"We're rich!" Jarl, the pirate captain said to his co-pilot. He was grinning broadly.

"You bet! Even selling it at the pirates' discount, we've got a fortune! Just wait until --" He suddenly stopped, "Uh-oh! Here comes Captain Stark of the Space Patrol. I'd recognize that needle ship in my worst nightmares. Jarl, it's the fastest ship in the universe!"

"Hell!" Jarl exclaimed in a mixture of anger and fear. Then his expression changed. "Wait a minute; I just bought a load of electronic rain."

Puzzled, his co-pilot said, "What good is rain?"

"Electronic rain, fool! It'll hit his electronics and slow him down." He pushed a button. "There! Now we can outrun him." He gave the drive full acceleration.

His co-pilot was viewing the rear screen. "I see it! Big cloud in front of him. He's dropping back."

"We got it made!" Jarl said, grinning.

"Uh-oh!" the co-pilot moaned.

"Whaddya mean, 'uh-oh'?"

"He's splitting the rain cloud and coming out fast as ever!"

"Damn! Well," he said, pushing another button, "then I'll give him a taste of mines! They'll be attracted to his ship and glow him up!" He sat back in his chair and leaned back, watching the screen.

Then he sat bolt upright.

"What the hell! They're blowing up before they reach him!"

The pilot said glumly, "He's sending out some kind of electronic command that triggers their explosion. What're we gonna do, Jarl?"

After a pause, Jarl made an agonized decision. "We'll dump the stuff we stole. Stark's the kinda what'll try to save it. We'll lose our booty, but at least we can escape." He reluctantly pushed another button which opened their storage compartment, spill its load into space.

Jarl sat back. "Hate doin' that, but we'll at least get away."

In a minute the pilot exclaimed, "Jarl! He ain't trying to save it! He's coming around it and is nearly on us!"

Their comm screen flashed to life, displaying the face of Captain Stark.

"Jarl, you and your buddy have lots of work to do. Turn around, go to where you left your stolen goods and put them back in your ship. After that, I'll take you to jail."

"What? Why should we --"

"Because if you don't. I'll blow your ship up. Your choice. Reload what you stole or die."

"Well," Jarl muttered, "since you put it that way. . . ."

Several hours later, Capt Stark enter the office of his superior, Colonel Peterson.

It was a small office with barely room enough for the desk, two chairs, and a wall that was a gigantic computer which reached everywhere in the solar system.

"Rounded up another one," he reported, sitting in the chair in front of Peterson's desk. Slipping off his gloves, he added, "One at a time is too slow. I'd lay odds there's one man behind all this. Nail him, and we deal pirating a death blow."

Col Peterson, a blocky man with square shoulders, cocked his head. "Sounds like you've already got a plan."

Stark nodded. "I'm going to infiltrate the underground, let it be known I'm an expert pilot looking for work, and see what turns up."

Peterson snorted. "You'd be recognized in an instant."

"Not if I let my beard grow a few days, bleach my hair, find some scraggly clothes and go without a bath. Maybe splash a little liquor on my clothes. I can pull it off." He crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair, his satisfaction evident.

Peterson cocked his head. For a long moment he glared skeptically at Stark. Then he shook his head to dismiss his negative thoughts. Straightening, he said, "I could order you not to, Stark -- for what little good that would do. Still, you've pulled off some amazing things." Leaning forward, he said, "You'll need some fake ID. I'll take care of that."

They spent some time building the background of Dirk Evans, Stark's new identity.

Dirk Evans wobbled slightly as he entered the dimly-lit saloon. After a pause to orient himself, Dirk approached the bar. This was his fifth attempt at making contact with the supposed Big Boss behind piracy.

He belched loudly, then ordered a drink.

"What kind?" the barkeep asked.

"Cheapest y' got," he muttered, dropping a few coins in front of him.

He took the proffered glass and sipped it. After another sip, he stood and faced the assorted tables. "Anybody needs a good pilot what ain't got a ship? Ain't afraid to fly nowhere."

When there was no response, he sat back down and waited in case there was a delayed answer. When no one came up, he tossed off the rest of the glass and stumbled outside.

He passed an alley next to the bar and heard someone come out behind him. Instead of someone speaking, he felt a blow to the back of his head and consciousness was shattered.

