Mind Stealers of Pluto by Joseph Farrell

MIND STEALERS OF PLUTO

By JOSEPH FARRELL

Ron Barnard had stuck his nose into one news
story too many. It had started with a lovely
girl, a wily Chinese and a drug ring that
circled the System. Now it was ending for
him in a rogue spaceship—his epitaph a
rocket’s red stream across the starways.

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Winter 1944.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Ron Barnard leaned unhappily on Quong Kee’s bar and looked over the worst dive on Mars. This hell hole of Quong Kee’s was no fit place even for a newspaperman looking for a story on the dope ring that was haunting the outer planets. The habitues were cut-throats, fugitives from Earth and the space police. To say nothing of the neoin fiends.

The two unshaven men hunched at a corner table, for instance. He eyed them in contempt. They were far gone in their addiction to the drug, and he would put no crime past them. They probably would murder their grandmothers for a gram of neoin.

The two persons in question straightened as if a gun had been fired. They faced the bar, and their questing eyes found Barnard. One of them, teeth bared and hands bent into claws, started to move toward the reporter.

“What did you think?” the man demanded.

Barnard dropped a coin on the bar and tried to walk carelessly to the door. He wanted no fights with a neoin-filled madman. Silently he cursed himself for forgetting the extra sensory powers imparted by the drug. But the men had seemed too far gone to use their ESP.

The man charged across the room. Barnard saw that escape was out and resigned himself to a fight. He waited for the wild lunge, sidestepped and shot in a right that sent the addict reeling back. A few customers watched with mild interest. But this was routine at Quong Kee’s—nobody would interfere.

Sullenly, the man glared at him, as if gathering courage for another charge. Barnard knew that actually the irresponsible creature was working himself up to a murderous pitch. Now he felt the waves of fury beating at his mind.

He waited, tense and ready. From the corner of his vision he saw the drapes that cut off the back room come apart, and a figure hurrying out. A slender figure in faded coveralls. Then he looked again.

It was a woman—a slender pale girl who clicked somehow in his memory. He had seen her around Kainor, this port city of Mars, several times in the past few days.

Watching her, he almost missed the onslaught of the neoin fiend. The fury of the charge backed him to the wall and he lashed out desperately against the claws and knees of the man. His head jammed against the wall and crimson streaks exploded before him. He jabbed with aching arms, trying to push the madman off. Dimly, he saw the girl trying to whisper something in the fiend’s ear.

The man broke off clawing suddenly, a look of surprise on his twisted face. Barnard watched weakly as he backed off a few steps to listen to what the girl was whispering. Then the man glared with sullen respect at Barnard for a few seconds and went back to his friend.

The girl turned swiftly and started back for the drapes. Barnard caught her arm.

“Miss—” He stared at her. It was his first good look, and he wondered where she had found the courage to interfere with a raging neoin fiend. If that man had turned on her—!

She wasn’t beautiful—she looked as if she hadn’t slept much lately. If somebody could put a few pounds on her in the right places—and a smile on her face—

“Thanks,” he said, puffing. “I was in a spot—you can’t hurt those lads when they’re hopped. What did you tell him, anyway?”

She shrank back a little. Strangely, he felt that the fear in her eyes was more of him than of the cut-throats in Quong Kee’s. Her face acquired a faint touch of color.

“I told him,” she said, “that I’d take away his neoin ration card.”

She pulled loose and disappeared into the other room.


Barnard stared at the drapes and grinned a little at the evasive answer. What had she told the fiend? If he knew, it might help him to get some news. And what was she doing here in this dive—he’d swear she wasn’t the type!

He thought of the boss back on Earth thundering through the news room as Barnard’s meager despatches dribbled through. But Hell! He’d done all any human could possibly do! He’d spoken with officials and spacemen and scientists, poked his skinny nose into dens like this where a man risked his life if he so much as thought out of line. He’d even bought some of the drug from the peddlers who operated almost openly, and he’d cultivated them, but they were only tools.

The higher-ups might have been invisible for all anybody knew about them. Nobody even knew where the drug came from. But wherever it originated, it was swiftly corrupting Mars and Venus, as well as the Jovian system and the asteroid belt.

When small quantities appeared on Earth, the powers-that-be of the System News Service smelled news. Ron Barnard, star reporter who had unveiled many a scandal in gay twenty-third century New York, was sent to investigate. And Ron Barnard stood in Mars’ wildest dive, scratching his head and staring after a frightened, pretty girl.

“That’s my sister,” said a childish voice beside him.

Barnard stared at the big man beside him. The man was a splendid physical specimen, but his face—

It was the face of a mindless idiot.

Barnard felt repelled. The man’s features were not idiotic; they should have been those of an intelligent person. But the eyes changed everything. They were blank and somehow—soulless. Barnard shrank automatically away from the apelike creature.

Then he understood what the idiot had said.

“Your sister!” He stared unbelievingly.

The gray haired shambling being gurgled, childlike. “My sister—Gail.”

Barnard felt a curious shame in finding a human being in such a state, talking like a baby. But maybe he could learn something. He dug into his pocket, thrust a coin into the idiot’s palm.

“What does your sister do? Does she maybe sell little packages of gray powder to people?”

The creature looked naively at him. “Gail don’t like the gray powder. She says I must never eat the gray powder. Do you want some? Lots of mans here sells some.”

Barnard thought. He had seen that girl before. A hunch began to grow in him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“George Melvin,” the idiot said.

“George!”

It was Gail Melvin’s voice. Barnard saw her in the doorway of Quong Kee’s back room. George went dutifully to her, clutching the coin Barnard had handed him. The girl took his hand and pulled him inside.

Barnard regarded the doorway sourly. He looked around Quong Kee’s, caught the glance of the maniac who had attacked him. He took his coat and airpac and left hastily.


At the communications center he sent another despatch. Nothing much to report, and he knew the boss wouldn’t like it. The System News Service firmly believed that scoops grew on Martian trees and Ron Barnard was expected to pick out a nice one to feed the hungry public.

Jingling the change in his pocket, he sensed something wrong, and pulled out the coins for a look. His lucky coin was missing—a rare twentieth century Buffalo nickel. He had given it to the half wit.

He fingered the bruises the neoin fiend had made on his face and grinned humorlessly. The coin hadn’t brought him much luck.

He was going into his hotel when he sighted George Melvin shambling down the street. He paused, waiting for the half-wit to reach him. It was cold, and he wanted to get inside, but leads were scarce. He fell into step beside George.

