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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Space Pioneers By Carey Rockwell Characters: 11056

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"Is he still out there?" Tom whispered.

"Yeah," growled Astro. "He hasn't moved."

"They're not taking any chances," said Roger. "When they change the guard, they take out their ray guns, just in case."

The three cadets were crowded around the door of their quarters with Astro down on his hands and knees, trying to see through a small crack. The big cadet straightened up and shook his head.

"I guess it's useless," he sighed. "Vidac is making sure we stay here."

"Well," said Roger disgustedly, "if we don't get out pretty soon, we won't-" He didn't finish the sentence. At that moment the door suddenly opened and Bush stepped in, two paralo-ray guns in his hands, cocked and ready to fire. Behind him was Hyram Logan and his daughter, Jane.

"You got ten minutes," said Bush, "and one funny move out of any of you and I'll blast you silly."

He closed the door and the click of the lock could be heard ominously.

"Mr. Logan!" exclaimed Tom. "How'd you manage to get in here?"

"Sonny," replied the Venusian farmer, "when you're dealing with crooks, you have to act like a crook!" He smiled and added, "I bought my way in here!"

"You mean that Vidac doesn't know you're here?" asked Astro.

"No," said Jane. "But we had to come. Vidac was going to-" She stopped and turned to her father. "Maybe you'd better tell them, Father."

"Well," said Logan slowly, "we just heard that Vidac is going to hold trial for you three boys right here on Roald."

"Trial!" exclaimed Astro.

"How'd you find that out?" asked Tom.

"They called all the colonists together and gave us pieces of paper with numbers on them," said Logan. "Then they put all the numbers into a bowl and picked twelve of them out again. The people that held those numbers were told that they were going to be the jury at your trial for the murder of Professor Sykes!"

"Murder?" exclaimed Roger.

"Blast my jets!" roared Astro. "They can't do that! We're under Solar Guard jurisdiction!"

"That's what I told them," snorted Logan. "You see, my number was pulled. I got up and opened my big mouth. I should have kept quiet and sat on the jury, and then had my say where it would have meant something!"

"Then they took you off the jury?" asked Roger.

"Yep," said Logan. "Me and everyone else they thought might be prejudiced!"

"We came to tell you," said Jane, "because we wanted you to know what was going on and to see if there was anything we could do to help."

"We already tried to help in a lot of ways," said Logan. "We tried to get that space jerk outside to let you escape. I offered him-well, I offered him a lot, but he wouldn't do it."

"What are you going to do?" asked Jane, looking at Tom.

"I don't know, Jane," said Tom. "But we've certainly got to do something. If we ever stand trial here on Roald-"

Tom was interrupted by a loud banging on the door, followed by the click of the lock. Then the door was opened and Bush stepped inside.

"All right, Logan," said Bush. "Time's up!"

"But-but," complained Logan, "we've only been here two minutes!"

"Time's up, I said," sneered Bush. He raised his ray guns threateningly.

"Well, I guess we'd better go," said Logan. He turned and shook hands with each of the cadets. "Good luck, boys," he said with a smile. "Don't worry. We'll find someway of getting you out of this mess!"

"Thanks for telling us, sir," said Tom.

"Telling you what?" demanded Bush.

"That the world is round and that you're a square-headed space crawler," said Roger casually.

"A real big mouth, eh!" snarled Bush. "Why, I oughta-" He raised his guns again, but just at the moment Jane walked into the line of fire and stood there quietly. Bush stepped back. It was just enough to break the tension.

"Go on!" Bush growled. "Get out of here!"

"Don't get rough," said Logan, "or I might tell your boss you took a bribe to let us see the cadets!" With a parting wink at the boys, he followed Jane out.

Just as Bush started to close the door, Tom stepped forward. "How about something to eat," he demanded, "and some story tapes to pass away the time?"

"Yeah," said Roger, picking up Tom's cue, "and we don't want anything you'd select either. It might be too infantile! Send Jeff Marshall up here so we can get what we want!"

"I'll see about it," sneered Bush, slamming the door behind him.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Roger asked Tom.

"Yes. If there is anyone we can trust, it's Jeff. Let's hope that space jerk outside comes through!"

"Well," growled Astro, "if worse comes to worse, we can always jump him."

"Uh-uh," said Tom, shaking his head. "We wouldn't get past the first corridor. If we escape, and we will, we've got to have help from someone on the outside!"

"But won't they be watching Jeff too?" asked Astro.

"Sure they will, but we've got to take that chance. If Vidac holds us for trial here on Roald, and we're convicted, the only place for a review of the case will be the Solar Council Chamber back on Earth."

"Well, what's wrong with that?" asked Astro.

"I'll tell you what's wrong with it," said Roger. "Before the case would come up for a review, we would have already spent at least two years on a prison rock!"

Meanwhile, in his office in the Administration Building, Lieutenant Governor Vidac listened with mounting apprehension to a report from the communications control officer of Roald.