Stark woke up with a headache, chained to a metal chair. There was a big desk in front of him. A skinny, hawk-faced man sat behind the desk.

?Got sumpin to drink?" he muttered. pushing the pain away.

The man looked at him. "No, but we might have a job for you."

Stark shook his chains. "Ya gotta strange way to have a job interview." "We can't take chances," the man told him. Then, leaning back, he tented his fingertips and stared at Stark. "Why ain'tcha got a ship, Dirk Evans?"

"If ya knows my name, you knows why," Stark replied.

Hawk Face smiled. "A year ago, the Space Patrol caught you, took your ship and locked 7ou up. Ya just got out."

"Bingo!" Stark agreed. Before going on, he glanced around the moderate-sized room. The green walls were bare, not even a window, just a door beside the desk.

"You the boss?"

When Hawk Face nodded, Stark went on. "I mean the big boss, the one behind ever'thing. 'Cause I got sumpin' bigger than anything ever,"

Hawk Face leaned forward. "You found some ancient treasure?"

Stark shook his head. "Nope. Something brand new, and better'n any treasure. Found out about it by accident. Betcha never heard of it, but I'll bet the big guy does. He'll kill you if you let it slip by."

"What is it?"

Stark paused, then said, "Tellerium."

The man's face was blank.

"See?" Stark asked. "You tell the big boss that and he'll be here in a heartbeat."

in less than a hour, Hawk Face slipped a hood over Stark's head. "Security," he explained.

After the hood was in place, Stark heard the door open and close. "Tellurium?" a voice asked in a soft tone.

Stark's keen ears recognized the voice, even from the one word, spoken with an attempt to disguise the identity of the speaker.

Senator Tough Tremble!

The senator's first name was Clevis, but he had used 'Tough' his entire career, supposedly meaning he was tough on crime.

Stark had heard many of Tremble's speeches, and found it amusing. The senator who maintained he was tough on crime had turned to crime!

"Are we alone?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I mean really alone," Stark continued. "This is too big for anyone else to be in on."

After a pause, Stark heard the door open and close again. "Now," the senator said.

"I found out by accident," Stark began. "I saw a nervous guy at one club. Decided he was onto something. Won his confidence. Got him to follow me out to an empty alley. Turned out he overheard some scientists talking about Tellurium. It's a newly-discovered element that's powerful. One strip of it can power a big city for over a month. Most valuable element ever! He even had the course of a transport loaded with Tellurium!"

Tremble whistled in astonishment. "You took care of him?"

Stark nodded. "Killed him right there. All we need do is intercept that transport, and we're set for life."

"Great! I'll put together a fleet and --"

"No!" Stark snapped." I've got a better idea. "Just the two of us can pull the perfect crime and live in luxury the rest of our lives."

". . .What?" Stark could tell Tremble was both puzzled and intrigued.

"Remember," he said, "this is new! Only one groupd of scientists know about it. I can gas the inside of the cargo ship. The two of us go inside and carry a few loads into our ship. Then we take off and disappear."

"Why not steal the entire ship?"

"Because, as I told you, this will be the perfect crime. The scientists won't want to let the world know what happened. We could each live our lives in the wildest luxury."

"Sounds great," Tremble agreed. "Let's get on it." The two men found their way to an asteroid in the scheduled path of the cargo ship. Each wore a spacesuit with boot rockets. Tremble's visor was black, preventing identification.

When the cargo ship passed, the two men rocketed after it. Stark landed on its hull, drilled a hole and shot gas into it. Beckoning for his partner to follow him, he entered an airlock.

Inside, as they headed for cargo, they passed four men lying on the floor. Tremble lifted a boot to stomp one on the head.

"No!" Stark said forcefully. "That'd stir things up."

Regretfully, Tremble moved his boot and followed Stark.

Finding the strips in cargo, each man retrieved an armload and took them to their ship. When they again came upon the four men, Tremble was shocked when the men got to their feet, each holding a pistol, and said, "Surprise!" Stark removed his helmet and said, "That wasn't terrilium, Tremble. Nonetheless, you've been caught in a case of theft."

Tremble stared at Stark and then did a double-take. "Stark!" he exclaimed. "I should have known." Then he added, "But it isn't."

CONTENTS


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