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   Chapter 20 No.20

Sabotage in Space By Carey Rockwell Characters: 13938

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Turn on the lights! Cut in the emergency batteries!"

Connel's bull-throated roar carried through the ship as he stood on the power deck with Astro and shouted to Tom on the control deck. The space torpedo had destroyed the stern of the vessel, and if it hadn't been for Astro's quick action in sealing off the aftersection of the ship, all the air might have been lost and the crew dead of suffocation.

A moment later the emergency lights glowed weakly and Connel and the big Venusian cadet began a quick inspection of the ship. The power deck was a total loss. The ship would never get under way again.

Up on the radar bridge, Roger was about to turn on the radar scanner when Tom appeared and stopped him.

"Wait a while, Roger," he said. "We may need the power for something else."

"What, for instance?" snorted Roger.

"That ship is still out there, probably closing in for the kill."

"A blasted lot we can do about it," Roger growled.

"I've got a plan that might work," said Tom half-heartedly. "It's about the only thing I can think of, unless Connel and Astro have a better idea."

"What is it? Whatever it is, it's better than sitting here like a dead duck, waiting for that rat to come in and finish us off!" said Roger. "Look, I've just got to see what he's doing out there." He flipped on the scanner switch and while he waited for the set to warm up he turned back to Tom. "What's your idea?"

"Well," began Tom, "the only thing we've got on board that we can use to fight back with are those projectiles."

"How can we fight with projectiles?" demanded Roger. "They don't carry warheads!"

"No," agreed Tom. "But they're big and heavy. They pack a wallop if they hit anything."

Roger's eyes brightened suddenly. "Say, I think-"

The scanner began to beep and Roger turned his attention to the screen. Tom leaned over his shoulder and watched eagerly. They both saw Devers' ship flying in a slow circle around them.

"Probably looking to see which would be the best way to let us have it!" snarled Roger.

At that moment Major Connel climbed into the radar bridge, followed by Astro.

"Time to go," announced the officer.

"Go where?" demanded Roger.

"We have to abandon ship," declared Connel. "The power deck is shot. We'll never get under way, and we're just sitting ducks if we stay aboard."

"What's to prevent Devers from picking us off while we're outside?" asked Roger.

"Nothing," said Connel. "But he'll have a harder job and maybe he won't get all of us."

"Then, sir," said Tom with a glance at Roger, "I have an idea."

"Let's have it," said Connel.

"The projectiles, sir," replied Tom.

"What about them?"

"We can still fire them off the emergency batteries, sir."

"Will you get to the point, Corbett?" growled Connel. "Devers is liable to send another torpedo our way any second and-" Connel suddenly stopped and his eyes widened. "A torpedo!" he gasped.

"Exactly, sir!" exclaimed Tom. "We have five projectiles! We can use them as torpedoes!"

"Jumping Jupiter!" exclaimed Astro. "What a terrific idea!"

"What a terrific pipe dream!" snapped Connel. "Those projectiles don't have any warheads!"

"They could still do a lot of damage if they hit that ship," asserted Tom.

"And how do you expect to aim them?" demanded Connel. "There's not enough juice in the batteries to steer them!"

"We'll just fire them straight ahead, sir," broke in Roger. "Look!" he continued, pointing to the scanner screen. "Devers' ship is just circling us now. And he's on the same plane of the ecliptic. If he holds that course-"

"He'll cross our bow!" exclaimed Astro excitedly. "A perfect shot!"

"Ridiculous!" shouted Connel. "Preposterous! It'll never work in a million light years! He'll fire another torpedo and we'll be blasted into space dust!"

"But we can try it, can't we, sir?" asked Tom, grinning.

"Of course we can!" roared Connel. "I've never given up a battle yet and, by the stars, I'm not going to now!"

Forgetting rank and protocol, the three cadets danced around the major, slapping him on the back and howling their enthusiasm. Connel could not restrain a momentary grin and then his features assumed his usual bulldog look.

"Knock it off!" he shouted. "We've got work to do. Manning!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Keep your eyes nailed to that scanner!" Connel bellowed. "Sing out if Devers changes course by so much as a hair!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"Astro!"

"Sir?"

"Put space suits on Professor Hemmingwell and Barret and stand by with them on the control deck."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

"Corbett, you and I will check the projectiles. Make sure they're in firing order!"

