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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Space Pioneers By Carey Rockwell Characters: 10974

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"What do you want?" growled Ed Bush. He stood at the air lock of the Polaris, a brace of paralo-ray guns strapped to his side. "Why ain't you out growing corn?"

Hyram Logan smiled. He held out the books and study spools the cadets had given him on the trip out. "I wanted to return these to the cadets. They lent them to my son. He wants to be a Space Cadet when he's old enough."

"I can think of a lot better things he could be," sneered Bush. He jerked his thumb toward the entrance port of the giant spaceship. "All right, get aboard. You got a half-hour."

Logan entered the cruiser quickly and made his way to the cadets' quarters. Tom was asleep. Roger and Astro were playing a game of checkers. When Logan entered, the two cadets quickly forgot their game and turned to greet the farmer.

"Hiya, Mr. Logan!" said Astro. "You saved me from doing a wicked deed."

Logan stared at the big cadet, puzzled. "How's that again, Astro?"

Roger laughed. "He's joking, sir. I was about to clean him out in a game of checkers."

Logan sat wearily on the side of the nearest bunk. "I wish all I had to lose was a game of checkers."

He quickly filled in the details of the meeting between Vidac and the farmers. Tom had awakened by this time and heard the last of the older man's story. He turned to his unit mates.

"Well, it looks as though we're right back where we started," he said. "And here I thought Vidac was O.K. after the way he worked during the past ten days setting up Roald City."

"I've been talking to some of the other men," said Logan bitterly. "They feel the same way I do. Something's got to be done about this!"

"But what?" asked Roger.

"And how?" chimed in Astro.

"Force, by the stars!" yelled Logan. "And when I say force, I mean throwing Vidac and Hardy and his crew out!"

"You can't do a thing like that, sir," said Tom. "It would be playing right into their hands. Remember, Vidac and Hardy represent the Solar Alliance here on Roald. If you tried force, you would be charged with rebellion against the Solar Alliance!"

"Well," snorted Logan, "what have you got in mind?"

"When the enemy is in full control, Mr. Logan," said Tom quietly, "the best thing to do is draw back and regroup, then wait for the right moment to attack. Vidac wants you to revolt now. He's expecting it, I'm sure. But if we wait, he can't get away with making you mortgage your land holdings or your profits. Somewhere along the line he'll slip up, and when he does, that's when we start operating!"

Meanwhile, in his luxurious office in the Administration Building, Vidac sat behind a massive desk, talking to Tad Winters.

"Now that the land boundaries have been established, and the colonists have their little pieces of dirt," he said, "we can go right to work. I've told the farmers that they'll have to sign over half of their profits to get chemicals to farm with. They're already talking about revolt, which is just what I want them to do. Let them rebel. We can throw them into the brig, send them back to Earth, and take over their property in the name of the City of Roald!"

"Which is you," said Tad Winters with a smile. "That's the smartest idea you've ever had, boss!"

"In a short while," continued Vidac, "the entire satellite will be mine. Ships, houses-and-"

Suddenly the door opened and Ed Bush hurried into the room. "Boss!-boss!" he shouted breathlessly. "Logan is spilling everything to the Space Cadets!"

"What?" cried Vidac. "How did that happen?"

"He came to the Polaris," whined Bush. "Said he had some books and stuff he wanted to return, so I let him aboard. Luckily I followed him and listened outside the door."

"What did they talk about?" demanded Vidac.

"Logan told them about the meeting with the farmers the other night. He wanted to get the colonists together to start a rebellion, but Corbett convinced him it would be the wrong thing to do."

"What?" yelled Vidac. He rose and grabbed Bush around the throat. "You dirty space crawler! You've ruined everything. All my plans messed up, because you let a hick and a kid outsmart you!"

"I'm sorry, boss," Bush whined. "I didn't know."

"Get out of here!" Vidac snarled. "I should have known better than to jeopardize the whole operation by signing on a couple of space jerks like you two! Get out!"

The two men left hurriedly and Vidac began to pace the floor. He was acutely aware that his scheme was out in the open. All of the careful planning to keep the cadets off balance and unsure of him until he could make his move was lost. He regretted not having gotten rid of them before, out in space, where unexplained accidents would be accepted. He had placed too much confidence in Bush and Winters and had underestimated the cadets. Something had to be done-and fast! But it couldn't be anything obvious, or his plans of taking over Roald would fail.

The buzz of the teleceiver on his desk interrupted his train of thought and he flipped open the small scanner.

"Professor Sykes to see you, sir," reported his aide in the outer office.

"Tell him to come back later," said Vidac. "I'm busy."

"He says it's very important," replied the aide.

"All right-all right, send him in," snapped Vidac and closed the key on the teleceiver irritably. A second later the door opened and Professor Sykes entered hurriedly. He was dirty and dusty from his ten-day stay in the desert wastes of the satellite.

