Read Captain Future 09 - Quest Beyond the Stars (Winter 1942) Online

Authors: Edmond Hamilton

Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Captain Future 09 - Quest Beyond the Stars (Winter 1942) (8 page)

“There’s a tragedy of the cosmos,” Curt said gravely when they had removed the ear-plugs, inside the
Comet.
“A people sleeping for all these ages, dreaming of a day when their sun would be retired.”

“And now they’ll sleep like that forever,” muttered the Brain.

“Not forever,” contradicted Curt Newton. “I made them a promise. If we gain the secret of matter-mastery from the Birthplace, we could keep that promise by reviving their frozen world. And we will.”

They flew back to the dead sun, landing the
Comet
again at their camp by the wrecked ship. And at once they plunged into the task of repairing the ship. Most important was the repair of the broken drive-ring. The terbium they had secured from the sleepers beneath the ice was melted and cast into a section of ring to replace that lost in the cloud. Also they repaired the warped stern-plates and straightened the bent girders of the stern.

“All set to go,” reported Otho at the end of their third “day” of work. “When do we start, chief?”

“In the ‘morning’,” Curt decided. “We need a few hours real rest after all this toil.”

Strange dreams came to Curt in his slumber, dreams of the Birthplace as a mighty heart, ceaselessly throbbing, and of cowled figures that watched it and warned him threateningly away.

He woke to a yell ringing in his ears. Two of the gray mineral-men had ventured to approach the camp, and Hol Jor, whose watch it was, was charging the creatures with his poison-tipped spear. The gray horrors who were the remote descendants of a once dauntless band of scientists, scuttled off into the dusk.

“The cursed creatures are getting bolder,” Hol Jor declared angrily as he returned.

Disturbed by his uncanny dream, Curt Newton looked around. “We’ve had enough rest. Let’s get started at once.”

An hour later, the
Comet
rose from the dusk-shrouded surface of the dead sun and arrowed skyward toward the vast black blot of the cosmic cloud.

Curt’s five new allies crowded the interior of the ship cabin and control-room. Old Ber Del had taken the space-chair next to Captain Future’s pilot chair, and the veteran Vegan star-voyager peered anxiously toward the cloud as they again approached its limits.

“The currents seem strongest where that bay of clear space indents the cloud,” Ber Del commented. “I suggest that we attempt to enter at some other point.”

They cruised along the edge of the vast, rolling mass of cosmic dust. It was the keen lens-eyes of the Brain that finally picked a spot where the dust seemed less intense.

“Try it there, lad,” proposed Simon Wright. “There where a slight back-tide of the dust seems to flow inward.”

Curt assented.

“I suggest that before we try it, we all get on our space-suits. We hope the ship will take the battering of the currents, but we can’t be sure.”

His five new allies had brought their space-suits. They climbed into the protective garments — all except the Brain and Grag, who did not breathe and needed no such precaution.

 

WITH increasing tenseness, Captain Future sent the little space-ship flying directly toward the brooding cloud. They plunged through the millrace currents of dust into the denser dust of the cloud itself and were at once engulfed in utter darkness. As before, the fluoroscopic searchlights were almost useless. And as before, the
Comet
was tossed and batted about by the violent currents streaming out from the mysterious center of the cloud.

Curt Newton’s hands flew over the controls with miraculous speed and deftness, striving to keep the ship out of the more violent currents. He knew very well that these stronger currents could rip the ship apart, that their only hope was to creep deviously inward through less stormy areas of the cloud. It was nightmare flight and battle, this — battle against blind forces of nature that seemed malignantly intent upon crushing the puny humans who sought to attain nature’s greatest secret! The hearts of ordinary men would have quailed with dread before this appalling manifestation of brute power. But Captain Future and the Futuremen and their new star-captain allies were not ordinary men. They were, all of them, men accustomed to braving the perils of outer space. And in all their minds was the urgent knowledge that if by a miracle they could achieve their goal, they would bring back to their peoples a secret that would mean life.

The
Comet
was sucked by whirling tides of dust into a dark maelstrom of currents. Curt fought desperately to break free. The hull of the ship was creaking and grinding ominously, and the new reinforcing girders were buckling slightly from the violent stresses.

“If that drive-ring snaps again, we’re goners!” Otho exclaimed.

“I’m doing my best to get out of this devil’s eddy,” Curt answered between his teeth.

A wrenching, cracking sound was followed by the whistling shriek of escaping air, A hull plate had been wrenched open, and the air inside the ship was rapidly hissing out into space.

“Good thing we put on the space-suits,” Curt thought. “But the ship can’t take this battering much longer.”

He came to a desperate decision. It was better to risk destruction at once than to remain in the maelstrom, of dust-currents until they were pounded to fragments.

“Hold tight, all of you,” he gritted. “We’re going to break out of this whirlpool or crack up here and now.”

He slammed on the full power of the vibration drive. The pressure of that too-great acceleration crushed them for a moment, and the generators back in the cabin roared as though about to break loose from their mountings. Feeling blackness assail his brain, Curt cut the power. They had broken from the maelstrom by that momentary surge.

“Don’t do
that
again,” begged Otho. “I think I left my stomach back there.”

They had escaped the deadly eddy, but currents of dust hardly less dangerous continued to batter them. Racing tides of cosmic dust streamed ceaselessly out from far within the cloud where they had somehow been created!

 

THEY lurched, plunged, spun, yet always Captain Future kept the
Comet
heading deeper into the cloud, his eyes glancing each few moments at the quivering needle of the cosmic ray compass. Space had become a roaring obscurity of dust and force, and time had become a meaningless thing as they struggled deeper and deeper into dark enigma.

“Even if the Birthplace
is
somewhere in here, how can we approach it or study it under conditions like these?” muttered Grag.

