Read Saucer: Savage Planet Online
Authors: Stephen Coonts
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Science Fiction
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To my grandchildren: Sophie, Connor, Abby, Logan, Carson, Hunter and Brenden
On this small planet
Orbiting a nondescript star,
On the edge of a humongous galaxy
Wheeling endlessly in the infinite void,
The river of life flows on and on …
Let it flow.
Adam Solo wedged himself into the chair at the navigator’s table in the small compartment behind the bridge and braced himself against the motion of the ship. Rain beat a tattoo on the roof over his head, and wind moaned around the portholes. Although the seas weren’t heavy, the ship rolled, pitched and corkscrewed viciously because she was not under way; she was riding sea anchors, being held in one place, at the mercy of the swells.
Through the rain-smeared porthole windows Solo could see the flood and spotlights of another ship several hundred feet to port. She was also small, only 350 feet long, roughly the size of the ship Solo was aboard,
. She also carried massive cranes fore and aft, was festooned with floodlights that lit the deck and the water between the ships and was bobbing like a cork in a maelstrom.
Through the open door to the bridge Solo occasionally heard the ringing of the telegraph as the captain signaled the engine room for power to help hold his ship where he wanted her. Johnson was the captain, an overweight, overbearing slob with a sneer engraved on his face and a curse on his lips. He was cursing tonight as he wrestled the helm; Solo ignored the burst of mindless obscenities that reached him during lulls in the wind’s song and concentrated on the newspaper before him.
“Possible Alien Starship Found in Australia,” the headline screamed. Beneath that headline, in slightly smaller type, the subhead read, “Wreckage buried in coral reef moved ashore for study.”
Beside the story was a photo of two men and two women posed in front of a massive pile of unidentifiable junk. Solo studied the wreckage. It was not possible to even determine what the original color might have been. The two men were identified in the caption of the photo as Mr. Rip Cantrell, a young man in his early twenties, and Mr. Arthur “Egg” Cantrell, a rotund, balding man in his fifties. The woman, lean and athletic with her hair in a ponytail, was identified as Charlotte Pine, a former U.S. Air Force test pilot. Beside her stood an Australian archaeologist. Solo studied their faces in the photo, then read the article as rain pounded on the windows and the ship rode the back of the living sea.
The article mentioned that this was not the first spacecraft Rip Cantrell had discovered. About a year before, as a young engineering student on an expedition to the Sahara, Cantrell had uncovered a perfectly preserved saucer in a sandstone ledge and had even figured out how to make it fly. He almost lost his life when greedy thugs tried to steal the saucer and its valuable technology. Only with the help of former test pilot Charley Pine had he managed to save that saucer and keep it safe. Soon after, a Frenchman named pierre Artois, an evil genius bent on world conquest, had even managed to steal the famous Roswell saucer the air force had kept hidden for decades at Area 51. Once again, Charley Pine had saved the day when she chased the Roswell saucer and it crashed into the ocean as millions watched on TV. Since then, saucer technology had been revolutionizing the world economy. Great leaps forward in alternative fuels, antigravity and computer technology, solar power, metal fabrication—all these advances in man’s knowledge were leading to new products and improvements in old ones.
Solo was a trim man with short black hair, even features and skin that appeared deeply tanned. He was below average in height, just five and a half feet tall, and weighed about 140 pounds. Tonight he was dressed in jeans, work boots and a dark green Gore-Tex jacket.
He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, savoring the movement of the ship.
Ah, once, long ago, he had been out on this ocean in winter, in a vessel much smaller than this one. How the wind had howled in the rigging; spindrift showered the men and women huddled under blankets and skins, trying to stay warm, as cold rain stung and soaked them. Occasionally the rain turned to sleet, and the ship and people were soon covered with a layer of ice.
The motion of this ship brought the memory flooding back. Most of those nights he spent at the steering oar, because he was the best helmsman aboard and he was the captain. In that roaring, wet, absolute darkness the trick was to keep the wind in the same quadrant, keep the unseen sail drawing evenly, feel the way the ship rode the sea, actually become one with the ship. If he held the wind just so and the motion of the ship remained the same, he was steering a straight course. If the sail luffed or the motion of the ship changed, he would hear and feel it.
Without a compass, without the moon or stars, raw seamanship was the only way a course could be sailed. Adam Solo had been good at it then, and after a week of storms and clouds and wind brought them all safely to land.
Solo’s chin was on his chest when the door opened and a heavyset man wearing a suit and tie came in. He tossed a foul-weather coat on the desk.
“Doctor,” Solo said in greeting.
