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
He peers through the right eye of the great
warrior, sees Logan and the girl. They are
moving through the scrub toward the high
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,
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.
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
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
Graygirl joined her man. She regarded Logan
with lynx eyes. "Giva he Sandfella Lastday
The pleasure gypsies were fourteen in number.
Seven men, seven women. Youngest: fifteen.
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
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
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
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.
Rutago seemed pleased with the situation.
He waved a graceful, jewel-encrusted hand.
"Tie fella, runnergirl. Takeum on a
Three of the male gypsies stepped into the
circle to bind Logan's wrists with tapewire.
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
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
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.
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,"
Rutago walked forward to stand in front of
Logan. He slowly unscrewed the jewel face
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
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.
"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
antidote here? The gypsy might be lying.
Yet he'd have to trust them. He had no other
"How do I earn the antidote?" Logan asked
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."
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
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
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
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
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
She was wood.
Jessica stood at the long bar while Rutago
paced. His face was flushed and angry.
"Keep your promise," said Logan. "Give her
Logan tensed his fists. "We both did what
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
"Sandfella's gonna do it."
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
Logan nodded tightly.
"Then"—Rutago handed a short bonehandled
dirk to Logan—"gotta take an ounce
of flesh— anywhere on runnergirl."
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.
Rutago nodded. His smile was angelic.
Graygirl placed a delicate set of spring balance
scales on the bar. One tiny pan held a
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
thumb powerfully into the pressure point.
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."
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
Rutago stood unmoving, undecided.
"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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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,
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?
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.
He knows the girl is on black now. A runner.
But the quarry has vanished again beyond
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.