The Space Emperor - Edmond Hamilton - ebook
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Follow the quest of Curtis Newton, wizardman of science, as he scours the worlds of tomorrow in the hunt for the greatest interplanetary outlaw of all time! 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 Space Emperor

Captain Future book #1

by

Edmond Hamilton

Follow the quest of Curtis Newton, wizardman of science, as he scours the worlds of tomorrow in the hunt for the greatest interplanetary outlaw of all time!

Thrilling

Copyright Information

“The Space Emperor” was originally published in 1940. 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

Doom on Jupiter

THE chill, uncanny breath of a dark menace millions of miles away pervaded the spacious, softly-lit office high in the greatest of New York’s mighty towers.

The man who sat there at an ebonite desk was worried. Facing a broad window which framed the stupendous pinnacles of the moonlit city, he could feel that cold, malign aura. He shuddered at the thought of what he knew was happening even at this moment.

“It can’t go on,” he muttered sickly to himself. “That horror must be stopped, somehow. Or else—”

James Carthew, President of the Earth Government which had ruled all humanity since the last World War, was not an old man. Fifty was considered the prime of life, in these days. But the appalling responsibilities of guiding the destinies of all mankind had aged this man before his time.

His gray-short hair was thinning around his high forehead. There were deep lines of strain in his keen, powerful face, and his dark eyes were haunted by haggard weariness and lurking fear.

As the door of his office opened his thin hands gripped the edges of his desk convulsively.

North Bonnel, his slender, dark young secretary, entered.

“The liner from Jupiter just landed, sir,” he reported. “I had a flash from the spaceport.”

“Thank heavens!” Carthew muttered. “Sperling should be here in five minutes. He knows I’m waiting for his report.”

Bonnel hesitated.

“I hope he’s reached the bottom of that mystery out there. The special committee of Jupiter citizens called by televisor again this evening.”

“I know—calling to protest again about conditions on Jupiter,” Carthew said bitterly. “Each one of them trying to voice a louder complaint than the others.”

“You can hardly blame them, sir,” the young secretary ventured to say. “Things must be pretty horrible out there on Jupiter, with that hideous thing spreading as it is.”

“Sperling will have found out what’s causing it,” the President asserted confidently. He looked at the perpetual uranium clock on his desk. “He ought to be arriving any second—”

A scream from somewhere in the lower levels of the great Government Tower cut him off. It was a woman’s scream.

There were many girl clerks employed here in the huge Government Headquarters for Earth and its planet colonies. Even at night, some of them were always in the building. But what had frightened one of them into uttering that agonized scream?

James Carthew had risen to his feet behind his desk, his aging face paling with sudden apprehension. The secretary started violently.

“Something wrong, sir! I’d better see—”

He started toward the door. It was suddenly flung open from outside.

Young Bonnel recoiled wildly.

“My God!” he cried.

In the open door stood a hideous and incredible figure, a monstrosity out of a nightmare.

It was a giant, hunched ape, hairy and abhorrent. Its squat figure wore a man’s zipper-suit of white synthesilk. In the too-tight garment, the creature looked like a gruesome travesty on humanity, its brutish, hairy face a bestial mask, jaws parted to reveal great fangs. Its eyes blazed with a cold glitter as it started into the room. “Look out!” Bonnel yelled frantically.

A WHITE-FACED guard in the dark uniform of the Planet Police appeared in the door. He leveled his flare-gun swiftly at the monstrous ape.

“Wait—don’t shoot!” James Carthew cried suddenly, as he looked into the monster’s hairy face.

His warning was too late. The guard had seen nothing but an incredible, menacing creature advancing toward the President. He had squeezed the trigger.

The little flare from the pistol struck the ape’s broad back. The creature’s bestial face contorted in sudden agony. With a deep, almost human groan, it collapsed.

James Carthew, with a cry of horror, jumped forward. His face was paper-white as he bent over the creature.

The ape’s eyes, strange blue eyes, had a dying light in them as they looked up at the President. The creature strove to speak.

