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TREACHERY IN OUTER SPACE
THE TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET
by: Carey Rockwell
Technical Advisor: Willy Ley
Lot’s Cave Edition at:
A TOM CORBETT Space Cadet Adventure
TREACHERY IN OUTER SPACE
By CAREY ROCKWELL
WILLY LEY Technical Adviser
LOUIS GLANZMAN Illustrator
First Edition Published by:
GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers New York
COPYRIGHT, 1954, BY
U.S. copyright on this publication NOT renewed,
Under Rule 6 Clearance; Now in Public Domain
This Euromark Edition Published by:
Lot’s Cave, Inc.
Treachery In Outer Space, © 2015, Euromark
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
“Great galaxy! There must be a hundred ships!”
The giant Venusian held up the oil-smeared test tube
“Yeow!” bawled Astro. “Thanks, sir. Thanks a million!”
Tom got down on his knees and felt around for an opening
“Look!” Strong cried. “It's Brett's ship!”
It would be a rough ride, but at least he was hidden
Slowly and cautiously he began climbing
“Proceed to quadrant four and seize the Space Knight!
TREACHERY IN OUTER SPACE
“All right, you blasted Earthworms! Stand to!”
Three frightened cadet candidates for Space Academy stiffened their backs and stood at rigid attention as Astro faced them, a furious scowl on his rugged features. Behind him, Tom Corbett and Roger Manning lounged on the dormitory bunks, watching their unit mate blast the freshman cadets and trying to keep from laughing. It wasn't long ago that they had gone through the terrifying experience of being hazed by stern upperclassmen and they knew how the three pink-cheeked boys in front of them felt.
“So,” bawled Astro, “you want to blast off, do you?”
Neither of the three boys answered.
“Speak when you're spoken to, Mister!” snapped Roger at the boy in the middle.
“Answer the question!” barked Tom, finding it difficult to maintain his role of stern disciplinarian.
“Y-y-yes, sir,” finally came a mumbled reply.
“What's your name? And don't say 'sir' to me!” roared Astro.
“Coglin, sir,” gulped the boy.
“Don't say 'SIR'!”
“Yes, sir—er—I mean, O.K.,” stuttered Coglin.
“And don't say O.K., either,” Roger chimed in.
“Yes... all right... fine.” The boy's face was flushed with desperation.
Astro stepped forward, his chin jutting out. “For your information,” he bawled, “the correct manner of address is 'Very well.'“
“Very well,” stammered Coglin.
Astro shook his head and turned back to Tom and Roger. “Have you ever seen a greater display of audacity and sheer gall?” he demanded. “The nerve of these three infants assuming that they could ever become Space Cadets!”
Tom and Roger laughed, not at the three Earthworms, but at Astro's sudden eloquence. The giant Venusian cadet usually limited his comments to a gruff Yes or No, or at most, a garbled sentence full of a veteran spaceman's oaths. Then, resuming his stern expression, Roger faced the three boys.
“Sound off! Quick!” he demanded.
“You call those names?” Roger snorted incredulously. “Which of you ground crawlers is radar officer?”
“I am, very well,” replied Spears.
The blond-haired cadet stared at him in amazement.
“Very well, what?” he demanded.
“You said that's the correct form of address,” replied Spears doggedly.
Roger turned to Tom. “Well, thump my rockets,” he exclaimed, “I didn't know they made them that dumb anymore!”
“Who is the command cadet?” asked Tom, suppressing a grin.
“I am, very well,” replied Duke.
“How fast is fast?”
“Fast is as fast must be, without being either supersonic or turgid. Fast is necessarily that amount of speed that will not be the most nor the least, yet will be sufficient unto the demands of fast...” Duke quoted directly from the Earthworm Manual, a book that was not prescribed learning in the Academy, but woe unto the Earthworm who did not know it by heart when questioned by a cadet upperclassman.
“What is a blip on a radar, Mister?” demanded Roger of Spears.
“A blip is never a slip. It is constant with the eye of the beholder, and constant with the constant that is always—” Spears faltered, his face flushing with embarrassment.
“Always what?” hounded Roger.
“I—I don't know,” stammered the fledgling helplessly.
“You don't know?” yelled Roger. He looked at Tom and Astro, shaking his head. “He doesn't know.” The two cadets frowned at the quivering boy and Roger faced him again. “For your information, Mr. Spears,” he said at his sarcastic best, “there are five words remaining in that sentence. And for each word, you will spend one hour cleaning this room. Is that clear?”
Spears could only nod his head.
