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Faithfully Yours by Lou Tabakow

_If it's too impossibly difficult to track down and recapture an escaped criminal ... there's a worse thing one might do...._

[Illustration]

JULY 18, 1949 A.D.

_The fugitive lay face down in the fetid undergrowth, drawing in spasmodic lungfuls of air through cracked and swollen lips. Long before, his blue workshirt had been ripped to ribbons and his exposed chest showed a spiderwork of scratches, where branches and brambles had sought to restrain him in his frenzied flight. Across his back from shoulder to shoulder ran a deeper cut around which the caked blood attested to the needle-sharp viciousness of a thorn bush a mile to the north. With each tortured breath he winced, as drops of sweat ran down, following the spiderwork network and burning like acid. Incessantly he rubbed his bruised torso with mud-caked palms to dislodge the gnats and mosquitoes that clung to him, gorging shamelessly._

_To the east he could see the lights of Fort Mudge where the railroad cut through on its way to Jacksonville. He had planned to ride the freight into Jacksonville but by now they were stopping every train and searching along every foot of the railroad right of way. In the distance he heard the eerie keen of a train whistle, and visualized the scene as it was flagged down and searched from engine to caboose._

_Directly before him loomed the forbidding northern boundary of the Okefenokee Swamp. Unconsciously he strained his ears, then shuddered at the night noises that issued from the noisome wilderness. A frenzied threshing, then a splash, then ... silence. What drama of life and death was being played out in that strange other-world of perpetual shadows?_

_In sudden panic he jerked erect and cupped his palm round his ear. Far off; muted by distance, but still unmistakable; he heard the baying of bloodhounds. Then this was the end. A sob broke from his throat. What was he, an animal; to be hunted down as a sport? Tears of self-pity welled to his eyes as he thought back to a party and a girl and laughter and cleanliness and the scent of magnolias, like a heady wine. But that was so long ago--so long ago--and now.... He looked down at his sweating, lacerated body; his blistered calloused palms; the black broken nails; the cheap workshoes with hemp laces; the shapeless gray cotton trousers, now wet to the knees._

_He pulled back his shoulders and resolutely faced west toward the river, but stopped short in horror as he heard the sudden cacophony of barks, yelps and howls of a pack of bloodhounds that senses the beginning of the end. He turned in panic. They couldn't be over half a mile away. In a panic of indecision he turned first east then west, then facing due south he hesitated a moment to take one last look at the clear open skies, and with a muffled prayer plunged into the brooding depths of the Okefenokee._

* * * * *

JUNE 13, 427th Year GALACTIC ERA

The building still hummed and vibrated with the dying echoes of the alarm siren as the biophysicist hurried down the corridor, and without breaking stride, pushed open the door to the Director's office.

The Director shuffled the papers before him and sighed heavily. His chair creaked protestingly as he shifted his bulk and looked up.

"Well?"

"He got away clean," said the biophysicist.

"Any fix on the direction?"

"None at all, sir. And he's got at least a two hours' start. That takes in a pretty big area of space."


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