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) (6 page)

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Captain Future and his comrades followed her into the building. Curt could not help noticing that this mastodonic structure was ancient and crumbling, like everything else he had so far seen in the city.

They followed corridors lighted by luminous bands along the walls. They came finally to a door which Shiri opened for a few inches, after making a warning sign.

Curt heard a man's voice, powerful and clear, yet echoing as though through great spaces to his ears. Shiri abruptly grasped Future's hand.

"It is Vostol speaking now to the Council!” she whispered. "He is challenging my brother. Listen!"

Curt bent and peered through the crack of the open door. He found himself looking out into an interior amphitheater of colossal size. Tall windows admitted the dying red light, to illuminate rising tiers of thousands upon thousands of white marble seats.

But most of those seats were empty. In the great, dusty room, only a few hundred Tarast men and women sat in the first tiers. So much had the once-mighty Council of Suns shrunken as its cosmic empire faded.

The tiers of seats faced a broad stage directly in front of the door through which Curt looked. Upon this stage were three Tarast men. One was an aged chairman who sat with his back to Captain Future. Another of the three was Gerdek, who stood a little to one side, his handsome face tense and almost desperate in expression.

The third man, speaking to the silent hundreds of the Council, held the center of the stage. Vostol, as Shiri had named the speaker, was a young, stalwart man whose voice rang out into the vast, shadowy hall with an accent of earnest conviction.

"I say again that Gerdek and his friends seek to dupe you like children!" Vostol was declaring ringingly. "They tell you a fable of the approaching return of Kaffr, only to ply you to their will. Can a man dead these millions of years come back to life?"

Gerdek spoke in defiant interruption.

"An ordinary man could not. But Kaffr had powers beyond those of ordinary men. All our legends tell us that."

There was a low murmur of agreement from the Council. It was expressive of age-old reverence for the great hero of the Tarasts.

 

BUT Vostol voiced the incredulity that was on the faces of others.

"Kaffr is a great legend, an heroic legend, but only a legend now," he declared. "I revere his memory. It is Gerdek and his fellow-conspirators who desecrate that memory by their lying assertions that Kaffr is on the eve of returning to our midst."

"He
will
return," Gerdek insisted desperately. "All the ancient prophecies predict that when his people need him most, Kaffr will come back to lead them again. And we have found old records of predictions that make it certain the time of his coming is near at hand."

"But
when
will he come?" Vostol cried. "If you have proofs that he will come, you must be able to tell us the exact time at which mighty Kaffr will return from the dead."

Gerdek looked trapped and desperate in the face of that demand. The members of the Council were rising to their feet, shouting in an uproar of disputing accusations and assertions.

"It is now or never!” whispered Shiri frantically to Curt Newton.

Curt set his teeth, and strode suddenly out through the door onto the stage. The Brain and robot and android followed him.

For a moment, in the uproar of shouting dispute, no one noticed them. Then Gerdek's eyes widened as they fell on Captain Future's tall figure. The young Tarast uttered a shout that brought quick silence.

Gerdek pointed a trembling finger dramatically at Curt Newton.

"Kaffr comes back to us this very day," he cried hoarsely. "Kaffr is here now!”

 

 

Chapter 6: Under the Red Moons

 

SILENCE born of stupefaction held the vast hall. Dazed amazement was on the face of every Tarast there, as they looked unbelievingly at the tall figure of Curt Newton. A shaft of light from the sinking sun struck through the tall windows to touch his red hair to flame. Behind him were grouped the silent figures of the three strange Futuremen.

"Kaffr!" gasped the aged chairman of the Council of Suns, his eyes dilated by an incredulous awe. "It
is
he! The flame-haired one!"

And a swelling chorus of whispers that throbbed with utter excitement came from the spellbound, staring Council members.

"Kaffr!"

Curt Newton, confronting those awed white faces, nerved himself for the ordeal. He was about to undertake the most audacious impersonation in history.

That meant that he must speak falsehoods now. He hated that necessity from the bottom of his soul. But he felt that it was justified by the fact that success of this impersonation might mean preservation of this desperate, dying human race.

A babel of cries was coming from the Council members. Confusion of unprecedented excitement reigned. Faces were afire with wild emotion as they looked up at Captain Future.

"Did I not tell you that Kaffr would return?" Gerdek was shouting eagerly. "He has come back to lead us against the Cold Ones!"

Vostol had been stunned and bewildered until now, staring at Curt and his comrades with the same unbelieving awe as the rest. But now Vostol seemed to recover from his first astonishment. A shade of doubt appeared on his aggressive, earnest face.

"How can this man be Kaffr?" he cried. "We all know that Kaffr died millions of years ago. I still say that not even Kaffr could come back from the dead!"

That cry of doubt momentarily checked the excited uproar. Curt saw the first signs of doubt appear on the faces of Council members. He realized that he must assert himself if the impersonation was not to fall through.

"I
am
Kaffr," Curt said solemnly. "And I did not die, ages ago. I went into a trance of suspended animation from which I have now awakened."

His voice rang out.

"Millions of years ago, I led the Tarast people in their first space-conquests of other worlds. I guided them in laying the foundations of cosmic empire. But I foresaw that a time would come when this universe would wane and die, and that then I would be sorely needed.

"So I entered that trance of suspended animation, arranging to wake when the remote time had come that would see dire need of my leadership."

Curt gestured toward the silent Brain and robot and android behind him.

"My ancient comrades entered that trance with me, and have awakened with me. They, and I, have come to give our services once more to the Tarast people for whom we fought long ago."

A sigh of deep emotion came from his listeners. And Curt Newton rushed on, seeking to override all doubts in these critical first moments.

"Tell me — are we not needed now?" throbbed his clear voice, his gray eyes sweeping their faces. "Has the time come that I foresaw?"