From the hairy throat came a hoarse, gurgling rattle—dying words, thickened to a brutish growl, but dimly recognizable.

“Jupiter—the Space Emperor—causing atavism—” the thing gasped hoarsely in dying accents.

It sought to raise its head, its fading blue eyes weirdly human in agonized apprehension and appeal as they looked up at the President.

“Danger from—”

And then, as it sought to form another word, life ebbed swiftly, and the creature sank back, its eyes glazing.

“Dead!” Carthew exclaimed, trembling violently.

“My God, it talked!” cried the white-faced guard. “That ape—talked!”

“It’s not an ape. It’s a man!” said James Carthew hoarsely.

He got to his feet. Guards and officials were running alarmedly into the office.

“Get out—all of you,” Carthew whispered, making a gesture with his trembling hand.

Horrified, still staring at the monstrous, hairy corpse on the floor, they withdrew and left the President and his secretary alone with the macabre corpse.

“Good God—those blue eyes—it couldn’t be Sperling!” cried the shuddering young secretary.

“Yes, it’s Sperling all right,” James Carthew said softly. “I recognized him, by his eyes, a moment too late. John Sperling, our best secret agent—transformed into that dead brute on the floor!”

“You sent him to investigate the horror on Jupiter, and he fell prey to it!” Bonnel exclaimed hoarsely. “He changed, like those others out there, from man to brute. Yet he was still man enough to try to get here and make his report!”

The pale young secretary looked beseechingly at his chief.

“What is it that’s causing that horrible wave of monstrosities out on Jupiter? Hundreds of cases in the last month—hundreds of men changing into apish brutes!”

“Whatever it is, it’s something bigger than just Jupiter,” Carthew whispered haggardly. “Suppose this strange plague spreads to the other planets—to Earth?”

Bonnel blanched at the hideousness of the suggestion.

“Good God, that must not happen!”

The President looked down at the hairy body that a few weeks before had been the keenest, most stalwart man in the whole force of the Planet Police secret agents.

“Sperling may have written out a report,” Carthew muttered. “Secret agents are not supposed to do so, but—”

HASTILY, the young secretary searched the clothing of the hairy creature. He uttered a little exclamation as he drew forth a paper.

It was covered with crude, almost illegible writing, like the scrawl of a child. It was headed, “To the President.” Carthew read it aloud:

Ship only one day from Earth, but feel myself changing so fast, I fear I won’t be able to talk or think clearly by then. Was stricken by the atavism on Jupiter, days ago. Tried to get back to Earth to report what I learned, before I became completely unhuman.

I’ve learned that the blight on Jupiter is being caused by a mysterious being called the Space Emperor. Don’t know whether he’s Earthman or a Jovian. How he causes this doom, I don’t know, but it is some power he uses secretly on Earthmen there. I felt nothing of it, until I noticed myself changing, becoming foggy-minded, brutish.

Can’t write much more now—getting hard to hold pen—haven’t dared to leave my cabin on this ship, I’ve changed so badly—mind getting foggier—wish I could have learned more—

The young secretary’s eyes had horror and pity in them as James Carthew read the last words.

“So Sperling failed to learn anything except that this horrible flight was being deliberately caused by some human agency!” he exclaimed. “Think of him huddling in his cabin all the way back to Earth, becoming more brutish each day, hoping to reach Earth while he was still human—”

“We’ve no time to think of Sperling now!” Carthew explained, his voice high and raw. “It’s the people out there on Jupiter, and on the other planets, we must think of now—the arresting of this terror!”

James Carthew was feeling the awful weight of his responsibility, in this moment. The nine planets from Mercury to Pluto had entrusted their welfare to his care. And now he felt the approach of a mysterious, dreadful peril, a dark and un-guessable horror spreading like subtle poison.

The first reports of the blight had come from Jupiter, weeks before. Out on that mightiest of planets, whose vast jungles and great oceans were still largely unexplored, there flourished a sizable Earth colony. Centering around the capital of Jovopolis were dozens of smaller towns of Earthmen, engaged in working mines, and timbering, and in great grain-growing projects.

