They came out of the void, from Venus, only to find there was no answer to their radio signals. Earth seemed dead. And on the Moon, Man's greatest achievement, the Lunar Military Base was a mass of rubble and blasted wreckage. Here, the crew of the Stellar Polaris, led by Commander John Forrest, discovered one sole survivor. He was mad! To their questions he could only answer that the children had destroyed the armed might of the Military Base. When they finally reached Earth, they found that what he had said was true. The children had taken over control of the world. But then, these were no ordinary children - and their little weapons were almost enough to overthrow the armed superiority of the Stellar Polaris herself!
Release date: December 22, 2014
Print pages: 101
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It was into one of these that the silver, streamlined cylinder of the spaceship soared. Interplanetary Expeditionary Force Two was Earthward bound, leaping swiftly out of the shrouding, cloud-laden stillness of Venus into the great gulf of distance that separated the planets.
The Stella Polaris was a new ship, the first of its kind, and it moved with a roar of muted thunder that had somehow lost itself in the stretching, grey velocities of the Venusian atmosphere.
Far below, the nearby world was a blinding disc. A quiet, undisturbed world of warm promise that spun lazily in the clinging void. A rippled surface of cloud and mist. Sunfire and storm. Ever-changing.
Inside the ship there was an air of quiet efficiency. The eternal drumming of the central motors was a triumphant song of pure power. Something that was always there, fighting the planet’s pull of the vessel.
There were seven in the crew. An eternity had passed since they had left Earth and thrown themselves up into the boundless heavens. During that time, they had all been smashed and bruised, battered and crushed by a gravity beyond all previous experience, and alternately blinded by the sun and chilled to the soul by the vastnesses of space. Now, they were clinging to their seats as the full violence of the acceleration threatened to unbalance their reason.
“So that was Venus,” said Commander John Forrest. He placed his hands flat along the sides of his chair, pushed his tall body upwards against the broad leather straps, and tried to peer out of the nearby viewport.
“I must admit, though, there were times when I thought we’d never make it,” said Colter, the astrophysicist.
“But somehow, in spite of everything, we did,” muttered co-pilot Flanders. “And think of what we found down there. Under the cloud-veil.” He sighed, forced his tired muscles to relax.
“Another Earth,” murmured Emery, the ship’s navigator. “Unspoiled by Man. Who’d have thought it possible.” He laughed softly to himself, as though amused at something.
“That’s right. We discovered the answers to a great many questions. Things that have been troubling the scientists of Earth for several hundred years.”
The Commander flipped over a couple of gleaming switches as he spoke. The engines coughed. They spluttered once or twice as the overdrive came on. The entire ship shuddered. Plates and bulkheads rattled and creaked. Mounting pressure forced the men further back against the yielding cushions of their anti-acceleration seats. Weight doubled. Trebled.
All around them, the control room was full to the curved ceiling with the glitter and sparkle of shining steel. Levers sprouted from the rearing columns and panels like slim, rigid fingers. From every corner, circular dials peered intently down at them. There were tubular indicators spread row upon row above the meters. And flashing signal lights. Blue and green and red.
Everywhere, the lenses of the automatic cameras poked their glittering, transparent eyes through holes in the metal framework, making a permanent record of every single reading. This was the second interplanetary voyage to be made. From the very beginning, it had been only natural to choose the nearest planet. And where Venus was concerned, they hadn’t been able to afford even one mistake. Now, they had completed their mission. They had dived under the clouds of Venus, landed, explored the vast land mass that circled the northern pole, and solved the ten-year-old mystery of the First Expedition.
They had seen wonders that had lain hidden from the sight of Man since the beginning of time.
“What’s our velocity now, Commander?” Mayer, the representative of the Interplanetary Control Bureau, thrust his way forward. He peered over Forrest’s shoulder. He stood very erect and precise in his slate-blue uniform. There was the golden sphere of Supreme Earth on his epaulette. His thin, blond hair was short and brushed closely back against his skull. It shone with a varnished sheen. His lean face was hard and narrow, stamped with an expression of supercilious, ruthless arrogance. He waited with ill-concealed impatience for the other’s reply.
“Somewhere in the region of a hundred thousand miles an hour.” The Commander threw a swift glance at the velocity indicator. He pursed his thin lips, performed a quick, mental calculation. “At this rate, we should reach Earth in about fourteen days.”
Mayer thought a moment. “Then do you think there’s any possibility of getting there sooner?” His high-pitched, nasal voice was deliberately overbearing.
“Small chance.” Commander Forrest was positive. He seemed to disregard the other’s tone. He shook his head. “We’re lucky enough as it is. Both Venus and Earth are ideally situated. If it were otherwise, it could take us anything up to five months to do the journey. There’s also the fact that this time we’re moving against the pull of the sun.”
He glanced about. “But Colter will probably be able to tell you more about that than I can.”
The astraphysicist looked idly across at Mayer, as the other turned. He met the other’s gaze squarely. His deep-set eyes were almost dreamy.
