My name Is Walter Alexander. 'Walt' to my friends and I wouldn't wanna repeat in mixed company what my enemies call me.

I make my living buying and selling things. I say 'buying'. Well, some things I find exploring stuff left on deserted ancient planets, things that survived the shattering force which hit them ages ago.

I love that part of it. I guess I'm an amateur archeologist at heart. I'm fascinated by some of the old things I find. Like there was one planet that seemed to be left over from the vast space war over a thousand years ago.

One area displayed remnants of a vast city, and contained lots of fascinating stuff I didn't want to sell, just use myself. Like a needle gun whose needles seemed able to penetrate any armor and explode inside its target. I was able to use it because, incredibly, the place still had power. I mounted the needle gun on my ship immediately as, despite its age, it worked perfectly.

I entered the old city on a map I computerized of the planet and put the planet's location on my star map.

Now, some of the things I sell have been, ah, 'liberated' from space pirates. They resist, but I have several persuavish procedures that get results. In fact, I'm in the middle of such a persuasion right now.

A fleet of pirate ships surrounds an automated transport ship. This has been a safe and popular way to move goods, but now pirates have showed up. Shippers will have to make changes in the way they deliver their products.

After electronically contacting the transport's control system, I found its owner and contacted them. I had to go through five layers of interference to reach someone in power, a Mr Piers.

"Mr Piers, are you aware pirates have captured one of your transport ships?"

He had a worried frown. "We knew it suddenly went off course. We couldn't contact it."

"What sort of reward would you give to regain it?"

Brightening, he said, "One thousand credits for its return."

I frowned. "Let's get serious, Mr Piers. Give me a decent figure. If I take it from them, they aren't going to like it. I'll be putting my life at risk."

His expression turned blank, and then he deadened the audio and turned away, probably to a superior. In a moment he turned back to me.

"Of course, of course. Honestly we'll give you ten thousand credits. That's our profit, but our reputation is at stake. Get our transport back and we'll give you ten thousand credits. You can record that."

"Done," I said, switching off the comm.

My ship, The Trader , is necessarily large to allow me to carry a large amount of cargo to sell. Even thought it's big, I have a great advantage. Among other things I found on that deserted planet was a process which gives me invisibility until I'm within a few hundred meters of my objective. Even then my ship appears hazy. The invisibility radiation application was so simple that I spread it over the entire ancient area, which had its own active power system.

I knocked out three pirate's ships before they even knew I was there, but now I'm close and they're resisting.

I'm not a warship but, when approached by alien warships, I was able to take them out quite easily, thanks to the stuff from that deserted planet.

Several of the pirate ships managed to get off some shots. Even though I have great armor, The Trader was knocked about a bit before, with a savage grin, I pushed a button and my needle gun destroyed the remaining pirate ships.

There was a nearby planet so I landed there to check damages. I made the captured transport invisible and put it in orbit as I landed on a desolate desert to do my inspection.

The most serious damage was to my cargo door. It's a good thing I didn't settle for one thousand credits because it'll cost more than that to replace it. Oh, not just replace it but add an armored shield I could slide over the door until I need to open it. But there were other minor repairs I could handle now.

Nearly finished with repairs, I heard a woman's scream. Checking that I had my pistol, I ran in the direction of the scream.

They were at the base of a brown cliff that rose out of the desert. A large green BEM was holding a girl. (For those of you not In The Know, BEM stands for Bug Eyed Monster. Greenie certainly qualified, as his eyes were huge and bug-eyed. He had a dozen green tentacles and stood on lumpy green feet.)

He was holding a gorgeous girl. She wore red shorts and a white tee-shirt. Her beautiful face was framed by curly red hair.

Now I've never figured out what interest a BEM could have in a human female. Maybe they've heard the cliche so many times it just caught on.

Pulling my pistol, I shouted, "Let her go!"

Greenie looked my way. "No!" he roared from the long slit that was his mouth. "She's mine!"

"I don't think so," I said and shot one of his big feet.

He shrilled a cry of pain, dropping the girl and hopping about.

She came running to me.

"Go!" I told Greenie.

He hopped away, whining.

The gorgeous girl -- the Babe -- threw her arms around me and kissed me -- the Bum.

Then she pulled back, frowning as she wiped her lips. "You haven't shaved!" she accused.

"Well, I've been busy and --"

"Shave!" she ordered.

"Let's go to my ship" I suggested.

"You have a ship? Good, you can fly me home."

After a few yards, the ground was littered with crystals. "That hurts my feet!" she exclaimed. "I lost my sandals. Give me yours."

I looked at her. "Then they'll hurt my feet," I objected. I could go back and try to find hers but Greenie might return, and he would be quite angry.

She smiled. "You're the Gallant Hero, buster. Give me your sandals."

So I gave her my sandals and limped to my ship, reflecting there were down sides to being a hero.

I let the girl enter the ship before me. "It's a mess in here!" she declared.

"Well, I've been fighting space pirates and --"

"Excuses, excuses." Then she looked down. "You're tracking blood everywhere. Bandage those feet. And shave!" she added sharply.

I limped back to the bathroom, wondering what happened to the gratitude she was supposed to be feeling.

, , , and then the alarm went off.

My sleep-numbed hand found the clock automatically and turned off the clatter.

I groggily sat up, looking at the pulp science fiction magazine on the floor of my bedroom. I couldn't even win the girl in my dreams!

CONTENTS


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