From one of those colonial towns near Jovopolis had come the first incredible reports. Earthmen—changing into beasts! Earthmen inexplicably being transformed into ape-like animals, their bodies and minds becoming more brutish each day. A horrible retracing of the road of human evolution! The victims had become atavisms—biological throwbacks hurled down the ladder of evolution.

Carthew had hardly believed those first reports. But soon had come ample corroboration. Already hundreds of Earthmen had been stricken by the dreadful change. The colonists out there were becoming panicky.

Carthew had sent scientists, men skilled in planetary medicine, to fight the horrid plague. But they had been unable to stop the cases of atavism, or even learn their cause. And neither had the secret agents of the Planet Police been able to learn much. Sperling, ace agent of them all, had learned but little, despite his sacrifice.

“We’ve got to do something at once, to check this blight,” Carthew declared shakenly. “We know now, at least, that these atavism cases are being caused deliberately, by this being Sperling called the Space Emperor.”

“But if Sperling, our best agent, couldn’t succeed, who in the world can?” Bonnel cried.

JAMES CARTHEW went to the window and stepped out onto the little balcony. He looked up at the full moon that sailed in queenly splendor high above the soaring towers of nighted New York.

There was a look of desperation in the President’s aging, haunted face as he gazed up at the shining white face of the lonely satellite.

“There’s only one thing left to do,” he said purposefully. “I’m going to call Captain Future.”

The secretary stiffened.

“Captain Future? But the whole world will know this is a perilous emergency, if you call him!”

“This is a perilous emergency!” exclaimed his superior. “We’ve got to call him. Televise the meteorological rocket-patrol base at Spitzbergen. Order them to flash the magnesium flare signal from the North Pole.”

“Very well, sir,” acceded the secretary, and went to the televisor.

He came back a little later to the balcony, where James Carthew was gazing in anxiety toward the moon.

“The flare is being set off at the North Pole” he reported.

They waited, then, in tense silence. An hour passed—and another. The uranium clock showed it was past midnight.

Far out beyond New York’s towers, the moon was declining from the zenith. They could see the distant rocket-flash of liners taking off from the spaceport for far Venus or Saturn or Pluto.

“Why doesn’t Captain Future come?” North Bonnel burst out, unable to keep silent longer. “That ship of his can get from the moon to Earth in a few hours—he should be here by now.”

James Carthew’s gray head lifted.

“He will be here. He’s never yet failed to answer our call.”

“As a matter of fact, I’m here now, sir,” said a deep, laughing voice.

It came from the balcony outside the window. A big, redheaded young man had miraculously appeared there, as though by magic.

“Curt Newton—Captain Future!” cried the President eagerly.

CURT NEWTON was a tall, well-built young man. His unruly shock of red hair towered six feet four above the floor, and his wide lithe shoulders threatened to burst the jacket of his gray synthesilk zipper-suit. He wore a flat tungstite belt in which was holstered a queer-looking pistol, and on his left hand was a large, odd ring.

This big young man’s tanned, handsome face had lines of humor around the mouth, crinkles of laughter around the eyes. Yet behind the bantering humor in those gray eyes there lurked something deep and purposeful, some hidden, overpowering determination.

“Captain Future!” repeated James Carthew to this big young man. “But where’s your ship, the Comet?”

“Hanging onto the wall outside by its magnetic anchor,” answered Curt Newton cheerfully. “Here come my comrades now.”

A weird shape had just leaped onto the balcony. It was a manlike figure, but one whose body was rubbery, boneless-looking, blank-white in color. He wore a metal harness, and his long, slitted green unhuman eyes peered brightly out of an alien white face.

Following this rubbery android, or synthetic man, came another figure, equally as strange—a great metal robot who strode across the balcony on padded feet. He towered seven feet high. In his bulbous metal head gleamed a pair of photoelectric eyes.

