THE SPACE PIONEERS
THE TOM CORBETT SPACE CADET STORIES By Carey Rockwell
STAND BY FOR MARS! DANGER IN DEEP SPACE ON THE TRAIL OF THE SPACE PIRATES THE SPACE PIONEERS THE REVOLT ON VENUS TREACHERY IN OUTER SPACE SABOTAGE IN SPACE THE ROBOT ROCKET
A TOM CORBETT Space Cadet Adventure
THE SPACE PIONEERS
By CAREY ROCKWELL
WILLY LEY Technical Adviser
GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers New York
COPYRIGHT, 1953, BY ROCKHILL RADIO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ILLUSTRATIONS BY LOUIS GLANZMAN PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
[Transcriber's Note: Extensive research can find no evidence of the required copyright renewal on this work.]
Her nose pointed skyward, the Polaris was ready to blast off 21 The Solar Guard worked late into the night, examining every ship in the Alliance 50 The speedy little ship shot ahead of the fleet toward the gigantic mass of asteroids 90 The Polaris landed safely on the surface of the satellite 105 Bush pulled a paralo-ray gun from his belt and said, "All right, march!" 143 "Hasn't anybody figured out why four hundred ships crashed in landing?" Strong asked. 159 "We better take it easy, Astro," said Tom. "Turn off the lights." 171
THE SPACE PIONEERS
"Go on, Astro," shouted the young Space Cadet. "Boot that screwy ball with everything you've got!"
The three cadets of the Polaris unit raced down the Academy field toward the mercuryball, a plastic sphere with a vial of mercury inside. At the opposite end of the field, three members of the Arcturus unit ran headlong in a desperate effort to reach the ball first.
Astro, the giant Space Cadet from Venus, charged toward the ball like a blazing rocket, while his two unit mates flanked him, ready to block out their opponents and give Astro a clear shot at the ball.
On the left wing, Tom Corbett, curly-haired and snub-nosed, ran lightly down the field, while on the opposite wing, Roger Manning, his blond hair cut crew style, kept pace with him easily. The two teams closed. Roger threw a perfect block on his opposing wingman and the two boys went down in a heap. Tom side-stepped the Arcturus cadet on his side and sent him sprawling to the ground. He quickly cut across the field and threw his body headlong at the last remaining member of the opposition. Astro was free to kick the ball perfectly for a fifty-yard goal.
Jogging back toward their own goal line, the three Polaris cadets congratulated each other. Astro's kick had tied the score, two-all.
"That was some feint you pulled on Richards, Tom," said Roger. "You sucked him in beautifully. I thought he was going to tear up the field with his nose!"
Tom grinned. Compliments from Roger were few and far between.
Astro clapped his hands together and roared, "All right, fellas, let's see if we can't take these space bums again! Another shot at the goal—that's all I need!"
Lining up at the end of the field again, the cadets kept their eyes on the cadet referee on the side lines. They saw him hold up his hand and then drop it suddenly. Once again the teams raced toward the ball in the middle of the field. When they met, Roger tried to duplicate Tom's feat and feint his opponent, but the other cadet was ready for the maneuver and stopped dead in his tracks. Roger was forced to break stride just long enough for the Arcturus cadet to dump him to the ground and then race for Astro. Tom, covering Astro on the left wing, saw the cadet sweeping in and lunged in a desperate attempt to stop him. But he missed, leaving Astro unprotected against the three members of the Arcturus unit. With his defense gone, Astro kicked at the ball frantically but just grazed the side of it. The mercury inside the ball began to play its role in the game, and as though it had a brain of its own, the ball spun, stopped, bounced, and spiraled in every direction, with the cadets kicking, lunging, and scrambling for a clean shot. Finally Astro reached the tumbling sphere and booted it away from the group. There was a roar of laughter from the Arcturus unit and a low groan from Tom and Roger. Astro saw that he had kicked the ball over his own goal line.
"Why, you clobber-headed Venusian hick!" yelled Roger. "Can't you tell the difference between our goal and theirs?"
Astro grinned sheepishly as the three jogged back to their own goal to line up once more.
"Lay off, Roger," said Tom. "How come you didn't get Richards on that play?"
"I slipped," replied the blond cadet.
"Yeah, you slipped all right," growled Astro good-naturedly, "with a great big assist from Richards."
"Ah, go blast your jets," grumbled Roger. "Come on! Let's show those space crawlers what this game is all about!"
But before the cadet referee could drop his hand, a powerful, low-slung jet car, its exhaust howling, pulled to a screeching stop at the edge of the field and a scarlet-clad enlisted Solar Guardsman jumped out and spoke to him. Sensing that it was something important, the two teams jogged over to surround the messenger.
"What's up, Joe?" asked Roger.
The enlisted spaceman, an Earthworm cadet who had washed out of the Academy but had re-enlisted in the Solar Guard, smiled. "Orders for the Polaris unit," he said, "from Captain Strong."
"What about?" asked Roger.
"Report on the double for new assignments," replied the guardsman.
"Yeeeeooooow!" Astro roared in jubilation. "At last we can get out of here. I've been doing so blamed much classroom work, I've forgotten what space looks like."
"Know where we're going, Joe?" asked Tom.
"Uh-uh." Joe shook his head. He turned away, then stopped, and called back, "Want a lift back to the Tower?"
Before Tom could answer, Richards, the captain of the Arcturus unit spoke up. "How about finishing the game, Tom? It's been so long since we've had such good competition we hate to lose you. Come on. Only a few more minutes."
Tom hesitated. It had been a long time since the two units had played together, but orders were orders. He looked at Roger and Astro. "Well, what about it?"
"Sure," said Roger. "We'll wipe up these space jokers in nothing flat! Come on!"
There was a mock yell of anger from the Arcturus unit and the two teams raced back to their starting positions. In the remaining minutes of play, the cadets played hard and rough. First one team would score and then the other. A sizable crowd of cadets had gathered to watch the game and cheered lustily as the players tore up and down the field. Finally, when both teams were nearly exhausted, the game was over and the score was eight to seven in favor of the Polaris unit. Roger had made the final point after Tony Richards had left the game with a badly bruised hip. A substitute called in from the bystanders, an Earthworm cadet, had eagerly joined the Arcturus team for the last minutes of play but had been hopelessly outclassed by the teamwork of the Polaris unit.
Promising a return match soon, Roger, Tom, and Astro hurried to their lockers, showered, and dressed in their senior cadet uniforms of vivid blue, then raced to the nearest slidewalk to head toward the main group of buildings that made up Space Academy.
Whisked along on the moving belt of plastic that formed the principle method of transportation in and around the Academy grounds, Tom turned to his unit mates. "What do you think it'll be?" he asked.
"You mean the assignment?" asked Roger, answering his own question in the next breath. "I don't know. But anything to get out of here. I've been on Earth so long that I'm getting gravity-itis!"
Tom smiled. "It'll sure be nice to get up in the wide, high, and deep again," he said, glancing up at the cloudless sky.
"Say it again, spaceman," breathed Astro. "One more lesson on the differential potential between chemical-burning rocket fuels and reactant energy and I'll blast off without a spaceship!"
Roger and Tom laughed. They both sympathized with the big cadet's inability to cope with the theory of atomic energy and fuel conservation in spaceships. In charge of the power deck on the Polaris, Astro earlier had gained firsthand experience in commercial rocket ships as an able spaceman and later had been accepted in the Academy for cadet training. The son of colonists on Venus, the misty planet, his formal education was limited, and though he had no equal while on the power deck of a rocket ship, in theory and classroom study he had to depend on Roger and Tom to help him get passing grades.
The slidewalk moved smoothly and easily toward the gleaming Tower of Galileo, the largest and most imposing of the structures of Space Academy. Made entirely of clear crystal mined on Titan, satellite of Saturn, the Tower rose over the smaller buildings like a giant shimmering jewel. Housing the administration offices of the Solar Guard and the Space Academy staff, it also contained Galaxy Hall, the museum of space, which attracted thousands of visitors from every part of the Solar Alliance.
