t the edge of the thin Martian atmosphere, a silvery rocketship sheds its plasma sheath and noses down to begin the long glide into the spaceport at Solis Lacus City, a thousand miles to the east.

"Looks good, Skip," said Space Marshal Rory Rammer to his cadet. "Hold the nose right there and get ready to make your initial approach call."

"Gotcha, Rory." In the rght-hand seat, Cadet "Skip" Sagan was sweating out his first for-real entry into Martian airspace. "Now?"

"As good a time as any."

"Okay." He cleared his throat. "Solis Lacus Approach, this is Space Marshals cruiser Silver Star, coming up on the outer marker."

A man's voice crackled from the speaker. "Roger, Silver Star. We have you on approach radar, slightly high of the profile."

"He's right," said Rammer. "See the green bar on the display? Drop the nose just a fraction. Don't try to make the correction all at once. Gliding at Mach 4, easy does it."

"I'm on it."

"At this point in the approach, you'll hear from the controller every thirty seconds or so."

The comm radio made a liar of him. "Silver Star, stand by one." There were noises of an open mike being fumbled, then a deeper, officious voice spoke.

"Marshal Rammer, this is Proctor Ludo Raynor for the Martian Colonial Administration."

Rammer raised an eyebrow at Skip, got a shrug in return. "What can I do for you, Proctor?"

"Marshal, I'm asking you to break off your approach and help us intercept a smuggler attempting to land in the desert east of Sun Lake City."

"Pretty unusual request, mister. Could I ask what your authority is?"

"Colonial Administration Regulation Number Forty-one Twelve. 'Importation of Dangerous Substances and Devices.'"

"Stand by one." Rammer pressed the "mute" button on the comm. "Sounds like he has grounds. 'Dangerous Substances and Devices.' Could be hard drugs. Weapons."

"Unlicensed atomics?"

"Even that. I don't see how we can refuse. OK, re-start the drive, level her off and bring us around to a course of zero-nine-zero."

"Roger, Rory!"

Rammer keyed the mike and raised his voice, to be heard over the racket of turbopumps spooling up, reactor rods being withdrawn and, in a few moments, the Star's main engine firing. "All right, Raynor, we're on our way. Give me a fix on your smuggler."

"He's passing through one hundred thousand feet, about two hundred miles east of Ess-Ell City." Before Rammer could reply, Raynor added: "Use of deadly force has been authorized."

This is getting out of hand! the Marshal thought. "Hang on, Raynor. I figured you wanted us to spot his landing site for you. Dogfighting in an out-of-fuel space cruiser is something else."

Raynor's tone was hard and angry. "He's a smuggler, Marshal. I don't want to discuss it over an open link, but let's just say what he's carrying could kill thousands. Do your duty, mister."

"Acknowledged. Rammer out."

Skip glanced at Rammer, then concentrated on his displays again. "Deadly force? Wow! Must be nukes!"

"You'd think so. OK, Skip, I have the controls. Warm up the forward radar and start sweeping the sky in front of us."

Five minutes at idle power took them across Solis Lacus City and out over the desert to its east. After ten minutes, Rammer found his attention straying more and more to the fuel quantity indicators. Another five minutes, mental calculations told him, and the Star would have barely enough fuel and altitude to reverse course and dead-stick into the spaceport behind them. He was counting into the third minute when his cadet shouted.

"Got him! The radar finally locked on. He's at twelve o'clock, high, and forty-seven miles."

"Keep on him, Skip. I want to try talking him down before we blast him."

No time for finesse. He broadcast on the three most common ship-to-ship frequencies. "Unidentified rocketship, this is Space Marshals cruiser Silver Star. We have you under radar surveillance. Lower your flaps and skids and land immediately."

Sagan's head jerked as it followed the radar "blip" up and left off his scope. "He's turning, Rory! Tight. Real tight!"

Pull on the yoke, roll hard left, don't even think about a stall at supersonic speed. "Get him back on radar! Unidentified ship, I say again: Land immediately. Otherwise we are authorized to fire on you."

