By Raymond Z. Gallun (1911-94).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Archive.org (HERE).
"Helplessly Marooned in Space, Earthman and Uranian Devise a Cunning Trap for an Interplanetary Outlaw!"Korse Bradlow ("greatest rogue within the orbit of Pluto") has ambushed Raff Orethon, a Space Patrol policeman, and his little pal Ruzza of Uranus on their way to Titan, robbed them of their valuable cargo, and left them to die, the dirty cur, on one of the millions of icy rocks that orbit Saturn and make up its beautiful ring system:
The spectacle around them was the most grandly beautiful in the solar system, and perhaps in the entire universe. The large meteor on which they were ma-rooned was one of myriads that were in sight. Their range in size was tremen-dous; some were as massive as small mountains, while an immeasurable host of others were as fine as grains of dust. Glowing silvery with the reflected rays of the distant sun, they formed a tremendous arching pathway, the width of several Earths.
Close at hand, the path was murky, like a haze; but distance sharpened its out-lines until it became a great ribbon curving around the cloud-wrapped bulk of Saturn. Each cosmic lump and particle that composed it was a minute moon of the monster planet.
Beyond the filmy texture of the Rings, the greater satellites glowed sullenly—Mimas, Rhea, Titan, Tethys—Tethys, home of Bradlow’s band. Beyond the moon were the stars, eerily bright against the frigid blackness of infinity.
Under other circumstances Raff Orethon might have found the view even more interesting. But now the harsh grandeur of it only served to emphasize the help-lessness of his position. His spaceboat was wrecked beyond any possibility of repair; a glance through the shattered observation window at its crumpled prow, gleaming in the contrasting lights of many spheres, was enough to tell him that.
And it was not only his life and the Uranian’s that would be lost; many Titan colonists would perish, and many others would be reduced to a state of slavery. Korse Bradlow would have his way now.
When a full-sized Esar apparatus had been constructed, its deadly energy shield would screen the domes of the colony, rendering them forever impervious to attack. But meanwhile police craft could continue their assaults on Bradlow’s camp on Tethys without fear of reprisal.But in his haste to get away—and like so many criminal narcissists who imagine they're untouchable—Bradlow has overlooked something, a small, seemingly unimportant something:
Ruzza was a native of the buried caves of Uranus. It was his bulk, which would have weighed a scant three pounds on Earth, that caused Raff’s pocket to bulge. Ruzza was a grotesquely humorous demonstration of the fact that all intelligent forms of life need not be wrought in human shape. His body was a ball of leath-ery brown flesh, pronged with sensitive prehensile feelers. Four of them, longer and thicker than the others, and covered by protecting sheaths of transparent, cellophane-like material, were thrust ludicrously out of the top of the pocket. They wavered from side to side with a restless motion.
At their tips, looking through the clear texture of his odd space attire, were bright, beady, intelligent eyes. Ruzza was a scientist of note in his own country. His association with Orethon—a matter now of seven Earth months—was an ex-pression of an adventurous yearning in the unnamed soul of the tiny creature. He had paid in bars of priceless actinium for the privilege of traveling around with Orethon on his police duties; and though the young Earthman had often found Ruzza’s constant presence annoying, he had endured it because of the pay. Any enterprising youth would have done so.In not killing Raff and that three-pound ball of intelligence, Bradlow has made his biggest mistake:
"Wait, Raff Orethon, I have the beginning of a plan. I will explain."
He listened while the Uranian outlined his sketchily conceived scheme in low, buzzing tones. His hard young face, illumined by the contrasting lights of Saturn’s system, underwent many swift changes. First it showed the chagrin of doubt, then dawning wonder, then hope. Finally all his natural enthusiasm and resourcefulness, which had seemed to be drained out of him, returned.
It might have been the fiery wake of any ordinary spacecraft, building up speed. The rockets of vessels that navigate the ether are not continuously active during flight. They flame only when a change in velocity or direction is necessary; otherwise, in the frictionless void, no application of power is required. A ship can coast on at undiminished speed for an indefinite if not infinite distance.But then:
The golden ship of the Ringmaster executed a quick hairpin turn, its rockets flaming.
|Home sweet home to Ruzza|
- Concerning our author, Ray Gallun: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE); at the moment, Project Gutenberg has 8 other titles by Gallun (HERE).
- Concerning Saturn: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
- Concerning Uranus: Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE).
The bottom line: "A man with a briefcase can steal millions more than any man with a gun."
— Don Henley