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   Chapter 13 No.13

Sabotage in Space By Carey Rockwell Characters: 12720

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Atom City rocket liner now loading on Ramp Two!"

The metallic voice of the dispatcher echoed through the waiting room of the subspaceport on the outskirts of Marsport and the passengers began moving toward the field gate, where the stewards of the ship checked each ticket against the liner's seating plan. Near them, a squad of four Space Marines scrutinized all passengers carefully as they boarded the waiting jet cars that would take them to the ship far out in the middle of the field.

Tom Corbett sat at the refreshment stand in the waiting room, sipping a glass of milk thoughtfully and eying the squad of Space Marines. He wore a big-billed hat pulled low over his face and a tight-fitting black jacket, the standard uniform of a merchant spaceman.

"Anything else?" asked the pretty waitress behind the counter.

"Yeah," growled Tom. "Gimme another glass of milk and another of these crummy sandwiches."

"Well, you don't have to be rude about it!" snapped the girl. "Somebody should teach you space tramps some manners!"

As she flounced off angrily the young cadet smiled. He knew his disguise must be good indeed to fool this young girl, who met hundreds of people at the spaceport every day and could easily recognize a person for what he truly was. Now his only hope was that the disguise would fool the squad of Marines at the gate.

After having abandoned the jet truck, Tom had moved through the glittering city of Marsport carefully, keeping to the dark alleys and shadows. Gradually he had worked his way back to the area around Sloppy Sam's where, for a few credits, he had been able to buy a merchant spaceman's clothes with no questions asked. He buried his cadet uniform in the loose ground near a construction project.

Then, staying in the area, he wandered in and out of the dingy bars and restaurants looking for the man he had seen at the spaceport, the driver of the truck that had crashed the fence.

He spent three days in his search, not daring to ask questions, simply keeping his eyes open for the man. Finally he had been forced to abandon the search when he saw a stereo newscast reporting that the missing cadet, Tom Corbett, had been traced to Skid Row. He decided that it was time to leave Mars and went to the huge main spaceport, hoping to get aboard a ship bound for Earth. But the Space Marines were stationed at every gate, examining each departing passenger carefully, and Tom knew it would be impossible to get past them. Then he noticed a poster advertising special non-scheduled flights to Atom City, Earth, at reduced rates, that would blast off from a subspaceport on the outskirts of the city. With renewed hope, he had gone there immediately and bought a ticket. Space Marines were on guard here too, but only a small squad. The cadet resolved to make his break here. He had no other choice.

"Here's your milk!" said the waitress, slopping it down on the counter before the cadet. "And your sandwich!"

Tom saw that the Space Marines were watching the passengers very closely

Note

Tom paid for the order and took his time about chewing the stale sandwich. He knew he had to get aboard the ship that was loading now, but the Space Marines were watching the passengers very closely. Suddenly Tom saw a spaceport attendant race up to the squad and hand a message to the sergeant in command of the squad. Leaving the counter, Tom walked quickly to a newsstand near the gate, where he could stand close to the Marines. The sergeant read the message quickly and turned to his squad. Tom strained his ears to listen.

"We have to move out of here or we'll never get out," he said. "There's a Martian sandstorm coming this way. It should hit in about fifteen minutes. This will be the last flight. Then nothing will get off the ground until it blows over. May last for days."

"But what about that cadet?" asked the man nearest to the sergeant. "What if he shows up?"

"Just about all the passengers for this flight are aboard now," growled the sergeant. "Besides, do you see him anywhere?"

Tom turned his back to the troopers quickly and heard the Marine reply, "Naw."

"Then get your gear and pile on the truck outside," ordered the sergeant, "or we'll be living in this station for a couple of days."

The Marines quickly marched away from the gate, through the waiting room, and out the door.

Tom dug into his pocket for the ticket to Atom City and stepped quickly to the gate, presenting his ticket to the steward. "Spaceman Wilson!" Tom growled.

The steward checked his ticket casually and announced, "Seat fourteen, berth twelve!"

Tom walked through the gate, trying to look casual.

"Hey you!" There was a sudden cry of alarm behind Tom and for a moment he was tempted to run. But he turned slowly and looked back. The man at the newsstand was shouting at him.

"Ya tryin' to steal my paper?" he yelled.

Tom looked down and saw that he was still holding the paper he had picked up to hide his face from the Marines. He smiled, reached into his pocket for a coin, and flipped it back to the man.

"Sorry," he called and walked on.

He hurried through a tunnel to the open area of the field where the other passengers were waiting in jet cars. He slipped into the nearest one and settled down beside a fat woman. She looked at him archly, sniffed audibly, and turned to stare out the window. Tom merely grinned and settled deeper in the seat. In a moment the jet cab was speeding across the small field to the waiting passenger ship.

Safely inside the ship, Tom sank into his assigned seat, buckled his acceleration belt, and listened to the voice of the skipper counting off the seconds until blast off.

"Five, four, three, two, one, zero!"

There was very little acceleration shock, since this was a vessel designed for the comfort of the passengers. In fact, Tom found it difficult to determine just exactly when it left the ground. The force of the drive pushed him deep in his seat, to be sure, but it was a gradual pressure and not at all like the sudden violent jerk that came when he gunned the Polaris.

He smiled. There was considerably less power in this ship than in the Polaris!

The thought of the giant rocket cruiser made him think about Roger and Astro. He wondered what they were doing and if they had stayed out of

trouble.

