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The Oren were one and their strength was legion. They had it all figured out, in their own parasitical, cold-blooded way. But they'd neglected one she-cat of a girl....

He crossed the rickety bridge at sundown and saw the squat, fat fellow whipping the girl with a board. His mind leaped to a conclusion: an Orenian prowler, convincing his victim to hold still. He clubbed the fat fellow with a rock and toppled him over the seawall into the lagoon where he floated face-down.

"Are you stung?" he asked the girl.

She picked herself up weakly, and she was a gold-bronze beauty with a black mane of hair and long, narrow eyes. She shook her head to his question and whimpered slightly while she examined her bruises.

"He was my husband," she explained.

"Not an Orenian?" he gasped.

She shook her head. "But he was going to kill me."

Morgan shot a horrified glance at the body floating far out on the swift tide. Three sharks were circling lazily. He looked around for a boat, saw none. He swiftly estimated his chances of swimming out after the fat man and towing him in. The chances appeared to be nil. Nevertheless, he began stripping off his shirt.

"Don't bother," said the girl. "He was stung last week."

Morgan stared at her silently for a moment. She seemed not in the least perturbed. If the man had been stung by an Orenian, he was lost anyway. Ruefully, he rebuttoned his shirt.

"I leapt to a bad conclusion."

"That he was an Orenian? He would have been, soon. Besides—you have to leap to conclusions nowadays, to stay alive."

"You don't seem to worry."

"I told you, he was going to kill me."


"Because—" She paused and stared out across the twilight water, gathering a slow frown. "Because he was crazy."

Morgan's eyes flickered over her trim figure, and he thought—maybe. She had a trace of Seminole blood, he decided—with the quiet sultriness that it leant to her face.

"I'm heading west," he announced.

"To the cypress?" She cooly inspected his sturdy arms, clipped features, and the hatchet in his belt-rope. She nodded faintly to herself. "Want company?"

He shrugged and turned half away. "It's okay with me." He set off down the road and she followed a few feet to the rear.

"Florida coast's getting to be lousy with them," she called.


"Yeah. Whole truckload of them passed through yesterday. On their way to Miami, I guess. One man said he saw an airplane yesterday."

"They must be reviving the industry up north."

"Yeah. Trucks by the dozen. Say—where've you been hiding?"

"Mangrove island. Been there six months."

"Get lonesome?"

"And tired of sitting still. Small island."

"You should have stayed—but I'm glad you didn't."

He shot her a sharp glance. She failed to look bereaved at the loss of her mate. But that was not unusual. Most marriages nowadays were contracted by brute force—and dissolved the same way. She probably felt that rolling the fat one in the drink gave her a claim on him.

When the last trace of gray fled from the west, they walked westward along the old highway beyond the limits of the coastal town which was now nearly deserted. They talked softly as they trudged along, and he learned that her name was Shera and that she had been a dancer in a small Miami nightspot, before the Orenians came....