The robot’s left hand carried the handle of a square transparent box. Inside it a living brain was housed. In the front of the case were the Brain’s two glittering glass lens-eyes. Even now they were moving on their flexible metal stalks to look at the President.

“You know my assistants,” Curt Newton said shortly. “Grag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright, the living Brain. We came from the moon full speed when I saw your signal. What’s wrong?”

“We’ve need of you, Captain Future—dire need.” James Carthew said haggardly. “You’ll have to leave for Jupiter, at once.”

“Jupiter?” The handsome young man’s brows drew together. “Has something popped out there?”

“A terror is growing out there!” the President cried. “A black horror that you must stop, immediately. Listen—”

Chapter II

Out of the Past

THE name of Captain Future, the supreme foe of all evil and evildoers, was known to every inhabitant of the Solar-System.

That tall, cheerful, red-haired young adventurer of the ready laugh and flying fists was the implacable Nemesis of all oppressors and exploiters of the System’s human and planetary races. Combining a gay audacity with an unswervable purposefulness and an unparalleled mastery of science, he had blazed a brilliant trail across the nine worlds in defense of the right.

He and his three unhuman comrades, the living Brain, the metal robot and the synthetic man, were the talk of the System. Everyone knew that the scientific wizards’ home was in some obscure crater on the desolate moon. People looked up at the lunar orb at night and felt safer because they knew that Captain Future was there, watching and ready. They knew that should any sinister catastrophe threaten the System, he would come forth to combat it.

But who was Captain Future? What had been the origin of his trio of unhuman comrades? And how had he come to achieve his super-scientific powers?

That was a story that only the President knew. And it was perhaps the strangest story in the history of the Solar System.

Twenty-five years before, a young Earth biologist named Roger Newton had dreamed a great dream. His dream was to create life—artificial, intelligent living creatures who would be able to think and work to serve humanity. He had already made great strides toward that goal, and felt on the verge of success.

But a certain unscrupulous politician with sinister ambitions had heard of Roger Newton’s potent discoveries. He had made several daring attempts to steal them. There was danger to humanity if those discoveries passed into such hands. So Newton decided to seek a safe refuge in which he could work secretly.

On a night in that June of 1990, the young biologist communicated his decision to his only intimates, his young wife Elaine, and his loyal co-worker, Simon Wright.

Restlessly pacing the big, crowded laboratory of their secluded Adirondack farm, his red hair disordered and his lean, sensitive young face and blue eyes worried, Roger Newton addressed them.

“Victor Corvo’s agents will find us here sooner or later,” he asserted. “Think of my discoveries in Corvo’s hands! We must leave Earth—go to a place where he’ll never find us.”

“But where can we go, Roger?” appealed Elaine Newton anxiously, her soft gray eyes fretful, her small hand grasping his sleeve.

“Yes, where can we go?” echoed Simon Wright in his metallic, unhuman voice. “To one of the colonized planets?”

“No, Corvo’s agents would be sure to find us in any of the planetary colonies, sooner or later,” Newton replied.

“Then where is this refuge you speak of, if it’s not on Earth or any of the planets?” demanded Simon Wright, his lenslike artificial eyes boring questionably into Newton’s face.

Simon Wright was not a man. He had once been a man. He had once been a famous, aging scientist whose body was racked by an incurable disease. To save his brilliant brain from death, Newton had acceded to the old man’s plea and had removed Wright’s living brain from his body and had encased it in a serum-case in which it could live indefinitely.

THE case stood now on a table beside Newton and his wife. It was a transparent metal box a foot square. Made of a secret alloy, it was insulated against shock, heat and cold, and contained a tiny battery that could operate its compact perfusion pump and serum purifier for a year.

Set in its sides were the microphones that were Simon Wright’s ears. In front was the resonator by which he spoke, and his artificial lens-eyes, mounted on little flexible metal stalks he could turn at will. In that box lived the greatest brain in scientific history.

“Where can we find refuge, if not on Earth or any of the planets?” Wright repeated in his rasping, metallic voice.

