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) (5 page)

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
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The
Comet
seemed hurtling toward that cluster of dying suns, rushing deep into it toward a lurid crimson star around which circled five worlds. The innermost of those worlds loomed up —

There came again a sharp, wrenching shock that Captain Future felt through every fiber. He struggled against dizzy nausea, and realized that now his sensations were again those of his physical body. As his vision cleared, he found himself slumped in the pilot's chair. The Futuremen were staggering dazedly beside him, peering excitedly out of the window.

"Jumping sun-imps, we're not on Deimos now!” stuttered Otho. "Look out there!"

"I don't see anything much," Grag complained. "And I still feel awful dizzy."

The
Comet
was resting inside another transparent ovoid chamber exactly like the one they had left. But this chamber and its auxiliary apparatus stood on the paved floor of a dusky, open court inside some big building.

The building itself was a massive, ancient-looking structure of synthetic white marble. Its sheer walls rose all around the court for a hundred feet. There was visible overhead an oddly blurred square of dusky crimson sky.

"We've made it," Curt Newton said, his voice a little hoarse. "We're in Gerdek's matter-receiver — in another universe."

 

AWE fell upon the Futuremen, mingled with a feeling of incredulity. There was a silence, in which the scared Oog and Eek whimpered.

"You mean we're really twenty billion light-years away from our own universe?" Otho said unbelievingly. "How could we come so far, so quickly?"

Curt struggled against his own strong feeling of unreality.

"We traveled across the fourth dimension, short-cutting the other three."

"It's still hard to believe that the fourth dimension could be spatial," muttered the Brain, with lingering doubt. "I meant to take data during our traverse that would solve that mystery, but was too overcome to do so."

"Look, there's Shiri!” exclaimed Otho, suddenly pointing out. "But who's that with her? It doesn't look like Gerdek."

Two figures were visible out there in the dusky court, running toward the chamber in which the
Comet
now lay. Captain Future hastily rose to his feet, shaking off the weakness that persisted in his body.

"Come on!" he said. "But leave Eek and Oog in the ship for the time being."

They emerged from the
Comet
into the big chamber of the matter-receiver, and passed out through a door of that chamber into the open court.

The air was surprisingly warm. Gravitation seemed about equal to that of Earth. Curt looked up quickly at the somber, dark red sky. What was that odd blur across it? Was it a transparent roof high above?

Speculation was cut short as Shiri reached them. The Tarast girl, her platinum hair flowing down to the shoulders of her silky black robe, seemed possessed by tremendous excitement. Her pale, lovely face and big violet eyes held anxiety and fear.

"You have not come a moment too soon!" she cried to Curt. "A crisis is upon us. You alone can save the situation, but we must act quickly."

"Why, what's wrong?" Curt asked sharply. "Where's Gerdek?"

"Gerdek is at the meeting of the Council of Suns," Shiri replied rapidly. "He had to be there, to meet the accusations of Vostol and his party. He told me to bring you there the moment you arrived."

The girl's companion muttered to her in a tone of urgency. He was a fat, middle-aged Tarast, pale-haired like all these people, with a plump face now drawn by alarm.

"But why should I go to this meeting of your Council?" Captain Future was asking puzzledly.

Shiri replied hastily.

"Gerdek has been telling the Council for weeks that our great hero Kaffr would come back from the dead. He has made them this promise so that they would postpone acceptance of Vostol's plan. But now Vostol is demanding that my brother prove his assertion. The only way Gerdek can prove it
is
to produce Kaffr before the Council — to produce you."

Curt was staggered.

"But we didn't plan that I should undertake to impersonate Kaffr until I had been coached for the part, so that I wouldn't make any slips!"

"I know, but now you must play your part at once," Shiri said urgently. "Vostol and his party have brought matters to a head. Unless Kaffr appears today, we of the scientist party will be forever discredited and everything will be lost."

Curt was appalled. To impersonate, without any preparation whatever, the great racial hero of these alien people! To convince them that he was that hero returned after long ages from the dead!