Spinning on his heel, Connel left the radar bridge. Alone for just an instant, the three cadets of the Polaris unit clasped hands in silent determination and then plunged into their various assignments.

Five minutes later, Connel and Tom returned to the control deck to find Astro waiting for them. Professor Hemmingwell and Barret, both in space suits, were seated on acceleration couches. As Connel walked up to him, Hemmingwell raised his head slowly, still under the effects of the sedative.

"What's-what's happening, Major?" he asked haltingly.

"Professor," said Connel, "one of two things is going to happen. Either your ship will be blown to space dust or Carter Devers will be finished and we'll bring your ship back to Earth!"

"Good, good," murmured Hemmingwell.

"And as for you, Barret"-Connel turned toward the man angrily-"now you can see what kind of thanks you get for your dirty work! Your boss is just as willing to get rid of you as he is to destroy this project!"

Barret flushed under Connel's glare and turned away.

At the control panel, Tom opened the circuits to the five loaded firing chambers and then turned to Connel. "All set to fire, sir!" he called.

"Any word from Manning?" asked Connel.

"Not while I've been here," replied Astro.

Connel picked up the intercom microphone. "Hello, Manning!" he shouted. "What's the story?"

"Coming up to the last chapter," replied Roger over the intercom. "Devers is holding course. Should cross our bow in two minutes!"

"Good," replied Connel. "Keep us posted!"

Replacing the microphone, he turned to Tom. "Stupid fool!" he snorted. "He should've fired another torpedo and wiped us out. What's the matter with him?" Connel abhorred stupidity, even in an adversary.

"Maybe he thinks we've already had it," suggested Astro. "With our stern blasted away, he might figure all the air's gone out of the ship."

"Let's hope he keeps on figuring that way," said Connel. "Everything ready to fire, Corbett?"

"All set, sir," the young cadet replied. "I've hooked up all circuits to this button." He pointed to a button on the control panel. "We'll blast in salvo."

"Oh, we will, will we?" exclaimed Connel.

"If you think it's advisable," Tom amended hurriedly.

"

Of course it's advisable!" snorted Connel. "We're almost aiming blind as it is. A salvo will give us a bigger spread. Besides," he added, "with a whole barrel of luck, we might hit him with two of the projectiles. That would really do some damage."

"I'd like just a little potful of luck," murmured Astro, "and be able to land one."

"Heads up, down there!" Roger's voice suddenly sang out on the intercom.

"Devers crossing our bow yet?" asked Tom.

"He's still holding course," said Roger. "But he's training his number one starboard tube this way. He's going to blast us again!"

"How long do we have to wait for that bow shot?" demanded Connel.

"Another forty-five seconds at least!" came Roger's reply.

"Blast it!" muttered Connel. "Plenty of time for him to fire."

Barret suddenly rose from his acceleration couch, screaming, "You can't keep me here! Let me go!"

Astro grabbed him quickly and threw him back down. "Stay put," he growled.

"No," cried Barret, frantic with fear. "It's murder! Let me go!"

"Relax and enjoy it, Barret," snorted Connel. "It's your boss who's doing it!"

"What about Professor Hemmingwell, sir?" asked Tom. "Shouldn't we-?"

"No," Hemmingwell spoke up from his daze. "I want to stay with my ship."

"Hey!" Roger cried over the intercom. "We're getting company!"

"Company?" exclaimed Tom. "What're you talking about?"

"A Solar Guard cruiser," replied Roger. "Coming up to port. About five hundred miles away. Hey! It's the Polaris!"

"It must be Captain Strong!" shouted Tom.

"He won't do us much good now," muttered Connel. "How much time do we have, Roger?"

"Get set down there. Only another ten seconds and Devers will be right on our bow."

"On the ball, Tom!" ordered Connel.

"Ready, sir."

The seconds ticked by slowly. One-two-three-four-Beads of sweat appeared on Connel's brow. Astro clenched and unclenched his fists. Hemmingwell closed his eyes calmly and waited. Barret slumped back in his couch, almost paralyzed with fear.

"Coming up, Tom!" cried Roger.

Tom didn't reply. He kept his fingers poised on the firing button. And the seconds ticked off slowly, maddeningly. Seven-eight-nine-!