Newton went to a window and drew aside the curtain. Outside lay the peaceful, nighted hills, washed with silver by the effulgent rays of the full moon that was rising in glorious majesty.

The white disc of the great satellite, mottled by its dark mountain ranges and plains, shone starkly clear in the heavens. Newton pointed up to it, as girl and brain watched wondering.

“There is our refuge,” Roger Newton said. “Up there, on the moon.”

“On the moon?” cried Elaine Newton, her hand going to her throat. “Oh, no, Roger—it’s impossible!”

“Why impossible?” he countered. “A good interplanetary rocket can make the trip easily. We have enough money from my father’s estate, to buy such a rocket.”

“But the moon!” Elaine exclaimed, deep repulsion shadowing her eyes. “That barren, airless globe that no one ever visits! How could anyone live there?”

“We can live there quite easily, dear,” her young husband replied earnestly. “We shall take with us tools and equipment capable of excavating an underground home, with a glassite ceiling open to the sun and stars. Atomic energy will enable us to heat or cool it as we need, and to transmute rock into hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen for air and water. We can take sufficient concentrated food with us to last us for a lifetime.”

“I believe your plan is good, Roger,” said Simon Wright’s metallic voice slowly. “Corvo is not likely to think of looking for us on the moon. We will be able to work in peace, and I feel sure we’ll succeed there in creating a living being. Then we can return and give humanity a new race of artificial servants.”

Elaine smiled bravely.

“Very well, Roger,” she told her husband. “We’ll go there, and maybe we’ll be as happy on the moon as we have been here on Earth.”

“We?” echoed the young biologist astoundedly. “But you can’t go, Elaine. When I said ‘we’ I meant Simon and myself. You could not possibly live on that wild, lonely world.”

“Do you think I would let you go there without me?” she cried. “No, if you go, I’m going with you.”

“But our child—” he objected, a frown on his face.

“Our child can be born on the moon as well as on the Earth,” she declared. And as he hesitated, she added, “If you left me here, Victor Corvo would find me and force me to tell where you had gone.”

“That is true, Roger,” interjected the Brain’s cold, incisive voice. “We must take Elaine with us.”

“If we must, we must,” Newton said resignedly, his face deeply troubled. “But it’s a terrible place to take anyone you love—a terrible place for our baby to be born—”

Ten weeks later, Newton, Elaine and Simon Wright—man, woman and Brain—sailed secretly for the moon in a big rocket crammed with scientific equipment and supplies.

Upon the moon, beneath the surface of Tycho crater, they built their underground home. There a son was soon born to the man and woman—a red-haired baby boy they named Curtis.

And there in the laboratory of the lonely moon home, a little later, Newton and Simon Wright created their first artificial living creature—a great metal robot.

GRAG, as they named the robot, stood seven feet high, a massive, man-shaped metal figure with limbs of incredible strength. He had supersensitive photoelectric eyes and hearing, and a brain of metal neurons which gave him sufficient intelligence to speak and work, to think and to feel primitive emotions.

But though Grag the robot proved an utterly loyal, faithful servant, he was not of high enough mentality to satisfy Newton. The biologist saw that to create more manlike life he must create it of flesh, not of metal. After more weeks of work, they produced a second artificial creature, an android of synthetic flesh.

This synthetic man they named Otho. He was a rubbery, manlike creature whose dead-white synthetic flesh had been molded into human resemblance, but whose hairless white head and face, long, slitted green eyes, and wonderful quickness of physical and mental reactions, were quite unhuman. They soon found that Otho, the synthetic man, learned more quickly than had Grag, the robot.

“Otho’s training is complete,” Newton declared finally. His eyes shone with triumph as he continued, “Now we’ll go back to Earth and show what we’ve done. Otho will be the first of a whole race of androids that soon will be serving mankind.”

Elaine’s face lit with pure happiness.

“Back to Earth! But dare we go back, when Victor Corvo is there?”

“Corvo won’t dare bother us, when we return as supreme benefactors of humanity,” her husband said confidently.

