Read Captain Future 06 - Star Trail to Glory (Spring 1941) Online

Authors: Edmond Hamilton

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Captain Future 06 - Star Trail to Glory (Spring 1941)

BOOK: Captain Future 06 - Star Trail to Glory (Spring 1941)
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#6 Spring 1941

 

Introduction

 

A Complete Book-Length Scientifiction Novel

Star Trail to Glory

by Edmond Hamilton

Follow the Futuremen along a multi-million miles of stellar speedway as they streak around the system in their greatest race for justice!

 

 

 

Radio Archives • 2012

Copyright Page

 

Copyright © 1941 by Better Publications, Inc. © 2012 RadioArchives.com. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form.

 

 

These pulp stories are a product of their time. The text is reprinted intact, unabridged, and may include ethnic and cultural stereotyping that was typical of the era.

 

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ISBN-978-1610818353

Introduction

The original introduction to Captain Future as it appeared in issue #1

 

The Wizard of Science! Captain Future!

The most colorful planeteer in the Solar System makes his debut in this, America's newest and most scintillating scientifiction magazine — CAPTAIN FUTURE.

This is the magazine more than one hundred thousand scientifiction followers have been clamoring for! Here, for the first time in scientifiction history, is a publication devoted exclusively to the thrilling exploits of the greatest fantasy character of all time!

Follow the flashing rocket-trail of the
Comet
as the most extraordinary scientist of nine worlds have ever known explores the outposts of the cosmos to the very shores of infinity. Read about the Man of Tomorrow today!

Meet the companions of Captain Future, the most glamorous trio in the Universe!

Grag, the giant, metal robot; Otho, the man-made, synthetic android; and aged Simon Wright, the living Brain.

This all-star parade of the most unusual characters in the realm of fantasy is presented for your entertainment. Come along with this amazing band as they rove the enchanted space-ways — in each issue of CAPTAIN FUTURE!

 

Star Trail to Glory

A Complete Book-Length Scientifiction Novel

by Edmond Hamilton

 

Follow the Futuremen along a multi-million miles of stellar speedway as they streak around the system in their greatest race for justice!

 

 

Chapter 1: Suicide Station

 

THE tall, bronzed young Earthman proudly touched the silver comet-emblem on the breast of his gray space jacket. It was the emblem of the Rocketeer, the highest rating any space pilot could attain. Jan Walker's four young companions — a Martian, a Venusian and two Mercurians — all wore the emblem. They had just passed their final examinations, and they were looking as eagerly as Walker through the windows of the speeding rocket-flier. Beneath was the forbidding, savage Cold Side of Mercury, an eternally dark landscape that never saw the Sun. Tumbled black mountains and frozen black plains seamed by vast cracks stretched in the bitter darkness under the stars.

"Aren't we almost there?" Jan Walker asked the lanky pilot.

"You wouldn't be so anxious to get to Suicide Station if you knew the trouble waiting for you there," the Saturnian grunted.

"We know a good many Rocketeers are killed in this test pilot work," Walker admitted earnestly. "But we're not afraid."

"I'm not talking about the test piloting," declared the pilot. "That's tough enough, but that's just the ordinary risk for a Rocketeer. I'm talking about the way ships have been vanishing here."

"Ships vanishing?" repeated Ilo, Walker's Venusian comrade. "What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. Fellows here at Suicide Station take a new ship out for its speed and endurance tests. Suddenly they just find themselves floating in space, with their ship gone. It's happened scores of times lately."

"Scores of new ships disappearing?" Jan Walker blurted puzzledly. "Why, there's been nothing in the tele-news about it!"

"Naturally," grunted the older Rocketeer. "They don't want to alarm the System. But it's happening, just the same."

Walker and his comrades looked at each other a little blankly. Anxious to pass the grueling tests that would make them or break them as Rocketeers, they felt their eagerness chilled by the cold shadow of mystery.

The Saturnian eased his controls and nodded downward.

"There it is," he muttered.

Suicide Station, notorious as the destroyer of men and ships! Located on the dark Cold Side of little Mercury, this was the place where space ships turned out by the big factories in the Twilight Zone of Mercury were given exhaustive tests before being pronounced safe. Only the finest pilots could perform the hazardous duty of testing new ships. Jan Walker and his comrades knew that, and looked tensely down at the place where they had to make good.

