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(John Light)

The Infinity Line

    It was a grubby little planet, thought Tec Sarn Denson as he disembarked. Overhead in an unpolished bronze sky smudged with dirty brown clouds, a pale blotch of yellowish sun shed a weary light. A dozen youngsters surrounded Denson, pleading to be allowed to carry his bag but he held on to it firmly. He'd rather pay them not to carry it than risk having one of them run off with it. He set out across the tungstocrete apron towards the immigration hut without even a backward glance at the starship. His determined stride quickly persuaded the urchins that they were wasting their time and they scuttled away to importune other new arrivals.
    The Aliens Officer perused Sarn Denson's passport suspiciously.
    "What business brings a Tec to Ganniver?"
    "Missing person," answered Denson, careful not to show any antagonism or impatience. He had no doubt the official would welcome any excuse to exercise his power and refuse him entry and that would be the end of the case as far as Denson was concerned. His client, Bizman Batralga, would employ another Tec and Denson would lose his fee.
    "What sort of missing person?" persisted Officer Grugow.
    "A minor, a youth," answered Denson, again saying as little as he thought was politic.
    "Rich parent?"
    The Tec acknowledged to himself that the man was not totally without finesse; the invitation was delicately made.
    "Very. I have instructions to spare no expense. If I can purchase information or assistance that would facilitate my search I am authorised to be generous."
    "I have information that may be useful to you."
    Denson doubted that were true but he put his hand in a pocket and extracted a wad of local currency. He had prepared for this eventuality by counting out packs of bribe monies and distributing them about his person. He counted out half the wad and placed the notes on the counter. The man regarded him impassively and made no move to pick up the money. Denson shrugged and placed the rest of the wad on top of the counted notes. The official smiled and gathered them up with a motion so deft it was almost a conjuring trick.
    "It is possible your mark is on Ganniver."
    It was Denson's turn to stand firm. Although they both knew that the money was simply an entry bribe, the Tec thought the man would probably offer something further to maintain the pretence that he was selling information. Whatever he said might well be totally worthless but then again it might not. He waited.
    "Ask Kuragap, Tekon City Police."
    "Thank you, you've been most helpful."
    It wasn't much, thought Denson, the sort of thing he'd have done anyway. Still he had a name, a suggestion that a particular member of the local law enforcement was approachable. He sighed. On Dorado it would have been easier - no police, only agencies, straight commercial transactions, information for payment, and no fencing or sparring, no humbug.
    Ganniver seemed still to rely on ground transport and an ancient bus lurched and grumbled along a pot-holed highway to Tekon, a city that sprawled as close to the spaceport as it could pretend was safe. Gaunt blocks loomed against the muddy sky. Here and there neons flickered half-heartedly. Sarn Denson felt the beginnings of a great depression gathering round him.
    The Tec booked himself into a Star Tavern. Star Taverns Chain was one of the few interstellar corporations still operating out of Old Earth but it wasn't nostalgia that prompted his choice. The Taverns prided themselves on providing absolutely standard accommodation and security throughout the Human Emporium and when he was working the Tec preferred to be without the distractions of local colour and the risks of local infections, food poisoning or petty thieves. A Star Tavern room had all the communications and computing systems a Bizman could need since most of their customers were interstellar traders, and communications were a vital tool for a travelling Tec too. The Tec also valued the impersonality of the Taverns. It might be anti-social but he didn't want to be bothered with casual courtesies when he was trying to concentrate on a case. But most of all it would be a place where he would be safe even from the local enforcers if necessary since the Taverns had extra-territorial rights and privileges - if a world wouldn't grant them it didn't get a Star Tavern and if a government infringed them, the Tavern was closed and never reopened. The effect on trade of such an embargo ensured the compliance of all but a few planetary authorities.
    Ganniver was not one of the few exceptions and the Tavern was completely normal. Denson had expected no less but on planets like this it seemed little short of a miracle that standards could be achieved in the Tavern that were clearly way above the norms for the place.
