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   Chapter 18 No.18

Sabotage in Space By Carey Rockwell Characters: 12098

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"There he is!"

Roger's voice rose to a triumphant shout on the intercom. "Put the brakes on this wagon!"

"Check!" retorted Astro from the power deck, his fingers flying over the switches of the control panel and bringing the ship to a sudden blasting stop.

On the control deck, Tom turned to Professor Hemmingwell. "I'm going outside to get Major Connel, sir," he said. "Do you think you'll be all right?"

The old man nodded absently, still dazed by the sudden turn of events. Tom hurried past him and met Roger coming down from the radar bridge. "I'm going too!" the blond-haired cadet announced.

"You tell Astro?"

"Yeah. He's got Barret locked in the power-deck storeroom and he'll take over the control deck. Wonder if they have a jet boat aboard?"

"I doubt it. Not on a test flight."

"We'll have to hurry," said Roger as they reached the air lock and began to scramble into space suits.

"Yes," replied Tom. "He probably doesn't have much oxygen."

"There's another reason," grunted Roger.

"What?"

"Those projectiles. We're right back in the middle of them. Any one of them could wreck the ship."

"I see what you mean," said Tom. "Guess it's up to Astro to keep dodging them."

"Never thought I'd be out in space ducking hot projectiles to save old Blast-off Connel's hide."

"Neither did I," said Tom. "But here we are."

Stepping into the air lock, they quickly equalized the pressure and a moment later climbed out on the hull.

"See him, Roger?" asked Tom over the helmet intercom.

"Not yet," replied Roger.

"I see him," called Astro from the control deck. "I got him spotted on the teleceiver. Go aft, about a thousand, maybe fifteen hundred yards. I'll direct you from there."

"Right!" snapped Roger. "And listen, you Venusian bonehead! Make it good. I don't like being a clay pigeon for this crazy shooting gallery out here!"

"Aw, damp your tubes and get to work," drawled Astro. "Honestly, Tom, did you ever hear him not complain?"

Tom did not answer. He was busy fastening two oxygen tanks to the front of his space suit and Roger's. When he had finished, he checked the pressure and, satisfied, nodded to his unit mate.

Opening the nozzles of the bottles, they shot away from the ship into the nothingness of space.

"You have to go about fifteen degrees to your starboard and five degrees up on the ecliptic," called Astro from the control deck. "You'll hit Connel right on the nose!"

"Right!" replied Tom, turning the nozzle of the oxygen bottle to the left and immediately shooting off in the indicated direction. Roger followed quickly and expertly.

"See him?" called Tom.

"No," replied Roger. "Are you sure, you big clunk?"

"He's right above you!" snorted Astro over the intercom. Then his voice rose in alarm. "No! That isn't-"

"Duck, Tom!" cried Roger.

Tom opened the nozzle of his oxygen bottle wide and turned it. As he shot away, a projectile roared through the area he had just left.

Roger had done the same thing, flipping over and shooting up and away from the moving object.

"Whew!" exclaimed Tom. "That was close!"

"You blockhead!" roared Roger. "What are you trying to do to us? Set us up for coffins?"

"For you, that's not a bad idea, Manning!" snorted Astro. "Just damp your tubes. I made a mistake."

"Some mistake!" growled Roger.

Tom and Roger maneuvered back together, and locking arms so they would not drift apart, scanned the void around them for Connel. Suddenly Tom jerked free. "Roger!" he cried.

"What is it?" replied the cadet. "Do you see him?"

"There!" Tom pointed back to the ship. "On the stern! He's hanging on to the cleat over the main tubes!"

"He's hanging on to the cleat over the main tube!"

"Astro," Roger called, "we're coming back in. We've spotted him."

"I heard you!" said Astro. "Must've come back on his own steam. Go get him, quick!"

Turning the nozzles of their oxygen tanks, the two cadets shot toward the ship. They quickly clambered onto the stern where Connel lay stretched out on the side of the hull, arms extended, his gloved hands gripping the small cleat on the side of the hull.

In a matter of minutes, the two boys had the Solar Guard officer safely inside the air-lock chamber and had removed his space helmet and suit. His eyes were closed, and his face was deathly white. Tom immediately clapped an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, while Roger applied heating units to the wrists and neck.

Astro burst into the chamber, followed by the professor. "Will he be all right?" Hemmingwell asked anxiously.

"Think nothing of it, Professor Hummingbird," said Roger. "The old major will come around any second, and when he does, stand back. The first thing he'll do is yell."

"Roger, the name is Hemmingwell," hissed Tom.

"Oh, yeah, sure," nodded Roger, and then turned to Astro. "Is Barret still locked up?"

"Yeah," replied the Venusian. "And I hid the key, so Connel can't get to him until he cools off."

"The major is coming around," said Tom.

As they watched, Connel stirred, coughed several times, and then opened his eyes. He stared in amazement at Tom, then turned to blink unbelievingly at Roger and Astro. "What in the star-blazing-?"

"It's us all right, sir!" Tom assured him.

"Yeah," chimed in Roger. "And you're not in heaven or-er-any place else either."

As Connel suddenly flushed with anger and sat up, Hemmingwell spoke quickly. "They saved your life, Major," he said.

"They did?" Connel's face clouded in confusion. "I don't understand. How did you three get aboard, anyway?"

"It's a long story, sir," said Tom. "Right now, maybe we'd better-"

Before the cadet could finish, there was a loud crashing and a series of jolting bumps as the ship lurched.

"What the blue blazes!" roared Connel, jumping to his feet in alarm.