“Hello, George,” he said. “Where do you and Gail live?”

The half wit looked innocently at him. His airpac was strapped around the collar of his coat. Evidently Gail did not consider him intelligent enough even to breathe properly on Mars! Barnard squeezed his own airpac in an automatic motion. Oxygen on Mars was just short of enough for humans. A man would sooner be minus his pants than his airpac, though Martian-born humans needed them only at time of exertion.

“We live in Chicago.”

“Yes—that’s on Earth. But where do you stay on Mars?”

“In Chicago on Mars, too.”

Barnard looked suspiciously at him. But the vacuous expression certainly was not feigned; George Melvin’s eyes were less intelligent than a fish’s.

“Do you stay at Quong Kee’s?” the reporter tried.

“Sometimes. At night we go back to Chicago. Where do you stay?”

“In the fog, most of the time.” Barnard tried another line. “Where’s Gail now?”

“In jail.” George Melvin said it without changing his tone or his expression.

Barnard seized his coat front and stared into the dull eyes. “In jail? George, what happened? Who arrested her? Why?”

“A man came. A man with a star on his hat—”

“The Space Police!”

Barnard released the half-wit. He stared happily toward the gray building of the Space Police. This was something—he felt the hunch too strongly to have any doubt. The story was going to break!

The Space Police were relatively new, and it behooved them to be good to the press, for there was still much opposition to their existence. He hesitated a moment, thinking of the lack of enthusiasm with which Commander John Lansfer had received him. But Lansfer would let him in on the story, or there’d be some hot articles in the newspapers of the System News Service.

He pushed another coin into George Melvin’s paw. “George, go back to Quong Kee’s and wait until I come. Do you understand? I’m going to find out about Gail.”

Watching the half-wit disappear, he felt a pang where his conscience should have been. Somehow he didn’t like the idea of Gail Melvin as a part of this neoin ring.

“Hell,” he growled to himself. “I can’t afford to be human. I have a job to do—and the System News Service comes first.”

He pushed into a thin cold Martian wind and hurried toward the warmth of the police building.


II

Barnard looked through narrowed eyes at Commander Lansfer of the Space Police, and he knew the man was lying. All his newsman’s instinct told him that the dark-haired, sharp-featured police officer knew more than he was telling. He leaned across the desk.

“Commander, I came all the way from Earth to get the inside on this dope ring. Who’s behind it? Where does it come from?”

Lansfer shrugged slightly. His face was expressionless, as always. “We are working on the problem,” he said.

Barnard made a disgusted gesture. “We know that the outer planets are being flooded with neoin. Mars is full of human wrecks, and half the asterites are using the stuff. If it ever gets loose on Earth, the human race will have a worse enemy than the black plague.”

“We will cooperate with the press,” said Lansfer, “as far as it’s practical to do so. In the meantime, you may be sure we’re not sleeping.”

“I hope not.” Barnard glared at the policeman and made a mental note to pan the Space Police in his next despatch. “And how does Gail Melvin fit in?”

“Gail Melvin is a minor peddler. We’ve nothing on her—just took her in for questioning, to be sure she knew nothing important.” A trace of annoyance shaded his eyes for a moment. “But we took her in quietly. How did you find out about it?”

“From my special secret service,” said Barnard dryly.

“Then,” said Lansfer, “your secret service can tell you the rest of the story. If you’re quite through—”

They stood and for a second faced each other across the desk. Lansfer, six hard feet of spaceman, hard jawed and poker faced. Barnard, six lean flexible feet of newsman, crowding his thermostats. Then Barnard whirled and went out.

Standing before the building, he reflected. No news meant the boss would be sending more spacegrams threatening to fire him—and meaning it. His hunch was still solid on Lansfer’s knowing something. There was something behind the secrecy with which the space police worked, but—

There was more than one way to find out. If Lansfer wouldn’t talk, other policemen might. He looked around, found the nearest saloon. Some of the space police had just finished their day’s work. Thoughtfully jingling the platinum coins in his pocket, he went into the saloon.

Alone at one end of the bar was a patrolman. Barnard took a place beside him and ordered a drink.

“H’lo, Remish,” he said. “What’s the news on Gail Melvin?”

Remish grinned and shook his head. Barnard felt a slight distaste for what he was about to do. It didn’t seem right.

He took a balled fist from his pocket and opened it slowly, holding it between himself and the patrolman so that it was not visible to anybody else in the room. He opened it just enough for Remish to see the five Martian platins.

Remish turned and faced the row of bottles behind the bar. His face was blank. For a long minute he said nothing. Then:

“I don’t like that, Barnard. I could use that as well as anybody. But there’s something I like better.”

Barnard hadn’t liked it either. But hell—after some of the police he’d met on the outer planets, he couldn’t help but be cynical. He raised his glass and threw down the drink.

“It’s everyday stuff, of course,” Remish conceded. “But I’m going to be one cop who’s different. There’s talk enough now about the Space Patrol—that we’re fronting for pirates and transporting neoin. And some funny things have been going on.”

He fingered his glass thoughtfully. “Nothing I can put a definite finger on,” he mused. “But maybe you’re the man who can do it. With the System News Service behind you—

“I don’t know much,” he went on. “But I’ll play along with you—and I hope I’m doing the right thing. Gail Melvin—the chief had her under a Sokolsky lie detector. Greatest thing in lie detectors yet. She was clear—has no connection with the dope ring.”

Barnard caught his breath. Gail Melvin had no connection with the neoin gang? But Lansfer had said she was a minor peddler?

The patrolman stared into his glass of boorsha for a moment, hesitating. He turned again to Barnard. “Another thing. That George Melvin is faking. He’s no more of a half-wit than I am—I hope. When I last saw him, he was on Venus running the swankiest gin mill in Lidice. He and his partner—Quong Kee!”

Barnard stared incredulously at the patrolman. “George Melvin faking! Not a chance—he’s just what he seems to be, and I wouldn’t bet any more on a royal flush!”

“I know,” Remish shrugged. “And do you want to know something else? I haven’t been able to find a person who’s seen Quong Kee since he came to Mars!”

Barnard slowly put down his drink and left the saloon.


He sailed into Quong Kee’s, paused cautiously to see that the fiend who had attacked him was sleeping with his head on the table, and plunged through the drapes into the back room. There was an answer to this and he was bound he’d find it.

