Earth was threatened with attach from the huge space-fleets of the Hundred Suns of Andromeda - an attack that the Terran Fleet could not hope to defeat. Only one chance remained to prevent Earth's destruction, and that was the chance that a skilled and experienced saboteur might just have time strike his blow before the enemy could launch the attack. It was Captain Blair whose mission this became, and it was his ace-saboteur who raced against death in planet after planet, as the zero-hour approached when Earth would face the attacking fleets of DARK ANDROMEDA.
Release date: September 30, 2015
Print pages: 103
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Captain Blair nodded. He stared down at the fat figure of the Councillor with a faint stirring of revulsion. The man was literally shivering with fear. His face was white and streaked with sweat.
Hoarsely, he went on: “We have commissioned you for this task, Captain, because of your excellent record during the Border Wars. And also, because you’re one of the few humans to have visited the outer suns of Andromeda. You may find that conditions have changed since then.
“But it shouldn’t take long to tell. And remember, you’re our only hope. It seems incredible that the people of the Hundred Suns could have advanced so far ahead of Imperial Terra in the field of scientific technology.”
Blair shrugged. “Don’t you think it’s strange, we received no advanced information of it?” he asked. There was a deliberate undertone of malicious amusement in his deep voice. “Surely we have agents on the planets of the Hundred Suns. Why have we had no word from them?”
Ponderously, the Chief Councillor shifted his great bulk uneasily in his chair. He leaned forward and gripped the edge of the table with long fingers, that grew white with nervous pressure. His flabby face was a sagging, furrowed mask of puzzled alarm. There were dark circles under his wide-open eyes.
“That’s something you will have to find out for yourself, Captain Blair. But be careful! Some of our best men have been assigned to this job. So far, we’ve had no word from any of them. It might be that they’ve already been discovered. If that’s the case, the people of the Hundred Suns will be alert and watching for any further attempt on our part.
“Finally we want it to be fully understood, that once you leave this room, you’ll be on your own. We’re giving you a free hand in this matter, not from choice, but because that’s the way it’s got to be.
“Don’t spend too much time on any one planet. Visit as many as possible without attracting attention. Keep your eyes and ears open and act accordingly. The Sixth and Tenth Squadrons of the Terrestrial Fleet are already at space in the region of the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. You’ve been given the ultra-radio frequency which will bring you into immediate contact with the Fleet. Their orders are to listen out on that wavelength at all times. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly,” said Blair. His voice was crisp and decisive. “I’ll assume a different identity on every planet. It would be best for me to mingle with the people and blend my personality with theirs so that they won’t know who I am.”
“Excellent,” muttered the fat man. He nodded his head slowly. “Don’t try to contact any of our agents who might be still alive, except as a last resort. It could be dangerous.”
A grim smile played for a brief instant on Blair’s lips. It made a hard line across the centre of his lean features.
“Are there any further instructions?” he asked.
“No.” The Chief Councillor shook his head. “Everything is now in your hands. I think you can visualise the consequences of failure.”
“I think I can, Councillor,” said Blair evenly. He drew his tall body up to rigid attention, then whirled on his heel, stepped through the open door of the great room, and closed it gently behind him.
Soorn was still sufficiently like Terra to make Blair feel distinctly at home. It was just a shade smaller perhaps, and slightly nearer its cool, orange sun, than Terra was to Sol.
Blair watched it carefully, through the telescopic viewport of the decelerating ship. Outwardly, he appeared unconcerned. He had to watch himself carefully. Not too nonchalantly, or he would seem to be putting on a deliberate act. Not too keenly, or the other passengers would suspect that something was amiss.
He got stiffly to his feet and walked slowly across to the magniplate set in the smooth wall at the end of the spacious cabin. He held his arms straight by his side, as he had seen the other Andromedans walk.
He groped for the memory of a previous visit to this place, but found nothing. The planet was completely new to him. He had noticed none of the old spacemarks on the way in, through the outer environs of the galaxy. But then, that wasn’t surprising.
Space was so vast that it defied all comprehension. The great gulf that stretched between the main galaxy and the flaring, seetee suns on the rim of the Andromedan spiral had taken the best part of twelve weeks to cross.
Now that the journey was almost finished, he had time to think back and review the events of the past weeks clearly, and unemotionally. He allowed his thoughts to drift lazily through the deep recesses of his mind, slowly and methodically. Sometimes, they came clumsily and things seemed vague and rather nebulous.
Looking back, it was as if an eternity had fled since the Terrestrial battle-cruiser had blasted off from Earth and thrown itself into hyperspace, to materialise ten weeks later near a tiny, sparsely-populated system just inside the Andromedan nebula. It had been night when he had brought the small pinnace to land on the crumbling, outmoded spaceport.
He had been lucky. There had been no trouble or suspicion on the part of the natives. On the whole, he had found them a likeable and simple-minded lot who cared little for the higher politics of the main body of the Hundred Suns. A week had been spent there, waiting impatiently for the spaceship that called every month, to transport food and materials to the larger planetary systems.
Obtaining a passage on the ship had presented a little more difficulty. There had been questions to answer, and a certain amount of probing into his past. And this was where his previous knowledge of the smaller Andromedan planets had been useful.
