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The Hunted Heroes   By: (1935-)

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The planet itself was tough enough barren, desolate, forbidding; enough to stop the most adventurous and dedicated. But they had to run head on against a mad genius who had a motto:

Death to all Terrans!

"Let's keep moving," I told Val. "The surest way to die out here on Mars is to give up." I reached over and turned up the pressure on her oxymask to make things a little easier for her. Through the glassite of the mask, I could see her face contorted in an agony of fatigue.

And she probably thought the failure of the sandcat was all my fault, too. Val's usually about the best wife a guy could ask for, but when she wants to be she can be a real flying bother.

It was beyond her to see that some grease monkey back at the Dome was at fault whoever it was who had failed to fasten down the engine hood. Nothing but what had stopped us could stop a sandcat: sand in the delicate mechanism of the atomic engine.

But no; she blamed it all on me somehow: So we were out walking on the spongy sand of the Martian desert. We'd been walking a good eight hours.

"Can't we turn back now, Ron?" Val pleaded. "Maybe there isn't any uranium in this sector at all. I think we're crazy to keep on searching out here!"

I started to tell her that the UranCo chief had assured me we'd hit something out this way, but changed my mind. When Val's tired and overwrought there's no sense in arguing with her.

I stared ahead at the bleak, desolate wastes of the Martian landscape. Behind us somewhere was the comfort of the Dome, ahead nothing but the mazes and gullies of this dead world.

[Illustration: He was a cripple in a wheelchair helpless as a rattlesnake.]

"Try to keep going, Val." My gloved hand reached out and clumsily enfolded hers. "Come on, kid. Remember we're doing this for Earth. We're heroes."

She glared at me. "Heroes, hell!" she muttered. "That's the way it looked back home, but, out there it doesn't seem so glorious. And UranCo's pay is stinking."

"We didn't come out here for the pay, Val."

"I know, I know, but just the same "

It must have been hell for her. We had wandered fruitlessly over the red sands all day, both of us listening for the clicks of the counter. And the geigers had been obstinately hushed all day, except for their constant undercurrent of meaningless noises.

Even though the Martian gravity was only a fraction of Earth's, I was starting to tire, and I knew it must have been really rough on Val with her lovely but unrugged legs.

"Heroes," she said bitterly. "We're not heroes we're suckers! Why did I ever let you volunteer for the Geig Corps and drag me along?"

Which wasn't anywhere close to the truth. Now I knew she was at the breaking point, because Val didn't lie unless she was so exhausted she didn't know what she was doing. She had been just as much inflamed by the idea of coming to Mars to help in the search for uranium as I was. We knew the pay was poor, but we had felt it a sort of obligation, something we could do as individuals to keep the industries of radioactives starved Earth going. And we'd always had a roving foot, both of us.

No, we had decided together to come to Mars the way we decided together on everything. Now she was turning against me.

I tried to jolly her. "Buck up, kid," I said. I didn't dare turn up her oxy pressure any higher, but it was obvious she couldn't keep going. She was almost sleep walking now.

We pressed on over the barren terrain. The geiger kept up a fairly steady click pattern, but never broke into that sudden explosive tumult that meant we had found pay dirt. I started to feel tired myself, terribly tired. I longed to lie down on the soft, spongy Martian sand and bury myself.

I looked at Val. She was dragging along with her eyes half shut. I felt almost guilty for having dragged her out to Mars, until I recalled that I hadn't... Continue reading book >>

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