a huge gourd. As
Latham watched, Kueelo opened a leather pouch at his waist and took
something out. The Josmian! He held it up to the flickering firelight,
and the purple sheen of the gem was no more brilliant than the gleeful
look that appeared in Kueelo's yellowish eyes.

In that instant Latham almost leaped forward, but a tightness in his
temples stopped him. The distance was too great. And the Jovian must
be somewhere about! Quick surprise was his only chance. His gaze roved
up to the steepening cliff behind the village, and he saw the way.

Still clutching the thorn-weapon, he followed a little ravine up to a
rocky abutment. Thence along a ledge, to a spot just above the hut
near Kueelo. He judged the distance, decided he could make it in two
leaps; first to the roof of the hut, then to the ground.

Latham paused the merest instant, then launched himself downward. He
struck the roof with a force that jarred him to the teeth. He sprang
again, and that's when luck deserted him. His feet tangled in the
coarse thatchwork. He felt himself going over the edge, spinning
wildly off-balance, plunging headlong into the ground as the
thorn-weapon was flung far out of his grasp.

With a startled oath, Kueelo whirled about. Latham had a vision of the
man's ludicrous face. Then a tiny, shiny tube appeared like magic in
the Martian's hand. A power-rapier. Latham had heard that Martians
carried them always. Tiny and easy to conceal. A press of a stud
released a rapier-like shaft of electronic power that reached perhaps


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