SPACE STATION 1
by FRANK BELKNAP LONG
A Division of A. A. Wyn, Inc.
23 West 47th Street, New York 36, N. Y.
SPACE STATION 1
Copyright 1957, by A. A. Wyn, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Printed in U. S. A.
[Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
INTRIGUE IN EARTH'S OUTER ORBIT
Tremendous and glittering, the Space Station floated up out of the Big Dark. Lieutenant Corriston had come to see its marvels, but he soon found himself entrapped in its unsuspected terrors.
For the grim reality was that some deadly outer-space power had usurped control of the great artificial moon. A lovely woman had disappeared; passengers were being fleeced and enslaved; and, using fantastic disguises, imposters were using the Station for their own mysterious ends.
Pursued by unearthly monsters and hunted with super-scientific cunning, Corriston struggles to unmask the mystery. For upon his success depended his life, his love and the future of Earth itself.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
He saw all the sights of the Space Station ... in fact, he saw too much....
His decision would mean the beginning or the end for a world.
This bodyguard needed special protection himself.
Sometimes it seemed as if he were leading a double life.
With him for a friend one didn't need an enemy.
Her father had made her a virtual prisoner.
It was a life-and-death struggle—cruel, remorseless, one-sided. Corriston was breathing heavily. He was in total darkness, dodging the blows of a killer. His adversary was as lithe as a cat, muscular and dangerous. He had a knife and he was using it, slashing at Corriston when Corriston came close, then leaping back and lashing out with a hard-knuckled fist.
Corriston could hear the swish of the man's heels as he pivoted, could judge almost with split-second timing when the next blow would come. He was bleeding from a cut on his right shoulder, and there was a tumultuous throbbing at his temples, an ache in his groin.
The fact that he had no weapon put him at a terrifying disadvantage. He had been close to death before, but never in so confined a space or in such close proximity to a man who had certainly killed once and would not hesitate to kill again.
His determination to survive was pitted against what appeared to be sheer brute strength fortified by cunning and a far-above-average agility. He began slowly to retreat, backing away until a massive steel girder stopped him. He was battling dizziness now and his heart had begun a furious pounding.
He found himself slipping sideways along the girder, running his hands over its smooth, cold surface. To his sweating palms the surface seemed as chill as the lid of a coffin, but he refused to believe that it could trap him irretrievably. The girder had to end somewhere.
The killer was coming close again, his shoes making a scraping sound in the darkness, his breathing just barely audible. Corriston edged still further along the girder. Inch by inch he moved parallel to it, fighting off his dizziness, making a desperate effort to keep from falling. The wetness on his shoulder was unnerving, the absence of pain incredible. How seriously could a man be stabbed without feeling any pain at all? He didn't know. But at least his shoulder wasn't paralyzed. He could move his arm freely, flex the muscles of his back.
How unbelievably cruel it was that a ship could move through space with the stability of a completely stationary object. How unbelievably cruel at this moment, when the slightest lurch might have saved him.
The girder was stationary and immense, and in his tormented inward vision he saw it as a strand in a gigantic steel cobweb, symbolizing the grandeur of what man could accomplish by routine compulsion alone.
In frozen helplessness Corriston tried to bring his thoughts into closer accord with reality, to view his peril in a saner light. But what was happening to him was as hard to relate to immediate reality as a line half remembered from a play. See how the blood of Caesar followed it, as if rushing out of doors to be resolved if Brutus so unkindly knocked or no....
But the killer wasn't Brutus. He was unknown and invisible and if there had been any Brutuslike nobility in him, it hardly seemed likely that he would have chosen for his first victim a wealthy girl's too talkative bodyguard and for his second Corriston himself.
The killer was within arm's reach again when the barrier that had trapped Corriston fell away abruptly. He reeled back, swayed dizzily, and experienced such wild elation that he cried out in unreasoning triumph. Swiftly he retreated backwards, not fully realizing that no real respite had been granted him. He was free only to recoil a few steps, to crouch and weave about. Almost instantly the killer was closing in again, and this time there was no escape.
Another metal girder stopped Corriston in midretreat, cutting across his shoulders like a sharp-angled priming rod, jolting and sobering him.
For an eternity now he could do nothing but wait. An eternity as brief as a dropped heartbeat and as long as the cycle of renewal and rebirth of worlds in the flaming vastness of space. Everything became impersonal suddenly: the darkness of the ships' between-deck storage compartment; the Space Station toward which the ship was traveling; the Martian deserts he had dreamed about as a boy.
The killer spoke then, for the first time. His voice rang out in the darkness, harsh with contempt and rage. It was in some respects a surprising voice, the voice of an educated man. But it was also a voice that had in it an accent that Corriston had heard before in verbal documentaries and hundreds of newsreels; in clinical case histories, microfilm recorded, in penal institutions, on governing bodies, and wherever men were in a position to destroy others—or perhaps themselves. It was the voice of an unloved, unwanted man.
The voice said: "You're done for, my friend. I don't know what the Ramsey girl told you, but you came looking for me, and it's too late now for any kind of compromise."
"I wasn't looking for a deal," Corriston said. "If it's any satisfaction to you, Miss Ramsey told me nothing. But I saw a man killed; and I couldn't find her afterwards. I think you know what happened to her. Knife me, if you can. I'll go down fighting."
"That's easy to say. Maybe you didn't come looking for me. But you know too much now to go on living. Unless you—wait a minute! You mentioned a deal. If you're lying about the Ramsey girl and will tell me where she is, I might not kill you."
"I wasn't lying," Corriston said.
"Hell ... you're really asking for it."
"I'm afraid I am."
"It won't be a pleasant way to die."
"Any way is unpleasant. But I'm not dead yet. Killing me may not be as easy as you think."
"It will be easy enough. This time you won't get past me."
Corriston knew that the conversation was about to end unless something unexpected happened. And he didn't think there was much chance of that. Had he been clasping a metal tool, he would have swung hard enough to kill with it. But he wasn't clasping anything. He was crouching low, and suddenly he leapt straight forward into the darkness.
His head collided with a bony knee and his hands went swiftly out and around invisible ankles. He tightened his grip, half expecting the knife to descend and