Lester Del Rey.

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Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




Copyright, 1956, by Eric van Lhin

[Transcriber's note: This is a rule 6 clearance. A copyright
renewal could not be found.]

Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 56-13313




I One Way Ticket

II Honest Izzy

III The Graft Is Green

IV Captain Murdoch

V Recall

VI Sealed Letter

VII Electioneering

VIII Vote Early and Often

IX Contraband

X Marriage of Convenience

XI The Sky's the Limit

XII Wife or Prisoner?

XIII Arrest Mayor Wayne!

XIV Full Circle

XV Murdoch's Mantle

XVI Get the Dome!

XVII Security Payoff


Chapter I


There were ten passengers in the little pressurized cabin of the
electric bus that shuttled between the rocket field and Marsport. Ten
men, the driver - and Bruce Gordon.

He sat apart from the others, as he had kept to himself on the ten-day
trip between Earth and Mars, with the yellow stub of his ticket still
stuck defiantly in the band of his hat, proclaiming that Earth had paid
his passage without his permission being asked. His big, lean body was
slumped slightly in the seat. There was no expression on his face.

He listened to the driver explaining to a couple of firsters that they
were actually on what appeared to be one of the mysterious canals when
viewed from Earth. Every book on Mars gave the fact that the canals were
either an illusion or something which could not be detected on the
surface of the planet.

He glanced back toward the rocket that still pointed skyward back on the
field, and then forward toward the city of Marsport, sprawling out in a
mess of slums beyond the edges of the dome that had been built to hold
air over the central part. And at last he stirred and reached for the
yellow stub.

He grimaced at the ONE WAY stamped on it, then tore it into
bits and let the pieces scatter over the floor. He counted them as they
fell; thirty pieces, one for each year of his life. Little ones for the
two years he'd wasted as a cop. Shreds for the four years as a kid in
the ring before that - he'd never made the top. Bigger bits for two years
also wasted in trying his hand at professional gambling; and the six
final pieces that spelled his rise from a special reporter helping out
with a police shake-up coverage, through a regular leg-man turning up
rackets, and on up like a meteor until.... He'd made his big scoop, all
right. He'd dug up enough about the Mercury scandals to double

And the government had explained what a fool he'd been for printing half
of a story that was never supposed to be printed until all could be
revealed. They'd given Bruce Gordon his final assignment.

He shrugged. He'd bought a suit of airtight coveralls and a helmet at
the field; he had some cash, and a set of reader cards in his pocket.
The supply house, Earthside, had assured him that this pattern had never
been exported to Mars. With them and the knife he'd selected, he might
get by.

The Solar Security office had given him the knife practice, to make sure
he could use it, just as they'd made sure he hadn't taken extra money
with him beyond the regulation amount.

"You're a traitor, and we'd like nothing better than seeing your guts
spilled," the Security man had told him. "That paper you swiped was
marked top secret. But we don't get many men with your background - cop,
tinhorn, fighter - who have brains enough for our work. So you're bound
for Mars, rather than the Mercury mines. If..."

It was a big _if_, and a vague one. They needed men on Mars who could
act as links in their information bureau, and be ready to work on their
side when the expected trouble came. They wanted men who could serve
them loyally, even without orders. If he did them enough service, they
might let him back to Earth. If he caused trouble enough, they could
still ship him to Mercury.

"And suppose nothing happens?" he asked.

"Then who cares? You're just lucky enough to be alive."

"And what makes you think I'm going to be a spy for Security?"

The other had shrugged. "Why not, Gordon? You've been a spy for a yellow
scandal sheet. Why not for us?"

Gordon had been smart enough to realize that perhaps Security was right.

They were in the slums around the city now. Marsport had been settled
faster than it was ready to receive. Temporary buildings had been thrown
up, and then had remained, decaying into deathtraps. It wasn't a pretty
view that visitors got as they first reached Mars. But nobody except the
romantic fools had ever thought frontiers were pretty.

The drummer who had watched Gordon tear up his yellow stub moved forward
now. "First time?" he asked.

Gordon nodded, mentally cataloguing the drummer as the cockroach type,
midway between the small-businessman slug and the petty-crook spider
types that weren't worth bothering with. But the other took it as

"Been here dozens of times, myself. Risking your life just to go into
Marsport. Why Congress doesn't clean it up, _I'll_ never know!"

