By TOM PACE
Trapped by the most feared of space pirates
Devil Garrett, Starrett Blade was fighting for
his life. Weaponless, his ship gone, he was
pinning his hopes on a girl—who wanted him dead.
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1945.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Starrett Blade crouched in the rocks by the tiny Centaurian lake. It was only about two or three hundred feet across, but probably thousands of feet deep. This lake, and hundreds of others like it, were the only things to break the monotony of the flat, rocky surface of Alpha Centauri III—called the most barren planet in space.
Ten minutes ago, Star Blade’s ship had spun into the stagnant waters before him. An emergency release had flung the air-lock doors open, and the air pressure had flung Star out. And now he was waiting for Devil Garrett to come down to the water’s edge to search for him.
For eight years, Devil Garrett had been the top space pirate in the void. For a year, Star himself had personally been hunting him. And on a tour over Alpha III, a Barden energy-beam had stabbed up at Blade’s ship, and Star Blade had crashed into the lake.
That Barden Beam had Star worried and puzzled. It took a million volts of power for a split-second flash of the beam. Garrett didn’t have an atomics plant on Alpha III—if he had, escaping rays would point it out, no matter how well it was camouflaged. There was no water power, for there was no running water. There were only the lakes … and tidal power was out, for Alpha III had no moon.
However, that could wait. Star slid the electron knife from his water-proof sheath, gripped it firmly. He could hear quick footsteps as a man came down the trail that led directly past his hiding place.
It wasn’t Garrett, which was disappointing. But it was one of his men, and he was heavily armed. That didn’t worry Star.
His fighting had earned Starrett Blade the nickname of “Death Star.”
The man walked to the water’s edge, and peered out over the pool. He saw the bubbles that were coming up from the sinking ship, and he nodded, grunted in satisfaction, and started to turn back.
Star landed on him, knocking him sprawling on the rock. The pirate jerked up an arm, holding the jet-gun.
The stabbing lance of blue fire cracked from the electron knife, dug into the man’s heart.
Star tossed the dead pirate’s cloak over his shoulders, and thrust both electron blade and jet-gun into his belt. He straightened, and saw the leveled gun from the corner of his eye.
He got the jet in his right hand, the knife in his left, and went into a dive that flipped him behind a rock. The three actions took only a split-second, and the blast from the jet-gun flaked rock where he had been standing.
While a jet-gun is the most deadly weapon known, you have to press a loading stud to slide another blast-capsule into place. Death Star knew this very well. So he knew he was safe in coming up from behind the spur of stone to fire his own gun.
If his reflexes hadn’t been as quick as they were, he would have blasted the girl.
He stopped, and stood for a second, staring at the girl. She was something to invite stares, too. In the moment that lasted between her next move, he had time to register that she was about five feet five tall, black-haired—the kind of black hair that looks like silken spun darkness—dark-eyed, and possessing both a face and a form that would make anyone stop and gulp.
Then the moment of half-awed survey was over, and she leveled the jet on him, and said in a trembling voice, “Drop those weapons, or I’ll blast you … pirate!”
Death Star said, “That jet-gun is empty. I can see the register on the magazine. And I’m not a pirate. I’m Starrett Blade.”
The useless jet-gun slid out of the girl’s hand, and she gave a half-gasp. “Starrett Blade! I—I don’t believe …” she broke off abruptly. “So you’re Death Star! A fine story for a hired killer, a pirate.”
Star reddened. “Look,” he snapped, “I don’t know who’s been talking to you, but …” he whirled, and his hand whipped the jet-gun from his belt. As he did so, the girl jerked up the jet-gun she had dropped, and flung it with all her strength. The blow landed on his arm and side, and paralyzed him long enough for the man who had leaped out behind him to land a stunning blow against his head. As Star went down, he dizzily cursed himself for becoming interested in the argument with the girl, so that he did not heed his reflexes in time … and dimly, he wondered why it had seemed so important to convince the lovely dark-haired girl.
Then a bit of the cosmos seemed to fall on Star’s head, and he was hurled into blackness.
An eternity seemed to pass.
Deep in the blackness, a light was born. It leaped toward him, a far-away comet rocketing along, coming from some far, unknown corner of the galaxy. It became a flaming sun in a gray-green space, and strangely, there seemed to be several odd planets circling about the sun. Some of them were vast pieces of queer electronic machinery. Some were vague, villainous-looking men. One was the dark-haired girl, and there was lovely contempt in her dark-star pools of eyes.
