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   Chapter 6 No.6

Sabotage in Space By Carey Rockwell Characters: 15560

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Sabotage!

Major Connel, Commander Walters, Captain Strong, Professor Hemmingwell, and Dave Barret stared unbelievingly at the tangle of wires and smashed tubes on the main deck of the sleek spaceship.

"Get every man that has been in this hangar during the last twenty-four hours and have him brought under guard to the laboratory for psychographs." Commander Walters' face was grim as he snapped out the order.

Professor Hemmingwell and Barret got down on their hands and knees and examined the wrecked firing device carefully. After a long period of silence, while Strong, Walters, and Connel watched them pawing through the tangle of wires and broken connections, Hemmingwell stood up.

"It can be replaced in twelve hours," he announced. "I believe that whoever did this either didn't know what he was doing, or it was an accident."

"Explain that, will you, Professor?" asked Strong. "I don't understand."

"This is an important unit," Hemmingwell replied, indicating the wreckage, "but not the most important part of the whole unit. Anyone who really knew what he was doing and wanted to delay the project could have done so much more easily by simply destroying this." Hemmingwell held out a small metallic-looking cylinder.

"What is that, Professor?" asked Barret.

"Don't you know?" asked Connel.

"No, he doesn't," snapped Professor Hemmingwell. "This is something I developed that only the commander and myself know about."

"So, if you and Commander Walters are the only ones that know about it," said Steve Strong slowly, "then a saboteur would have thought it unimportant and concentrated on the rest of the mechanism."

"Looks that way," mused Connel. "But there is still the possibility that it was an accident, as the professor said."

Strong looked at Connel questioningly and then back to the wreckage. The unit had been hurled from the upper deck of the spaceship, down to the main deck, and it looked as if someone had trampled on its delicate works.

"I'll have a crew put right to work on this," said Hemmingwell.

"Commander," Connel suddenly announced, "I'm going ahead with my trip to Mars to inspect the testing receivers. I don't think this incident is serious enough for me to delay leaving, and if Professor Hemmingwell and his men can get this unit back in operation in twelve hours, then there's very little time lost and we can go ahead with the tests on schedule."

"All right, Lou," said Walters. "Do whatever you think best. I'll have a ship made ready for you at the Academy spaceport any time you want to leave."

Connel nodded his thanks. "I think I'll take the Polaris, with Cadet Corbett along as second pilot," he said. "I'm getting too old to make a solo hop in a scout all the way to Mars. I need my rest." He grinned slyly at Walters.

"Rest," Walters snorted. "If I know you, Lou Connel, you'll be up all night working out standard operational procedures for the space projectiles." He turned to Strong. "He's so sure this will work that he's already writing a preliminary handbook for the enlisted personnel."

Strong turned and looked at the major, amazed. Every day he learned more and more about the space-hardened veteran.

Connel turned to Strong. "Will you give Corbett the order to be ready at 0600 hours tomorrow morning, Steve?" he asked.

"Certainly, Lou," replied Strong.

As the major turned away, Walters called after him, "Take it easy."

Leaving Hemmingwell and Barret to take care of clearing away the wreckage, Strong and Walters climbed out of the ship, left the hangar, and headed for the Academy.

"Do you think it was sabotage, sir?" asked Strong, as they rode on the slidewalk.

"I don't know, Steve," said the commander. "If that special unit of Hemmingwell's had been damaged, I would say it might have been an accident. But the things that were damaged would have put the whole works out of commission if we didn't have that unit."

"Yes, sir," said Strong grimly. "So the man who did it thought he was doing a complete job."

"Right," said Walters. "Assuming that it was sabotage."

"Anyone you suspect?"

"Not a living soul," replied Walters. "Every man in that hangar has been carefully screened by our Security Section. Background, history, everything. No, I think it really was an accident."

"Yes, sir," replied Strong, but not with the conviction he would like to have felt.

* * *

Pat Troy had been Professor Hemmingwell's foreman for nearly two years. It was his job to read the complicated blueprints and keep the construction and installation work proceeding on schedule. Troy lacked a formal education, but nevertheless he could read and interpret the complicated plans which the professor and his assistants drew up, and transform their ideas into actual mechanical devices. Professor Hemmingwell considered himself fortunate to have a man of Troy's ability not only as a co-worker, but as a close friend.