During the trip back to Atom City, Tom kept to himself, avoiding the other passengers on the ship as much as possible, taking his meals in his berth. The cadet had a lot of thinking to do. Though temporarily safe, he knew he couldn't dodge the Solar Guard forever. He kept track of his pursuit by stereo newscasts which the ship picked up from both Mars and Earth, and he was pleased to learn that the Marines and Solar Guardsmen were still searching for him in Marsport.

There was one bit of information that was general news to the others on the ship, but of particular interest to Tom. He had sat up in his berth and listened.

"... The report of a sabotage attempt on a highly secret project now in progress at Space Academy was denied today by project officials and Commander Walters. The commander said there was no basis for the report that the entire control panel of a new type ship had been destroyed."

Tom switched off his set and settled back in his bunk. He saw through the denial by Commander Walters. There was no need to upset the public and, more important, let the saboteur know how successful he had been.

Though Tom knew who was responsible, this knowledge did not mean much while he was still a fugitive. He would have to have proof. He would have to have more than just his word and accusation to make his charges stick. But how to get it?

"Attention," boomed the voice of the captain over the ship's loud-speaker. "Fasten your deceleration belts, please! We land at Atom City in thirty minutes. Fasten your deceleration belts, please!"

Certain he wouldn't be seen by the passengers and crew strapped in for the landing, Tom slipped out of his berth and down the companionway to the luggage compartment. Safely inside, he examined the contents of several expensive-looking bags, opening them by springing the locks with his knife. Finally he found a set of civilian clothes that would fit him. Leaving a hundred credits in the suitcase, more than the clothes were worth, he returned to his berth where he quickly washed, shaved, and dressed in the stolen clothes, steadying himself against the lurching of the ship as it made its landing approach.

When the ship finally touched down at the Atom City spaceport, Tom waited in his berth until he was sure most of the passengers had left. Then he walked quickly out of the ship, head down and hat pulled low over his face, to lose himself in the crowded spaceport.

Safe for the time being, at least until the Solar Guard traced him to Earth, Tom moved openly through the streets of Atom City and went directly to the monorail station where he purchased a ticket for Space Academy. He boarded a local train instead of the express and rode the jet-propelled train in the comfort of the dining car where he had a huge meal.

The stop before the Academy was a small village that catered to the wants of the hundreds of civilian workers at the Academy spaceport. Tom had been there many times with Astro and Roger, and knew of a small hotel where he could hide out until he could contact his unit mates.

It was early evening when Tom registered at the hotel under the name of Joseph Cazippi, an engineer from Titan Colony. Safely in his room, Tom turned to the window and stared longingly at the Tower of Galileo in the distance, as it caught the last of the sun's rays and gleamed proudly against the gathering night sky.

He whirled away from the window and froze as someone knocked on the door and a young voice called:

"Lemme in, Tom!"

The young cadet gulped in fear. Someone had recognized him! He wondered if he should open the door or slip out of the window and leave.

"Hey, Tom!" the voice called. "This is Tiny! Come on, lemme in."

"Tiny!" shouted Tom in swift relief. He opened the door and a small boy of about twelve stepped inside.

"Hiya, Tom," greeted the boy enthusiastically.

Tom grinned his welcome. He and Roger and Astro had met the youngster on several of their trips to the village and had become great friends. They always had to tell him stories about the Cadet Corps.

"How did you know I was here, Tiny?" asked Tom.

"I followed you from the monorail station," replied the boy. "You couldn't fool me in those civvies. Where's your uniform?"

"Never mind that now," said Tom, kneeling before him. "Look, Tiny, can you keep a secret?"

"Sure!" said the boy gleefully. "Sure I can, Tom."

"Well, I'm on a secret assignment, see?" whispered the cadet with a conspiratorial air. "And I need someone like you to help me. But you can't tell anyone I'm here!"

"Sure, I understand, Tom. Whatcha want me to do?"

"Go to the Academy and find Astro and Roger. Tell them to come here at nine o'clock tonight. But remember, don't talk to anyone else!"

"O.K.!" replied the youngster. "I getcha! You going to catch spies, Tom?"

"I don't know yet, Tiny. But you do what I told you and then hurry right back to me and tell me what they said!"

The boy nodded and hurried off. From the window, Tom watched him climb on his jet bike and roar off into the gathering darkness toward the Academy.

It was nearly two hours before he heard the jet bike return and he hurried to the door, waiting impatiently for the boy to come in. When the door opened and Tiny stepped in, Tom sensed immediately that something was wrong.

"Tom!" gasped Tiny, his eyes wide with shock. "You know what happened?"

"What?"

"Roger and Astro-" the boy stopped, seemingly unable to go on.

"Didn't you see them?" demanded Tom.

"Naw, I couldn't. They wouldn't let me."

"Who wouldn't let you?"

"The guards."

"What guards? What are you talking about, Tiny?"

"The guards at the jail! Roger and Astro are on the enlisted man's work gang for six months!" said Tiny.

Hiding his shocked surprise, Tom hurriedly gave the boy a ten-credit note and swore him to silence.

"Now you hurry home, Tiny, and don't tell anyone you've seen me!" he said.

"O.K., Tom," replied the boy. "But what does it all mean?"

"I wish I knew," said Tom grimly. "And when I find out, Tiny, I promise you I'll let you know."

When Tom was finally alone, he stood at the window, staring at the gleaming tower, now lighted and shining brilliantly in the darkness. He suddenly felt that he would never see the tower again.

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