Then into the midst of this queer universe, there swam a new planet. It was the face of a man, and the man was Devil Garrett.
That brought Star up, out of his daze, onto his feet as though he had been doused with cold water. He stood there, not staring, just looking at Garrett.
The most famous killer in the void was big. He was six feet three, and twice as strong as he looked. He wore a huge high-velocity jet-gun, and a set of electron knives, all of the finest workmanship. He was sitting on a laboratory chair of steel, and the chair bent slightly under his great weight.
He smiled at Star, and there was a touch of hell in the smile. He said, “Ah, Mr. Garrett.”
Star’s jaw dropped. “Garrett? What do you—” he broke off. A glance at the girl told him what the purpose was.
“Look, Mr. Devil Garrett,” said the pirate, still smiling softly, “Miss Hinton is aware of your identity. There is no need to attempt to fool us…. I’ve known it was you ever since I flashed that beam at your ship. And you needn’t flatter yourself that the Devil’s luck is going to hold out as far as you are concerned. For in a very short while, I’m going to have you executed … before a stellar vision screen, connected with Section Void Headquarters! I wish the authorities to see Devil Garrett die, so that I might collect the reward that is offered on you!”
Star stood quiet, and looked straight into Garrett’s eyes. After a minute of silence, Garrett’s lips twisted into a smile, and he said mockingly, “Well, pirate? What are you thinking of?”
Star said, in a low, cold voice, “I’m thinking of putting an electron fire-blade into your face, Devil Garrett!”
Garrett laughed … huge, rather evil, bluff laughter. The mirth of a person who is both powerful and dangerous. And then the girl leaped forward, shaking with rage.
“You beast! Murderer! To accuse this man … you fool, you might have been able to complete any scheme of escape you had, if you hadn’t called yourself Starrett Blade! Mr. Blade….” She gestured toward Garrett, who made a mocking, sardonic bow. “… has given me ample proof that he is who he says! And this long before you came. He’s shown me papers giving a description and showing a tri-dimension picture of you….”
Fire leaped in Star’s eyes. “Listen …” he snapped furiously, as he started to step forward. Then Garrett made a signal with his hand, and someone drove a fist against the base of Star’s skull.
When Star came to, he was in a cell of sorts. A man standing by the door told him that he was to be executed, “… after Mr. Blade and the lady have eaten.” Starrett swore at him, and the man went out, with a mocking “Goodbye, Mr. Garrett!”
Star got up. His head spun, and he almost fell at first, but the daze left in his head from the two blows quickly cleared away. He felt for various weapons which he had hidden about him … and found them gone. Garrett’s men had searched carefully.
Star sat down, his head spinning more now from mystery than from physical pain. He had to keep himself in a whole skin, of course. That was most important right now. But other things were bothering him, tugging at his mind like waves slapping around a swamped ship, each trying to shove it in a different direction.
There was the girl. Star wondered why she always leaped into his mind first. And there was the way Garrett was trying to leave the impression that he was Blade, so that he could kill Blade as Garrett.
Obviously, the reason for that was the girl, Miss Hinton, Garrett had called her. She had been shown faked papers by Garrett, papers proving that the two were … were whatever Garrett had twisted the story into!
Star clutched at his head. He was in a mess. He was going to be killed, and he was going to die without knowing the score. And he didn’t like that. Nor did he like dying as Star Blade shouldn’t die; executed as a “wolf’s-head” pirate. The girl would be watching, and he felt as if that would make it far worse.
His head came up, and he smiled flintily. He still had an ace card! One hand felt for it, and he shook his head slowly. It was a gamble … but all the others had been found.
Blade looked up quickly, as the door opened. Two men came into the cell, carrying jet-guns. They motioned Blade to his feet. “Come on, Blade.” One began, when the other hit him across the mouth.
“You fool!” he hissed. “You better not call him that; suppose that girl was to hear it? Until the boss gets what he wants on Earth, that girl has got to think that he’s Blade! We’re killing this guy as Devil Garrett! And a loud-mouthed fool like you … look out!”
Blade had landed on the bickering men, and was grappling with the one who had called him by name. As the other leaped forward, swinging a clubbing blow with a jet-gun, Star tripped one man into the corner, and ducked under the gun. He hit the man in the stomach, drove a shoulder up under his arms, and smashed the man’s face in with a series of sharp blows. The man went reeling backward across the room, and Star’s hand leaped toward that “ace card” which he still held.