The cadet's head bobbed again. "He reversed his turn! And -- He's spinning! I've never seen anybody spin a rocket before!"

He's a hell of a pilot, Rammer thought. Or insane What could he be carrying that's worth this sort of risk? He squeezed the "transmit" button on his yoke. "Final warning, mister, or I'll have to shoot you down." Three seconds dragged by. "No answer. Take the controls and roll the Star around to the right, Skip, so I can bring the forward blaster can bear."

"Comin' around, Rory. But we're dropping like a rock!"

Rammer pulled down the heads-up sight for the big plasma projector mounted under his feet and caught the bobbing, weaving arrowhead of his target in the crosshairs. "Hang on. Hang on. Fire!"

The cruiser bucked as the projector shot a manmade lightning blast at the smuggler. Rammer hung on to the sight, ready for a second shot.

"Got him!" his cadet yelled.

Yeah, we did, didn't we? Rammer thought sourly. The sight showed a bright spark blown off the other ship's starboard wing -- and a foggy sphere expanding around it. . .

"Uh -- Skip? Better pull back on the stick before we fly through --"

There was a pattering all around, as if the Silver Star were flying through the sort of rainstorm Mars had not seen in a million years -- followed by a thundering CRASH! aft. As Rammer's hearing returned, his ears were filled by a symphony of groaning structural members and a chorus of audible malfunction alarms.

"Debris," he finished.

One audible in particular penetrated Rammer's abused ears: An alluring, not to say seductive, female voice repeating, "Warning. Low Fuel," over and over.

Cadet Sagan's voice hinted that panic was not far away. "I think the main fuel tank must have been punctured. We've got three percent fuel -- Make that two -- No, it's one -- Uh, we're flying a supersonic glider."

"Well, Skip, I've found you need to do five things in a situation like this. First, pull back on the yoke and trim for your best lift-over-drag speed."

"I can do that." The auto-trim clattered briefly and the whistling of thin Martian air over and through the Star's abused wings quieted.

"Second, start looking for a place to land."

Peering out through the starred windscreen, Rammer mentally concurred with the cadet that one stretch of the Daedalia Planum was as good as any other. "Got one."

"Third, turn all those blasted bells and whistles off!"

"Oh, right!" The various beeps, boops and breathy warnings died away. Whoever came up with the phrase "blessed silence" never made a deadstick landing, Rammer mused. "Fourth, get ready to make your distress call."

"And fifth?"

"Try not to whimper."

"Right." The cadet drew and exhaled a deep breath and put on his best "Chuck Yeager" voice. "Solis Lacus Approach Control, this is Space Marshals cruiser Silver Star. Mayday, mayday, mayday -- "

#

ory Rammer sat in the command pilot's seat of the Silver Star, printing with a pencil on the back of a logbook page. The rising Sun through the rocket's heavy quartz windscreen gave enough light to see by but little warmth.

ENGAGED SUSPECT ROCKET PER REQUEST MARTIAN COLONIAL AUTHORITIES. TARGET DAMAGED AND PROB. DESTROYED. USSM SILVER STAR (N5971U) SUSTAINED DAMAGE FROM TARGET DEBRIS. MAIN FUEL TANK PUNCTURED. LOST REMAINING FUEL. ACCOMPLISHED DEADSTICK LANDING THIS LOCATION APPROX 1610 GMT TWO DAYS AGO.

DESPITE CONTACT W/ S. LACUS APPROACH CONTROL PRIOR TO LANDING AND REPEATED RADIO CALLS REPORTING OUR POS'N. WE HAVE HAD NO FURTHER CONTACT WITH --

-- with anyone, thought Rammer. But how to phrase that without sounding whiny? Or bitter? At the very least, it was puzzling that they had seen no search aircraft. The ether was silent except for a faint signal from Solis Lacus City Municipal Radio Service and their top-of-the-hour news programs made no mention of a missing rocket.