The audacity of the proposal seemed insane. And he did not know the meaning of all this talk about someone named Vostol, who was apparently Gerdek's opponent and who had proposed some kind of plan. He didn't know anything, Curt thought dismayedly.

"Chief, it's crazy!” Otho echoed his thoughts. "You can't just walk in and say, 'I'm Kaffir!' Why, you can't even speak their language very well yet."

"Please come!" Shiri pleaded. "Your whole mission to this universe depends upon it. I'll explain as we are on our way."

 

THE agony of pleading on her pale face decided Captain Future. He resolved to take the plunge.

"All right, I'll do as you ask. Do you want the Futuremen to come with me?"

"Yes, they must come too. Such superhuman followers will strengthen your assertion that you are the legendary Kaffr." She gestured toward the fat, anxious man hovering nearby.

"Dordo will guard everything here," Shiri explained. "He is utterly loyal to our party."

Her warm fingers closed upon Curt's wrist and she led the way hastily to a door in the wall of the court. They passed through cool, shadowy rooms and halls with walls of synthetic white marble and beautiful hangings of woven silk tapestries. The furniture was of shining metal, in bare, austerely esthetic designs.

But everything in the place looked
old.
Dust filmed the bright colors of the tapestries, corrosion stained the metal chairs and couches. The marble floors and walls were crumbling and cracked in many places. All of the rooms had a musty ancient look.

Curt's tall figure kept pace with the hurrying girl. Grag clanked along behind them and Otho hastened excitedly to overtake them. The Brain, cool and imperturbable as always, glided silently in the rear. Hurriedly they passed through the building and emerged from it onto a broad open terrace, into a flood of somber red sunlight.

Captain Future paused, amazed.

"Good Lord, you didn't tell me that the place was like
this!"

The Futuremen also halted in startled wonder as their eyes took in the astonishing vista.

"It looks like one of the dome-cities on Pluto, only a thousand times bigger!" Otho exclaimed.

They were looking across a vast and ancient metropolis of white buildings and green verdure. The countless structures of synthetic marble were of rectilinear, flat-roofed architecture, surrounded by colonnades and terraced gardens.

The whole city was enclosed by a gigantic transparent dome, that was supported by many massive columns. Through this vast roof fell the somber, dusky light of a huge dull-red sun now sinking toward the horizon. Outside the hothouse city lay an arctic wilderness of snow and ice, whose frozen white wastes made strange contrast to the warmth and beauty within.

"Please do not delay," begged Shiri, as the Futuremen stared in amazement. "My flyer is waiting — we must hurry!"

The urgency of her plea impelled Curt Newton and his comrades toward the small craft that rested on the terrace. It was a curiously egg-shaped craft less than half the size of the
Comet
.

They entered it with Shiri. She dropped into a seat at the front and pressed simple controls. The flyer rose in the air with a hum of power.

"This craft operates by propulsion vibrations, like the
Comet's
high-speed drive," guessed the Brain, glancing at the machinery in the rear.

Shiri nodded.

"We have bigger ships of the same design, star-cruisers designed to travel the great distances between suns. Once we had thousands of such ships that came and went across all our cosmic empire. Now we have only a few left."

"You have more machines and scientific devices than I expected," Otho commented. "You told us that your people's science was almost dead."

"It is almost dead," Shiri answered sadly. "The ships and machines we have were all built long ago. There are few technicians among us now who can even repair them. Things wear out, and are never replaced."

She was driving the little flyer low across the hothouse city. There were other similar flyers abroad beneath the dome, but only a few.

 

CURT looked down with intense interest that even the coming crucial ordeal could not dull. The city seemed very densely populated. In its streets he could see great numbers of the pale-haired Tarast people, all wearing the silky black garments that seemed universal.

This place was ancient indeed, he saw. Many of the streets and buildings were in disrepair. In the dull red sunset, it all had a depressingly shabby aspect. Even the great dome that arched over the metropolis was itself patched in a number of places.

Shiri was speaking.