Tom Corbett, his eyes caressing the magnificent gleaming Tower, remembered the first time he had seen it. While it hadn't been so long in months or years since becoming a Space Cadet, it seemed as though he had been at the Academy all of his life and that it was his home. In the struggle to develop into a well-knit dependable rocket team, composed of an astrogator, power-deck cadet, and a command cadet, Tom had assumed the leadership of the unit, and the relationship between Astro, Roger Manning, and himself had ripened until they were more like brothers than three young men who had grown up millions of miles apart.
As they rode toward the Tower, the three cadets could see the green-clad first-year Earthworms getting their first taste of cadet life—hours of close-order formations and drills. The nearer they came to the Tower, the more intense and colorful became the activity as the crisscrossing slidewalks carried enlisted guardsmen in their red uniforms, and the officers of the Solar Guard in magnificent black and gold, across the quadrangle to the various dormitories, laboratories, lecture rooms, mess halls, and research rooms. Space Academy was a beehive of activity, with the education of thousands of cadets and the operational mechanics of the Solar Guard going on incessantly, day and night, never stopping in its avowed task of defending the liberties of the planets, safeguarding the freedom of space, and upholding the cause of peace throughout the universe.
As their slidewalk glided over the quadrangle, Roger suddenly turned to his unit mates. "Think we might get assigned to that radar project they're setting up on the Moon?" he asked. "I have a few ideas—"
Tom laughed. "He can't wait until he gets his hands on that new scanner Dr. Dale just finished, Astro," he said with a wink.
The big Venusian snorted. "Can you imagine the ego of that guy? Dr. Dale spends almost a year building that thing, with the help of the leading electronic scientists in the Alliance, and he can't wait to tell them about a few of his ideas!"
"I didn't mean that," complained Roger. "All I said was—"
"You don't have to say a word, hot-shot," interrupted Astro. "I can read your thoughts as though they were flashed on a stereo screen!"
"Oh, yeah!" growled Roger. "You should be that telepathic for your exams. Why didn't you read my thoughts when I beat my brains out trying to explain that thrust problem the other night?" He turned to Tom, shrugging his shoulders in mock despair. "Honestly, Tom, if I didn't know that he was the best power jockey in the Academy, I'd say he was the dumbest thing to leave Venus, including the dinosaurs in the Academy Zoo!"
With a hamlike hand Astro suddenly grabbed for Roger's neck, but the wiry cadet dashed along the slidewalk out of reach and the big Venusian rumbled after him. Tom roared with laughter.
As he started to follow his unit mates, one of the passengers on the slidewalk grabbed Tom by the arm and he turned to see Mike McKenny, Chief Warrant Officer in the enlisted Solar Guard and the first instructor the Polaris unit had met on their arrival at the Academy.
"Corbett!" demanded McKenny. "Are those two space crawlers still acting like monkeys out of their cages?"
Tom laughed and shook hands with the elderly spaceman. "Yes, sir," he said. "But you could hardly call Astro a monkey!"
"More along the lines of a Venusian gorilla, if you ask me!" snorted McKenny. The short, squat spaceman's eyes twinkled. "I've been hearing some mighty fine things about you three space bongos, Tommy. It's a wonder the Solar Guard didn't give you a unit citation for aiding in the capture of Coxine, the pirate!"
"Thanks, Mike. Coming from you that compliment really means something!"
"Just be sure you keep those two space lunatics in their proper cages," said Mike, indicating Roger and Astro, who at the moment were racing back and forth along the slidewalk bumping passengers left and right, "and you'll all be heroes someday."
"Yes, sir," said Tom. He glanced up, and noticing that he was in front of the Tower building, hopped to the walkway, waving a cheery good-by to Mike. "Blast over to our mess and have dinner with us some night, Mike!" he yelled to the departing figure.
"And interrupt the happiest hours in Astro's life?" bawled Mike. "No thank you!"
Tom laughed and turned to the huge open doorway of the Tower where Roger and Astro waited for him impatiently. In a few moments the three were being carried to the upper floors of the crystal structure by a spiraling band of moving plastic that stretched from the top of the Tower to the many floors below surface level. Tom glanced at his wrist chronograph as they stepped off the slidestairs and headed for Captain Strong's quarters.
"We're about twenty minutes late," he said to Roger and Astro. "Hope Captain Strong's in good spirits!"
"If he isn't," said Roger, "we can—"
"Don't say it," protested Astro. "I only just finished working off my last bunch of galley demerits."
They stopped in front of a door, straightened their uniforms, and then slid the door to one side and stepped smartly into the room. They came to rigid attention before a massive desk, flanked by two wall windows of clear sheet crystal reaching from ceiling to floor. Standing at the window, Captain Steve Strong, Polaris unit cadet supervisor, his broad shoulders stretching under his black-and-gold uniform, turned to face them, his features set in grim lines of trouble.
"Polaris unit reporting for orders, sir," said Tom. The three cadets saluted crisply.
Strong snapped a return salute and walked to the front of his desk. "Getting pretty big for your britches, aren't you?" he growled. "I've been watching you from this window. I saw the messenger deliver my orders to you, and then, I saw you return to your game and finish it, apparently deciding that the business of the Solar Guard can wait!"
"But, sir—" Roger started to say.
"Close your exhaust, Manning!" snapped Strong. "I'm doing the talking!"
"Yes, sir," stammered the blond-haired cadet.
"Well, Cadets," asked Strong in a silken voice, "if I sent you to Commander Walters' office on the double, do you think I could trust you to get there on the double?"
"Oh, yes, sir," replied Tom. "Yes, sir!" The other two boys nodded violently.
"Then blast out of here and report to Commander Walters for your assignments. Tell him I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Yes, sir!" said Tom, and the three cadets saluted sharply.
"Unit—" bawled Strong, "dis—missed!"
Outside in the hall once more, the three cadets wiped their faces.
"Captain Strong definitely was not in a good mood!" commented Roger.
"I've never seen him so angry!" said Tom. "Wonder why."
"Think it might be something to do with our assignments?" asked Astro.
"Never can tell, Astro," said Tom. "And there's only one way to find out. That's to get to Commander Walters' office on the double!"
Without another word the cadets hurried to the slidestairs, each of them hungry for excitement. Already having participated in three outstanding adventures, the cadet members of the Polaris unit were eager to begin a fourth.
"There's no doubt that the success or failure of this project will influence the thinking of the Solar Alliance with regard to further expansion, Governor Hardy," said Commander Walters to the man sitting stiffly in front of him. "And my congratulations on your appointment to head the expedition."
A tall, lean man with iron-gray hair, the commander of Space Academy, sat behind his desk, back ramrod straight in his black-and-gold senior officer's uniform, and casually toyed with a paper cutter on his desk as he spoke to Christopher Hardy, a short, thin man with a balding head and sharp features.
"Thank you, Commander," replied Hardy, in a thin, reedy voice. "It's a great honor and I certainly don't foresee anything that can prevent the expedition from being a complete success. We have the best equipment and, I hope, we'll have the finest men."
The soft chime of a muted bell interrupted Walters as he was about to reply. He opened the switch to the interoffice teleceiver behind his desk, then watched the image of his aide appear on the teleceiver screen.
"What is it, Bill?" asked Walters.
"Polaris unit reporting for orders, sir," replied the enlisted guardsman. "Cadets Corbett, Manning, and Astro."
"Very well, send them in," said Walters. Switching off the teleceiver, he turned back to Governor Hardy. "Ever hear of the Polaris unit, sir?" he asked.
Hardy paused, rubbing his chin before answering. "No, can't say that I have." He smiled. "From the look on your face, I see I should know about them, though."
Walters smiled back. "I'll just say this about them. Of all the cadet units trained here at the Academy in the last twenty years, these three lads are just about perfection. Just the material you'll need on your initial operation."
Governor Hardy raised his hand in mock protest. "Please! No brain trusts!"
"Well, they have the brains all right." Walters laughed. "But they have something else, an instinctive ability to do the right thing at the right time and that indefinable something that makes them true men of space, rather than ordinary ground hogs simply transplanted into space."
As the commander spoke, the massive door to his office rolled back and Tom, Roger, and Astro stepped in briskly, coming to stiff attention in front of the desk.
"Polaris unit reporting for duty, sir," said Tom. "Cadets Corbett, Manning, and Astro."
"At ease," said Walters.
The three boys relaxed and glanced quickly at the governor who had watched their entrance with interest. Walters came around in front of the desk and gestured toward Hardy.