MAIN REACTOR SHUT DOWN AND SEALED DUE TO SUSPECTED STRUCTURAL DAMAGE. EMERGENCY BATTERY POWER EXHAUSTED LAST NIGHT.

And without some power source, the rocketship's interior temperature would swiftly drop to that of the outside air tonight. This being Martian summer, that would be around twenty degrees below zero.

CADET SAGAN AND I ARE TAKING AN IMPROVISED SAND SLED, THERMAL SURVIVAL BUBBLE AND CONSUMABLES IN AN ATTEMPT TO REACH THE GRAND CANAL TO OUR NORTH. I ESTIMATE THE HA NA'RETH PUMPING STATION IS APPROXIMATELY 40 MILES DUE NORTH OF OUR POSITION. WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO REACH IT IN NO MORE THAN TWO DAYS MARCH.

Famous last words, Rammer thought. Hopefully, they wouldn't end up in a museum exhibit, next to "I'm just going outside. I may be some time." Or "Nonsense. They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist- "

Skip's voice called from behind him, coming in through the portside airlock and echoing around "B" Deck before reaching him on the Flight Deck. "Rory! I've got the sled loaded. Should we be leaving?"

Rammer folded the logbook sheet neatly in three and considered writing something on the outside. But what? "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN"? "WE WERE HERE, WHERE WERE YOU"? "WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG"? "TOO LATE!"? In the end, he wrote nothing more and left the paper lying on his seat as he made his way aft along the catwalk/ladder and out into the Martian sunshine.

#

is cadet was swinging his arms and stamping his feet in an attempt to keep warm. UV-goggles covered his eyes, but --

"Skip, why don't you have your dust mask on?" Rammer slipped on his goggles, then snugged up his own mask to seal it tightly over his nose and mouth.

"Gee, Rory, do I have to wear that thing? It chafes. And it doesn't fit too well."

"Yes, you have to." He stooped to pick up a handful of the reddish sand, then let it trickle through his fingers. Most fell to the ground like Earthly sand, but a significant fraction blew away on the wind. "See? This stuff is half dust. It gets into everything -- machinery, your eyes. Your lungs. It's bone-dry and has more than a hint of peroxides. Breathe it for a few hours and it'll dry out your throat and sinuses, too, and set you up for a nasty infection the colonists call 'sand throat.'"

"Yes, sir." Sagan put on his mask and began tugging at the straps. "Are we going to walk back to Solis Lacus City?"

"We'd never make it. No, the Grand Canal is north of here and the map shows an Old Martian pumping station at Ha Na'reth, almost due north of us at forty miles. Should be an emergency shelter there and a landline to S-L City. They can send a boat or an airdyne for us."

"Forty miles? Doesn't sound too bad."

Rammer kicked the sand at his feet. "Across this stuff. Breathing thin air. And we'll have to overnight at least once in that thermal shelter. No picnic." Rammer peeled open a pouch slung over his shoulder, pulled out a hand-sized gizmo and began adjusting knobs on its face.

"Rory, what is that?"

"Well, since Mars doesn't have any magnetic field to speak of, compasses don't work. So field explorers use these things: A gyro-stabilized inertial tracker. And this one says north is -- that way. Let's go."

#

ulling the makeshift sled across the soft sand was more work than Rammer had expected. Instead of taking turns, both he and the cadet ended up yoked to the thing, taking breaks every half hour. Talking while in harness was impossible; all their lung-power was needed to stave off hypoxia. It was the fourth break before Skip got around to saying out loud what had been eating at him for two days.

"I'm sorry, Rory. I really am."

"For what? It was a good landing. Considering. Shame about the reactor; it's pricey to salvage a rocket with a cracked containment. This is probably the end of the road for the Star."

"You know what I mean. We wouldn't be stuck out here in the middle of nowhere if I hadn't -- "

"Hadn't flown through the cloud of scrap metal we blew off that smuggler. You didn't know to avoid it. You'd never shot anyone down before."

