Captain Future #14: The Face of the Deep - Edmond Hamilton - ebook
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Carried far outside the solar system, and wrecked on a volcanic planetoid in company with a shipload of condemned criminals, Captain Future faces the supreme test of his courage! The Captain Future saga follows the super-science pulp hero Curt Newton, along with his companions, The Futuremen: Grag the giant robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright the living brain in a box. Together, they travel the solar system in series of classic pulp adventures, many of which written by the author of The Legion of Super-Heroes, Edmond Hamilton.

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The Face of the Deep

Captain Future book #14

by

Edmond Hamilton

Carried far outside the solar system, and wrecked on a volcanic planetoid in company with a shipload of condemned criminals, Captain Future faces the supreme test of his courage!

Thrilling

Copyright Information

“The Face of the Deep” was originally published in 1943. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chapter I

Prison Ship

SHE had been a proud ship once, a splendid, shining liner rocketing between the planets with laughter and music and happiness aboard. But that had been years ago. Tonight she lay grim and black in her dock at New York spaceport, somberly waiting to carry damned souls to their place of punishment.

Her name was the Vulcan and she was the famous prison-ship of the Planet Patrol. Once a year, she went out through the worlds upon a fateful voyage. At each world, criminals sentenced to life imprisonment came aboard her. The end of the voyage was at the grim, gray Interplanetary Prison on Cerberus, moon of Pluto.

Men in purple-striped convict dress were shuffling now under the krypton lights’ blue glare toward the looming black hull. They were a motley crew of vicious, hardened criminals—mostly hard-faced Earthmen, but a few green-skinned Venusians and red Martians.

They were guarded by vigilant, armed officers in the black uniform of the Planet Patrol.

A girl who also wore that black uniform stood under the lights near the ship, shaking her dark head at her tall, redhaired male companion.

“I have to go, Curt,” she was protesting. “The Patrol is short-handed because of that trouble on Mercury. And these criminals must be well-guarded, for they’re the most dangerous lot in the System.”

“But to send a girl as a guard-officer on that hell-ship!” exclaimed the tall, redhaired young man angrily. “Your Commander must be crazy.”

Joan Randall, slim and dark and youthful in her black jacket and slacks, was distractingly pretty in her resentful denial.

“You talk as though I were a simpering debutante who had never been off Earth before,” she said indignantly. “Haven’t I been working for the Patrol for four years?”

Curt Newton objected. “You’ve been in the Secret Service section of the Patrol. That’s different from guarding a lot of hellions on a prison ship.”

His lean, space-bronzed face was sober with anxiety, and his clear gray eyes had a worried frown in them as he expostulated with the girl.

He did not often worry about danger, this brilliant adventurer and scientific wizard whom the whole System knew as Captain Future. To him and his three comrades, the famous Futuremen, danger wore a familiar face. They had met it countless times in their star-roving quests to far worlds, in their ceaseless crusade against the master-criminals of the System.

BUT danger to himself was to Curt a very different thing than a danger that threatened this girl he loved. That was why the tall, redheaded planeteer bent toward her in a final earnest appeal.

“I’ve got a premonition about this voyage, Joan. A hunch, you can call it. I don’t want you to go.”

Her brown eyes laughed up at him. “You’re getting jumpy as a Saturnian shadow-cat, Curt. There’s no danger. Our criminals will be tightly locked up until we reach Cerberus.”

There came a startling interruption. It was the sudden shrieking of one of the convicts who were being marched into the ship.

He was a middle-aged Earthman, with a mass of iron-gray hair falling disorderedly about his haggard white face and terror-dilated eyes.

“You’re taking me to death!” he was screaming wildly, struggling with the uniformed guards. “There’s death on that ship!”

There was something peculiarly disturbing about the wild face and crazy screams. But the alert Planet Patrol officers guarding the line of shuffling convicts quickly hurried the struggling prisoner aboard.

Joan Randall’s fine eyes had pity in them. “That’s Rollinger—you remember, Doctor John Rollinger of American University.”

Captain Future nodded thoughtfully. “The biophysicist who killed his colleague last month? I thought his attorneys pleaded insanity?”

“They did,” the girl answered. “They claimed Rollinger’s mind was wrecked by an encephalographic experiment he carried too far. But the prosecution claimed he was shamming. He got life on Cerberus.”

“And you’re going on a voyage of weeks with scores of others like that homicidal maniac!” Curt Newton said, with deepened dismay. “Some of them worse! I’ve seen the prisoner-list. Kim Ivan, the Martian space-pirate, Moremos, that poisonous Venusian murder-ring leader, Boraboll the Uranian, the wiliest trickster in the System—and dozens more. Joan, I won’t let you do it!”