Devil Garrett stepped in the door, and made a mock out of a courteous bow. As he did so, Star snarled in rage, but stood very still, for the electron knife in Garrett’s hand did not waver.
Garrett gestured silently toward the door, and Star, equally silent, walked over and out, at the point of the weapon.
Star Blade stood before a transmitter, and thought about death.
He was very close to it. Garrett stood five yards away, a gun in his hand, and the muzzle trained on Blade’s chest. The gun was the universally used weapon of execution, an old projectile-firing weapon.
Star did not doubt that Devil Garrett was an excellent shot with it.
The girl, very round-eyed and nervous, sat by Garrett. He had explained to her that Garrett was the type of pirate that it is law to kill, or have executed, by anyone. Which was very true.
A man stepped away from the transmitter, and nodded to Garrett. Star felt a surge of hope, as he saw that it was a two-way transmitter. If the image of an Interstellar Command headquarters was tuned in—Garrett would undoubtedly do it, if only to show the police that he had killed Starrett Blade—then Garrett could not kill him and cut the beam in time to prevent one of the police from giving a cry that would echo over the sub-space beam arriving almost instantly in this room, and let the girl know that she had been tricked. And Garrett would not want that. Not that it would matter to Starrett Blade.
Then Star saw what kind of a transmitter it was, and he groaned. It was not a Hineson Sub-space beamer … it was an old-style transmitter which had different wave speeds, because of the different space-bridger units in it.
The visual image would arrive many seconds before the sound did. Thus the girl would not hear Garrett revealed, but would see only Blade’s death. And then … whatever Garrett had planned, Blade wished heartily that he could have the chance to interfere.
The beam was coming in. Star saw the mists swimming on the screen change, solidify into a figure … the figure of District Commander Weddel seated at a desk. He saw Weddel’s eyebrows rise, saw his lips move—then Garrett stepped over a pace, and Weddel saw him, saw the gun in his hand….
The police officer yelled, silently, and came to his feet, an expression of shocked surprise on his face—surprise, Blade thought desperately, that the girl might interpret as shock at seeing Devil Garrett.
Which was right, in a way.
Then, as Commander Weddel leapt to his feet, as Devil Garrett’s finger tightened on the trigger, as the girl sucked in her breath involuntarily, Star Blade scooped up a bit of metal—a fork—and flung it at the vision transmitter.
Not at the screen. But at the equipment behind the dial-board. At a certain small unit, which was almost covered by wires and braces for the large tubes. And the fork struck it, bit deep, and caused result.
Result in the form of a burned-out set. If television equipment can curse, that set cursed them. Its spitting of sparks and blue electric flame mingled with a strange, high-pitched whine.
It was the diversion that caused Garrett to miss Star, which gave him time to pull three or four of Garrett’s men onto the floor with him. One of the men drove the butt of a jet-gun into the side of Star’s head, and for the third time, he went very limp. The last thing he saw was the girl.
Somehow, the expression on her face was different from what it had been. He was searching for the difference, when the blow struck him. Somewhere in the space that lies between consciousness and unconsciousness, he reflected bitterly that if he kept staring at the girl when he should be fighting, he might not recover some day. This was the third time that he had been knocked out that way. It was not getting monotonous. He still felt it a novelty.
Star awoke in the same prison cell, facing the wall away from the door. He wondered if he were still alive, tried to move his head, and decided that he wasn’t. He didn’t even get up or look around when he dimly heard the door being opened.
But when he heard the girl’s voice, he came up and around very swiftly, despite his head.
It was the girl all right. Even through the tumbled mists of his brain, he could see that she was not a dream. And as he reeled and fell against the wall, she was beside him in a flash, her arm supporting him.
At first he tried to push himself erect, his head whirling with sick dizziness, and bewilderment. Through a twisting haze, he peered up at the girl’s face. It reflected a look that, amazingly, was one of—with no other phrase to do—compassion. Star half-sighed, and laid his head on the girl’s breast, and closed his eyes.
In a minute or two, she said tensely, “Are you all right?” Star looked up at her.
“I guess so. Here—give a hand while I get my balance.” She held him as he tried a step or two, and then he straightened. “I guess I’ll be all right, now,” he smiled. “My head feels like—say! How come you’re doing this? What made you change your mind? And who are you?”