"Boys, I want you to meet Governor Hardy."
The three cadets nodded respectfully. They knew all about the governor's achievements in establishing the first colony on Ganymede, and his success with the first exploratory expedition to outer space.
"Sit down, boys," said Walters, indicating a near-by couch. "Governor Hardy will explain things from here on in. Where is Captain Strong?"
"He said he'd be along in a few moments, sir," replied Roger.
"Well," said Walters, turning to Hardy, "no sense in beginning without Steve. Only have to repeat yourself." He turned to Astro but not before he saw a grimace of annoyance cloud the governor's face. "How are you making out with your classroom studies, Astro?"
"Uh—ah—" stammered the giant Venusian, "I'm doing all right, sir," he managed finally.
Walters suppressed a smile and turned to Hardy.
"One of the most important aspects of our training methods here at the Academy, Governor," began Walters, returning to his desk, "is for the cadet to learn to depend on his unit mates. Take Astro, for instance."
The two men glanced at the big cadet who shuffled his feet in embarrassment at being the center of attention.
"Astro," continued Walters, "is rather shaky in the field of theory and abstract-scientific concepts. Yet he is capable of handling practically any situation on the power deck of a spaceship. He literally thinks with his hands."
"Most commendable," commented Hardy dryly. "But I should think it would be difficult if he ever came face to face with a situation where his hands were bound." There was the lightest touch of sarcasm in his voice.
"I assure you, Governor," said Walters, "that wouldn't stop him either. But my point is this: Since a cadet unit is assembled only after careful study of their individual psychograph personality charts and is passed and failed as a unit, even though a boy like Cadet Astro might make a failing grade, his unit mates, Cadets Manning and Corbett, can pull him through by making higher passing marks. You see, an average is taken for all three and they pass or fail as a unit."
"Then they are forced, more or less, to depend on each other?" asked Hardy.
"Yes. In the beginning of their training. Later on, the cadets learn for themselves that it is better for all of them to work together."
Once again the bell in back of Walters' desk chimed and he turned to speak on the teleceiver to his aide.
"Captain Strong is here, sir," repeated the enlisted man.
"Send him right in," said Walters. Seconds later the door slid back and Steve Strong entered and saluted.
After the introductions were completed and the Solar Guard captain had taken a seat with his cadet unit, Commander Walters immediately launched into the purpose of the meeting.
"Steve," he began, "Governor Hardy here has been appointed by the Solar Council to head one of the most important projects yet attempted by the Alliance."
The cadets edged to the front of the couch and listened intently for what the commander was about to say.
"But perhaps I had better let the governor tell you about it himself," concluded Walters abruptly and settled back in his chair.
Captain Strong and the cadets swung around to face the governor, who rose and looked at each of them steadily before speaking.
"Commander Walters stressed the fact that this was an important project," he said finally. "No one can say how important it will be for the future. It might mean the beginning of an entirely new era in the development of mankind." He paused again. "The Solar Alliance has decided to establish a new colony," he announced. "The first colony of its kind outside the solar system in deep space!"
"A star colony!" gasped Strong.
The cadets muttered excitedly among themselves.
"The decision," continued the governor, "has been made only after much debate in the Solar Council Chamber. There have been many arguments pro and con. A week ago a secret vote was taken, and the project was approved. We are going to establish a Solar Alliance colony on a newly discovered satellite in orbit around the sun star Wolf 359, a satellite that has been named Roald."
"Wolf 359!" exclaimed Roger. "That's more than thirteen light years away—" He was stopped by Tom's hand clamped across his mouth.
Governor Hardy looked at Roger and smiled. "Yes, Wolf 359 is pretty far away, especially for a colony. But preliminary expeditions have investigated and found the satellite suitable for habitation, with fertile soil and an atmosphere similar to our own. With the aid of a few atmosphere booster stations, it should be as easy for a colonist to live there as he would on Venus—or any tropical planet."
"Where are you going to get the colonists, sir?" asked Strong.
Hardy began to pace back and forth in front of Walters' desk, waving his hands as he warmed up to his subject. "Tonight, on a special combined audioceiver and teleceiver broadcast to all parts of the Solar Alliance, the president of the Solar Council will ask for volunteers—men who will take man's first step through deep space to the stars. It is a step, which, in the thousands of years ahead, will eventually lead to a civilization of Earthmen throughout all space!"
Tom, Roger, and Astro sat in silent awe as they listened to the plans for man to reach toward the stars. Spacemen by nature and adventurers in spirit, they were united in the belief that some day Earthmen would set foot on all the stars and never stop until they had seen the last sun, the last world, the last unexplored corner of the cosmos.
"The colonists," continued Hardy, "will come from all over the system. One thousand of them—the strongest and sturdiest men out of the billions that inhabit the planets around us; one thousand, to live on Roald for a period of seven years."
Tom, his eyes bright, asked, "Won't everybody want to go, sir?"
Walters and Hardy smiled. "We expect a rush, Corbett," answered Walters. "You three and Captain Strong have been selected to aid in screening the applicants."
"Will there be any special tests, sir?" asked Strong. "I have to agree with Corbett that just about everyone will want to go."
"Yes, Strong," said Hardy. "Everyone will want to go. In fact, we estimate that there will be literally millions of applicants!"
Roger emitted a long, low whistle. "It'll take years to screen all of them, sir."
Hardy smiled. "Not really, Manning. The psychographs will eliminate the hundreds of thousands of misfits, the men who will want to go for selfish reasons, who are running away from the past, or are dissatisfied with their lack of success in life and embittered because of failure. We can expect many criminal types. Those will be eliminated easily. We have set a specific quota from each of the satellites, planets, and asteroid colonies. I have already established the stations for the preliminary screening. We will screen the remainder until we have the required thousand."
"What will our part be, sir?" asked Tom.
"Once each applicant has been approved by the psychographs, his background will be thoroughly investigated. We may find criminal types who show the blackest of careers, but who would turn over a new leaf if given the chance and prove to be more valuable than men with the best of backgrounds who merely want to get away from it all. We don't want that kind of colonist. We want people who have faith in the project; people who are not afraid of work and hardships. Your screening job will be simple. Each of you has a special talent which Commander Walters feels is outstanding. Corbett in leadership, administration, and command; Manning in electronics; Astro in atomic power and propulsion. You will talk to the applicants and give them simple tests. An important point in any applicant's favor will be his ability to improvise and handle three, four, or five jobs, where a less imaginative person would do but one. Talk to them, sound them out, and then write your report. Captain Strong will review your opinions and make recommendations to me. I will finally approve or disapprove the applications."
"Will this cost the applicants anything, sir?" asked Roger. "For instance, will the rich applicants have a better chance than the poor?"
Hardy's face turned grim. "Only the people that fit our standards will be allowed to go, Manning. Regardless."
"Yes, sir," said Roger.
"The Solar Alliance," continued Hardy, "has established a fund for this project. Each applicant will be lent as much in material as he needs to establish himself on Roald. If he operates an exchange, for instance, selling clothes, equipment, or food, then the size of his exchange will determine the size of the loan. He will repay the Solar Alliance by returning one-fourth of his profits over a period of seven years. Each colonist will be required to remain on the satellite for that seven-year period. After that, should he leave, he would be required to sell all his rights and property on Roald."
"And the farmers, sir," asked Tom, "and all the rest. Will they all be treated the same way?"
"Exactly the same, according to their individual abilities. Of course we wouldn't take a man who had been a shoemaker and advance him the capital to become a farmer."
"Will the quota of one thousand colonists include women and children?" asked Astro.
"No, but allowances have been made for them. One thousand colonists means one thousand men who can produce. However, a man may take his family," Hardy went on, adding, "providing, of course, that he doesn't mean twenty-three children, aunts, uncles, and so forth."
The three cadets looked at each other dumfounded. The very idea of the project was staggering, and as Strong, Hardy, and Commander Walters began to discuss the details of the screening system, they turned to each other excitedly.
"This is the greatest thing that's happened since Jon Builker made his trip into deep space!" whispered Tom.
"Yeah," nodded Astro, "but I'm scared."
"About what?" asked Roger.
"Having the responsibility of saying No to a feller that wants to go."
The big cadet seemed to be worried and Tom attempted to explain what the job would really be.
