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) (8 page)

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
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"This is a nice fix to get into," Grag thought ruefully. "Wonder why they captured me instead of trying to kill me?"

He observed his captors more closely. He saw that these Cold Ones were not really skeletal figures, though he had applied that term to them in his rage. The arms, legs and torsos of the creatures were of human shape and size. But they seemed of solid white bone instead of flesh. The blank, bony faces of the skull-like heads were hideously noseless, though they had a mouth opening between hinged jaws.

The Cold Ones wore no clothing, except a harness of straps from which depended their hand atom-guns. Each had snapped his harness to a ring in the deck, and had secured Grag to a similar ring. Though their space-sled was now out in open, airless space, and though they had no protection at all from the cold void, the creatures seemed unaffected.

"They don't breathe air, any more than I do," thought Grag. "So they don't need to close in their spacecraft. And cold doesn't seem to bother them any more than it does me."

Two of the Cold Ones approached Grag's bound figure, snapping their harnesses to rings closer to him. They inspected him with those glaring, unwinking eyes that were horribly like big, pale jewels.

"This isn't a human like the Tarasts," Grag clearly heard one of the Cold Ones remark to the other. "Yet it was fighting for them. What can it be?"

"What do you mean, I'm not human?" bellowed Grag angrily. It was his most sensitive point. "Why, you skull-faced sons of perdition —"

He stopped suddenly, for he realized that out here in airless space his words could not carry to his captors. Then how in the world had he been able to hear the Cold Ones speak to each other, he wondered.

"If this creature is really a new device of the Tarasts," one of the Cold Ones was now telling the other, "it would be well for us to investigate it thoroughly. That is why I ordered you to capture it instead of destroying it. We'll take it to Commander Njdd, at advance base."

Grag abruptly realized that in speaking to one another, the Cold Ones did not move their bony jaws. The fact was that his captors were not really speaking at all, though at first he had thought they were. They were conversing telepathically, and his brain caught their thoughts.

These creatures, the robot now perceived, would be wholly unable to communicate were it not for their well-developed telepathic faculty. For they spent most of their lives in airless voids where sound was impossible.

The two now left Grag to his own devices, and returned to the stern of the flying space-sled. Grag made another furious effort to burst the cable wrapped around him, but with the same negative result. He gave it up and twisted around to see where they were going.

The space-sleds of the Cold Ones, about forty ships in all, were flying at tremendous velocity through a veritable jungle of dead and dying suns. All about them in space were black, dead suns with frozen planets, and here and there an occasional star that still glowed redly with waning light. They were passing out through the close-packed cluster at the heart of which the capital of the Tarasts was situated.

Grag remembered that his captors had just mentioned an advance base to which they were now returning. He recalled also that Gerdek had referred to a base which the Cold Ones had established somewhere in this cluster, and from which they launched their frequent attacks.

"And when we get there, someone named Commander Njdd is going to look me over," Grag thought indignantly. "The idea of these bony horrors talking about
me
as though I was only a machine of some kind!"

 

HE WAS too occupied by resentment to feel any apprehension over his own fate. Grag never did worry much about his personal safety, anyway. He had sublime confidence in his ability to take care of himself.

"Though I'd better think of something soon," he realized worriedly, "or else the Chief will get anxious about me."

For hours, the Cold One raiders flew through the void at a velocity inconceivable for anything except vibration-drive ships. They approached the outer edge of the cluster. Beyond it lay dark and awesome deeps of space in which only a few scattered, dying stars relieved the gloom. This universe was, indeed, a dying one.

The raiders were now decelerating their speed. Their destination appeared to be a dead star at the edge of the cluster. It was a black, huge cinder whose fires were long since quenched. Around it revolved three small planets, all of which were sheathed in perpetual ice.

The space-sleds of the Cold Ones swept toward the third planet. They dropped rapidly through somber dusk toward its icy surface. There was no whistle of air, for this frozen world was too cold to have gaseous atmosphere.

"So this is their advance base," muttered Grag. "Wonder if the Tarasts know where it is. I suppose not, or they'd attack it."

He looked down, and saw with some surprise that upon the frozen white surface of this planet of perpetual night there lay a large city. The Cold One raiders were descending to land in an open square at its center.

The queer ships came smoothly to rest upon level ice. The captors of Grag did not unbind the robot, but rolled him off their space-sled and then dragged him across the icy surface of the square.

"This is a fine thing — hauling me around as though I were a pile of junk metal," thought Grag disgustedly.

He managed to look around as he was dragged across the square. It was dark as night on this dead, icy world. The only illumination was that which came from the cluster of dying red suns that stretched in a great drift across the black sky.

There were hundreds of Cold Ones about. Scores of the low space-sleds were parked in the square and adjoining streets. And Grag now discovered that this city had once been a Tarast city. Its white marble structures were of the same architecture as that of Bebemos.

But it was a city of unutterable desolation and death, now. Long ago, it must have been abandoned by the Tarasts when the sun of this system had died. Ice was thick upon the marble roofs and upon the open spaces that had once been sunny, gracious gardens.

The unhuman, bony figures of the Cold Ones moving in it only intensified the somber effect.

 

GRAG was hauled into a marble building, which was obviously being used as the headquarters of this advance base. It was lighted by glowing bulbs, and in it a Cold One who wore a gleaming badge of office sat behind a table upon which was an unfamiliar apparatus.

"How went the raid on Bebemos, Ystl?" the creature asked the leader of Grag's captors.

Grag clearly caught the thought-impression of that telepathic question, and as clearly received his captor Ystl's answer.

"It was not very successful, Commander Njdd. Their patrols evidently warned them of our approach, for the Tarasts gave us a hot reception and we were unable to inflict any heavy damage on the city dome."