Before leaving Earth, he had been given money. Not too much so as to arouse suspicion, but just sufficient for him to pass as a Nithian nobleman.
A handful of credits in the right places had smoothed over the more important technicalities. On the smaller worlds, especially, there was still a good deal of graft among the higher officials. Laws were lax and, for a certain consideration, completely disregarded.
He had chosen Soorn as his initial destination for several reasons. It was one of the lesser of the planets of the Hundred Suns and was rarely visited by the ruling classes. But, nevertheless, it was still sufficiently important for it to be under the immediate supervision of the Star-king Krun.
Also, and this was more to the point, the records back on Earth had shown that there were at least three Terrestrial agents on it somewhere, assuming they were still alive.
He had made tentative plans during the long voyage through hyperspace, but of course, these would have to be rearranged to fit in with conditions as they arose. For the moment, it would be sufficient to divert suspicion from himself, to play the part he had chosen for himself, convincingly.
He grasped hold of the hand-rail and braced himself to resist the pressure of deceleration that was trying to force him towards the nose of the ship. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that several other passengers were getting to their feet and moving towards the magniplate, to get a first view of the approaching world.
He pressed his forehead against the cool metal of the outer hull. The mighty disc of the nearby planet swung up to meet the descending ship with an awe-inspiring motion across the star-blaze of the galaxy. There was a splash of crimson, where the terminator slashed against the darkness of the night side.
Without showing it, he studied the position of the main continents and oceans with meticulous care, assessing things and mentally filing them away against the time when such knowledge might be essential.
There was a sudden movement beside him. He glanced about him sharply as a voice said: “This your first visit to Soorn?”
It was an old, thick-set man, remarkably human in outward appearance. But to Captain Blair the striking similarity was not misleading. He recognised the other immediately, as a native of Cumra, one of the main planets of the Eltain system.
Something clicked into place in his mind. These people had a metabolism based on silicon. For all their looks, they were utterly alien, and they possessed alien senses. He would have to be careful.
He pulled himself together and nodded. “The first time,” he agreed. “On Nith, we have very little opportunity for visiting the other planets. Transport is slow, and we’re isolated from the main stream of suns.”
The other smiled. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. “I’ve never been as far as Nith myself, but I’ve heard tales of the place. Most of my time is spent between here and Cumra. It’s a long trip, but profitable.”
He fished inside the pocket of his gold-braided tunic and came out with something held tightly between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. It glistened queerly in the white glare of the wall tubes.
“Do you know what this is?” He held the object out to the Captain.
Blair took it, held it out at arm’s length, and stared at it for several moments without speaking. The thing was nearly transparent and there were tiny red spheres making a pattern of shadows inside it. It looked pale and glassy, and strangely brittle.
He squeezed it experimentally between his fingers. It was hard, far harder than he had imagined possible. It resisted all his efforts to break it.
Dubiously, he shook his head. At the back of his mind, there was a nagging little thought, a tiny voice, warning him that this was probably a trap. That the thing was something quite commonplace on Nith, or any other planet for that matter.
He sucked in his breath between clenched teeth and handed the thing back to the Cumrani. “No,” he said. “What is it?”
The man laughed softly. He leaned back against the hull and turned the tiny globe in his fingers. Flashes of iridescent light spun lazily up the curved steel of the wall.
“I suppose you’d call it a bomb, of a sort,” he said quietly. “This is Cumra’s contribution to the projected war against the Terrestrials. After all, our scientists are among the best research workers in the whole system of the Hundred Suns. They have been labouring feverishly for the past ten years to perfect such a weapon as this.”
He slid the shining sphere carefully back into the hidden folds of his tunic. There was a glint of malicious amusement in his deep-set yellow eyes. “When properly used, there’s sufficient power in each of these to destroy an entire world. Believe me, the Terrestrials are in for a distinct shock in the very near future.
“Having spent the best part of your life on Nith, you’ll be out of touch with the progress made. Five hundred years ago, it’s more than possible that Imperial Terra could have extended her tremendous sway not only to the two Magellanic Clouds, but also throughout the length and breadth of mighty Andromeda herself. But not now. We’re not the stupid savages the humans have thought us—although during the past centuries it had been to our advantage to be thought so.”
“I can quite see the point of that,” agreed Blair. He turned to stare out of the viewport as the ship dropped through the thin air of the upper reaches of the Soornian atmosphere and speared down towards the sprawling megalopolis of Krommanaur, the capital. His mind was spinning madly. He had had no idea these people could have progressed so far in so short a time. And it was clear from the man’s last remark that Imperial Terra had no inkling of the true position.
The Andromedans had played their hand with considerable cunning, remaining in complete obscurity as far as the main galaxy was concerned. He thought back Dimly, he remembered the visinews accounts of the great fleets of battle-cruisers that had swept in from the darkness of intergalactic space and attacked the Terran outposts stationed among the suns of the Magellanic Clouds. But they had turned out to be a completely alien race, fleeing from another that had invaded their own systems.
Now it all began to fit in, slotting together like pieces of a jig-saw. That had al. . .
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