"I still haven't shot anyone down. You handled the blaster. Didn't you think I could make the shot, Rory?"

"I'm sure you could have. That's a weighty thing to have on your mind, though: Shooting down another ship. Never mind. I should have pulled back on the stick myself."

Sagan coughed. And again. The second cough ended in a drawn-out wheeze.

"Skip, do you have your mask cinched up tight?"

"As tight as it'll go!" the cadet protested. "But it doesn't fit right, around my chin."

Rammer's watch buzzed. "Break's over. I'll see what I can do about it at the next stop."

#

he good news, thought Rammer, is that the dunes seem to be flattening out as we drop down toward the Grand Canal. The bad news is that the dust content seems to be going up. Softer sand. Harder to pull this blasted sled.

He leaned into the straps across his chest, making the extra effort needed to pull the sled to the crest of yet another dune. When the drag of the contraption eased off at the top, he and the cadet fell to their knees, gasping for breath. The edges of Rammer's field of vision were gray and ragged, and his brain was too oxygen-starved to recognize what lay in the depression at the bottom of the dune.

"It's the smuggler's ship!" Skip croaked.

It was a steel arrowhead, resting on one skid and its belly at the end of a trench it had gouged out of the Martian desert and that disappeared into the dunes to their left. A black, puckered line that began at the starboard wing root's trailing edge and stretched two-thirds of the way forward showed where Silver Star's blaster bolt had gone home.

Excitement had given the cadet energy to stand up. "I can't believe he made a good landing! Look! You nearly burned his starboard wing off at the root!"

Rammer pulled Skip down to his knees and back onto the reverse slope of the dune. "And if his ship's intact, " he said quietly, "he's probably alive. And whatever he was smuggling is still dangerous. Draw your sidearm. I'll go around the aft end, you go around the nose. We'll meet on the other side. Be careful!"

"Will do, Rory!" The cadet crab-walked to the right, staying low to the sand. After he disappeared, Rammer made his own way left and down.

Skip's right, I nearly blew his wing off. The marshal crossed over the centerline of the rocketship. Drive nozzle looks intact. Reactor might still be on its mounts. Starboard skid collapsed, though. And what's that I smell? Breakfast?

Through the struts and actuators of the landing gear leg, he glimpsed the back of a tall man standing at some sort of console. Keeping low and using the landing gear as cover, he jogged forward. In one smooth movement, Rammer rounded the gear, leveled his pistol and ordered, "Halt! Or I'll shoot!"

His catch was a tall, burly man in a red-camo outersuit, who turned slowly and smiled through a patriarch's beard. "Good morning!" he said, in Russian-accented English.

"Rex Gorbachev!" Rammer was amazed to see the man. Arch-criminal. Smuggler many times over, of a wide variety of contraband. Extortionist. Wall candy in the "Wanted" poster gallery of every law enforcement office in the Inner Solar System. Officially, a foreign-currency "specialist" for the Ministry of External Affairs of the Russian Republic

"Alan Pavlovich Rammer!" said the Russian, apparently delighted to see the Space Marshal.

"What are you doing?" Rammer kept his pistol centered on the smuggler's sternum.

Gorbachev sidled slightly to his right, revealing a portable cook stove. "Scrambling eggs." Gesturing with the spatula in his hand, he asked, "Would you like some? They will not keep."

"Hands up!" cried a boyish voice behind Gorbachev.

"If I put my hands up, the eggs will burn," the Russian said over his shoulder.

Skip came into view from the direction of the ship's nose. "Oh, don't do that!"

Rammer whistled between his teeth. "Hey! Back this way! What were you smuggling, Gorbachev?"

"Eggs,' Gorbachev said, blandly.

"No, I don't want any eggs. Now, what were you carrying? The proctors said it was something that could kill thousands. Heroin? AK-74's? Nukes?"

"Eggs."

"Forget the eggs! I already told you -- "

Skip appeared from around Gorbachev's bulk. "Rory, I think he means he was smuggling eggs."

"What?"