“And for your further information,” continued Roger, “the remaining words are 'constantly alert to constant dangers'! Does that help you, Mister?”
“Yes, Cadet Manning,” gulped Spears. “You are very kind to give me this information. And it will be a great honor to clean your room.”
Astro stepped forward to take his turn. He towered over the remaining cadet candidate and glowered at the thoroughly frightened boy. “So,” he roared, “I guess this means you're going to handle the power deck in one of our space buckets, eh?”
“Yes, very well,” came the quavering, high-pitched reply.
“Give me the correction of thrust when you are underway in a forward motion and you receive orders from the control deck for immediate reversal.”
Coglin closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and the words poured from his lips. “To go forward is to overtake space, and to go sternward is to retake space already overtaken. To correct thrust, I would figure in the beginning of my flight how much space I intended to take and how much I would retake, and since overtake and retake are both additional quotients that have not been divided, I will add them together and arrive at a correction.” The cadet candidate stopped abruptly, gasping for breath.
Secretly disappointed at the accuracy of the reply, Astro grunted and turned to Tom and Roger. “Any questions before they blast off on their solo hop?” he growled.
The two cadets shook their heads and Roger quickly lined three chairs in a row. Tom addressed the fright ened boys solemnly. “This is your spaceship. The first chair is the command deck; second, radar deck; third, power deck. Take your stations and stand by to blast off.”
Spears, Coglin, and Duke jumped into the chairs and Tom walked around them eying them coldly. “Now, Misters,” he said, “you are to blast off, make a complete circle of the Earth, and return to the Academy spaceport for a touchdown. Is that clearly understood?”
“All clear,” chorused the boys.
“Stand by to raise ship!” bawled Tom.
“Power deck, check in!” snapped Duke from the first chair. “Radar deck, check in!”
“Just one moment, Mister,” interrupted Roger. “When you issue an order over the intercom, I want to see you pick up that mike. I want to see all the motions. It's up to you, Misters, to make us believe that you are blasting off!”
“Very well,” replied Duke with a nervous glance back at his unit mates.
“Carry on!” roared Tom.
Then, as Tom, Roger, and Astro sprawled on their bunks, grinning openly, the three Earthworm cadets began their simulated flight through space. Going through the movements of operating the complicated equipment of a spaceship, they pushed, pulled, jerked, snapped on imaginary switches, read unseen meters and gauges, and slammed around in their chairs to simulate acceleration reaction. The three cadets of the Polaris unit could no longer restrain themselves and broke into loud laughter at the antics of the aspirants. Finally, when they had landed their imaginary ship again, the Earthworms were pounded on the back heartily.
“Welcome to Space Academy!” said Tom with a grin. “That was as smooth a ride as I've ever had.”
“Yeah,” agreed Astro, pumping Coglin's hand. “You handled those reactors and atomic motors like a regular old space buster!”
“And that was real fine astrogation, Spears,” Roger chimed in. “Why, you laid out such a smooth course, you never left the ground!”
The three Earthworms relaxed, and while Astro brewed hot cups of tea with synthetic pellets and water from the shower, Tom and Roger told them about the traditions and customs of the Academy.
Tom began by telling them how important it was for each crew member to be able to depend on his unit mate. “You see,” he said, “in space there isn't much time for individual heroics. Too many things can happen too fast for it to be a one-man operation.”
“I'll say,” piped up Roger. “A couple of times I've been on the radar deck and seen a hunk of space junk coming down on us fast. So instead of following book procedure, relaying the dope to Tom on the control deck to pass it on to Astro, I'd just sing out to Astro direct on the intercom, 'Give me an upshot on the ecliptic!' or 'Give me a starboard shot!' and Astro would come through because he knows I always know what I'm talking about.”
“Not always, hot-shot!” growled Astro. “How about the time we went out to Tara and snatched that hot copper asteroid out of Alpha Centauri's mouth? You said the time on that reactor blast should be set at—”
“Is that so?” snapped Roger. “Listen, you big overgrown hunk of Venusian space gas—” Roger got no further. Astro grabbed him by the shirt front, held him at arm's length, and began tickling him in the ribs. The three freshmen cadets backed out of the way, glancing fearfully at the giant Venusian. Astro's strength was awesome when seen for the first time.
“Lemme go, you blasted space ape!” bellowed Roger, between fits of laughter.
“Say uncle, Manning!” roared Astro. “Promise you won't call me names again, or by the stars, I'll tickle you until you shake yourself apart!”
“All right—un-un-uncle!” managed Roger.
