Blood On My Jets and Others
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by Algis Budrys
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Four stories from a master of Science Fiction. Blood on My Jets--Ash had been working for the Earth agency in a covert way for a long time. If there was an area that was classified, that needed cleaning up, that operated in the gray areas even when those gray areas that went black--Ash was their man. Ash had blood on his hands, but it was in the service of the good, he hoped. But then Pat McKay walked into his life again. A beautiful girl with cooper hair and brown eyes. She turned the head of every man she passed. And now she wanted Ash for a job, a dirty job--but why had she chosen him? Die, Shadow!--After being asleep for many millenniums, Greaves is awakened. Worshipped and needed, he now must face the Shadow People. The Burning World--The government knew what was best for its citizens, didn't it? And it could go on doing what was best for it's people, if they wanted it or not. Firegod--Some are born to greatness, others achieve the rulership of system―but Merssu wanted to be a god. All he needed was a million years and a little luck!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [189 KB]
Reading time: 113-158 min.
"Algis Budrys is that rarity, an intellectual genre writer" John Clute from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
Rocket Row is the Joy Street of three planets. It's got neon lights, crummy dives, cheap hotels, and women to match. Every man who's ever rode a ship into space knows about Rocket Row. It runs along the far side of Flushing Spaceport, down toward the Sound.
The New Shanghai was full of dockworkers and crewmen on liberty. It was noisy. I sat on a bar stool and watched the fog trying to infiltrate the open door. It didn't have a chance against the tobacco smoke that rolled out to meet it. Outside, the streets and alleys would be choked with wet, creeping darkness, full of quiet footsteps, and the cops would find empty-pocketed corpses behind the ashcans in the morning.
* * * *
But none of that was any of my business. I was sick and tired of fog--the real kind, the kind they grow on Venus--and I was sick of the thought of blood. I'd seen too much of it, soaking into the hot mud, and some of it spilled by my guns. I wanted to forget the night, and fog that gave cover to every kind of dirty deal a man could imagine. I wanted to pull the corners of my world together until all that was left was the drink, the bar stool, and me. But it wasn't going to work out that way, because I was in the New Shanghai on business.
And my kind of business was the dirtiest, lousiest, most thankless racket in the world.
The bartender moved up to where I was sitting. "Have another one, Ash?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure, Ming," I said. "You still make the best Stingers in the System. Maybe that's because you don't brew your own gin."
"Could be, Ash, could be," he laughed. He shook up the drink and poured it in my glass. "How'd it go on Venus ?"
"It went," I said.
Ming was one of the few people who admitted knowing I was a D. O.--a Detached Operative. It was a crummy job, but it suited me.
We were the hired-gun rabble of the System, thrown together into the damnedest police force there had ever been. Spacial expansion hadn't really gotten underway until after the Terro-Martian War, and after it ended every would be big shot there was had realized that all he really needed to set himself up as a pocket-size dictator was some salvaged gear from the mess the war had left, a crew that wasn't too particular, and a good-looking piece of territory in the practically limitless areas of space. Most of them had picked slices of Venus. There were a few in the Asteroids, hooked up with renegade Marties, and one or two that had actually grabbed sections of Mars.
Sending regular law enforcement officers or Marines after each one of these boys would have been physically impossible. Earth government had come up with a cuter idea.
It was a lot more economical to fight one big decisive battle than to endure a series of inconclusive skirmishes. There were a lot of us boys out in space, most of us just drifting from one port to the next, picking up a living by our wits, and by our skill with a gun, some of us. Earth government had quietly picked out the ones they considered trustworthy, sworn us in, and turned us loose with a few standing orders and a lot of dependence on our discretion.
* * * *
Whenever something brewed between two of these minor warlords, we'd come flocking in and hire ourselves out to whichever side we felt had slightly more justice. Sometimes we wound up shooting at each other, but you couldn't even be sure of that, since most of us didn't know, beyond a guess or two, who the other D. O.'s were. Usually, though, we had, enough brains to pick the right side, and we'd make sure that was the one that came out on top.
It a process of elimination, actually. The warlords were helped to knock each other off until, eventually, those who remained either proved themselves to be strong leaders, which was what frontier planets needed, or else megalomaniacs, in which case it paid to devote a full-scale military campaign to them.
It was a highly informal system, but it had worked. It was tough on us, but it wasn't any harder than freelance grifting, had been. It left an awful lot to personal discretion, and we paid ourselves out of whatever came to hand, but there hadn't been any big totalitarian regimes lately, either.
"Yeah, I did pretty well," I repeated.
Ming puckered his mouth and winked. I used to try and figure out how he did it, standing behind his bar all day, never going out, never talking much except to a few people like me. But knew for sure that he could have told me exactly how much I'd made on that Venus job--and the gimmick I'd pulled to get it past Customs, too.
But that was why I was in here. Something was up--something big, and I wanted find out what it was before every grifter and chiseler the System tried to cut a piece of it for himself.
"I got a note in my mailbox today," I said casually.
"Yeah?" he asked, just as quietly.
"Must have been put there as soon as I touched down this morning. Somebody wants me to go to work for them. They're paying high--too high, maybe. Hear anything about a big job coming off somewhere?"
Ming grinned. "If you mean that little letter from Transolar, yeah, I know about that." He got serious, and moved closer.
"But that's all I know, and nobody else knows even that much. Sure, something's cooking, but nobody knows what it is. I--" He broke off. "You've got company. Boy, have you got company!"
I looked in the back bar mirror. A girl had come in the doorway and was walking toward me. Her dress tightened in intriguing places. Her face was as much of a treat. High-cheeked, brown-eyed, with a small, uptilted nose and a full mouth, it was framed by short curly hair the color of new copper wire. I liked it.
So did the spacemen and the dockworkers sitting at the bar. One or two half-rose to invite her to join them, but they sat down again when they saw who she was headed for.
There was something about that hair. I'd seen it before, somewhere.
The guy next to me got up and slid out of the way. I let my eyes stay on the bottles on the back-bar until she sat down beside me. I gave Ming a look. He nodded, and moved down the bar.
The voice was low, but crisp. It had whispers and murmurs in it, too, and I knew I'd heard it before.
"I'm Pat McKay."
I turned my head and looked at her. Her dress, tight as paint from hem to bodice, was mysteriously loose in the sleeves. Ruffles at each shoulder hid bulges that Mother Nature never put there. They looked more like twin shoulder holsters. They were.