Gorbachev gestured with the spatula in Sagan's direction. "Your cadet has the correct of it. Eggs. Canned bacon. 'Tween-kies'. Caffeinated soft drinks. I would offer you a cola but they all exploded on impact. Electronics bay of Alger Hiss is saturated with high-fructose corn syrup. My ship's radios died a sticky death."

I can't help it. I've got to ask, Rammer thought. "Gorbachev, why is a Russian rocketship named after an American Secretary of State?"

"Late Secretary Hiss was man of probity and integrity. Russian people hold his memory in great respect." Gorbachev's expression held no hint of levity.

"I think he's telling the truth, Rory. About the eggs, I mean. The hull cracked open at the aft pressure bulkhead. The cargo hold is full of flats of eggs. Canned potato chips. Shortwave-oven popcorn."

"Doesn't really matter. Hands up. Step away from the cook stove. We're marching to a pumping station on the Grand Canal, Gorbachev. And you're coming with us."

The Russian shrugged and raised his hands. "Of course I am. Was never any question of this. After all, you have guns. There is only one question still to be answered."

"What?"

"Do you want any of these eggs?"

#

ow three men slogged northward toward the Grand Canal. Two pulled the sand sled at any time -- either Rammer and Gorbachev or Sagan and the Russian, with the unburdened lawman keeping a pistol at least nominally aimed at their prisoner. Gorbachev never mentioned his lack of relief and never pulled less than half the weight. They walked north through the warm peak of the Martian summer day, when temperatures soared toward seventy degrees, stopping only every half-hour to flop on the sand or gulp water from the tank on the sled. As the Sun began to sink in the west, they had to stop for Cadet Sagan to quiet a prolonged coughing fit.

"Marshal, I do not like the way your cadet sounds. I think he is coming down with 'sand throat'."

"I'm afraid you may be right. We've adjusted his mask as tight as we can, but the dust and dry air are still getting in somewhere."

"Around his chin, I think. His chin is too narrow for the mask. Mask was designed to fit ninety-five percent of persons. Your cadet has exceptionally narrow chin. Too bad for him. In designers' opinion, I mean, of course."

"You know about dust masks?"

"I was not always in import/export business. My first job out of Kiev Polytechnic Institute was designing gas masks. Thought was very dull job. First assignment, I took three weeks to design new prototype. Wasted half the time. My superior accepted drawings. Said nothing. Had dozen examples made. Then sent me to Mongolia to 'observe' tests. We were having 'candid discussions' with 'socialist brothers' of People's Republic of China at time. Discussions involved nerve gases. Became very interested in subtlest details of gas mask design."

"And Skip's mask -- "

"Was designed by engineer who thought he had dull job. I will add some padding around his chin at next rest stop. But I am afraid his throat will only get worse."

#

ammer was woken from dreams of suffocating by a wash of cold air across his face and a hoarse whisper in his ear. "Marshal! Please to come outside!"

Gorbachev was gone again before Rory could react. Cursing under his breath, Rammer pulled his outersuit's hood over his head, secured his breathing mask and squeezed through the thermal tent's entry flaps. He found the Russian a few yards from the tent, looking intently in the direction the party would have to go as soon as the Sun was up.

"Gorbachev, are you crazy? It must be fifty below out here!"

"Nyet, Marshal! It is summertime on Mars, cannot be more than twenty below. And Sun will be up in only minutes. Please to point out to me our direction of travel with your navigation device."

Rammer pulled the inertial tracker from his side pocket and squinted at the display. "Three-five-five degrees should take us straight to the pumping station. Just -- that direction." He pointed.

"Thank you. Now please to observe faint cone of light on horizon, flashing on and off, approximately ten degrees to left of your finger."

"Yes?"

"That is beacon on top of pumping station. I believe gyro in your navigator has drifted slightly. Not unusual for hand-held unit. You may wish to re-calibrate."

"We must be close!'

"Nyet. Light is reflecting off high-altitude dust haze. Often seen in Martian desert before dawn, this time of year. Station is still a good day's march away."

