Squadron of the Damned - David Wright O’Brien - ebook

Squadron of the Damned ebook

David Wright O’Brien



Looking for a satisfying, meticulously exciting adventure with which to while away an afternoon? Look no further than „Squadron of the Damned”, a short story from one of the most early writers in the genre of fantasy and science fiction, David Wright O’Brien. O’Brien’s work was space opera or other routine adventure, but many of his stories betray a strain of humor, not unlike Henry Kuttner’s at that time. Some of the stories were co-written with his close friend William P. McGivern, with whom O’Brien shared an office in Chicago. He continued writing even after he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, adding „corporal” before all his pseudonyms.

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Liczba stron: 106

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IT was a dingy, dirty interspacial tramp freighter that carried the quiet, expensively attired, serious expressioned young man to Barkay–that nethermost outpost of the civilized interplanetary belt–and deposited him, ornate luggage and all, on the filthy space wharf that was Barkay’s only welcome mat to visitors.

The serious, expensively tunicked young man, had then inquired of an unkempt and somewhat besotted Martian wharf stevedore, the way to the nearest and least louse-infested hotel. The stevedore appraised the young man’s rich blue tunic, determined gray eyes, and costly trappings and grinningly gave him the information.

At the hotel, a drab, duralloy, rusted structure of ancient origin, the wrinkled little clerk at the alumnoid desk, subjected the gray-eyed young man to the same scrutiny, and ended with the same knowing grin.

“Name?” said the wrinkled clerk in a tone of voice that indicated any name would do.

The gray-eyed young traveler thought a moment, while the wrinkled little clerk waited without impatience. It was generally like this. Most of them intended to use names other than their own. Some of them had them glibly prepared, and others–like this young fellow–found it hard to remember them.

“Richard Werts,” he said hesitantly.

“From?” the clerk inquired, not looking up from his ledger.

“Earth,” the young man said. “Western continent.” There was the ring of truth to this. They generally didn’t try to conceal the location from which they had come.

“A day and a night?” the clerk asked.

The young man nodded. “Yes, that should be sufficient.”

“It generally is,” the clerk agreed.

The young man gave him a sharp glance, but said nothing. He picked up his expensive luggage, took the room slip the clerk had handed him, and turned away.

The young man took three strides then stopped abruptly, turning back to the desk. The clerk raised his wrinkled brows.

“In the past four or five months,” said the young man, “was there another chap, about my height, a little heavier, and with red hair and blue eyes, registered here?”

The clerk shrugged. “Four or five months is a long time.”

The young man’s straight mouth set impatiently. He dropped his luggage, secured his wallet, and peeled off several Martian Klekas. He folded them into a ball and hurled them to the top of the alumnoid desk. The clerk picked up the ball casually, smoothed out the currency and put it in his pocket.

“Yes,” he said. “There was a young fellow, little older than you, maybe three years older. Registered four months ago. Day and a night. Gave the same last name as you did.”

The young man looked up. “Same as I?”

The clerk nodded. “Werts,” he said. “Funny, ain’t it?”

The young man considered this unsmilingly. “What first name?” he asked.

The clerk bent down behind his battered desk. He came up with the musty ledger in which he’d recently entered this young stranger. He thumbed back through its greasy pages. Then his thumb was running down a column. He looked up.

“Clark,” he said. “Clark Werts.”

The young man looked satisfied. “Thanks,” he said. He turned away again, picking up his luggage.

“Have to take the stairs,” the clerk shouted after him. “The elevator ain’t worked in ten years.”

The young man crossed the small, decrepit lobby and turned to the staircase. He didn’t look back ...

IN the gray bare surroundings of his room, the young man who had registered as Richard Werts placed his expensive luggage in a corner and sat down on the edge of an ancient duralloy bed. He removed his tunic coat and carefully took from it a small, worn envelope.

He opened the envelope and removed a letter.

For what was probably the sixtieth time he had examined the message, he began to read it again. It was short, terse, and penned in a strongly masculine hand.

Dear Ricky:

This is it, kid. This is the fare-the-well. Don’t try to follow me. By now you’ll probably know I was the guilty devil. Understand me, when you find I’ve taken the easy way out. Stick to your guns, ‘Commander,’ and don’t let this throw you.



The young man folded the letter, eyes blurring, and put it back in the envelope. Then he placed the envelope carefully back in his rich blue tunic coat. He rose to his feet then, and began pacing back and forth beside the bed.

“Clark didn’t do it,” he said. “I know he didn’t do it.” He was muttering the words, half aloud, as if the sound of his own voice should reassure him.

“My brother would never have done it,” he muttered again. “He was decent, too damned decent. Clark wasn’t the sort. Even if he’d been desperate–the way they tried to tell me he was–he’d never had been that sort. Commander,” he said more softly, “I’ll never forget that by-word of ours.”

