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Title: Wreckers of the Star Patrol
Author: Malcolm Jameson
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eBook No.: 0608391.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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Wreckers of the Star Patrol
Malcolm Jameson



Chapter One 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 sky ports 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 junk pile, where she belonged--
would probably be towed to one of the Scrappo asteroids where
derelicts and other tough old hulks 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 sky port 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.

"Loaded, provisioned, fueled, cargo and crew on board, certified
and itching to go," answered Fennery. "She's been sold to the Trans-
Asteroid Haulage Corporation. All she's waiting for is her skipper."

"So what?" demanded Hartwell. "I want my clothes! He'll have to
hold off until I get them out."

"Hey, don't you understand?" laughed Fennery, with a bluff slap on
the back. "She's had an overhaul--she's staying in service--they
wanted a skipper that knew her. I recommended you. _You're_ the
captain of the _Hyperion!"_

"I'm damned," said Bob Hartwell, softly.



Chapter Two PROMOTION TO--SABOTAGE!



HE WAS damned, but not in the way he meant. All the alarm bells in
his nervous system began jangling, warning as Fennery held out a paper
for him to sign. It was a receipt for the _Hyperion,_ in good repair,
fully loaded and cleared for the void. Fennery insisted it was but a
formality.

"Sure," said Hartwell shortly, and brushed by into the port. He
wanted to have a look around before he signed anything. Things might
be all right. Or they might not.

He hurried first to the tube room. It had been repaired, as
Fennery had said. Three of the main driving tubes had new liners and
injectors. The brightwork had been shined and there was fresh paint on
the bulkheads.

It was the same way in the control room, where fresh star charts
took the place of the dog-eared old ones. Hartwell examined the log,
saw that there were two thousand tons of scrondium pentaluminate in
the holds and provisions and fuel had been brought aboard. The invoice
for the cargo hung on a hook, as did the receipts for the provisions.
Everything was regular.

"I even did this for you," said Fennery, who had followed him in
and was watching his inspection with satisfaction. He held out a
paper. "Here's your trajectory, worked out as of five o'clock today.
Callisto is your destination, and this course skips all the asteroids
in between--providing you leave on the hour."

"Uh-huh," mumbled Hartwell, taking the figures. His head was
swirling.

On the face of it everything was all right. His quick eye had
checked it in many ways during his swift inspection. When he saw that
scrondium pentaluminate was the cargo, he had glanced automatically at
the holds' pressure gauges. They stood at two atmospheres--adequate to
keep the volatile compound from evaporating. That was added evidence
that the pentaluminate was actually in the sealed holds, for no one
would have built up such a pressure for ordinary cargo.

Yet seals could be faked and invoices forged. He wondered.

"What's the tearing hurry?" he demanded, facing Fennery suddenly.

"Bonus--bonus and penalties, that's all," said he. "The Callisto
refinery wants this stuff now. If it's there by the fourteenth, swell.
If it's there before the fourteenth, you get a bonus of so much a day.
If it's late, there'll be hell to pay, because there is a penalty for
every day lost over schedule. Trans-Asteroid had the chance and snapped
it up. All they lacked was a captain familiar with the handling of the
ship. That's you."

Hartwell was still regarding him dubiously. It lacked but a few
minutes of five o'clock and he knew standard running times to Callisto
well enough to know that if he didn't start then they'd never be there
on time.

"Suit yourself," said Fennery, indifferently, half-turning, as if
to go. "I thought I was doing you a favor--now you can go to hell.
Trans-Asteroid isn't going to be tickled at being let down like this,
and it isn't going to keep mum about it. You can pack your bag and get
out of here and hunt your own job. As for me, I'm through--through
with this bucket and through with you!"

"Wait," called Hartwell, as the stocky captain strode toward the
port, "I'll take it and--well, thanks."

Fennery grunted, shook hands limply and went out. In his pocket he
had Hartwell's signed receipt for the ship and contents.

Hartwell stared at his retreating back in a daze. He couldn't be
sure whether he had been befriended, or high-pressured into making a
sucker of himself. All the lurid stories of Stellar's practices and
Fennery's slipperiness again flashed before his mind. Yet he had no
personal grievance against company or man.

Moreover, he had signed the papers.

He snapped out of it. If there was deviltry afoot, he would have
time to sniff it out before he entered the danger zone of the little
planetoids. His new mates, all strangers, stood by, awaiting orders.
They looked reasonably competent, and the crew was at least no worse
than the hands Fennery had taken with him.

"Take the void!" yelled Hartwell, really glad to have a command
under his feet again, even if it was only the lowly, painted-up
_Hyperion_.

The port clanged shut, the rockets swelled and roared and then
came the savage lurch as the ship began to climb. Hartwell clung to
the acceleration resistorstraps and watched his gauges with a critical
eye. She was going up very smartly, faster than he had thought she
would. She handled as daintily as if she had been in ballast.

He frowned at that thought, but then remembered the three new
tubes and accessories. Of course! She _would_ feel light.

The moment they were clear of Mars, Hartwell hastened to check the
course handed him by Fennery, for the responsibility for safe
navigation was his, not the former captain's. He checked it both by
integrator and by hand. It was a good trajectory. Any fears he might
have had that it was a trick to crash him against an asteroid
vanished. Moreover, it was the shortest possible curve on which to
reach Callisto, and would hit its destination smack on the nose two
days before the deadline.

A more minute inspection of the ship itself uncovered nothing to
give concern. As he suspected, the so-called repairs were largely
superficial, but there was no evidence of sabotage, or anywhere a time
bomb could be planted and not be discovered. The better things looked,
the more he was mystified. He would have actually felt relieved if he
could have found some deviltry that would explain Fennery's geniality.

However, he soon found other grounds for suspicion and worry--his
officers and crew.

They were a disgruntled, grousing lot, all former employees of the
Stellar Company, and they whispered much among themselves. He also
observed that when he looked at one unexpectedly, he was quite likely
to find the man regarding him with a sneer--a sneer that was always
instantly erased. It was as if they regarded Hartwell as the fall-guy
for some trick so obvious that no capable man would fall for it. He
learned, too, that all had excellent and imperative reasons for
wanting to get out of Mars--mostly concerning the police.



THEY were well past the asteroid belt when the first overt act of
the crew came to his attention. In prowling about looking for trouble,
Hartwell happened into the compartment where the lifeboat was stowed.
To his surprise, he found his second mate and a working party of four
men busily stocking it with extra water, air-flasks, and provisions.
It was not a thing he had ordered.

"What's going on here?" he demanded.

"Seeing the boat's ready, that's all," answered the mate,
sullenly.

