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He walked the streets of New York, and tried to behave as though he were an Earthman.

If they find out what I really am, I'm dead, thought Morgan Chane.

He looked like an Earthman. Not too tall, with wide shoulders and black hair and a face of dark, hard planes. And he could speak the language well enough. These things were not strange, since his dead parents had been natives of this world. This Earth, which he had never seen until a few days ago.

Don't even think of the fact that you're a Starwolf!

Nobody knew that, except Dilullo. And Dilullo was not going to tell anyone, at least as long as they stayed partners. Which in effect gave Dilullo the power of life and death over him, for death was the swift and certain sentence meted out to a captured Starwolf on nearly every world in the galaxy.

Chane smiled, and thought, The hell with it. Danger was living, and if you avoided danger, you were only existing. Anyway, there was small risk of being suspected for what he was, here on a world where he looked just like everyone else. Nobody would even notice him in the crowd.

But they did. People looked at Chane, and looked back at him again. There was a springiness in his step that he could not quite hide. He had been born and reared on Varna, the world of the hated Starwolves, and that was a big and heavy planet. He could adjust his muscles to the lesser gravitation of smaller planets like this Earth, but he could not completely hide the latent strength and speed of his body. And there was something in his dark face, a touch of just faintly inhuman ruthlessness, that made him stand out.

The men looked at him with something of the expression with which they looked at the not-men one occasionally met in this starport quarter. The women looked at him as though they were both scared and attracted. These side-glances began to make Chane a little uncomfortable. He was not afraid of any of these people—a Varnan could break one of them in half—but he didn't want to start anything.

"You've got a genius for finding trouble," Dilullo had told him. "If you get into any here, you're all through as a Merc."

Chane had only shrugged. But the truth was that he didn't want to stop being a Merc. The Mercs . . . the name was short for mercenaries . . . were the second toughest people in space, the hardbitten men, most of them Earthmen, who went out and did all the dirty, dangerous jobs in the galaxy for pay. They were not as tough as the Starwolves, but the Starwolves had thrown him out, and being a Merc was better than anything else open to him.

Chane left the crowded street and went into a tavern. It was pretty crowded too, but most of the customers were men off the starport and their girls, and most of them were too exhilarated to pay attention to Chane. He ordered whisky and drank it, and thought that no matter what Dilullo said it was poor stuff, and then he ordered some more. The din was loud around him but he dropped away from it as he brooded.

He remembered Varna, the place that had always been home to him. The great, harsh, unfriendly, oversized planet which gave its children nothing except the unmatchable strength and speed which its cruelly heavy gravitation bred into their bodies. Even to Chane it had given that, when he had survived being born there. It was as though Varna was a stern mother who told her sons, "I have given you strength and that is all I have to give . . . go forth and take whatever else you want."

And they had gone forth, the sons of Varna! As soon as they learned the way to make starships, from foolish Earthmen who were trying to encourage trade, the Varnans swarmed out to loot the lesser worlds. They were unbeatable in space; no other people could stand the acceleration pressures they could stand. Across the galaxy went the fear of the quick and ruthless ones—the Starwolves!

A smile crossed Chane's brooding face like a ripple upon a dark pool. He could see in memory of the times when their little squadrons would come home, dropping down out of the starry sky toward their grim mother world, the lights, the loot spread out and the laughter, nobody caring much that some had died in the foray: the Varnans striding like conquerors into their cities, their tall bodies splendid in their fine golden-down hair, their high-boned faces proud and their cat-slanted eyes bright.

And he had been one of them. He walked proud with them; he raided the starworlds with them; he lived in the tingle of danger.

It was all gone now; they had driven him out. He would never see Varna again, and here he was, sitting in a stinking room in a dull city on a dull planet.

"Having fun, Chane?"

A hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up into the long, horselike face of Dilullo.

"I'm having fun," said Chane. "I can hardly remember a time when I've had more fun than now."

"That's fine," said the older man, and sat down. "That's just fine. I was afraid you might be pining for some of the fighting and killing and robbing that Varnans call fun. I was so worried about it that I thought I'd keep an eye on you."

Dilullo's bleak, no-colored eyes had an ironic twinkle in them. He turned and ordered a drink.

Chane looked at him, thinking that there were times when he hated Dilullo and that this was one of the times.

Dilullo turned back and then he said, "You know, Chane, you look like a bored tiger sitting there. But the tiger is going to stay bored, and on a short leash. This isn't one of the outworlds, it's Earth; and we're kind of strict here."

"It does seem a bit dull, now that you mention it," said Chane.

Dilullo's drink came and he drank half of it. Then he said, "I thought you might feel that way. So you may be glad to hear that we might just have another job coming up."

Chane looked up quickly. "What job? Where?"

"Don't know yet," said Dilullo. He finished his drink. "But a very big shot in interstellar trade named Ashton wants to see me in the morning. I assume he doesn't want to see a Merc leader without some reason."

"Do you want to take on something so soon?" said Chane. "I mean, we did pretty well on that job for Kharal. I'd suppose you'd want to take a rest."

Dilullo's hard mouth tightened. He looked down at his empty glass, his stubby, strong fingers twirling it around.

"I get my hair cut real short, Chane," he said. "But I can't get it cut short enough to keep the gray from showing around the edges. I'm getting a little old to lead Mercs. If I turned down a good offer, I might just not get another."

