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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Space Pioneers By Carey Rockwell Characters: 13229

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"For the last time, Captain Strong has been sent on a special mission to Pluto!" said the supervisory officer at the Academy. "Now stop bothering me or I'll log all three of you with twenty galley demerits!"

"Very well, sir," said Tom. "But could you tell us if the mission had anything to do with the Roald project?"

"Cadet Corbett," replied the officer wearily, "even if I knew I couldn't tell you. It was a special order from Commander Walters' office. Captain Strong blasted off three days ago with a full crew of guardsmen in a rocket cruiser."

"And he didn't-" began Roger.

"And he didn't leave any message for you," concluded the officer.

"Thank you, sir," said Tom. "Come on, fellows, let's go. We've got to blast off for Mars in half an hour and we haven't got our gear packed."

The officer watched the three cadets leave and then called after them. "If Captain Strong returns before you get back from Mars, Corbett, I'll ask him to leave a message!"

"Thanks, sir," said Tom.

The three boys left the Tower building and hopped on a slidewalk for the spaceport. The Academy was buzzing with activity as Solar Guard officers, scientists, and enlisted men attended to the millions of details of the mass flight of the colonists into deep space.

They met Mike McKenny, the stubby warrant officer, at the air lock of the Solar Guard rocket destroyer that would take them to Mars. After they had climbed into the ship, they waited for a full hour before they could get clearance to blast off. And, in flight, they were forced to maintain constant alert and careful position in the heavy flow of traffic to and from Earth.

"Never saw the Academy so busy in all my life," commented Mike. "Must be a thousand ships there and in the Atom City fitting docks."

"Yeah," agreed Roger. "This is going to be some push!"

From Mars, Titan, Ganymede, Luna City, Venus, the Asteroid Colonies, and as far away as the uranium mines of Pluto, the colonists arrived, to be quartered at Space Academy. Excited, and anxious to begin their new life, they assembled for their antibiotic shots and the last medical check by the Solar Guard doctors. There were crystal miners from Titan, farmers from Venus, Mars, and Earth, prospectors from the New Sahara desert of Mars, engineers from the atmosphere booster stations on Ganymede, and just plain citizens who wanted a new life on the distant satellite of Wolf 359. All had gathered for the great mass flight into space.

The Solar Guard worked late into the night, examining every ship in the Alliance

At the same time the giant fleet of ships needed to carry the colonists to Roald was being assembled. Officers of the Solar Guard worked late into the night, examining the construction of every ship in the Alliance for use in the flight to Roald. If a jet liner or merchantman was found to be satisfactory, it was purchased at full price from the owners and flown to refitting docks at Space Academy and Atom City where work was begun converting it to a special use. Every ship was to be cannibalized on Roald, its hull taken apart to provide housing and its power decks converted into electropower plants. Now working with Mike McKenny, the three Space Cadets were part of a large group of transfer crews engaged in flying ships to Earth.

Returning from Mars, where they had picked up a giant jet liner, the three cadets landed on the crowded Academy spaceport and turned hopefully to Mike.

"You think we can get a twenty-four-hour pass, Mike?" asked Roger.

"Yeah," growled Astro. "Governor Hardy promised us a two-week leave, but I guess he got swamped under details!"

Mike scratched his head. "I don't know, boys," he said. "I can't give it to you, but I'll speak to Commander Walters for you. I know it's been a pretty rough grind for all of you."

"Thanks, Mike," said Tom. "We'd appreciate it."

Later, when the three boys had signed over the giant ship to the refitting crews, they headed for their dormitory for a refreshing shower.

As Astro began to strip off his jacket, he suddenly asked, "Do you think Captain Strong has returned from Pluto yet?"

"I doubt it," answered Roger. "I'm sure there would have been a message for us on the chatter wire if he had." Roger referred to a tape recorder that was standard equipment in each of the dormitory rooms, used expressly for messages.

"You know something," said Tom. "I think we ought to go directly to Commander Walters about Vidac."

