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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Space Pioneers By Carey Rockwell Characters: 9796

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"Where do we cut off?" asked Vidac. He sat beside Winters in the converted jet boat, speeding down the smooth highway that Strong had passed over only a few minutes before.

"It's right along here, somewhere," said Winters.

"Better slow down," said Vidac. "We don't want to miss it. We haven't much time. If Strong starts nosing around he might discover something."

"Lucky for us we found out so quickly where the uranium is," replied Winters.

"It won't mean a thing unless we can get Logan to sign over his land holdings."

Winters braked the jet car suddenly, throwing Vidac up against the windshield. "What are you doing?" snapped Vidac.

"Sorry, boss," replied Winters. "There's the road leading to the Logan place up ahead."

Winters slowed for the turn off the main highway and then accelerated to full power again on the side road.

"How are you going to get old Logan to sign the release?" asked Winters. "Suppose he knows his land is worth about ten billion credits?"

"How could he know?" asked Vidac. "The only ones that know are me, you, Bush, and Sykes."

Winters nodded. "Then as soon as we get Logan to sign over the land, we take care of Sykes, bring back his body as proof against the cadets, and everything's set, eh?"

"Something like that," said Vidac. "We still have to watch our step with Strong, though," said Vidac.

The two men were silent as the jet car raced down the side road. A moment later they could see the lights in the small crystal farmhouse.

"Cut your lights," said Vidac. "We don't want to scare them."

"O.K.," replied Winters. He switched off the powerful beams and slowed the car to a crawl. They rolled past the outer farm buildings and came to a stop in front of the main house.

"Say, boss," said Winters suddenly. "Look! Tracks in the road! Car tracks! Somebody's been out here! Logan doesn't have a car!"

"So what?" snarled Vidac. "Get hold of yourself. It could have been anyone."

A powerful light from the farmhouse suddenly flooded them and Logan's voice cracked in the night air.

"Who's there?" called the farmer.

"Good evening, Mr. Logan," said Vidac, climbing out of the car. "This is the governor."

"Vidac!" said Logan, startled. "What do you want?"

"This is what we want!" snarled Winters, whipping his ray gun into view. "Get back inside!"

"Wha-?" gasped Logan. "What's the meaning of this?"

"You'd better do as the man says, Mr. Logan," said Vidac.

Jane suddenly appeared behind Logan, her hands still soapy from washing the supper dishes. "Who is it, Father?" she asked, and then seeing Vidac and Winters she stepped back inside the house.

"Nothing to get alarmed about," said Vidac, pushing Logan into the house before him. "We just want to have a little talk." He smiled. "Business talk."

"Isn't it too bad, Winters," said Vidac, "that we just missed supper?"

"What do you want?" demanded Logan belligerently. He stepped in front of Jane protectively.

"Now don't get excited Mr. Logan," said Vidac, his voice smooth. "We just want you to sign a little paper, that's all."

"What kind of paper?" asked Logan.

"Say," said Winters suddenly, "ain't you got a kid?"

"If you mean my son, Billy," said Logan, "he's asleep."

"I'd better check," said Winters, starting forward.

"Never mind him," said Vidac. "We haven't got all night and there's nothing a kid could do."

He pulled out a paper from his pocket and unfolded it, keeping his eyes on Logan. "Mr. Logan, we're going to foreclose your mortgage."

"Foreclose!" gasped Logan. "But-but I haven't even had time to gather in my first crop!"

"We've taken a look at your fields and we don't think you're doing a good job," said Vidac. "In this mortgage you signed there's a clause that states I can foreclose any time I want."

"But how can you judge a crop by just looking at the fields?" asked Jane.

"Oh, we have ways, Miss Logan." Vidac smiled. He walked to a near-by table, and pushing a stack of study spools to the floor, spread the paper in front of him. He looked up at Logan and indicated the paper. "Do you have a pen, or would you like to use mine?"

"I'm not signing anything until I read it," snapped Logan.

Vidac smiled and pushed the paper across the table. Logan came forward and picked it up. He scanned it hurriedly and then glared at Vidac.

"You can't do this!" he snapped. "I won't sign!"

Winters suddenly leaped across the room and grabbed Jane by the wrist, jamming his gun in her back.

Vidac leered at the farmer. "Have you ever been frozen by a ray gun, Mr. Logan?"

Logan shook his head.