    He had a shower and the oppressive feeling of gloom lightened a little. He sat down at the desk and set his thoughts in order.
    In essence the case was simple and should involve no danger greater than any traveller risked in visiting a dirty run-down world where poverty resulted in crime being one of the more promising options for keeping body and soul together. He'd been surprised to get a comp-mess from Bizman Batralga of Carolune requesting that he accept a commission, especially when it transpired later it would most likely take him to Ganniver. He could have understood it if it had been a job on his home planet of Dorado; he knew he had a modest reputation for investigations into matters peculiar to the unique society of that planet, but Ganniver was well out of his normal sphere. He could think of only two reasons for Batralga employing someone like himself: the most obvious and most convincing was that the Bizman didn't want to entrust personal information to a Tec from his home world; the second was that he was cheaper than the big interstellar agencies. The latter had an unflattering corollary - being cheap he could be presumed to do anything however unethical if he was paid over his advertised rates.
    The bare facts were that Batralga's son had run away from home; since the lad was twenty-three standard years of age there was nothing the laws of any planetary system would do about it; even the most conservative and patriarchal - or matriarchal - in the human econosphere would regard Kylodan Batralga as of age. Denson had made it plain that if he found the run-away he couldn't compel him to return.
    "Of course I realise that," Batralga had conceded. "Just persuade him to get in touch with me, that's all I'm hoping for."
    Naturally Denson had asked the man if he knew why his son had taken off.
    "We had a bit of a disagreement - that is, to be candid, a big bust-up, about my son eventually succeeding me in the family business. It is the tradition on Carolune."
    "And your son didn't want to fall in with tradition?"
    "Is there something he especially wanted to do instead?"
    "No; I don't know. Does it matter?"
    "It might help me find him if I knew what he wanted to do - might give me a clue as to where he's gone."
    "Oh, I know that; at least I know which planet: it's Ganniver. One of my contacts got to hear and passed on the information to me. But he'd no idea what had happened to my son following planetfall."
    Denson had probed, tactfully he thought, but had elicited no further information. He suspected the son's ambitions were disapproved of by the Bizman for reasons in addition to them not being the traditional path. But just as the Tec was about to give up, the Bizman proffered one further morsel.
    "There is one other thing you ought to know." He hesitated, obviously reluctant to continue. Denson waited patiently.
    "It is possible he would disguise himself as a woman. It pains me to have to tell you that but I feel it's necessary."
    "Could he do that convincingly?"
    "Very." The Bizman's distaste had been plain and Denson began to understand that the nature of the quarrel between father and son might have had more to it than conflicting ambitions.
    Tekon had been Kylodan Batralga's port of entry to Ganniver according to the father's information and so there seemed no point in Denson starting his search anywhere else.
    He waited until mid-morning the next day before visiting Investigator Kuragap. The Investigator was a thin weary-looking individual who regarded Denson without enthusiasm. The Tec outlined the problem and mentioned that Aliens Officer Grugow had suggested he consult Kuragap.
    "What do you expect me to do about it?" asked the latter impatiently.
    "I was hoping you'd help me find Kylodan Batralga."
    "Why should we do that?"
    "The sooner I complete my mission the sooner I'll leave."
    "You can stay here for the rest of your life for all I care. If you prove an undesiro the Aliens Office'll orbit you. Either way it will be your grief not mine. Look, if this kid's come here to hide from his old man that's no business of ours. As far as I know no one of that name has broken any of our laws; we're not paid to concern ourselves with anything else."
    Denson tried another tack.
    "Maybe you could recommend a Tec agency or loner who could provide me with local information."
    "There aren't any tecs here because there isn't a living to be made out of it; this planet's poor. People here have real problems: starvation, homelessness, disease. A squabble between a spoilt brat and a filthy rich father doesn't sound like a real problem to me. We're overworked and under-manned; the only crimes we try to solve are murders and other crimes of violence plus anything the city bosses are bothered about. Everything else we just log and then throw the chip away."