"It's not a question of saying an outright No," said Tom. "You just ask the applicant about his experience with motors and reactors to see if he really knows his stuff."
Astro seemed to accept Tom's explanation, but he still seemed concerned as they all turned to Commander Walters, who had finished the discussion around the desk and was giving Captain Strong his orders.
"You and the cadets, along with Governor Hardy, will blast off tonight and go to Venusport for the first screenings." He faced the cadets. "You three boys have a tremendous responsibility. In many cases your decisions might mean the difference between success or failure in this mission. See that you make good decisions, and when you've made them, stick by them. You will be under the direct supervision of Captain Strong and Governor Hardy. This is quite different from your previous assignments, but I have faith in you. See that you handle yourselves like spacemen."
The three cadets saluted sharply, and after shaking hands with their commander, left the room.
Later that evening, their gear packed, the three members of the Polaris unit were checked out of the Academy by the dormitory officer and were soon being whisked along on a slidewalk to the Academy spaceport. As they neared the spacious concrete field, where the mighty fleet of the Solar Guard was based, they could see the rows of rocket cruisers, destroyers, scouts, and various types of merchant space craft, and in the center, on a launching platform, the silhouette of the rocket cruiser Polaris stood out boldly against the pale evening sky. Resting on her directional fins, her nose pointed skyward, her gleaming hull reflecting the last rays of the setting sun, the ship was a powerful projectile ready to blast off for distant worlds.
Reaching the Polaris, the three cadets scrambled through the air lock into the spaceship and prepared for blast-off.
On the control deck, Tom began the involved check of the control panel. One by one, he tested the dials, gauges, and indicators on the instrument panel that was the brains of the mighty ship.
On the radar bridge, above the control deck, Roger adjusted the sights of the precious astrogation prism and took a checking sight on the Pole Star to make sure the instrument was in true alignment. Then turning to the radar scanner, the all-seeing eye of the ship, he began a slow, deliberate tracking of each circuit in the maze of wiring.
And below on the power deck, Astro, stripped to the waist, a leather belt filled with the rocketman's wrenches and tools slung around his hips, tuned up the mighty atomic engines. He took longer than usual, making sure the lead baffling around the reactor units and the reaction chamber was secure, before firing the initial mass.
Finally Tom's voice crackled over the intercom, "Control deck to all stations. Check in!"
"Radar bridge, aye!" came Roger's reply. "Ready for blast-off!"
"Power deck, aye!" said Astro, his booming voice echoing through the ship. "Ready for blast-off!"
"Control deck, ready for blast-off," said Tom, and then turned to the logbook and jotted down the time in the ship's journal. The astral chronometer over the control board read exactly 1350 hours.
Fifteen minutes later Captain Strong and Governor Hardy climbed aboard and Tom received the order to raise ship.
The young curly-haired cadet turned to the control board and flipped on the teleceiver. "Rocket cruiser Polaris to spaceport control tower," he called. "Request blast-off orbit and clearance!"
The traffic-control officer in the spaceport tower answered immediately. "Control tower to Polaris. You are cleared for blast-off at 1405 hours, orbital tangent 867."
Tom repeated the instructions and turned to the intercom and began snapping out orders. "Power deck, energize the cooling pumps!"
"Power deck, aye!" replied Astro. The slow whine of the powerful pumps began to scream through the ship. Tom watched the pressure indicator and when it reached the blast-off mark called to Roger for clearance.
"All clear, forward and up!" declared Roger.
"Feed reactant at D-9 rate!" ordered Tom. And far below on the power deck, Astro began to feed the reactant energy into the firing chambers.
Hardy looked at Strong and nodded in appreciation of the cadets' smooth efficient work. They strapped themselves into acceleration cushions and watched the red second hand of the astral chronometer sweep around, and then heard Tom counting off the seconds.
"Blast off—" bawled Tom, "minus five—four—three—two—one—zeroooo!"
The giant ship lurched off the blast-off platform a few feet, the exhaust of the powerful rockets deflected against the concrete surface. Then, poised delicately on the roaring rockets, the mighty ship picked up speed and began to accelerate through the atmosphere.
Pushed deep in his acceleration chair in front of the control board, unable to move because of the tremendous pressure against his body, Tom Corbett thought about his new adventure. And as the ship hurtled into the black velvet depths of space, he wondered what the future held for him as he and his unit mates began a new adventure among the stars.
"Control deck to power deck, check in!" Tom's voice crackled over the power-deck loud-speaker and Astro snapped to quick attention.
"Power deck, aye!" replied the giant Venusian into the intercom microphone. "What's up?"
"Stand by for course change," said Tom. "Roger's picked up a meteor on the radar scanner and—"
"Here's the course change," Roger's voice broke in over the intercom. "Three degrees up on the plane of the ecliptic and five degrees starboard!"
"Get that, Astro?" snapped Tom. "Stand by for one-quarter burst on steering rockets!"
"One-quarter—right!" acknowledged the power-deck cadet and turned to the massive panel that controlled the rockets.
On the control deck Tom Corbett continued talking to Roger. "Relay the pickup to the control-deck scanner, Roger," he ordered. "Let me take a look at that thing."
In a moment the thin sweeping white line on the control-deck scanner swept around the green surface of the screen, picking out the blip that marked the meteor. Tom watched it for a moment and then barked into the intercom, "Stand by to execute change course!"
He watched the meteor a few more seconds, making sure the course change would take them out of its path, and then gave the command. "Fire!"
Before he could draw another breath, Tom felt himself pressed into his seat as the Polaris quickly accelerated and curved up and away from the onrushing meteor in a long, smooth arc.
Captain Strong suddenly stepped through the hatch into the control deck. Glancing quickly at the scanner screen, he saw the white blip that was the meteor flashing away from the Polaris and he smiled.
"That was nice work, Corbett!" said Strong. "Get us back on course as soon as you can. Governor Hardy wants to get to Venusport as quickly as possible."
"Shall I tell Astro to pour on extra thrust, sir?" asked Tom.
"No, just maintain standard full space speed. No need to use emergency power unless it's really an emergency."
"Yes, sir," said Tom.
Strong walked around on the control deck, making a casual check of the ship's operation. But he knew he wouldn't find anything to complain about. Past experience had taught him that the three cadets kept a tight ship. At the sound of the hatch opening, he turned to see Governor Hardy standing just inside the hatch.
"I have to compliment you, Captain," Hardy said as he watched Tom operate the great control panel. "Your cadets really know their business. You've trained them well."
"Thank you, sir," replied Strong, "but they did it themselves. One thing I've learned since I've become an instructor at the Academy and that is you can't make a spaceman. He's born with the feeling and the instinct, or he isn't a spaceman."
Hardy nodded. "I've got some important messages to send out, Captain. I'd like to use the teleceiver for a while."
"Of course, sir," said Strong. "Right up that ladder there." The Solar Guard captain pointed to the ladder leading to the radar deck. "Manning's on duty now and will take care of you, sir."
"Thank you," said the governor, turning to the ladder.
A moment later, as Captain Strong and Tom were idly discussing the forthcoming screening operations on Venusport, they were surprised to see Roger climb down the ladder from the radar bridge.
"What are you doing down here, Manning?" inquired Strong. "I thought you were sending out messages for Governor Hardy."
Roger dropped into the co-control pilots' seat and shrugged. "The governor said he'd handle it. Said the messages were top secret and that he wouldn't burden me with their contents, since he knew how to operate a teleceiver!"
Puzzled, Tom looked at Roger. "What could be so secret about this mission?" he asked.
"I don't know," answered Roger. "After that speech the president of the Solar Council made the other night, the whole Alliance must know about the project, the screening, and practically everything else."
Strong laughed. "You space brats see adventure and mystery in everything. Now, why wouldn't a man in charge of a project as large as this have secret messages? He might be talking to the president of the council!"
Tom blushed. "You're right, sir," he said. "I guess I let my imagination run riot."
"Just concentrate on getting this wagon to Venus in one piece, Corbett, and leave the secret messages to the governor," joked Strong. "And any time you get too suspicious, just remember that the governor was appointed head of this project by the Solar Alliance itself!"