"Vidac!" cried Syke

s excitedly. "I've just made the most tremendous discovery in the history of the Solar Alliance!"

Vidac eyed the professor calculatingly. He had never seen the old man excited before. "Sit down, Professor," he said. "You look as if you just walked through the New Sahara on Mars. Here, drink this!" Vidac offered the professor a glass of water and waited expectantly.

Sykes drank the water in one gulp and poured another glass before taking his seat. He began digging into his pouch and pulling out sheets of what appeared to be exposed film. He rummaged around for his glasses, and after adjusting them on his hawklike nose, began to sort the sheets of film.

"When the instruments on the Polaris went crazy out in space," began Sykes nervously, "I knew there was only one thing that could cause such a disturbance. Radioactivity! As soon as we landed, I began to look for the source. At first I used a Geiger counter. But I couldn't get an accurate count. The counter was as erratic as the instruments. So I tried film. Here is the result." He handed the exposed film to Vidac. "This film was protected by lead sheeting. It would take a deposit of pitchblende richer than anything I've ever heard of to penetrate the lead. But look at it! The film is completely exposed. The only thing that could do that is a deposit of uranium at least seventy-five per cent pure!"

Vidac studied the films closely. "Where is this strike?" he asked casually. "Is it on land that has been parceled out to the colonists?"

"I don't know whose land it's on. But I'm telling you this! It's going to make someone the richest man in the Solar Alliance!"

Sykes fumbled in his pouch again and this time brought out a dirty piece of paper. "This is a report giving the location and an assay estimate. It has to be sent back to the Solar Council right away. Have communications with Earth been established yet?"

Vidac shook his head and reached out for the report. "If what you say is true," he said coolly, "we can always send it back on the Polaris."

He took the report and read it over. He recognized immediately the danger of Sykes's discovery. He laid the film and the report on his desk and faced the professor. "And you are absolutely sure of your findings?"

Sykes snorted. "I've been working with uranium all my life. And I should know a deposit like this when I see one!"

Vidac didn't answer. He turned to the teleceiver and flipped it on. "Send Winters and Bush in here right away," he told the aide.

"You going to send those two back with this report?" asked Sykes. "Personally I'd feel a lot safer if you'd send those Space Cadets and my assistant, Jeff Marshall. They may be young, but they can be depended on."

"I'd rather send men I can depend on, Professor," said Vidac. "As you say, the cadets are still quite young. And this report is too important to take chances."

The door opened and Winters and Bush entered.

Vidac stuffed the report and the exposed film into a dispatch case and quickly sealed it. He handed it over to Winters. "Guard this with your life," said Vidac seriously.

"Wait a minute," said Sykes. "Aren't you going to tell Governor Hardy about this?"

"This is so important, Professor," said Vidac, "that I think we should get it off at once. There's plenty of time to tell the governor."

"Well, all right." Sykes got up and stretched. "After almost two weeks in that desert, I'm ready for a nice clean bed and something to eat besides synthetics." He turned to Winters and Bush. "That pouch is worth more than any man ever dreamed of. Be sure you guard it well!"

"You can depend on us, Professor," said Winters.

"Yeah," said Bush. "Don't worry about a thing."

The three spacemen watched the professor leave. As soon as the door closed, Vidac grabbed the pouch out of Winters' hand. His face hardened and his eyes were narrow slits.

"You messed up one operation for me, but luck has given us another chance. If you mess this one up, I'll dump you into space for a long swim. Now listen to me!"

The two spacemen crowded close to Vidac's desk.

"Sykes has just made the biggest discovery in the universe. It's worth billions! The cadets are in our way, and as long as the professor is alive, so is he! We're going to wipe them out. I want you to take the professor to that asteroid we spotted a few days ago and keep him there. I'm going to accuse the cadets of getting rid of the old man, so we can eliminate the cadets, the professor, and keep the uranium secret for ourselves. His report says it's located at section three, map eight. That's the property given to Logan. After we get rid of the cadets and the professor, we'll have plenty of time to bounce old Logan. This is the sweetest operation this side of paradise. And it's all mine!"

"But what kind of proof will you have that the cadets did something to the old man?" asked Winters. "Getting rid of Space Cadets is a pretty tricky job."

"Tomorrow I'll assign the cadets to work with the professor again. That jerk, Manning, has a sharp tongue. I'll set up something that will get them into an argument in the presence of some of the colonists. When Sykes disappears right after that, we'll have witnesses to prove that Manning was gunning for the old man!"

"But how do you know that Manning will get mad enough?" asked Bush.

Vidac smiled. "I know Manning. And besides, I know what I'm going to do, to make Manning blast his tubes!"

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