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) (3 page)

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
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Curt's eyes were fixed on the pale-haired young man and girl who had jumped up as he entered. He realized at once that they represented a race wholly unfamiliar to him. The marble whiteness of their complexions, the handsomeness of the man and the unearthly, platinum-tressed beauty of the girl were as subtly strange as their black garments.

Future had expected this man Gerdek and his sister to show astonishment at sight of his robot and android comrades.

But, to his surprise, it was upon himself that the gaze of the man and the girl fixed instantly.

With eyes dilated by amazement, these two visitors from another universe stared at Captain Future's
hair.
Then they burst into excited speech in their own language.

 

 

Chapter 3: National Hero

 

CURT NEWTON was dumfounded by the excitement which his own appearance had somehow stirred in the strange man and girl. They seemed unable to take their
eyes
off him.

He turned to the little Martian scientist.

"What are they saying, Tiko?"

"I didn't get it all," Tiko Thrin confessed puzzledly. "But as far as I can gather, it's your red hair that has excited them."

"My hair?" Captain Future echoed, mystified. "What's so unusual about that?"

The Martian questioned Gerdek and Shiri in their own language. They replied with an eager rush of words.

"They say," Tiko translated, "that none of their people has hair like yours. Their legends tell of a time when some of them had dark or even red hair, but now they are all a pale-haired people."

"Tell them we're more interested in their reason for coming here than in the color of their hair," Curt Newton said impatiently.

Gerdek and Shiri had by now got over their startled surprise. But the girl still had breathless emotion in her fine face as she looked at Curt.

Her brother was saying something to her in a rapid, eager tone. They scrutinized Curt's tall figure intently. Gerdek appeared to be excitedly proposing something connected with Captain Future.

Tiko Thrin looked perplexed.

"I don't understand this," he told Curt. "The man keeps harping on your red hair. He's telling his sister that because you're red-haired, you might be able to save his doomed people."

"Say, this is goofy!" Otho exclaimed. "How the devil is the Chief’s red hair going to save anybody from doom?"

"Aw, these people must be still space-happy from their trip," growled Grag.

"We’re getting nowhere," Captain Future said decisively. "Tiko, ask the man to tell us slowly what his universe is like and why his people are doomed. You translate for the rest of us as he goes along."

Gerdek nodded quickly when the little Martian made the request. He began to speak in low, eager tones, looking with a strangely hopeful expression at Curt. The girl Shiri searched Curt's face with her great, dark violet eyes as her brother talked. Tiko Thrin translated.

"Our universe is much different from this one of yours," Gerdek declared. "Like yours, it is a great bubble of three-dimensional curved space floating in the extra-dimensional abyss. But our universe is apparently much larger than yours in diameter. And ours is a dying universe, almost a dead one.

"Long, long ago our universe was much like yours. It contained hosts of hot, bright suns whose outpouring radiation supported life on myriads of planets. That was when we Tarasts rose to civilization and glory. The scientific powers of our race so expanded that we were able to spread out and colonize the worlds of hundreds of stars.

"The great hero of that long-past period of expansion was a scientist and leader named Kaffr, whose memory has been revered ever since by my race.

"But that was all ages ago. As time passed, millennium after millennium, millions after millions of years, the decline of our universe set in. Its suns could not pour out radiation forever. Each star, as the carbon-nitrogen cycle consumed its free hydrogen, waned and cooled. The inexorable laws of entropy were taking effect. The older suns of our universe ran down through the spectrum to dull red, and then were dark, cold cinders.

"The lights of our universe were going out, one by one! We could not halt that stupendous natural process — nothing could. Our far-flung race had sadly to abandon the frozen worlds of the burned-out suns, and migrate to other stars. So began the first somber retreat of the Tarast civilization from the borders of our cosmic empire."

 

GERDEK paused for emphasis.

"That retreat has been going on, ever since. For the last four million years, my people have abandoned one frozen stellar system after another. It has been a slow withdrawal, you see. A universe does not die in a day.

"Each generation during those four million years saw little retrogression during its lifetime — only the occasional abandonment of some star's worlds. It has been slow — but it has been very sure.

"In more recent ages, the cosmic retreat of our empire has been accelerated by two factors. One is the decay of our scientific powers, an intellectual degeneration that inevitably resulted from the psychological effects of our hopeless retreat. Very many techniques and knowledges were lost or forgotten as world after world was abandoned.

"We still retain and operate many mechanical devices, but the spirit of scientific experimentation is almost dead. We Tarasts are now, it is obvious to me, inferior to you people of this universe in science.

"The other factor that deepens the hopelessness for us is a more tangible and terrifying one. It is the threat of the Cold Ones. That is the name we give to a new and hostile race of intelligent creatures that has appeared in our dying universe.

"The Cold Ones are unhuman in many respects. They are the product of a disastrous chain of biological events that took place on the frozen planet of a dead star. They have advanced as we retreated, conquering world after world that we abandoned. For they can live in the endless icy darkness of airless worlds, where we would die.

"Our retreat, and their advance, have now almost reached the fatal climax. Most of our universe is already blacked-out by death, a vast wilderness of ashen bulks that once were stars, and icy spheres that once were smiling worlds. The last millions of us Tarasts now huddle together upon the chill worlds of a few smoldering stars that are not yet completely dead.

