From: Hard Guy
He was standing at the side of the glassite super-highway, his arm
half-raised, thumb pointed in the same direction as that of the
approaching rocket car. Ordinarily Frederick Marden would have passed a
hitch-hiker without stopping, but there was something in the bearing and
appearance of this one that caused him to apply his brakes.
Marden opened the door next to the vacant seat beside him.
"Going my way?" he asked.
A pair of steady, unsmiling blue eyes looked him over. "Yeah."
"All right, then. Hop in."
The hitch-hiker took his time. He slid into the seat with casual
deliberateness and slammed the car door shut. The rocket car got under
way once more.
They rode in silence for half a mile or so. Finally Marden glanced
questioningly at his companion's expressionless profile.
"Where are you headed for?" he asked.
"Dentonville." He spoke from the corner of his mouth, without turning
"Oh, yes. That's the next town, isn't it?"
Not very communicative, reflected Marden, noticing the rather ragged
condition of the other's celo-lex clothing.
"Have much trouble getting rides?"
The passenger turned his head, his blue eyes without emotion.
"Yeah. Most guys are leery about pickin' up hitch-hikers. Scared they'll
Marden pursed his lips, nodded.
"Something to that, all right. I'm usually pretty careful myself; but I
figured you looked okay."
"Can't always tell by looks," was the calm reply. "'Course us guys
mostly pick out some guy with a swell atomic-mobile if we're goin' to
pull a stick-up. When we see a old heap like this one there's usually
not enough dough to make it pay."
Marden felt his jaw drop.
"Say, you sound, like you go in for that sort of thing! I'm telling you
right now, I haven't enough cash on me to make it worth your while. I'm
just a salesman, trying to get along."
"You got nothin' to worry about," his passenger assured him. "Stick-ups
ain't my racket."
An audible sigh of relief escaped Marden.
"I'm certainly glad to hear that! What is your--er--racket, anyway?"
The blue eyes frosted over.
"Look, chum, sometimes it ain't exactly healthy to ask questions like
"Pardon me," Marden said hastily. "I didn't mean anything. It's none of
my business, of course."
* * * * *
The calm eyes flicked over his contrite expression.
"Skip it, pal. You look like a right guy. I'll put you next to
somethin'. Only keep your lip buttoned, see?"
"I'm Mike Eagen--head of the Strato Rovers."
"No!" Marden was plainly awed. "The Strato Rovers, eh? I've heard of
them, all right."
The other nodded complacently.
"Yeah. We're about the toughest mob this side of Mars. We don't bother
honest people, though. We get ours from the crooks and racketeers. They
can't squeal to the Interplanetary Police."
"There's a lot in what you say," agreed Marden. "And of course that puts
your ... mob in the Robin Hood class."
"Robin Hood--nuts! That guy was a dope! Runnin' around with bows and
arrows. Why, we got a mystery ray that paralyzes anybody that starts up
with us. They're all right when it wears off, but by that time we get
Marden was properly impressed.
"A mystery ray! With a weapon like that, you should be able to walk into
a bank and clean it out without any trouble."
His passenger's lips curled.
"I told you, we don't bother honest people. We even help the S.P.
sometimes. Right now we're workin' with the Earth-Mars G-men in roundin'
up a gang of fifth-columnists that are plannin' on takin' over the
gov'ment. They're led by the Black Hornet. This Black Hornet goes around
pretendin' like he's a big business man, but he's really a internatural
"A internatural spy," repeated Marden's companion, shortly. "The E-M
G-men say he's the most dangerous man in the country. But he won't last
long with the Strato Rovers on his trail."
"I can believe that. Tell me, Eagen, what are you doing out here around
a small Earth town like Dentonville?"
"The gov'ment's buildin' some kind of a ammunition place near here, and
I understand the Black Hornet's figurin' on wreckin' everything. 'Course
he won't get away with it."
Scattered plasticade houses on either side of the road indicated they
had reached the outskirts of Dentonville. Mike Eagen pointed ahead to a
small white house set back among a cluster of trees.
"There's where I'm holed up. Drop me off in front."
A young woman in a faded blue satin-glass house-dress was standing at
the gate of the white picket fence. She watched in silence as the
passenger stepped from the rocket car and lifted his hand to the driver
in careless farewell.
"Thanks for the lift, chum," said Mike Eagen.
"Not at all," replied Marden. "Glad to have been of service to Mike
The woman smiled to him.
"He's told you his name, I see."
Marden lifted his hat.
"Indeed he has."
"Michael is all right," she said. "I do think, though, that he reads too
many Buck Gordon Interplanetary comic books for a boy of eleven."
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