X-87: Five Stories by Ray Cummings
X-87 – Five stories by Ray Cummings from the early 1940s.
X-87 – Five stories by Ray Cummings from the early 1940s. These science fiction stories reflect the shock and fear of the reality of the early years of World War II.
The Star-Master (1942) – Docile, decadent Venus was easy pickings for that twenty-first century Hitler’s dream of cosmic empire. A five chapter novelette.
Phantom of the Seven Stars (1940) – Lovely Brenda Carson, scholarly Jerome, pompous Livingston . . . everyone aboard the Seven Stars scoffed at the idea of a Phantom Pirate. But I.P. agent Jim Fanning didn’t laugh. He knew the luxury liner’s innocent looking cargo was already marked for plunder.
Monster of the Asteroid (1941) – They might gamble, but win or lose the take was death for these two new slaves of the Master of that pitted Devil’s Isle of outer space.
Gods of Space (1942) – Planetoid-150 was a world of horror. A star of death, ruled by a weird and beautiful Earthian goddess.
Space-Liner X-87 (1940) – The X-87 was a red shambles. It roared the starways, a renegade Venusian at the controls, a swaggering Martian plotting the space-course. And in an alumite cage, deep below-decks, lay Penelle, crack Shadow Squadman—holding the fate of three worlds in his manacled hands.
Raymond King Cummings (1887–1957) was one of the “founding fathers” of pulp Science Fiction. In 1914, at the age of seventeen, Cummings worked for Thomas Edison as his personal assistant and technical writer. He worked with Edison until 1919. In 1919, Cummings wrote what is considered his most highly regarded story, “The Girl In The Golden Atom” which he lengthened and published as a novel in 1922.
X-87 contains 6 illustrations.
Excerpt: Space-Liner X-87
I AM sure that none of you have had the real details of the tragic voyage of last year, which was officially designated as Earth-Moon Flight 9. The diplomacy of Interplanetary relations is ticklish at best. Earth diplomats especially seem afraid of their own shadows if there is any chance of annoying the governments of Venus or Mars, so that by Earth censorship most of the details of that ill-fated voyage of the X-87 were either distorted, or wholly suppressed. But the revolution at Grebhar is over now. If those Venus Revolutionists—helped perhaps by Martian money and supplies—had been successful, they would have been patriots. They lost, so they are traitors, and I can say what I like.
My name is Fred Penelle. I’m a Shadow Squadman, working in Great-New York and vicinity. Ordinarily I deal with the tracking of comparatively petty criminals. Being plunged into this affair of Interplanetary piracy which threatened to involve three worlds, Heaven knows was startling to me. I had never before even been on any flight into the starways. But I did my best.
My part in the thing began that August evening when an audiphoned call came to my home. It was my superior, Peter Jamison, summoning me to City Night-Desk 6.
“I’ve a job for you,” he said. “Get here in a hurry, Fred.” The audiphone grid showed his televised face; I had never seen it so grim.
I live at the outskirts of Great-New York, in northern Westchester. I caught an overhead monorail; then one of the high-speed, sixth level rolling sidewalks and in half an hour was at the S.S. Building, in mid-Manhattan. We S.S. men work in pairs. My partner, as it happened, was ill.
“You’ll have to go in on this alone,” Jamison told me. “And you haven’t much time, Fred. The X-87 sails at Trinight.”
“X-87?” I murmured. “What’s that got to do with me?”
Jamison’s fat little figure was slumped at his desk, almost hidden by the banks of instruments before him. Then he sat up abruptly, pushed a lever and the insulating screens slid along the doors and windows to protect us from any possible electric eavesdropping.
“I can’t tell you much,” he said with lowered voice. “This comes from the Department of Interplanetary Affairs. The X-87 launches at Trinight tonight, for the Moon. They want me to have a man on it. An observer.” Jamison’s face went even grimmer, and he lowered his voice still further. “Just what they know, or suspect, they didn’t tell even me. But there’s something queer going on—something we ought to know about. Quite evidently there’s some plot brewing against the Blake Irite Corporation. They even hinted that it concerned perhaps both Venus and Mars—”
YOU all know the general history of the Moon, of course; but still it will do no harm to sketch it here. It was scarcely twenty years ago when Georg Blake established the first permanent Moon Colony, erecting the first practical glassite air-domes under which one might live and work on the airless, barren surface of our satellite. Two years later, it was the same Georg Blake who discovered the rich irite deposits on the towering slopes of Mt. Archimedes. The Blake Irite Corporation employs twenty thousand workers now.
“Mars and Venus have no irite,” Jamison was saying. “They import it from us, for their inferior imitations of our gravity plates. And, combined with the T-catalyst, it runs our modern atomic engines and charges our newest long-range atomic guns. The Governments of Mars and Venus are building imitations of those engines. You know about that, Fred?”
I nodded. I had heard quite a bit, of course, about the mysterious T-catalyst. It is made only here on Earth—a guarded secret of the Anglo-American Federation, developed by our Government chemists in Great-London. Our War Department uses it for guns, of course. But its use is forbidden elsewhere, save for commercial purposes. Venus and Mars have been under strict guarantee, regarding its use. We have supplied them from time to time with limited quantities, for commercial purposes only.
Do not misunderstand me. I have no possible desire to anger the present legal Governments of the Martian Union, nor the Venus Free State, and thus project myself—just one unimportant Earth-citizen—into a storm of Interplanetary complications. I am not even hinting that Mars or Venus have ever broken, or ever would break, their guarantees by using the T-catalyst for weapons of war. But in Grebhar, a very sizable revolution against the Venus Free State had broken out. That ”
“is something very different. A bandit Government. Bandit army—under guarantees to no one.”
“What’s all this got to do with me, and the X-87?” I suggested.
Jamison flung a swift look around his shadowed, dimly tube-lit office, as though he feared that someone might be lurking here. “The Blake Irite Corporation, on the Moon, needs the T-catalyst for a thousand things,” he said slowly. “The engines of their air-renewers throughout that huge network of domes. The engines of their mining equipment—”
“You mean it’s being stolen from them?”
Jamison shrugged. “Maybe.” He paused, and then he drew me toward him. “Anyway, the X-87, on this Voyage 9 tonight, is taking the largest supply of T-catalyst to the Moon which has ever been transported.” Jamison smiled wryly. “You and I, Fred, are among the very few people who know of it. The X-87 is not being unduly guarded. That in itself would look suspicious. Every possible precaution has been taken to keep the thing a secret. But there have been queer things happen. Perhaps only coincidences—”
“Such as what?”
“Well, Georg Blake died, quite mysteriously, a few days ago—”
Again Jamison shrugged. “The whole thing was censored. I don’t know any more about it than you do. He has a son and daughter—young Blake, still under twenty—and Nina, his young daughter, who is only sixteen. The management of the entire Moon industry devolves now upon them.”
I could envisage Interplanetary spies on the Moon— and with the forceful Georg Blake now out of the way, a raid upon that supply of the T-catalyst—
“Little Nina is going back to the Moon this voyage to take control of the company,” Jamison was adding. “Her father died—was murdered if you like—here in Great-New York. And to make it still more mysterious, young Blake—the girl’s brother—seems to have vanished. There is only Nina—”
Queer indeed. And even worse, Jamison now told me that several members of the X-87’s crew were ill, and one or two had recently died, so that she was starting on her flight tonight with at least five new men. . . .”
Excerpt From: Ray Cummings. “X-87: Five Stories.”
More Science Fiction
More by Ray Cummings