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

Authors: Edmond Hamilton

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Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942) (9 page)

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
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Chapter 8: Trail to Danger

 

CAPTAIN FUTURE, in the midst of that mad melee on the city roof, had glimpsed Grag rashly charging after the retreating Cold Ones. At once, he had realized the robot's peril. He shouted a warning as Grag rushed onto one of the enemy's low space-sleds.

The warning came late. As Curt plunged forward in alarm, that space-sled took off with a rush. Almost at once, it was out of sight in the lurid red moonlight. The other surviving Cold Ones who had landed for the abortive attack on Turret Thirteen were tumbling into their craft and escaping also.

"They're breaking off the raid!" Gerdek shouted with heartfelt relief in his voice. "See, they retreat everywhere."

All across the vast domed roof of the city of Bebemos, the battle was dying away as the raiders turned and raced back out into space. The turret guns poured a last volley after them.

"They've got Grag!" Curt announced dismally. "He was on one of those space-sleds when they took off."

Otho exclaimed in alarm.

"Chief, what'Il we do?" he cried. "We can't leave old Grag in the hands of those skull-faced devils!"

"We won't, never fear," Captain Future declared resolutely. "We'll get him away from them, even if we have to follow them across this whole universe."

It was the unswerving loyalty of the Futuremen to one another that now came to the fore, the one-for-all and all-for-one spirit that made Curt Newton's little band such a formidable quartet of adventurers.

"Otho, go down and get the
Comet
and bring it up here at once," he ordered the android urgently. "We may be able to overtake those raiders."

"I'll go with him," Shiri volunteered, "and show him how to get your ship out of the city through the airlock in the dome."

Otho and the girl raced away upon their mission. The Tarast soldiers who had taken part in the fight were now hastily forming repair crews and spreading out to fix the small punctures in the dome.

"Is it wise for you to leave Bebemos now?" Gerdek was asking Curt worriedly. "Remember, you're Kaffr. The people expect your leadership —"

"As Kaffr, the only way I can really help your people is to find some powerful weapon against the Cold Ones," Curt replied quickly. "You need some weapon that will counterbalance your enemies' great numerical superiority. That's the only way you'll ever really defeat them.

"The first step in devising such a weapon is to reconnoiter the advance base of the Cold Ones, ascertain the most practicable method of attack. That fits in with the necessity of rescuing Grag."

"But we don't know where the Cold Ones' base is in this cluster," said Gerdek helplessly. "All we know is that their raids come always from the western part of the cluster."

"That makes it tougher," Curt admitted. "Still, we may be able to overtake them before the trail is lost in this jungle of suns."

The Brain, who had been hovering over the broken bodies of the slain Cold Ones called to Captain Future.

"Lad, look at these creatures. I never saw anything just like them."

Curt Newton joined him and examined the shattered bodies with intense interest. He realized at once that these inhuman creatures who could live in an airless void were of a startling new order of creation.

The broken white bodies and limbs were composed almost wholly of rigid bone. The only parts not of osseous tissue were elastic, cartilaginous ligaments inside the hollow limbs, and the eyes and brain. The eyes were lenses of transparent cartilage. And the brain exposed by the shattering of one skull-like head was an organ of hard gristle.

"We can look these over later," Captain Future said hastily. "Here comes Otho with the
Comet."

 

THE small ship of the Futuremen was streaking across the dome toward them. It landed quickly, and the door swung open.

"You and Shiri come along," Curt told Gerdek. "I’ll need you to guide us in this cluster of suns, as far as you can."

Gerdek was worried.

"Vostol will be challenging your identity during our absence," he said. "The people and many of the Council are convinced that you are Kaffr, but
he
is not convinced. Our absence may tell against you."

"We'll worry about Vostol when we get back," Curt answered confidently. "So far, my impersonation of Kaffr is succeeding all right."

The
Comet
shot up from the glittering roof of Bebemos, angling steeply skyward across the icy wastes that surrounded the hothouse city. Curt and Gerdek divested themselves of the space-suits and went forward to the control room, where Otho sat at the space-stick, with Shiri near him.