But Dave Barret did not like Troy, and he made this dislike obvious by giving Troy as much work as possible, mainly tasks that were beneath his ability, claiming he only trusted the trained scientists. Barret put the professor in the position of having to defend one to the other. He needed both men, both being excellent in their respective fields, and found it more and more difficult to maintain any kind of peaceful relationship between them. Barret, as Hemmingwell's chief assistant and supervisor of the project, was naturally superior in rank to Troy, and made the most of it. A placid, easy-going man, Troy took Barret's gibes and caustic comments in silence, doing his work and getting it finished on time. But occasionally he had difficulty in controlling his resentment.

The day after the accident, or sabotage attempt on the firing unit, the hangar was quiet, most of the workers still being psychographed. Troy, one of the first to be graphed, had been detained by the technicians longer than usual, but was now back at his bench, working on the unit. This incident gave Barret the opportunity he was looking for, and as he and Professor Hemmingwell strode through the hangar, he commented casually, "I hate to say this, sir, but I don't like the way Troy has been acting lately."

"What do you mean, Dave?" asked Hemmingwell.

"I depend a great deal on instinct," replied Barret. "And as good as Troy's work has been, I feel the man is hiding something."

"Come now, Dave," snorted the professor. "I've known him a long time. I think you're being a little harsh."

As Barret shrugged and didn't reply, a troubled expression crossed Hemmingwell's face. "But at the same time," he said slowly, "if you have any reservations, I don't suppose it would hurt to keep an eye on him."

"Yes!" agreed Barret eagerly. "That's just what I was thinking."

They reached the workbench where Troy, a small man with powerful arms and shoulders, was working on a complicated array of wires and vacuum tubes. He looked up, nodded casually at the two men, and indicated the instrument.

"Here it is, Professor," he said. "All ready to go. But I had a little trouble fitting that coil where the blueprints called for it."

"Why?" Barret demanded. "I designed that coil myself. Isn't it a little odd that a coil I designed, and the professor O.K.'d, should not fit?"

"I don't care who designed it," said Troy easily. "It didn't fit where the blueprint indicated. I had to redesign it."

"Now, now," said Professor Hemmingwell, sensing trouble. "Take it easy, boys."

"Professor," Barret exploded, "I insist that you fire this man!"

"Fire me!" exclaimed Troy angrily. "Why, you space crawler, you're the one who should be fired. I saw you come back to the hangar the other night alone and...."

"O

f course I did!" snapped Barret. "I was sent down here to get information about-" He stopped suddenly and eyed Troy. "Wait a minute. How could you see me down here? What were you doing here?"

"Why-I-" Troy hesitated. "I came down to check over some equipment."

"Why were you detained at the psychograph tests this morning?" demanded Barret.

"None of your business!" shouted Troy. "I was doing my job. That's all."

"I'll bet," snapped Barret. "Professor, here is your sabotage agent. Who are you working for, Troy?"

"None of your business," stammered Troy, seemingly confused. "I mean, I'm not working for anyone."

"There! You see, Professor!" shouted Barret.

"I think you'd better explain yourself, Pat," said the professor, looking troubled and suspicious. "Why were you detained so long this morning?"

"They were asking me questions."

"What kind of questions?" demanded Barret.

"I'm not allowed to tell you."

"What were you doing here the other night?" pursued Barret. "The night you saw me here."

"I came down to check our supplies. I knew that we were running short on certain equipment."

"What kind of things?" demanded the professor.

"Well, the timers on the oscillators," Troy replied. "I knew we would need them for the new units you and Commander Walters were planning."

"Guard!" shouted Barret suddenly. "Guard!" He turned and called to Roger and Astro, who were standing guard at the doors. They both came running up, their blasters held at ready.

"What is it?" demanded Astro. "What's going on here?"

"Arrest that man!" shouted Barret. Astro and Roger looked questioningly at Troy. They did not know him personally but had seen him around the hangar and knew that he worked closely with the professor and Barret.

Still vaguely distrustful of Barret's behavior, Astro turned to Hemmingwell. "How about it, Professor?" he asked. "Do we haul this guy in?"

Hemmingwell looked at Troy steadily. "Pat, you knew about that new unit I was building?"

"Yes, sir," replied Troy forthrightly. "I accidentally overheard you and Commander Walters discussing it. From what you said about it, I knew you would need new timers for the oscillators-"

Roger and Astro had heard about the vital unit that had not been destroyed, and realized that Troy was admitting to knowledge he shouldn't have had. Roger raised the blaster menacingly. "All right, buster!" he growled. "Move this way and move slowly."

"Professor," exclaimed Troy, "you're not going to let them-!"

