Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"The Planet of Death" by William T. Libby

A quick (barely longer than flash fiction) QuasarDragon presents, "The Planet of Death" by William T. Libby, from Fantastic Comics (Dec. 1939). Best described as cheesy, corny, and abrupt.

"Death Guarded the Secret of the Tiny Silent Planet Far Out in Space —That Is, Until a Red Headed Adventurer from Earth Wrested Its Treasure from the Claws of Its Weird Guardian."


The Pilot's face went magenta. He slammed down a large red lever on the complicated control board before him. The humming sound ceased, and the huge space ship slowed down to a halt, suspended like a huge bullet, in the silent black void of outer space. He turned to the tall smiling young officer at his side.

"Red Rockett . . . you? What, in the cockeyed universe, are you doing aboard this ship? I thought you were in Chicago, working on that new sub-gravitational balloon," he complained.

The officer smiled, and pushed his Strato cap to the back of his head, revealing a shock of brilliant red hair.

"That's what everybody thinks," he said, with mock confidence. "Seriously though," the smile faded from Red's eyes, leaving them cold steel blue, "I had to keep my 'whereabouts a secret, even from you, Stocky. You see, I'm on a secret mission."

"Yeah, and every time you go on one of your Secret Missions, I get the assignment to nurse you in the same way. The last time I was nearly atomized by those Martian Red Men—and on the moon, you would have frozen to death, had I not followed you halfway across the planet to get you—I'm a peaceful, commercial, inter-planetary transport pilot. Why do they always pick on me to---"

"All right," replied Red, hiding an involuntary smile under a hurt expression, "I'll telephoto Washington right away, and ask H. Q. to cancel the assignment, till I can get another ship and pilot."

Stocky shifted his square frame, and glanced sidelong at Red. The anger that flushed his face was gone, but he strove to maintain a stern face. His shining eyes, however, betrayed keen interest.

"Oh, well, since I'm stuck with you, I might as well string along —er—What's the new assignment, Red?"

Laughter burst from Red—he slapped the older man on his shoulder. "You old satellite, I knew I could count on you. That's why I had you appointed again. Come down to the Captain's quarters, and I'll tell you all about it."

Stocky turned, and spoke into a transmitter, "First mate, take control on Deck 'B.' Keep ship headed 15 points stellar latitude orbit 10-X, and keep an eye out for stray meteor clusters. That's all." A moment later, they walked down the narrow corridor, their heels clacking loudly on the polished floor.

"I'll come right to the business at hand," Red said, when they reached the cabin. "You've heard of the degravitational element called centrifixo. Well, I've been given the job of getting it for the U. S. Stratospheric Research Department at Chicago." Stocky staggered backward into a duraluminum chair, as the ship lurched to avoid a comet far out in space—Words suddenly poured out of Stocky—"Why, that stuff is found only on Asteranius —No oxygen on that planet—Worst spot in the Universe—No one, except Dekeer ever returned from there alive—and Dekeer returned completely daffy. And you're screwy for taking such an assignment."

Red turned to the Plastikoid window. Outside, the speeding ship was tearing through the vacuum of space. In the distance, millions of miles away, tiny worlds winked and twinkled. An occasional comet left an irradiant arc across the absolute blackness. All was still, but for the hum of the ship's atomic motors. Suddenly, a rasping voice over the ship's photophone broke the silence with, "Planet Asteranius dead ahead, Sir."

"Come, Red, let's turn back now, while the going's good," said Stocky. "No, I've never shirked an assignment, and I'm not starting now. If you'd rather—" "Okay," replied Stocky, "but when trouble comes, I'll know whom to blame." So saying, he turned to the transmitter, and in a stern voice, as though he were angry with himself for being persuaded, said, "See if you can find a spot to land."

After a moment's flying on the planet, they landed with a lurch. "If you wait here, I'll get my space suit, and be back in a jiffy with the stuff," said Red. "Oh, no, you don't. You brought me on this expedition, and I'm goin' along for the fun—if any," Stocky replied, good-naturedly. Ten minutes later, dressed in space suits, the two men were exploring the Planet of Death. Red, who, following the calculations given him by the mad Dekeer, knew where to look for the element, and led the way. About five feet from the centrifixo formation, they spotted a band of weird creatures, with wasp-like bodies. They walked on spindly legs, and in place of hands, each had four antennae, which were electrically charged and could reach out and burn through asbestos. They were horrible, bloodthirsty creatures, who despised Earth men because they were so far advanced scientifically. Red flattened against the boulder—Stocky followed suit, and the two awaited their fate, breathless. The wasps slunk along the ground as though they knew where the Earth men were hiding. But they passed without apparently noticing the shadows cast by the hidden men.

After some minutes, they relaxed, and Red said, "After that, Stocky, I think it'd be best if you got back to the ship and prepared for a quick take-off. The stuff's not far away, and easy to mine. "Okay, fella," agreed Stocky. "Make it snappy." After that first narrow escape, Red was a little more careful. He crept along the ground, until he reached the designated spot, and filled his indestructible bag with the centrifixo. He started back to the plane. Suddenly, a band of the wasp-men appeared. He attempted to dart behind a boulder, but he was seen. He used his disintegrator, and after the first few blasts which surprised them, Red turned, and in a short sprint, gained the ship, with the men at his heels. Barely had he grasped the ladder dropped by Stocky, when, with a powerful leap, one of the creatures jumped up and tried to knock the disintegrator out of his hand. Red blasted him down, but one of his electric charged antennae caught hold of Red's leg, and pulled him down. Red thought fast! He aimed his disintegrator ray at the men, and blasted. With a horrified look of surprise, the enemy dropped. Angry, barely audible sounds came from the band. Seeing this from the ship, Stocky dropped a hooked steel bar into their midst, and picked Red up by the back of his collar, leaving the blood. thirsty villains without their prey.

Later, when quiet was once again restored to the ship and its. crew. Stock turned to Red, and said, "Well, I guess this one beats our expedition to the moon. "Ha, Ha," laughed Red, "It seems that each one of our expeditions is more exciting than the last, hut we always get what we go after, and that's what counts. I wonder what our next one will be?"


From Fantastic Comics #1 available free at the Digital Comics Museum. Scanned by Freddyfly. Artwork de-colorized here to look like the pulps of that era.

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