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Chapter 4

He glides the cave darkness, guided by the

glow-flicker of the Follower.

His quarry is ahead, but it is not wise to attempt

a chase in these caverns.

He retraces his path, leaves the tunnels and

climbs uncounted steps into the head of

Crazy Horse.

He peers through the right eye of the great

warrior, sees Logan and the girl. They are

far away,

moving through the scrub toward the high

grass.

He smiles.

He has them now.

There is nowhere for them to go.EARLY AFTERNOON…


"Let's pidge!" cried Graygirl.

Deesticker jay, Lift me a day, Wanna' me forever, On a PeeGee way. A skirl of lung music, recorder and flageolet. Deesticker lay, Wild me away. Me gotta never, Kinda stickerlift play!

The pleasure gypsies came in jeweled laughter. They fireballed the Black Hills. Their devilsticks flamed. Deesticker,

Deesticker, AAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaa…


Logan heard the shrill piping as he and Jess

cleared the high grass. "Down!" He gestured

her back, out of sight. In a glitter and swoop

the gypsies were upon him.

"Footfella, hey!"

A blast of volcano heat behind Logan. The

devil-stick chopped the Gun from his hand

as it passed.

Another struck him at chest level.

He was down, ringed in a circle of jato fire.

"If Sandfella tickles, giva he a fry!"

Logan did not move. He knew of the gypsies.

Their first leader had been a full blooded

Apache named Jimmy Walks-Like-a-Wolf

who went berserk in the aftermath of the

Little War. Gathering a crew of psychotics

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about him, he had conceived the gypsy death

pact, the ritual vow of self-destruction. No

pleasure gypsy lived long enough to see his

flower go black; each was sworn to die on red

as a gesture of ultimate defiance against the

system. They feared neither Sleep nor Sandman.

They were a law unto themselves.

A sword-slim man in white dismounted from

a stick, and walked from the low-hovering

vehicle to Logan. "Sandfella up," he said.

Logan stood up. He faced Rutago, king of the

devilsticks. Sixteen. Bearded. White silks.

Flat-muscled. Golden curls. A beauty. He

reached over, turned up Logan's right hand.

"Blinker he," said Rutago. He gave the others

his smile.

Graygirl joined her man. She regarded Logan

with lynx eyes. "Giva he Sandfella Lastday

wild!"

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The pleasure gypsies were fourteen in number.

Seven men, seven women. Youngest: fifteen.

Oldest: seventeen.

The females wore satins and brocades and

goldwire mesh. They were glittermake and

richly coifed hair, star-piled; their nails

opalescent and striped with lapis lazuli

metallics. They were scented and soaped and

smelled of peaches. (Graygirl was the exception.

She wore no makeup; only her eyes

were striped in black. She was starkly

beautiful.)

The males wore skinsilks and kidleather

fringe and cuffed velvet boots. They were filigreed

in silverstitch and platinum. They were

brushed and oiled and immaculate.

Two of the pleasure girls came forward,

holding Jessica between them. "Gotta more

than Sandfella," said one. "Gotta we a

runnersgirl."

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Logan took a step toward Jess, but the jato

fire still hemmed him. He looked sourly at

the circle of devil-sticks, their jet-flamed

pods ready to sear him if he made an improper

move.

These were not the devilsticks he'd ridden as

a boy; these were fast and deadly, and the

thrust from their rear-mounted chromaly

jato housings could char a man down in the

snap of a finger. If I could break this circle

maybe I could handle them, thought Logan.

Just maybe.

Rutago seemed pleased with the situation.

He waved a graceful, jewel-encrusted hand.

"Tie fella, runnergirl. Takeum on a

stickerlift."

Three of the male gypsies stepped into the

circle to bind Logan's wrists with tapewire.

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They led him to Rutago's machine. The devilstick

gleamed richly, from its hand-scrolled

leather saddle studded with diamonds, emeralds,

sapphires and fire rubies, to the inlay

of pearls set into the long stick-body of the

swift pleasure craft.

Logan settled himself behind the stitched

saddle, and his legs were tapewired under

him. Jess was similarly mounted and tied on

Graygirl's stick.

"Deestickers go!"

The pleasure gypsies jetted.

Logan's Gun lay in the grass, abandoned.

