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In the Orbit of Saturn   By: (1899-1976)

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This etext was produced from Astounding Stories October 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

[Illustration: The two fighting men circled warily.]

In the Orbit of Saturn

By R. F. Starzl

[Sidenote: Disguised as a voluntary prisoner on a pirate space ship, an I. F. P. man penetrates the mystery of the dreaded "Solar Scourge." ]

The Celestia , gliding through space toward Titan, major satellite of Saturn, faltered in her course. Her passengers, mostly mining engineers and their wives, stockholders, and a sprinkling of visitors, were aware of a cessation of the heavens' apparent gyrations, due to the halting of the ship's rotation on its axis. At the same time the ship's fictitious gravity, engendered by the centrifugal force of its rotation, ceased, so that passengers, most of whom were assembled in the main salon, which occupied the entire midship section, drifted away from the curved floor, whose contour followed that of the outer skin, to flounder in helpless confusion.

A woman screamed. A rasping sound, as of metal scraping against the hull, came from one point in the circumference, and here the portholes were obscured by a dark mass that blotted out the stars.

An old man, clinging to a luxuriously upholstered chair, and pale with fright, cried:

"It's those damned pirates. If they find out who I am it'll break the company to ransom me."

"If the company thinks it worth while to ransom you," retorted his youngish, saturnine companion, who seemed less scared than annoyed.

Questions darted back and forth. No word came from the control room forward, and little of what transpired outside could be seen through the thick glass ports. The pirate ship loomed over them like a monstrous leech, its bolts sharply etched in black and white by the sunlight from their stern. Beyond that was only the velvety darkness the absolute vacuity of space that carries no sound, refracts no light. A battle was raging out there, but of that nothing could be seen or heard in the salon. Only a dull, booming vibration through the flyer's hull, made by the rockets in a useless effort to shake off their captor.

Of all the passengers, none understood the situation as well as Quirl Finner. In imagination he followed the desperate struggle that was going on out there, for the men who were selling their lives were his companions in arms, the ship's guard of the redoubtable I.F.P., the Interplanetary Flying Police who carried the law of white men to the outermost orbit of the solar system.

Quirl bristled, but he maintained his pose of indifference of the sightseeing passenger who depended blindly on the ship's crew for his own safety. In appearance he might easily have been the pampered son of some millionaire that he impersonated. His close fitting silken tunic of blue, with its bright yellow roll collar, the turban of fine yellow lace, the close fitting trousers that showed his lithe yet powerfully molded legs, the thin soled low boots all proclaimed him the typical time killing dandy of the times. His superb proportions made him look smaller, lighter than he really was, and his lean features, which under the I.F.P. skullcap would have looked hawk like, were sufficiently like the patrician fineness of the character part he was playing. Young men of means in the year 2159 were by no means without their good points. They indulged in athletic sports to counteract the softening influence of idleness, and so Quirl Finner had no misgivings about the success of his disguise.

Yet he could not refrain from listening intently for every sound that penetrated the hull. His part was to be captured by the pirate, who had been named "The Solar Scourge" by sensational newscasters, and to learn all he could, and eventually to be ransomed by a "wealthy father" with his priceless information... Continue reading book >>

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