Wreckers of the Star Patrol and Other Tales - Malcolm Jameson - ebook

Wreckers of the Star Patrol and Other Tales ebook

Malcolm Jameson

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Malcolm Jameson was an American Golden Age science fiction author who began writing only seven years before his death. Drawing from his experiences of navy and warfare he gave a personal touch to all of his stories. He is now chiefly remembered for his Captain Bullard stories which chronicles the journey of a young officer into a fleet admiral of space ship and to most critics seem like a precursor of the modern day space exploration series like Star Trek. „Wreckers of the Star Patrol” gathers together four classic science fiction novelettes that have not appeared in print anywhere for almost a half century. It includes: „Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, „Tricky Tonnage”, „Children of the ’Betsy B’”. Fans of Jameson’s Bullard tales will love the short novel of space adventure, „Wreckers of the Star Patrol”.

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Contents

Venus—World Of Slavery!

Promotion To—Sabotage!

Cold-World Conquest

Fugitive From The Slave-World

Two Must Die!

CHAPTER I

VENUS–WORLD OF SLAVERY!

“Why should I hire you?” bellowed Captain Fennery, bunching his shaggy eyebrows into a heavy scowl. “We want no namby-pamby sissies in the Hyperion!” Bob Hartwell merely flushed and stood a little straighter. If his need had not been so great, his answer to that would have been a straight right to the jaw. Moreover, he had just told the man why he was there–of his having been in command of the neat packet, Mary Sue, of the Venus-Tellurian Line, and how that company had blown up and left him stranded on Venus.

But he restrained himself. Distasteful as working for Stellar Transport was, it was preferable to remaining in Venusport, broke and on the beach. An epidemic of paludal fever was sweeping the planet, and the crimps who supplied the swamp plantations with cheap labor were taking a heavy nightly toll. He must get off Venus at any cost.

There was an unexpected diversion, The Hyperion’s second mate, a cadaverous individual of sour and spiteful mien, chose the moment to pluck his skipper’s sleeve. Then he leaned over and whispered slyly in his ear. The captain shrugged his shoulders, but the mate kept on talking, smiling crookedly as he did. Presently Fennery lifted his eyes and fixed them on the young man before him with some glint of growing interest.

“Umph, may be so,” he grunted, pushing the mate away. “I’ll think on the matter.” Then, regarding Hartwell with a curiously disturbing air of hard appraisal, he said to him, “Come back tomorrow with your duds and papers. I may be able to use you as a first after all.”

“Thanks,” said Hartwell briefly, and strode out of the ship.

The Stellar outfit had a bad reputation, but it was his only means of escaping the plague or slavery. He would gladly have shipped as quartermaster –or even an ALB–to get to another planet. To go as first mate was something he had not had the optimism to hope for.

So he walked with a lighter heart away from the rusty and battered old tub that lay in her launching skids, and crossed the saggy sky port to the portmaster’s office where he had left his master’s certificate and his dunnage.

“You’re crazy–stark, raving crazy,” snorted that official, a grizzled veteran of the spaceways whom Hartwell had known for a long time. “The Stellar is a gyp gang and always will be. You’d better chance the fever and the swamp crimps and wait for something safer. I never knew ‘em to hire a decent man except to use him as a goat. You may come out of it with your life, but you can bet your last button that you won’t come out of it with your reputation.”

“I can take care of myself,” said Bob Hartwell a little stiffly. He knew that every word his old friend had said was gospel, but then...

“Have you looked over that Hyperion?” stormed the portmaster. “She’s hung together with paper clips, sealing wax and baling wire! The underwriters’ inspector just certified her for the voyage to Mars, but I’m thinking he’s the richer man today on that account–not that his employers know it.”

“I’ve looked at her,” said Hartwell, still defensive. “Sure, she’s no yacht. But if she stays together long enough for me to get to Mars, that’s good enough for me.’

“But the chow, man!” exploded the other. “It’s condemned Patrol stores. Even the officers have to pick the weevils out. And speaking of officers, that Fennery and his mate Quorquel are a disgrace to the skylanes. Fennery is a bulldozing old sundowner and Quorquel’s a slimy, conniving trickster. The only officer on the tub worth a tinker’s damn is the first–hey! Didn’t you say you were going as first? They’ve got a first mate!”

“I dunno,” replied Hartwell, uncertainly. “All he said was ‘maybe’.”

“Watch it, son,” was the portmaster’s last warning. Then he shut up and put his endorsement on Hartwell’s papers. Fools came and fools went. If a man ignored good advice, there was nothing an oldtimer could do.

When Bob Hartwell reached the Hyperion’s berth the next day, after a night of hectic dreams, he noted that her tubes were hot and that her cargo ports were shut and sealed. The ground crew were getting clear of the searing blasts to come, but before the entry port stood Captain Fennery and beside him the portmaster with a sheaf of papers.

“Glad to see you, Hartwell,” said Captain Fennery with surprising cordiality. “We’re being withheld clearance for the lack of a first mate. Our Mr. Owsley indiscreetly got into a brawl with some natives in a tavern last night. The gendarmes picked him up this morning with a cut throat. Will you sign the articles quickly, please, so this gentleman will let us clear?”

The shocking news of the demise of his predecessor gave Hartwell pause, for it was confirmation of the gloomy predictions made the day before by the friendly portmaster. It matched the foreboding dreams that had kept him tossing throughout the hot, dank night. The most ominous aspect of it was that Fennery himself–perhaps Quorquel–had foreknowledge of it. Or else what did, “Come back tomorrow–may need a first mean otherwise?”