A gray, tired Chinese looked up from behind a desk. His right hand had darted to the edge of the desk when Barnard entered. Thoughtfully, he studied the reporter and folded his hands.

Barnard faced him. “Quong Kee. You and George Melvin were partners at one time.”

Quong Kee gazed back coolly, and Barnard saw that he’d learn only what the man decided he should know. After a while Quong Kee nodded.

“Yes—Mr. Barnard. George Melvin was—and is—my partner.”

“How did you know me?” Barnard demanded. “You never leave this room.”

A tired smile flickered over the thin lips. “Earlier this evening I watched Miss Melvin extricate you from a difficult position. Until she informed me that you were seeking news, I never realized that journalism involved such jeopardy.”

Barnard grinned involuntarily. He was beginning to like this Oriental who spoke in cultured tones. Since he realized that threats or bribes would do no good, he gave in to the impulsive liking.

“Mind telling me something about Gail Melvin?” he asked. “And about things in general?”

Quong Kee peered narrowly at Barnard through half-closed eyes. The reporter wondered uncomfortably if the man used neoin and was studying him with extra sensory faculties, but he swiftly rejected the thought. There was no trace of the drug in Quong Kee’s appearance. Maybe it was natural ESP—or just an old-fashioned sizing-up.

“You are very anxious to secure this—scoop, aren’t you, Mr. Barnard?”

Barnard thrust his face closer. “Quong Kee,” he said slowly, “I would give my right arm to break this story. I would cut every throat on Mars if it would help me to find out where neoin comes from.”

He meant it—almost, anyway. Somehow the thought of cutting Gail Melvin’s throat persisted. He forced the thought back. No price was too high!

“I, too, would give much to destroy the drug traffic,” Quong Kee said softly. “George Melvin and I operated an establishment in Lidice, Venus—until neoin appeared. We were doing excellently. But then George became involved in a crusade against the drug peddlers. He found out some things—I do not know exactly what.

“But he disappeared. And things began to happen to our establishment. Things like bombs, bullets, poison in the food—I was forced to close and barely escaped with my life.”

He picked up the mounted photograph that Barnard had vaguely noticed on the desk and turned it for the reporter to see. Barnard recognized Quong Kee and—George Melvin! But a George Melvin whose eyes were young and intelligent and flashing with the joy of living!

“Gail located him,” said Quong Kee, “through the Missing Persons Division. He was here in Kainor, in the condition in which you saw him tonight. Gail and I packed what we could into George’s space ship, the Chicago, and we came here, where I opened this—ah—place of refreshment.”

Chicago,” Barnard mused. “I should have guessed that.”

“Gail recognized you standing out there this evening,” said Quong Kee. Again the haunted smile crept over his lips. “I can’t understand her motivation for intervening in your quarrel. She told me you were a great reporter who might expose the criminals and she had to save you.”

“Isn’t that reason enough?” Barnard demanded suspiciously. “What did she say to him?”

“She told him you were a higher-up in the neoin organization and would see that his supply was stopped if he harmed you. A clever girl—but foolish.”

Barnard didn’t ask why. “Where is George Melvin now?” he demanded.

Before Quong Kee could answer, the pound of heavy feet sounded in the doorway. Barnard whirled and watched the three local policemen march in.

“Where’s the body?” asked the leader.

Quong Kee’s eyes flickered briefly toward Barnard, and he gestured toward something the newsman hadn’t noticed. In a corner of the room was a bed. With something on it. The policeman yanked a sheet off the something. Barnard felt the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to rise.

He stared at the body of George Melvin.


“I had my men detain everybody,” Quong Kee told the police. “But the body was discovered close to the door, indicating that the murderer escaped. Several fights were in progress at the time, and it is possible that he was struck by a stray knife, but I doubt it.”

“No,” the policeman grunted. “The knife struck upwards and his pockets have been searched.”

“Evidently he was enticed into the hallway for that purpose,” said Quong Kee.

Barnard frowned, watching the police examine the knife that protruded from George Melvin’s chest. Then the dope ring, fearing that he would divulge something, had finished him off.

But that didn’t make sense. They had seemed pleased to let him run loose before, probably as an example—why the sudden fear of his talking? He thought suddenly of the new lie detector mentioned by Remish, and wondered if that instrument could reach even into the mind that George Melvin did not have.

He stayed close to the police as they made a brief examination, asking a few questions and then closing up their notebooks and leaving. It was clear that they didn’t expect to solve the murder. To them it was routine—another derelict knifed by a neoin fiend.

The whole thing made Barnard a little sick. He gazed uncomfortably at the corpse. The man had hardly known that he lived, yet—

His lucky nickel hadn’t brought much luck lately. It seemed to have turned into a Jonah.

He said nothing until the police had departed and the body had been removed. When he and Quong Kee were alone, he asked:

“Does Gail know this yet?”

“No.”

“She’s the only lead now.” A thought made him uncomfortable. “Quong Kee—do you think she’s in danger?”

The Chinese shrugged. He looked suddenly ancient, tired. His weary eyes met Barnard’s.

“Since I’ve been on Mars, I’ve never left this room. Call it cowardice or intelligence, but I dare not expose myself. They haven’t molested me here—my current clientele wouldn’t be disturbed by a few bombs, anyway. And here I am protected—you narrowly escaped death when you entered this room.”

He ran his hand along the side of his desk. “I could fill this room with the deadliest rays known to military science. I mention this by way of reminding you that you are not in a friendly game. You stand an excellent chance of being killed, or of losing your mind.”

That shocked Barnard for about one second. But he had no time to be bothered with danger. And the System News Service was all-important.

“I’ll take the chance,” he said grimly. “Where’s Gail?”

Quong Kee’s haunted eyes closed momentarily. “She is on the Chicago. She needs somebody now, Ron Barnard. Go to her. I can’t help; I’m an old man and afraid for my life. You are young and strong. There is danger, but go to her. Even if only for your scoop.”

Something in the old man’s voice was hypnotic. Barnard stared at him. “Where is this Chicago?” he asked.

“It’s at Main Spaceport, in the public field. If she is not there, use this key and wait for her.”

Barnard rose slowly. He tried to shake a lump out of his throat, cursing himself for going soft. Sitting here listening to an old man mouth sentiment—he shook his head angrily and glared at Quong Kee.

“I’ll go,” he said. “But only for the scoop.”