"Let me tell you about it," said Vidac coolly. "The effects are very simple, but very powerful. You are paralyzed! You can still see, hear, think, and breathe. Your heart continues to beat, but otherwise, you are absolutely powerless. The aftereffects are even wo

rse. The person who has been frozen comes out completely whole, but"-Vidac suddenly shuddered-"believe me, Mr. Logan, you feel like ten thousand bells were vibrating in your brain at one time. It isn't pleasant!"

"Why-why-are you telling me this?" asked Logan.

"You wouldn't want to see your daughter undergo such an experience, would you?"

"If-if I sign the paper," stammered Logan, "will you leave Jane alone?"

"I give you my word as a spaceman that nothing will happen to her. In fact, when you sign, you will continue to work the farm as before. Only you'll be working for me. I wouldn't want to deprive you of your livelihood."

Suddenly the door to the bedroom opened and young Billy burst into the room, clad only in his pajamas.

"Don't sign, Pa!" he screamed. "Wait and tell Captain Strong first!"

"Strong!" exclaimed Vidac. "Has he been here?"

Logan nodded his head, and taking Vidac's pen, started to sign the paper.

"No-no, don't, Pa!" cried Billy. "Don't-!"

Logan paid no attention and finished signing. A look of deep hurt filled the boy's eyes. "A-a spaceman-" he stammered, "a Solar Guardsman would never have given up!" Crying, he turned away and buried his head in his sister's arms. Logan silently gave Vidac the paper and turned away.

"Thank you, Mr. Logan," said Vidac with a smile. "That's all. Good night!" He turned and motioned for Winters to follow him. "Come on. Let's get back to the city!"

Billy, Jane, and their father silently watched the two men leave the house. Even as the roar of the super-charged jet car faded away in the distance, they still stood in silence.

Finally Logan turned to his son and daughter. "There ain't but one thing left to do. Go back to Venus as soon as we can get passage. I'm sorry, Billy, but-"

"That's all right, Pa," said Billy. "I guess I would have done the same thing-for Jane."

* * *

"Can't you get any more out of this jalopy?" asked Roger.

Astro shook his head. "I've got her wide open now!"

The big cadet sat hunched over the steering wheel of the small jet car Strong had used a short time before, racing along the same smooth highway toward the spaceport on the other side of the hills. Tom was wedged in between Astro and Roger, his eyes straight ahead on the road.

"Where do we start first?" asked Roger.

"We better take it easy, Astro," said Tom. "Turn off the lights."

"We've got to get a ship. The Polaris, if possible. We can't begin to look for the professor without one. As soon as Vidac learns that we've escaped, the whole satellite will be crawling with colonists and his boys, looking for us."

"Colonists!" cried Astro. "Why would they want to help him?"

"Vidac will think of something to convince them that we're dangerous criminals," said Roger grimly. "Tom's right. We've got to get the Polaris."

They were just leaving the crystal city behind them and winding through the hill section surrounding the flat plain. Astro's handling of the jet car was perfect as he took the curves in the road at full throttle. They still had a long way to go to reach the spaceport that had been built on the other side of the hills.

"You sure did a fine job of conversion on these jet boats," said Tom to Astro. "This baby feels as though she was going to take off."

"I wish it was," said Roger, looking up at the hills on either side of them. "It would be a lot easier to blast over these things than go through them."

The car sped up to the last summit that separated them from the spaceport.

"We'd better take it easy," said Tom. "Turn off the lights, Astro. We'll ditch this jet car about a mile from the spaceport and walk the rest of the way."

"Right," said Astro. He gunned the little vehicle for the last burst of speed necessary to take them over the top. The jet car shuddered under the extra power and a moment later the spaceport lay spread before them. Below them, in a five-mile circle, they could see the few remaining ships of the great fleet. The Polaris was easily recognized, and fortunately, was on the nearer side of the giant landing area.

"There's home," said Roger.

"Yes," agreed Tom. "And she sure looks good to me-"

The curly-haired cadet suddenly stopped as powerful headlights loomed on the highway ahead.

"That's Vidac's jet car," said Roger. "I recognize the lights. We've got to get out of here!"

Astro braked the small vehicle and it screamed to a stop. The three cadets hastily piled out and raced for the darkness of the surrounding hills.

No sooner had they disappeared than Vidac's jet car slammed to a stop beside the deserted jet car. In a flash Vidac was out of the seat and examining the vehicle. He turned to Winters, holding a small disk in his hand. "Tom Corbett's identification tag!" said Vidac. "The cadets have escaped! Organize a search! The orders are shoot to kill!"

* * *

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