Joan shook her dark head stubbornly. “It’s too late to argue about it now. All the prisoners are aboard. We take off in five minutes.”

A voice came from the darkness behind them—a sightly hissing voice that was oddly alien in timbre.

“What’s the matter, Chief?” it asked Curt. “Haven’t you talked reason into her yet?”

It was Otho, one of the three Futuremen. He and Grag and the Brain were advancing into the circle of light.

The three Futuremen made a spectacle so strange that many people would have recoiled from them in terror. But Joan was too well acquainted with these three loyal comrades of Curt to see any strangeness about them.

Otho, the android, was perhaps the most human-looking of the three. He looked, indeed, much like an ordinary man except that his lithe body had a curiously rubbery, boneless appearance, and his chalk-white face and slanted green eyes held a superhuman deviltry and mocking humor. Otho was a man—but a synthetic man. He had been created in a laboratory, long ago.

Grag, the robot, had been created in that same laboratory, in the long-dead past. But Grag had been made of metal. He was a gigantic, manlike metal figure, seven feet high. His metal torso and limbs hinted his colossal strength. But the strange face of his bulbous metal head, with its gleaming photoelectric eyes and mechanical loudspeaker voice-orifice, gave no sign of the intelligence and loyalty of his complex mechanical brain.

The Brain, third of the Futuremen, was by far the strangest. Yet he had been an ordinary human, once. He had been Simon Wright, brilliant, aging Earth scientist. Dying of an incurable ailment, Wright’s living brain had been removed from his human body and transferred into a special serum case in which it still lived, thought and acted. The Brain now resembled a square box of transparent metal. Upon one face of it were his protruding lenslike eyes and microphonic ears and speech apparatus. From compact generators inside the case jetted the magnetic tractorbeams that enabled the Brain to glide swiftly through the air and to handle objects and tools.

“I THOUGHT,” Otho was saying to Captain Future, “that we came on this rush trip to Earth to stop Joan from going on this crazy assignment.”

“We did, but we might a well have stayed at home on the Moon,” Curt said disgustedly. “She’s as mule-headed as—as—”

“As a mule,” Joan finished for him, with a laugh.

Grag stepped forward. The giant metal robot suddenly picked up Joan in his mighty arms as though she were a doll.

“Do you want me to keep her here, Chief?” he asked Captain Future in his deep, booming voice.

“Grag, you put me down!” stormed the girl. “Curt, if you try to keep me here by force—”

“Put her down, Grag,” growled Captain Future. “You can reason with a Jovian marsh-elephant or a Uranian cave-bear—but not with a woman.”

An elderly officer in the black uniform of the Patrol was hurrying toward them from the black ship. His grizzled face and bleak old eyes lit with pleasure as he recognized Curt and the Futuremen.

“Come to see us off, Cap’n Future?” he asked. “Where’s your Comet?”

Marshal Ezra Gurney, veteran officer of the Planet Patrol, was referring to the famous little ship of he Futuremen. Curt answered by waving his hand toward the distant, lighted pinnacle of Government Tower.

“The Comet’s up there on the tower landing-deck. And we didn’t come to see you off. I came to dissuade Joan from going.” A bell rang sharply from the big black ship that loomed into the darkness nearby.

“Nearly take-off time!” warned Ezra Gurney. “Better say your goodbyes, Joan.”

Joan’s brown eyes danced as she kissed Curt quickly. “For once,” she laughed, “it’s I who am going to space while you stay behind and worry, instead of the other way around.”

Curt Newton could not smile. He held her, loath to let her go.

“Joan, won’t you listen—”

“Of course I’ll listen—when I get back from Cerberus!” the girl cried gaily, slipping out of his detaining grasp and running after Ezra toward the ship. “See you then, Curt!” She and the white-haired old marshal reached the gangway. A final wave of her hand, and she disappeared into the black vessel. “Why didn’t you let me hold her back, Chief?” demanded Grag. “You’ve got to treat women rough.”

“Listen to Grag—now he’s setting up to give advice to the lovelorn!” exclaimed Otho witheringly.

Curt Newton paid no attention to the argument that instantly developed. Grag and Otho were always arguing, usually about which of them was the most nearly human. He didn’t even hear them, now.

His eyes were upon the Vulcan. The last officers were going aboard. The bridge-room up at the nose of the long hull had sprung into light. Dock-hands were hastily knocking out the holding-pins.