III

Quong Kee’s faintly cynical smile didn’t make him feel any better. Leaving the place, he glared belligerently at the maniac he had fought with. Marching to the spaceport, his feelings intensified so that he forgot to walk slowly, the first rule on Mars, and had to hold his airpac to his nostrils all the way. By the time he found the Chicago, his fingers were stiff from holding the instrument.

“Damn that living relic of a Quong Kee,” he muttered, changing hands. “Damn everything!”

So the girl needed him. He growled at the idea of the Chinese putting the girl ahead of the System News Service.

His sense of humor came through then, and he laughed at himself. Ron Barnard, the hardest hearted reporter in the Solar System, was developing a crush on a girl he hardly knew! He chuckled at his emotions as if they were somebody else’s.

“If the boys in the city room ever hear of this,” he thought, “they’ll laugh me right off Earth. I’ll have to become a space-beacon keeper.”

He stood for a minute sizing up the Chicago. Odd, he reflected, how the human mind before space travel had pictured space craft as wingless and cigar shaped. This rugged model, of an almost forgotten vintage, was short and stubby and wide winged. It scarcely looked spaceworthy, but the skies were filled with old craft like this one.

He used the key Quong Kee had given him and found the ship deserted. The interior was better. He was pleased to find a three-inch layer of Selene between the hulls. The artificial spider silk, closely woven and specially processed, was as tough as any material in existence and its insulating qualities couldn’t be matched.

In the spotless control cabin he found that the instruments were fully modern. The cabin was globular; gyroscopes kept the gravity—if any—under its floor. A glance into other compartments brought a whistle to his lips—the Chicago was crammed with fuel and food. Gail Melvin must have prepared this as a permanent home.

Two tiny sections were the sleeping quarters of Gail and George Melvin. He poked around them until a feeling of guilt made him stop. He sank into a spongy, bolted-down chair, damning his new-found ethics. He’d straighten out a few things when that female showed up.


She didn’t seem surprised to see him. She glanced his way casually and started tugging off her heavy coat. A gentlemanly impulse almost had him out of his seat to help her, but he stifled it.

Her nose was red from the mild summer weather of Mars, and he thought briefly that if her cheeks were a little fuller, she would probably be more or less good looking. As a matter of plain fact, she was too damned skinny. She must spend most of her time worrying about her brother.

She was taller than he had thought, but still looked slight and helpless. And hopeless as well. Her shoulders drooped a little as she faced him.

“I saw Quong Kee,” she said.

“Oh—I’m sorry about your brother.” He hesitated. “Have you any idea who did it?”

He almost squirmed when she looked at him. The expression in her eyes was not entirely friendly.

“I have ideas,” she said. “And they’re not nice.”

Her eyes were dark and smoldering now.

“They questioned George with a new type of lie detector—Skolssolky or some such name. I wasn’t supposed to know—”

Barnard’s eyebrows went up. “The police questioned George? Somebody must have found out!”

Gail dropped her coat over the back of another chair and sat on the chair. She was pale and her eyes were haggard.

“When I found the police had picked him up,” she said, “I took an espine pill and became en rapport with him.”

She pressed her slender fingers against her temples. “I’m tired … espine isn’t as bad as neoin, of course, but it has a strong reaction. They found out some things from George that I’d never been able to find out.

“This instrument reaches deeper into the subconscious than anything ever used before. Even so, everything was vague. But George had been on Pluto. Somehow he’d followed the neoin trail there; how, I don’t know.

“But on Pluto, they did something to him. They took his mind and made him like a new-born child. His brain was perfectly blank. I’ve been teaching him as I’d teach an infant—but he was so slow learning.”

“Pluto—” Barnard stared. “Then neoin comes from Pluto. Lansfer knows this—”

He looked at the girl and damned his conscience again. There was a first aid box set into the wall, and he found a bottle of brandy in it. A small black bottle was there. He noted the label—Espine, another outlawed drug the authorities tolerated for emergency purposes. Not habit-forming, but continued use of it would soften the brain and wreck the nerve centers.

He slammed the cabinet door on the black bottle. She had reason to be tired.

He made her drink the brandy. She spoke softly, between sips. “When I heard that, I determined to go to Pluto. If something there could take my brother’s intelligence away, we might be able to reverse the process.”

“Or lose your own,” Barnard murmured.

“When Quong Kee told me about the—George, it changed all that, of course. There was no need to go to Pluto.”

“You’ve got your nerve,” Barnard growled. “You speak very calmly about invading Pluto single handed.”

Definitely, Pluto was no place for her. But he had to be in on the kill. Would Lansfer cooperate?

“Miss Melvin,” he said, “I’ll have to see the Space Police, find out if they’ll take me with them. I suspect they won’t. So I’m going to cable my boss for money, and if it’s all right with you, I’ll charter this ship—”

“I’ll be very happy,” she said, “to take you with me to Pluto—so you can get your story.”

He stared. “But—you mean you still intend to go to Pluto? What possible reason could you have now?”


She reached for her coat and dug into the sleeve. Barnard blinked when three of her fingers came out at the shoulder.

“That hole,” she said, “was made by a bullet. Somebody took a shot at me on the way over here, and I’ve been followed. Evidently they’ve decided I know too much. I’ll never step out that door alive.”

She indicated a red pane of glass on the instrument panel. “If that glows, they’re approaching the ship. Be ready to give them a warning blast from the rockets.”

Barnard thought wistfully of the gun he had left in his hotel room. “That means I’m here for keeps, too. But you can’t go to Pluto. I’ll drop you off at another Martian city—or on some other planet that’s on our route.”

“Did you ever operate a space ship?” she asked.

“No, but—”

She shook her head. “Besides, they have agents everywhere. My life isn’t worth a counterfeit milliplatin. So I might just as well go to Pluto.”

Barnard sprang to life as the detector signal glowed deep red. He leaped to the handles of the rocket jets, prepared to throw out a warning blast.

There was a pounding on the hull. “Open up, in there! It’s the Space Police!”

“That’s Lansfer’s voice.” Barnard hesitated at the lock. “That means we’re safe—or does it? Is this ship ready to take off?”

“Yes—”

“Then—just on a hunch—get at the control board—”

He closed the inner door of the lock behind him before he opened the outer. No use silhouetting himself against the lighted interior.

Lansfer almost lost his poker face. “You! You’ll get into trouble, Barnard, if you’re not careful. What are you doing here?”

“Guest of Miss Melvin, commander. And you?”

The officer indicated a paper. Barnard noted that his other hand remained close to his holster.