"Nevertheless," remarked Njdd telepathically, "these constant raids will wear down the Tarasts and influence them into accepting our proposed treaty."

The creature turned his hideously blank, bony white face toward the prostrate figure of Grag, inspecting him with unwinking eyes.

"What is that thing you have brought here, Ystl?"

"We don't know just what it
is"
Grag's captor explained. "It seems alive, though it's metal. It fought for the Tarasts with great strength, but we captured it. I thought we ought to bring it back to you for close inspection."

 

GRAG broke into the conversation,
thinking
angrily at the two Cold Ones who were staring at him with such infuriating superiority.

"You'll find out what I am when I get my hands loose! I'll mop up this base of yours so you'll think a meteor hit it!"

Njdd, the commander of the base, made a slight movement of surprise.

"Did you receive that thought, Ystl? This thing not only has life, it also has intelligence of a sort."

The commander seemed to make a decision.

"I am going to call Supreme Headquarters about this. They'll know at Thool what to do about it."

Njdd went to the apparatus on the table. It was a compact square box upon the face of which was a single shining knob.

The commander touched switches. Then he leaned forward and appeared to be staring intently at the shining knob. In reality, he was projecting his thoughts toward the object, for Grag was able to catch them.

"Commander Njdd at Advance Base in Cluster Two-twenty-eight, calling Supreme Headquarters on the world Thool!"

In a moment, there came a sharp thought-message that appeared to emanate directly from the shining knob.

"Headquarters answering. What have you to report?"

Grag began to understand. That square apparatus was a telepathic transmitter of some kind, designed to permit the transmission of ordinary telepathic messages across immense distances.

It was not hard for the robot to guess that Thool was the capital of the Cold Ones' power. It might lie far across this dying universe which the Cold Ones had almost completely overrun.

Njdd was delivering into the telep-transmitter a concise account of the capture of Grag, and a description of the robot. There was a pause, and then came the reply.

"The captive you have taken is apparently a robot such as were manufactured by Tarast scientists in the past. It is not human but can be used to serve humans. It is possible the Tarasts mean to make many of them to use against us. Therefore, you will ship the creature to us at Thool for examination, by the next patrol boat that you send in with reports."

Grag broke into an explosion of mental fury.

"What do they mean, I'm not human? I warned you fellows about making cracks like that!"

Njdd had turned off the telep-transmitter. He paid no attention to the robot's mental outburst as he directed an order at Ystl.

"Put the creature in one of the empty rooms and keep it bound. A patrol boat leaves for Thool tomorrow, and we'll send the thing on it."

The commander added his cold commendation.

"You did well to capture instead of destroying it, Ystl. I shall see that your meritorious action is brought to the attention of the Highest, himself."

Grag was dragged out of the lighted room and through a corridor that was part of the ancient building. He was hauled unceremoniously into a dusky, empty room and left there.

He lay, swearing to himself. It would be worse if the Cold Ones took him away to their distant, mysterious capital of Thool. Grag bestirred himself to find a way of escape.

His arms were bound tightly against his body by the thick metal cable. But by herculean efforts, he managed to twist one arm so that his right hand reached a certain part of his metal torso.

"Ah, that's better," grunted Grag. "Now if I can only get it open —"

There was a tiny locker built into Crag's metal side at that point. It contained small tools with which he kept his mechanical body in repair. He squirmed now to slide open the door of the little locker.

He got it open, and his fingers drew out a small file. He used it ordinarily to smooth out small dents in his metal hide. Now, he hoped to cut with it the cable that trussed him. The difficulty was that with his arms so tightly bound against him, he could hardly move the file.

 

WITH his super-strong fingers, he clumsily drew the file back and forth against the cable. His movement was so cramped that he could hardly make an impression on the tough cable. But he kept it up.

Grag could hear no sounds on this airless world. But he did receive vibrations through the floor. They told him of space-sleds landing or taking off outside the building, of Cold Ones moving nearby. None looked in at him, however. They assumed the heavy cable would hold him.

He had toilsomely filed half through the cable when he was startled by the appearance of a figure at the door. It was not a Cold One who looked in at him. It was a human — a young man in space-suit and helmet.

"Are you the prisoner the Cold Ones just brought back?" asked the man, staring in wonder at Grag's prone, mighty metal figure.

His question was audible to Grag. For Grag's electro-mechanical speech and hearing apparatus could receive from a space-suit phone.

"You're a prisoner, too?" Grag replied eagerly. "You must be one of the Tarasts."

"Yes, I am a Tarast and my name is Lacq," the other told him.

"Good, we'll get out of here together!" Grag exclaimed. "Here, you can help file away the rest of this cable."

Then Grag remembered with sudden alarm:

"Say, won't the Cold Ones in the front of the building catch our thoughts as we talk?" he asked.

"No. A thought-impression can be received only by one who concentrates his mind upon it," Lacq assured him. The young Tarast then asked, "Do I understand you to say that you're managing to cut your bonds?"

"Yes, and in a few minutes I'll be free. Then we'll crash out of here and grab one of those space-sleds for a getaway," Grag exulted. "I think I can start one of those craft."

"Wait here — I'll be back in a moment," Lacq said suddenly, and disappeared from the doorway.

In a minute the young Tarast was back. And with him came four of the Cold Ones. Lacq pointed accusingly at Grag.

"You see, it is as I told you!" declared the young Tarast telepathically to the bony creatures. "Your new captive has almost cut through his bonds."

Grag was astounded, then enraged.

"Why, you dirty traitor!" he cried to Lacq. "You're not a prisoner of the Cold Ones. You're working with them!"

 

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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