"They've fired," Roger shouted. "Point-blank! We're going to get it!"

"Fire, Tom!" shouted Connel.

Even as Connel spoke, Tom's finger pressed down hard on the firing button. The ship quivered as five projectiles blasted from the firing chambers and winged their deadly way through space. The control room of the ship was silent, everyone waiting for the impact of the torpedo and praying that somehow, someway, they could know whether their own attack had succeeded even if they lost their own lives in the attempt to destroy Devers' ship.

There was a sudden, blasting roar and a brilliant white flash of light filled the cabin. The deck heaved violently, then dropped sickeningly. Under the force of the explosion, everyone was thrown to the deck and lay deathly still.

* * *

In the wardroom of the rocket cruiser Polaris, Captain Strong, Major Connel, Professor Hemmingwell, and Roger and Astro were sipping tea and calmly discussing the events of the past hour.

"Your ship wasn't too badly damaged, Professor," said Strong. "We'll take her in tow and bring her back to Space Academy. She'll be good as new."

"I'm afraid you'll have to do without the services of Dave Barret though, sir," commented Connel dryly. "He's got a previous engagement on a prison asteroid and it's going to take him a long time."

"I can do very well without him," said Hemmingwell. "As a matter of fact, I would have done extremely well without him before." He paused and shook his head. "I feel so ashamed of myself when I think of the things I said to those boys." He nodded toward Astro and Roger. "And all the time they were right."

Astro grinned shyly. Roger was about to open his mouth and make a typically flip remark when the hatch opened and Tom appeared, a bandage covering his head. The two cadets jumped toward him and snowed him under with affectionate slaps on the back.

"Wait a minute!" cried Tom. "I'm injured. Look at my head!"

"You couldn't have hit the control panel with anything better!" snorted Connel.

"But what happened?" asked Tom.

"Two of the projectiles hit Devers' ship," said Roger. "One of them on the power deck. Must've smashed the reaction tanks and made the stuff wildcat, because it blew him into rocket dust!"

"The projectiles blew Devers' ship into rocket dust!"

Note

"But his torpedo! He fired at the same time!" said Tom.

"This unit is the luckiest in the universe," said Roger proudly. "One of the other projectiles smacked the torpedo and exploded the warhead. We were bounced around by the shock wave but that's all!"

"Well, I'll be a Martian mouse," sighed Tom. "Then everything is O.K. now?"

"So far as you three are concerned, it's perfect," said Strong. "Barret has spilled everything. You're cleared of all charges!"

"What about Pat Troy?" asked Tom.

"He's in the clear, too," said Strong. "You may remember that he refused to tell us who he was working for besides Professor Hemmingwell and that made us suspicious of him. Well, we found out, when he regained consciousness a short time ago, that he is a security agent for the Solar Alliance Council. He had been assigned to work with the professor and to help protect him. Barret has admitted that he tried to murder Troy."

"Humph!" snorted Connel, suddenly rising.

The room was intensely quiet and Tom, Astro, and Roger felt that there was something coming. Strong could hardly suppress a grin as Connel took a paper from his tunic.

"This message was received just fifteen minutes ago," he said. "It reads, quote, Major Connel, Solar Guard. With reference to Operation Space Projectile, information has come to us that the Space Cadet unit, known as the Polaris unit, has contributed in an outstanding and extraordinary way to the successful completion of this highly valuable project. As Senior Line Officer of the Academy, it is hereby requested that you bestow upon this unit some form of expression of the gratitude of this Council for their remarkable and inspired behavior in the face of relentless odds. Signed, Secretary General, Solar Council, Venusport, Venus. Fourteenth of June, 2354, end quote."

Connel slipped the paper inside his tunic and faced the three cadets.

"All right, you heard it!" he growled. "And you deserve it. You have three weeks' leave. But when you come back," he added, "watch out!"

"Oh, for the life of a Space Cadet!" said Tom, grinning at his unit mates. "It's wonderful!"

Transcriber's Notes

A few illustrations have been moved to an appropriate place in the text.

The following typos have been corrected.

Page Error Correction

3 particularly particular

12 stomach. That stomach that

97 I"ll I'll

112 an attempt at murder," "an attempt at murder,"

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