Dr. Harrison Douglas, the chairman and CEO of World Pharmaceuticals, was so nervous he couldn’t hold still. “This is it, Solo,” he said as he smacked one fist into a palm. “This flying saucer we are bringing up is the key to wealth and power beyond the wildest dreams of anyone alive.” Douglas added, almost as an aside to himself, “If it’s still reasonably intact…”
“If it holds the secrets I think it does, then yes.” Douglas braced himself and glanced out the porthole at the heaving sea between the ships. “You still think you can make the computers talk to you?”
Solo nodded. “Yes, but you’ve never told me what you want from them.”
“That’s right. I’ve kept my mouth firmly shut.” Douglas took a deep breath, looked around the little room, then fastened his gaze on Solo. “This saucer crashed into the ocean. May be torn all to hell, smashed into bits, but there’s a sliver of a chance…”
Douglas turned to the porthole and rubbed the moisture from the glass with his sleeve. “… A sliver of a chance that one or more of the computers are intact. And if one is, I want you to find the formulas for any drugs that are in the memories.”
“Are there formulas for drugs?”
All the experts agreed that interstellar distances were so vast that a starship crew would die before they got to their destination unless their lives were artificially extended. Somehow.
“Yes, there are drugs,” said Douglas. “Enough said. You know our deal. I’ll pay you ten million cash.”
“And make billions.”
“I sincerely hope so,” Harrison Douglas said. He jammed his hands in his pockets and stared out the porthole into the night with unseeing eyes.
Yes, he did hope to make billions, and if ever there was a drug to generate that kind of money, a drug that prevented aging was undoubtedly it. Well, Douglas was in the Big Pharma business. If arresting aging involved drugs, by God, World Pharmaceuticals could figure out how to make them. Every man and woman on the planet would like to stop the aging process, or if that proved impossible, at least slow it down, preserve quality of life and extend it free from the diseases that aging causes or enables. An extra ten good years—how much would that be worth to the average Joe? Or twenty? Or thirty? America, Europe, Arabia, India, Japan, China … the possibilities were awe-inspiring.
Harrison Douglas twitched with excitement.
Douglas smacked a fist into the palm of his other hand.
Yes, the people of the saucers must have possessed an antiaging drug.
Douglas was musing on how much money such a drug would make World, and himself, of course, the CEO who made it happen, when he heard Captain Johnson give a shout.
Douglas glanced through the porthole. He saw waves washing over a shape even darker than the night sea.
“It’s up!” he said excitedly. With that he grabbed the foul-weather coat and dashed through the door onto the bridge. He went straight through, right by the captain, onto the open wing of the bridge and charged down a ladder to the main deck.
Adam Solo slowly folded the page of the newspaper that contained the story of the Australian artifact and placed it in his shirt pocket. He pulled on a cap and stepped onto the bridge. Ignoring the captain at the helm, Solo walked to the unprotected wing of the bridge and gazed down into the heaving dark sea as the wind and rain tore at him. The wind threatened to tear his cap from his head, so he removed it. Dr. Douglas was there on the main deck at the rail, holding on with both hands.
Floodlights from both ships lit the area between the ships and the heavy cables that disappeared into the water. From the angle of the cables, it was obvious that what they held was just beneath the surface. Snatches of the commands the chief on deck shouted to the winch operators reached Solo. Gazing intently at the scene before him, he ignored them.
As Solo watched, swells separated the ships slightly, tightening the cables, and something again broke the surface. It was a mound, dark as the black water; swells broke over it.
As quickly as it came into view, the shape disappeared again as the ships rolled toward each other.
Over the next five minutes the deck crews aboard both ships tightened their cables inch by inch, lifting the black shape to the surface again, then higher and higher until finally it was free of the water and hung suspended between the ships. The spotlights played upon it, a black, saucer-shaped object, perfectly round and thickest in the middle. It was not small—the diameter was about ninety feet—and it was heavy; the cables that held it were taut as violin strings, and the ships listed toward it a noticeable amount.
Solo stepped back into the sheltered area of the bridge and wiped the rain from his hair with his hand, then settled the cap onto his head as he listened to the voices on the bridge loudspeaker. The deck chiefs of this ship and the other vessel were talking to each other on handheld radios, coordinating their efforts as the saucer was inched over the deck of this ship. The ship’s radio picked up the conversation and piped it here so that the captain could listen in and, if he wished, take part in the conversation.
A moment later Dr. Douglas came in from the bridge wing, pulling the door shut behind him and brushing water from his coat.
“Well, we got it up, Doctor,” Captain Johnson said heartily. “And they said it couldn’t be done. Ha! You owe us some serious money.”
“I will when you have it safely on the dock in Newark,” Douglas replied.