 

ON THE frozen black plain stretched a big spaceport, rimmed by krypton lamps. Dozens of shining new Rissmans, Tarks and Kalbers were parked on its north end, and near them rose the metalloy barracks and office buildings. Jan Walker felt the bitter chill of the thin air as he and his comrades emerged from the flier and trooped toward the offices. A little knot of veteran Rocketeers was gathered there in the open.

"I'm Ka Kardak, chief Rocketeer here," rumbled a squat, brawny Jovian. "So you're the new pilots! What does the Bureau mean by giving Rocketeer rating to a lot of kids like you? Looks like anyone can get a comet on his chest now, just by asking for it."

"We passed all the Government examinations to win our ratings, sir," Jan Walker ventured.

"You passed the exams, did you?" Ka Kardak growled. "Well, isn't that nice? You did a few loops and space-spins and they pinned a comet on you. So now you think you're real Rocketeers. You'll find out different. A Rocketeer has to be all steel and nerve and brain. Even then, he can blank out easy as not."

A chuckle ran through the veteran Rocketeers watching. Ka Kardak pointed at Ilo, the young Venusian beside Walker.

"You, there. See that Rissman Twelve down on the tarmac?"

"Yes, sir," answered Ilo puzzledly.

"Take it out and blast around Mercury at full acceleration. Then make a straight speed-landing here when you get back."

It was one of the standard tests, Walker knew, designed to test the ability of a ship to make a fast emergency landing.

"Do you mean right now, sir?" asked Ilo.

"Of course, right now!" barked Ka Kardak. "Do you expect to loaf around here a week before you start working? Hop to it!"

The Venusian youth dropped his bag and hurried down the line of parked ships toward the Rissman Twelve. The small cruiser had the curious elongated lines characteristic of all Rissmans, its twelve tail rocket-tubes projecting in a bunched cluster. Walker watched his Venusian friend climb into the torpedo-like craft and shut the door. He guessed that Ka Kardak's idea was to plunge them right into danger without giving them a chance to get scared.

The Rissman Twelve shook to the hum of its cyclotrons. Then its bunched tail-tubes spouted flame, its keel-jets blasted. It zoomed steeply and was gone over the western mountains.

"Good fast start," growled Ka Kardak grudgingly. "He ought to be back around quick enough."

Walker felt his heart thudding. He waited, silent as the others in the freezing dark, staring eastward. At last the high-pitched scream of rockets split the thin Mercurian air. Over the eastern ridges came the Rissman. It dived sharply toward the spaceport. Jan Walker held his breath, then gasped in relief as the bow-tubes of the plunging ship spurted flame. The ship slowed its dive.

Abruptly the whole bow of the descending Rissman seemed to cave in. The ship gyrated dizzily, then broke into flame as its cyclotrons exploded. It fell in a blazing mass beyond the spaceport.

"Crash-cars!" yelled Ka Kardak over the roar.

 

WALKER heard sirens screeching, saw two crash-cars rocket down across the spaceport toward the blazing wreck.

"It's no use, he's gone," someone muttered.

There was a sick silence as veterans and new Rocketeers stared at the flaming funeral pyre in the distance. Ka Kardak's deep voice broke the silence.

"Defective girders behind the bow-tube thrust-struts. She couldn't take deceleration and folded up."

"Ilo killed — just to test that ship!" whispered a Mercurian cadet.

"Sure he was!" snarled Ka Kardak. "Better for him to be killed than have a whole shipful of people die later, isn't it? That's what we Rocketeers are for, to make space ships safe for other people. Take that Kalber Twenty off and give it the same test. Pump up speed around the planet and come in for a speed-landing."

The Mercurian's swarthy face went gray. He swallowed, took a few steps forward, then stopped. His face was ghastly with fear.

"I — I can't do it right now!" he gasped. "Seeing Ilo crash like that — I'll have to have a little time to get hold of myself —"

Ka Kardak grabbed the young Mercurian's shoulder and with a big green hand tore the silver comet-emblem from the space jacket.

"You're out," he stated. "Report back to Solar City."

The Mercurian stared. "You mean I'm washed up as a Rocketeer? But if you would just give me a little time —"

"Time is what we don't have in this game," rumbled Ka Kardak, "You can still be a space pilot, but you haven't got Rocketeer stuff."

He whirled on Jan Walker. "You, Earthman! Take that Kalber Twenty up and bring it back in a speed-landing."

Walker felt bis bones turn to water. The blazing funeral pyre of Ilo's ship was still bright against the black sky. But he forced himself to move toward the parked craft. It was better to die right here than lose the coveted Rocketeer emblem! He felt stiff and clumsy as he entered the stubby Kalber and shut its door. Numbly he put on a space-suit, as all test pilots must.