Astro dropped his unit mate on a bunk like a rag doll and turned back to Tom with a shrug of his shoulders. “He'll never learn, will he?”
Tom grinned at Duke. “Astro's like a big overgrown puppy.”
“Someone ought to put him on a leash,” growled Roger, crawling out of the bunk and rubbing his ribs. “Blast it, Astro, the next time you want to show off, go play with an elephant and leave me alone.”
Astro ignored him, turning to Coglin. “As much as I gas Roger,” the giant cadet said seriously, “I'd rather ride a thrust bucket with him on the radar deck than Commander Walters. He's the best.”
Tom smiled. “That's what I mean, Duke. Astro believes in Roger, and Roger believes in Astro. I believe in them, and they in me. We've got to, or we wouldn't last long out there in space.”
The three fledgling spacemen were silent, watching and listening with awe and envy as the Polaris crew continued their indoctrination. They considered themselves lucky to have been drawn by these famous cadets for their hazing. The names of Corbett, Manning, and Astro were becoming synonymous with great adventure in space. But, with all their hairbreadth escapes, the Polaris unit was still just learning its job. The boys were still working off demerits, arguing with instructors on theory, listening to endless study spools, learning the latest advanced methods of astrogation, communication, and reactor-unit operation. They were working toward the day when they would discard the vivid blue uniforms of the Space Cadet Corps and don the magnificent black and gold of the Solar Guard.
Tom was aware of the eager expressions on the faces of the Earthworms and he smiled to himself. It was not a smile of smugness or conceit, but rather of honest satisfaction. More than once he had shaken his head in wonder at being a Space Cadet. The odds against it were enormous. Each year thousands of boys from all the major planets and the occupied satellites competed for entrance to the famed Academy and pitifully few were accepted. And he was happy at having two unit mates like Roger Manning and Astro to depend on when he was out in space, commanding one of the finest ships ever built, the powerful rocket cruiser Polaris.
As Roger and Astro continued to talk to the fledglings, Tom sipped his tea and thought of his own first days at the Academy. He remembered his fear and insecurity, and how hard he had fought to make what was then Unit 42-D a success, the unit that eventually became the Polaris unit. And how each assignment had brought him closer to his dream of becoming an officer in the Solar Guard.
He got up and walked to the window and looked out across the Academy campus, over the green lawns and white buildings connected by the rolling slidewalks, to the gleaming crystal Tower, the symbol of man's conquest of space. And beyond the Tower building, Tom saw a spaceship blasting off from the spaceport, her rockets bucking hard against thin air as she clawed her way spaceward. When it disappeared from sight, he followed it with his mind's eye and it became the Polaris, his ship! He and Roger and Astro were blasting through the cold black void, their own personal domain!
A loud burst of laughter behind him suddenly brought Tom back to Earth. He smiled to himself and shook his head, as though reluctant to leave his dream world. He glanced out of the window again, this time down at the quadrangle, and far below he recognized the squat, muscular figure of Warrant Officer Mike McKenny drilling another group of newly arrived cadet candidates. Tom saw the slidewalks begin to fill with boys and men in varicolored uniforms, all released from duty as the day drew to a close. Tonight, Astro, Roger, and he would go to see the latest stereo, and tomorrow they would blast off in the Polaris for the weekly checkout of her equipment. He turned back to Spears, Coglin, and Duke. Roger was just finishing the story of their latest adventure (described in The Revolt on Venus).
“The best part, of course, was the actual hunting of the tyrannosaurus,” said Astro.
“A tyrannosaurus?” exploded Spears, the youngest and most impressionable of the three Earthworms. “You actually hunted for a dinosaur?”
Astro grinned. “That's right. They're extinct here on Earth, but on Venus we catch 'em and make pets out of the baby ones.”
“We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble, though,” commented Roger mockingly. “We have several officers here that would have served just as well. Major 'Blast-off' Connel, for instance, the toughest, meanest old son of a hot rocket you have ever seen!”
The six boys nearly broke their backs jumping to attention. A squat, muscular figure, wearing the black-and-gold uniform of a Solar Guard, strode heavily into their line of vision. Roger gulped as Major Connel stopped in front of him. “Still gassing, eh, Manning?” he roared.
“'Evening, Major, sir,” mumbled Roger, his face beet red. “We—er—ah—were just telling this Earthworm unit about the Academy, sir. Some of its pitfalls.”
“Some of the cadets are going to fall into a pit if they don't learn to keep their mouths shut!” snapped Connel. He glared at Tom, Astro, and Roger, then wheeled sharply to face the three quaking freshmen cadets. “You listen to anything they tell you and you'll wind up with a book full of demerits! What in blazes are you doing here, anyway? You're supposed to be at physical exams right this minute!”