"For what?" asked Hartwell, angrily, choosing for the moment to
overlook the omission of the "sir." He had discovered days before that
Fennery had either left him no blaster, or else the crew had concealed
it before he came on board.

"For anything," answered the mate.

"It's an old Stellar custom."

"Knock it off," said Hartwell, hotly. "You're working for Trans-
Asteroid now."

The mate laughed. "Hear that?" he said to the men, who were
standing by, grinning. "We're working for Trans-Asteroid! Well, well,
what a difference!"

A crunching blow to the jaw sent him sprawling, and the first of
the three men who leaped at Hartwell was promptly jarred up against
the far bulkhead and promptly went to sleep. The others decided to
leave things as they were. "Pick 'em up and carry 'em down to their
bunks," said Hartwell harshly, and went below.

There was no aftermath to that incident, but Hartwell was all on
edge again.

He took down his almanacs and planetary tables and began checking
the terminal spiral segment of his trajectory, with utmost attention
to the time factor. Again everything seemed perfect--all but one item.

He discovered that their course would intersect the orbit of
Hebe--the outermost of Jupiter's satellites--at exactly the moment
when the little forty-mile lump of iron would arrive at the same spot.

He might have changed course then and there, but he refrained. A
footnote regarding Hebe remarked that the planetoid was erratic in its
motions due to the perturbations caused by its bigger sisters, and
that the values given in the tables must be used with discretion. That
bit of information made the advisability of changing course too soon a
risky business, for he had no idea whether Hebe would be late, early,
or on time at the rendezvous. And since she was so small, the change
of course could be made long after she had been sighted.

Hebe came into plain view the very next day, and Hartwell began an
intense study of her. After about four hours he came to the conclusion
that she was slightly behind her schedule and that he would probably
pass the point of collision before she arrived. He could have made
certain of it by going ahead then on his main driving tubes, but since
he was far into his deceleration for the planetfall on Callisto, he
wanted to avoid adding momentum if he could. It would be better to
wait until they were closer. Then a touch of a steering jet would
throw the ship one way or the other, as needed.

He slept for four hours, for after entering the Jovian System he
would dare sleep no longer, cluttered up as it was with minor moons so
insignificant as not to be charted. When he woke, he saw that his
predictions as to the position of Hebe were correct. Or almost, for
she was on his port bow and very slowly drawing aft. He computed that
the only collision danger was with her forward edge. A brief blast
ahead, accompanied by a brief blast to port, would kick him ahead and
to the right. The resulting delay would be insignificant.

"Blow main tubes--full speed forward!" he ordered.

They were cold and took longer than they should. But at length
they sputtered into full blast and the ship began to gather more way.
But the delay meant more of a turn to the right, so he yelled:

"Turn right--full power!"

"Aye," grumbled the mate at the control board. He pressed a stud.
For a moment there was no response; then the shudder of the ship told
that a wing tube had fired. Hartwell was watching the on rolling
planetoid closely, waiting for the ship's inertia to be overcome and
to see the image drop away as the ship's nose veered off to the right.

Hartwell sucked in his breath with a horrified gasp. The ship was
beginning to swing all right, but the wrong way. Her bow was crawling
slowly to port. Hebe was dead ahead!

The onrolling lump of iron would be at the intersection just when
the _Hyperion_ would. The ship was diving straight for her middle at
full throttle!

"Right, I said, damn you!" shouted Hartwell.

"Right she is--right deflector jetting full," echoed the mate,
half rising and staring at the visiscreen. Then he screamed and jabbed
the general alarm, and before Hartwell could grab him, he ran out of
the room yelling, "Abandon _ship--collision!"_

Hartwell sprang to the board, for there was still ample time to
reverse the error. But jab as he would at the control buttons, there
was no response. The crew had fled their stations as one man.

He muttered a curse and ran after the last of the echoing
footsteps. He could not possibly handle the ship alone, and since she
was doomed, he did not mean to die with her. He wanted very earnestly
to stay alive and find out why this thing had been done to him.

By the time he reached the lifeboat its tubes were glowing and the
panel that closed the compartment was beginning to open to the
outside. He just had time to squeeze in behind the last man and get
into the boat. He thrust the intervening men aside, yanked the first
mate from the controls, hurled him behind him. Then he seated himself
and launched the boat with a grim face.

It shot clear, and that first lashing blast blew it ten miles
before he managed to set it into a rough orbit of comparative safety.
It was not until then that he had time to glance at the vessel he had
just left. The _Hyperion_ was in a screaming full-power dive--or what
would have been a screaming one if Hebe had had air to shrill the
scream. She struck, and on the instant disappeared as a puff of vivid
green flame.

He despairingly circled the tiny planet once, passing over the
spot where the ship had died.

All that was to be seen were acres of glittering metal fragments.
Of the two thousand tons of pentaluminate there was not a trace. There
could not have been for the crystals would have flown to powder at the
impact, and being under zero pressure, would have volatilized into
nothingness in seconds.



Chapter Three COLD-WORLD CONQUEST



BOB HARTWELL languished for three bleak months in Ionopolis' jail.
He was fettered with chains, such being the barbarous custom of the
harsh Ionians--descendants of Terrestrial adventurers and deportees of
three centuries before.

A roving Ionian patrol vessel had witnessed the premature
abandonment of the _Hyperion_ and her crash. Within the hour they had
picked up the boat, questioned its crew, and brought them all to Io.
Hartwell could learn nothing more except that he was being held on the
charge of barratry.

In due time the day of the trial came. It would be unfair to call
the trial a farce, since the judges were upright men who conducted the
proceedings with dignity. But Hartwell knew before it started that the
cards were stacked against him. All parties to it were hostile to him,
and he learned, to his dismay, that the one chance he might have had--
cross-examination of the witnesses--had been lost. The members of the
crew, pleading that they were under the necessity of making a living,
had been allowed to leave depositions and depart. Their stories had
agreed in every detail. By now they were scattered far and wide.

The further things proceeded, the more apparent was the deadly
dilemma Hartwell found himself facing. For the prosecution was aimed
not at him, but over him. A battle of giants was raging, in which he
was but a miserable pawn. Counsel for the Interplanetary Underwriters
tried vigorously to prove that the destruction of the _Hyperion_ had
been planned and ordered by Stellar--who, it developed, owned the
dummy company which was the beneficiary of vast sums of insurance on
the wreck.

Stellar, on the contrary, claimed they were lily white. Their
error, if any, was in hiring a man who later proved to be incompetent.

Fennery and Quorquel, who had just a second load of scrondium
pentaluminate to Callisto in their _Wanderer,_ testified to Hartwell's
"passably good" performance on the trip from Venus, but added that
they recommended him to replace them solely because the ship had to
leave and they could find no better. They regretted it now, but that
was the way it was.

