Authors: Edmond Hamilton
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
“Yet it has been done — it is being done now,” Curt muttered. “And that means that this time we are up against an antagonist who somehow has gone far beyond known science — further than we ourselves have gone!”
With brooding, unseeing eyes, the red-haired adventurer stared around the cabin, his mind far away.
The cabin was a marvel of compactness, with facilities for research in all fields of science. There was a chemistry alcove, with containers of every element known to science; an astronomical outfit, including an electro-telescope, electro-spectroscope, and a file of spectra of all planets, satellites, and stars above the fifth magnitude.
There were samples of the atmosphere of every planet, satellite and asteroid. And a botanical division contained specimen plants and vegetable drugs from various worlds.
BESIDES this equipment, there were many instruments which Captain Future and Simon Wright had devised, unknown to conventional science. A small locker contained every valuable scientific book or monograph ever published, reduced to micro-film. It was one of these micro-film spools the Brain had been consulting.
“I know of every biologist of note in the System today,” the Brain was saying. “Not one of them could have discovered the secret of reversing evolution.”
“Could such an epochal discovery have been made by a wholly unknown scientist?” Curt demanded.
“That seems unlikely,” the Brain replied slowly. “There is some great mystery about this which I cannot understand, lad.”
Curt’s tanned face hardened. “We’re going to understand soon,” he affirmed. “We’ve got to, to stop this thing.”
Thoughtfully, he reached into a locker for a little hemispherical musical instrument. Absently, he touched its strings, bringing forth queer, shivering, haunting tones.
The instrument was a twenty-string Venusian guitar, two sets of ten strings each strung across each other on a metal hemisphere. Few Earthmen could play the complicated thing, but Captain Future had a habit of plucking haunting tones from it when he was lost in thought.
Wright’s eye-stalks twitched annoyedly.
“I wish you’d never picked up that thing,” the Brain complained. “How can I concentrate on reading when you’re making that dismal whining?”
Curt grinned at the Brain.
“I’ll take it into the control-room, since you don’t appreciate good music,” he said jestingly.
TWENTY hours later saw the little teardrop ship decelerating in velocity as it hurtled toward the world now close ahead.
Jupiter now loomed gigantic before them. It was a huge, spinning white sphere, attended by its eleven circling moons, belted with the clouds of its deep atmosphere, and wearing like an ominous badge the glowing crimson patch of the Fire Sea which men had once called the Great Red Spot. A world that was hundreds of times larger than Earth, a world whose fifty great jungle-clad continents and thirty vast oceans were still almost wholly unexplored.
Only on the continent of South Equatoria, Curt knew, had Earthmen settled. There they had cleared the steaming, unearthly jungles enough to build towns and operate plantations and mines, using the Jovian inhabitants for labor. But only a small part of even South Equatoria was known to them. The rest was unexplored, brooding jungle, stretching northward to the Fire Sea.
Curt Newton held the controls, and his three unhuman comrades were in the control-room with him as he expertly fingered the throttles. They flashed close past the gray sphere of Callisto, outermost of Jupiter’s four biggest moons, and plunged on toward the giant planet.
“You’re going to land at Jovopolis?” rasped Simon Wright inquiringly.
Captain Future nodded.
“That’s the capital of the Earth colony, and there, I think, must be the heart of this menace.”
Suddenly a bell rang sharply from the panel of complicated gauges and scientific tell-tales.
“The ship-alarm!” Curt exclaimed. “There’s some other craft near us in space!”
“There it is behind us!” Otho cried out. “It’s an ambush!”
Curt glanced back through the rear curve of the Control-room’s transparent wall. A dark little space-cruiser had just darted out from behind Callisto, and from its bows a big flare-gun was loosing a flare of atomic energy that sped toward the
No other space-pilot in the System could have moved quickly enough to escape that leaping flare. But Captain Future had reflexes trained since boyhood to superhuman speed.
lurched sideward from a blast of its starboard tubes, just enough to let the flare shoot past it. Before the attacker on their tail could fire again, Curt Newton had acted.
His tanned hand slammed down a burnished red lever beside the throttles. Instantly an astounding thing happened.
tubes shot a tremendous discharge of tiny, glowing particles. Almost instantly they formed a huge, glowing cloud around the little teardrop ship, hiding it from view and streaming back in a vast, shining tail.
had become, to all appearances, what it was named after — a comet! This was Curt Newton’s method of camouflaging his ship when he wished to avoid discovery in space, or when he wished to confuse an enemy craft. It was operated by a powerful discharge of electrified atoms, or ions, produced in a special generator and released through the regular rocket-tubes.
“I’m banking around on them!” Curt called to the android. “Stand by to use our proton beams on them, Otho!”
“I’ll blast them out of space!” exclaimed the android fiercely as he leaped to the breech of the proton-guns.
“No, I want those men alive if we can get them!” Captain Future snapped. “Try to cripple them by blasting their tail — that will force them down on Callisto.”
As Curt swung the
sharply around, the black attacking ship rose viciously to meet it, letting go another burst of atomic energy from its flare-guns.
“So you still want to play, do you?” grinned Curt. “That’s fine!”
CAPTAIN FUTURE had avoided the leaping flares by a lightning roll of the
that did not change its direction of flight for more than a moment.
Now he sent the little ship, still wrapped in its glowing cloud, swooping down upon the enemy, before it could turn.
“Now — let go our beams, Otho!” Captain Future cried.
The android obeyed. The pale proton beams lanced from the
grazed past the tail of the black enemy.
“Missed them!” hissed Otho in bitter disappointment. “They’re trying
escape, master!” boomed Grag, pointing a metal arm.
