Read Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942) Online

Authors: Edmond Hamilton

Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942) (16 page)

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
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"It's quite simple," Simon answered a bit irritably. "The sudden compression of that vast amount of electric radiation into a much smaller enclosure crowds that welter of force into whirling maelstroms. Those whirls of energy coagulate particles of electric force, or electrons. These join into atoms of dust, which in time gather in nebulae that spawn new stars."

"To think of our own universe being revivified by new suns and worlds like that!" exulted Lacq. "How soon will it happen?"

"It will happen very soon, by my calculations," the Brain said. "I estimate that within five thousand years, this universe's expansion will reach the critical point. It will then collapse and slowly be reborn."

"Five thousand years!" repeated Lacq, dismayed. "You call that very soon?"

"It's only a moment in cosmic time," put in Captain Future. "That's what Simon meant."

Lacq's face fell.

"I had hoped that I myself would live to see it happen. But it makes no difference. Our descendants will see it."

"If we have any descendants," Gerdek reminded him soberly. "That's why we must keep the Tarast race alive at any cost. If it can hold out on our last worlds till that future day of rebirth, its glory will live again. When that day comes —"

A bell ringing sharply from the instrument panel interrupted. Curt Newton's eyes flew to the panel. The needle of one of the detectors was bobbing nervously.

"Two objects approaching us from the left quarter!" Captain Future exclaimed. "They must be Cold One patrol craft!"

 

HARDLY had Curt spoken, when out of the black vault of space on their left came rushing the two craft his instruments had detected.

Their identity could not be doubted. They were long black space-sleds, open except for a low wall around their decks. Heavy atom-shell guns were mounted on swivels at prow and stern. And the decks were occupied by the hideous, bony white figures of Cold Ones.

Otho had jumped to the proton gun.

"I can blast 'em before they know what's hit them, Chief!"

"No, don't — there must be others about and the alarm would go out," cautioned Curt. "We'll gamble on our stratagem getting us by."

A blinker was flashing from the prow of one of the approaching space-sleds, in long and short flashes.

"It's in the universal code — they're asking us to verify our identity," said Gerdek quickly.

Curt handed him a torchlight.

"Signal back that this is the ship of Vostol, on his way as ambassador to Thool."

Gerdek obeyed. The two Cold One patrol craft, satisfied by the answer and the sign painted on the
Comet,
turned back out into space.

"So far, so good," rumbled Grag. "It looks as though your trick will take us through, Chief."

"It will unless we meet patrols which have already sighted Vostol's ship," Curt reminded him. "Keep your fingers crossed."

The
Comet
sped on and on through the great shroud of the dying universe. As vast distances fell behind, the somber gloom of this nightmare journey oppressed everyone's spirits.

For the only suns and worlds they passed were dead, black, ashen bulks with planets that were balls of glittering ice circled by haunted moons.

To the Futuremen, this seemed a universe of ghosts. To their Tarast companions, this endless empire of death and night brought heart-breaking memory of days long dead, when their conquering race had flourished on thousands of smiling worlds.

Now the spreading hordes of the Cold Ones were inheriting it all, planting their swarming cities on the frozen planets and webbing the darkness with their routes.

Time dragged on and on. Hours and days seemed meaningless measurements out here in the drear infinite. The strain of terrible suspense told upon them all — all except the Brain, who continued his imperturbable investigations, and Grag, who played fondly with Eek.

They were challenged again by Cold One patrols, but again their stratagem let them pass. Now, however, Gerdek began to get anxious.

"We are approaching Thool," he said, looking nervously ahead. "The danger from the Patrols will be greater now."

Captain Future understood.

"Yes — the patrols near Thool will be much more likely to have seen Vostol's ship already pass."

They peered into the dark abyss. It seemed a black blankness, yet their instruments disclosed that it was a region singularly crowded with dead black stars. There were scores of such cosmic cinders ahead.

"It's a great graveyard of suns," murmured Curt Newton. "Which of them is the system of Thool?"

"Thool lies deep in this region," Gerdek answered. "It is the single planet of one of the largest of the dead stars."

Dread haunted his eyes as he spoke. All the three Tarasts seemed oppressed by uncanny fear as they drew nearer to the mysterious, forbidden capital of the Cold Ones. For generations, the very name of Thool had been to their people a synonym for horror.

Curt was at the controls as they flew deeper into this great graveyard of suns. He made every effort to give wide berth to the dark stars and worlds they passed. For the Tarasts had told him that most of these were inhabited by populations of the Cold Ones.

On many of them could be seen the glimmering lights of enigmatic cities.

Yet, Curt's precautions to avoid all enemy traffic proved a failure, for two more Cold Ones patrol craft suddenly rushed on them from ahead.

"Give them the same signal — that this is Vostol's ship," Captain Future told Gerdek quickly.

 

GERDEK did so, but as he interpreted the blinker flashes of the patrols' reply, his face stiffened in alarm.

"They say: 'Vostol's ship passes us many hours ago on its way to Thool. Either that ship or your own is misstating identity. Stand by while we come aboard to investigate you, or we will attack.' "

"That does it!" exclaimed Grag. "Our trick didn't work this time."

"Grag — Otho — action stations!" yelled Captain Future. "Here they come!"

The two space-sleds of the Cold Ones, as the
Comet
refused to slacken speed, came racing toward it with their guns pumping fused atom-shells that exploded in a blaze of dazzling force.

The shells did not find their mark. The greatest space-fighter of his own universe was at the controls of the
Comet
and he had flung the ship into a dizzy corkscrew space-spin an instant before. Curt hurled the craft right between the space-sleds in the crazy maneuver.