That was it. Hartwell had the hard choice of being declared
incompetent or criminal. If the former, Stellar collected--if the
latter, I.U. won.

Stellar won, for the I.U. man was unable to produce a scintilla of
testimony showing collusion or unlawful intent. The statements left by
the crew were unanimous that Hartwell got rattled when he saw Hebe
loom up before him; gave conflicting orders, and then precipitately
fled the ship.

In the end, Hartwell was allowed to tell his own story. The judges
heard him out and, after a brief retirement, rendered the decision.
They must have been impressed by his bearing, for they did not order
his license cancelled. The ship was lost, they said, through "bad
judgment in delaying too late to take appropriate action in the face
of an emergency." That was all. The case was closed, and there could
be no appeal. The damning sentence was endorsed on Hartwell's ticket
in red ink. Then he was dismissed--a free man.

A free man! He walked down the marble stairs of the Tellurian
Building in Ionopolis in a daze.

Free to do what--starve? Red ink on a ticket never got a man a
job. He walked past the sumptuous office suites of the Tellurian
Legation without noticing them, out into the dim-lit street of the
city. He walked to the jail and retrieved the small amount of money
that happened to be in his pockets when the crash occurred. It was all
he had. After that he found a cheap lodging house near the sky port and
slept on a bed of sorts for the first time in many nights.



The events of the next day confirmed his worst fears. It was the
same story everywhere. _No vacancies...sorry, we don't hire
strangers. We have men of our own waiting on the bench...will let
you know._ Always a turndown, but never the real reason. It was not a
command he had been asking for, or even a first's berth, but
_anything._ He would have gone as a quartermaster or a tubeman, and he
knew the traffic about the Jovian planets was heavy.

Late in the afternoon, when Io turned away from great, glowing
Jupiter and was lit only by the pallid beams of the sun, he was told
why he could not get a job on Io--or anywhere else, ever. It was a
tough old skydog who; told him--a man who ran an obscure hiring hall
near the sky port.

"Naw," he said, "'tain't only because you did a hitch with
Stellar. Er lost a ship. Both them things hev been done before 'thout
ruinin' a man. It's the I.U.'s new policy. You might ez well git wise
to yourself. You're done!"

"But once I'm back home, where people know me," protested
Hartwell, "I can--"

"Nope," said the old man, "'twouldn't make not a mite of
difference. I just told you I can't give you a job as a groundcrew
hand. I doubt if you could even get aboard a ship as a passenger, if
they knew you. You're on I.U.'s secret new blacklist. They been stuck
so often and so hard they're puttin' a new clause in all their
policies. Clause 88. Says the insurance is null and void if the
insured company employs a man that has ever caused the I.U. loss--in
_any capacity._ Even if one of your old companies believed your story,
you'd still be too expensive for 'em."

Hartwell stared back at the old skydog in blank astonishment, but
he knew he had heard the truth. The companies that had refused him as
a tubeman in the morning had hired other tubemen in the afternoon.

All he could do was mumble his thanks and crawl back home.

The next day a cop picked him up.

Later in the day another, and another. They wanted to know what he
did for a living. _All right. Get a job within three days, or else._
Io, it appeared, was as tough a place as Venus.

By the third day he had the job. He signed on with an agency to be
a cowhand, the Ionian version of a cattle puncher. He would be taken
to the Simpson ranch, shown how to ride a tame ochtosaur, then turned
loose on the range to ride herd on the wild ones. At slaughtering time
he would be expected to help with the rendering of the smelly dragon
fat and the tanning of the tough hides. The pay was nominal, but grub
and outfit were furnished. He took it in preference to the chain gang.
But it was not to be for long, for his soul burned now with but a
single desire--to find Fennery and strangle the truth out of him, then
go for the Stellar Transport Company.



It was for longer than he thought, for old man Simpson also ran a
store and managed to keep all his employees in debt to him. But one
day, as Hartwell was riding range, plodding along on the cumbersome,
eight-footed, plated beast that looked like a drunk's delirious dream
of a double-rhinoceros with bat wings, he became aware of something
uncanny happening overhead. He looked skyward and saw them coming, at
first by ones and twos, then in scores. Strange little craft of the
skies that had no business being there. And they were all trying
frantically to get to Ionopolis, judging from the ruinous flare of
their exhausts.

Some were small inter-satellite ships and ferries, but most were
tiny sky-port craft, such as tugs, yachts and tenders.

More amazing, there were planes--planes designed only for
atmosphereborne flight, yet bearing the characteristic markings of
Callisto and Ganymede. He saw that they had boat rockets lashed to
their struts and guessed it was by means of those that they had
spanned the void between the Jovian planets. One flew low enough for
him to see the terror in the faces of its occupants. It was a panic!
What were they fleeing from?

Presently a Callistan stratoliner got into difficulties. Its
narrow wings, good enough for Callisto's heavier air, would not hold
it up over Io. It staggered a moment, then fell fluttering groundward
at a dangerous speed. It struck not a mile from where he sat on his
steed, cradled in the natural saddle between the och's two wings and
astride the dorsal hump. It flung its passengers right and left and
immediately burst into flames.

Hartwell flicked on his electric goad and applied the heat to his
clumsy mount's shoulder plate. The animal squalled, then flapped its
bat-like wings and slowly got off the ground. In a few minutes
Hartwell had dismounted and was bending over the sole survivor of the
smash. He was badly hurt and had little time to live.

"Urans," the dying man gasped, trying to point back to where they
had come from. "The Urans are raiding...burning, slaying,
looting...warn."

That was all. The man's eyes glazed and he tried to roll over on
his face. But it was enough. The Urans had not raided in two
generations, but there was not a man, woman or child that did not know
about them. They were a non-human race, living on dark Uranus--and
they were irresistible.

They were quasi-anthropoid, resembling gorillas, except that they
were covered with short feathers and had highly redeveloped brains.
They had science enough to build spaceships and weapons superior to
man's, but they were savages nevertheless. They never attempted to
conquer or colonize. They only made forays. Two three times a century
they would descend on the outposts of Saturn or Jupiter, harrying and
burning, carrying away heads, loot and women. Why they took the women
alive no one could explain, though perhaps it was for sacrificial
purposes. What men they encountered they invariably slew, and carried
away their heads and skins as trophies.

Hartwell remounted with a bound. He jerked his steed about and
forced it into ungainly flight. He cared little for the Simpsons, but
they were human, and there was Adele, the schoolteacher at the ranch.
She had been very kind to him on the few occasions he had been there.
It was unthinkable that she fall captive to the fiends from the outer
planet. He must get there quickly.