The vessel, with it freight of scores of dangerous criminals, was about to take off on its long voyage. It would zigzag out through the Solar System for weeks, stopping at each planet to pick up more sentenced men. It would be a long time before it returned from the somber voyage.

There was nothing to worry about, Captain Future told himself earnestly. The ship had made this voyage to Cerberus many times before, and nothing had ever gone wrong. Surely, nothing could go wrong now.

But Curt couldn’t expel foreboding from his mind. The Vulcan this time was carrying the largest and most desperate cargo of convicts it had ever taken. There were men aboard it who would kill merely for pleasure, let alone to prevent their being taken out to the grim living death of Interplanetary Prison. And Joan Randall was one of the guards of those human tigers!

CURT NEWTON reached a decision, swiftly as he always did. He wouldn’t let Joan take such chances. If she insisted on going, then—

“I’m going, too!” Captain Future said suddenly. He plunged toward the gangway of the ship. Over his shoulder he called to his astonished comrades, “Take the Comet back to the Moon and wait for me!”

The gangway was already being drawn in. But the Patrol officers inside halted it as they saw Captain Future racing toward them.

The rangy, red-haired planeteer raced up the metal gangway and stood pantingly inside the airlock. The Patrol men looked at him amazedly.

“It’s all right,” Curt laughed. “I’m going with you, this trip. There’s no objection, is there?”

“Objection?” The swarthy young Mercurian lieutenant flushed with pleasure. “Objection to you coming along? I’ll say there isn’t!”

His eyes were sparkling with excitement. To this young lieutenant, as to most space-men, Curt Newton was an idolized hero.

“I’ll inform Captain Theron that you and the Futuremen are aboard, sir,” he told Curt eagerly.

“That I and the Futuremen?” Curt repeated, turning swiftly. In the airlock were Otho and big Grag and the calmly poised Brain.

“What the devil!” exploded Captain Future. “I told you to go back to the Moon with the Comet.”

“The Comet,” Otho answered coolly, “is safe enough, locked up atop Government Tower. We’re going with you. You’re not going to leave us sitting on the Moon, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for you.”

“This is what women get you into,” growled Grag gloomily. “Now we’re stuck on this craft for weeks.”

“It is certainly annoying that I shall have to spend all that time in a ship that does not even have a decent research laboratory,” said the Brain sourly in his rasping, metallic voice.

Captain Future was not deceived by their grumbling. He knew that it was loyalty to himself that had made the Futuremen instantly follow him.

The tie between himself and the three strange comrades was old and deep. It went back to his infancy. For when his own parents had met death in their laboratory-dwelling on the lonely Moon, it was these three strange beings who had become his foster-parents.

The Brain, who had been his dead father’s colleague in research; the robot, who had been created as an experiment by the two colleagues; and the android, who had been similarly created—these three had first been Curt’s tutors and guardians, and then his comrades in the crusading adventures which had won him the name of Captain Future. They had followed him faithfully to far stars and worlds. They were following him now.

“Oh, all right,” Curt said, dissimulating his feelings. “But you’ll find this a pretty dull voyage.”

“I wonder?” replied the Brain, his strange lens-eyes fixed thoughtfully on Curt’s face.

The Vulcan suddenly lurched upward with a roar of bursting rocket-tubes. They clung to stanchions as the ship took off. Swiftly, it screamed up through Earth’s atmosphere into the vast and shoreless sea of space.

The young Mercurian lieutenant started with them through the ship toward the bridge-room. As they left the airlock, they met Joan Randall. Her jaw dropped ludicrously at sight of them. Then her eyes grew stormy.

“You came along! As though I were a baby who needed watching over! Curt Newton, I won’t stand for it!”

“Afraid you’ll have to, darling,” grinned Curt. “We’re already at least ten thousand miles away from Earth.”

She was still protesting indignantly as they went forward through the mid-deck of the ship. This was the prison-cell deck. Along its main corridor were the barred doors of scores of cells. From behind the bars, convicts glared like caged wolves as they passed.

A SQUAT, evil-faced Jovian in one of the cells set up a roar as he saw Curt and his comrades pass.

“It’s Captain Future, mates!” he shouted. “He’s aboard!”

A raging tumult instantly arose. Threats, maledictions, oaths, were hurled at the Futuremen as they passed along the corridor.

Not a criminal in the System but had good reason to hate the name of Captain Future. He had sent many an evil-doer out to the gray inferno of Interplanetary Prison to which these men were destined.

