Warfare in Space
by Gardner F Fox
Published in Flash Comics 1940
"I've got it!" cried Billy Morton.
Eagerly he turned to the gray haired man who stood beside him at the metal beakers and scientific equipment that littered the laboratory tabletop.
"I've got it at last," Billy enthused, snapping his fingers in his excitement. The thing Dad worked all his life for a weapon that can be used effectively in interstellar space!"
Orphaned son of a brilliant scientist, Keith Morton, Bill had inherited his father's keen mind and interest in scientific research. As a technician on the only space-port on the planet Jupiter in the year 2139, there wasn't much for a boy of eighteen to do except work. And since his work was at once his hobby, Billy Morton was perfectly satisfied.
Billy's snapping black eyes clouded. His carelessly parted black hair fell over his high forehead. His lips grew grim with sudden thought—
"If Ralph Farnham—"the Ruthless"—ever raids Jupiter again," he said, "I'll be ready for him!"
Port Commander Worth nodded his leonine head. He had been the life-long friend of Billy's father. When Ralph "the Ruthless" had raided Jupiter four years ago and slain the elder Morton, Billy had sworn two vows. One, to continue his Dad's research for a space weapon; and second, to get revenge on Ralph Farnham.
The first vow was now accomplished. Before Commander Worth's admiring blue eyes, Billy was unwrapping a metal rod that had attached to it a round box at its trigger-end.
"This is the discharger-gun," explained Billy. "In this round box I place a coil of elemental chemical essences—what they are is the secret Dad and I were working on!—and then, press the trigger! Zowie!”
"But are you sure it will work in space? You know the space be tween the planets is a great void, empty of air, which conducts electricity, and permits bullets and bombs to take effect. A bullet in space just drops into the void—no air to carry it. Your gun—"
"Doesn't the sun heat the Earth?" asked Billy.
“Yes, of course. But, what—"
A wailing shriek burst all about them. The very air they breathed seemed to explode into a shrill, rending scream. Billy stiffened the discharger-gun in his hands forgotten.
"Air raid!" he shouted. "It's Ralph Farnham!"
Commander Worth was already at the doorway. Interplanetary space pirates made his life miserable. Launching attacks at widely spaced intervals, they raided for scientific discoveries and radium. They were ruthless, well organized, and attacked in such numbers that the Space-port Patrols were helpless before them.
“You stay here, Billy!" Commander Worth shouted as he started to run.
But Billy had other ideas. His black eyes flared with the desire to try his new gun against the space pirates. This was his chance to show the Solar System that Earthmen who lived on the Earth's far-flung planetary colonies could produce just as good scientists as Mother Earth! And–if it was Ralph Farnham–it was his big chance!
So Billy began to run himself, only he ran for his father's private hanger that housed one of the most perfect little space fliers that science could build.
In the room that held his fur-lined space suit, Billy Morton paused and began to rip off shirt and tie and laboratory cloak and gloves. He dived into a thick, fur-lined jacket and loose, warm leather trousers. Snatching up his oxygo-helmet and his new gun, he dropped down the ladder at breakneck speed to the flyer platform.
Billy knew he'd have to move fast. The air raid sirens gave an hour's notice only. After their shrill blast had died away, he realized that Ralph Farnham's space boats were zooming through the murky void of space toward Jupiter at a terrific rate of speed. But he could move fast himself!
He'd have to! He must get his flyer out into space in time to meet that approaching squadron and come to grips with it—before they got within striking distance of the space port!
And he had to avoid Commander Worth! The old man would never consent to his journeying out alone into the void against Ralph Farnham's space fleet!
The smooth metal sides of the flyer, loomed large before him. Billy swung over a lever to lift the hanger roof, and started for the flyer door, when—
"Billy! Billy Morton!”
Billy groaned. He knew well that crisp, military-sounding voice. He didn't have to turn to know that Commander Worth, was running along the metal platform, waving his arms and shouting.
“Billy—hold on! Wait!”
He turned ready to argue the need for his going out alone into space, to test his new weapon. He knew as well as Commander Worth the danger of a single flyer fighting a space fleet by itself—with only a boy of eighteen at the controls. But he also knew that he was the only chance they had to win!
“Yes, Commander Worth?"
“You—you were going up alone!" said the Spaceport chief accusingly.
"I must!” Billy protested. "I'm the only one who can successfully fight them off before they reach Jupiter. You know that!”
Commander Worth smiled grimly and caught Billy's big hand.
"I know, boy. I know how much you want to go out there! But I know that if you don't come back I'll never sleep soundly again, cursed by the thoughts of your sacrifice.
"And yet—I knew your father and I know you. And when you said "I've got it, I knew you had, finally, concluded your experiment.
"You're my only hope, Billy. Get into that flyer and get going—before I change my mind!”
"Golly!" shouted Billy, grinning and snapping his fingers. "That's swell! And thanks, Commander Worth—you won't regret it!"
Billy swung open the flyer's door and let himself into the round steering room. The space flyer was made of smooth aluminum–steel, light but strong enough to resist the terrific pull of gravity. Four long metal tails on each side of the ship reached out behind it to give it balance and direction. An open vent in the rear permitted rocket blasts which propelled the ship in outer space.
As Billy let himself down into the leather and steel gyro-seat, he faced a window of thick quartz, ground with gelida, a cold-and-heat resisting mineral from Venus's vast quarries. It was a round, yellow sheet of space-glass that permitted the driver to see ahead of him.
Billy glanced at his wristwatch. He had less than thirty minutes to get free of Jupiter's terrible gravity pull. Less than thirty minutes to jockey into position to fight the first space battle of all time! He frowned and threw over the degravitizer lever.
The flyer lurched against its steel props, then slowly began to lift free of its hanger. Below him Billy could see Commander Worth waving to him, wishing him luck.
Billy gasped. He began to shake. Not with fear, for Billy Morton wasn't afraid of death, but with that nervous tension an athlete feels before a game. He thought swiftly of the thousands of helpless Earth colonists who were unknowingly depending on him and on his new weapon. Billy reached out a hand to pat the cold metal rod.
"You've got to come through," he whispered to it. "You've just got to!"
Then he gave himself over to grim business. Swiftly he strapped himself into his gyro-seat that maintained the same position even if the flyer itself was standing on its pointed nose.
He began to check his instrument board, watching the degravitizer—needle raise and raise: one hundred, one thousand, two thousand feet from the surface of the planet.
Soon now his ship would burst into the radiant aura of the sun-bathed atmospheric belt which protected the air of the planet Jupiter from the cold nothingness of outer space. His quartz window shone with concentrated light. That would last only a few seconds at the rate his flyer was lifting. Only a few seconds, and then—
The bright colors flashing through the window darkened. Instantly Billy reached out and flipped over his rocket-blast. From the rear of the space flyer came a stream of brilliant yellow. With a sudden surge and a low roar, the tiny ship flamed out into black space.
Inside his driving room Billy Morton felt only a slight push forward. But his indicator showed incredible speed. He smiled tightly, and glanced at his watch. He had made it just in time! Through his window he could see Ralph Farnham and his pirate fleet like little black dots in space, come racing toward him!
Billy chuckled to himself.
"He's going to get the surprise of his life!"