Blasting through space, leaving a trail of atomic exhaust behind her, the Polaris rocketed smoothly through the dark void toward the misty planet of Venus. In rotating watches, the cadets ran the ship, ate, slept, and spent their few remaining spare hours attending to their classroom work with the aid of soundscribers and story spools. Each of them was working for the day when he would wear the black-and-gold uniform of the Solar Guard officer that was respected throughout the system as the mark of merit, hard work, distinction, and honor.
Once, Captain Strong and Astro donned space suits and went outside to inspect the hull of the Polaris. The ship had passed through a swarm of small meteorites, each less than a tenth of an inch in diameter but traveling at high speeds, and some had pierced the hull. It was a simple and quick job to seal the holes with a special atomic torch.
Like a giant silver bullet speeding toward a bull's-eye, the rocket ship pin-pointed the planet Venus from among the millions of worlds in space and was soon hovering over Venusport, nose up toward space, ready for a touchdown at the municipal spaceport. As the braking rockets quickly stopped all forward acceleration, the main rockets were cut in and the giant ship dropped toward the surface of the tropical planet tailfirst.
Tom's face glowed with excitement as he adjusted one lever and then another, delicately balancing the ship in its fall, meanwhile talking into the intercom and directing Astro in the careful reduction of thrust. On the radar deck Roger kept his eyes glued to the radar scanner and posted Tom on the altitude as the ship drew closer and closer to the ground.
"One thousand feet!" yelled Roger over the intercom. "Nine hundred—eight—seven—six—"
"Open main rockets one half!" called Tom. "Reduce rate of fall!"
The thunder of the rockets increased and the mighty ship quivered as its plummeting descent was checked slightly. Tom quickly adjusted the stabilizer trim tabs to keep the ship perpendicular to the ground, then watched the stern scanner carefully as the huge blast-pitted concrete ramp loomed larger and larger.
"Five hundred feet to touchdown," tolled Roger in more slow and measured tones. "Four hundred—three—two—"
On the scanner screen Tom could see the exhaust flare begin to lick at the concrete ramp, then splash its surface until it was completely hidden. He grasped the main control switch tightly and waited.
"One hundred feet," Roger's voice was tense now. "Seventy-five, fifty—"
Tom barked out a quick order. "Blast all rockets!"
In immediate response, the main tubes roared into thunderous life and the Polaris shook as the sudden acceleration battled the force of gravity. The ship's descent slowed perceptibly until she hovered motionless in the air, her stabilizer fins only two feet from the concrete ramp.
"Cut all power!" Tom's voice blasted through the intercom. A split second later there was a deafening silence, followed by a heavy muffled thud and the creak of straining metal as the Polaris came to rest on the ramp.
"Touchdown!" yelled Tom. He quickly cut all power to the control board and watched as one by one the gauges and dials registered zero or empty. The cadet stood up, noticed the time on the astral chronometer, and turned to face Captain Strong, rising from the chair beside him.
"Polaris made touchdown, planet Venus, at exactly 1543, sir," he said and saluted crisply.
Strong returned the salute. "Good work, Corbett," he said. "You handled her as though she was nothing more than a baby carriage!"
Roger came bouncing down the ladder, grinning. "Well," he said, "we're back on the planet where the monkeys walk around and call themselves men!"
"I heard that, Manning!" roared Astro, struggling through the hatch from the power deck. "One more crack like that and I'll stand you on your head and blast you off with your own space gas!"
"Listen, you overgrown Venusian ape," replied Roger, "I'll—"
"Yeah—" growled Astro, advancing on the smaller cadet. "You'll what?"
"All right, you two!" barked Strong. "Plug your jets! By the craters of Luna, one minute you act like hot-shot spacemen, and the next, you behave like children in a kindergarten!"
Suddenly the compartment echoed to hearty laughter. The cadets and their skipper turned to see Governor Hardy standing on the radar-bridge ladder, brief case in hand, roaring with laughter. He climbed down and faced the three cadets.
"If kindergarten behavior will produce spacemen like you, I'm all for it. Congratulations, all three of you. You did a good job!"
"Thank you, sir," said Tom.
Hardy turned to Strong. "Captain, I'm going ahead to the Solar Council building and get things set up for the screening. I imagine there are many anxious colonists ready to be processed!"
As Strong and the cadets came to attention and saluted, Governor Hardy turned and left the control deck.
Strong turned to the cadets. "From now on, you might as well forget that you're spacemen. Report to the Administration Building in one hour. You're going to do all your space jockeying in a chair from now on!"
* * * * *
For the next week, the three Space Cadets spent every waking hour in the Solar Council Administration Center, interviewing applicants who had passed their psychograph personality tests. Endlessly, from early morning until late at night, they questioned the eager applicants. Ninety-nine out of one hundred were refused. And when they were, they all had different reactions. Some cried, some were angry, some threatened, but the three cadets were unyielding. It was a thankless job, and after more than a week of it, tempers were on edge.
"What would you do," Roger would ask an applicant, "if you were suddenly drifting in space, in danger, and found that you had lost the vacuum in your audio tubes? How would you get help?"
Not one in over three hundred had realized that space itself was a perfect vacuum and could be substituted for the tubes. Roger had turned thumbs down on all of them.
Astro and Tom found their interviews equally as rough. One applicant admitted to Tom that he wanted to go to the satellite to establish a factory for making rocket juice, a highly potent drink that was not outlawed in the solar system, but was looked on with strong disfavor. When Tom turned down his application, the man tried to get Tom to enter into partnership with him, and when Tom refused, the man became violent and the cadet had to call enlisted Solar Guardsmen to throw him out.
While Tom and Roger made decisions quickly and decisively, Astro, on the other hand, patiently listened to all the tearful stories and sympathized with the applicants when they were unable to tear down a small reactor unit and rebuild it blindfolded. Painfully, sometimes with tears in his own eyes, he would tell the applicant he had failed, just when the would-be colonist would think Astro was going to pass him.
The three cadets were doing their jobs so well that in the one hundred and fifty-three applications approved by them Strong did not reject one, but sent them all on to Governor Hardy for final approval.
On the morning of the tenth day of screening, Hyram Logan and his family entered Roger's small office. A man of medium height with a thick shock of iron-gray hair and ruddy, weather-beaten features Logan looked as though he was used to working in the outdoors. Flanked by his son and daughter, he stood quietly before the desk as the young cadet, without looking up, scanned his application quickly.
"How old are the children?" asked Roger brusquely.
"I'm nineteen," replied a low musical voice, "and Billy's twelve."
Roger's head suddenly jerked up. He stared past Hyram Logan and a small towheaded boy, to gaze into the warm brown eyes of Jane Logan, a slender, pretty girl whose open, friendly features were framed by neatly combed reddish blond hair. Roger sat staring at her, openmouthed, until he heard a loud cough and saw Logan trying to hide a smile. He quickly turned back to the application.
"I see here you're a farmer, Mr. Logan," said Roger. He stole a glance at the young girl, but Billy saw him and winked. Roger flushed and turned to Logan as the older man answered his questioner.
"That's right," said Logan. "I'm a farmer. Been a farmer all my life."
"Why do you want to go to Roald, Mr. Logan?" asked Roger.
"Well," said Logan, "I have a nice piece of land south of Venusport a ways. Me and my wife developed it and we've been farming it for over twenty-five years. But my wife died last year and I just sort of lost heart in this place. I figured maybe that new satellite will give me a start again. You'll have to have farmers to feed the people. And I can farm anything from chemicals to naturals, in hard rock or muddy water." He paused and clamped his jaws together and said proudly, "My father was a farmer, and his father before him. One of the first to put a plow into Venusian topsoil!"
"Yes—uh—of course, Mr. Logan," mumbled Roger. "I don't think there'll—er—be any trouble about it."
The young cadet hadn't heard a word Hyram Logan had said, but instead had been gazing happily into the eyes of Jane Logan. He stamped the application and indicated the door to Tom's screening room, following the girl wistfully with his eyes. He muttered to himself, "There ought to be more applicants like Farmer Logan and his daughter for the brave new world of Roald!"
"And if there were, Cadet Manning," roared Captain Strong, standing in the doorway from the hall, "we'd probably wind up with a satellite filled with beautiful women!"
"Yes, sir! Er—no, sir," stuttered Roger, jerking himself to attention. "I mean, what's wrong with that?"
"By the rings of Saturn," declared Strong, "you'll never change, Manning!"
