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´╗┐Title: Wreck Off Triton
Author: Coppel, Alfred
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wreck Off Triton" ***

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                           Wreck Off Triton

                           By ALFRED COPPEL

             _His plans were thorough. Every risk had been
            closely considered. Now Ron Carnavon, ruthless
           convict, was ready to loot the wrecked spaceship
         of its sapphire treasure, and thrust his warped power
            around the entire, antagonistic EMV triangle._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Planet Stories November 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Ron Carnavon had been the skipper of the late _Thunderbird_, and it
was common knowledge in every port of the EMV triangle that he had
scuttled her. There was a price on his head, and the High Space Guard
was combing the spacelanes for him--and for the _Thunderbird_. For the
_Thunderbird_ was a treasure ship.

But Carnavon was a cautious man and no fool, for all that he'd
committed barratry. He left the _Thunderbird_ in a Trojan orbit a
million miles off Triton, ruptured and spilling corpses into space. He
took a spaceboat and jetted sunward to the Holcomb Foundation Outpost
on Oberon. Then he stowed away on the mail ship to Canalopolis, still
carrying the chart that showed the _Thunderbird's_ position. In the
Canal City, Carnavon evaded the lax Guard cordons and found himself a
renegade Martian hypnosurgeon to change his face and fingerprints.

From then on it was easy. Across Syrtis Major by sand-ski to Marsport
posing as a prospector. And from Marsport down the Grand Canal to the
spaceman's boneyard at Yakki. It was there that he met and hired Pop
Wills and the _Carefree_.

Ron Carnavon acted with characteristic caution when he chose Pop and
the _Carefree_ to do the ghoul work on the ship he had murdered. Pop's
ship was a rusty bucket, but well enough fixed to reach Triton where
the _Thunderbird's_ corpse orbited, her vault heavy with Plutonian
sapphires. And Pop needed work badly. He was almost too broke to outfit
his ship for the flight. Carnavon noted with curling lip that most of
Pop's assets had long ago been liquidated to buy gin. The long years
in space had taken a toll on the old man. Actually a greater toll than
even Carnavon could have imagined.

Pop and the _Carefree_ fitted in with Carnavon's plans to perfection.
Pop had been in trouble more than once with the High Space Guard. Pop
was an old soak who wouldn't be missed. When something happened to the
_Carefree_, the rest of the beached wrecks in Yakki would only shake
their heads and agree that Pop had pushed the old bucket a few Gs too
hard somewhere. That was just the end the wrecker had in mind for Pop
when his job was finished, too.

It was only reasonable. He couldn't let Pop live to tell the Guard that
Ron Carnavon had had a hypnosurgical metamorphosis. Even a fortune in
sapphires couldn't buy the High Space Guard. It was far too well-heeled
with Holcomb Foundation money, and it took its duties to the
inhabitants of the Earth-Mars-Venus Triangle seriously. A cautious man
would realize this and take the proper steps. In this case the proper
steps would be the elimination of Pop Wills when his job was done.

But everyone makes mistakes. Carnavon made one when he selected Pop
and the _Carefree_. With all the rusty hulks dotting the ramps of
Yakki, and with all the even rustier skippers there, he should have
hired someone else. Anyone else. Ron Carnavon should have connected
Pop Wills with the twelve-year-old cabin boy of the _Thunderbird_. The
youngster's name had been Wills, too. But of course, Carnavon couldn't
have been expected to remember everything. Just coincidence--but those
things do happen.

So these two lifted from Mars together. A captain who had wrecked his
own ship and a gin-soaked old man whose only son had died because
of it. And neither knew the other for what he was. To Carnavon, Pop
was just a fall-guy doing his job in proper sucker fashion. And to
Pop Wills, Carnavon was just John Smith who wanted to go to Grid
M332254-89OK off Triton and was willing to pay well for the privilege.