    "Of course Bizman Batralga doesn't expect free help. I'm authorised to make proper payments for information and any other assistance."
    "I suppose Grugow suggested you bribe me? He can't understand that anybody can be less corrupt than he is. Well if all I was interested in was money I'd have become an Aliens Officer like him. I became a policeman because I'd like to help people and I couldn't afford to train as a doctor."
    Despite the attempted cynicism, Denson believed the man and warmed to him even though a corrupt investigator would have been easier to deal with.
    "I suppose that's why I became a Tec, in part," he responded. "It's why I've stayed a loner - you can't follow your conscience if you're part of a big outfit, having to take orders from someone else."
    "You take orders from your client."
    "Only up to a point. I'll find Kylodan Batralga if I can and ask him to contact his father but that's as far as I go. If the kid really doesn't want to know then I'm not going to pressure him."
    "I almost believe you. Look, if I suggest you try the Brotherhood of Earth, will you stop wasting my time and go away?"
    "Thanks; that's a sensible idea; I didn't know they had a mission here. Information about Ganniver is very sparse off-world and I thought the Brotherhood was only interested in rich planets."
    "You misjudge them. They're the last hope - practically the only hope - for a lot of people round Tekon."
    "Then I'll go and see them - and I'll make a donation to their work on my client's behalf - unless you can recommend a better cause?"
    "Where do I find them?"
    "In the southeast quadrant of the city there's the city recycling plant. A lot of people scavenge round it - people at the end of the road. The brothers have set up their retreat there. Get the Subsoil to Deadend. You'll have to walk from there so watch out - not all scavengers confine their scavenging to things people have finished with."
    Denson left Kuragap and found the nearest underground railway access. The system was old, built before the economic collapse of the planet, in a spacious and flamboyant style but now reduced by dirt and failed lighting to a gloomy warren patronised only by those who couldn't avoid it. Instinctively Denson kept well away from platform edges and when a train rattled out of the blackness he chose a central carriage full of people. He shunned the few empty seats, preferring to stand with his back against the carriage end. The pressure of it was comforting even though its transparency left him feeling psychologically exposed. One or two of his fellow passengers eyed him curiously but most were too wrapped up in their own horror stories to pay him any attention.
    He knew he had to change once to get to his destination and he hoped the interchange station would not be deserted - there was always the possibility that a large number of criminals would cooperate to attack other passengers but that was less likely than that a desperate loner would be driven to waylay someone on their own in some lonely spot. Not that he had any illusions that anyone would come to his aid if he were attacked but, as with fish in a shoal, the chance of selection of any particular individual was diminished by the presence of other potential victims. He began to wish he'd returned to the Star Tavern and changed into older clothing to make himself less conspicuous but it was too late for regrets.
    It seemed an age before he arrived at Deadend and left the Subsoil with a breath of relief which he immediately exhaled as the noxious atmosphere of the district bit into his respiratory system. He fished a scarf out of his pocket and fastened it over his mouth and nose to act as a primitive filter which gave him limited relief from the reek of tar and sulphur.
    The problem of finding the reclamation plant was easily solved when he spotted a loaded refuse vehicle pass the street end. He sprinted to the junction in time to see it disappearing round a curve. It wasn't moving fast, being a wheeled machine on a road surface in desperate need of repair and strewn with debris, so that he easily caught up with it and had no trouble following it to the depot. Not far from the entrance he spotted a newish building of off-world design which could only be the retreat of the Brotherhood.
    The Tec picked his way across the rubbish choked street and banged on the door. It was opened by a man in the green and blue habit of the order. Denson stated his business as briefly as he could and asked if the Brotherhood could be of any help.
    "It is not our custom to help find anyone who does not want to be found."
    "I believe Kylodan Batralga needs help. If I find him and he refuses my assistance I will not harass him. I have no official status on Ganniver so there's nothing I can do except reason with him."
    "I will see if the Almoner is free to speak to you. Please wait here."