The three boys began to shake visibly, not knowing whether to break ranks and run or wait until ordered.
“Get out of here!” Connel roared. “You've got thirty seconds to make it. And if you don't make it, you'll go down on my bad-rocket list!”
Almost in one motion, the three cadet candidates saluted and charged through the door. When they had gone, Connel turned to the Polaris cadets who were still at attention. “At ease!” he roared and then grinned.
The boys came to rest and smiled back at him tentatively. They never knew what to expect from Connel. “Well, did you put them through their paces?” he asked as he jerked his thumb toward the door.
“Yes, sir!” said Tom.
“Did they know their manual? Or give you any lip when you started giving them hot rockets?” Connel referred to the hazing that was allowed by the Academy, only as another of the multitude of tests given to cadets. Cadet candidates might possibly hide dangerous flaws from Academy officials but never from boys near their own ages.
“Major,” said Astro, “those fellows came close to blasting off right here in these chairs. They really thought they were out in space!”
“Fine!” said Connel. “Glad to hear it. I've singled them out as my personal unit for instruction.”
“Poor fellows,” muttered Roger under his breath.
“What was that, Manning?” bellowed Connel.
“I said lucky fellows, sir,” replied Roger innocently.
Connel glared at him. “I'll bet my last rocket that's what you said, Manning.”
Connel turned to the door and then spun around quickly to catch Roger grinning at Astro.
“'Poor fellows,' wasn't it?” said Connel with a grin. Roger reddened and his unit mates laughed. “Oh, yes,” continued Connel, “I almost forgot. Report to Commander Walters on the double. You're getting special assignments. I recommended you for this job, so see that you behave yourselves. Especially you, Manning.”
He turned and disappeared through the doorway, leaving the three cadets staring at each other.
“Wowie!” yelled Astro. “And I thought we were going to get chewed up for keeping those Earthworms too long!”
“Same here,” said Roger.
“Wonder what the assignment is?” said Tom, grabbing his tunic and racing for the door. Neither Roger nor Astro answered as they followed on his heels. When they reached the slidestairs, a moving belt of plastic that spiraled upward to an overhead slidewalk bridge connecting the dormitory to the Tower of Galileo, Tom's eyes were bright and shiny. “Whatever it is,” he said, “if Major Connel suggested us for it, you can bet your last reactor it'll be a rocket buster.”
As the boys stepped on the slidestairs that would take them to Commander Walters' office, each of them was very much aware that this was the first step to a new adventure in space. And though the three realized that they could expect danger, the special assignment meant that they were going to hit the high, wide, and deep again. And that was all they asked of life. To be in space, a spaceman's only real home!
Commander Walters, the commandant of Space Academy, stood behind his desk and slammed his fist down sharply on its plastic top. “I must insist that you control your tempers and refrain from these repeated outbursts,” he growled.
The angry voices that had filled the room began to subside, but Walters did not continue his address. He stood, arms folded across his chest, glaring at the assembled group of men until, one by one, they stopped talking and shifted nervously in their chairs. When the room was finally still, the commander glanced significantly at Captain Steve Strong, standing at the side of the desk, smiled grimly, and then resumed in a calm, conversational tone of voice.
“I am quite aware that we have departed from standard operational procedure in this case,” he said slowly. “Heretofore, the Solar Guard has always granted interplanetary shipping contracts to private companies on the basis of sealed bids, the most reasonable bid winning the job. However, for the job of hauling Titan crystal to Earth, we have found that method unsatisfactory. Therefore, we have devised this new plan to select the right company. And let me repeat”—Walters leaned forward over his desk and spoke in a firm, decisive voice—”this decision was reached in a special executive session of the Council of the Solar Alliance last night.”
A short, wiry man suddenly rose from his chair in the front row, his face clearly showing his displeasure. “All right, get on with it, Walters!” he snapped, deliberately omitting the courtesy of addressing the commander by his title. “Don't waste our time with that 'official' hogwash. It might work on your cadets and your tin soldiers, but not on us!”
There was a murmur of agreement from the assembled group of men. Present were some of the wealthiest and most powerful shipping magnates in the entire Solar Alliance—men who controlled vast fleets of commercial spaceships and whose actions and decisions carried a great deal of weight. Each hoped to win the Solar Guard contract to transport Titan crystal from the mines on the tiny satellite back to Earth. Combining steellike strength and durability with its great natural beauty, the crystal was replacing metal in all construction work and the demand was enormous. The shipping company that got the job would have a guaranteed income for years to come, and each of the men present was fighting with every weapon at his command to win the contract.