She said quickly, breathlessly, “I know you’re Star Blade, now. That transmission set…. I can read lips! I knew what that officer was saying! It was just as if I had heard him say that … that you were Starrett Blade and that man out there is Devil Garrett!” she made a choking sound. “And I’ve been here, alone, for a month! For a month!”
“A month? Huh—please—you…?”
Star took a breath, and started over. “You…. Who are you? What are you doing here?”
She said, “I’m Anne Hinton. My father is Old John Hinton. Have you heard of him?”
“Of course!” said Star. “He manufactures most of the equipment ‘Blade Cosmian’ uses. Weapons, Hineson Sub-Spacers, Star-Traveler craft … the ship I was in when Garrett brought me down was a Hinton craft. I should have recognized the name. But go on. What—”
“Garrett communicated with dad, secretly. He posed as Starrett Blade, as you, and told dad that he was developing certain new power processes. And he is! He has a new—or maybe it isn’t so new—way of electrolyzing water to liberate hydrogen and oxygen.”
“I think I understand,” said Star quickly. “When the oxygen and hydrogen are allowed to combine, and produce an explosion which drive a turbine-generator. Then that could be hitched up to a cyclotron, and even the most barren of Alpha’s lake-rock planets could be….”
“No,” she shook her head puzzledly. “It’s just electric power. He said that atomics would release stray rays that would attract pirates.”
“I know,” Star nodded, abstractedly. “I was thinking of another application of it … hmm. But say! What was Garrett after? I know that he wouldn’t do this just to get a secret process sold. He must have had another plan behind it. Got any idea?”
Anne shook her head slowly. “I don’t know. I can’t see….”
“Perhaps I could help you?” Devil Garrett asked smoothly from the door.
Star whirled, thrust Anne behind him, but there was no way out. Garrett stood in the door, and there were men behind him. The jet in his hand could kill both of the two at one shot. And they had no weapons to resist with.
Devil Garrett stepped them out of the room, and down the corridor, through a large door Star had noticed at the end of the passage, and into a huge room.
It must have been a thousand feet long, and half that wide. It was at least a hundred yards deep. And it was almost filled with gigantic machines.
Between the machinery, the spaces were almost filled with steel ladders and cat-walks. Crews of men swarmed over them. It was the largest mass of equipment Starrett had ever seen.
His eyes began to pick out details. Those huge vat-like things down at the far end, with the large cables running into them, and the mighty pumps connected to them … they were probably the electrolysis chambers.
And those great pipes, they must carry the hydrogen and oxygen from the electro chambers to the large replicas of engines, which could be nothing else but the explosion chambers, where the gases were allowed to re-unite, and explode. And there by the giant engines, those must be turbines, which in turn connected with the vast-sized generators just under the platforms on which they stood.
Star Blade whistled softly through his teeth. A huge enterprise! It could be … but for a moment he had forgotten Devil Garrett.
The girl standing by his side, Star turned toward Garrett. “Well?”
Garrett smiled his mocking grin. “You grasp the principle, of course. But let me show you … you see those pipes that run from the turbines after the wheels?”
“Yes. They carry the gases off. Where do they lead?”
“Into giant subterranean caverns beneath the surface!” Garrett said. “Now look over there, on the platforms across from us. Can you recognize a Barden energy-beamer, Blade? Run by power from my little plant here, which is run by water from a thousand lakes!
“Just imagine, if you can, hundreds of those plants all over Alpha III. And each one with dozens of high-powered Barden beams to protect it! And Hinton ray screens to protect us from radio-controlled rocket shells from space, or Barden Rays, or any other weapon of offence, or to warn if anyone lands on this planet!” Garrett leaned forward, his eyes aglow.
“Blade, I’ll take over the few governing posts on this little planet, and I’ll rule an entire world, a whole planet to myself! It’ll be the first time in history! And it won’t be the last. With the Hinton secret patents, the plans of all John Hinton’s inventions and processes….”
Star twisted, and got his “ace card” out of its hiding place.
It was a jet weapon, little more than a jet-blast capsule for a jet-gun. The sides were thicker and stronger, and there was a device fixed on it so it could be fired. Altogether, it was somewhat smaller than an old-style fountain pen.
He twisted up from the floor, and moved faster than he had moved ever before. Star was famous for his speed and the quickness and alertness of his reflexes. He earned his fame a score of times over in that one instant.
