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Most of the crowd at Mallorys Bar & Sleep over in Delta Sector had no idea what was really going on. As far as they were concerned, it was just another example of animal passion, men and women driven together by lust—the kind of thing everybody understood, or at least dreamed about. The only uncommon feature was that in this case the passion included some common sense. Only a few people knew there was more to it.
Curiosity wasn’t a survival trait in DelSec; it certainly wasn’t the pleasure it might have been in Alpha, Com-Mine Station’s alternative entertainment/lodging sector. Laidover miners, discredited asteroid pilots, drunks and dreamers, and a number of men who never admitted to being ore pirates—the people who either didn’t fit or weren’t welcome in Alpha—all had learned incuriosity the hard way. They considered themselves too smart to ask the wrong questions in the wrong places, to notice the wrong things at the wrong times. None of them wanted trouble.
For them, the story was basically simple.
It began when Morn Hyland came into Mallorys with Angus Thermopyle.
Those two called attention to themselves because they obviously didn’t belong together. Except for her ill-fitting and outdated shipsuit, which she must have scrounged from someone else’s locker, she was gorgeous, with a body that made drunks groan in lost yearning and a pale, delicate beauty of face that twisted dreamers’ hearts. In contrast, he was dark and disreputable, probably the most disreputable man who still had docking-rights at the Station. His swarthy features were broad and stretched, a frog-face with stiff whiskers and streaks of grease. Between his powerful arms and scrawny legs, his middle bulged like a tire, inflated with bile and malice.
In fact, no one knew how he had been able to keep his docking-rights—or his tincan freighter, for that matter—as long as he had. According to his reputation, anyone who ever became his companion, crew, or enemy ended up either dead or in lockup. Most people who knew him predicted he would end up that way himself—dead, or in lockup until he rotted.
He and Morn looked so grotesque together—she staying with him despite the clear disgust on her face, he ordering her around like a slavey while his yellowish eyes gleaming—that none of the men nearby could resist a little harmless scheming, a bit of gap-eyed speculation. If I could get her away from him—If she were mine—But the story was just beginning. No one was surprised by the nearly tangible current which sparked across the crowd when she and Nick Succorso spotted each other for the first time.
In a number of ways, Nick Succorso was the most desirable man in DelSec. He had his own ship, a sleek little frigate with a gap drive and an experienced crew. He had the kind of piratical reputation that allowed him to seem bold rather than bloodthirsty. His personal magnetism made men do what he asked and women offer what he wanted. And the only flaws in his cavalier handsomeness were the scars under his eyes, the cuts which underlined everything he saw and grew dark whenever he saw something he intended to have. Some people said he’d inflicted those cuts himself, just for effect—but that was merely envy and spite. No one could be as desirable as Nick without inspiring a few snide remarks.
The truth was that he’d received those scars years ago, the only time he’d ever been bested. They’d been put on him to mar him, a sign of contempt for his upstart arrogance: the woman who gave them to him hadn’t considered him worth killing.
But he’d learned from them. He’d learned never to be beaten again; learned to make sure that all his contests were unequal, in his favor. He’d learned to wait until he was in control of what happened. Common sense.
Members of his crew later admitted that they’d never seen his scars go as dark as when he spotted Morn Hyland. And her pale beauty ached toward him instantly—passion or desperation—bringing brightness to eyes which were dull in Angus Thermopyle’s company. The only surprise was that neither of them did anything about it. The electricity between them was so strong that the spectators wouldn’t have been taken aback if Morn and Nick had thrown off their clothes and jumped for each other right there in the bar.
Most of the crowd had no idea what restrained them. She was a mystery, of course. But he certainly didn’t have a reputation for restraint.
Nearly two weeks later, however, they did what everyone was waiting for. When Com-Mine Security broke into Mallorys and charged Angus Thermopyle with a crime serious enough to make an arrest succeed even in DelSec, Morn Hyland was suddenly at Nick’s side. And just as suddenly they were gone. Lust and common sense. Their charged flesh drew them together; and she got away from Angus at just the right moment. They left to become the kind of story drunks and dreamers told each other early in the Station’s standard morning, when Mallorys was quiet and the thin alloy walls seemed safe against the hard vacuum of space and the luring madness of the gap.
The last anyone heard, Angus was rotting as predicted under a life sentence in the Station lockup.
That, of course, was not the real story.