"I'm sorry, Pat," said the professor, a dejected look in his eyes. "I have nothing to do with it now. You should have told me that you knew about the new unit. And the fact that you were here the night it was destroyed, well-" He shrugged meaningfully and turned away.

"All right, buster," growled Astro, "do you move or do I move you? It makes no difference to me."

Troy took a look at the blasters leveled at him and silently walked between them to the hangar door. Barret and Professor Hemmingwell remained at the workbench, following the trio with their eyes.

Later, after Troy had been safely locked in the Academy brig, Firehouse Tim Rush sat at his desk in the small security shack taking down the two cadets' reports.

"... And upon the orders of Dave Barret and Professor Hummingbird-" Roger was saying.

"Hemmingwell," snapped Firehouse. "Hemmingwell."

"-Hemmingwell"-nodded Roger with a wink at Astro-"we brought the suspect to the officer of the guard, Firehouse Tim Rush."

"Can that Firehouse, ya squirt!" growled Rush. "Only my friends can call me that. And you two are not in that classification."

"O.K., Fireman," said Roger. "I can call you Fireman, can't I? After all, you are a pretty hot rocket, and-"

"Get back to your posts!" roared Firehouse Tim in his loudest voice.

Roger and Astro grinned and hurried out of the small building. Before resuming their posts in the hangar, the two cadets stopped at an automatic soda dispenser. As they drank slowly, they looked around the hangar. The project was back in full operation now. The workers that had been cleared had heard about the arrest of their foreman, and there seemed to be more talk than work.

Dave Barret walked over to Roger and Astro. Nodding in a surprisingly friendly fashion, he said, "I want to commend you two boys on your good work a while ago. I think that traitor would have tried anything if you hadn't been there. He might even have tried to kill me or the professor."

Roger and Astro mumbled curt thanks for the compliment.

Barret looked at them quizzically. "No need for us to be angry with each other," he said smoothly. "I realize that when we had our two little run-ins you were carrying out your duties, and I apologize for behaving the way I did. How about it? Can we shake and forget it?" He held out his hand. Astro and Roger looked at each other and shrugged, each in turn, taking the young man's hand.

"You know," said Barret, "I've heard a lot about you three cadets of the Polaris unit. Especially you, Manning. I understand that you know almost as much about electronics as your instructor at the Academy."

Roger grinned shyly. "I like my work."

"Well, blast my jets!" roared Astro. "That's the first time I have ever heard Manning accept a compliment gracefully." The big Venusian turned to Barret. "He is not only the finest astrogator in the whole high, wide, and deep," he said sincerely, "but he could have had a wonderful career in electronics if he didn't want to be a rocket jockey with me and Corbett."

"Is that so?" murmured Barret politely. "Well, Manning, you must have some ideas about the work that's going on here."

"I sure have," said Roger. "And I see a lot of things here that could be done a lot easier."

"Hum," mused Barret. "You know something. I think I might be able to relieve you two of guard duty. After all, if Corbett can get out of it, I don't see why I can't put your talents to work for us here. How about it?"

Both boys almost jumped straight up in the air.

"That would be terrific, Mr. Barret!" exclaimed Astro.

"Call me Dave, Astro. We're friends now, remember?"

"Sure, Dave," stuttered Astro. "But listen, we'd do anything to be taken off this detail and get Firehouse off our necks."

Barret smiled. "All right. I'll see what I can do." He turned and walked off, giving them a friendly wave in parting.

Astro and Roger could hardly believe their luck. They returned to their posts and took up guard duty again with light hearts.

In his small private office, Barret watched them through the open door to the hangar and then turned to his desk, to pick up the recently installed private audioceiver. He asked for a private number in a small city on Mars, and then admonished the operator, "This is a security call, miss. Disconnect your circuit and do not listen in. Failure to comply will result in your immediate dismissal and possible criminal prosecution."

"Yes, sir," replied the operator respectfully.

There was a distinct click and Barret heard a gruff voice.

"Hello?"

"This is Barret," the young designer whispered. "Everything's going fine down here. I just had the foreman arrested to throw them off the track, and I have a plan to get rid of two of these nosy cadets." Barret listened a minute and then continued. "Connel and the other cadet, Corbett, have gone to Mars to inspect the receivers. Don't worry about a thing. This ship will never get off the ground. And if it does, it will never fire a projectile."

Barret hung up and returned to the open door. He waved at Roger and Astro on the other side of the hangar and the two cadets waved back.

"Like lambs to the slaughter," he said to himself.

* * *

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