He turned to the two unhuman beings.

“Grag,” he ordered, “you and Otho go out and remove the rock camouflage from the rocket, so that we can begin to make it ready for the return trip.”

When the huge metal robot and the rubbery android had gone out through the airlock chamber to the lunar surface, Elaine Newton brought her infant son into the big laboratory.

She pointed up through the glassite ceiling which framed a great circle of starry space. There amid the stars bulked the huge, cloudy blue sphere of Earth, half in shadow.

“See, Curtis,” she told the baby happily. “That is where’ we’re going—back to the Earth you’ve never seen.”

Little Curtis Newton looked up with wise gray baby eyes at the great sphere and stretched his chubby arms.

Newton heard the airlock door slam. He turned surprisedly. “Grag and Otho—are you back so soon?” the voice of Simon Wright rasped with sudden alarm.

“That’s not Grag and Otho—I know their steps,” the living Brain cried. “It’s men!”

Elaine uttered a cry, and Newton paled. Four men in space suits, carrying long flare-pistols, stood in the doorway.

The face of their leader was revealed as they took off their helmets. It was a hawklike face, darkly handsome.

“Victor Corvo!” Newton cried appalledly, recognizing the ruthless man who had coveted his scientific discoveries.

“Yes, Newton, we meet again,” said Corvo exultantly. “You thought I’d never find you here, but I finally tracked you down!”

Newton read death in the man’s triumphant black eyes.

And the sight of his wife’s bloodless face and horrified eyes galvanized the young biologist into desperate action.

He sprang toward a locker in the corner in which his own flare-guns were stored. But he never reached it. Jets of fire from the pistols of Corvo’s men hit him in mid-air and tumbled him into a scorched, lifeless heap.

Elaine Newton screamed, and thrust her baby onto a table, out of range of the guns. Then she leaped to the side of her husband.

“Elaine, look out!” cried the Brain.

She did not turn. The flare from Corvo’s pistol struck her side, and she toppled to the floor beside her husband.

Little Curtis Newton, upon the table, began to whimper. Corvo ignored him and strode past the two still forms toward the square metal serum-case that held Simon Wright’s living brain. He looked triumphantly into the glittering lens-eyes.

“Now to finish you, Wright,” he laughed, “and then all the powers gathered in this laboratory belong to me.”

“Corvo, you are a dead man now,” answered the Brain in cold, metallic accents. “Vengeance is coming—I hear it entering now—terrible vengeance—”

“Don’t try to threaten me, you miserable bodiless brain!” Corvo jeered. “I’ll soon silence you—”

Two figures burst into the laboratory at that moment. Corvo and his men spun, appalled, unable to believe their eyes as they stared at the two incredible shapes who had entered.

The huge metal robot and the rubbery android! They stood, their unhuman eyes surveying the scene of death.

“Grag! Otho! Kill!” screamed the Brain’s metallic voice. “They have slain your master. Kill them! Kill them!”

With a booming roar of rage from the robot, a fierce, hissing cry from the synthetic man, the two leaped forward.

In less than a minute, Corvo and his three men lay horribly dead, their skulls smashed to pulp by the robot’s metal fists, their necks broken by the android’s rubbery arms. Then Grag and Otho stood still, gazing around with blazing eyes.

“Set me down by your master and mistress!” ordered Simon Wright urgently. “They may still live!”

The robot put the Brain down by the two scorched forms. Wright’s lens-eyes rapidly surveyed the bodies.

“Newton is dead, but Elaine is not dead yet,” the Brain declared. “Lift her, Grag!”

With ponderous metal arms, the huge robot raised the dying girl to a sitting position. In a moment she opened her eyes. Wide, dark and filled with shadows, they looked at the Brain and robot and android.

“My—baby,” she whispered. “Bring me Curtis.”

It was Otho who sprang to obey. The android gently set the whimpering infant down beside her. The dying girl looked down at it tenderly, heartbreaking emotion in her fading eyes.