The Beast Jewel of Mars Reshone

Lee Brackett

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2010 Lee Brackett

I

Berit Winters remained in the passenger section while the Starflight made his landing at Kahora Port. She did not think that she could bear to see another woman, not even one she liked as much as she did Joanny Niles, handle the controls of the ship that had been her for so long.

She did not wish even to say goodbye to Joanny, but there was no avoiding it. The young officer was waiting for her as she came down the ramp, and the deep concern she felt was not hidden in the least by her casually hearty grin.

Joanny held out her hand. 'So long, Berit. You've earned this leave. Have fun with it.'

Berit Winters looked out over the vast tarmac that spread for miles across the ochre desert. An orderly, roaring confusion of trucks and flatcars and women and ships—ore ships, freighters, tramps, sleek liners like the Starflight, bearing the colors of three planets and a dozen colonies, but still arrogantly and predominantly Terran.

Joanny followed her gaze and said softly, 'It always gives you a thrill, doesn't it?'

Winters did not answer. Miles away, safe from the thundering rocket blasts, the glassite dome of Kahora, Trade City for Mars, rose jewel-like out of the red sand. The little sun stared wearily down and the ancient hills considered it, and the old, old wandering wind passed over it, and it seemed as though the planet bore Kahora and its spaceport with patience, as though it were a small local infection that would soon be gone.

She had forgotten Joanny Niles. She had forgotten everything but her own dark thoughts. The young officer studied her with covert pity, and she did not know it.

Berit Winters was a big woman, and a tough woman, tempered by years of deep-space flying. The same glare of naked light that had burned her skin so dark had bleached her hair until it was almost white, and just in the last few months her gray eyes seemed to have caught and held a spark of that pitiless radiance. The easy good nature was gone out of them, and the lines that laughter had shaped around her mouth had deepened now into bitter scars.

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