“We’re impounding this ship. The Space Police can’t be responsible for old wrecks endangering human life and limb on the spaceways.”

“Very thoughtful of the Space Police all of a sudden,” said Barnard.

There were two other patrolmen with Lansfer, he saw. Remish and a red-haired man he knew to be named Grady. His searching eyes picked out several shadowy figures lurking at corners of the field. He looked again at Lansfer.

“You have our word,” he said, “that this ship is to be used only as living quarters by Miss Melvin.”

Lansfer stared coolly up at him. “This court order calls for the Chicago to be delivered immediately into the custody of the sheriff and auctioned for scrap. You and Miss Melvin will leave it immediately.”

Barnard nodded agreeably. “All right, commander. We’ll leave—right now.”

Lansfer relaxed. He was about two feet below Barnard, the platform being that high from the ground. Barnard reached out carefully with his foot and shoved. The spaceman flew backwards into Grady, and the two of them crashed to the frozen ground.

Barnard pulled the door swiftly. Lansfer was clawing for his gun and shouting for Remish to stop them. Remish’s gloved fingers fumbled as he drew and the outer door was closed before he fired. Barnard grinned as the bullets bounced off the door. That hull was more than tough enough to handle all the bullets the Space Police could throw at it.

“Get off the ground, Gail,” he shouted.

He slammed the inner door of the lock and swayed with the control room globe as the rockets went into action. The ship jumped forward a few feet, balked for a moment. Gail threw a lever that opened the shutters. They saw the three policemen scrambling madly to both sides as the Chicago started roaring down the field.

They blasted away and left the ground, the police still firing after them. Barnard clung to a bolted-down chair as they lurched wildly. Gail pointed the nose up until the ship would have been hanging from its props, if it had any.

“That’s all we needed,” said Barnard, sourly. “We’re both outlaws now—fair game for anybody. Our only hope is to break the dope ring. And Lansfer, if we can.”

She looked distastefully at him. “That would make a good story, wouldn’t it? Daring reporter defies police; smashes neoin ring. Of course, there might be some opposition.”

“Which way is Pluto?” he asked, changing the subject.

“I haven’t the faintest idea. Hand me that book—the big one—”


IV

Barnard found that space navigation was more complex than he had thought. He watched in grudging admiration as the girl rejected course after course. Finally she looked up at him and frowned.

“We have to go sunward—the sun is almost directly between us and Pluto. We can get there fast, and speed is our best bet to evade the Space Police. But it’ll be dangerous.”

“I’ll take the chance,” said Barnard. “But don’t be reckless with your own life. How many months will it take?”

“About four days.”

He stared suspiciously at her. “It took me fourteen days from Earth to Mars. What’s this crate got that the Inner Planets Line hasn’t?”

She smiled. “For a great reporter, you don’t know much. They could make the Earth-Mars run in a day—but that’s where the danger comes in. If a rock gets in their path, they have to be traveling slow enough for the detectors to find it and change the course. That’s done automatically, but we haven’t powerful enough detectors yet to handle high speeds.”

“Oh, a job for the instrument makers?” Barnard was beginning to realize his ignorance.

“You could put it that way. The chance of hitting anything big enough to hurt a space ship is small, of course, but with hundreds of ships in space, there would be a lot of wrecks if they all went as fast as we’re going to go!”


They plunged almost directly into the sun, nose forward to cut down the radiant energy. Gail sat in a sea of charts and tables, calling out instructions to Barnard, who was learning to handle the controls. She kept the rockets blazing, and before many hours had passed they could almost see the sun growing in size.

In the growing warmth, the reporter dozed off to a restless, nightmarish sleep. He awoke with a start to find himself soggy with perspiration, his bones aching. Gail, hunched over her figures, looked up and grinned impishly.

“Warm?” she asked. “The cooling units are going full blast. The vision plates are all shuttered, but if you want to look, I’ve swung dark glass into place.”

She gestured to one of the darkened vision plates, and her fingers slid to a button that opened the shutters. Barnard looked and closed his eyes when he saw the monstrous body that was the sun.

“I’ve seen enough,” he assured her. “Where are we?”

“Inside the orbit of Mercury. We’ll be closer before we’re farther away.”

Barnard studied her. At the most dangerous part of their journey, where space was filled with cosmic debris plunging into the sun, she had lost her hunted look and worked with a graceful nonchalance. She seemed actually to be enjoying the whole thing.

The murderous forces of radiant energy pounded at and through the heavily insulated hulls. Barnard mopped his sweat-soaked face and waited for the metal of the space ship to ignite. He stared at the girl and wondered how she could be so happy and poised, though she was as bedraggled as he was. Was her mind gone, too?

He decided so when she told him, much later:

“Congratulations, Mr. Barnard. Right now you and I are closer to the sun than any other human beings ever have been—”

He studied her face.

She stared through the darkened glass into the inferno. “Except,” she said thoughtfully, “for a few unfortunate expeditions that fell into it.”


Then they were starting to recede. The Chicago was inside the eccentric orbit of Vulcan, and starting to plunge away from the sun. The tremendous velocity they had been building up was far more powerful than the titanic pull of the sun’s gravitational field. Gradually, the temperature went down to a cool 100 degrees, and the two humans, limp and worn, took turns catnapping.

Barnard lugged can after can of fuel for the tanks. The motors pounded constantly, building up greater and greater velocity. At timed intervals, Gail took sights of the visible planets to check their speed.

Their course curved far above the plane of the ecliptic. No passage through the asteroid belt at this speed!

That was Gail’s main worry. “We’re veering out of the crowded belt, but there’re stray asteroids far from the ecliptic plane. If we pass that region, we’ll be in fairly empty space, and more or less safe, except for the Space Police.”

Barnard raised his eyebrows. “Space Police? How could they trace us at this speed?”

“We’re as obvious as a green spaced Venusian in New York,” she told him. “It’s the speed—we’re actually tearing up space. Lansfer’s instruments could pick us out from a hundred million miles. But that’s a lot of room.” She glanced slyly at him. “Now you can write science articles for the Sunday supplements.”

“Lay off me,” he begged. His questing fingers found a cigarette as the clock ticked over to the hour. Smokes were rationed in space. He lit up and drew smoke into his hungry lungs, then passed the cigarette to Gail.

“At least,” he said, “I have a job to do on Pluto, which is more than you can say. What are you going there for?”

She passed the cigarette back.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said.