The wrecker ordered the course and Pop set it. Mars began to dwindle
and the Belt loomed up ahead. The _Carefree_ threaded her way through
the rocky maze and on past Saturn and Uranus in a free-falling arc. She
was slow, but in space "slow" is a relative term. The Outer Planets
were in triple conjunction and with their help, the old boat made time.
Carnavon checked the course daily, and Pop accepted the corrections
without protest. After all, John Smith was paying for the trip and he
seemed to know what he was doing. No questions asked. Carnavon liked
that. No questions, no trouble. He couldn't have been more wrong.

       *       *       *       *       *

It's hard to say in mere words what old Pop must have felt when he
picked up the wreck of the _Thunderbird_ on the radar. He recognized
the image, of course. The _Thunderbird_ was unique among spacers. Then
he checked her position against the chart that Carnavon had marked and
realized why they had come. He realized too who this John Smith was,
and hate pulsed through him in sickening waves. Pop wasn't a brave man,
and he was past his prime, but he could still hate.

Almost without conscious thought, Pop broke out the Ultra-Wave and
began calling the Guard. He broadcast full particulars, co-ordinates,
descriptions, everything. He was at it when Carnavon found him and sent
him crashing against the control panels with a smashing overhand right
to the mouth.

Pop sprawled on the metal decking and watched the wrecker carefully
smash every communicating device on the ship's panel. There was a
throbbing pain in his head where he had struck the shabbily padded
control console, and the thick taste of blood was in his bruised mouth.
He watched Carnavon like an animal, a hurt, impotently raging beast.
And he began to be afraid. Even his hate couldn't spare him that, for
Pop was afraid to die and he knew just what his chances were now.

Carnavon, on the other hand, didn't waste time hating. He didn't know
why Pop had called copper, and he didn't really care. Pop wasn't
important. The sapphires in the _Thunderbird's_ vault. _They_ were
important. He'd come too far to abandon them now.

It would take nine minutes for Pop's radio appeal to reach the nearest
Guard base, Carnavon calculated. And it would take six hours for
the fastest Guard ship to reach them after that. He could board the
_Thunderbird_ and loot her in not more than two hours. That would
still give the _Carefree_ a four hour start on the Guard, and in deep
space four hours were as good as four thousand. Carnavon still wasn't
worried. The wrecking of the _Thunderbird_ had been the work of months,
and he wasn't going to panic now. Ron Carnavon wasn't that sort of a

Blaster in hand, he motioned Pop to his feet. He wondered vaguely just
why the old man had taken such a chance. He couldn't have any notions
of collecting the reward for Carnavon. The amount was less than the
amount he was getting for doing this--Carnavon smiled bleakly--salvage
job. And the old man was a coward. He could see it in the trembling of
the blue-veined hands, in the shifting faintness of the watery blue
eyes. The wrecker shrugged aside the thoughts as unimportant and set to

With a blaster in his ribs, Pop Wills did as he was told. He braked the
_Carefree_ to a stop twenty miles from the ruptured hulk of the liner.
There were beads of sweat standing out on Pop's forehead and his hands
shook on the firing console. A thin trickle of dark blood marred his
stubbled chin. His battered lips were unsteady.

For a few bad moments, Pop Wills thought Carnavon was going to blast
him as soon as the _Carefree_ lost way, but then even his gin-soaked
mind began to understand that the end wasn't quite yet. Carnavon needed
help looting the murdered liner. If he was going to lay his hands on
her valuables before the Guard appeared, he'd have to get Pop working
with him. Maybe if Pop had been more of a man he could have stopped
the wrecker cold right there, but long years of boozing had left Pop
weak. He could hate well enough, but fear conquers even hate. And that
blaster that followed him in every movement made Pop's thin blood run
cold. Life--even a life like Pop Wills'--was better than the black void
of death. Pop was ready to buy a few more minutes of life at almost any
price, even from the man who had killed his boy. The old man was like a
rusty watch-spring--battered and wound to the utmost limit. And jammed
there. Frozen by the reality of that ugly blaster and the cold eyes
behind it, Pop would help Carnavon. He couldn't help himself. And his
hate expanded to include his own senile weakness....