    The Almoner was short and fat but his eyes were disconcertingly alert. Denson guessed the man was a shrewd judge of character and motive. He once again explained his errand, hoping that his own candour would gain the other's confidence. He seemed to be successful.
    "I have seen Kylodan. It is true he seemed disturbed in a way quite different from those who usually come to us. I think you are right in saying that he needs help and I am going to trust you. He stayed here for a while and I did wonder if he might join us but when I broached the idea he was almost violent in his assertion that that was impossible - impossible was the word he chose. All the time he was here he was restless and after a while he left us."
    "Do you know where he was going?"
    "No. He said he needed to think, that he couldn't settle here, that he thought best while on the move."
    The Almoner regarded the Tec steadily.
    "I believe that in reality continual mobility enabled him to dodge thinking about whatever it is that is troubling him. Before he came to us he had been in the city for some time. He had spent that time riding the Subsoil network. I suspect he has resumed his travelling."
    Denson considered this. Then he smiled at the man sitting across the desk.
    "Kylodan's father authorised me to spend whatever I needed to on bribes. I know the Brotherhood can't be bribed, that if you hadn't wanted to tell me what you have, no money would have made you change your mind. But I realise that raising funds for your work on such a world as this cannot be easy and I hope you will accept something towards that work."
    The Almoner made a deprecating gesture.
    "We couldn't accept from you money that belongs to someone else and which would be given without that person knowing the real purpose."
    Denson grinned ruefully.
    "Sorry. You're quite right; it wouldn't be ethical for either of us. However I did promise Investigator Kuragap that I'd make a donation to you so please accept some of my own money - it won't be as much as Batralga could afford but I assure you it really is my own to give."
    The Brother inclined his head gravely.
    "Thank you; we will use it well."
    When Denson had left the Almoner took a communicator from a drawer and contacted Kuragap.
    Denson retraced his steps to the Deadend station and re-entered the Subsoil. He scanned the station for a network plan but here as elsewhere on the underground railway system none of the displays were working.
    The Tec caught a train. At each station he moved to another carriage, observing the occupants with an unobtrusiveness acquired through long years of covert surveillance. When he had checked every car he alighted and waited for the next train. He kept a note of the stations he passed through. When the train reached a terminus he travelled back again until he could change to another line and continue his search. It soon became depressingly clear that he'd have to be very lucky to catch sight of his quarry even if Kylodan was travelling the Subsoil. The number of interchange stations suggested that it would take him days just to map the system itself.
    He decided to return to the Star Tavern and think about the problem. If no inspiration came he would just have to ask Bizman Batralga how long he wanted him to go on wandering about on the off-chance of encountering his son. Of course the Bizman might decide to call in one of the big agencies after all - one that could deploy enough operatives to sweep through the system until the runaway was cornered. Denson didn't like to think of that sort of procedure being used and he suspected it would harden Kylodan's determination to sever his link with his family. Perhaps the Bizman had thought along the same lines and that was the real reason he'd chosen a one man outfit.
    On an impulse, Denson postponed his return to the Tavern to call in on Kuragap again. He found the investigator in his office sorting through papers.
    "You again," commented Kuragap. "Decided to admit defeat and come to let me gloat? Very civil of you. I don't get much fun."
    "I'm not making much progress," admitted Denson. "I wouldn't be surprised if my client unloads me and brings in the big boys."
    "You be glad about that? Apart from the loss of easy money I mean?"
    "No. I've begun to feel kind of responsible for the kid - don't ask me why. Something to do with his likeness makes me protective."
    "You're pretty soft for a Tec."
    "Don't I know it - and regret it. Your tip that I go to the Brotherhood was voyant. The kid had been there but has moved on and I've not much hope of tracking him if, as the Almoner suggested, he's taken refuge in the Subsoil network."
    The policeman stared at the Tec speculatively. At length he grunted.
    "Brother Almoner reckons you're on the level. He thinks I should aid you if I can. Seems he believes you really will try to help the lad unscramble himself if you can. Guess I kind of agree with him."