“There must be some way,” Curt retorted. “Someone once approached and studied it, if that legend of Ber Del is true.”

The old Vegan shook his head.

“Someone tried to approach it,” he corrected, “but was stopped by the Watchers. That is the legend.”

The currents of outstreaming dust were becoming less violent as they penetrated deeper into the cloud. Encouraged, Captain Future drove the
Comet
steadily onward through the swirling dust.

The dust grew thinner and thinner until finally they emerged from it into a vast, hazy space. It was a space of billions of miles, filled with a strange sparkling haze through which glowed a few scattered stars.

Otho exclaimed in disappointment:

“We’ve got turned around somehow and have come back out of the cloud.”

Curt’s heart jumped. With a feeling of awe, his eyes travelled around the great vault of hazy space that lay ahead.

“You’re wrong!” he said. “This space lies
inside the cloud.”

They were silent in stupefied surprise as they perceived what Captain Future’s keen eyes had already grasped. The vast cosmic cloud that covered so many tens of billions of miles of space was
hollow.
Here at its center was an open area many billions of miles across, containing a half-dozen scattered stars and permeated by that shooting, sparkling haze. The glittering haze appeared to stream out from the remote central region of this interior void, toward the surrounding dust-cloud. And they seemed to feel the impact of those hazy currents as a subtle, yet tangible shock of force through their bodies.

“But where does the dust that feeds the cloud come from?” cried big Hol Jor bewilderedly.

“I think I understand a little,” muttered the Brain. “Away off there in the haze at the center of this hollow space is the Birthplace of Matter. In the Birthplace, radiation is somehow transformed into free electrons and protons that are radiated outward in all directions. Those ceaseless waves of electrons cause the haze we see. The electrons and protons unite, out here, to form atoms of cosmic dust which are wafted out through the whole galaxy.”

“Then why doesn’t the newly-formed dust out here drift back and fill up this hollow space?” Otho demanded puzzledly.

“Pressure of the radiated electrons from the Birthplace itself would keep forcing the dust always outward in currents,” Curt declared.

He was feeling a thrilling excitement at having penetrated to this unsuspected marvel of the universe. He had come far across the perils of interstellar space to reach this goal! He peered through the telescopes at the remote central region of the hazy hollow space. The source of the shooting haze of electrons was the Birthplace of Matter itself. If he could see it — But he could see nothing. Whatever lay at the center was shrouded by the sparkling haze that was very thick at that remote central region. The Birthplace still guarded its mystery.

“I feel an awful itching,” plump Taunus Tar was complaining. The pink star rover looked puzzled, was scratching himself in his suit.

Curt Newton also became aware of a growing irritation of his skin that was making his space-suit very uncomfortable. He realized the dangerous nature of the phenomenon at once.

“The electron-waves radiating out through this void are penetrating our ship,” he declared sharply. “We’ll have to reinforce the
Comet’s
hull ray-proofing or these shooting electrons will tear us to pieces before we get near the Birthplace.”

His gaze swung over the void ahead.

“We’d better land at one of these stars and rayproof the hull at once. A coating of copper over the hull would proof it against those electron-waves.”

 

EAGER as were the others to go on, they saw the force of Curt’s reasoning and acceded. They tore their fascinated gaze away and looked about at the few stars scattered inside the hollow cloud. Nearest them in the sparkling haze shone one small green sun which proved to possess a planet. Farther away were several dimmer stars, one of them a small red sun deep within the central haze.

“The planet of this green sun has an atmosphere that we could all breathe, and its spectra shows plenty of copper,” reported Otho from the spectroscope.

“Then we’ll make a landing there,” Curt Newton decided.

He steered the
Comet
through the haze toward the green star, whose planet was two-thirds the size of Earth. Rushing down through the world’s atmosphere, they saw its sunlight side clearly beneath them. A parklike landscape of rolling bright green plains was studded by tall, graceful trees. Ahead loomed towering cliffs of solid copper, that flashed brightly in the strange green sunshine. Curt landed the
Comet
at the foot of the copper cliffs. They were glad to discard the space-suits and step out into the deliciously warm air.

“The atmosphere here is proof against the electron-barrage,” Curt commented. “Now to proof the hull. Plenty of copper in these cliffs.”

With the aid of an atomic blast, the Futuremen rapidly melted sufficient copper from the solid cliffs to coat the whole hull. They were starting the work when Hol Jor pointed into the sky, exclaiming aloud. A strange conical copper ship had appeared low in the western sky. It curved overhead, then hummed away out of sight again.

“So there’s intelligent life on this world,” Curt muttered. “It may not be as peaceful as it looks. Let’s hurry up this job.”

They redoubled their efforts. Within an hour they had almost finished spraying the molten copper on the hull. Then Otho suddenly straightened as his keen ears detected a louder humming.

“Chief, look at that!” exclaimed the android.

A dozen conical copper ships had suddenly appeared from the west, were diving down over the copper cliffs straight toward the
Comet.

 

 

Chapter 8: World of the Green Sun

 

THE FUTUREMEN and their star rover allies had no time to formulate a plan of action with which to meet this unforeseen situation. Before they could even retreat inside their ship, the dozen copper craft had landed in a circle around the
Comet.

From the ships, slim black tubes that appeared to be some kind of formidable weapons swung to cover the ship of the Futuremen. And at the same moment, men poured out of the strange vessels and approached Curt Newton and his band. “Don’t start anything — Otho, take your hand off your proton-pistol,” Captain Future ordered sharply. “We’re in a bad spot.”

Inwardly, Curt felt chagrined at having thus been taken by surprise. They should have known that the first ship would report their presence, that others would come. But there was no time now for self-reproaches. He braced himself to meet these inhabitants of the green star’s world, hoping that they might prove friendly.

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