The Empress of Mars
far?” Mona inquired, realizing she had forgotten to charge him for his soup and crackers but deciding she may as well not, what with Mr. Crosley being so ill and all and having an exciting secret to impart besides.
    “A fair distance,” said Mr. Crosley, switching on the Exterra’s drive. Mona held on as he maneuvered it out onto the mountainside and headed downhill. Rather than going down to Settlement Base, however, the big rig drove due north around the side of the mountain, across a broad open slope seldom frequented. They came at last to a gully, deep-cut by ancient summer rains, where they pulled up and stopped.
    “My claim,” said Mr. Crosley, with a wave of his hand. “Kindly mask up, Miss Mona; you may find this interesting.”
    He took her arm once more as they walked from the Exterra to the edge of the gully. Mona was a little wary, but not much; she felt she could probably break Mr. Crosley in two with one hand, should the need arise, so thin and poorly he seemed. Besides, Mona had seen a couple of holonovels set on Old Earth, stories by somebody named Austen, and she knew the arm-holding business was some kind of antiquated courtly custom. So she went with him now down shovel-cut steps into the gully, where one set of bootprints were tracked along its narrow floor. He was gasping for breath by the time they got to the bottom.
    “There we are,” said Mr. Crosley, pointing up at the plum-colored walls that loomed over them. “Look closely, Miss Mona. What do you see?”
    Mona looked. Here and there were a few desultory pick marks in the clay walls, and here and there a bit of rock sticking out of the clay. Or
was
it rock?
    “Oh wow!” Mona dug frantically with her fingertips. She pulled out a chunk of something crystalline, currant-jelly red. “Oh
wow
!” She could see now that there were red stones protruding from the clay wall as far as her gaze might run.
    “Mr. Crosley, you’ve got a diamond mine here!”
    “It would appear that way, Miss Mona,” said Mr. Crosley sadly, taking the stone she had found and rubbing it between his gloved fingers.
    “Well then, what’s the problem?”
    “Why, you see how steep the walls of this gorge are. There may indeed be a fortune in diamonds here—if, in fact, they are diamonds, and I am by no means convinced they are, Miss Mona—but with my health in its present precarious state, I am surely not up to the task of mining them. And I may as well admit I know next to nothing about how I might go about getting mining equipment, or getting them appraised up here, or finding buyers for them.” Mr. Crosley tossed the red stone over his shoulder with a tired gesture.
    “That’s hard,” Mona agreed, remembering all the long hours Mr. De Wit was putting in, trying to find a buyer for Mary’s diamond.
    “In short, I guess I bit off more than I could chew,” said Mr. Crosley, with a rueful chuckle. “And I don’t mind telling you, some of those fellows at the motel seem to be rather desperate characters. I wouldn’t say I’m in fear of my life, Miss Mona, but oh, how I wish I had the money to book myself a flight home to Luna.”
    “You could sell your Exterra,” Mona pointed out.
    “I guess I could. I’m reluctant to do that, though; it was my father’s, and in any case I’d need it to get about on Luna,” said Mr. Crosley. “Better far would be some able-bodied and honest person willing to pay me what the claim’s worth, and then
they
could mine the diamonds. But where would I find someone like that, up here? I’d like to thank you for lending such a sympathetic ear, however. Shall we go? I wouldn’t want your mother to grow concerned for you, Miss Mona.”
    They climbed back up, though Mr. Crosley was having to lean on Mona by the time they got to the top, and he had to spend a few moments catching his breath before he felt strong enough to drive.
    “You know who you should talk to about this? Uncle Brick,” Mona suggested. “He’s been

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