Friday, August 22, 2008

The Star Pirates

by Lin Davies. From Planet Comics #6, June 1940.

Homeward-bound with his vital secret of Sun control, Captain Dexter Ames of the Space-Ship Discoverer runs into pirate trouble!

Yes, there were three specks in the stratosphere, far off to the right. The quartzite lenses did not lie. Captain Dexter Ames of the Earth-ship Discoverer drew back from the squat telescope with worry furrowing his forehead.

Three space ships! Where did they come from? Were they friends or enemies of the exploring craft hurrying home with fateful news? He pressed a button to summon his second in command, and in a moment Doctor Phillips was at his side.

"What is it, Captain?"

Ames focused the telescope and gestured. "Take a look."

The little scientist squinted through the space-revealing tube and exclaimed in alarm. "What are they?"

"They're not Earth-ships," said Ames Grimly.

"Perhaps they're Inter-Planet patrol craft," suggested the doctor hopefully.

Ames shook his head, "They don't cruise in threes."

The little doctor glanced worriedly about him, as though seeking the cause of their trouble. His eyes fell on the great figure sprawled upon a bench in the wing of the control cabin. Ames, too, glanced that way, his eyes running over the ten-foot giant, and suddenly his eyes gleamed.

"I've got an idea, Doc!" He gestured to the helmet, made of metallic coils, on the doctor's head. "Let's show the Prince the ships in the scope, and you test his thought-reaction!"

The doctor rubbed his hands. Quickly he led their amiable guest-hostage, the Prince of Alpha-Astra, to the glass. The big fellow stared while the doctor fiddled with the tubes of his thought-transference helmet. When the giant straightened there was a glitter of hostility in his eyes that made Ames' pulse beat faster.

The doctor's eyes were half-closed, his lips parted as he strained to catch the drift of the giant's thoughts. Then, "Ames! Ames!" he cried excitedly. "I've got it! The Prince identifies -- apparently with some doubt in his mind -- those ships as pirates from Neptune!"

"Pirates!" whistled Ames. "We've had no word of pirates in these parts!"

The doctor pushed the helmet off his wrinkled brow. "You think they'll attack us?"

Ames shook his head. "Don't know. But they certainly will if they've any idea how much they could win by blasting us to dust." He turned to the speaking tube and his voice roared with clear command. "Attention! Battle stations!"

Through the listening tube came sounds of quick movement, a swishing of soft-soled shoes on metal decks in the far recesses of the ship. Then came the responses. "Guns ready, sir!" That was Chief Gunner Hatch's clipped quick voice. "Engine-room standing by, sir." Chief Engineer Morgan drawled down in the bowels of the moto-room. Behind the captain a door popped open and the communications man poked his head out. "The board's dead, sir, but we're trying."

The captain nodded. "Watch it carefully. Try to tune in on the Neptune band, and report instantly if the three ships off the starboard bow try to speak to us."

"Three -- ships, sir!" The communications man's eyes popped wide. "Yes, sir!" He vanished.

Ames watched the gunners in the shoulders of the control cabin at their job of ranging the big proton guns on the tiny targets ahead, calculating speed, debating projectile types. At the scope the little doctor fidgeted. "They're bigger, Captain. You'd better take a look."

Ames took one look and nodded to Doctor Phillips. "We're in for it. Those are the Neptune pirates."

"The doctor paled. But he nodded matter-of-factly. "Perhaps we have speed on them."

Ames compressed his lips. "I doubt it. The Discoverer was built for a long cruise, not for fighting. "However--"

He paced the bridge. The next few minutes might spell their safety or doom. Everything depended upon the way he fought his ship. Could he give the pirates the slip, or, failing that, trounce them in battle? It was three to one -- and those Neptune ships looked like war craft.

They came up fast, flying at a tangent that would put them on his starboard quarter. But no -- they were crawling up, showing a speed that made the Discoverer look like a cripple. Ames barked into the speaking tube. "Morgan! Are you getting all the speed you can?"

Back came the answer, "The last gasp, Chief!"

The lean space-devils loomed larger. Ames could make out the ports where the muzzles of proton guns gleamed. Suddenly the leading ship fired.

Ames slammed the elevators hard down, and the Discoverer dived. As the great space ship slipped out of her course a dull boom sounded through her length, and she shivered. Ahead, a bright glow appeared. A shot across the bows -- a warning to heave to!

Gunner Hatch's voice sounded eager and quick. "We have the range, sir!"

"Not yet," warned Ames. "Don't fire. When you do, take the leading ship first."

He flung the Discoverer off her course, seeking to elude the pirate trio. But the move gained only a few seconds. When he scanned the rearward air again, the third pirate ship had crept up on one side. "Hatch!" he shouted. "Take that one -- to port!"

"Aye, sir!" And the port stern-chaser spoke with stunning concussion. Staggering, the pirate ship fell off, and Ames heard the gunners cheer. But in the next instant a crushing blow struck the Discoverer, hurling Ames to the deck, where he lay senseless.

He knew nothing of the motors' futile thrumming as the Discoverer, her rudders jammed by the hit, swung into a giddy circle. Or of how the two unhurt pirate ships, matching the Discoverer's speed, came alongside. He roused to see, dimly, the port and starboard bulkheads crashing in under the fire of the pirates' protons, and a swarm of lean-faced hot-eyed Neptune men pouring through the breaches.

Fear of them rushed into the control room, herding little Doctor Phillips before them. The leader surveyed the spacious control room.

"We can use her," he jeered in slurred Earth-language, "for cargo. And as for you--" he jabbed Ames with a ray-pistol, "--you and your people will slave in our laboratories." He gestured to the guards, and Ames and Phillips were jostled aft, into half-empty cargo hold. The bulkhead slammed, and quiet fell in the big chamber.

Ames rubbed his throbbing head, and looked about him. The whole crew was gathered here, desperation their faces. In one corner sat the giant Prince, broodingly fingering a great gash on his forehead; evidently he had been stunned before he was captured.

The ship rolled, and Ames knew that the course had been changed. The realization stirred him to frantic thoughts. "Once we're on Neptune, we won't have a chance," he told himself. "No, if we ever make the break, it must be now."

But below him was a metal deck. Walls and ceiling were just as impregnable, and as for the door -- he shook his head.

Then he sighted the giant again. Those broad shoulders --.

Ames jumped to his feet. "Men!" he cried. "Let's try a break! If we can force that door, it'll be split-second work to capture the prize crew. Are you ready?"

Morgan gave Ames an odd look, glancing sideways at the ponderous door. But Hatch was on his feet. Ames tapped the giant on the shoulder. "It's up to you, Prince."

The giant of the first star shook his head at the unfamiliar words. But his eyes gleamed when Ames rammed his shoulder at the door then stood back. In a flash the ten-footer was on his feet. His first thrust made the stout door tremble, while he caromed off it as if he had been a cork on water. But his second try cracked a hinge, and the crew gave a suppressed yell. On the third plunge the giant Prince laid the door flat.

And over his sprawled body the Discoverers crew raced. In two minutes the ship was safe from stern to stern, with the prize crew of surly Neptune men in irons.

"Well, Doc!" cried Ames. "Earth's alliance with Alpha Astra is working already. Hey, Prince?"

The ten-foot Prince of First Star grinned understandingly.


Below are the jpeg scans from Golden Age Comics. Where the full issue of Planet Comics #6 is available for download in CBR format.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Das Spiel der Ratte und Drachen

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