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The Planetoid of Peril   By: (1899-1985)

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The Planetoid of Peril

By Paul Ernst

[Transcriber' Note: This etext was produced from Astounding Stories November 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Illustration: He pointed it at the incredible body. ]

Undaunted by crazy tales of an indestructible presence on Asteroid Z 40, Harley 2Q14N20 sets out alone to face and master it.

Harley 2Q14N20 stopped for a moment outside the great dome of the Celestial Developments Company. Moodily he stared at their asteroid development chart. It showed, as was to be expected, the pick of the latest asteroid subdivision projects: the Celestial Developments Company, established far back in 2045, would handle none but the very best. Small chance of his finding anything here!

However, as he gazed at the chart, hope came suddenly to his face, and his heart beat high under his sapphire blue tunic. There was an asteroid left for sale there one blank space among the myriad, pink lettered Sold symbols. Could it be that here was the chance he had been hunting so desperately?

He bent closer, to read the description of the sphere, and the hope faded gradually from his countenance. According to its orbit and location, and the spectroscopic table of its mineral resources, it was a choice planetoid indeed. Of course such a rich little sphere, listed for sale by the luxurious Celestial Developments Company, would cost far more than he could ever rake together to pay for an asteroid.

Shaking his head, he adjusted his gravity regulator to give him about a pound and a half of weight, and started to float on. Then, his lips twisting at his own absurd hopefulness, he stopped again; and after another moment of indecision turned into the archway that led to the concern's great main office. After all, it wouldn't hurt to inquire the price, even though he knew in advance it would be beyond his humble means.

A youngster in the pale green of the one bar neophyte in business promptly glided toward him.

"Something for you to day, sir?" he asked politely.

"Yes," said Harley. "I'm looking around for a planetoid; want to get a place of my own out a way from Earth. Something, you understand, that may turn out to be a profitable investment as well as furnishing an exclusive home site. I see on your chart that you have a sphere left for sale, in the Red Belt, so I came in to ask about it."

"Ah, you mean asteroid Z 40," said the youngster, gazing with envious respect at the ten bar insignia, with the crossed Sco drills, that proclaimed Harley to be a mining engineer of the highest rank. "Yes, that is still for sale. A splendid sphere, sir; and listed at a remarkably low figure. Half a million dollars."

"Half a million dollars!" exclaimed Harley. It was an incredibly small sum: scarcely the yearly salary of an unskilled laborer. "Are you sure that's right?"

"Yes, that's the correct figure. Down payment of a third, and the remaining two thirds to be paid out of the exploitation profits "

Here the conversation was interrupted by an elderly, grey haired man with the six bar dollar mark insignia of a business executive on his purple tunic. He had been standing nearby, and at the mention of asteroid Z 40 had looked up alertly. He glided to the two with a frown on his forehead, and spoke a few curt words to the neophyte, who slunk away.

"Sorry, sir," he said to Harley. "Z 40 isn't for sale."

"But your young man just told me that it was," replied Hartley, loath to give up what had begun to look like an almost unbelievable bargain.

"He was mistaken. It's not on the market. It isn't habitable, you see."

"What's wrong hasn't it an atmosphere?"

"Oh, yes. One that is exceptionally rich in oxygen, as is true of all the spheres we handle. With a late model oxygen concentrator, one would have no trouble at all existing there... Continue reading book >>

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