And Devil Garrett died.
There was perhaps an eighth of a second between the staff of blue white fire from the tiny jet in Star’s hand and the huge broadsword of fire from Garrett’s gun. But in the split-second Star’s fire knifed into Garrett’s vitals, and Garrett gave a convulsive jerk, and fired even as his muscles started the jerking movement.
And the flame went over Star’s head, singeing his scalp.
Of the four men with Garrett, one let go of the struggling Anne, and swore as he snatched at an electron knife in his belt. Anne’s hand had already whipped the knife out, and without bothering to press the electron stud, she buried the knife in his back.
Two of the remaining men whirled, and went for the door as though a devil was after them. The other tried to get a jet-gun out. It was his final mistake. A blue lance from Anne’s knife whipped close enough to him to make him dodge, and then Star got his hand on Garrett’s jet.
The other two men had, in their flight, taken a door which led, not into the large corridor, but into a small room at one side, a room filled with instruments and recording devices for the machinery in the room below. Star leaped to the side of the door, and called, “Are you going to come out, or am I coming in to get you?”
There was a short silence, in which Anne heard one say hoarsely, “He can’t get us … we could get him if he came in the door.”
“Oh, yes?” was the answer. “Do you know who that guy is? He’s the one they call ‘Death Star.’ I’m not facing Starrett Blade in a gun fight. You can do what you like, but I’m leaving.” Then he lifted his voice. “Hey, Blade! I’m coming out. Don’t shoot.”
“Okay,” threw back Star and the man appeared in the doorway, empty hands held high. After a second, the other joined him.
Anne turned to Star. “Now I know why they call you ‘Death Star’ Blade,” she said, and gestured toward the men who had surrendered, and the two whom Starrett had shot down.
He mused there for a minute. Then Anne broke the silence with, “Star, what are we going to do now? Garrett’s men will be up here in a little while. We can’t get to a sub-space beam. What are we going to do when they come up to investigate?”
Starrett Blade laughed. “Do? Well, we could turn them over to Commander Weddel!”
Grinning broadly, Star pointed, with a flourish, at the door. Anne spun about, and found Commander Weddel grinning in the door from the corridor.
“Very simple,” said Star across the lounge to Anne. “When I smashed the vision set with that dinner fork, I broke a small unit which is included in all sets. You know, a direction finder doesn’t work, except in the liner-beam principle, in space, because of the diffusing effect of unrestricted cosmic rays.”
“Yes, I knew that,” said Anne. “But how—”
Starrett grinned again. “A type of beam has been found which it is impossible for cosmics to disturb. But you can’t send messages on it, so it is made in a little unit on every set. If that unit is broken, the set automatically releases a signal beam. This is a distress signal, and the location of the set that sent out the signal is recorded at the Section Headquarters. When Commander Weddel saw me throw something at the set, and it went dead, he looked at the automatic record, and found out that a signal had been sent in from a location on Alpha Cen’s third planet. Then he had a high-velocity cruiser brought out and dropped in, in time to pick up some pieces.” He stopped, and idly toyed with a sheaf of papers, then held them up. “See these papers?”
“Uh-huh. What are they, Star?”
“They are the main plans of Devil Garrett’s power plant, and they’re the one good thing he’s ever done. These plans are going to bring the barren, rocky Centauri planets to life!”
He got up, and paced to the window, and stood there, looking out, and up through the plastic port. “The planets of Centauri!” he murmured softly. “Seven circling Alpha alone. And all seven are barren, rocky, level except for the thousands of lakes … lakes that are going to be the life of Centauri!”
He turned back to the window. “And all because a pirate named Devil Garrett built a vast power plant to use to garner more power!”
“You know, Anne, as a mockery, and a warning, I think I’ll propose that this planet be officially named … ‘Garrett’!”
She looked up at him, and there was laughter bright in her eyes, and tugging at her mouth. “Yes, there ought to be a reason,” she murmured. Star wavered. She was so darn close.
After a minute, she turned her head, and looked up at him. “Star, how soon will there be those gardens and woods you described? I mean, how long before Garrett can be turned into that kind of world you described?”
“Why … under pressure, we can do it in six months. Why?”
“Not half quick enough,” she murmured happily, “but it’ll have to do, Star.” Laughing, she turned her face up to his. “Have you ever thought that planet Garrett will be wonderful for a honeymoon?”