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Skin Game   By: (1927-)

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Working on the theory that you can skin a sucker in space as well as on Earth, the con team of Harding and Sheckly operated furtively but profitably among natives of the outer planets. That is until there was a question of turnabout being fair play in a world where natives took their skinning literally!


By Charles E. Fritch

Illustrated by Kelly Freas

"People are basically alike," Harding said democratically. He sat idly against the strawlike matting of the hut wall and reached for a native fruit in a nearby bowl. "They're all suckers, even the smartest of them; in fact, the ones who think they're the smartest generally wind up to be the dumbest." Carefully, he bit into the fruit which resembled an orange and, mouth full, nodded approvingly. "Say, these aren't bad. Try one."

Sheckly shook his head, determined to avoid as many aspects of this culture as he could. "But these aren't people," he reminded, not happy with the thought. "They're lizards."

Harding shrugged and settled back, his grinning features ruddy in the flaring torchlight. "Humanoids have no monopoly on suckerhood. When it comes to that, we're all brothers under the skin, no matter what color or how hard the skin may be." He sighed, contemplating the harvest to be. "No, Sheckly, it'll be like taking candy from a baby. We'll be out of here with our pockets bulging before the Space Patrol can bat an eyelash in this direction."

Unconvinced, Sheckly stared glumly through the open doorway of the hut into the warm humid night, where a fire flared in the darkness and long shadows danced and slithered around it.

"It's not the Space Patrol I'm worried about," he said, after a while. "I don't mind fleecing humanoids " he shivered, grimacing "but lizards!"

Harding laughed. "Their riches are as good as anybody else's. The trouble with you, Sheckly, you're too chicken hearted. If it weren't for me, you'd still be small timing back on Earth. It takes imagination to get along these days."

Sheckly grunted, for he had no ready answer to deny this truth. While he didn't like the reference to his inability to get along in the world without Harding's help, the man was right about other things. It did take imagination, all right, mixed with a generous supply of plain ordinary guts; that, plus an eye focused unfalteringly on the good old credit sign.

He certainly could not get along without Harding's timing. The man knew just when Patrol Ships would be at certain spots, knew their schedules for visiting these small otherworlds, and always he was several steps ahead of them. They went into a planet, their rocket ship loaded with gambling devices cards, dice, roulette wheels, and other cultural refinements and set up shop which could be folded at a moment's notice if necessary. Natives seemed almost eager to be skinned of their riches, and he and Harding happily obliged them.

"Listen to them out there," Harding marveled, leaning forward to hear the sharp scrapings that represented music. "They must be having some kind of ceremony."

Sheckly nodded, shivering slightly, though the air was hot and humid. He wished again, as he often had in the past, he could have some of Harding's assurance, some of that unrelenting optimism that insisted everything would turn out favorably. But he didn't like these strange primitive worlds, he didn't trust them or their inhabitants. The lizard people had seemed friendly enough, but by looking at a strange reptile you couldn't tell how far it would jump. When the Earth ship landed, the creatures had come slithering to them with all but a brass band, welcoming the Earthlings with the hissings that composed their language. One of them the official interpreter, he proclaimed himself knew a peculiarly good brand of English, and welcomed them in a more satisfactory manner, but still Sheckly didn't like it. Harding had called him chicken hearted, and he felt a certain amount of justified indignance at the description... Continue reading book >>

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