Barnard stared silently at her. She looked strangely happy, plunging toward God-knew-what evils on far Pluto! He felt suddenly disgusted with the whole affair. They were two fools, defying the Space Police for the right to seek certain death.

“Gail,” he said, “don’t go through with it. Slow the ship down and get off at the nearest human settlement—one of the Jovian moons, or Titan. I can handle this ship now. My syndicate will pay—”

The entire universe exploded then. He pounded brutally into the concave walls, whirling end over end as the ship spun madly out of control. His head crashed as the spherical control room escaped its gyroscopes and he fought desperately against crushing blackness. Gail—was she mangled, killed? There was a senseless spinning, and then it was dark … dark….


He fought his way out of the blackness. Something was searing his throat … he coughed in agony and the shock brought him partly to his senses.

Gail was pouring brandy into him. He saw her by the hard glare of the battery-run light. She was bruised and her coveralls were torn, but she was alive.

He came to his feet and gripped her arms. “Gail?”

Then he stopped. Her eyes were pained and misting. She swayed and collapsed in his arms.

For a moment he was frantic. What to do? He carried her to her room, made her comfortable. Fervently, he hoped no bones were broken. But after a few minutes she opened her eyes and made a face at him.

“I’m not hurt,” she said dreamily. “Just a sissy. Go and see what happened.”

Gratefully, he watched her relax. He rubbed his hands thoughtfully and studied the damage in the control room. The meteor couldn’t have hit very hard—they would have been killed without knowing it. A mere graze!

He reached out fearfully and cut off the blazing rockets. The vision plates were blackened—no way of knowing which way they were going.

That was his first job, then—to unshutter the vision plates. He reviewed his knowledge of the mechanism. Evidently the master switch that controlled them all had been short-circuited. The switch was in the very tail of the ship. He crawled through the hold and into the tiny compartment in the tail.

His pocket flash picked out the switch, and he made with the screw driver. A few seconds later he looked proudly through the opened plate, feeling like a master mechanic.

But he didn’t feel so happy when he saw a swifter-moving point of light in the star-filled sky.

A spaceship was closing in on the Chicago. And goose pimples rose on his arms when he recognized it as the police ship of Commander Lansfer.

He had to get back to the control room.

The police ship was coming in at a half mile a second, relative to them. What both ships were doing relative to the system he didn’t know, or care. On his hands and knees in the close cubby, he scrambled around to get back to the control room. But already it was too late.

Invisible beams of magnetic force leaped into life between the two vessels, as the law ship clamped down with its Duvals. Barnard was pitched heavily forward as the beams seized the Chicago. His head crashed into something hard, and he fell into a relaxed bundle.


V

It was cold, and he was beating his way out of a frozen death. He fought his way up from the floor, a sluggish chill in the marrow of his bones. Frigid … and he was sinking back.

Remembrance shocked him into wakefulness. He stared from the port before his face. The police ship was there, clamped by invisible forces to the Chicago. Dully, he watched the fore rockets blasting for deceleration.

Deceleration—?

That brought him to frantic life. Were they nearing Pluto? How long had he been out? And—why was it so cold?

His teeth and knees still chattering, he wriggled down the narrow passage, pushed his light before him into the room where he had left Gail. He stared wildly.

She was gone.

Then the police had come aboard while he was unconscious and taken her aboard their vessel.

Back in the control room, he stood helplessly for a few seconds, his mind starting to black out again. No power—the ship was leaking its heat into space. His numbed fingers found the right switches. Heat started to seep into the room, and life seemed to flow back into his body.

But Gail—what of her? His distrust of the solemn-faced Lansfer became suddenly more intense. He had to find out—and he was separated from the police ship by fifty feet that might as well have been miles.

There was another way. He fumbled in the medicine kit, snatched the black bottle labeled “Espine.” He’d take a pill, even if it killed him in his weakened condition, and use ESP to find out what went on aboard the other vessel. He tore the stopper from the container and turned it upside down over his palm.

Nothing came out.

He cursed the empty bottle fervently, because already the only other answer was coming to his mind. He almost tried not to think of it. But this was emergency.

In one of his pockets he found the tiny packages of neoin he had bought while cultivating the peddlers on Mars.

There was a tiny pinch of gray powder in the paper he tore open. One gram—a normal dose. Full strength, he was sure—the stuff was seldom cut.

He hesitated. Even one dose of the drug created a craving for more. He vowed grimly that this first taste would be his last.

But this made his fight personal. He must destroy the source of neoin in sheer self-defense!

Before the gray powder was past his tonsils, he knew he had taken too much for a beginner. A fantastic lift, a great self-confidence almost sent his mind out of the world. Grimly he fought to keep down the giddy exhilaration, and let his thoughts search for Lansfer’s ship.

He had trouble coordinating his thoughts, because of the tendency of his drugged mind to stray. But he caught the control room of the police ship.

Carefully, he kept away from the minds of the four people there. There was an added lift when he perceived Gail, small and defiant, facing Commander Lansfer.

It was Barnard’s first experience in extra-sensory perception. With all the power of his will, he focussed his thoughts on the scene. Gail was speaking.

“I tell you,” she said, “the reporter is on Earth. He said something about having a big lead. I took the ship into Earth’s atmosphere and he bailed out in a parachute. I was glad to be rid of him.”


Barnard hoped that what she said was entirely untrue.

“You say—” Lansfer’s face was without expression—”that he forced you to do this?”

“I said no such thing,” Gail told him. “And if you’re going to twist my statements, I’ll say nothing more.”

Lansfer’s palm flicked out and Gail’s head reeled. A vivid patch of red appeared on her cheek. Barnard’s fingers tightened around the spongy arms of his chair.

The commander turned swiftly to Remish and Grady. None of the officers noticed—but Barnard did—that Gail’s fingers were sliding along the control board.

“Barnard is aboard that ship,” Lansfer snapped. “You two couldn’t have searched very thoroughly. This girl is lying—she couldn’t possibly have slowed down enough to let Barnard ‘chute to Earth, and still have come this far.”

Remish looked uncertain. “Commander—you’re the boss here, but—”

“But what?” Lansfer barked.

Remish’s eyes darted briefly to where the red welts stood out on Gail’s cheek. He licked his lips and for a second his gaze met Grady’s. For a moment he hesitated, then faced Lansfer again. He shrugged briefly.

“Never mind,” he said. “We’ll talk it over at headquarters later.”

Lansfer lost some of his poise. He glared at the two patrolmen. “You two get back to the Chicago. Find Barnard and bring him to me!”