"Oh. Thank you, Gorbachev."

"Nichevo. Is my ishaka, too. Now let us get back in thermal tent. Is cold as zampolit's heart out here!" Rammer hesitated before climbing back into the tent. If Gorbachev wanted to kill us, he reflected, he could have just hot-footed it toward the pumping station's beacon and left me to march off in the wrong direction. He squeezed through.

"Up and at 'em, Skip. We've got a -- Skip?" For the first time, he heard the cadet's fast, labored breathing. Pulling back the younger man's hood and feeling his forehead, he said, "Good Lord, he's burning up!"

Gorbachev loomed over them. "Let me feel his forehead. Yes, fever. I am afraid your cadet's cough became 'sand throat' sometime last night."

"We have to get him to medical help."

"Which means we will have to take turns carrying him. You first." Gorbachev reached up and pulled a ripcord to collapse the tent. As the outside air hit, he hoisted Sagan onto Rammer's back, then spun the marshal around to lash his cadet's wrists in front of him.

Rammer grunted under the extra weight. "Think we can make it?"

"On one hand, gravity here is one-third of normal. On other hand, sand is very soft. On other hand, we must abandon thermal tent, so we will either reach pumping station or freeze after sunset tonight. Good incentive. On yet other hand, can only do so much."

"That's four hands."

Gorbachev shrugged eloquently. "Should have been born Martian, not Russian. Let us go."

#

he second day was far worse than the first. Even in Martian gravity, Sagan was a limp, clumsy burden. Both Rammer and Gorbachev overbalanced and toppled into the soft, red sand more than once. More than once forward. More than once backward. More than once sideways.

Rising from breaks to march again was agony. Their only water, now that the sled lay abandoned behind them, was in the flasks in their pockets, and that was exhausted by midday.

Late in the day, they reached the level of the Grand Canal. The dunes settled into long, gentle undulations. The sand was a bit harder; the finest dust had been washed out by the floods that had rolled through this valley before the Great Drought began. The air was even a bit thicker, and Rammer found enough breath to pick up his questioning of his nominal prisoner again, even with the cadet draped across his back. "Gorbachev --"

"Yes, Marshal?"

"Tell me: What were you really smuggling?"

"Eggs."

"All right, if you think you're going to incriminate yourself -- "

"I have no right not to incriminate self here. This is Mars. You have never been to Mars before?"

"I used to have business here all the time. Not so much for the last ten years. A few refueling stops. And some 'Green Indian' business. Why?"

"You are aware that some organs in your government are not happy with character of colonies on Earth's Moon."

"Uh -- No."

"Is so. Moon is full of riff-raff. Hooligans. Uncouth miners. Grubby shopkeepers. Saloon girls."

"It's a frontier!"

"Da, I agree. Luna is like Novosibirsk without the warm, tropical breezes. But these persons believed new world should be new start for humanity. Mars was their chance to do it right."

"What does this have to with eggs?"

"I will get to eggs presently. Administrators of Martian colonies provided colonists with all necessities for utopian existence."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, of course. Problem was with colonists. Nye kulturny -- lowlifes -- did not know what was good for them. Instead of government-issue unisex clothing, wanted to wear t-shirts with disrespectful slogans. Instead of documentaries on hydroponic farm production, wanted to watch wrestling on video. Instead of healthful vegan rations, wanted to eat -- "

"Eggs."

"Bacon. Greasy, salty potato chips. 'Tweenkies' made with sugared beef lard. Cola-coca."

"OK, so the planet is run by a bunch of high school nutritionists. I'm not buying it, Gorbachev! Raynor said you were carrying something that could kill thousands!"

Gorbachev sighed at this lack of vision. "Marshal, you still take this too lightly. It is a matter of public health. Salt, cholesterol, overweight -- these will kill thousands! And since all medical care is provided -- for free! -- by Colonial Administration, it was only matter of fiscal prudence to make sure colonists did what was good for them -- whether they liked or not!"