The aged chairman answered, in a voice that was hoarse with feeling.

"Kaffr, if you are indeed our ancient hero, you come back to us at a truly fateful hour. Our empire is shrunken and dying. This Council of Suns of which I, Igir, am chairman, rules now only over this last cluster of waning stars and worlds that hold the surviving millions of our race.

"This last stronghold of ours is constantly attacked by the hordes of the Cold Ones, unhuman enemies whom the disastrous experiments of a Tarast scientist loosed upon our universe. Their attacks grow ever fiercer. And they say they will not cease these attacks unless we agree to stop having children, so that after this generation our race shall end."

 

THE old chairman gestured with a trembling hand toward the stalwart figure of Vostol.

"Vostol and many others sincerely believe it would be best to make such a treaty with the Cold Ones; for they say that our race must soon become extinct anyway, when our universe dies completely. But Gerdek and others who have sought to revive our once-great science, claim that our universe will be reborn in time and that we must fight on."

Curt Newton had listened tensely. He saw that the moment had come for him to fulfill the purpose of his impersonation.

"Make a treaty with the Cold Ones?" Curt cried in ringing tones. "Make a treaty with deadly enemies? Is it possible that you can dream of doing that? If so, the Tarast race has decayed indeed since the long-gone days when your remote ancestors and I first conquered space!"

His voice flared.

"It is not the Tarast tradition to parley with menacing enemies, but to
fight!
It was so that we won dominion over other worlds and stars in the days gone by. It is so that you will revive the ancient glory of our all-conquering race!”

Curt's ringing words, the proud, martial appearance of his tall figure and of the grim Futuremen, seemed to act like a bugle-blast upon most of the men before him, reminding them of past glories of their race.

"Kaffr speaks truth!" a young member of the Council yelled. "We are no frightened cowards to cringe before the Cold Ones!"

"With Kaffr to lead us, we'll blast them from the sky!" cried another. "We'll never commit race suicide to buy a craven peace for ourselves."

Gerdek's handsome face was flaming with eager excitement as he saw that Curt's words were winning the day. Shiri had appeared now beside her brother, and was leaning forward to drink in every word.

"Furthermore," rang out Captain Future's clear voice, "I say that the man Gerdek is right. This dying universe will be reborn, in time. My comrades and I can give you scientific proof of it. You have only to hold on against all enemies, and the Tarast empire will rise again."

Shouts of enthusiasm greeted this assertion. Yet Curt's keen eyes noticed that many among the Council looked silent and a little doubtful, now that their first bewildered excitement was passing.

And Vostol was raising his voice above the uproar, demanding that he be heard.

"Members of the Council, will you let yourselves be carried away by brave phrases?" he cried. "We have as yet no proof whatever that this man is really Kaffr."

"Proof?" cried an excited Tarast. "His appearance is proof! Not for ages has any man among us had flame-red hair like Kaffr's. And who but Kaffr would have such superhuman comrades as he has?"

"I demand that this man's identity be established by thorough investigation," clamored Vostol.

He was supported now by a number of voices. Other voices cried out angrily against the demand. The hall became a turmoil of excited shouts.

Curt looked tensely at Gerdek. His impersonation would soon be unmasked, if he were forced to undergo searching questioning before Gerdek and Shiri had coached him further.

"The devil!" Otho was hissing. "That Vostol is a born skeptic. They'd all accept you if it weren't for him."

"Shall I shut that fellow up, Chief?" growled Grag.

"No — hold it," Curt whispered. "I've got to carry this through somehow."

At this tense moment, the tumultuous argument in the great room was interrupted. A wild-eyed Tarast guard, gripping in his hand a gunlike weapon, came bursting in with a shout.

"The crowds outside the Hall of Suns have gone crazy!” yelled the officer. "They've heard that Kaffr has returned, and they're mad with excitement. The whole city is gathering!"

 

NIGHT had fallen outside. But through the tall windows came a deep, roaring sound like the thunder of distant surf. Tens of thousands of voices were shouting out there.

"Kaffr! Kaffr!" came the cry.

"They'll be pouring in here in a moment if Kaffr doesn't appear!" warned the guard officer. "They're insane with joy."

Igir, the old chairman, looked irresolutely at Curt.

"Then you must show yourself to the people, Kaffr."

"I protest!" flared Vostol. "It has not yet been proved that this man is the ancient hero."

"Listen to that crowd!" cried Gerdek. "The Tarast people do not need proofs — they
know
that the prophecies of legend have been fulfilled and that Kaffr has come back to save them. The mere sight of him will give them new courage."

Curt Newton felt an inner recoil from the necessity that faced him. It was one thing to impersonate the ancient hero before the Council. It was another thing to delude a whole people.

But this was why he had come across dimensional abysses to this universe. His imposture had no profit for himself. Indeed, he was risking his life to inspire these people and preserve them from extinction. He must go through with the job.

"I
am
Kaffr, and I will speak to my people!" Curt declared in high, vibrant tones. "Are there any doubters here who would dare try to prevent me?"

He stepped forward as he spoke, with the Futuremen following him closely. He moved down off the great stage and up the aisle of the amphitheater in the direction from which the — guard officer had come.

And the Council made way for him. Some there might be among them who doubted, yet superstitious awe made them step hastily back to clear a path for that proud, tall red-haired figure and his three grim friends.

Gerdek and Shiri were close behind Curt. And the whole Council fell in instantly after them, sweeping along in a tumult of electric excitement that drowned the persistent protests of Vostol's party.

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Recoil by Joanne Macgregor
The Killing Season by Pearson, Mark
Dying for Justice by L. J. Sellers
King and Kingdom by Danielle Bourdon
Come the Dawn by Christina Skye
Fool's War by Sarah Zettel
Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
Only You by Kaleigh James