The fiery wheel of the noon sun blistered its

slow way across the Dakota sky, crowding

the thin dry air with waves of shimmering

heat. Deadwood was dust and ghost town

stillness. The squat, windworked buildings

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along the main street had long since been

scouted of paint, and their weathered boards

reared up crookedly from the red earth.

A man lounged back into the porch shadow

of the Big Dog Saloon, boots propped lazily

on the spurscarred rail. His lizard-lidded

eyes raised to a distant shout:

"Stickereeeeeeeeee." The man stood

up, peered down the dust-hazed street.

The gypsy riders passed the lookout posted

at the edge of Deadwood and arrived at the

Big Dog in a bright, chattering cluster.

They dismounted, led their prisoners inside.

The saloon was lavishly furnished. Velvet

couches. Ivory chairs. Green baize tables.

Ornate lamps of shell pearl. Tapestries and

bead hangings. The long mahogany bar was

polished to a high gloss.

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Behind the bar hung a garish oil painting of a

coyly smiling nude.

Logan and Jess were herded into the room,

wrists, still secured.

Rutago made his entrance, a heavy saddlebag

across one silked shoulder. He dropped

the bag carelessly at his feet. From it spilled

gypsy riches taken on the raid: sprays,

pendants, seed pearls, ribbons of garnet and

topaz and amethyst. In the heaped mound

were cabochon stones, onyx and agate. With

a connoisseur's care, Rutago plucked out one

tiny pigeon blood ruby. He breathed on

it, rubbed it along his silk thigh until static

electricity crackled from the faceted surface.

"Like me a rubyrock. Took it from a merchantman,"

he said.

Rutago walked forward to stand in front of

Logan. He slowly unscrewed the jewel face

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from a Borgia ring and held it to Logan's

nose. Logan sniffed cautiously and choked.

Hemodrone! The bitter smell of the ritual

gypsy poison lingered in his nostrils. One

swallow and a man would begin to die. Unless

the victim received an antidote he would

continue to die slowly as the hemoglobin of

his blood absorbed the virulent poison. It

would take hours and bring great

pain. Logan instinctively clamped his teeth

together.

Rutago smiled, blinked sleepily, turned

away. He crossed to Jess. Two of the females

gripped her elbows as Rutago deftly pried

open her lips and poured the Hemodrone

down her throat. She coughed and strangled.

Logan thrust himself at Rutago, but was

driven to his knees by a numbing blow.

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"Sandfella must behave or runnergirl die,"

said Rutago. "Gotta earn the antidote."

One of the females approached Logan with a

first-aid kit. "Sandfella turnabout," she

ordered. He obeyed. The girl severed the

tapewire binding his wrists. Then she

gentled away his torn shirt, exposing

the crusted wounds along his back. She adjusted

the kit, placed it at the top of one of

the deep cuts and drew it slowly downward.

A trail of fresh pink synthaskin formed behind

it as the wound healed. She tended his

other cuts and abrasions, while a second female

treated Jess. Logan was given a clean

white shirt and boots for his bruised feet.

The antidote. Logan knew he could not take

Jess away without it. Even if they broke free

he couldn't take her to a populated area,

where the antidote might be found, because

of her palm flower. As a runner she'd be

doomed. But did they really have the

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antidote here? The gypsy might be lying.

Yet he'd have to trust them. He had no other

choice.

"How do I earn the antidote?" Logan asked

Rutago.

The gypsy smiled, nodded toward the pleasure

girls. They crowded close to Logan. Blue

eyes, brown eyes, hazel eyes, green eyes,

golden eyes, gray eyes, radiated heat.

"And what happens to Jess?"

Rutago scooped the jewelry back into the

saddlebag. He then regally offered Jessica

his hand and escorted her up the stairs.

One of the males said sweetly, "Rutago he a

Ribbonrider, but also he a loverman. After

he, the rest of we. Runnergirl a lucky one."

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The seven pleasure girls guided Logan out of

the main room, along a hallway, into a chamber

at the rear of the saloon, a boudoir, dominated

by an Emperor bed over which was

spread a pale snow coverlet of imported

satin.

Led by Graygirl, the females removed

Logan's clothing. They led him to the cleansing

room, adjusted the temperature to blood

heat, and pushed him under the needle suds.

He was dried by warm air currents, scented

and powdered. Then he was given an injection

of Everlove.