The och he rode flew with exasperating slowness, and when he
topped the last rise, his heart sank. A stumpy black ship was just
taking off, leaving behind it huge billows of smoke mushrooming up out
of the Simpson house and the hide warehouse. But there was still
another on the ground, a much smaller one of reddish color. That meant
that a Uran chieftain had stayed behind for some bit of last minute
loot.

Then Hartwell saw what that "loot" was. Smoke began to curl from
the eaves of the schoolhouse, and out of it stepped the huge Uran,
bearing lightly in his arms the form of an unconscious woman. Adele!
That time the och jumped, for the hot goad was applied full force.

As the och fluttered panting to the ground inside the body-strewn
compound, Bob Hartwell was off in one bound, jerking his blaster out
as he leaped. He knew the weapon was useless against the monster's
thick hide, but it might draw his attention. The Uran was on the
threshold of his ship; in a moment he would be gone.

Hartwell took careful aim and fired. The ray struck the creature
squarely in the back, searing away a patch of feathers.

The Uran vented a howl of rage and threw his burden down, then
whirled and glared about to see where the attack had come from. He
spotted Hartwell and charged, roaring, flailing his great arms. There
were weird and lethal weapons hanging to the belt he wore about his
middle, but Hartwell did not expect him to use them. The Urans gloried
in their fierce strength, and preferred to clasp their victims to them
and with one twist of their gigantic hands wring the head from the
body. So Hartwell awaited the onslaught, armed only with a cast-off
och-shoe he picked up from the ground beside him. He had tossed the
useless blaster away, since no man-devised ray could pierce the Uran
hide.

The och-shoe was an iron affair, shaped much like a giant thumb-
tack, only the pointed part was a spiral screw which worked up into
the animal's horny leg. The shoe proper was a disc of iron, roughly a
foot in diameter. Hartwell held it loosely behind his back until the
charging foe was almost upon him. The Uran leaped, grimacing and
screaming, with outstretched arms to grasp his prey.

In that brief instant, while the monster was in mid-air, Hartwell
flicked the shoe to the front and planted it squarely on his own
middle, set his stomach muscles, and tensed for the creature's bone-
cracking grip. He ducked just as the heavy, feathered chest hit his,
and felt the wind knocked out of him as he went over backward with the
steel bands of arms encircling him and squeezing. For a moment things
went black, and then the Uran ululated horribly and Hartwell felt the
icy orange body juice of the monster oozing out upon him. He had
tricked the creature into doing something he had not the strength
himself to do--puncture his softest part with a shaft of twisted
steel. It had been a desperate gamble--but it won!

As they rolled apart, Hartwell snatched a weapon from the Uran's
belt. The chieftain staggered to his feet, clutching at his torn belly
and screaming. By then Hartwell had found out how to operate the gun
in his hand, and let drive with it. There was a hissing sound, a sharp
kick, and the Uran's upper half silently disappeared. Hartwell left
the still kicking legs on the ground behind him and darted toward the
grounded ship.

Another Uran poked his snout out, only to receive the fire from
his dead chieftain's gun. Hartwell blasted two more before he reached
the prostrate form of Adele, but though he sprang past her and on into
the ship, he saw no more. He stood for a moment in the entry port,
alert for a rush. None came. He took a hasty look at the interior of
the craft.

Uran science had developed on peculiar lines. Hartwell understood
nothing he saw, except the nauseous bin filled with human hides and
heads lately torn from their owners. He saw also the piles of booty,
and selected from one of them a double handful of Saturn stones, each
worth a fortune. In the emergency that lay ahead it would be well to
have at hand some instantly negotiable assets. Then he opened the
spigot of what seemed to be a drum of lubricant and let its contents
flow out. He set the gummy liquid on fire, then ran out, caught up the
unconscious Adele, and staggered through the smoke to where his och
was waiting. Now to get to Ionopolis--if it could be done.



It took them four days to reach the city. The clumsy och, despite
all goading, stubbornly refused to fly carrying double, so the journey
was at a plodding walk.

For the first two days of the trek, the sky was full of refugee
ships hurrying to what they hoped was safety. Only a few Uran ships
were to be seen, only the vanguard of the horde that was sure to come
as soon as they had done their vileness elsewhere. Io, it appeared,
was the last place on their list.

The gates of Ionopolis were closed, and hard-faced Ionian guards
turned back all but native Ionians. A clamorous mob of Tellurians,
Venusians, and Martians were begging for admission within the walls,
but the guards were obdurate. The city was jammed already. Io could
look out only for her own.

Hartwell shouldered his way through the crowd, dragging Adele
behind him. At last he got to the brutish officer in charge and
whispered something to him. At first he got an angry shake of the
head, but there was a flash from hand to hand, and the guard officer
became more civil. The exchange of the Saturn stone had been so
quickly and discreetly done that none standing by saw it. But there
was a wild clamor of indignation raised by those left behind when they
saw the guard summon a subordinate and have the lately arrived pair
ushered through a small postern gate.

"Safety--for awhile, at least," breathed Hartwell, as they emerged
inside.

Adele shuddered. She could not forget the horrible scene at the
ranch.

They walked on, noticing that the city was crowded. Almost every
house was shuttered up, and most had signs on them saying there was no
lodging or food to be had inside. Then Hartwell spied a soldier
tacking up a bulletin, and saw the crowd surge up behind him to read
what the latest bad news was. He left Adele at the fringe and bucked
his way in until he could see for himself. As he read it, the lines of
his face tightened grimly. They had fallen out of the frying pan into
the fire!

It was a proclamation by the viceroy. "Owing to the impending
siege, the overcrowded condition of the city, and the shortage of
food, it was imperative, the order said, for the city to rid itself at
once of all non-citizens. Those foreigners who could manage to find
room on board ships bound for the Inner Planets were advised to leave,
but no one could be allowed into the sky port without an exit visa. All
other foreigners found in the city after noon tomorrow would be given
their choice of the lethal chamber or being thrust outside to take
their chances with the Urans. It was a harsh measure, concluded His
Excellency, but necessary. He had, however, arranged for a few 'mercy
ships.'"

Hartwell backed away. Again he seized Adele by the hand, and
hastened forward. The streets were packed and the going hard, but they
made some progress. They had to detour four blocks to get by the
Martian Embassy, for the frantic Martians were equally affected by the
order, and all the ten thousand of them were trying to get passports
at once. It was a foretaste of what to expect at their own legation.

There, an even larger crowd were frantically besieging the guards
to let them in, and among them many aristocrats in their purple
tunics, and bankers with their white and gold robes. Immense sums of
money were being openly offered as bribes.