The tumult rose. The senseless shrieks of the madman Rollinger added weirdly to it. Captain Future’s bronzed face was coolly imperturbable as he strode along. He seemed unaware of the raging voices. Then, as he glimpsed a sudden flash of movement beside him, he yelled a warning.

“Look out—your pistol!” he cried to the Mercurian lieutenant.

A Venusian convict in one of the cells had hurled out through his barred door a little noose improvised from his belt. The loop had settled around the hilt of the Mercurian lieutenant’s belt-weapon. The Venusian tugged hard, snatching the atom-pistol toward himself as Future shouted.

Captain Future spun and charged that cell-door with superhuman speed. The Venusian had got the pistol into his hands. His blazing black eyes looked over its sights at Curt, with deadly purpose.

Curt ducked and flung up his hand in an oddly slicing gesture at the convict’s arm. The crash of blasting white fire from the atom-pistol grazed over his head and fused a patch in the metal ceiling.

Next moment, Curt had got hold of the Venusian’s arm through the bars and had wrenched hard. The gun clattered to the floor. He picked it up and grimly returned it to the scared young Mercurian lieutenant.

“Next time, keep your holster buttoned when you walk through this for corridor,” Curt advised him meaningly.

“Next time I’ll get you, Future!” hissed the Venusian convict, nursing his wrenched arm and glaring his hatred through the bars.

“It’s that devil, Moremos,” volunteered the shaken young Patrol officer. “Only he would have thought of a trick like that.”

“Oh, Curt—I wish you hadn’t come,” breathed Joan. Her brown eyes were shadowed by dread. “They all hate you so terribly.”

Raging threats were following Curt Newton and the others as they went on along the prison-deck. But the bellowing order of a huge Martian in one of the cells put a period to the tumult.

“Silence, you space-scum!” roared the big scarred-face red convict. “You hear? Kim Ivan orders it.”

The uproar quieted almost magically. It was as though all the convicts recognized authority in the notorious Martian pirate’s command.

But one voice remained unquieted. The uncanny shriek of John Rollinger still reached their ears as they left the prison-deck.

“There’s death here!” the mad Earthman was still screaming. “I tell you, there’s death on this ship!”

Chapter II

Attacked

THE Vulcan was no more than a billion miles from Neptune when the real trouble came.

For many days, the black ship had droned out through the System on a zig-zag course. At Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus it had stopped, to pick up more sentenced criminals. Now, with more than two hundred convicts aboard, it headed for Neptune, the last stop before reaching Pluto and the prison moon.

Nothing untoward had yet occurred to justify Captain Future’s premonition. The convicts imprisoned down in the cell-deck had growled and grumbled, but seemed reconciled to their grim fate. Yet Curt Newton had not been entirely reassured. Upon the first day of the voyage, he had voiced his doubts.

“They’re too quiet,” he declared. “They shut up like magic when that fellow Kim Ivan ordered them to.”

“Well, that there big Martian swings a lot of weight with them,” drawled Ezra Gurney. “He was one of the biggest pirate leaders before the Patrol caught him.”

“Even so, that bunch of tough criminals wouldn’t obey him now without a reason,” Curt insisted.

“You think they’ve hatched up some scheme of escape?” asked Captain Theron anxiously.

Captain Jhel Theron, who had command of the navigational operation of the Vulcan, was a veteran of the Patrol. He was a tall, grave-eyed Uranian, bald like most of the men of that planet, his saffron skin darkened by years of exposure to the unsoftened radiation of space.

He and his next of rank, Lieutenant K’kan of Mars, commanded an operational crew that comprised three pilots, a chief engineer and two assistants, three space-mechanics and four deckhands.

Distinct from these fifteen members of the operational crew were the guards of the convicts. Marshal Ezra Gurney was guard-commander, with Joan Randall and young Rih Quili of Mercury as his sub-officers. They commanded eight non-coms of the Patrol, who watched over the convicts.

Curt Newton and the Futuremen had gathered with Ezra and Joan and the captain in the chart-room just abaft the bridge.

“I don’t say Kim Ivan is plotting anything,” Curt answered the captain’s question. “But I do say that if he had something in his mind, he’d prevent the convicts from staging any premature outbreak—as he has.”

Ezra Gurney snorted. “Cap’n Future. I got all the respect in the world for your judgment, but this time I think you’re chasin’ comets. How the devil can Kim Ivan or anybody else pull off anything, when they’re locked up tight in cells that they won’t leave till we reach Cerberus?”