In the boudoir the girls awaited him. They

were all golden nude and reclined at the foot

of the bed on which lay Graygirl. She was

somber and colorless and lovely. She took

Logan's hand as he walked over to her, gazed

up into his eyes, and smiled a sleek cat's

smile. "Wild me, Sandfella," she said to him

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in a husky voice. She ran her fingers along

his thigh. "Bedabye me."

And the others smiled with her. The greeneyed

females said, "Wild she, Sandlover.

Then wild we!"

The first orgasm was good.

The second was all right.

The third orgasm was bad.

The fourth orgasm was painful.

The fifth orgasm was agony.

The sixth orgasm was damnation.

And where was Jess, and what were they doing

to her? And where was the antidote?

In the upstairs room Rutago lay waiting. The

floor was spread with his jewels and

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glittered: a lake of gemfire. The cleansing

room door opened.

Rutago nodded. "Come you runnergirl me."

Jessica moved toward him over the jeweled

floor, her face emotionless. She wore a

flowrobe of silver mesh.

The gypsy peeled away her robe, pulled Jess

down upon him.

She was wood.

He stroked and petted her.

She was wood.

He kissed her deeply, fondled her with desperate

hands.

She was wood.

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Jessica stood at the long bar while Rutago

paced. His face was flushed and angry.

"Keep your promise," said Logan. "Give her

the—"

"Antidote, no!"

Logan tensed his fists. "We both did what

you wanted."

Rutago smiled savagely at Jess. "Cheated by

a runnergirl. Didn't try hard enough. Now we

use another lift."

"Pull a tooth of runnergirl," said one of the

males brightly. "Maybe pull a fingernail."

"Gotta me another lift," said Rutago, waving

aside the suggestion. He eyed Logan

jealously.

"Sandfella's gonna do it."

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Logan read the effects of the poison in Jess.

Her face was ashen, her breathing shallow.

The Hemodrone was running her blood.

And, for the moment, there was nothing he

could do. Nothing.

Four of the gypsies lifted Jess onto the polished

bartop. They held her wrists and

ankles. The others waited expectantly. The

play was Rutago's.

The gypsy leader savored his power; he advanced

and placed his hands on Logan's

shoulders in comradely fashion. "Runnergirl

she soon a sick one. Wanta you the

antidote?"

Logan nodded tightly.

"Then"—Rutago handed a short bonehandled

dirk to Logan—"gotta take an ounce

of flesh— anywhere on runnergirl."

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Logan paled. No, he couldn't do this: The act

was inhuman. And was a homer human?

They were asking him to torture the girl

who'd saved his life.

But she'd die if he didn't.

"Anywhere?"

Rutago nodded. His smile was angelic.

Graygirl placed a delicate set of spring balance

scales on the bar. One tiny pan held a

gold ounce.

Logan bent over Jess. She had her eyes

closed, which was fortunate, because if she

watched him…He slit the clothing along her

hip to expose a patch of white skin. He

placed his hand high on her upper leg. Shielded

by his body, his thumb searched for the

nerve plexus on her inner thigh. Shifting

his weight to cover the action, he dug his

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thumb powerfully into the pressure point.

Jess winced.

Then he used the knife. Quickly. Efficiently.

The raw square of bleeding flesh balanced

the scales. Logan tossed the dirk aside.

Rutago looked steadily at him. He shook his

head slowly. "Sandfella badfella. Badfella

cheat. Antidote, no."

Enough!

Logan swept an arm around Graygirl,

dropped to one knee and bowed the girl

across it. "Give her the antidote, or I break

this latch's back!"

Graygirl was no longer gray; she was redfaced

with pain, her eyes bulging, her mouth

twisted.

Rutago stood unmoving, undecided.

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"Now!" snapped Logan. His hands tightened.

"Third finger, left hand," rasped Graygirl.

Disgusted, Rutago extended the ring facing.

Logan sniffed it, was satisfied. Rutago

poured the contents into a glass of water,

handed it to Jess. Trembling, sweat sparkling

her skin, she gulped it down.

Logan motioned her out. "Take a stick and

ride for the Gun," he told her. "I'll catch up

with you"

Jess limped to the door, moved through it.

A thrum of metal. She was gone.

Logan waited to give Jess a proper start, then

backed out slowly, holding Graygirl in front

of him.

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With vicious force, he heaved her back

through the batwing door into the midst of

the gypsies, spilling them.