The black enemy craft, its occupants apparently unnerved by the closeness of the proton beams, was diving sharply to flee away through space.
“It’s easier to start a fight than to quit it, my friends,” muttered Curt, jerking open two of his throttles. “Here’s where you find that out.”
Like a streak of glowing light, the
dived after the fleeing enemy. Pursued and pursuer rushed down through the dizzy depths of space at nightmare velocity.
Curt felt his pulse pounding with excitement as he guided his craft in that terrific swoop. To Captain Future, this was living — this wild whirl and flash of battle out here in the awesome solar spaces where he felt most at home.
“Try again now, Otho!” he cried a moment later.
had pulled almost abreast of the other swooping ship. The android now loosed their proton beams again.
The beams sliced away a third of the black ship’s tail.
Crippled, its rocket-tubes blasted and useless, it slowed in its wild rush until it was merely floating. Then it began to drift with ever increasing speed toward nearby Callisto.
“That got them!” Captain Future exclaimed, his gray eyes snapping with excitement. “They’ll drift in to Callisto and we’ll land there with them, and capture whoever’s in that ship.”
“You think they were sent by the Space Emperor — the mysterious figure behind the Jupiter horror — to ambush us?” rasped Simon Wright inquiringly.
“They must have been!” Otho declared. “The Space Emperor, whoever he is, didn’t want Captain Future coming to Jupiter to investigate him.”
Curt Newton interrupted, his gray eyes lit.
“But this may give us a lead right to the Space Emperor! If we can capture the men in that ship and make them talk —”
The black enemy craft was now drifting in a spiral around Callisto, ever approaching nearer to that barren-looking gray moon. Curt kept the
trailing the other ship, but far enough away to be out of range of its flare-guns, and with the ion-discharge apparatus now cut off.
“But lad,” said Simon Wright’s harsh voice, “how could the Space Emperor know that Captain Future was coming to Jupiter? The only person there whom the President would notify of our coming would be the Planetary Governor.”
“Yes,” said Curt meaningly, “and that may give us another lead to him. But right now our best chance is to wring information out of the men in that ship.”
Curt’s mind was vibrant with eager hope. His mysterious foe had struck at him already, even before he reached Jupiter. But it might be that the attack of the unknown plotter was going to recoil on his own head.
“We near Callisto’s surface, master!” came the booming voice of Grag.
Captain Future’s gray eyes lit with a reckless gleam. “Get ready for a scrap then, Grag!”
Down through the thin atmosphere of Callisto the black ship was sinking, falling faster and faster. Still the
clung to its trail, grimly following it down toward the barren surface of the big moon...
AT EVER increasing speed the small black space-cruiser and its grim pursuer sped down toward the surface of Callisto. This was the sunward side of the big moon, and in the pale sunlight it presented a drear and desolate landscape.
A forbidding desert of drab gray rock, rising into low stony hills, it was infinitely repellent. The air here was barely breathable, as on all the larger moons, but because of its barrenness and also because of the grotesque, dangerous forms of life known to exist on its surface, few Earthmen had ever visited this world.
Now the black ship was only a mile from the glaring gray rock surface. It hurtled downward at slowly increasing speed.
“They won’t crash with much force,” Curt observed. “Callisto’s gravitation is not strong. It’ll be enough to shake them up and stun them for a moment, though, and we’ll jump them before they make trouble.”
“I’d enjoy seeing their ship hit hard enough to splash them all over Callisto,” hissed the emotional android.
Captain Future grinned.
“You’re too bloodthirsty, Otho.”
Otho stared at him puzzledly. “I can’t understand you humans some times,” he complained.
Curt chuckled. Then he turned his attention below, ready for action.
The black ship was falling toward the rocky plain. A moment later it struck the stony desert, bounced violently, then hit the ground again with a sharp impact and lay still.
Instantly Captain Future sent the
speeding downward in a gliding swoop that brought it to a jarring landing close to the other ship. He jumped up from the controls.
“Come on, Grag!” he shouted. “Otho, you stay here at our proton-beams, just in case.”
“Be careful, lad,” cautioned the Brain.
Curt paused to adjust the gravity equalizer he wore on his belt. Every interplanetary traveler owned one of these clever devices. Its “gravity charge” of magnetic force of selected polarity and strength made its wearer feel exactly as light or heavy as he was on Earth.
Then Captain Future and the big metal robot emerged from the
into pale sunlight and a thin, pungent atmosphere that rasped the lungs. Curt led the way toward the black craft on a run, the barren desert’s sterile surface reminding him strongly of the drab lifelessness of Mercury’s Hot Side.
The black, torpedo-shaped space-cruiser lay a little on its side on the gray rock. There was no sound from inside it, indicating that the men within had been temporarily stunned by the crash. Curt and the robot reached the circular door.
“You’ll have to open this door, Grag,” Captain Future said rapidly. “Use your drills.”
“Yes, master,” boomed the big robot.
Grag’s big metal fingers were removable. The robot rapidly unscrewed two of them and replaced them with small drills which he took from a kit of scalpels, chisels and similar tools carried in a little locker in his metal side.
Then Grag touched a switch on his wrist. The two drills which had replaced two of his fingers whirled hummingly. He quickly used them to drill six holes in the edge of the ship’s door.
Then he replaced the drills with his fingers, hooked six fingers inside the holes he had made. He braced his great metal body, then pulled with all his strength at the door.
They could hear the men inside stirring as they recovered from the shock of crashing. But the colossal strength of the huge robot now ripped the door bodily off its heavy hinges. Instantly Captain Future leaped inside, the robot following.