Gordon's mind switched to the readers in his bag. The cards were
plastic, and should be good for a week or so of use before they showed
wear. During that time, by playing it carefully, he should have his
stake. Then, if the gaming tables here were as crudely run as an
oldtimer he'd known on Earth had said, he could try a coup.

"... be at Mother Corey's soon," the fat little drummer babbled on.
"Notorious - worst place on Mars. Take it from me, brother, that's
something! Even the cops are afraid to go in there. See it? There, to
your left!"

The name was vaguely familiar as one of the sore spots of Marsport.
Bruce Gordon looked, and spotted the ragged building, half a mile
outside the dome. It had been a rocket-maintenance hangar once, then had
been turned into temporary dwelling for the first deportees, when Earth
began flooding Mars. Now, seeming to stand by habit alone, it radiated
desolation and decay.

He stood up, grabbing for his bag, and spinning the drummer aside. He
jerked forward, and caught the driver's shoulder. "Getting off!"

The driver shrugged his hand away. "Don't be crazy, mister! They - " He
turned, saw it was Gordon, and his face turned blank. "It's your life,
buster," he said, and reached for the brake. "I'll give you five minutes
to get into coveralls and helmet and out through the airlock."

Gordon needed less than that; he'd practiced all the way from Earth. The
transparent plastic of the coveralls went on easily enough, and his
hands found the seals quickly. He slipped his few possessions into a bag
at his belt, slid the knife into a spring holster above his wrist, and
picked up the bowl-shaped helmet. It seated on a plastic seal, and the
little air compressor at his back began to hum, ready to turn the thin
wisp of Mars' atmosphere into a barely breathable pressure. He tested
the Marspeaker - an amplifier and speaker in another pouch, designed to
raise the volume of his voice to a level where it would carry through
even the air of Mars.

The driver swore at the lash of sound, and grabbed for the airlock

* * * * *

Gordon moved down unpaved streets that zig-zagged along, thick with the
filth of garbage and poverty - the part of Mars never seen in the
newsreels, outside the shock movies. Thin kids with big eyes and sullen
mouths crowded the streets in their airsuits, yelling profanity. The
street was filled with people watching with a numbed hunger for any kind
of excitement.

It was late afternoon, obviously. Men were coming from the few bus
routes, lugging tools and lunch baskets, slumped and beaten from labor
in the atomic plants, the Martian conversion farms, and the industries
that had come inevitably where inefficiency was better than the high
prices of imports. The saloons were doing well enough, apparently, from
the number that streamed in through their airlock entrances. But Gordon
saw one of the bartenders paying money to a thickset person with an
arrogant sneer; he knew then that the few profits from the cheap beer
were never going home with the man. Storekeepers in the cheap little
shops had the same lines on their faces as they saw on those of their

Poverty and misery were the keynotes here, rather than the evil
half-world the drummer had babbled about. But to Gordon's trained eyes,
there was plenty of outright rottenness, too.

He grimaced, grateful that the supercharger on his airsuit filtered out
some of the smell which the thin air carried. He'd thought he was
familiar with human misery from his own Earth slum background. But there
was no attempt to disguise it here.

Ahead, Mother Corey's reared up - a huge, ugly half-cylinder of pitted
metal and native bricks, showing the patchwork of decades, before
repairs had been abandoned. There were no windows, though once there had
been; and the front was covered with a big sign that spelled out
_Condemned_. The airseal was filthy, and there was no bell.

Gordon kicked against the side, waited, and kicked again. A slit opened
and closed. He waited, then drew his knife and began prying at the worn
cement around the airseal, looking for the lock that had been there.

The seal suddenly quivered, indicating that metal inside had been
withdrawn. Gordon grinned tautly, stepped through, and pushed the blade
against the inner plastic.

"All right, all right," a voice whined out of the darkness. "You don't
have to puncture my seal. You're in."

"Then call them off!"

A wheezing chuckle answered him, and a phosphor bulb glowed weakly,
shedding some light on a filthy hall. "Okay, boys," the voice said,
"come on down. He's alone, anyhow. What's pushing, stranger?"