"Commander Walters!" growled Astro. "Are you off your rocket?"

"Why shouldn't we?" agreed Roger.

"I'll tell you why!" said Astro. "Commander Walters probably is so busy you couldn't get near him with a six-inch atomic blaster. And what are we going to say after we get there? Just that Vidac has let some space crawlers into the expedition?"

"That's enough, isn't it?" asked Roger.

"We can't let this slide, Astro," said Tom determinedly. "Somebody's got to do something about Vidac, and if the governor won't, it should be brought to Commander Walters' attention."

"Come on. Let's do it right now," urged Roger. "We'll be sticking our necks out, but since when have we ever let that stop us?"

Astro shrugged his shoulders and quickly redressed. The three boys left the dormitory building and started hopping from one slidewalk to another, as they made their way to the Tower building. All around them the activity of the Academy seemed to have increased. Everyone seemed to be rushing somewhere. Even the green-clad Earthworm cadets had been pressed into service as messengers. And mixed in with the officials were the colonists wandering around sight-seeing.

"Say!" exclaimed Astro. "Isn't that Jane Logan?"

"Where?" asked Roger. Astro pointed to a parallel slidewalk where the girl colonist from Venus was being whisked along in the same direction. "Well, blast my jets!" cried Roger. "So it is!"

"Relax, Roger," said Astro with a wink at Tom. "Business before pleasure!"

"Yeah-yeah, but this is business too," said Roger, jumping lightly to the near-by slidewalk beside the pretty young colonist.

"Well," he exclaimed, "if it isn't the little space doll from Venus!"

Jane Logan turned around and smiled. "Well, Cadet Manning!" And seeing Astro and Tom come up, she smiled a greeting to them. "And Cadets Astro and Corbett!"

"Never mind them," said Roger. "I'm the only one that counts."

"Why, Cadet Manning," said the girl archly, "I had no idea you were so important."

"As a matter of fact, I'm going up to see Commander Walters right now on some important business."

"Commander Walters?" gasped Jane. "Ohhhh!"

Roger grinned. "Sure, and while I'm up there, I'll get a twenty-four-hour pass and we'll take in the sights at Atom City tonight. O.K.?"

"Well, I don't know what my father would say about that!"

"Ah, tell him you're going to go out with me," said Roger, "and there won't be any trouble."

"Psst! Roger!" Astro hissed suddenly, punching Roger in the ribs. Roger gave the big cadet a frowning look and turned back to Jane.

"We'll have dinner, and then see a stereo, and I know a nice quiet spot where we can talk-"

"Talk?" demanded a gruff voice behind Roger.

The cadet whirled to find himself staring into the grim face of Hyram Logan. "Just what would you talk about, Cadet Manning?" demanded Jane's father. Billy stood at his father's side, grinning broadly.

"Uh-er-ah-radar, sir, the-er-problems we find in radar."

Logan turned to Jane. "Are you interested in radar, Jane?"

"Not particularly, Father," said Jane, a twinkle in her eye. Tom and Astro were trying unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter.

His face suddenly flushing crimson, Roger looked around and stammered, "I-uh-I just remembered-got to see a feller about a hot rocket!" And Roger jumped off the slidewalk to disappear into the Tower building.

Laughing out loud now, Tom and Astro said good-by to Jane and her father and followed Roger.

Inside the gleaming Tower of Galileo, the two boys raced up the slidestairs and caught up with Roger.

"Well, Romeo," said Astro, slapping him on the back, "that was what I call a strategic retreat in the face of overwhelming odds."

"Ah, go blast your jets!" snarled Roger.

"Never mind, Roger," said Tom, "we probably won't get the pass, anyway."

Suppressing smiles, Astro and Tom followed Roger down the long corridor toward the office of Commander Walters. In the anteroom they waited while an aide announced them to the commander. Standing before the aide's desk, they could see the commander's face come into focus on the small teleceiver screen, and they were alarmed to see Governor Hardy seated beside him.