"We just received a message from Captain Strong aboard the Solar Guard cruiser Orion

requesting landing data here on Roald," the voice crackled impersonally over the teleceiver.

"How far out is he?" asked Vidac, suddenly growing pale.

"He should arrive within four hours."

"All right," said Vidac, regaining his composure. "Give him all the information he needs."

"What about the instrument disturbance?"

"Tell him everything."

"Yes, sir," replied the control officer, and the teleceiver screen went blank.

Vidac got up and began to pace the floor, pondering the reasons for Strong's sudden unannounced visit. He could be coming to check on the Space Cadets, he thought. Or it might be a routine check of the progress of the colony. Or he might know about the uranium. There had been an investigation of the soil on the satellite by the original expedition. But if they had known anything about it, reasoned Vidac, it would have been claimed for the Solar Alliance.

No, Vidac shook his head. He's not here to investigate the uranium, he's here either to check on the cadets or make a routine inspection of the colony. And if it's the former, he'd give Strong enough proof to bury the cadets on a prison rock for life.

Vidac turned to the teleceiver. "Get the spaceport," he ordered. "Tell the spaceport officer to prepare a welcoming party to blast off in ten minutes. They will meet Captain Strong of the Solar Guard in the cruiser Orion. Communications control will give them his position." He flipped off the teleceiver and settled back in his chair, smiling. Nothing in the world like a big fuss to throw a man off guard, he thought. And Steve Strong, as the first visitor from Earth since the colony was founded, would get a tremendous welcome!

* * *

" ... Are you sure?" asked Tom, his face brightening. "You heard it yourself?"

Jeff Marshall smiled. "Roald is going crazy. They're preparing the biggest welcome for a spaceman since Jon Builker's return from his first trip in space!"

"Boy," said Astro, "what a break!" He slapped Roger on the back. "We'll be out of this can an hour after Captain Strong lands!"

"I knew you wanted me to help you try to escape," said Jeff. "I had already begun to make plans."

"No need for that now," said Tom. "If we tried to escape, we'd be doing the very thing Vidac would want us to do. He could say it was an admission of guilt."

Roger agreed with a nod of his head. "There's only one thing that bothers me now."

"What's that?" asked Astro.

"Professor Sykes," he said. "We've been so worried about our own necks, we've forgotten about him."

"Well," said Astro, "what about him?"

"What really happened to him," mused Roger, "and why?"

"I wish I knew," said Tom. "But I'll bet Vidac knows."

"Sure," agreed Roger. "But I still say why and what?"

The blond-haired cadet looked around at the faces of his friends. There was no reply to his question.

* * *

Every citizen of Roald, man, woman, and child, was at the spaceport to watch the giant cruiser Orion settle slowly to the ground. Vidac watched it through squinting eyes. He had secretly hoped that the uranium disturbances would cause the ship to crash, thus eliminating his difficulties before they could begin, but he couldn't help admiring the way the big cruiser was handled. When the hatch opened and Captain Strong stepped out, resplendent in his black-and-gold uniform, there was a spontaneous roar of welcome from the ground. Vidac stepped forward immediately to greet the Solar Guard officer.

"I'm Paul Vidac, Captain Strong. Lieutenant governor of Roald. Governor Hardy is very busy and asked me to welcome you and to convey his apologies for not greeting you personally."

"Thank you," said Strong and shook hands with Vidac. He turned around and looked over the crowd. "But I seem to be missing several other welcomers."

"Ah, I presume you mean the Space Cadets," stammered Vidac.

Strong looked at the lieutenant governor. "Yes, I mean the Space Cadets. Where are they?"

Vidac tried to meet Strong's level gaze, but his eyes fell away. "They are under arrest!" he said finally.

"Arrest!" cried Strong. "For what?"

"The murder of Professor Sykes."

"Murder? Professor Sykes?" asked Strong. "Explain yourself!"

"This is hardly the place to discuss it. Shall we go to my office?" asked Vidac.

"Where is the professor's body?" asked Strong.

"It hasn't been found yet," replied Vidac uneasily.

"Then how can the cadets be charged with murder if you can't produce a body?" demanded Strong.

Vidac paused a moment. He was thrown off guard by Strong's shrewd observation. "They are also being held for abduction of the professor," said Vidac. "We have eyewitnesses."

"Take me to them," said Strong.

"I'm afraid that will be impossible at the moment," said Vidac. "The colonists are expecting a little show for their enthusiastic welcome."

"Take me to the cadets," Strong demanded. "And that means immediately!"

Vidac wavered under the Solar Guard captain's withering gaze. He nodded and turned away.

As Strong pushed through the crowd of welcoming colonists, someone tugged at his sleeve and whispered into his ear.

"Don't believe all you hear!" Strong turned to see the face of Hyram Logan. Before he could reply, Logan disappeared into the crowd.

"Well, Captain Strong? Are you coming?" asked Vidac.

Strong turned and followed him through the crowd. He could feel danger on this satellite. He could feel it and he could read it in the faces of the people around him.

* * *

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