"This city, Bebemos, lies on the equator of the frozen planet Tarasia. For ages, this place has been the capital of the Tarast empire. Here has always met the Council of Suns, which once ruled a domain that included every habitable world in our universe. But that was long ago. Now the Cold Ones hold most of our dying universe, and we really reign over only the worlds of this star-cluster."

"I've got to know what I'll be up against when I face your Council," Curt reminded her urgently. "How can I claim I'm Kaffr, when my appearance, my dress, even my use of your language will all give me away?"

"They'll not betray you," Shiri reassured him. "Remember, it has been millions of years since Kaffr lived. They'd expect him to look and talk differently."

"I still think the whole scheme's whacky!" Otho objected strenuously. "These Tarasts may have decayed in scientific knowledge, but surely they're too intelligent to believe that a man millions of years dead can come back to life!"

"Tell them you were not really dead — only sleeping," Shiri said anxiously. "There're legends that Kaffr never really died, but would return when his people needed him, so it will fit in.

"All our knowledge of Kaffr is really only dim legend," she added. "The tradition is that it was he who first led the Tarast people out to colonize and conquer the rest of the universe. Probably he was really some able leader in the faraway age of our first expansion, whose name survived in dim legend.

"All that's really known about his appearance is that he was red-haired, so you won't be challenged on that."

"But this Vostol you mentioned," Curt persisted. "You say he's an opponent of yours and Gerdek's party. What do you mean by that?"

"There's no time to explain fully, for we've almost reached the Hall of Suns," Shiri said rapidly. "You must understand that this cluster of dying stars is all of the universe we Tarasts now hold. The Cold Ones dominate the rest, and are now seeking to conquer this last stronghold of ours. They've established a base somewhere in the outer parts of the cluster, from which they launch frequent attacks on our capital here.

"Recently, the Cold Ones proposed a treaty with us. They would let us in peace, and attack our worlds here no more. In return, we were to agree that we Tarasts would have no more children. Thus our present generation would live in peace and comfort. After it died out, our race would be extinct and the Cold Ones would inherit this cluster, too."

Shiri's violet eyes flashed.

"Vostol and many others are in favor of accepting this proposal. They say our race will soon become extinct anyway, when our last suns die completely. We might as well have peace and happiness for this last generation, they contend. But Gerdek and I and others like us, who have sought to restore the ancient science, maintain that our dying universe will in time be reborn and that we must keep up the fight against the Cold Ones.

"However, Vostol's arguments have appealed greatly to the Council and the people. It will take a powerful influence to defeat him. You — the legendary Kaffr — may be able to do it."

"Some job you're being handed, Chief," said Otho pessimistically. "What happens to us if they discover you're an impostor?"

"You must not let that happen!" Shiri exclaimed distressedly. "You must guard against any slip, until we can coach you more thoroughly."

Captain Future realized the enormity of the task that was being given him. But there was little time to reflect upon its risky nature. Shiri was guiding the little flyer lower.

"This is the Hall of Suns," she said.

 

IT WAS a mammoth structure, this building from which once had been directed the government of a whole universe. It towered over the city Bebemos like a man-made mountain, dominating everything.

In cross-section, the great pile was a half moon. In front of its straight side was a big, crowded plaza, from which rose the giant stone figure of a statue in heroic size. As their craft slanted down past the statue, Curt noticed that the figure represented a man whose strong, idealized face was turned boldly up toward the heavens.

"What is that monument?" he asked the girl, and the answer she gave him over her shoulder startled him.

"It is a statue of Kaffr — of our great racial hero."

Curt Newton felt a sinking sensation. More and more, the audacity of this proposed impersonation unnerved him. How could he manage to pass himself off as that heroic figure who had died long ages ago?

Shiri was landing near a small entrance in the rear or curved side of the Hall of Suns. There had been great crowds of Tarasts on the front plaza, which it was evidently her purpose to avoid.

"This way," she breathed, leading the way out of the flyer.

"There is a passage that leads directly to the stage of the Council Room."

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
6.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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