Treachery in Outer Space

Treachery in Outer Space

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CHAPTER 1

"All right, you blasted Earthworms! Stand to!"

Three frightened cadet candidates for Space Academy stiffened their backs and stood at rigid attention as Astro faced them, a furious scowl on his rugged features. Behind him, Tom Corbett and Roger Manning lounged on the dormitory bunks, watching their unit mate blast the freshman cadets and trying to keep from laughing. It wasn't long ago that they had gone through the terrifying experience of being hazed by stern upperclassmen and they knew how the three pink-cheeked boys in front of them felt.

"So," bawled Astro, "you want to blast off, do you?"

Neither of the three boys answered.

"Speak when you're spoken to, Mister!" snapped Roger at the boy in the middle.

"Answer the question!" barked Tom, finding it difficult to maintain his role of stern disciplinarian.

"Y-y-yes, sir," finally came a mumbled reply.

"What's your name? And don't say 'sir' to me!" roared Astro.

"Coglin, sir," gulped the boy.

"Don't say 'SIR'!"

"Yes, sir—er—I mean, O.K.," stuttered Coglin.

"And don't say O.K., either," Roger chimed in.

"Yes ... all right ... fine." The boy's face was flushed with desperation.

Astro stepped forward, his chin jutting out. "For your information," he bawled, "the correct manner of address is 'Very well.'"

"Very well," stammered Coglin.

Astro shook his head and turned back to Tom and Roger. "Have you ever seen a greater display of audacity and sheer gall?" he demanded. "The nerve of these three infants assuming that they could ever become Space Cadets!"

Tom and Roger laughed, not at the three Earthworms, but at Astro's sudden eloquence. The giant Venusian cadet usually limited his comments to a gruff Yes or No, or at most, a garbled sentence full of a veteran spaceman's oaths. Then, resuming his stern expression, Roger faced the three boys.

"Sound off! Quick!" he demanded.

"Coglin, John."

"Spears, Albert."

"Duke, Phineas."

"You call those names?" Roger snorted incredulously. "Which of you ground crawlers is radar officer?"

"I am, very well," replied Spears.

The blond-haired cadet stared at him in amazement.

"Very well, what?" he demanded.

"You said that's the correct form of address," replied Spears doggedly.

Roger turned to Tom. "Well, thump my rockets," he exclaimed, "I didn't know they made them that dumb any more!"

"Who is the command cadet?" asked Tom, suppressing a grin.

"I am, very well," replied Duke.

"How fast is fast?"

"Fast is as fast must be, without being either supersonic or turgid. Fast is necessarily that amount of speed that will not be the most nor the least, yet will be sufficient unto the demands of fast ..." Duke quoted directly from the Earthworm Manual, a book that was not prescribed learning in the Academy, but woe unto the Earthworm who did not know it by heart when questioned by a cadet upperclassman.

"What is a blip on a radar, Mister?" demanded Roger of Spears.

"A blip is never a slip. It is constant with the eye of the beholder, and constant with the constant that is always—" Spears faltered, his face flushing with embarrassment.

"Always what?" hounded Roger.

"I—I don't know," stammered the fledgling helplessly.

"You don't know?" yelled Roger. He looked at Tom and Astro, shaking his head. "He doesn't know." The two cadets frowned at the quivering boy and Roger faced him again. "For your information, Mr. Spears," he said at his sarcastic best, "there are five words remaining in that sentence. And for each word, you will spend one hour cleaning this room. Is that clear?"

Spears could only nod his head.

"And for your further information," continued Roger, "the remaining words are 'constantly alert to constant dangers'! Does that help you, Mister?"

"Yes, Cadet Manning," gulped Spears. "You are very kind to give me this information. And it will be a great honor to clean your room."

Astro stepped forward to take his turn. He towered over the remaining cadet candidate and glowered at the thoroughly frightened boy....