It looked like a hard nut to crack, but Hartwell cracked it. He
found a back door--the one he had been taken through as a prisoner--
where the crowd was small and relatively poor, and after a good deal
of hushed dickering was admitted. The cost was four of the precious
Saturn stones.

Two hours later he and Adele were ushered into the office of the
Third Secretary. That exquisite gentleman looked Hartwell over
insolently and favored Adele with a similar disdainful look. Hartwell
returned the look with interest. It had been this very secretary who
had committed him on the day of his arrival.

"How did you get in, you scum?" asked the secretary, in a silky
voice.

"I walked in," said Hartwell, restraining himself. It was no time
to display temperament. "We want visas to Tellus. Here are our
passports."

The secretary did not so much as glance at them. He lay back
dreamily in his chair.

"My dear fellow, don't you know there are only three ships going
out tomorrow and that they are already booked to two hundred per cent
capacity? There may be a third, but there are many ahead of you. Fine
people, powerful people, wealthy people..."

Hartwell suppressed his craving to commit murder and drew out his
remaining store of Saturn stones. There were six left. He selected a
good one and held it out. The rest had to be saved for the greedy
"mercy ship" people. The secretary displayed his interest by the gleam
in his eyes, but, "You do not understand my friend," he said weakly.
"Visas are not to be purchased." He paused and scratched his head
thoughtfully. "However, I might use my influence for, shall we say,
five more?"

The secretary never knew what hit him. He slithered down into his
well-cushioned chair until his weight rested on the nape of his neck.
And there he slept gently while the grim-faced ex-astragator rummaged
his desk until he found his stamps and seals.

A moment later the passports were in order.

"Come," he said to the wide-eyed Adele, "let's go."

But he paused a moment to select the least valuable of the
stones--a pale amber one of low grade, yet worth ten years' salary to
its recipient. He stooped and placed it in the sleeper's hands and
gently folded the fingers to encompass it.

"Appeasement," whispered Hartwell to Adele, as they tiptoed out
the back door of the room. Four hours later they were on the skyfield,
camped with the other lucky ones, about the fires lit near the
cradles. There was one more hurdle to be jumped, but that would have
to wait until the ships came in.



Chapter Four FUGITIVE FROM THE SLAVE-WORLD



WHEN dawn came the Ionian soldiers routed out the half-frozen
sleepers and herded them to one side of the field. The three "mercy
ships" were about to land. They were three good-sized liners sent from
Mars at the urgent request of the Jovian viceroy. It took them about
an hour to get settled and the slag to cool enough for the people to
approach. Then the grand rush began. The first ship open was
immediately engulfed by a throng of frenzied refugees, each fighting
to be the first in.

Two thousand of them must have been taken in when its great port
clanged shut. The same thing occurred at the second, but by the time
the third's turn for loading came, the soldiers had established some
semblance of order. The crowd had thinned to manageable proportions,
though it was evident that the remaining ship could not possibly hold
more than half of them. With clubs and drawn blasters, the soldiers
forced the frightened crowd to form orderly lines. Then the final
loading began.

Hartwell and Adele were within a hundred places of the head of the
line when the last refugee disappeared within the ship. Hartwell
entertained the thought of trying to strong-arm his way forward, but a
glance about at the determined military told him that that was out. It
looked very much as if he were beaten again. The same thought must
have occurred to many others, for the crowd began to melt and drift
back toward the city. The idea of many was to secure breakfast, if
food was to be had.

"Stick around," said Hartwell to Adele, as she, too, suggested
they had better think of something else. "That skunk said _at least_
three ships. There may be others." He lied when he said it, for what
the secretary had said was that there would be only three ships and
that they were booked to double capacity. But he hoped against hope
that there might be another. If so, they would be on the ground. At
any rate, only death lay behind them.

All the eager crowd had gone but a scant four or five hundred when
the flare of breaking rockets was seen overhead. There was a
scampering to get clear of the incoming ship, then a brief anxious
wait, and the surge forward.

"But it's blistering my feet," wailed Adele, as they hurried
across the still smoking ground.

"Damn the feet!" muttered Hartwell, picking her up and carrying
her. "I can do without feet, but not without a head." They were among
the first to approach the newcomer, and already the soldiers had taken
charge and formed a line. This time there were only a few dozen ahead,
and Hartwell knew they would get in. He saw the name of the vessel
painted in fresh white letters over the entry port. It was the _White
Swan_ of Juno. It was not a liner, but an old scow of a freighter,
very similar in its lines to the _Wanderer_ he had inspected at
Moloch, on Mars. As the line crawled closer, he could see a man
sitting at a desk beside the port, another standing beside him with a
drawn blaster, and still another armed man at the port itself.



At last Hartwell and Adele reached third place. By then he had
taken in the situation. The man at the desk was Fennery, with a box
before him and a large basket on the ground beside him. The box was
half filled with gems and uranium briquettes, the basket with
Tellurian gold-backed radium certificates. The man on guard over him
was Larsen, the quartermaster; the man at the port was Quorquel. The
ship was the _Wanderer,_ as closer scrutiny of the false name showed.
Underneath the paint the embossed permanent name could still be read
by an inquisitive eye.

Another dilemma. Behind lay the choice of lethal chamber or
sacrifice to the Urans. Ahead lay certain treachery, though the nature
of it was unpredictable. But ahead also were the very men Hartwell
wanted to come to grips with, and this time he was forewarned. He
could not hope to cope with the forces behind him, but he might
attempt once more to match wits with these crooks. He resolved to take
the chance, though he realized he was involving the innocent Adele in
his gamble.

"This is hay!" he heard Fennery bellow out contemptuously to a
sputtering, indignant banker, who had offered a bale of countless
Jovian _talents._ "First-water jewels, or good Tellurian cash...no
junk goes.
"
"B-b-but," stammered the banker, despair in the face.

"G'wan," ordered Larsen, twirling his blaster. The Ionian soldier
at the head of the line pushed the banker roughly out onto the field.
It took real money to get aboard the merciful _White Swan._

The next man up had good collateral. A pint of good Martian super-
diamonds and a couple hundred thousand _sols of_ Earth-guaranteed
currency. Fennery took it all, then demanded more.

"That's all I've got," protested the man. "It's a fortune."

"Okay," said Fennery, indifferently, "but you'll be searched at
the entry. What they find on you'll be extra fare for lying."

Hartwell knew that was so, for he had noticed Quorquel frisking
each one as he went in, and there was another box and basket by his
side. So when he confronted Fennery, he held all five of his remaining
Saturn stones in his hand.

"Don't waste my time, you bum," snorted Fennery, recognizing him.
He made a gesture to the soldier.

"Wait," said Hartwell, and displayed the stones. "For two, me and
the young lady." He shoved Adele past him and in front.