    He got up and went to a cabinet. Opening a drawer he withdrew a roll of plastic. He put it on the desk and spread it out. Sarn Denson saw to his amazement that it was an antique map showing the lines of the underground railway.
    "You see this line here? Follow it round." Kuragap moved his finger along one of the thick black lines that sprawled across the plastic. Denson watched as it traced out a distorted figure of eight, finally arriving back at its starting point.
    "We call it 'The Infinity Line', partly because it's shaped roughly like the mathematical symbol for infinity - someone once told me they are topologically equivalent, whatever that means - but mainly I think because unlike all the other lines it has no terminus. The trains run continuously until they break down. As a result it's very popular with enefays."
    Denson looked blank.
    "N F A's - 'No fixed abode's' - people who are homeless. They can buy a ticket for a few stops and then stay on the train. If an inspector looks at their ticket and they're nowhere near their destination they just feign surprise and say they must have missed their stop or claim they've got on a train going the wrong way round the circuit. But mostly the inspectors ignore them - as long as they don't make a nuisance of themselves; after all anyone can end up an enefay."
    "You think Kylodan Batralga may be on the Infinity Line."
    "There's another reason why it's popular. Given infinity, anything that can happen will happen. A lot of enefays have this kind of mystical belief that if they travel on the line long enough their luck must change; that whatever they can still hope for must eventually happen."
    Denson stood up.
    "Thanks; I appreciate your help."
    "Just do your best for the kid."
    Day after day Denson rode the Infinity Line. He had himself assumed the guise of an 'infinity-liner' and spent his time travelling slumped in a seat, apparently somnolent. He quickly came to recognise those who were travellers without destination, the dispossessed who inhabited the double loop not only because it was warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the city above, not only because underground they could snooze undisturbed, not only because it offered them the dream of a change in fortune but also, he suspected, because the endless procession of stations afforded them the illusion of living, of progress, while the constant flow of genuine passengers provided a sense of participating in a real activity, of being a part of society. Yet it was life without change, travel without progress, action without result; a passive comforting existence.
    Experienced in scrutinising without appearing to do so, the Tec examined all of them. Bearing in mind the Bizman's warning of his son's skill in the art of disguise, he observed women as well as men, old as well as young. As he travelled Denson discovered much about the denizens of the city's deep. There were several interchange stations through which the Infinity Line passed and at these could be found vendors of bread and beverages. Each of the perpetual travellers had their favourite interchange where they would alight from the train and remain as long as it took to beg enough money to buy a little food and drink. He never saw any of them begging on the trains; it was as though some code forbade it, as if as a community they feared the Subsoil guards would draw the line at that and expel them all from their sanctuary; or perhaps because it was their sanctuary and therefore not to be profaned by such commerce.
    There were five or possibly six enefays whose appearance the Tec thought he might be able to reconcile with the likeness Batralga had given him. As the time passed the conviction grew on him that one in particular was the most likely. He couldn't easily put into words what it was that persuaded him, although one factor certainly was that he could readily imagine the young man disguised as a woman; he would, thought Denson, make quite an attractive one.
    The Tec travelled for a long time in the same carriage as his suspect until at last they were the only two occupants. Then Denson accosted his quarry. The young man looked up in alarm as the Tec slid into the seat opposite him.
    "I'd like to talk to you," Denson said in an even voice.
    "Why? Who are you? I don't want to talk to anyone."
    Denson had anticipated the reaction and had given a lot of thought to his own response.
    "Enefays who travel on the infinity line are of two kinds," he remarked elliptically, staring out of the window at the crumbling bricks and grime-encrusted cables of the tunnel side. "There are those who have given up all hope, all expectation, all thought, who travel only until death claims them - although even that hope they have abandoned. The second kind is much rarer: those who have sought only a respite, a temporary sanctuary where they can let their problems sort themselves out either in reality or in their minds, those who still hope for a solution to their difficulties. I think Kylodan Batralga is one of those." As he spoke this last sentence he had switched his gaze back to the young man opposite and he caught the slight flicker of fear that betrayed the latter's recognition of the name. Then he was certain that he had found the Bizman's son but he concealed his conviction.