Barnard saw Gail’s hand hovering over the tiny bar. Suddenly he was shocked. He realized that the bar controlled the Duvals—the magnetic beams that pinned the two ships together. Then she had felt his presence and was waiting for a signal from him. He shouted the thought:

No!

Swiftly she disobeyed him, and twisted the bar. In almost the same instant she snatched the gun from Lansfer’s holster. She backed away a step and leveled it at the officer.

“Turn this ship around,” she ordered. “We’re going back to Mars.”

Lansfer’s narrowed eyes peered at the control board where she had disconnected the grapples. He turned to the girl. His voice was flat, sullen.

“Give me that gun.”

“No.” She backed away another step and he followed, hand reaching. Her face became paler. Lansfer stopped and stared into her eyes. His eyes were compelling, hypnotic. She stood motionless and tried to shake the effect. Lansfer moved a step closer.

Remish’s hand gently removed the gun from her fingers.

Barnard swore disgustedly. Why had Gail cut the grapples? She must have some fool idea that he could beat the police to Pluto, win out on his own.

Maybe he could. There were only two little difficulties involved. First, he didn’t know where Pluto was, or how to find it. Second—the planet was Earth-size, and where on its millions of square miles of surface was whatever he wanted?

The second problem was partly solved. From Lansfer’s mind he had a vague picture of a vast white sea, trapped in a ring of white mountains that knifed into a black sky.

From Lansfer’s mind—!

Even in his neoin jag, a jolt came to him. How did Lansfer know that? Frantically, his thoughts speared back to the police ship. But it was too far now—only confused fragments came.

But one image brought him to his feet, sobered and fearful for Gail’s safety. Wildly he searched space for the magenta blasts of the police ship’s rockets.

Because his extra-sensory perception brought one clear image. In Lansfer’s pocket he had perceived the ancient twentieth century coin he had given to George Melvin.


VI

His fevered eyes studied the vision plate. Pluto—since they had been pointing toward it, must be ahead. He held his hand over a button, and cross hairs appeared on the plate. At the junction of the hairs was nothing.

But he found a grayish blob larger than the others at the edge of the plate. Experimentally, he turned in the rockets and headed for it. It moved steadily to the right, so it must be the planet.

Several hours later he was circling Pluto, searching grimly for the landmarks. A coating of frozen air covered everything—Pluto’s last snow. Luck was with him, for he had only half-circled the globe when he saw what he wanted. There was no mistaking the scene. His pulse leaped as he dived inexpertly down.

Down past the snow sheathed peaks, into a great snow filled valley. He leveled off over the plain and brought his vessel to the surface in the thin solar illumination. He didn’t know that landing on an airless planet was a feat for an expert pilot; neither did he realize that he was landing with blazing rocket jets on frozen air. But the luck of beginners was with him. He plowed a mile through the icy crust and jolted to a stop.

In his wake vast masses of freshly vaporized air clouded the valley and started to freeze again. Barnard’s eyebrows lifted when he looked out.

“A snowstorm,” he marveled.

He glared at the mountain wall a hundred yards distant. There was a structure there, of human origin. A squat building from around which the snow had been cleared.

George Melvin’s space suit was too short for him, but he worked into it. Over the boots he fitted snow shoes. There was no sign of life from the shack, so he went out the lock and started trudging the hundred yards.

Inside the space suit, his footsteps were distant crunchings—eerie misfits in this noiseless dead world! Still there was no indication of life from the building ahead. He noted that it was flush against the cliff wall. Was there a cave behind?

A sudden craving for neoin filled him. He cursed and went forward more grimly. If this was the source of the drug, he must destroy it.

The door was unlocked. He hesitated, then stepped inside cautiously. He glanced back once. The snow was still falling.

His light revealed a small room. It was bare, except for a few tins of food and some motor parts. He frowned, wondering. Had he stumbled onto an innocent government post?

There was a door leading back. Then his guess was right—this was a cave. He tried the door. It opened smoothly; and he followed his light in.

There was a corridor. He paused for a moment, an instinctive fear bringing cold goose pimples. Something was here—something terribly alien, and terribly deadly. He waited, his heart pounding viciously.

But nothing happened. Slowly he moved forward. On his right was a door. He reached to open it, but a strange reluctance made him leave it for the time being and continue on. The corridor ended in stairs, going down.

He started down, his knees weak. Before he reached the bottom, he saw what was below, the floor of the great underground room was covered with a gray powder.

Neoin!


VII

Knee deep in it, he stared at the tons of the deathly drug piled around him. This was it! The cache from which misery and nightmare death was dispensed to the human race! But what was its origin?

One huge heap of the gray dust rose half way to the twenty-foot ceiling of the crypt. His eyes caught the tiny disturbance at the peak of the pile, and followed a thin stream of the falling dust to the ceiling.

The neoin came from above, then. And the door he had passed in the corridor above must lead to the place where the drug was formed. He plodded back up the stairs.

Before the door he stopped, that chill fear again speeding his pulse. A racial fear of something not human, not of Earth, palsied him. He wanted a dose of neoin

His curse broke the spell and he flung the door open. He was inside, poking his flash into the distant corners of the huge cave. It must be two hundred yards to the far wall. The roof was fifty feet above. On the sloping floor was a film of neoin dust.

In a corner was a rocket motor, turning senselessly. It served no apparent purpose. But he backed away.

“Nothing here,” he murmured. Still the feel of alien life persisted. Suddenly in an unreasoning panic, he whirled for the door.

And felt himself hurled back.

Cold, slimy fingers seemed to be feeling inside his brain. He struck out at empty space, his involuntary scream pounding in his ears. The questing feeler went deeper into him and he staggered helplessly back until he rested against the cave wall.

A chaotic jumble of thoughts whirled in his semi-consciousness. He felt that he was George Melvin, who had stowed aboard a ship belonging to a hard faced police officer.

Ron Barnard fought back with a defiant blast of his will and for a moment the creeping things stopped. He was suddenly sober, for he knew that this was where George Melvin had lost his mind. These creatures—whatever they were—possessed all of George’s thoughts.

And those thoughts included Lansfer. Lansfer was the man behind the neoin organization.

The things were back. He stiffened his knees, made himself rigid against the wall. Sharp pain lanced through his temples as the weird struggle continued. Desperately he fought the hungry tentacles that wiggled into his thought centers.

One after another, he forced back the alien thrusts. But each time, the creatures took something with them … some part of him.