"A yellow ticket," Gordon told him, "and a government allotment that'll
last me two weeks in the dome. I figure on making it last six here, and
don't let my being a firster give you hot palms. My brother was Lanny

It happened to be true, though Bruce Gordon hadn't seen his brother from
the time the man had left the family, as a young punk, to the day they
finally convicted him on his twenty-first murder. But here, if it was
like places he'd known on Earth, even second-hand contact with "muscle"
was useful.

It seemed to work. A huge man oozed out of the shadows, his gray face
contorting its doughy fat into a yellow-toothed grin, and a filthy hand
waved back the others. There were a few wisps of long, gray hair on the
head and face, and they quivered as he moved forward.

"Looking for a room?" he whined.

"I'm looking for Mother Corey."

"Then you're looking at him, cobber. Sleep on the floor, want a bunk,
squat with four, or room and duchess to yourself?"

There was a period of haggling, followed by a wait as Mother Corey
kicked four grumbling men out of a four-by-seven hole on the second
floor. Gordon's money had carried more weight than his brother's
reputation; for that, Corey humored his guest's wish for privacy. "All
yours, cobber, while your crackle's blue."

It was a filthy, dark place. In one corner was an unsheeted bed. There
was a rusty bucket for water, a hole kicked through the floor for waste
water. Plumbing, and such luxuries, apparently hadn't existed for
years - except for the small cistern and worn water-recovery plant in the
basement, beside the tired-looking weeds in the hydroponic tanks that
tried unsuccessfully to keep the air breathable.

"What about a lock on the door?" Gordon asked.

"What good would it do you? Got a different way here, we have. One
credit a week, and you get Mother Corey's word nobody busts in. And it
sticks, cobber - one way or the other."

Gordon paid, and tossed his pouch on the filthy bed. With a little work,
the place could be cleaned enough.

He pulled the cards out of his pouch, trying to be casual. Mother Corey
stood staring at the pack while Bruce Gordon changed out of his airsuit,
gagging faintly as the full effluvium of the place hit him. "Where does
a man eat around here?"

Mother Corey pried his eyes off the cards and ran a thick tongue over
heavy lips. "Eh? Oh. Eat. There's a place about ten blocks back. Cobber,
stop teasing me! With elections coming up, and the boys loaded with vote
money back in town - with a deck of cheaters like that - you want to

He picked the deck up fondly, while a faraway look came into his clouded
eyes. "Same ones - same identical ones I wore out nigh twenty years ago.
Smuggled two decks up here. Set to clean up - and I did, for a while." He
shook his head sadly, and handed the deck back to Gordon. "Come on down.
For the sight of these, I'll give you the lay for your pitch. And when
your luck's made or broken, remember Mother Corey was your friend first,
and your old Mother can get longer use from them than you can."

He waddled off, telling of his plans to take Mars for a cleaning, once
long ago. Gordon followed him, staring at the surrounding filth.

His thoughts were churning so busily that he didn't see the blonde girl
until she had forced her way past them on the stairs. Then he turned
back, but she had vanished into one of the rooms.

Chapter II


A lot could be done in ten days, when a man knew what he was after. It
was exactly ten days later. Bruce Gordon stood in the motley crowd
inside the barnlike room where Fats ran a bar along one wall, and filled
the rest of the space with assorted tables - all worn. Gordon was
sweating slightly as he stood at the roulette table, where both zero and
double-zero were reserved for the house.

The croupier was a little wizened man wanted on Earth. His eyes darted
down to the point of the knife that showed under Gordon's sleeve, and he
licked his lips, showing snaggled teeth. The wheel hesitated and came to
a halt, with the ball trembling in a pocket.

"Twenty-one wins again." He pushed chips toward Gordon, as if every one
of them came out of his own pay. "Place your bets."

Two others around the table watched narrowly as Gordon left his chips
where they were; they then exchanged looks and shook their heads. In a
Martian roulette game, numbers with that much riding just didn't turn
up. The croupier shifted his weight, then caught the wheel and spun it

Gordon's leg ached from his strained position, but he shifted his weight
onto it more heavily, and sweat popped out on the croupier's face. His
eyes darted down, to where the full weight of Gordon seemed to rest on
the heel that was grinding into his instep. He tried to pull his foot
off the button that was concealed in the floor.