"Not enough," grunted Fennery.

"It's twice as much per head as the guy ahead just gave you."
Hartwell shot a knowing look at the Ionian soldier and delivered a
friendly wink. The soldier grinned. That was enough for Hartwell. He
tossed the five stones into Fennery's box and started to walk on in.

"Hey," shouted Fennery, "it's not enough, I said." But his bluster
began to fade as the Ionian soldier moved forward with a threatening
look. Even an Ionian can stand just so much. "But," Fennery finished
lamely, "I happen to be short a mate. The stones go for her; you can
work your way. Okay?"

"Okay," said Hartwell. Fennery had saved face, but at the cost of
his insurance, if that was the racket this time. Also it would enable
Hartwell to have access to the operating parts of the ship, a
privilege which would be denied him as a paying passenger.

Hartwell underwent the loathsome Quorquel's search without batting
an eye. Then he took Adele by the arm and stepped into the dark lock
of the old _Wanderer._ Anything connected with Fennery and Quorquel
was smelly; but why had they changed the old tub's name? Something
most definitely stank.

"Watch your step every instant from now on," he whispered to
Adele, as he led her into the musty interior. "This ship's dynamite
and the personnel's poison."



Mars was the supposed destination, but the course Fennery set led
far afield from the usual one.

He explained it by saying the normal course was badly cluttered
with some of the tiniest of the cosmic gravel, which was very hard to
predict and avoid. They would straighten up after they had pierced the
Belt.

Conditions on board could only be described as awful. There was
food enough, thanks to the forehold being crammed with Callistan
_frajiman,_ a sort of copra made from cactus plants. It had a vile
taste and odor, but was rich in food value and vitamins. But the air
was bad, and from the outset the water was rationed in driblets.
Knowing Stellar's parsimonious policy in general, and that this trip
was an impromptu one, Hartwell had serious doubts that many of those
on board would reach the destination alive, whatever it was.

It was the living quarters that were the worst. In order to
accommodate as many refugees as possible, Fennery had evidently
jettisoned part of his cargo in space so that he could use the
afterhold for a barracks. Hartwell recognized the odor the moment he
stepped into the place. It was ochtosaur oil, which not only has a
nauseous odor, but is gummy and sticky, and the drums it is
transported in invariably leak. In that hold, which was always
insufferably hot, due to its proximity to the driving tubes, standee
bunks four tiers high had been erected. The narrow aisles that ran
between could not hold all the passengers at once, so that they were
compelled to lie abed. The place was almost a second Black Hole of
Calcutta.

Hartwell had been given the second mate's room, which he promptly
turned over to Adele and three other women. The room was designed for
one occupant, but crowded as it was, it was palatial as compared with
the afterhold. He himself slept, when off duty, in the deck of the
passage just outside the control room. He was put to work immediately,
standing control watches with Larsen as helper, while Fennery and
Quorquel took the other trick.

He took pains to make friends with Larsen, for he judged the
fellow to have a decent streak, for all his sullen obedience to every
order given him.

"There's dirty work going on here," observed Hartwell, the second
night out. "It's going to be tough on that pack of suckers back aft."

Larsen grinned sourly.

"There's always dirty work afoot on a Stellar ship," he said
sourly. Then added with disgust, "But this is _too_ dirty. I'm sick of
it already."

"What's the payoff?"

"I--don't--know," said Larsen, dragging the words out worriedly.
"We were three days out of Callisto with barely enough fuel to reach
Mars, short of water, and short of air, what with keeping those holds
up to pressure on the trip out. Then Fennery gets the S.O.S., sees
dough in it, dumps the och oil over the side, and high-tails it back
for Io. We couldn't get to Mars if we wanted to."

"Why did they change the name of the ship?"

"I don't know that, either."

Hartwell puckered his brow. He was going to have to do some
detective work and do it fast. He did not mean to be too late, like
last time.

"You going to string along?" he asked.

"Guess so. I'll have to. It's a dog's life, but they always take
care of you. If you play with 'em, they cover you. If you don't--well,
it's just too bad."

"I found that out."

"Yeah. There wasn't any pentaluminate on that ship you crashed.
Stellar bought it, all right, and paid for it. But you went out empty.
Then he loaded it and came on after. Good clean up that--my share was
a grand."

"How do they split?"

"Stellar takes half; Fennery splits a third with Quorquel; we get
the rest. That crew that double-crossed you got a grand apiece, too.
Fennery figured you to be a good captain and that you would do just
what you did. He knows Hebe like a sister, and just where she would
be. It was as easy as that."

Hartwell laughed mirthlessly. _Yes,_ it _was as easy as that!_



When he went off watch, Hartwell turned in after a bite to eat and
pretended to be asleep. But not for long. He had previously abstracted
the key to the lifeboat compartment long enough to make a copy. With
that in his hand, he stole up a ladder, crossed the ship, and climbed
another ladder. He unlocked the door, flicked on the light, and went
in.

He was prepared for a well-stocked lifeboat--wasn't it an old
Stellar custom?--but nothing like what he found. The seats for the
fourteen crew members had been torn out and stacked at one side. Where
they had been, there was, instead, an assemblage of packing cases and
gas containers. Food, food, and more food. Spare space suits. Bottles
of air at high pressures. Plenty of extra fuel. A field radio set. And
seats left for only two men!

He searched further. He found a fat envelope, sealed. He weighed
it in his hand, then remembered that there were plenty of such
envelopes he could get at to replace it with. He tore it open and
squinted at the contents. There were the insurance policies--the
ship's copy of them. But more amazing, there was the _Wanderer's_
original log worked out for five days to come! He had no time to
examine it, but thrust it back into the envelope and laid it away. He
hunted for the jewels and money, but those evidently had not been
brought up yet. Nor the blasters or ammunition. But among the tanks
and boxes were the sky chests of both Fennery and Quorquel. It was to
be a two-man take-off, and devil take those left behind!

For one brief moment a great and almost overpowering temptation
came to him. The ship was doomed--it had inadequate air and fuel, and
the water was perilously low. Those in it were either wastrels or
scoundrels for the most part. Why shouldn't he slip down and quietly
call Adele, and the two of them escape now while the chance was at
hand?

But another thought pushed the evil one out of his head. It was
not the way he wanted to deal with Fennery, nor would it exonerate
him. It was easy to run, but he preferred to stay and fight. So he
stopped and stood in thought for a moment. Then he resolved on his
course of action. The first steps were clear, the end clouded with
doubt; but it did not involve running away.

He lost no time in getting back down below. He found Larsen and
shook him awake. He told him hastily--while between them they made up
a dummy package to replace the stolen log and policies--roughly what
was afoot.