    "I'm looking for Kylodan, just to ask him to contact his father, no more than that. I will not try to persuade him, only to ask; that is all I have undertaken to do. And if Kylodan wants to tell me anything, to talk to me, I will listen but I will not report any conversation to his father, not unless I am authorised to pass on a message. Sometimes there comes a point in wrestling with a problem where to relate it to someone else helps in its resolution."
    "You think I am Kylodan Batralga?" the young man said at length.
    Denson nodded.
    "I believe you are the Bizman's son," he admitted.
    The fugitive smiled wanly.
    "You are quite wrong."
    The Tec was shaken. There was no doubting the sincerity of the statement; he could have sworn the man was speaking the truth; yet Denson had been so certain. He stared into the clear bright eyes of the man opposite and shrugged resignedly.
    "I don't doubt you," he said. "But I think perhaps you know Kylodan Batralga?"
    Again came that mysterious half-smile but the answer this time was less forthright.
    "I may do. But then does anyone really know anyone else?"
    "I wasn't talking philosophy," said Denson, carefully keeping his impatience out of his tone. "I merely meant I believe you are acquainted with him."
    "I have some sort of acquaintance with the person you seek," admitted the younger man.
    "If you see him again will you tell him I am looking for him and why. Please assure him that I would only like to talk to him - I don't see it as my job to coerce him."
    "I will see that he receives your message. Now, please, I'd rather travel alone."
    The Tec nodded.
    "Thanks for being honest with me." He rose and moved away down the carriage, taking a seat near one of the doors and at the next station he alighted. On the platform he hesitated, wondering what to do next and just as as the doors were closing a sudden impulse impelled him to re-board the train in the coach next to the young man. He could just see his back distorted by the imperfection of the transparent material of the carriage ends. Denson wasn't sure what he had in mind - perhaps he hoped that the contact with Batralga would occur soon, that he might witness it. Whatever the reason for the subconscious prompting he was reluctant to lose contact with the only lead he had.
    The Tec felt in his pocket for a food concentrate pack. He unwrapped it and chewed it thoughtfully. It was neither warm nor cold in the carriage but the dim lighting was cheerless and made him feel slightly chill. The train rattled through the tunnel and slowed as it emerged into another station. Several people got on; three women joined his own carriage and two men entered that of the young man. The train lurched reluctantly into motion.
    Almost at once Denson saw the two newcomers in the next carriage get up and approach the man he was watching. They spoke but he couldn't hear what was said. All of a sudden one of the men leered and leaned towards the young man stretching out his arm towards him. Denson couldn't see what he did but he saw it struck away and the young man try to rise. The two intruders were up first and combined to hold him down.
    Denson rose swiftly from his own seat and strode to the  emergency door set in the carriage end. The seal was already broken, vandalised no doubt, and he yanked the door open. He stood momentarily on the sill, steadying himself, before stepping above the couplings to the next coach, grabbing and turning the handle. The door swung inward as the train lurched, catapulting him into the dimly lit interior almost on top of the three struggling men.
    Denson punched hard at the face of one of the assailants and kicked mercilessly at the crotch of the other. They reeled away, one gasping, the other groaning. Denson watched them warily. At the first sign of recovery he was ready to strike again but at that moment the train reached the next station. The two thugs hastily disembarked and shambled off down the platform. Denson turned to their intended victim who was re-buttoning his shirt. Denson stared hard at him and the young man blushed.
    "Thanks," he said. He hesitated.
    "I guess I owe you something for that." He shivered. "If they hadn't killed me I might have ended up wishing they had. Look, I didn't lie to you but I ... I didn't correct a lie someone else has obviously fed you." He paused, still reluctant to confide.
    "I am not  Bizman Batralga's son," he said at length. "I am his daughter."
    At once it all made sense to Denson but he listened attentively as the girl continued.
    "You know Carolune has this archaic law about only males inheriting?"