Grag and Otho were pumping the heavy proton guns like mad. The blazing bursts of beams stabbed to right and left. The space-sled on the right was sliced in half as Otho's gunnery found its mark. And Grag's unerring marksmanship shattered the other.

"Got 'em both!" exulted Otho. "I guess they didn't know the old
Comet
carries a sting."

"I hope to heaven we got them before they flashed an alarm," Curt Newton said worriedly. "We'd better try to make Thool as fast as we can."

They were all keyed to highest pitch of tension as they flew on and on into the great labyrinth of dead suns.

Finally, Gerdek pointed ahead with a hand that quivered a little.

"Thool!" he whispered.

Here, in the heart of the great graveyard of stars, there loomed a dead sun of enormous size. Around that colossal cinder circled a single large icy planet.

It was the mysterious world that was their goal. Thool, the capital of an alien race, the core of the Cold Ones' power! Hostile and forbidding, it bulked huge in their telescopes. Wrapped in dusk of perpetual night, its surface was a glittering white waste of ice and snow from which protruded the menacing black fangs of naked rock mountain ranges.

"The city Thool, which the Cold Ones call by the same name as the planet, lies halfway between equator and north pole," murmured Gerdek.

"Yes — I see the lights," Captain Future nodded tautly. "How near to it were the laboratories of Zuur?"

Lacq answered that.

"Zuur's laboratories were in caverns in a deep gorge that cleaves the mountain range north of the city."

"That's too near the city for comfort," Curt said grimly. "But we'll go in low from the north to avoid being sighted."

He brought the
Comet
down fast toward the far northern icefields of the frozen planet.

Then he sent the ship scudding low through the dusk, toward the black range of cruel peaks that towered north of the capital.

As the
Comet
swung down over the mountains, the Futuremen glimpsed the lights of a great city miles away on the southern plain. The infra-red telescope clearly disclosed a metropolis of starkly square black structures, dominated by a mammoth cubical building which rose from the edge of an ancient, snow-filled river bed.

"That is Thool, the city," breathed Gerdek, with mingled hate and dread.

"It must be swarming with the cursed Cold Ones," muttered Otho. "Look at the space-sleds flying above it."

Captain Future perceived that the snowy river bed which bisected the distant city led northward into the mountains over which the
Comet
was now flying. The river that long ago had flowed in that bed had eroded a deep gorge through the tumbled ranges.

Curt steered toward it.

"This must be the gorge," Lacq affirmed. "There's no other in sight, Kaffr."

 

CURT swung the
Comet
down between the fanged black peaks into the deeper dusk of the gorge. It was a wide, winding chasm, walled by rock cliffs, its floor covered deep with snow or frozen air.

Captain Future sent the ship flying deliberately along the chasm, while they all watched tensely for some clue to the location of the ancient scientist's laboratories.

They had followed the gorge for several miles before Shiri cried out and pointed.

"See — those holes in the western cliff! Could they be the cavern laboratories of Zuur?"

"It fits the description in my ancestor's papers," Lacq said excitedly.

"We'll soon find out," Curt declared, and slanted the ship down toward a landing.

The apertures Shiri had discovered were artificially squared openings in the base of the west cliff. They were partly blocked by the deep snow. The
Comet
sank almost out of sight in that snow when they landed.

"Put on your space-suits," Curt warned as they prepared to emerge for exploration. "The tester shows no atmosphere at all on this planet."

When they had their suits on, Grag opened the door. Masses of snow fell into the airlock. They floundered out through it, and started in awkward progress toward the nearby openings in the cliff.

The darkness was thick here at the bottom of the great gorge, though the white sheet of glittering snow made vision possible. As they struggled forward with their heads barely above the snow, they unexpectedly encountered recent trails of several other creatures.

The trails were big, wide ones, as though heavy bulks had been dragged somehow through the white drifts. The adventurers stopped, amazed.

"What left those trails?" Otho exclaimed sharply. "Do you suppose the Cold Ones have just been here?"

"No, these are trails of creatures much larger than that," Curt declared. "Are there other forms of life here?" he asked Lacq.

"I don't know," Lacq answered. "Maybe there are. The Cold Ones who spoke of this gorge said that they always avoided it because it was haunted by danger. You remember I told you that, Kaffr."

Curt did remember. And it added to the uneasiness he had felt ever since they had approached this dark, forbidden world.

"It's perilous to stand here," he told them. "Come on."

They struggled on toward the nearest opening in the cliff. They could see now that it was a high doorway in the solid rock. It was a little above the floor of the gorge, and carved stone steps led up to it.

"Zuur's ancient laboratories!" cried Lacq. "It must be!"

Suddenly out of that open door in the rock lumbered a monstrous creature, the sight of which froze them with incredulous horror.

It was of elephantine bulk, a dark, furry mass on huge legs, with a hideous snouted head armed with a single heavy horn.

It glared at them with stupid, unwinking
eyes.
Then it charged down upon them.

 

 

Chapter 16: World of Dread

 

CAPTAIN FUTURE and Otho flashed their proton pistols with all the phenomenal speed for which they were famous. The two narrow, brilliant beams of force stabbed together to strike the creature's massive, snouted head as it charged through the deep snow.

They saw the beams burn into the thing's skull, yet it came on as though it did not feel them. Otho was so stupefied by this that he stood gaping at the onrushing monster in ludicrous surprise.

"Its eyes, Otho — aim at its eyes!" Curt yelled, flashing his own beam at that target.

The creature was less than ten yards away and coming like an express train, its horn lowered. Two proton beams flashed out and shattered the unwinking eyes.

Curt grabbed Shiri's arm and plunged aside with her into the snow. He yelled for the others to do likewise. They did so barely in time to escape that terrible horn as the blinded beast charged past.

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
12.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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