"The projectiles!" exclaimed Roger. "We've got to get out of here!"

"By the craters of Luna!" cried Astro. "I forgot all about them!"

Tom, Roger, Astro, Hemmingwell, a

nd Connel raced out of the air lock to their stations. Astro poured on the power without waiting for an order from the control deck and soon they were rocketing into the safety of space.

Watching the wildly flying missiles on the teleceiver screen, Connel breathed a sigh of relief.

"Wow!" he snorted. "Glad we're out of that mess."

"But what are we going to do about them, sir," asked Tom, a worried frown wrinkling his forehead as he watched the screen. "We can't just leave those things there. Some other ship may-"

"Don't worry about it," Connel broke in brusquely. "The projectiles will run out of fuel in a few minutes and they'll just drift. They can be fished out any time."

"We can go back and get them ourselves," said the young cadet eagerly. "Roger and I can-"

"We've got more important things to do now!" thundered Connel. Switching on the intercom, he ordered Roger and Astro to report to the control deck. They appeared within seconds of his order and he faced the three cadets grimly.

"Well, boys," he asked, "what's the story?"

"I guess we'd better explain, sir," said Tom.

"I guess you'd better," nodded Connel.

Tom quickly ran over the chain of events, beginning with his abduction on Mars to their appearance on the ship, including the part Barret had played in tricking Roger and Astro into taking the scout. As he spoke, Connel looked more and more amazed, and when Tom finally uttered the name of the man he thought was responsible for all the sabotage, Connel jumped out of his chair.

"I can't believe it!" he exclaimed.

"You were nearly killed a few minutes ago, sir," said Tom. "And who sabotaged the rings? Barret! Who was around every time something happened? Who incited the crew to keep from taking this ship into space? Who spread the rumor that it was jinxed? The answer to every one of those questions, sir, is Barret. And Dave Barret is working for-"

"Let me at that sniveling space pup!" interrupted Connel, snarling his rage. "I'll tear him apart and throw him to the buzzards!"

The enraged major jumped to the hatch but Astro and Tom barred his way, with Roger stepping quickly in back of him, a heavy wrench in his hand, ready to assist in any manner necessary to subdue the howling officer.

"Try to kill me!" Connel howled. "Why, I'll-I'll-"

"No, Major!" shouted Tom. "He's the only one that can help us convict Carter Devers!"

Connel stopped. He stared at Astro's bulk and then turned to see Roger trying to hide the wrench. "Were you going to hit me with that thing, Manning?" he growled.

Roger gulped. "Yes, sir," he said. "If it was necessary to keep you away from Barret, sir. I'm sorry, sir."

Connel spun back to face Tom. "Corbett, you must have a plan," he said. "Let's have it quick."

Tom grinned. "All right, sir," he began. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Professor Hemmingwell slump to the deck.

Hurriedly they picked up the old man and eased him gently to the nearby acceleration couch. After gulping some water that Roger poured for him, the old man smiled weakly. "I'm afraid I don't have the strength to withstand all this excitement," he said. "But now I understand why things were never easy for me. Carter Devers-he did this to me. He blocked the proposals every time that they were submitted to the Solar delegations. He-" Hemmingwell's head fell back. Roger had put a sedative into the water and the old man was now unconscious.

"It's just fatigue," said Connel. "He'll be all right in a little while." He turned to Tom. "All right, Corbett, carry on!"

Tom hurriedly concluded his story of the events leading up to their startling appearance on the ship, and as he spoke, he saw the major's frown change to a glowing grin. When Tom finished, Connel suddenly extended his hand in a gesture of friendship.

"I have to admit it, Corbett," he said. "You've done a good job. And," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "by going along with you, I am an accomplice with Captain Strong in the aiding of three fugitives from the Solar Guard."

Tom, Astro, and Roger grinned. "Now, let's get Barret up here and ask him a few questions," continued Connel. "And, Manning, if I can't restrain myself, you have my permission to hit me with that wrench! But so help me, if you belt me before the time comes, I'll bend that wrench over your skull!"

While Astro and Roger went below to get Barret, Connel and Tom reviewed their plan.

"Better keep the news quiet for a while," said Connel. "If we telecast it back to the Academy, Devers might get wise."

"Good idea, sir," acknowledged Tom.

"But I can't understand Devers' motive," said Connel. "What does he stand to gain if this project is a failure?"

"He'll lose plenty if it's a success," Tom asserted.

"Devers owns Jilolo Spaceways, the parent company of Universal Jet Trucking and Surface Transportation! If the projectiles worked, surface cargo delivery would be wiped out."

Before Connel could comment on Tom's startling revelation, they heard the sound of angry voices just outside the control-deck hatch.

"That must be Astro and Roger bringing in Barret," said Tom with a grin.

The hatch clanked open and Astro appeared, carrying Roger under one arm and Barret under the other. He dropped them both unceremoniously on the deck, but when they jumped to their feet, Roger charged forward quickly and landed a stinging right to Barret's jaw. The man dropped to the deck again like a stone.

"Manning!" roared Connel. "What was the idea?"

"I wanted to make sure I got in my licks before the Solar Guard got hold of him," replied Roger, rubbing his knuckles and looking down at Barret's inert form.

Astro grinned sheepishly. "I tried to stop him, sir!" he said.

"I'll just bet you tried to stop him!" bellowed Connel. "Cadet Manning, you put that man to sleep, now you wake him up!"

"Yes, sir!" said Roger, and while Connel, Astro, and Tom roared with laughter, he poured an entire bottle of water on Barret's face.

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