Roger grinned. "I hope not, sir."
The door to Tom's room opened and the curly-haired cadet walked in holding an application.
"Captain Strong," he said, "could I see you a minute?"
"Sure, Tom. Any trouble?" asked Strong.
Tom handed him the application silently and waited. Strong read the sheet and turned to Tom. "You know what to do in a case like this, Tom. Why come to me?"
Tom screwed up his face, thinking. "I don't know, sir. There's something different about this fellow. Astro passed him with flying colors. Said he knew as much about a reactor unit as he did. Roger passed him too."
"Who is it?" asked Roger. Strong handed him the paper.
"Sure, I passed him," said Roger. "That guy really knows his electronics."
Strong looked at Tom. "How do you feel about it, Tom?"
"Well, sir," began Tom, "I would pass him in a minute. He's had experience handling men and he's been in deep space before. He's logged an awful lot of time on merchant spaceships, but—"
"But what?" asked Strong. He took the paper and studied it again. "Looks to me as if he's what we're looking for," he said.
"I know, sir," said Tom. "But why would a man like that, with all that experience, want to bury himself on Roald? He could get practically any job he wants, right here in the system."
"Ummh," mused Strong. He reread the application. In the blank space for reason for going, the applicant had written simply: Adventure. He handed the application back to Tom. "I think I see what you mean, Tom. It does look too good. Better not take a chance. Seven years is a long time to get stuck with a misfit, or worse, a—" He didn't finish, but Tom knew he meant a man not to be trusted.
"Tell Paul Vidac his application has been rejected," said Strong.
"You mean Captain Strong has been recalled to the Academy?" gasped Roger.
"That's right," replied Tom. "He had a talk with Governor Hardy last night and this morning he took the jet liner back to Earth. Special orders from Commander Walters."
"Well, blast my jets!" exclaimed Astro. "Wonder what's up?"
"I don't know," said Tom. "But it must be something more important than the Roald project for him to pull out now!"
"It might have something to do with the project, Tom," suggested Roger.
Tom shook his head. "Maybe, but it just isn't like Captain Strong not to say anything to us before he left. I wouldn't have known about it if one of the enlisted guardsmen hadn't asked me if we were going with him."
Astro and Roger looked at each other. "You mean," asked Roger, "Captain Strong didn't tell you he was going?"
"That's just it!" replied Tom. "We've been traveling all over space together screening the applicants, and then Captain Strong just leaves when we start the final screening."
The three cadets were seated in a snack shop in Luna City on the Moon, sipping hot tea and eating spaceburgers. For six weeks they had been interviewing the applicants for the new satellite colony and were getting near the end. Their task had gone fairly smoothly except for some difficulty on Mars when Strong and the cadets had rejected scores of applicants with shady backgrounds; criminals and gamblers; spacemen who had had their space papers picked up for violation of the space code, and men who had been dismissed from the enlisted Solar Guard for serious misconduct. But now, finally, the quotas of all the colonies and planets but Luna City on the Moon had been filled. Soon the expedition would blast off for Roald.
"Well," said Tom, sipping the last of his tea, "we have a heavy day ahead of us tomorrow. I guess we'd better get back to the Polaris and sack in."
"Yeah," agreed Astro, tossing some credits on the counter and following Tom and Roger out into the street. They walked past the shops, their blue cadet uniforms reflecting the garish colors of the nuanium signs in the shop windows. At the first corner they hailed a jet cab and were soon speeding out of the city toward the municipal spaceport.
The boys didn't talk much on the way out, each wondering why Captain Strong was recalled on such short notice, and why he had left without saying good-by to them. They knew they would see him in a few days when the processing of the Luna City applicants was over and they would return to Space Academy, but the relationship between the cadets and the Solar Guard captain had developed into a deeper association than just a cadet crew and officer supervisor. They were friends—spacemates! And the boys sensed trouble ahead when they arrived at the Luna City spaceport. They stood in the shadow of the Polaris and stared into the sky to watch the globe that was Earth revolve in the depths of space. The outline of the Western Hemisphere, flanked by the shimmering Atlantic and Pacific oceans, could be seen clearly. It was a breath-taking view of a world that had given birth to all the men who now took the travel from one world to another for granted.
"Gosh," said Tom, staring at the magnificent sight. "I see the Earth like that every time we blast off from Luna. I should be used to it by now, but—" he stopped suddenly and sighed.
"I know what you mean, Tom," said Astro. "It's the same with me. Gets me right here," and he put his hand to his heart.
"You don't know your anatomy yet, pal," drawled Roger. "Move your hand down a couple of inches. Things only get you in the stomach."
"Oh, is that a fact?" growled the big Venusian. Suddenly, without any apparent effort, he picked up the blond cadet and held him high in the air. "Which way shall I drop him, Tom? On his head or the seat of his pants? Seems to me it won't make much difference."
Tom laughed at the spectacle of Roger flailing the air helplessly, then suddenly stopped and grabbed Astro by the arm. "Wait, Astro," he called. "Look! There's someone in the ship!"
"What?" cried Astro, dropping Roger and turning to the Polaris. The three cadets saw light gleaming from the control-deck viewport.
"Well, I'll be a space monkey!" exclaimed Roger. "Who could it be?"
"I don't know," replied Tom. "Governor Hardy is at the Luna City Hotel, and Captain Strong is the only one besides us who has the light key to open the air lock!"
"Well, what're we waiting for!" said Roger. "Let's find out what's going on!"
The three cadets climbed into the ship and raced up the companionway to the control deck.
"No one here," announced Roger as he stepped through the hatch. He turned to Astro. "You were the last one out of the ship. Are you sure you locked it up?"
"The ship was locked, Cadet Manning!" said a voice in back of them. The three cadets whirled around to face a tall, wiry man with dark hair, dressed in civilian clothes and holding a cup of coffee. He smiled at the three startled cadets and casually drained the cup. "I opened her," he continued in a deep voice. "Governor Hardy gave me the key."
"Who are you?" asked Tom, almost indignant at the man's self-assurance. And then he stopped, frowning, "Say, haven't I seen you before?"
"You're right, Tom," cried Astro. "I've seen him too!"
"Who are you, mister?" demanded Roger.
The man turned back to the messroom just off the control deck, put the coffee cup down on the table, and returned to face the three cadets. "My name is Paul Vidac. I'm the new lieutenant governor of Roald."
"You're what?" gasped Tom.
"You're space happy!" exclaimed Roger. "Your application was refused. Captain Strong rejected it himself."
"Fortunately for the project of Roald," said Vidac with a half-smile playing at his lips, "Captain Strong has been taken off the Roald project." He paused and lounged against the bulkhead to announce, "I have replaced him."
"You couldn't replace Captain Strong digging a hole in the ground, mister!" snapped Roger sarcastically.
"You might have taken over his work, but you couldn't touch him with an atomic blaster," growled Astro. "Captain Strong is—"
"Wait, fellows," said Tom. "Let's find out what this is all about."
"That's all right, Corbett," Vidac broke in. "I appreciate your allegiance. I wouldn't like anyone who would accept another person in place of a friend without putting up a beef." His voice was as smooth as the purr of a cat.
"How could you have replaced him, mister?" asked Tom, with just a little more self-control than Roger or Astro had shown.
"Very simple," said Vidac. "Governor Hardy has the final say on all applications, as you know. He has unquestioned authority to appoint, approve, and select anyone he wants. In view of my experience, Governor Hardy was delighted to have me join the Roald expedition."
The three cadets looked at each other in bewilderment. Finally Tom walked over and stuck out his hand. "We're glad to have you aboard, sir." He managed a smile.
Reluctantly Roger and Astro followed suit.
"Thank you, boys," said Vidac with a smile. "I'm sure we'll learn to work together smoothly in these last few days. There are a few changes to be made of course. But it really doesn't matter. You'll be finished with the screening soon."
"What kind of changes, sir?" asked Tom.
"Oh, just routine," answered Vidac. "Instead of you seeing the applicants first, I will speak with each one briefly before sending them on to you."
"What's the matter with the way we've been doing it?" asked Roger with a slight edge to his voice that did not go unnoticed. Vidac looked at the cadet. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes were hard.
"I think, Cadet Manning," purred Vidac, "that it will be better for you not to question me, or any of my practices. A Space Cadet's first rule is to take orders, not to question them."