“Look at it this way, Mayer,” he said quietly. “When we blasted off from Earth, it was just after sunset. Our take-off speed was something like ten thousand miles an hour. Nothing big. But it was enough. Because for us, that speed had to be subtracted from the orbital velocity of Earth. Seen from the point of view of the sun, we were travelling too slowly to stay in the Earth’s orbit.
“So, what happened? We drifted inwards in the solar system, gradually approaching Venus. Naturally, everything was calculated, down to the last fraction. There were no mistakes.”
He paused, focused his grey eyes on a distant point, then continued: “That was all right on the inward journey. Then, the gravitational pull of the sun was such as to increase our velocity. Now, it’s different. We’re going in the opposite direction. We’ll have to fight every inch of the way.”
He blinked up at the Interplanetary Controller with a sleepy-lidded insolence. “Does that answer your question?”
Mayer turned quickly away to hide his angry resentment. Then he drew himself fully erect and stamped back to his seat, over against the blue curvature of the main viewport.
Idly, Commander Forrest adjusted the delicate vernier controls, spinning them with light touches of his slim, sensitive fingers. At times, he barely brushed them. No more, But, even so, the quivering needles swung smoothly to their respective positions.
He himself held no great liking for the dwarfish Controller. But he wisely kept his thoughts to himself. Back on Earth, the I.C.B. held virtual dictatorship over the civilised world. Those who quarrelled with it, or tried to set themselves up against it, vanished into the labour camps. They were seldom heard of again.
And Mayer, he knew, held a high position in the Bureau. In an emergency, he had the power to take over control of the Stella Polaris. So far, that eventuality had not arisen. But it was always a possibility, tugging at the back of Forrest’s mind.
Leaning forward, he locked the controls into automatic. Then he lay back into the smooth softness of the anti-acceleration cushions, and allowed his thoughts to drift back over the long, weary months. For the first time since they had blasted off from Venus, he could think logically and clearly. All of the stress and the excitement had been pushed aside.
The first flight to Venus had taken place ten years earlier. Only vaguely did he remember the crowds, the newspaper headlines, the cheering and the waving. And the slim, pencil-shape of the silver rocket that had soared up into the midnight sky on the end of a screaming trail of pale fire.
After that, there had been silence. Men had wondered for a year, maybe two, and then forgotten. Venus remained a mystery. Then had come the Second Expedition. The long weeks of preparation, with every detail of the flight checked and re-checked.
If anything, the crowds had been larger, the cheering louder, on this occasion. The Stella Polaris had thundered out blossoming clouds of fire and smoke and hurled itself up into the stretching void. And they had reached Venus.
They had dropped down out of the blacknesses of space, left behind the far-reaching infinities and the scorching gaze of the fiery stars, and slipped into the upper layers of the atmosphere. Outside, the mist had always been there.
It had streamed in little eddies along the great curve of the ship’s hull. Lazily, it had flowed like a river of greyness around the slimmer lines of the main body, opened out where the blast from the rockets had caught it, then closed in again.
The diffuse glare of the blinding sunlight had faded perceptibly. In the end, it was a clinging, featureless, grey twilight that had seemed never-ending.
But it had ended. And Venus had turned out to be the very opposite of what they had expected. Beneath the clouds there were blended colours that had stretched away as far as the eye could see. There were trees, lush green fields, and low mountains. And a few winding streams that had glinted in the soft, filtered sunlight like narrow ribbons of bright wire.
It was a virtual paradise. One after the other, they had clambered out of the airlock, down the short, steel-runged ladder to the ground. All around them, nothing but the subtle scent of flowers, fresh moist earth, and a dreamy, drowsing calm.
They had stood still and looked at each other. Knowing that somehow, it was all wrong. They had come fully prepared to encounter the kind of prehistoric monsters that had been extinct on Earth for millions of years. They, and the ship, were equipped to destroy any of the great multitude of outworld creatures conjured up by their wild imagination. But there had been nothing like that. So they had just stood around in a tiny, huddled group and felt strangely foolish.
The First Expedition had landed safely. The ten members of the original crew were still alive. They had destroyed the rocket, blown it to pieces. And they had refused to return to Earth. Somehow, Forrest couldn’t find it in his heart to blame them. At least, on Venus, they were free. Away from the long arm and the iron fist of the Interplanetary Control Bureau.
In a way, Forrest envied them. At times, during their protracted stay on the planet, he too had felt like remaining there. But always in the background was the small, brutally-efficient figure of Mayer, the Controller.
Venus was a young planet, had progressed only a little way along the endless path of evolution. There were metals there that had long since vanished from Earth. The enormous, mile-long hold of the Stella Polaris was filled with a precious, but deadly burden.
They had spent the best part of three years mining the crude ore, refining it, and loading the special boron-lined drums with the pure metal. John Forrest shuddered inwardly at the very thought of it. Riding beneath him, there was enough atomic material to blast them out of creation, should the electric safety-locks fail to hold, bringing about critical mass. The chill of it struck through his mind and sent tiny thrills of ice spilling up and down his spine. He turned his head with a wrench of aching neck muscles.
In spite of the terrible acceleration, Flanders had somehow managed to pull his tall body half-upright. He was staring out of the forward viewport. He pointed.
“The. . .
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