He was losing. Soon he would be another George Melvin … a drooling idiot. Already he was slipping. The feelers pushed themselves inexorably in. He noticed vaguely that his light was gone—somehow he knew that they had drained the juice from his battery. In the dark he stood swaying, waiting for the end.

Suddenly he was aware that it was light. He gazed dully toward its source, saw that a silver-helmeted figure was approaching. Lansfer. The officer’s hard face relaxed a little in a short chuckle.

“So you’ve found my secret, Ron Barnard. And you’re wishing you hadn’t—if you still have the wits to wish.”

His eyes behind the faceplate were mocking. “My little friends were hungry. They aren’t of this solar system, Barnard—they’re true energy creatures, barely visible if you have good eyes. I was attacked by them while alone in a patrol ship—fortunate for me that I found out in time that silver renders them inert.”

Barnard’s slow moving mind noted the silver covering over Lansfer’s helmet. He found himself on his knees, clutching unintelligently at the neoin dust on the floor. The struggle in his mind had died out, as if the creatures had retreated unwillingly before the silver.

“I brought them to this cave,” Lansfer went on. “You see the rocket motor in the corner—they live on energy and for the cost of a little fuel I get neoin by the ton! Neoin is the waste product of their life cycle! Matter from energy—with living machines!”

The officer motioned toward the door. His stubby gun was in his hand. “You’ll come back here, Barnard. A human mind is a rare treat for my helpers. But get out now and let your girl friend see what’s happened to you. The two of you forced my hand. Now I’ll have to get rid of Remish and Grady. It’s time for action—my days as a policeman are over.”

His eyes were hungry. “I have gold here, Barnard. And platinum and radium. Neoin has made me rich. The next step is power—I have enough to buy Mars and Venus, and next I’ll bring neoin to Earth. In a few years I’ll be running the solar system. Wouldn’t you like to print that?”

Dully, Barnard preceded him out. His brain was slow responding, as if he were drugged. Permanently drugged. But his will seemed left, as if the energy creatures had been eating away the pillars of his driving force when they could not beat it down directly.

“Silver in the door,” said Lansfer, closing it behind him. “They can’t escape. Keep moving.”

Back in the shack, Lansfer motioned him to a corner and peered out. More snow was falling and three space suited figures were coming through it. Lansfer touched a switch and machinery began to throb. The room filled swiftly with air and warmth, and Lansfer removed his helmet and struggled out of his space suit. Gun in hand, he stood facing the double doors.

Barnard’s gloved fingers were clenched. He gazed dully at his right palm, saw it filled with neoin he had unwittingly scooped up when he had clawed wildly in the cave of the energy creatures. He felt the craving coming back as he stared at it.

Gail came through the lock, followed closely by Remish and Grady. They stopped when they saw the gun in Lansfer’s hand.

“What happens, chief?” demanded Remish. His hand was near his own holster. “And what is this place?”

“First, drop your guns,” Lansfer instructed. “Then take off your space gear.”

The two patrolmen unbuckled their belts. Gail stared at Barnard.

“Ron—they’ve done it to you!” There was a sob in her voice. “I should never have got you into this—”

Barnard’s eyes focussed stupidly on the girl. His thoughts came slowly. But the energy creatures had not finished their work—he was marshaling the mind power he had left, and a sullen anger was growing in him. With the slyness that often belongs to simple minded people, his gaze went to the handful of neoin, then to Lansfer, measuring the distance. Eight … ten feet. He pretended to stagger, came a little closer.


Barnard’s dull eyes swung to the steady weapon.


Lansfer chuckled contemptfully.

Gail was at his side. He reached out as if to push her away, and the same motion his hand shot out, releasing the neoin squarely into Lansfer’s face.


In that split second, Lansfer’s eyes widened in horror. His hands streaked to his face to keep the gray death from his lips and nostrils. Remish was across the room, batting the gun from his hands.

While Lansfer still dashed the neoin away from him, Remish and Grady had guns trained on him.

“Now,” said Grady, grimly, “what’s this all about, Barnard?”

Barnard told them haltingly. He still had sense enough to realize that his I.Q. was down about fifty per cent. His career as the top reporter of the system was done … all he had left was a grim determination.

He picked up the silver helmet, fitted it over his head.

“Ron—?” Gail’s eyes were shocked. “What are you going to do?”

He turned silently, and they followed him to the door of the cave. He turned to Remish.

“I’m going back in there,” he said.

“No!” Gail clutched at his arms. “Don’t, Ron—you’ll be George all over again, and I couldn’t stand that—”

He bent down and kissed her, then pushed her gently aside. He looked at Remish.

The policeman hesitated.

“You owe me this much,” said Barnard.

“You’re putting me on a spot,” Remish growled. “But go ahead, if you must.”

As Barnard started to close the door behind him, he was thrown to the floor by Lansfer’s sudden rush. The hard faced policeman threw a bolt over the door, then dived on Barnard, clutching for the helmet.

The reporter fought back instinctively. His feet went into Lansfer as the other dived on him. He rose as far as his knees and delivered short solid punches to the body as Lansfer clawed desperately for the silver band.

Suddenly Lansfer stiffened with an expression of utter horror and fell away.

For a minute Barnard watched, building up his own strength. Then he tore the helmet from his head, hurled it far from him.

“Come on, you devils,” he growled. “I want my mind back.”

When Barnard dragged Lansfer out of the cave, his eyes were bright, and a happy grin was on his face. The first thing he saw was Gail, utterly miserable against a wall of the corridor. The first thing he did was kiss her amazed face.

“You’re the boss now,” he told the equally amazed Remish. “If you’ll take a suggestion, let’s find Lansfer’s hoard and throw all the silver coins into that cave. That should put an end to the energy creatures.”

Remish looked distastefully at the drooling thing that had been Lansfer and holstered his gun. He nodded.

“And we’ll bring the rest of his treasure back to civilization. We can use it to rehabilitate neoin addicts.”

He looked hopefully at Barnard. “When you print this, you won’t be too hard on the Space Police? We could use some favorable publicity—”

Barnard was whispering to Gail. Both were grinning widely. Barnard turned his grin to Remish.

“We love the Space Police,” he assured the officer. “Now, as the highest official on this planet, you have the power to marry people. If you’ll hurry up, we’ll be starting back to Earth on our honeymoon.”

He was suddenly thoughtful. “And maybe to do a column or two for the System News Service!”