Tom was thinking quickly. It was obvious that Vidac had gone straight to Governor Hardy and had prevailed on him to review his application. Tom could see how Vidac's background would impress the governor. He remembered that there wasn't any real evidence against Vidac. In fact, Tom thought, it was only because Vidac's background was so superior to most of the applicants that he had aroused suspicion at all. Now, with Captain Strong recalled to the Academy, it was only natural for the governor to get the best man for the job. Tom was ready to admit that Vidac's background certainly spoke for itself.
He looked at the man and grinned. "I'll tell you honestly, sir. When Captain Strong refused your application, it was because—well—"
Vidac was watching Tom shrewdly. "Well?" he asked quietly.
"It was because we couldn't understand how a man like you would want to bury yourself on a satellite for seven years when you could get most any kind of job you would want, right here in the Alliance."
Vidac hesitated just a second, and then his face broke into a broad grin. "You know, Corbett, you're right! Absolutely right! I can see where you three boys have done a fine job for the governor." He slapped Astro on the back and threw his arm around Tom's shoulder, speaking to them in a suddenly confidential tone. "As a matter of fact, I was offered the directorship of the Galactic space lanes only last week," he said. "Do you know why I refused it?"
Tom shook his head.
"Because I'm a spaceman, just like yourselves." He looked at Astro. "Cadet Astro, would you take a job with an outfit and give up space to sit behind a desk eight hours a day?"
"No, sir!" said Astro emphatically.
"Well, that's exactly the way I feel. But I commend you on your observations about me, Corbett. I think I would have been a little suspicious myself."
The three cadets smiled.
"Thank you, sir," said Tom. "And forget what we just said. If Governor Hardy's okayed you, that's good enough for us."
"Thanks, Corbett," said Vidac. "I appreciate that."
"I guess we'd better turn in now," said Roger. "We have a hard day ahead of us. Those applicants come at you like dinosaurs."
"Right!" said Vidac. "I'll take over Captain Strong's quarters. See you in the morning."
The three cadets went to their quarters without saying a word. When the hatch was closed, Roger turned and faced his unit mates.
"Well, it sure looks like we made a mistake about that spaceman!" he said. "I think he's all right!"
"Yeah," said Astro, "you can't blame a guy for not wanting to take a desk job."
Tom merely sat in his bunk, starting to pull off one of his soft leather space boots. He held it a moment, thinking, and then looked up at his two unit mates. "You know, I think I'm going to have a talk with the governor."
"About what?" asked Roger.
"Vidac," said Tom simply.
"What could you say that he doesn't already know?" asked Astro.
"Why—" Tom stopped. After a moment he dropped his boot to the deck, looked up at Roger and Astro, and smiled. "Nothing, I guess."
"Come on," said Roger, yawning. "Let's turn in. Just the thought of facing those applicants tomorrow makes me tired."
Astro turned out the light and hopped into bed. Tom lay in his bunk, hands under his head, wondering about Vidac, and then he began to think about the colony of Roald. He lay a long time, thinking about the fine people who were giving up comfortable homes, successful businesses. He thought of Hyram Logan and family; the shopkeeper from Titan with three sets of twin boys; the Martian miner who had spent twenty-five futile years searching for uranium in the asteroid belt. They were all ready to go over fifty billion miles into deep space and begin their lives again. Tom shook his head. He wondered if he had a choice whether he would chance the mystery and danger of deep space.
With the steady hum of the electronic generator on the power deck droning in his ears the curly-haired cadet soon fell asleep.
* * * * *
"What did you say your name was?" asked Roger of the applicant standing before him. He was a man badly in need of a shave and his clothes looked as if he had slept in them. He was the sixty-sixth applicant Roger had seen that morning.
"Tad Winters," replied the man in a surly tone, "and hurry up with this business. I haven't got all day!"
Roger looked up sharply. "You'll wait until I've had time to check your application, sir. Or you can leave right now!"
"Listen, punk," snarled Winters, "I just saw your boss—"
"My boss?" asked Roger, puzzled.
"Yeah," said Winters. "Your boss, Vidac! And he said I was to tell you to pass me!"
Roger stood up and looked the man in the eye. "You've had your space papers suspended twice, Mr. Winters. Once for smuggling, and once for insubordination on a deep-space merchantman. Your application to go to Roald is rejected."
"We'll see about that!" growled Winters. "Gimme that, you space jerk!" He snatched the application out of Roger's hand and stomped out of the room.
Roger smiled. It was nothing new to him for the applicants to threaten him and seek higher authority. He buzzed for the next applicant.
Meanwhile, Tom was interviewing a small man with heavy eyebrows and a thin face. One side of his mouth twitched continually, making the man look as though he were laughing. Tom read over the application and looked up quickly.
"Mr. Bush," said Tom, "you've stated here that you were once a messenger for the Spaceways Bonded Messenger Service and that you were dismissed. Why was that?"
Ed Bush's mouth twitched as he played with his hat and stirred uneasily in his chair. "I was framed," he said finally.
"Framed?" asked Tom.
"Yeah, framed!" snapped Bush. "I was taking a credit pouch to Venusport from Atom City when it was stolen from me."
"Could you prove it?" asked Tom.
"How could I prove it when I don't know what happened to it?" growled Bush. "Listen, Corbett, you can't hold a little thing like that against me. A man is entitled to one mistake—"
Tom held up his hand. "Mr. Bush, you also had your space papers suspended for six months and were caught during the suspension blasting off with false papers. Was that a mistake?"
"Well, what do you expect a man to do? Go hungry? I've been a spaceman longer than you've been alive. I had to have a job. There wasn't anything else I could do." His voice trailed off into a whine.
"But you did, willfully and with full knowledge of your act, violate the space code by using false papers, didn't you?" pursued Tom.
"Yeah, but—" whined Bush.
"I'm sorry," said Tom, standing up. "Your application has been rejected."
Bush stood up and snatched the application from Tom. His mouth began to twitch furiously. "Why, you little—"
"That's enough, Bush!" snapped Vidac, who had suddenly entered the room. "Leave your application on the desk and get out!"
Bush turned and looked at Vidac, nodded, and glared at Tom before stalking from the room. Vidac smiled at Tom's questioning look and walked over. He sat on the edge of Tom's desk and picked up Bush's application.
"Funny thing about Bush, Tom," Vidac mused.
"What, sir?" asked Tom.
"Notice the nervous twitch he has on the side of his face?"
"Yes, sir," said Tom.
"I've known Bush a long time. Many years. He used to be the happiest little space joker in the system, singing all the time, playing a concertina. And then he lost that credit pouch. It bothered him real bad."
"I guess it would, sir," said Tom.
"And then he got caught blasting off with false papers and of course that made him a marked man. He developed the nervous twitch right after that. He's a good man, Tom. And I think we ought to give him another chance."
Tom gasped. "But, sir, he's broken the space code!"
Vidac looked at Tom and smiled. "I know, Tom, and it's a serious thing. But I think he deserves another chance."
"We've refused people for a lot less than that, sir," said Tom emphatically, "before you came."
Vidac's face hardened. "I said we were going to give him another chance!"
Tom met the lieutenant governor's eyes coolly. "Yes, sir." He stamped the application and handed it to Vidac.
"It's pretty easy to sit in judgment of others, Tom," said Vidac, smiling again. "If there are any more—ah—questionable applicants, I suggest you send them to me. And if I want to give them another chance, you will, of course, follow orders."
"Very well, sir," replied Tom, tight-lipped. "If you say so."
Vidac's eyes hardened. "I say so, Corbett!" He turned and walked from the room.
Tom sat down weakly. As he was about to buzz for the next applicant, the door burst open and Roger came into the room. The blond-haired cadet's lips were pulled tight in a grim line.
"There's something rocket-blasting screwy around here, Tom!" he exclaimed.
"What do you mean?" asked Tom.
"I just rejected a real low-down space crawler—a guy named Tad Winters."
"Yes?" Tom was alert, anticipating Roger's answer.
"He went to Vidac and came back later with his application approved."
Tom slammed his fist on the desk. "That proves it! Governor Hardy has to be told what's going on!" He flipped on the teleceiver near by and asked the central communications operator to connect him with the governor's office. In a moment the face of Christopher Hardy sharpened into focus on the screen.