The heel ground harder, bringing a groan from him. And the ball hovered
over Twenty-one and came to rest there once more.

Slowly, painfully, the little man counted stacks of chips and moved them
across the table toward Gordon, his hands trembling.

Gordon straightened from his awkward position, drawing his foot back,
and reached out for the pile of chips. Then he scooped it up and nodded.
"Okay. I'm not greedy."

The strain of watching the games until he could spot the fix, and then
holding the croupier down, had left him momentarily weak, but Gordon
could still feel the tensing of the crowd. Now he let his eyes run over
them - the night citizens of Marsport, lower-dome section. Spacemen who'd
missed their ships; men who'd come here with dreams, and stayed without
them - the shopkeepers who couldn't meet their graft and were here to try
to win it on a last chance; street women and petty grifters. The air was
thick with their unwashed bodies - all Mars smelled, since water was
still too rare for frequent bathing - and their cheap perfume, and
clouded with cheap Marsweed cigarettes.

Gordon swung where their eyes pointed, until he saw Fats Eller sidling
through the groups, then let the knife slip into the palm of his hand as
the crowd seemed to hold its breath. Fats plucked a sheaf of Martian
bank notes from his pocket and tossed them to the croupier.

"Cash in his chips." Then his pouchy eyes turned to Gordon. "Get your
money, punk, and get out! And stay out!"

For a moment, as he began pocketing the bills, Gordon thought he was
going to get away that easily. Fats watched him dourly, then swung on
his heel, just as a shrill, strangled cry went up from someone in the

The deportee let his glance jerk to it, then froze. His eyes caught the
sight of a hand pointing behind him, and he knew it was too crude a
trick to bother with. But he paused, shocked to see the girl he'd seen
on Mother Corey's stairs gazing at him in well-feigned warning. In spite
of his better judgment, she caught his eyes and drew them down over
curves and swells that would always be right for arousing a man's

He glanced back at Fats, who had started to turn again. Gordon took a
step backwards, preparing to duck. Again the girl's finger motioned
behind him; he disregarded it - and then realized it was a mistake.

It was the faintest swish in the air that caught his ear; he brought his
shoulders up and his head down. Fast as his reaction was, it was almost
too late. The weapon crunched against his shoulder and slammed over the
back of his neck, almost knocking him out.

His heel lashed back and caught the shin of the man behind him. Gordon's
other leg spun him around, still crouching; the knife in his hand
started coming up, sharp edge leading, and aimed for the belly of the
bruiser who confronted him. The pug saw the blade and tried to check his

Gordon felt the blade strike; but he was already pulling his swing, and
it only gashed a long streak. The thug shrieked hoarsely and fell over.
That left the way clear to the door; Bruce Gordon was through it and
into the night in two soaring leaps. After only a few days on Mars, his
legs were still hardened to Earth gravity, and he had more than a double
advantage over the others.

Outside, it was the usual Martian night in the poorer section of the
dome, which meant near-darkness. Most of the street lights had never
been installed - graft had eaten up the appropriations, instead - and the
nearest one was around the corner, leaving the side of Fats' Place in
the shadow. Gordon checked his speed, threw himself flat, and rolled
back against the building, just beyond the steps that led to the street.

Feet pounded out of the door above as Fats and the bouncer broke
through. Gordon's hand had already knotted a couple of coins into his
kerchief; he waited until the two turned uncertainly up the street and
tossed it. It struck the wall near the corner, sailed on, and struck
again at the edge of the unpaved street with a muffled sound.

Fats and the other swung, just in time to see a bit of dust where it had
hit. "Around the corner!" Fats yelled. "After him, and shoot!"

In the shadows, Gordon jerked sharply. It was rare enough to have a gun
here; but to use one inside the dome was unthinkable. His eyes shot up,
to where the few dim lights were reflected off the great plastic sheet
that was held up by air pressure and reinforced with heavy webbing. It
was the biggest dome ever built - large enough to cover all of Marsport
before the slums sprawled out beyond it; it still covered half the city,
and made breathing possible here without a helmet. But the dome wasn't
designed to stand stray bullets; and having firearms inside it - except
for a few chosen men - was a crime punishable by death.