“Men can get out even a chromaloy cell, if they have the right tools,” Curt answered significantly. “And men like Kim Ivan and that snake Moremos had criminal friends who would have been glad to smuggle things to them.”

“Not a chance!” Ezra affirmed. “I’ll stake my life that not one of those space-scum has any kind of tool or instrument.”

“You searched them when they were brought aboard?” Curt asked.

“What kind of amateur outfit do you think the Patrol is?” Ezra demanded injuredly. “O’ course we searched them. We used the X-Ray ‘scanner’ on each convict as he was brought into the ship.”

“Did you ‘scan’ the cells, too, to make certain that nothing had been planted in them?” Captain Future asked keenly.

“No, we didn’t do that, but there wasn’t any need to,” the old marshal declared. “The Vulcan was always under guard, and nothin’ could have been planted in her.”

“Nevertheless, I’d like to use the ‘scanner’ on the cells now,” Curt said. “Any objection?”

“Oh, no, if it’ll ease your mind any,” growled Ezra. He glanced winkingly at Joan as he added, “You’re sure takin’ a lot of precautions, Cap’n Future. Must be somebody aboard you’re worried about.”

GRAG and Otho, bored by the discussion, had got into one of their interminable arguments. Curt left them with Joan, and went down with Captain Theron and Ezra and the Brain to conduct his inspection.

The Vulcan, as a former small liner, was built along standard lines. It had three main decks, one above the other. Top-deck held the big bridge-room, the operational and chart rooms, and officer quarters. The little cabins occupied by the Patrol officers and by the Futuremen were in the rear part of this deck.

The mid-deck, which had formerly contained passenger cabins, had been redesigned into a cell-deck. Entrance to it was only through two massive chromaloy doors, one fore and one aft. Both were locked and had guards posted outside them at all hours.

The cyc-deck, as the lower deck of a liner was usually called, was a noisy, crowded place. It’s fore part was crowded with fuel tanks and supply-rooms, and the whole stern of this lowest deck was the big cyc-room in which the huge atomic generators droned away to feed streams of atomic power to the great rocket-tubes.

Captain Future and Simon and the captain followed the old marshal down the zigzag companionway to the fore door of the mid-deck. It was locked, and two armed Patrol officers stood guard outside it.

“Open her up an’ bring the X-Ray ‘scanner’,” Ezra Gurney drawled to the guards. “We’re goin’ to run a little inspection.”

The “scanner” was brought by one guard while the other unlocked the massive door. The instrument looked like a powerful searchlight, beside which was mounted an eyepiece that resembled binocular tubes.

When Curt Newton entered the cell-deck corridor with the others, a low, muttering growl ran along the crowded cells. It quickly subsided, but the caged criminals glared in silent hate at the tall, redhaired planeteer who was the greatest enemy of their kind.

“You can see that these cell-doors can only be opened by the outside control,” Ezra Gurney was saying to Curt. “Furthermore, this whole deck, like the other compartments of the ship, can be exhausted of air by the master-valves up in the bridge-room. If these fellows started anythin’, we could kill ’em all in five minutes and they know it.”

“You certainly must admit that there is no chance of a break here, Captain Future,” said Captain Theron relievedly.

“It’s a good, tight set-up,” Curt admitted. “Nevertheless, I’d like to ‘scan’ the cells. Wheel the machine along, will you, Ezra?”

He began his X-Ray inspection of each cell along the corridor. The searchlight projector of the scanner flooded each cell in turn with invisible Roentgen rays. Through the fluoroscopic eyepiece, Curt Newton could have seen the tiniest scrap of metal in the cells.

But there was nothing. The gray-clad convicts had not even any metal in their plastic belt-buckles or shoes. Even their dishes, water-jugs and eating utensils were of soft fiber or unbaked clay.

Curt paused as he reached John Rollinger’s cell. The mad Earthman had been confined in a cell to himself. He sat muttering in a corner, paying no attention to Captain Future’s inspection.

“Hello, Rollinger—how are you feeling?” Curt asked him.

The ex-scientist stared at him, but made no answer. His haggard face and peculiarly burning eyes gave them all a creepy sensation.

“Hate to see a man with his mind shot like that,” muttered Ezra in a low voice. “ ’Specially, a man as brilliant as he was.”

John Rollinger had been a famous biophysicist, Curt knew. He had specialized in encephalographic research, testing the effect of various form of radiation upon the human brain. Boldly using himself as a subject, he was supposed to have shattered his mind in his experiment.