Otho's little mascot Oog was rubbing himself rejoicingly against his master's ankle. But the other pet, Eek the moon-pup, ran anxiously from one to the other in vain search of its own master.

"The little mutt misses Grag," Otho commented. He looked inquiringly around at Captain Future. "What course shall I follow, Chief?"

They were already out in space. Curt peered keenly into the drift of clustered dead and dying suns that spanned the black firmament.

"A little north of west, toward that pair of very faint stars," he directed. "I was watching Grag's captors when they disappeared, and they went in that direction. Use all speed, and we may overtake them."

Otho had switched into the high-speed vibration drive. The generators of the
Comet
were shaking the ship with their quivering drone. The little craft was now being hurled forward at a speed far in excess of that of light, by the powerful propulsion waves it jetted back.

Curt tensely scanned the vault ahead. They were flying almost due west into the great pack of clustered suns. Had they been young, living stars, it would have been a blaze of glory. But as it was the scene was depressingly somber with its vista of smoldering, old red stars and frigid worlds, and cold black embers of wholly dead suns.

Captain Future swept the void with the powerful telescopes of the control-room equipment but saw nothing of the Cold One raiders. It became apparent that they were too late now to overtake the enemy force.

"What'll we do, Chief?" Otho asked anxiously. "We can't very well search this whole wilderness of suns and worlds."

Curt turned to Gerdek and his sister.

"Tell me, what's the most desolate and least-visited section of this cluster?"

Gerdek pointed a little to the right, where there was a region at the edge of the cluster composed completely of dead stars.

"That dead region there," he answered. "We Tarasts abandoned it years ago, for its worlds are too cold now even for our domed cities."

"Then head for that sector, Otho," ordered Captain Future. "It seems the most logical region for an advanced base of the Cold Ones. If their base is there, we may be able to pick up the trail."

As the
Comet
flew on a changed course toward the dark sector in question, little Eek pressed forward against the control-room window with pitiable eagerness. The moon-pup seemed to sense they were hunting Grag.

Otho swore to himself as he looked at the somber, lifeless vista of dead suns ahead.

"Only a bunch of cursed nightmares like those Cold Ones could live in such a place. What
are
the creatures, anyway? They don't breathe, they have no flesh, yet they somehow look human."

"The human resemblance was very strong in those dead ones I examined," commented the Brain in his rasping voice. "It seemed to me that the creatures might be a strange variant or mutant of ordinary humanity."

"Your guess is right," Gerdek told him. "The Cold Ones came originally from our own human stock in this universe."

Captain Future was astonished.

"The devil you say! You mean that natural evolution produced such a quasi-human race?"

"No, it was not natural evolution that produced them," Gerdek answered gloomily. "It was artificial evolution."

 

CURT suddenly remembered something.

"Now that I think of it, old Igir said something at the Council about the Cold Ones being loosed upon this universe long ago, by the disastrous experiments of a Tarast scientist. Is that what you're talking about?"

Gerdek nodded.

"That was their origin," he said. "It happened thousands of years ago. At that time the Tarast empire still held sway over almost all this universe. But already many of our suns were dying, and we were faced with the shadow of doom that has since become so dreadful. In those days Tarast science was still great. And our greatest scientists sought a means of combatting the growing menace of cold and night.

"One of those scientists was a man named Zuur, native of the world Thool that lies far across the universe from here. The sun of Thool was one of the first to die, and its people were transferred to other planets. But Zuur remained in his laboratories on frozen Thool, seeking a solution to the great problem facing our people.

"Zuur had a daring plan in mind. He foresaw that almost all our suns would soon be dead, and our planets cold and airless. He wanted to adapt the Tarast race to live under such conditions. His idea was to cause an artificial evolution of our human people into a new race which would be able to live on cold, airless planets.