The young man was thinking, and the years were falling away. Five, ten of them. He was eleven years old. Young Ricky Stevens, hanging around the Spaceport, waiting for his brother, Clark, to come in from school. Six years older than he, Clark had been all of seventeen then. That seemed like a ripe old age to the kid who stood waiting for his older brother. Young Ricky had always looked on Clark as sort of a god. And when Clark, big-shouldered, red-headed, and grinning in that flashing way of his, stepped out of the ship at Spaceport, young Ricky Stevens almost broke his neck dashing across the space landing platform to his side.

“Hello, Commander,” Clark had grinned. “Glad you’re here to meet me!”

That had been a special sort of title with them. When they’d been even younger, and played around the vast family estate–the war games that kids always played–Ricky had been Clark’s army. An army of one kid, commanded by his older brother. It was Clark who made his younger brother call him Commander at first, and young Ricky had been happy to do so. Neither of them had thought the family name, Stevens, was military enough in its ring. So Clark had devised another–Werts.

Ricky had called his older brother Commander Werts from then on. And when Clark had grown out of the war game stage, Ricky had still affectionately called him Commander. It had been one of the proudest days in young Ricky’s life when Clark passed on the coveted title to him.

CLARK had been going to school, leaving for four years, and Ricky, a lump in his throat, had watched his idol packing. The two of them, with that understanding sensed only by brothers, had felt the significance of the parting.

“I’ll be back, kid,” Clark had said a little huskily, patting young Ricky on the arm. “And in the meantime it’ll be up to you to keep things running here.”

Ricky had gulped and nodded, his eyes filmed by tears which he was much too proud to shed.

“Tell you what, kid,” Clark had said suddenly. “The army is yours. I pass my command over to you. From now on you’re Commander Werts.”

Ricky’s eyes shone through the film. “Gee, Clark,” he’d gasped. “Gee!” The accolade left him breathless.

And from that time on, Clark had called his brother by the title he’d passed on. He’d used it less, as the years marched on, but whenever there was cause for unspoken praise, Clark called him Commander Werts. Ricky always understood.

Clark had gone on to college, then, and Ricky entered prep school a year or so later. When Clark had finished college, and came back to the New York estate of the family, Ricky was in his second year at another university. They’d kept in touch constantly, and there were vacations that gave Ricky a chance to see his brother for a few days.

Clark had set up an Interspacial Export firm of his own–in characteristic fashion disdaining the family business and wanting to make his own way in the world–and he offered Ricky a place in it when the younger brother graduated from college. But as much as Ricky would have wanted to be with his brother, he, too, showed characteristic family independence and entered law on his own.

“I know how you feel about it, Commander,” Clark had grinned. “As much as I’d like to have you in my outfit, I must admit I’d have been a little disappointed if you’d leaned on me to get a start.”

Ricky had been glad of his decision, then, even if it meant he’d see much less of Clark now that they were both out on their own. Clark’s export business took him on constant space tours, and Ricky was more or less confined to New York where he had his law practice.

Clark’s business had prospered. At least that was the way it had seemed. And then there’d been that disastrous affair.

There was a murder. Clark’s greatest competitor was brutally slain. Everything pointed to Clark–who couldn’t be found.

It was shown in court that the murdered man had been too tough a competitor for Clark’s export firm. It was also shown that Clark’s firm was on the brink of bankruptcy. There was a confusing inter-contract deal between Clark’s firm and that of the murdered competitor. It showed a perfect motive for the ghastly crime. Clark’s mysterious disappearance was taken as conclusive proof of his guilt.

And then the letter from Clark had arrived at Ricky’s law office. The same letter which he had just reread for the sixtieth time. It had been a genuine letter, Ricky was certain of that. But as for the so-called “confession” contained in it, Ricky hadn’t been able to believe as much.

But the authorities believed it. Ricky hadn’t wanted to take the letter to them, but a friend of Clark’s–a chap named Paul Ebbing, who’d been in the export game with him–had seen the note and convinced Ricky that they should turn it over to the interplanetary police.

They found Clark not so long after that. Found, at least, the charred body of a person they identified as Clark. A charred body in the wreck of Clark’s private sports space ship. Self destruction, they said in their reports. Suicide, proving beyond a doubt that Clark had been guilty.

CLARK’S body had been identified by the clothes, or what was left of them, and general markings. But Ricky hadn’t found his class ring. And this, plus several other suspicious details of the horrible incident, had made him certain that the charred corpse found in the wreckage of his brother’s space ship was not Clark.

Ricky let the identification stand, with the realization that he could reopen the case later when he proved his conclusions correct. He had then set out to find Clark.

And now he had found him.

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