"They take care of you, huh?" he finished. "Come, I want to show
you something."

Larsen gritted his teeth when he saw, then cursed his captain and
first mate fluently and at length.

"They're wary as foxes, damn 'em," he said finally, "and they've
got the blasters. What can we do?"

"Plenty," said Hartwell, grimly. He had had a peep at the log he'd
found and he knew he had a few days. He also was not unfamiliar with
the Belt. "Gimme a hand."

That was the beginning. While Fennery and Quorquel stood their own
watch together, Hartwell and Larsen were working like beavers,
shuttling up and down ladders. The provision cases were broached, one
by one, emptied and resealed. Their contents were stacked in
Hartwell's room, much to the discomfort of the four women living
there. But they were told to help themselves. Fennery's choice chow
beat _frajiman_ forty ways.

The same with water. The two stealthy rectifiers of wrong brought
down all the full breakers and replaced them with others that were
also full--but not of water. Ditto the air flasks. They bled several
into the polluted air of the ship at large, and took them back empty.
The others they switched for the ones emptied on the voyage out. They
also stole most of the boat's fuel and hid it in appropriate places.
The radio they did not dare remove, for there was no replacement for
it, and the theft would be noticed. They contented themselves with
disabling it.

"They won't enjoy their cruise, I'm thinking," remarked Larsen
gleefully. He was doing something he had yearned to do for years.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet," said Hartwell, and produced a small
welder. He put the deflector fins of the boat hard over and welded
them that way. Then he took a wrench and cast loose the control lever,
set it as if midships, and tightened it up.

That was the end of the fourth night's work. Hartwell checked over
his elaborate piece of sabotage and found it good. There was one item
left undone--to recover the money and jewels. It might be done, or
might not.

It was the twentieth hour of the next day that Hartwell and Larsen
relieved their superiors for what they knew was to be the final watch.
They took over the controls as stolidly as if they had really been the
dupes Fennery thought them to be. But the echoes of the steps down the
corridor had hardly faded away when Hartwell jumped up.

"Remember," he warned, "if they come back and ask for me, tell 'em
I got sick and had to go to the head."

Then Hartwell was off. Fennery had gone, he knew, to his room
where the stuff was in the safe. Where Quorquel had gone, he could not
guess. But he hurried up to the boat compartment, went in and locked
the door behind him, and hid on the far side of the boat.

Presently he heard the grating of a key in the lock. Then Fennery
came in. Hartwell crouched and listened. He heard the gems clink in
their carrying bags as Fennery carefully stowed them underneath the
seat that was to be his. After doing that, he went out.

"The money, of course," thought Hartwell, realizing that there was
so much of the booty that it could not all be carried on one trip.
Well, let the money go--a dozen of the best stones was worth all of
it. And, he thought with sardonic satisfaction, possessing a few
millions in money would add a little fillip to their discomfort while
starving in the void. Moreover, he did not want to be in the boat
compartment when the boat's blast was fired. He scrabbled up the jewel
bags and hurried out.

He had to squeeze into the shadow of a stanchion as he heard both
men coming. Both were wheezing and heavy laden, and so intent on
placing their feet that they did not see him. Hartwell let them pass,
then scurried on below. He had just reached the control deck when he
heard the dull boom of the boat's kickoff and felt the faint tremor
that shook the ship. They were on their way!

And at that moment, also, the _Wanderer's_ own tubes sputtered,
misfired, and died out. In that last ten minutes, Quorquel had been
attending to a small job of sabotage of his own. Well, he was
fiendishly thorough, so there was no use in hurrying about it. A
minute or so would make no difference.

Hartwell dropped the jewel bags into the hands of the expectant
girls.

"Stick 'em under the mattress," he directed, "and one of you be
lying on it all the time. Hope it don't put kinks in your backs." And
with that he was gone.

He hurriedly gave Larsen the high spots. There was no point in
keeping up the watch now. If the ship was going to hit something, she
would hit it, and that was that. Together they combed the vessel for
what Quorquel had done.

It was plenty. The radio was smashed beyond repair, even in a sky
yard. The last message that had come in was one telling of the fall of
Io. The injectors and superheaters of the main driving tubes were
hopelessly damaged. The momentum they had was what they would always
have, neither more nor less, until they locked horns with some
wandering hunk, of cosmic debris. But no, not necessarily, for they
found the antiquated bow tubes still in working condition. Quorquel
had not thought it necessary to spend time on them. They were smaller
than the main drive and of a different model. Their injectors could
not be modified to fit the rear tubes.

Hartwell learned some other discouraging facts. The retrieved
water supply was so small as to help hardly at all, though there was
plenty of everything else except air. The best that could be said
about that was that it would support life--a headachey, listless sort
of life. If he had water enough, he could electrolyze some and make
air; but he hadn't. So, beyond issuing a slightly better food ration,
he could do nothing to help the passengers. He did not even tell them
of their predicament.

He did select six of the ablest men and call them forward. Two
were engineers and one a chemist; two were in the mercantile business,
but they had been enthusiastic sky-yachtsmen. The other was
superintendent of a scrondium refinery. Hartwell told them something
about the situation and berthed them, three in Quorquel's room, and
three in Larsen's. He and Larsen, since they would be on opposite
watches thereafter, moved into the skipper's cabin. That relieved the
congestion aft a trifle, and gave him some helpers--if he could find
any way to utilize their help.

Then he began a feverish study of the Ephemerides of the
Asteroids. The more he searched the more dejected he got. There was
not a single inhabited asteroid they could reach in their present
condition. In ten days more the water would be gone. After that? Well,
he'd have to think up something else.



Chapter Five TWO MUST DIE!



IRONICALLY enough, he found an asteroid to lie dead ahead. They
would crash on it inevitably unless he could work some miracle--and
his fagged brain had ran out of what it takes to make miracles. The
planetoid was one of the Scrappos-Scrappo IV, to be precise. It was a
graveyard for ships, a handy junk pile for the disposition of
derelicts so obsolete as to be not worth the cost of breaking up. From
his calculations, it looked to Hartwell very much as if the weary
_Wanderer_ was about to add her rusty bones to the pile.

He scratched his head, then sent for his newly appointed civilian
staff.

"In exactly seven days," he told them, "we smash on Scrappo IV. I
don't think we'll actually crack up, but these freighters are cranky
to handle under bow tubes alone. Then what? Any ideas?"

There was a long silence. After a bit, one of the engineers spoke
up.

"I visited one of the Scrappos once. We could do worse. A great
many derelicts have been dumped on them without much done in the way
of stripping. Of course, space tramps visit the dumps every now and
then and pick about, but we might find something worthwhile--a tube
fitting here, another there, and so on. I vote we go on."