"And the colonists went along with this?"

"Not at first. Many made noises about 'rights' and 'rule of law.' So Martian Colonial Administration put colonies under rule of regulations instead of rule of law. Anyone who did not agree to abide by regulations could leave domes."

"Back to Earth?"

"No. Could leave dome. Through airlock. At sunset. Dressed in skivvies."

"My God!"

"Number of troublemakers dwindled quickly. Market for clandestine foods did not dwindle, however. Rich market for entrepreneur -- like me."

"You were smuggling eggs!"

"Very good, Prince Mishkin! Isn't this what I have been saying all along?" Gorbachev abruptly stopped, turned, and began unbinding the comatose cadet's wrists from around Rammer's neck.

"Now I believe I should be carrying Cadet Sagan -- " He swung Sagan over his shoulders and grasped his wrists. "And you should be walking five paces behind me. And please to draw your sidearm."

"Why?"

"Because will look better. And because pumping station is over this dune. Or maybe next." When they topped the second dune, the ground fell away abruptly before them, revealing one of the squat pyramids typical of Old Martian engineering works -- the Ha Na'Reth pumping station, set among a maze of accumulator ponds and massive sluice-walls. At the jetty that reached out into the Grand Canal, the dying sunlight glinted off a trim hydrofoil in Colonial Administration colors. Closer to Rammer, a man and woman in sober business jumpers looked up at him.

"Hello the station!" he called.

"Yeah, yeah, come on down." The voice wasn't exactly bored, but it didn't suggest that the appearance of the crash survivors was a great surprise, either.

A broad staircase of wind-eroded stones -- the steps a bit tall for comfortable use by humans -- led down to the station. By the time Rammer and Gorbachev had picked their way to the base, the two proctors were there to meet them, pistols in their hands.

Up close, the man was Rammer's height and considerably beefier. His smile was broad but he never looked Rammer in the eye, keeping his gaze fixed on the Russian. "So, Gorbachev, we finally got you. Hi, Marshal, I'm Ludo Raynor. We talked on the radio a coupla days ago. And this is Proctor Inga Newchurch."

The woman was shorter, older, thinner with ash-blonde hair cut short. Her eyes stayed locked on Gorbachev, too. Her expression was unsmiling and obsessively intense. "Hello."

"Hello. Raynor, Gorbachev is a Federal prisoner --"

"Forget it, Marshal. You're a long way out of your jurisdiction. And anyway, Gorbachev isn't anyone's 'prisoner.' He's just a detainee awaiting execution. And he's all mine-all-mine."

"Execution? You mean 'trial,' don't you?"

"Under colonial regulations, we don't have to waste time on things like that. We know he's guilty. That's enough."

The woman spoke up to taunt the Russian. "Be sundown in another couple of hours, Gorbachev. Guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow to shove you outside in your shorts."

"I do not wear underwear."

"Oo! I'll have to stay past end of shift for this execution. But it's still the sixteenth. You win the pool, Ludo." That one went over Rammer's head. "The pool?"

"The Solis Lacus Procter's office had a pool as to when Gorbachev would walk out of the desert. I took the sixteenth, and I'm gonna clean up!"

"Lucky you. Look, my cadet came down with sand throat walking out. He needs immediate medical attention."

"Yeah, yeah. Lay him down in the pumping station. We'll get an ambulance out here as soon as we get Gorbachev on his way back to S-L City. Inga?"

"I'll have to go down to the boat to call. The station walls are blocking my signal. I'll catch up with you in a minute." The woman proctor holstered her pistol and turned to walk to the jetty.

Rammer's tired and dehydrated brain made a belated connection. "Wait a minute! You were waiting for Gorbachev to walk out of the desert? You didn't search for him? Were you that sure he was alive?"

Raynor grinned as if Rammer had something funny. "Y'see, marshal, this isn't the first time we proctors have run up against Rex here. It's never a safe wager to bet on him being dead. And he has a way of wriggling out of custody when you'd swear it was impossible. This time, we decided to declare the entire Daedalia Planum a no-go zone and post units around the perimeter. And wait. Paid off, didn't it?"

