First Page:Transcriber's Note:
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories April May 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
By ALFRED COPPEL
Every era in history has had its Pop Ganlon's. Along in years and not successful and not caring much anyway. A matter of living out their years, following an obscure path to oblivion.
It was that way in ancient Egypt, just as it will be when the Solar System shrinks to our size. And once in a while such men are given an opportunity to contribute to the society that has forgotten them....
Pop Ganlon was no hero he was only a spaceman. A spaceman and a father. In fact, Pop was rather no account, even in a profession that abounded with drifters. He had made a meagre living prospecting asteroids and hauling light freight and an occasional passenger out in the Belt Region. Coffee and cakes, nothing more. Not many people knew Pop had a son in the Patrol, and even fewer knew it when the boy was blasted to a cinder in a back alley in Lower Marsport.
Pop went on eating and breathing, but his life was over after that. He hit the bottle a little harder and his ship, The Luck , grew rustier and tackier, and those were the only outward signs that Pop Ganlon was a living dead man. He kept on grubbing among the cold rocks and pushing The Luck from Marsport to Callisto and back with whatever low mass payloads he could pick up. He might have lived out his string of years like that, obscure and alone, if it hadn't been for John Kane. Kane was Pop Ganlon's ticket to a sort of personal immortality if there is such a thing for an old spaceman.
It was in Yakki, down canal from Marsport, that Kane found Pop. There is a small spaceport there a boneyard, really for buckets whose skippers can't pay the heavy tariff imposed by the big ramp. All the wrecks nest there while waiting hopefully for a payload or a grubstake. They have all of Solis Lacus for a landing field, and if they spill it doesn't matter much. The drifting red sands soon cover up the scattered shards of dural and the slow, lonely life of Yakki goes on like before.
The Patrol was on Kane's trail and the blaster in his hand was still warm when he shoved it up against Pop Ganlon's ribs and made his proposition.
He wanted to get off Mars out to Callisto. To Blackwater, to Ley's Landing, it didn't matter too much. Just off Mars, and quickly. His eyes had a metallic glitter and his hand was rock steady. Pop knew he meant what he said when he told him life was cheap. Someone else's life, not Kane's.
That's how it happened that The Luck lifted that night from Yakki, outward bound for Ley's Landing, with Pop and Kane aboard her alone.
Sitting at the battered console of The Luck , Pop watched his passenger. He knew Kane, of course. Or rather, he knew of him. A killer. The kind that thrives and grows fat on the frontiers. The bulky frame, the cropped black hair, the predatory eyes that looked like two blaster muzzles. They were all familiar to Pop. Kane was all steel and meanness. The kind of carrion bird that took what others had worked for. Not big time, you understand. In another age he'd have been a torpedo a hireling killer. But out among the stars he was working for himself. And doing well.
Pop didn't care. His loyalty to the Patrol had stopped quite suddenly not long before in a dark alley in Lower Marsport. This was only a job, he told himself now. A job for coffee and cakes, and maybe a grubstake to work a few more lonely rocks. Life had become a habit for Pop, even if living had ended.
"What are you staring at, Pop?" Kane's voice was like the rest of him...