“I wonder if he’s really as mad as he looks,” Captain Theron said skeptically. “The prosecution at his trial maintained he killed his colleague in a quarrel, and then used faked insanity to excuse himself.”

“Well, if he’s fakin’, it hasn’t done him much good,” Ezra shrugged. “They sentenced him to Cerberus just the same, for a homicidal maniac has to be locked up just the same as a deliberate killer.”

MOREMOS, the slender and wiry Venusian murderer in the next cell, glared at Captain Future in silent hatred as his cell was “scanned.”

But Kim Ivan, the big, battered Martian who shared a neighboring cell with Boraboll, fat Uranian swindler, greeted Curt with a calm grin.

“Nice of you to come down and visit us boys, Future,” said the big pirate. His froglike grin deepened. “Looking for something special?” Curt scanned that cell twice running before he answered. But there was no tool, instrument or tiniest scrap of metal anywhere in it, nothing whatever hidden. He looked up at the grinning pirate.

“You’ve kept things here pretty quiet, Kim,” he remarked. “You seem to have the others pretty well under control.”

“Sure, I won’t let ’em start any trouble,” Kim Ivan affirmed. “I’m a peace-loving man, that’s why.”

Ezra snorted. “A peace-loving man who led the biggest pirate band since Rok Olor was on the loose.”

The big pirate laughed. “Aw, that’s all over and done with now. I tell the boys, what’s the use of beating our brains out against these bars, when all it’ll get us is six months’ solitary when we reach Cerberus.”

Curt Newton finished his close inspection of the cells. When they had gone back of the cell-deck, and its massive door was again locked and under guard, Ezra Gurney challenged him.

“Didn’t find anythin’, did you?”

“No, not a thing,” Curt admitted. “There’s no tool or weapon of any kind hidden in those cells, that’s sure.”

“We Patrol men ain’t as sleepy as you seem to think,” the old marshal told him. “Those birds are safe till we reach Cerberus, never fear.”

His apprehension somewhat dispelled, Curt had felt less worried about Joan’s safety during the long days of the voyage that followed. At each world where they stopped, the new prisoners brought aboard were thoroughly scanned. But no attempt to smuggle tools or weapons was detected.

Now they were drawing near to Neptune. The eighth planet was still more than a billion miles ahead, but that was only a few days of travel at the great speed with which the Vulcan was flying through space.

At dinner in the officers’ mess that “evening” before the night watch, Ezra commented upon their approaching stop at the Water World.

“Remember last time you Futuremen an’ Joan an’ I were out here, Cap’n Future? It was when we were after the Wrecker.”

Curt nodded grimly. “I’m not likely to forget what happened to me on Neptune that time, up in the Black Isles.”

“Can you tell us about it, Captain Future?” eagerly asked Rih Quili, the young Mercurian lieutenant, with hero-worship in his voice.

“Some other time,” evaded Curt, unwilling to recall near-tragic memories.

“We’ve all finished dinner now.”

“I ha-haven’t finished my p-p-prunes,” hastily stuttered George McClinton, the chief engineer.

There was a burst of laughter. McClinton, a lanky, spectacled, stammering young Earthman, was the butt of constant jokes because of his inordinate fondness for prunes. He always kept his pocket full of dried ones, which he munched ceaselessly as he supervised the cyc-room.

“If we wait till you have enough prunes, we’ll be here forever,” Ezra said dryly, getting up. “I’m goin’ to turn in.”

When Curt and Joan and Otho went to the bridge-deck, they found Grag leaning against a section of glassite window and looking disconsolately back toward Earth. The big robot turned to them.

“I wonder how Eek is getting along, back home,” Grag said anxiously. “I wish I had brought him with me.”

EEK was a queer little interplanetary animal that was Grag’s mascot. Otho had a somewhat similar pet, which he called Oog. Both pets had been left in the Futuremen’s Moon-laboratory when they had flown to Earth on the errand that had unexpectedly resulted in this long voyage.

“Eek will be all right, Grag,” reassured Curt. “The automatic feeding-arrangement in the Moon-laboratory will keep him fat and happy.”

“I know, but he’ll nearly die of loneliness because I’m not there,” Grag affirmed. “He’s such a sentimental little fellow.”

“Sentimental? That miserable little moon-pup?” cried Otho jeeringly. “Why, all that little pest knows is to eat and sleep. He has about as much sentiment in him as a Venusian fish.”

Grag swung wrathfully on the android. “Why, you cockeyed rubber imitation of a man, if you slander little Eek like that again, I’ll—”