Fats had swung back, and was now herding the crowd inside his place. He
might have been only a small gambling-house owner, but within his own
circle his words carried weight.

Gordon got to his hands and knees and began crawling away from the
corner. He came to a dark alley, smelling of decay where garbage had
piled up without being carted away. Beyond lay a lighted street, and a
sign that announced _Mooney's Amusement Palace - Drinks Free to Patrons!_
He looked up and down the street, then walked briskly toward the
somewhat plusher gambling hall there. Fats couldn't touch him in a
competitor's place.

Inside Mooney's, he headed quickly for the dice table. He lost steadily
on small bets for half an hour, admiring the skilled palming of the
"odds" cubes. The loss was only a tiny dent in his new pile, but Gordon
bemoaned it properly - as if he were broke - and moved over to the bar.
This one had seats. The bartender had a consolation boilermaker waiting;
he gulped half of it before he realized it had been needled with ether.

Beside him, a cop was drinking the same slowly, watching another
policeman at a Canfield game. He was obviously winning, and now he got
up and came over to cash in his chips.

"You'd think they'd lose count once in a while," he complained to his
companion. "But nope - fifty even a night, no more ... Well, come on,
Pete. We'd better get back to Fats and tell him the swindler got away."

Gordon followed them out and turned south, down the street toward the
edge of the dome and the entrance where he'd parked his airsuit and
helmet. He kept glancing back, whenever he was in the thicker shadows,
but there seemed to be no one following him.

At the gate of the dome, he looked back again, then ducked into the
locker building. He threaded through the maze of the lockers with his
knife ready in his hand, trying not to attract suspicion. At this hour,
though, most of the place was empty. The crowds of foremen and
deliverymen who'd be going in and out through the day were lacking.

He found his suit and helmet and clamped them on quickly, transferring
the knife to its spring sheath outside the suit. He checked the tiny
batteries that were recharged by generators in the soles of the boots
with every step. Then he paid his toll for the opening of the private
slit and went through, into the darkness outside the dome.

Lights bobbed about - police in pairs, patrolling in the better streets,
walking as far from the houses as they could; a few groups, depending on
numbers for safety; some of the very poor, stumbling about and hoping
for a drink somehow; and probably hoods from the gangs that ruled the
nights here.

Gordon left his torch unlighted, and moved along; there was a little
illumination from the phosphorescent markers at some of the corners, and
from the stars. He could just make his way without marking himself with
a light.

Damn it, he should have hired a few of the younger bums from Mother
Corey's. Here he couldn't hear footsteps. He located a pair of
patrolling cops, and followed them down one street, until they swung
off. Then he was on his own again.

"Gov'nor!" The word barely reached him, and Bruce Gordon spun around,
the knife twitching into his hand. It was a thin kid of perhaps eighteen
behind him, carrying a torch that was filtered to bare visibility. It
swung up, and he saw a pock-marked face that was twisted in a smile
meant to be ingratiating.

"You've got a pad on your tail," the kid said, again as low as his
amplifier would permit. "Need a convoy?"

Gordon studied him briefly, and grinned. Then his grin wiped out as the
kid's arm flashed to his shoulder and back, a series of quick jerks that
seemed almost a blur. Four knives stood buried in the ground at Gordon's
feet, forming a square - and a fifth was in the kid's hand.

"How much?" he asked, as the kid scooped up the blades and shoved them
expertly back into shoulder sheaths. The kid's hand shaped a C quickly,
and Gordon slipped his arm through a self-sealing slit in the airsuit
and brought out two of them.

"Thanks, gov'nor," the kid said, stowing them away. "You won't regret
it." Gordon started to turn. Then the kid's voice rose sharply to a
yell. "Okay, honey, he's the Joe!"

Out of the darkness, ten to a dozen figures loomed up. The kid had
jumped aside with a lithe leap, and now stood between Gordon and the
group moving in for the kill. Gordon swung to run, and found himself
surrounded. His eyes flickered around, trying to spot something in the
darkness that would give him shelter.

A bludgeon was suddenly hurtling toward him, and he ducked it, his blood

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