"He was an expert in the technique of causing artificial mutations. He used that technique on certain Tarasts who had volunteered for the experiment, and produced thus a radical new mutation of the human stock. The mutants were humans completely fleshless and bloodless, their osseous bodies requiring only a few mineral elements for food.

"They could exist in airless space because they were not oxygen breathers. Cold meant nothing to them, for their bodies had no blood or liquids to freeze."

"So that was the origin of the Cold Ones," murmured Captain Future with deep interest.

"Holy sun-imps, you ought to have murdered that guy Zuur for turning loose such a bunch on you!" Otho exclaimed.

"Zuur met death at the hands of his own creations," Gerdek said somberly. "He did not realize what a malign species he had created until they turned and destroyed him. Their minds, like their bodies, were not really human, and they were dominated only by a cold lust for conquest."

"They multiplied swiftly on that world Thool, appropriating the scientific knowledge of us Tarasts," he concluded heavily. "Then they spread out to other worlds, conquering star after star until now they rule almost all this universe from their capital on distant Thool."

"If they're as numerous in this universe as you say, it's going to be hard to find a way of crushing them," Curt said thoughtfully.

"You must find such a way," Shiri told him anxiously. "The Tarast people feel that they are saved, now that Kaffr has returned."

 

CURT NEWTON felt the burden of impersonation heavier than ever. He began to comprehend the tremendous responsibilities he had taken upon himself in announcing that he was the ancient hero.

"We've reached that dark region, Chief," reported Otho at this moment. "Which way now?"

Captain Future stared a little baffledly into the wilderness of wholly black star-cinders that occupied this edge of the cluster.

"There's no sign of the Cold One raiders who took Grag," he said. "We'll have to quarter back and forth through this sector and search for their base."

Gerdek was skeptical.

"It would take years to examine every frozen planet in this sector. And unless we search each planet, how will we ever find them?"

"If the Cold Ones have a base here, as we think, their ships will come and go from time to time," Curt pointed out. "Once we spot one of their craft, we can trail it."

He realized the slenderness of the chance, as well as any of his companions. But no other plan of action seemed to offer even a remote hope of success.

 

OTHO sent the
Comet
veering to the left, to begin the toilsome task of quartering through the somber dead region. The change of course appeared to upset Eek. The little moon-pup had until now been pressing eagerly forward against the window. Now he began to run back and forth and to evidence strong signs of distress.

"Wait a minute, Otho!” Curt called suddenly as he observed the moon-pup's distressed excitement. "Turn back to the right. I believe that Eek is trying to show us the right trail."

"You don't mean to say that little creature has any idea which way the raiders went?" said Gerdek incredulously.

"Eek has some queer powers," Curt told him. "He belongs to a species that are non-breathing also, and that have developed extra-sensory faculties to compensate for their lack of speech. Eek is always able to find Grag, somehow. Maybe he can again, even at these distances."

Otho had turned back to their former course.

"Well, what does the little mutt say about this direction?"

Curt saw that Eek had ceased his alarmed antics with the change in course, and again was straining eagerly against the window.

"This seems to be the right direction, if that moon-pup is to be believed," Curt reported. "Keep on this course for the time being."

"So now I'm piloting under Eek's orders," growled Otho disgustedly. "That's a nice state of affairs!"

The
Comet
flew deeper into the dark region. They passed majestic, black spheres that once had been flaming suns, and ice-sheathed smaller globes that long ago had been green with life.

After an hour's flight, Curt again ordered Otho to change course as Eek began to strain toward the right window. The moon-pup's queer homing-pigeon faculties seemed operating more positively now.

They approached a gloomy dead sun near the outer edge of the cluster. It had three small, icy planets, and Eek figuratively exploded with excitement when they began to draw near to the outermost world.

"That third planet is where Grag is, if the moon-pup is right," Curt declared. "Cut in gradually around it, Otho. If the Cold One base is there, we don't want them to sight us."

"If their base
isn't
there I'll boot that mutt clear out of this universe for leading us on a wild-goose chase," Otho muttered.

BOOK: Captain Future 12 - Planets in Peril (Fall 1942)
4.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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