"We are going on," said Hartwell, with a grimness that was more
telling than a flood of oratory could have been, "but let's not
deceive ourselves. There may be spare parts enough, if we can find
them. But our water will give out a day or so after our arrival. I'm
not hopeful of finding that. In the meantime, you fellows circulate
among the other passengers and dig out some men for working parties,
if you can find any real ones among that batch of pampered
aristocrats. If they talk back and tell you how much this voyage has
already cost 'em, just tell 'em that from here out it'll be 'root hog,
or die!' There'll be no more water for shirkers."

Hartwell resumed his anxious study of the skies ahead.

Ultimately the hour came when he had to begin deceleration. His
new aides proved good men, and handled the tubes well. All in all, it
was a trying maneuver, for the Scrappo was a dazzling white object,
despite its heavy freckling of wreckage, and there were moments when
Hartwell thought he would go blind.

But he grounded the ship in what appeared to be a blinding fog--
but turned out to be particles of white dust kicked up by the blast.
It stayed up for a long time, but eventually settled back to the
ground, for there was no air to sustain it. But Scrappo's gravity was
not so great, either, and the white dust was in no hurry to come down.

Hartwell mustered two work parties. That was all he could send out
at one time, for there were only a dozen space suits on board. The
engineer, Ellison, led one, and Larsen the other. Hartwell watched
them leave, but without optimism. There was less than ten gallons of
water left, and more than two hundred persons to divide it among. He
had won, but he had lost. It looked like the end of the road, for this
desolate white planetoid was the driest of deserts--soft, snowy
powder.



Larsen sent two men back after a bit. They carried a strange
burden. Each had a huge bag of dried clumps of rootlets with dead
stems hanging limply from them. They were air plants of the genus
_Carnivore Veneris,_ insatiable consumers of carbon dioxide, formerly
used on ships as air conditioners. They never died--all these needed
was soaking in water and placing in foul air. Then they would burgeon
gloriously until whatever hold they were placed in would look like a
glen in a Venusian valley. Hartwell looked at them dubiously. It would
take a quarter of the water store to revive them. Much as they needed
fresh air, he told the men to dump them in the control room.

Then Ellison returned, delighted. The third ship he had visited
was of the _Wanderer's_ type, badly smashed forward, but with rear
tubes intact. The fittings on at least four of them might be used,
though they were somewhat larger. He thought that by interposing
reducers--which could be made from other casual junk--they might be
made to work.

In the meantime the chemist had been prowling around in the near
vicinity. He came back looking as if he had been in a snow storm, but
there was a gleam of delight in his eyes. He held out a handful of the
white surface stuff of Scrappo IV.

"Here's water," he said, "enough to drown ourselves in. This stuff
is gypsum. All you've got to do is heat it and rig a retort to catch
the water in."

The statement galvanized his listeners to action. Ellison knew at
once what to do. They would construct a huge oven under the stern of
the wrecked ship with the serviceable tubes, using a tube to furnish
the heat. Collector hoods, which could be made from old bulkheads,
would lead the vapor to an old water tank. The passengers could turn
to with improvised shovels, providing the ovens with raw gypsum, and
cleaning the dehydrated stuff out at times. He thought he could do it
in not more than two days.

He did. Four days later the _Wanderer's_ tanks were overflowing.
Everyone had bathed and had drunk his fill. The airplants cluttered
the overhead of the ship throughout, and were spreading their tendrils
farther. Now they had air and water, as well as food. They could not
find a radio that could be made to work, but they did find a great
quantity of rocket fuel. A half-drum here, a quarter-drum there, but
the sum of them was more than enough to fill the ship's bunkers.

It was exactly a week after their landing that Hartwell lifted the
_Wanderer_ and pointed her Earthward. That was the ultimate
destination of most on board, and he saw no point in going on to Mars.
It was a longer voyage, but, aside from overcrowding, all on board
were happy. The flabby men that had come aboard whimpering with terror
were now transformed. All hands looked on the last leg of the trip as
a great lark.



Hartwell spent the last day bringing his log up to date--the true
log of the _Wanderer._ That log had been signed every day by Fennery
until his desertion, and it began the day he turned back to Io. In it
he had put the truth, excepting a fairy tale involving the change of
name.

The other log, the one Fennery meant to take with him in the boat,
was a mass of clever falsification. It made no mention of turning back
after they had left Callisto. On the contrary, it was full of the
details of the voyage to Mars until the very date of the desertion. As
of that date there was a lurid account of an explosion in the tube
room and the killing of most of the crew. A fierce fire instantly
swept the ship and the officers were forced to abandon it.

Hartwell smiled a hard smile of joy. Here he had incontrovertible
evidence, written in his enemy's own hand, of the vile scheme. Fennery
had planned not only to double-cross the I.U. again, at the sacrifice
of his crew and passengers, but his crooked company as well.

What Hartwell and Larsen had taken out of the boat was proof of
that. Fennery and Quorquel had meant to go to some chosen asteroid,
cache their gems and money. Then they would take the void again with
only the false log and the insurance papers, and thereby give the
impression of being the shipwrecked mariners they pretended to be. The
company would collect the insurance, give them their cut; then they
could come back and pick up their hoard.

But Hartwell had the hoard, and those who had contributed it as
witnesses. Moreover, there was Larsen, now a changed man.

Luna was astern now, and the ship well down into the Earth's
stratosphere. Hartwell put her into a glide until he was over the
great sky port of New New York.

He landed her at quarantine, and promptly went to the office of
the Director of Astronautics. In a few words he gave the outline of
his story, then waited until the president of the Interplanetary
Underwriters could come.

He laid the two logs on the table and told his story--both
stories, that of the _Hyperion_ as well as the _Wanderer. He_ produced
the bags of jewels.

The Director of Astronautics leaned forward and pressed a button.

"Cancel the charter of Stellar Transport," he barked into the
transmitter. "Ground all ships, arrest all employees from the
president down. Report back."

He turned to Hartwell.

"What else do you want?"

"I want a full exoneration in the _Hyperion_ affair and removal
from I.U.'s blacklist."

"Done," said the president of the I.U. It was his turn to grab the
transmitter.

"Now to pick up Fennery and Quorquel," continued the Director.
"What was their point of departure, course and speed? How much
supplies did they have?"

Hartwell calmly gave the coordinates of the place of desertion.
"The course?" he said, screwing up his nose. "Why, a tight, incurring
spiral, with a tendency to drift in our wake. Speed? Just enough to
get well clear. There was fuel enough for the initial blast, no food,
no water, and what air they happened to have in their helmets."

"Why, man," exclaimed the Director, aghast, "they must be dead by
now!"

"Quite probably," said Hartwell.



THE END



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