    The Tec nodded.
    "And I'm female and an only child. My father has never forgiven me for not being a son. He never forgave my mother either. He tried for more children, not just with her I learnt after her death, but he'd had a close encounter with a radiation field soon after my birth and it seems it rendered him sterile."
    "So you ran away."
    "Not just because of that ..."
    "I'm sure your father really wants you back even though you aren't a son, so he must have some affection for you."
    "You don't understand - but then there's no reason why you should; you don't come from Carolune and you don't know my father, not the way I do. You see he bribed the midwife to register me as a boy when I was born. He brought me up as a boy - can you imagine the shock when I found out I wasn't? Even after I realised the truth about sex and my own in particular he still managed to maintain the deception as far as everyone else was concerned. I had to collude with him; I couldn't see any way of escape. He's determined to keep it up so that I can inherit and continue the family business."
    "But someone is bound to find out eventually - he must realise that."
    "You still don't understand the intensity of his obsession." She took a deep breath.
    "He wants me to have an operation, wants me to change sex, to become a man!"
    Denson stared at her in disbelief.
    "People do ...," he began doubtfully.
    "Only when they feel their mind and body aren't of the same sex - that's understandable, people want to be what they feel they are. I feel I'm a woman, know it in the core of my being; even if I changed my body my mind would remain that of a woman. I don't want to change. I don't want to be a man. I'd rather be a beggar on this derelict planet than rich on Carolune because here I can be a woman if I choose; there I have at best to pretend to be a man, at worst I might be made into a physical semblance of one - inwardly I will never change."
    Sarn Denson was silent for a while. At length he looked Kylodan Batralga straight in the eyes.
    "I think I can see a way to resolve the situation. It would mean a certain amount of give and take but then nothing was ever solved without some sort of compromise. How do you feel about the business itself? I mean if you could inherit without having to become or go on pretending to be a man, would you want that?"
    "I don't know; I think I might, but it's all muddled up."
    "But you'd give it a go?"
    "Yes I think so. There isn't anything else I particularly want to do with my life. I've helped my father in the business for some years now and I've always found commerce interesting. But there's no way round the law on Carolune."
    "But your father's company is an interstellar one; it doesn't have to be based on Carolune. If your father relocated his corporate headquarters to some other planet, one with less archaic laws than Carolune, you could follow in his footsteps just as you are. He could come to Dorado for instance - there are no laws at all there except the ones the companies make."
    "He wouldn't want to move, I'm sure of that. Our family was one of the first on Carolune."
    "But it must have come from somewhere else - the first generation settler didn't mind moving. I'm sure your father would like to feel he was as good a man as his ancestor. Let me talk to him. I might be able to persuade him that the future is more important than the past. After all, as matters stand he'll lose you, and the family line on Carolune will come to an end anyway. Don't you think he'd rather it continued somewhere else than failed completely?"
    "Maybe, yes perhaps you could convince him."
    "Come back to Dorado with me, see if you like it there; size up the business opportunities. If there's something positive to offer your father it may make him more amenable."
    "I can't go anywhere; I've no credit left."
    "You father supplied me with enough standby to get you back to Dorado - it's true it was travel to Carolune he had in mind but by the time he sees the bills it will be too late." He grinned. "I'll tell him I failed to persuade you to go there and had to save you from destitution as best I could."
    She looked at him curiously.
    "Why?" she asked. "Dad paid you to get me back; I can't pay you. Why take my side?"
    "Even in that get-up I can see you are far too attractive a woman to waste by turning into a man."
    "Is that it? You're just a chauvinist? Like my father but with different motives?"
    "That's it," answered Denson cheerfully. "Besides, I'm a loner myself; I can't help siding with someone like you."
    "That can't be good for business."
    "True, but you're the bizwoman, not me!"

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Tec Sarn Denson first appeared in the novel Death on Dorado
the first chapter of which you can read here.

(Page amended 21 July 2017)

The contents of this site are copyright © John Light.