Just then a man came hurrying into the place. He was a tall, hardbitten man who wore the same kind of belted Merc coverall that they wore. He looked around and then hastened over to them.

"You're John Dilullo, aren't you?" he said. "I've seen you down at Merc Hall, though I never met you." He babbled, in his excitement. "We just found Bollard. Someone said you were in here, and I came—"

Dilullo had got to his feet and his face was suddenly twice as craggy and harsh. Bollard had been his second in the job they had last worked, and he was an old friend.

"You found him? What does that mean?"

"In an alley only a block or two from here," said the other. "Looks like he was stunned and robbed. We put in a call for the police and then someone said they'd seen you—"

Dilullo interrupted again, taking the babbling man by the arm and propelling him toward the door.

"Show me," he said.

He and Chane rapidly followed the man down the street. Darkness had fallen a little while ago, and the lights were on; the sidewalk was not yet too crowded.

The man kept babbling. "Don't think he's bad hurt, only stunned. I knew him right away, he was leader on a job I went on a year ago."

Dilullo muttered an oath. "I thought he was too old to be this sort of fool."

Their leader ducked into a narrow alley between looming warehouses. "This way . . . around the next corner. I don't know if the police are here yet. We called them first thing . . ."

They were halfway to the corner when from the darkness behind them came the whisper of a stunner, notched way down.

Dilullo dropped unconscious. Chane completed only a quarter of a turn before it dropped him too.

Chane was not unconscious. The stunner, to avoid being too noisy, had been notched down to just the exact power sufficient to knock a man out.

An ordinary man, that is. But Chane was not an ordinary Earthman; Varna had bred tougher muscles and a tougher nervous system, and he did not go all the way out.

He fell and hit the pavement and lay there, face up, his eyes open, his limbs almost paralyzed. Almost. He could still move his muscles a bit, though they felt vague and remote.

He made no movement. The Starwolf cunning that a lifetime had fostered told him not to move yet, not until he had conquered at least some of the numbness.

As through a mist, he saw the man who had guided them here looking down at them, and then another man came running from whatever dark doorway he had hidden in for his ambush. Both men were wavering, unreal figures to Chane's eyes.

"This one," said the pseudo-Merc. He bent over Dilullo's unconscious figure and began to search him.

"I still don't think he'd have them on him," said the other man.

"Look," said the other, searching frantically. "He got six Kharali light-stones for his share of the last job and he hasn't been to any place to deposit them. I told you, I've been watching him . . . . ah!"

He had drawn out from Dilullo's inner clothing a little pouch, and he shook its contents into his hand. Even in the darkness, the light-stones shone with that inner radiance that made the gem desired by all the galaxy.

Six jewels, Chane thought dully, and all Dilullo had gone through to get them, all that hell and danger in Corvus Cluster. The wise Dilullo, who kept his share in stones instead of selling them as Chane and the others had done.

Chane still made no movement. He could feel more life coming back into his nerves and muscles, but not enough yet. The other man bent over him and took his money from his pocket, but he still did not move. He wasn't ready . . .

Next moment he decided that he had to be ready. The pseudo-Merc stood back and began to take off his coverall, and as he did so he spoke quickly to the other man.

"Cut their throats. They could both identify me. I'll get this thing off and we'll get out of here."

The dark figure of the second man bent over Chane; there was a gleam of steel in his hand.

Kill, Starwolf! thought Chane, and willed all his strength into his half-numbed muscles.

He surged up and his hand moved and cracked across the jaw of the man with the knife. He was half-numbed and he didn't have all of his Varnan strength, but there was enough to send the man with the knife reeling and falling. And then the man was lying still.

Chane was already on his feet, staggering, unsure, but going into his charge. The pseudo-Merc had his legs tangled in the coverall he had been removing. He scrabbled in his clothes for a hidden weapon, but Chane reached him before he got it out.

The flat of Chane's hand struck across the pseudo Merc's throat. The man made a gulping sound, staggered, and fell over. Chane fell too. He was too numb to stay erect, and he lay for a few minutes before he could start to get up again.

He had to rub his legs for minutes, with hands that felt like mittens, before he could trust himself to stand. Then he went over to one man and then the other, and looked at them. They were hurt and unconscious, but they were not dead.

Chane thought that if his strength hadn't been halved by the stunner, they would have been killed. But maybe it was just as well. Dilullo had this foolish prejudice against unnecessary killing . . .

He went over to Dilullo and knelt and massaged the nerve-centers. Presently Dilullo came around.

The other Merc looked up dazedly. Chane said softly, "I thought that he was too old to be this sort of fool. Wasn't that what you said, John?"

Dilullo was taking it in by now. "You killed them?"

"I did not," Chane said. "I was a good little Merc. I have to admit it was because I wasn't strong enough, after taking the shock that knocked you cold."

"They were after my light-stones, of course," Dilullo said thickly. "I was a bloody fool to keep them on me, but I didn't think this could happen to me."

Chane retrieved the jewels and his own money.

"All right, let's move," said Dilullo. "We ought to drag them to the police, but law means delays and I don't think we want to hang around Earth courtrooms, with a job maybe coming up."

They went on through the alley and so into the bright streets again.

"John," said Chane.


"I forgot to thank you for coming down to keep an eye on me."

Dilullo said nothing.

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