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Rescue Squad   By:

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When Mr. O'Hara won the prize story contest recently conducted by THE FANTASY WRITERS' WORKSHOP at the College of the City of New York, in conjunction with FANTASTIC UNIVERSE, it was the unanimous opinion of the judges that a second story by Mr. O'Hara, RESCUE SQUAD, deserved honorable mention. We think you'll agree with that decision when you've read this documentary type science fiction yarn, which so excitingly combines realistic characterization with the mystery, suspense and terror of the near future's exploration of space and a lone pilot's struggle to survive.

rescue squad

by ... Thomas J. O'Hara

Stark disaster to a brave lad in space may to the mind that loves be a tragedy pridefully concealed.

The mail ship, MR4, spun crazily through space a million miles off her trajectory. Her black painted hull resembled a long thermonuclear weapon, and below her and only a scant twenty million miles away burned the hungry, flaming maw of the Sun.

The atomic powered refrigeration units of the MR4 were working full blast and still her internal and external temperatures were slowly and inexorably rising. Her atomic engines had been long since silenced beaten by the inexhaustible, fiery strength of the invincible opponent waiting patiently a narrowing twenty million miles "below."

Hal Burnett twisted painfully on the narrow space bunk, his tormented body thrusting desperately against the restraining bands of the safety straps that lashed him in against the dangers of non gravity.

He moaned, and twisted sideways, while his half asleep mind struggled on an almost instinctive level against a dimly remembered, utterly intolerable reality.

It was a losing battle. He was suddenly wide awake, staring in horror at the vibrating bulkheads of the deserted little mail ship. For a moment his conscious barriers against reality were so completely down that he felt mortally terrified and overwhelmed by the vast emptiness about him. For a moment the mad idea swept into his mind that perhaps the universe was just another illusion, an echo of man's own inner loneliness.

Realizing his danger, Burnett quickly undid the restraining safety straps, sat up and propelled himself outward from the edge of his bunk. The sudden surge of physical action swept the cobwebs from his mind.

He thought of his father and there was bitterness in his heart and frustration, and a rebellious, smouldering anger. The old man would never know how close he had come to cracking up.

For a moment he wondered fearfully if his father's cold and precise appraisal of his character and courage had been correct. Suppose he was unable to stand the rigid strains and pressures of a real emergency. Suppose He tightened his lips in defiant self justification. What did they expect of a twenty year old kid anyway? He was, after all, the youngest and probably the greenest mail pilot in the entire Universal Run.

Suddenly the defensive barriers his mind had thrown up against the grievous flaw in his character, which made him feel uncertain of himself when he should have felt strong and capable, crumbled away completely. He could no longer pretend, no longer deceive himself. He hated his father because the elder Burnett had never known a moment of profound self distrust in his entire life.

He remembered his father's favorite line of reasoning with a sudden, overwhelming resentment. "Fear can and must be controlled. If you have your objective clearly in mind a new experience, no matter how hazardous, will quickly become merely a routine obstacle to be surmounted, a yardstick by which a man can measure his own maturity and strength of purpose. You'll find peace of mind in doing your work ably and well and by ignoring all danger to yourself."

It was so easy to say, so hard to live up to. How, for instance, could a twenty year old kid on his first mail run hope to completely outwit fatigue, or even forget, for a single moment, that it was his first run... Continue reading book >>

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