"What is it, Sergeant?" asked Commander Walters.

"Cadets Corbett, Manning, and Astro of the Polaris unit to see you, sir," said the enlisted guardsman.

"Send them right in," said Walters.

The aide flipped off the teleceiver and smiled up at the cadets. "Go ahead, fellows. He's in a good mood today, so you don't have to worry about demerits."

Tom thanked the guardsman and started for the door to the inner office, but Roger grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back.

"We can't go in there now, Tom," he whispered. "Not with Governor Hardy sitting there!"

"I know," replied Tom. "But we can't back out now. He's been told we're here. We'll just go in and ask him for the week-end pass."

"Good idea," agreed Astro.

"Say, are you guys going in or not?" called the sergeant.

The three cadets nodded quickly and stepped inside the room. Governor Hardy and the commander were studying a blueprint which was spread out on the desk. The three cadets came to attention in front of the desk as Walters looked up inquiringly.

"Polaris unit reporting on a special privilege request, sir," announced Tom.

Walters smiled. "Yes, I know why you're here, boys. Warrant Officer McKenny spoke to me a little while ago. Here's your pass. After the job you've done, you deserve it." He held out the slip of paper.

Governor Hardy stood up and snapped his fingers. "You know, Commander, I owe these boys an apology. When we left Luna City, I promised them that I would speak to you about giving them a two-weeks' leave, and it completely slipped my mind!"

"It's a good thing it did," said Walters. "I've had these boys doing some important work and I'll have even more need for them now. Come here, boys. I want you to look at something." He waved them around his desk and pointed to the blueprint on his desk. Tom, Roger, and Astro gasped. It was the plan for a large city.

"That will be the first settlement on Roald," said Walters. "You boys will be remembered for a long time to come." He looked up at the governor and winked.

"How is that, sir?" asked Tom.

Walters placed his finger on the many intersecting lines in the blueprint that designated streets. "Each of these streets, avenues, roads, and expressways will be named after a member of the first colonial expedition to Roald. Your names will be among them."

"Ours!" exclaimed Tom. "Does that mean that-"

"I've been talking to Governor Hardy," Walters continued casually. "He tells me you've done a fine job. I think a tour of duty as cadet observers on Roald will just about round out your training."

The three boys looked at each other, eyes wide with surprise and pleasure.

"We'll actually go with the colonists?" asked Astro.

"That's right, Cadet Astro," said Walters. "And I'm sorry that I can't give you more than a twenty-four-hour pass. But time is very short."

"Twenty-four hours will be fine, sir," said Tom. "And we appreciate your giving us the opportunity to go to Roald."

"It won't be easy, Corbett," cautioned Walters. "You'll have to work harder than you've worked before. You'll have to maintain your studies and I'll expect you to send back a report every month." He turned to Governor Hardy. "Do you have anything to add, sir?"

"Not a thing, Commander," replied Hardy. "I've worked with these boys for weeks and I know what to expect of them. I know I can depend on them to take orders."

"All right," said Walters, turning to the cadets. "Go to Atom City and have yourself a good time. Report back to the Academy tomorrow at eighteen hundred hours. Unit dismissed!"

The three cadets saluted and left the room. In the corridor they slumped against the wall.

"That," announced Roger, "is as close as I ever want to come to getting a rocket shell in the side of the head."

"You can say that again, spaceboy," sighed Astro. "Just think what would have happened if we'd opened our mouths about Vidac!"

"Come on," said Tom. "We've got twenty-four hours to soak up as much of this Earth as we can. And I, for one, am going to have a good time!"

Without a word, the three cadets left the Tower building and made their way to the monorail station, where they would catch the streamlined express to Atom City. Each of the cadets was acutely aware of the trouble that lay ahead of them, and with Captain Strong at the outer edge of the solar system on a long haul to Pluto, not even a miracle could get him back to Space Academy in time to help them.

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