"What is it, Corbett?" asked the governor.
"I'd like to talk to you, sir, if I may. Something's just come up and I'm not sure what to do."
"Well, whatever it is, I'm sure Governor Vidac will be able to take care of it. Speak to him."
Tom gulped and glanced at Roger. "But, sir," he stammered, "it's—it's—"
"It's what, Corbett? Hurry, lad! I haven't got all day."
"What I have to say is—is—about the lieutenant governor, sir," Tom managed finally.
"Now listen, son," said Hardy, "I have a lot of confidence in you three boys. You've all done a fine job. But I screened Mr. Vidac myself, and I'm satisfied that he is just the man I need. After Captain Strong was recalled to the Academy, I had to have a man to take over for him. And I am satisfied that Mr. Vidac is about as fine a man as I could get! Now don't bother me again. You've done a fine job, as I said. But don't let it go to your heads!"
"Yes, sir," said Tom, clamping his teeth together. "Very well, sir!"
"One more thing," said Hardy. "We've about finished here at Luna City. When you've processed the last of the applicants, prepare the Polaris for a return trip to Space Academy." He paused and smiled. "I think I might be able to convince Commander Walters you need a two weeks' leave!" He smiled again and then his face disappeared from the screen.
Tom looked up at Roger. "I don't like it, Roger. Maybe I'm wrong, but either the governor is pretty dumb or Vidac is the slickest thing in space!"
"Could be both," drawled Roger.
Tom looked at the pile of applications on his desk, and then at the door to Vidac's office.
"Whatever it is, we've got to tell Captain Strong!"
"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.
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.
A thousand spaceships, freighters, converted luxury liners, auxiliary supply vessels, rocket cruisers, destroyers and scouts, all led by the Polaris, blasted in even formation through the last charted regions of the solar system. Inside the gleaming ships the colonists had settled down for the long voyage to the new satellite of Roald. Their quarters were cramped and uncomfortable. There was very little to do and their only entertainment was the shipboard stereos. Many spent endless hours at the long-range telescanners watching the sun star Wolf 359, seeing it come closer and closer.
Aboard the Polaris, Tom, Roger, and Astro worked an endless tour of duty, maneuvering the great fleet of ships into ordered formation so that any vessel could be found without difficulty. Now that the fleet was in position, and the early confusion of forming up was over, they had hoped for a little rest, but were disappointed when Vidac suddenly ordered them to report to his quarters.
Standing at the hatch outside of Vidac's room, Tom and Roger waited for Astro as he climbed up the ladder to join them. The big cadet finally made the top and stood breathing heavily.
"By the rings of Saturn," he grumbled, "I'm so tired I could sleep right here. Right now!"
"Yeah," growled Roger. "You'd think Vidac would give us a break after what we've done."
"We'll have plenty of time to rest on this trip," said Tom. "This is just the beginning. I'll bet by the time we reach Roald we'll be wishing we had something to do to pass away the time."
He turned and pressed the annunciator button and the hatch slid open. The three cadets entered the room and snapped to attention.
"Polaris unit reporting as ordered, sir," said Tom.
Vidac swung around in his chair and stared up at the three cadets, a hint of a smile curling his lips.
"You've done a fine job, boys," he said. "The fleet is in good formation." He paused as he settled back in his chair. "But I'm not the one who believes in idle hands. I've assigned you to Professor Sykes. He needs help in charting the unexplored regions of space we're approaching. And you three need that kind of training. Report to him in one hour."
"One hour," gasped Roger. "But we're completely blasted out!"
"Yes, sir," agreed Astro. "Couldn't we log some sack time before we start another assignment?"
Vidac stood up and faced them. "You might as well learn right now," he said sharply, "that when I give an order I expect it to be carried out without suggestions, complaints, or whining excuses!"
"But—!" stammered Roger.
Tom quickly stepped forward. His back ramrod straight, he saluted the lieutenant governor. "We understand, sir."
He executed a perfect about-face and, followed by Astro and Roger, he left the lieutenant governor's quarters.
Outside, the three cadets walked wearily toward the messroom just off the control deck. After preparing a hasty cup of tea, they sat about the table silently, each thinking about the long trip ahead of them and the difficulties they were sure to encounter with Vidac. They all three jumped when Jeff Marshall, Professor Sykes's aide, entered and boomed a cheerful greeting.
"Hiya," muttered Tom. Astro and Roger merely nodded.
"Say!" cried Jeff, his usually cheerful face showing concern. "What's the matter with you three guys? You look as though someone told you there isn't any Moon!"
"Worse than that," said Roger. "Vidac just assigned us to work with Professor Sykes on charting the new space regions."
Jeff smiled. "Nothing wrong with that. The old professor isn't so bad. He sounds worse than he really is."
"Listen," growled Astro, "you don't have to tell me what Professor Sykes is like. I had a class with him at the Academy. That guy is so sour, vinegar is sweet by comparison."
Astro's outburst was said with such fierce conviction that Tom, Roger, and Jeff burst out laughing.
"It isn't that we mind working with Professor Sykes," said Tom. "He's a real brain and we could learn a lot from him, but—"
"But what?" asked Jeff.
"It's the way Vidac has suddenly—well, taken over around here. We're supposed to be under the direct orders of Governor Hardy."
"Well, Vidac is Hardy's executive officer," said Jeff.
"Yeah," muttered Roger. "We're finding that out, the hard way."
"I still can't understand why Governor Hardy would make him lieutenant governor, with his background," mused Tom.
Jeff grinned. "You three guys have been jockeying with so many space crawlers since you came to the Academy, you're suspicious of everyone you meet. I'm surprised you haven't decided that I'm an arch space criminal myself!"
The three cadets smiled. Jeff Marshall was so gentle and mild, his manner so quietly humorous, it was impossible to picture him as any kind of a criminal.
During the few minutes they had left, they casually discussed the chances of the senior space cadets against the enlisted guardsmen in a forthcoming mercuryball game, and then went up to the forward compartment of the Polaris, which served as a temporary observatory for Professor Sykes.
The Chief Astrophysicist of Space Academy, Professor Barnard Sykes, was a man of great talent and even greater temper. Referred to as Barney by the cadet corps, he was held in high regard and downright fear. There were few cadets who had escaped his scathing tongue when they had made a mistake and practically the entire student body had, at one time or another, singly and in unison, devoutly wished that a yawning hole would open up and swallow them when he began one of his infamous tirades. Even perfection in studies and execution by a cadet would receive a mere grunt from the cantankerous professor. Such temperament was permissible at the Academy by an instructor only because of his genius and for no other reason. And Professor Sykes fitted the bill. It was by sheer devotion to his work and single-mindedness of purpose that he was able to become a leading scientist in his field. Professor Sykes had been assigned, at his request, to the Roald expedition. As the leading scientist, it was his job to evaluate every new discovery made during the trip out to the distant satellite, and later make observations on the colony itself. Scientifically, and in a sense ultimately, the success or failure of the Roald expedition would rest on his round hunched shoulders.
When the three cadets and Jeff Marshall entered the observatory, they found Professor Sykes bending over a calculating machine checking some figures. Apparently finding a mistake, he muttered to himself angrily and started over again. Roger stepped forward.
"I can handle a calculator pretty well, sir," Roger said. "You want me to do it for you?"
Sykes whirled around and glared at the blond-haired cadet. "What's your name?" he snapped.
"Why—Cadet Manning, sir," replied Roger.
"Cadet Manning, do you see this calculator?" Sykes pointed to the delicate instrument that could add, subtract, divide, and multiply, in fractions and whole numbers, as well as measure the light years in sidereal time.
"Yes, sir," said Roger.
"Cadet Manning," continued Sykes, "I perfected that machine. Built the first one myself. Now offhand, wouldn't you say I would know how to operate it?"
"Yes, sir," stammered Roger. "But I just wanted to help, sir."
"When I need your help I'll ask for it!" snorted the little professor. He turned to Jeff. "What are they doing here? You know I don't like to be interrupted when I'm making observations!"
Jeff smiled slowly. "They've been assigned to work with you, sir. They're your new assistants."
"My assistants!" screamed Sykes. "What space-blasting idiot got the idea that I needed any assistants?"