"So you didn't look for the Silver Star, either? No search flights? No answers to our radio calls?

"It was a policy decision."

"We could have died!"

Raynor's smile dropped off his face. "You're welcome to file a complaint. I'll get you the forms. After we're back at S-L City." He maneuvered to get behind Gorbachev without placing Rammer between himself and the smuggler. "Let's get your cadet laid down inside the station. We won't have long to wait."

#

he central chamber of the pumping station still held some of the warmth of midday. The air was heavy with moisture seeping up from the great pumps slowly cycling down below and amber light shone softly from disks set in the walls. Raynor gestured with his pistol for the Russian to lay Sagan down on one of the great stone "benches" that ran across the width of the room. "Marshal, if you'll keep your gun on the detainee here, I'll get him secured. Let me warn you, though. Any move he makes -- a sneeze, an epileptic seizure, a heart attack -- just shoot him."

Gorbachev looked at Rammer, shrugged and swung his hands behind his back. Raynor busied himself with binders for a moment. "There -- these'll hold you, Gorbachev. Good collar, Marshal. I'll see you get some of the credit."

Rammer holstered his sidearm. "Don't exert yourself."

"Not a problem." Raynor stepped closer to the marshal, the better to keep an eye on the entryway. "Heh! You've already got quite a reputation on Mars. We tell new guys about how you got 'Wild Wally' Willett to shoot himself up on Phobos."

Rammer grimaced at the memory. "I didn't have much choice. He had my cadet and me pinned down with a machine gun."

"Whatever. Must have been a sight when his own bullets orbited around and hit him in the back. I bet he danced!"

No, thought Rammer. He didn't dance. He hung in mid-"air," supported by spurts of blood and breathing-oxygen. "That's enough, Raynor."

"Hey, no point in being squeamish in a cop's job, Marshal. Say, why don't you and the cadet stick around for Gorbachev's walkies? A lot of these pedestrians dance around, too, trying to keep--"

"Gorbachev!"

Raynor was briefly aware of an object appearing at the edge of his field of vision, moving at high speed. There was a painful blow to his jaw and he lost consciousness.

From his position nearer the center of the chamber, Gorbachev asked, "Marshal, why did you shout my name and hit Proctor Raynor?"

"You've got it all wrong, Gorbachev. I was trying to warn Raynor that you'd untied yourself and were sneaking up on him from behind."

"How odd. I seem to be tied up still."

"I'll take care of that." Rammer stepped behind the smuggler and began undoing his bonds. "Then you knocked me out, tied both of us up, and made your escape."

"Hmm. . . This is much less messy that what I had in mind."

Rammer passed the binders to Gorbachev and held his hands in front of him. "Think you can take care of Newchurch and get their boat?"

"Day I cannot take out skinny old maid from behind is day I retire to little apartment on Nevsky Prospekt. Too tight?"

"No. Tight is good."

"Bolshoyeh. I would like to ask question: Why?"

Rammer hesitated a moment to put his thoughts in order. "I don't like you much, Gorbachev--"

"Oh! But I am so overcome with affection for you, Marshal Rammer!"

"-- but I'll be damned if I'll see you executed for smuggling eggs."

"I am agreeable to this."

"I'll get you someday. But the punishment will fit your crime. And it'll be done according to the rule of law, not 'regulations.'"

"Whatever."

"Better hit me, too. A bruise on my jaw will look better."

"Then I will hit you, even though it pains me." Even without a windup, Gorbachev's right cross was enough to put the Space Marshal out. The Russian caught his victim by his bound hands before he could fall and lowered him more-or-less gently to the stone floor. A moment with the snoring cadet reassured him that the moisture and cool temperatures were already doing the young man good. Gorbachev turned away from him and made for the door. As he passed Rammer, he stopped to look down and say, "But not all that much."

And then he was gone.