Outside, he vaulted into the saddle of the

nearest devilstick and kicked the release

stud. The hovercraft flamed into motion. He

knew they'd be after him. Trees whiplashed

at him as he skimmed their top branches.

He'd stay as close to the ground as possible,

head into the brush country and try to shake

the pursuit before doubling back for Jess.

As a boy, Logan had loved devilsticks. But

this brute took some getting used to. Its

power thrust was massive and tricky, and a

delicate touch was needed, to keep upright.

Sudden throttle bursts were dangerous,

threatening to pitch him from the saddle. Yet

his confidence grew with each passing mile.

Learning to feel the machine he rode, beginning

to understand its quick-working habits,

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Logan felt real exhilaration as he jetted over

the country. His wounds were healed and his

hands were free.

Let the gypsies come!

Logan saw them as he topped a high rock.

Six of them, expertly riding his wake. He cut

his vehicle sharply down into a baked creek

bed, hugging ground, his jet flame searing

the dry dust.

He had taken Graygirl's stick, and it was fast.

Faster, by far, than most of the others.

Gradually they fell back. And back. And were

lost behind him.

Logan headed for Jess.

Yet one rider clung to him, matching his

speed, gaining with each twist and fold of

land. The afternoon sun rayed on moving

jewels.

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Rutago.

Logan gave his craft full throttle, but the

gypsy continued to gain, mile by mile. At the

entrance to the Lame Johnny, Logan spotted

Jess. She was just over a mile ahead, riding

in a ragged, irregular pattern, weak from loss

of blood and unable to control her vehicle

properly. Sheer guts had carried her this far;

she could falter at any moment.

Logan sped to catch her.

Rutago charged closer, giving the wind his

smile.

The Lame Johnny was below, and Logan

bounced in the saddle as the swift currents

affected his power thrust. He cut to the right,

using the bank, and his speed resumed.

Rutago was almost upon him.

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The king was here, the man who rode the

Ribbon. Logan had heard of this legendary

feat. Many deestickers had tried it, tried to

hug that flexible durasteel cable stretching

the storm-tossed Atlantic, but only one

jockey had ever ridden the Ribbon from

shore to shore, through wind and wave

change, cold and blind fog. Only Rutago had

managed it. The king.

Logan braced himself for attack. And was

shocked.

In a wash of jato heat Rutago sliced past him,

heading for Jess.

The gypsy raked the side of her jato housing.

She wavered as smoke began seeping from

her craft. It staggered downward, the girl

fighting for control. Rutago circled, lazily

riding air, expertly guiding his machine,

playing her.

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Jess regained partial stability, and he was at

her again immediately, forcing her close to

the red granite walls of the ravine. Her face

held terror; in another moment she'd be

spilled from the saddle.

Logan shot up to engage the gypsy, flashed

by him, drawing him away from Jess in a

hazardous ploy: Logan took his stick up the

sheer ravine face, riding the mountain with

the water boiling below them.

Rutago could not resist the bait. He made

splendid use of his fabled skill to harass

Logan, dipping and slashing in at him. Logan

was a boy once again, all awkwardness and

uncertainty in trying to handle his first devilstick.

This man who knifed at him was in

cool command of the air, but when would

he tire of the one-sided game?

He'll go for Jess again unless…unless I kill

him. But how?

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Logan kicked his craft around, aimed it at

the gypsy. Rutago veered left; Logan veered

with him, fixing his trajectory. Full throttle.

A startled look on Rutago's face as Logan

pitched himself from the saddle.

Down…down…down. The Lame Johnny far

below. Rapids. White water. Logan arrowed

toward it in a long dive.

The stick caught Rutago below the rib line,

carrying away his stomach as it drove into

the face of the ravine.

Logan sliced the water, and the rapids took

him, rolled him twisting, sucked him under.

He came up choking, kicking to maintain

leverage. Rocks just ahead.

The last thing Logan saw before he went under

again was the faltering smoke trail of

Jessica's wounded machine layering the sky.

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He knows the girl is on black now. A runner.

But the quarry has vanished again beyond

Crazy Horse.

He checks the board in Rapid City. It does

not help him. The Follower remains dark.

He is certain that Logan and the girl must

break cover soon.

When they do he will be ready.

He will be there to intercept them.

AFTERNOON…

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