Heartened by the reaction of the men around him, the speaker pressed his advantage. “We've all hauled cargo for the Solar Guard before, and the sealed-bid system was perfectly satisfactory then!” he shouted. “Why isn't it satisfactory now? What's all this nonsense about a space race?”
Again, the murmur filled the room and the men glared accusingly at Walters. But the commander refused to knuckle down to any show of arrogance. He fixed a cold, stony eye on the short man. “Mr. Brett,” he snapped in a biting voice, “you have been invited to this meeting as a guest, not by any right you think you have as the owner of a shipping company. A guest, I said, and I ask that you conduct yourself with that social obligation in mind!”
Before Brett could reply, Walters turned away from him and addressed the others calmly. “Despite Mr. Brett's outburst, his question is a good one. And the answer is quite simple. The bids submitted by your companies were not satisfactory in this case because we believe that they were made in bad faith!”
For once, there was silence in the room as the men stared at Walters in shocked disbelief. “There are fourteen shipping companies represented in this room, some of them the most respected in the Solar Alliance,” he continued, his voice edged with knifelike sarcasm. “I cannot find it in my conscience to accuse all of you of complicity in this affair, but nevertheless we are faced with one of the most startling coincidences I have ever seen.”
Walters paused and looked around the room, measuring the effect of his words. Satisfied, he went on grimly, “There isn't enough difference between the bids of each of you, not five credits' worth of difference, to award the contract to any single company!”
The men in the room gasped in amazement.
“The bids were exactly alike. The only differences we found were in operational procedure. But the cost to the Solar Guard amounted to, in the end, exactly the same thing from each of you! The inference is clear, I believe,” he added mockingly. “Someone stole the minimum specifications and circulated them among you.”
In the shocked quiet that followed Walters' statement, no one noticed Tom, Roger, and Astro slip into the room. They finally caught the eye of Captain Strong, who acknowledged their presence with a slight nod, as they found seats in the rear of the room.
“Commander,” a voice spoke up from the middle of the group, “may I make a statement?”
“Certainly, Mr. Barnard,” agreed Walters, and stepped back from his desk as a tall, slender man in his late thirties rose to address the men around him. The three Space Cadets stared at him with interest. They had heard of Kit Barnard. A former Solar Guard officer, he had resigned from the great military organization to go into private space-freight business. Though a newcomer, with only a small outfit, he was well liked and respected by every man in the room. And everyone present knew that when he spoke, he would have something important to say, or at least advance a point that should be brought to light.
“I have no doubt,” said Barnard in a slow, positive manner, “that the decision to substitute a space race between us as a means of awarding the contract was well considered by the Solar Council.” He turned and shot Brett a flinty look. “And under the circumstances, I, for one, accept their decision.” He sat down abruptly.
There were cries of: “Hear! Hear!” “Righto!” and “Very good!”
“No!” shouted Brett, leaping to his feet. “By the craters of Luna, it isn't right! I demand to know exactly who submitted the lowest bid!”
Walters sighed and shuffled through several papers on his desk. “You are within your rights, Mr. Brett,” he said, eying the man speculatively. “It was you.”
“Then why in blue blazes didn't I get the contract?” screamed Brett.
“For several reasons,” replied Walters. “Your contract offered us the lowest bid in terms of money, but specified very slow schedules. On the other hand, Universal Spaceways Limited planned faster schedules, but at a higher cost. Kit Barnard outbid both of you in money and schedules, but he has only two ships, and we were doubtful of his ability to complete the contract should one of his ships crack up. The other companies offered, more or less, the same conditions. So you can understand our decision now, Mr. Brett.” Walters paused and glared at the man. “The Solar Council sat in a continuous forty-eight-hour session and considered everyone. The space race was finally decided on, and voted for by every member. Schedules were the most vital point under consideration. But other points could not be ignored, and these could only be determined by actual performance. Now, does that answer all your questions, Mr. Brett?”
“No, it doesn't!” yelled Brett.
“Oh, sit down, Brett!” shouted a voice from the back of the room.
“Yes! Sit down and shut up!” called another. “We're in this too, you know!”
Brett turned on them angrily, but finally sat down, scowling.
In the rear of the room Tom nudged Roger. “Boy! The commander sure knows how to lay it on the line when he wants to, doesn't he?”
“I'll say!” replied Roger. “That guy Brett better watch out. Both the commander and Captain Strong look as if they're ready to pitch him out on his ear.”