He climbed into the pilot chair, shut the switch that started the cyclotrons throbbing. Atomic power blasted back from the tail-tubes as he pulled out the throttles. The spaceport lights of Suicide Station dropped rapidly back from sight. Walker opened the throttles wider. The Kalber, new and untried, bucked and lurched crankily, but it plunged on with increased velocity.

Walker saw the Cold Side flashing past below. Frozen black plains, fissures and jagged hills unrolled at frightful speed. He was racing westward around Mercury at a speed mounting every minute. The Kalber cometed out of the eternal darkness of the Cold Side into the dusk of the Twilight Zone, the narrow band of habitable territory between the Hot and Cold Sides. He glimpsed in the south the lights of Solar City, the capital, and the towers of the big Rissman and Tark space ship factories. Then he was zooming over the Hot Side.

The dazzling glare of a monstrously huge sun beat down on the eternally scorched rocky desert. Far to the south, he could glimpse the gray sheen of the incredible Sea of Lead. Around the Hot Side he flashed, then tore across the Twilight Zone and again was over the Cold Side, rushing pack at terrific speed toward the spaceport. Jan Walker felt the hackles bristle on his nape as the krypton lamps of Suicide Station came into view.

"Here goes!" he whispered thickly inside his helmet.

 

SPEED-LANDING a ship — diving and using the bow-tubes for a last minute brake instead of dropping on the keel-jets — was always dangerous. In a new, untested ship it was murderous. Walker was almost over the spaceport. His hands gripped the throttles tightly. He estimated distances, then sent the Kalber diving straight down. The tarmac of the spaceport rushed up toward him. He could not even hear the terrific shriek of split air outside, for the ship was traveling faster than the speed of sound.

"Ah-h-h-h!" he yelled inside his suit, to tighten his ribs and diaphragm and prevent them from being crushed by inertia.

He cut the tail-tubes and opened the bow-jets. The impact of deceleration flung him forward in his harness, with a tortured scream from the recoil springs. He felt the blood roar in his ears and his vision blurred. But the Kalber checked its dive abruptly. It poised, its tail dropping. Walker's shaking hand slammed on the keel-jets and the ship dropped on an even keel to the tarmac just below.

He cut the cyclotrons, got out of his suit and stumbled from the ship. His ears were still roaring as he faced Ka Kardak.

"Test completed, sir," he reported thickly.

"Well, do you expect a medal for making a simple test-landing?" roared the Jovian, but there was a friendly gleam in his eyes.

Walker's comrades all made high-speed landing tests on new ships. Not till they had finished did Ka Kardak give them a rest.

"That's enough for today," he rumbled. "Incidentally we observe artificial day and night here, since the Sun never touches us. Walker, you and Yalu will take that Kalber out for its speed-tests tomorrow."

They trooped into the big barracks. Shaken as he was by the death of Ilo, Walker felt excited pride when he sat down to supper with these veteran Rocketeers. But he was more interested in their stories than in his food. They told of desperate test flights, of dire emergencies in the void, of space-racing and its thrills and perils.

"I say that a Rissman will win the Round-the-System Race again this year," declared Losor, a gray Neptunian Rocketeer.

"I'm not so sure," drawled old Yalu, the Martian pilot who had been assigned to work with Walker the next day. "They say the new Tark stock model's faster than anything except Captain Future's
Comet!"

"Ho, wait till the race starts!" scoffed the Neptunian. "I hope I have the Rissman and you the Tark. You'll eat my flame all the way."

Twice Jan Walker heard ships landing with roaring tubes on the spaceport outside. They were returning from long-distance speed and endurance test flights. Their Rocketeer pilots came stalking in to take their seats at the tables, calling loud greetings to the others. But two chairs at the table remained unfilled. Walker saw big Ka Kardak looking worriedly at them.

"Where are Uzbo and Smith?" muttered the Jovian. "They should have been back with that Cruh-Cholo ship long ago."

"Same thing must have happened to Uzbo and Smith as to lots of the rest of us," drawled old Yalu, the Martian. "Another ship vanished."

"That makes nine ships in the last three days," grumbled Losor.

Jan Walker felt the sinister mystery of the missing ships hanging like a black pall over all these hard-bitten Rocketeers. The younger pilots swallowed hard and pushed their plates away.

 

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