Had Owsley’s death been arranged?

But Hartwell was reluctant to back out now. He had scoffed away good advice and disregarded his own better judgment. It was also not his habit to back out of commitments. So he lost but a moment in darkling consideration, then reached for the articles and signed.

A miserable specimen of the dock-rats that the Stellar Transport hired for crews was already carrying his belongings on board, and the klaxons for the take-off were screaming. He hurriedly shook the portmaster’s hand, then ran into the entry port.

Once the ship was up and away, and the fleecy ball that was Venus began fading to a small bright disk astern, his misgivings began to leave him. Captain Fennery, though gruff and taciturn, made no attempt to ride him, and the odious Quorquel took out his quite obvious personal dislike in half-hidden, taunting sneers. The only other officer was the engineer– one Larsen–who kept surlily to himself, as if making the best of a dirty job that could not be evaded, wanting neither blame nor sympathy. As for the crew, Hartwell ignored them–they were the scum of the skyports of a score of planetoids. He did pick up the trick of accompanying his orders with a slug to the jaw or a pointed thrust of a booted foot; that was the way the sullen slaves of Stellar expected to be handled.

The tubes of the Hyperion were worn. At intervals one of the super-chargers would choice up and die, requiring cleaning out and repriming, but the old tub plodded on. He was amazed to see the ancient Mark I geodesic integrator still in use, but on trying it found its clumsy machinery workable and amazingly accurate. That uncouth sky-dog Fennery was a good astragator, too, he learned, as he checked the trajectory when shiny blue Tellus was abeam. They would reach Mars, all right, with their cheap freight load of Venusian teak and kegs of Attar of Loridol. And should they not, there was a well- equipped lifeboat with places for all the officers and men stowed in a blister-like compartment on the roof plate.

The Hyperion was not so hard to take.

At that, Bob Hartwell did not like the ship or anyone in her. He had already made up his mind to jump her as soon as cargo was discharged. Surely Fennery would not object, for in the dives of Ares City he could find scores of jobless mates more congenial to his ship’s way of life. But object or not, his newest officer’s mind was made up. Despite his frequent self-assurances to the contrary, he could not permanently down the presentment that something sinister was in the brewing.

Hartwell’s mind was made up–yes.

But the plans of men do not always come to fruition; the Fates take a hand.

Thirty hours before they were due to land on Mars, Captain Fennery came bursting into his room, glowing with pleasure. He had an ethergram in his hand. Hartwell was off watch, since it was he who would have to dock her, but he sat up to hear the news. It was good news for him as well as Fennery. Stellar Transport was dropping him from its service–there would be no trouble about it after all!

“It’s this way,” explained the captain, showing extraordinary excitement for a man so blunt and cynical. “The company has decided this ship is not worth refitting, so they are disposing of her. They have their eye on one now lying at Mars and mean to buy it if my report of her condition is satisfactory. I’m to have command of her and I intend to take Quorquel and this crew with me as a unit. I’m sorry to have to leave you out, but the higher-ups have already promised the new first’s job to one of their old hands. But never fear–I’ll see that you have a berth in due time.”

Hartwell could only blink. Had Stellar’s vile reputation all this time been nothing but rumor? And Fennery’s? Why, he couldn’t have planned better himself!

The Hyperion was going to the junkpile, where she belonged– would probably be towed to one of the Scrappo asteroids where derelicts and other tough old bulks were dumped. And he was getting put out of the company with a commendation instead of the usual kick and curse. He grinned as he thought of the letter he was going to write that portmaster on Venus.

But the skipper hadn’t finished with his news.

“I’ve got to keep you on the rolls for a week or so, though,” Fennery was saying. “They want me to inspect that new ship, but I’ve got too much else to do. You know ships, so I’m sending you. She’s lying at Moloch–that’s about two hundred miles from Ares, in the Western Desert. You’ll have to go by camel train, as there is a strike on among the ‘coptor pilots, but you can telegraph back what you think. By the time you get back I’ll have disposed of this ship and cargo and have a berth waiting for you.”

“Thanks,” said Bob Hartwell, wondering if miracles would ever cease.

The captain’s apparent personal interest and the line’s generosity were so out of keeping with the standard practice of even the well-run lines, that he could not help a twinge of suspicion as to what it was all about. It was strange that the Stellar people would buy, sight unseen, an old ship on the say-so of a one-voyage mate. It was stranger that a thug like Fennery would lift a hand to help any man.

And what of Quorquel, always flitting about in the background with his contemptuous sneer and crooked smile?

But try as he might, Hartwell could not dope out how they could hook him. So, once on Mars, he made the hard overland journey to Moloch and went over the Wanderer carefully. She was sound and well found. He reported so, taking great care to include her minor defects. She was far from new, but she would be a vast improvement over the sluggish Hyperion. Thus, he reported her, and recommended her purchase. Then he took the windy, sandy trail back to Ares.

It was at the skyport that the utmost in miracles occurred. Once more he approached the Hyperion as she lay in a launching cradle, and again her tubes glowed and smoke curled idly from them. Again her cargo-ports were closed and sealed for a voyage, and again Captain Fennery stood anxiously at her entry port alongside the local portmaster with clearance papers in his hand. Obviously she was waiting for some final matter to be cleared up and then she would soar. Then he quickened his pace. All his belongings but the clothes he wore were aboard!

“Figured you’d arrive about now,” drawled Fennery, sticking out the glad hand that Hartwell heartily distrusted, “so everything’s ready.”

“What do you mean, ready?” Hartwell asked, puzzled. He had understood the Hyperion was to go to the junk pile.

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.