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'Mid Pleasures and Palaces   By: (1923-)

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It was, Kirk thought, like standing in a gully, watching a boulder teeter precariously above you. It might fall at any minute, crushing your life out instantly beneath its weight. Your only possible defenses are your brain and voice but how do you argue with a boulder which neither sees nor hears?

'mid pleasures and palaces

By James McKimmey, Jr.

Illustrated by Philip Parsons

This planet was remote and set apart, and nothing about it had made William Kirk think he might find human life. Yet just beyond, through a thorny bush shaped like an exploding rose, Kirk had seen eyes and nose and a flash of yellow hair that were definitely human.

Kirk poised motionless. He was three miles from the rocket and Leo, who was waiting inside of it. He thought for a moment of how Leo had told him, as they made their landing, that this is the kind of planet where you could go no further. This is the kind of planet that could be the end of twelve years, and you'd better be careful, William, old sport.

Kirk noticed a faint breeze; his palms were wet, and they cooled when the breeze touched them. He placed his palms against his jacket. Damn you, Leo, he thought. Damn your rotten fortune telling. Kirk was superstitious when he was in space, and the memory of Leo Mason's cool, quiet voice saying "Watch it now, sport. Be careful, be careful ..." seemed now like some certain kiss of fate.

The bush trembled and Kirk's right hand flicked to his holster. His pistol was cold against his fingers and he let it fit loosely in his hand, the barrel half raised.

The bush shivered again, and then all at once the figure was rising from behind it, a tall wide figure with a very tan face, lined and toughened by the sun. The shoulders, bare like the chest, were massive, yet somehow stretched looking, as though endless exposure to wind and rain and sun had turned the skin to brown leather.

[Illustration]

Kirk had his pistol pointing at the figure's stomach now, and the figure blinked, while the breeze touched and ruffled the long bleached hair.

The figure raised a large hand, palm up, and curled the fingers. "Hello?" he said softly. Kirk was surprised by the word and the polite sound of it.

Kirk remained motionless, pistol pointing. "Who are you?" he said through his teeth.

"Harry," said the figure, as though Kirk surely should know who he was. "I'm Harry, of course."

"Yes?" said Kirk carefully. "Harry?"

The figure nodded. "Harry Loren, don't you know?"

"Oh, yes," Kirk said, his eyes watchful. "Harry Loren." There was something about the man's eyes, Kirk decided. They were deep set and very bright within their sockets. They didn't match the softness of the speech. Harry Loren smiled and showed his yellow teeth. "Who are you?" he asked politely.

"I'm William," Kirk said. It was as though he might be speaking to a frightened child, he thought, who held a sharp knife in his hands. "William Kirk, of course."

Harry Loren nodded apologetically. "Oh, yes. I can't remember everyone. It's been so long. How are you, William?"

Kirk's eyes flickered. "I'm fine."

"That's nice," Harry Loren nodded. His wild hair brushed over his shoulders and reflected its yellowness against the sun. The knife then, the one that Kirk had thought about a moment ago, appeared in the figure's hand. " Bastard ," Harry Loren hissed, and he was leaping at Kirk, the knife making a sweep toward Kirk's stomach.

Something kept Kirk from squeezing the trigger, and instead he swung his pistol so that it struck the brown, weathered knuckles. The knife flew into a thicket and Loren, screaming, was upon Kirk, reaching for Kirk's neck. Kirk wrenched backward and at the same time swung the barrel of the pistol toward the yellow flying hair. There was a cracking sound, and Harry Loren, brown and wild looking, crumpled silently before Kirk's feet.

Kirk examined the man, then he reached down and picked up the knife from the thicket. It was crudely hammered out from some kind of alloy, but sharp nevertheless, and it could have been deadly in a hand like Harry Loren's... Continue reading book >>




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