"Now the Cold Ones are reaching toward that dying star-cluster that is our last refuge. Already they have established a base there from which they attack our crowded worlds."

Gerdek's handsome young face was quivering with emotion as he went on with his saga of a dying civilization.

"Is it any wonder that most of my people have lost all hope for the future? 'Soon,' they murmur, 'our race will be gone and the Cold Ones will inherit our dead universe. It is futile to resist the laws of nature.'

"So they have no more interest in science, in the glory of our past. Sunk in despair, more and more of them lose hope for the future of our race, and think only of the present. More and more listen to Vostol's plan."

"Vostol's plan?" Captain Future repeated, puzzled by the reference. But Gerdek went on.

"Only a handful of us have clung to hope and have tried to keep the ancient science alive," he said. "My sister Shiri and I are of that small group. We have exhorted our people not to surrender or to despair. We have told them that if the Tarast race can only endure, the time will come when our dying universe will be reborn to new life once more.

"For we of the little scientist group are certain that our universe
will
be reborn! We have found, among the records left by the brilliant scientists of our great past age, mathematical calculations that seem to prove that the laws of entropy will reverse themselves, when the cooling of our universe reaches a critical point.

"We ourselves have not the scientific knowledge now to understand all these ancient records, but we believe them and have tried to make our people believe them.

"But our people have not believed," Gerdek said sadly. "They have rejected the half-proofs we were able to present, and have listened instead to those like Vostol, who counsel surrendering to the inevitable and thinking only of our own immediate future.

"If we few scientists could only
prove
to our people that the rebirth of our universe will come, we would inspire them to new hope for our race and to new struggle against the advancing Cold Ones.

"That is why Shiri and I have come to your universe to ask for your help," Gerdek concluded. "When we first accidentally received your signals, we guessed your science was greater than our own decayed scientific knowledge. You, with your greater knowledge, would be able to give my people the will and the means to fight against racial extinction."

 

CAPTAIN FUTURE was a little staggered by the implied proposal.

"You mean that you want us to go out to that distant, dying universe of yours? Just how could we help if we did?"

Gerdek answered instantly.

"You, with your greater scientific knowledge, could convince my people that our universe will be reborn. And you could help us fight the powerful Cold Ones, help us to hang on until the great day of resurrection comes."

Curt looked doubtful. The girl Shiri saw the doubt on his face, and asked him a tense, quick question through the Martian translator.

"You believe that our universe will be revived, do you not? The ancient scientists of our race whose records we found were certain of it."

Curt Newton nodded.

"I'm certain of it, too. Our science of cosmogony tells us that a three-dimensional universe like ours or your own will cool and darken and die only to a certain point. When the amount of entropy reaches that critical point, the dead universe will be reborn."

Joan looked astounded.

"Are you sure of that, Curt? I admit I'm no scientist. But I always had the idea that when all the stars of a universe were cold and dead, that universe would remain dead forever."

"No, that was the old idea of early physicists," Captain Future told her. "They believed that the second law of thermodynamics was immutable, that the flow of energy into lower forms was a one-way, irreversible process, But generations ago, as far back as the year nineteen forty-one, they began to see that they had been too positive about it.

"The great physicist Einstein of that era finally admitted that cosmic laws were immutable in appearance only, and that the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty might rule in cosmic as well as atomic physics. Millikan, his contemporary, had always insisted that the decay of a universe might only be part of a great cycle.

"Finally, J. B. S. Haldane, another famous scientific name of that age, propounded his theory of cosmic 'dynamism,' which asserted that a dead universe would be reborn in time.

"Haldane's theory set the cosmogonists of later generations on the right track. We know now, from searching mathematical investigation, that every three-dimensional universe has a continuous cycle of decay and rebirth. It begins as a comparatively small bubble of three-dimensional space.

"But as the matter of its stars and its world melt into radiation, that bubble of space
expands.
That universe expands until it is a much vaster sphere, containing a welter of radiation and a few inert embers of burned-out suns.

"Then, when it reaches a critical point in size, the curved space of the bubble gives way under the strain. The bubble collapses upon itself just as a balloon blown too big will burst and collapse. The bubble of space becomes suddenly in that way a much smaller sphere, a much smaller universe. The immense amounts of free radiation, now compressed into that smaller universe, build rapidly into new nebulae, suns, planets."

Gerdek's dark eyes were brilliant with hope when he understood.

"Then if my people can keep their race alive until the critical point is reached and our universe is reborn, our racial future will be assured!"

Shiri impulsively grasped Curt's hand.

"If you could convince our Tarast people of that and could help them hold off the Cold Ones, you would have saved us."

Captain Future frowned.

"I'd certainly like to help your people. But — they wouldn't listen to your own assurances. Would they listen to us strangers, no matter what scientific proofs we presented?"

"They'd listen to
you!"
Shiri cried when Tiko had translated. "They'd believe anything you said — because of your red hair."

"My hair?" Curt looked blank. "I still don't see what that has to do with it."

 

SHIRI explained eagerly. "We Tarasts have legends of a great hero of our race, whose memory is still venerated among us. His name was Kaffr, and he lived ages ago and led our people in the conquest of our universe.

"Tradition says that he had flame-red hair, something not seen among my people for hundreds of generations. Tradition also says that in the hour of our direst need, Kaffr will return from the dead to help his people."

Curt nodded understandingly.

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
8.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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