       *       *       *       *       *

The _Thunderbird_ spun slowly in the light of the faraway sun, the rent
in her hull gaping like a mouthful of jagged teeth. She had been a
beautiful thing once, but she was ugly now in death. She had not died
gracefully. Her back had been broken and her innards scattered. She
orbited sullenly, and around her spun the broken fragments of her inner
body--the bloated, frozen corpses of the men she'd carried. Against the
backdrop of the stars and the blaze of the Milky Way, she seemed to be
a blot on the heavens. Pop Wills and Ron Carnavon watched her, each of
them with his own thoughts. Then the wrecker motioned toward the suit
lockers with his blaster.

It took a bit of doing to get into his own pressure suit and still keep
the blaster pointed at Wills, but Carnavon was a large man, and supple,
and he managed it well enough.

The _Carefree_ had no escape boat, so there was nothing for it but to
rely on the suit motors to take them across to the _Thunderbird_. It
promised to be slow going, for the suit motors were weak and produced
only one tenth G of thrust. Almost anything thrown out ahead by a man
in a space-suit was enough to stop him cold. The recoil overcame the
suit motor with ridiculous ease and though the motor labored mightily,
it would take a long while to reestablish the original direction of
movement. But Carnavon had an answer for that, too.

A quick check of the radar showed that there were still no Guard ships
within hailing distance. Carnavon's original estimate of the time it
would take the Space Guard to arrive on the scene turned out to be
surprisingly accurate.

He connected his suit to Pop's with a short cable and snap-hooks and
together they made their way to the _Carefree's_ dorsal valve.

Carnavon had no intention of sweating out a long, slow crossing to
the hulk, so he ran the lock pressure up high and waited until the
outer hatch was lined up with the derelict liner. Then with a sudden
movement, he spun the wheel and popped the outer portal. Pop and
Carnavon shot into space like grotesque _bolas_. The _Thunderbird_
loomed up ahead.

Pop kept his mouth shut and his eyes open. He saw more than an
old man might be expected to see, too. For instance he saw that
Carnavon--cautious though he might be--had neglected to take an extra
magazine for his blaster. That meant that there were just three shots
in the weapon. One of which, Pop figured, would be used against the
vault of the scuttled liner. Not that the old man was making any plans.
He was still too weighted by his fear and his sense of impotence for
that. He merely noticed, and prayed to the gods of space that one of
those shots in the blaster might not be meant for him.

As they drew near the liner, Pop felt nausea churning his stomach.
The ship was surrounded by satellites. Space-bloated bodies, naked
and misshapen in the bitter light of the dim sun that reflected off
the pitted flanks of the burst vessel. Spread-eagled grotesquely,
the corpses circled their ship, puffy things of horror with staring
eyes and extended fingers. Other things, too, circled the hulk.
Small, commonplace items. A clock, a chair, shattered crockery. Tiny,
inconsequential things, all mutely accusing--all muttering silently
that their ship had been betrayed by someone who should have protected

Pop glanced over at Carnavon. Through the steelglass bubble of his
helmet he could see the wrecker's face. There was no expression on
it other than concentration--and greed. Pop knew about greed. He'd
lived with greed and degradation a lot in his last few years. He hated
Carnavon even more now for having reminded him--but he was still too
sick with futility to do more than tell himself that he had done all
he could do. He _had_ called the Guard, after all. And then, for an
awful moment he found himself regretting that he had done even that and
thereby lost all hope of life....

Their magnetic shoes touched the _Thunderbird's_ hull with a sound
faintly carried through the air in their suits. They stood on the
curving surface, etched in black against the starry sky. A few feet
away from them, the terminator was inching toward them as the derelict
rotated slowly.

       *       *       *       *       *

With Carnavon leading the way, they clumped heavily to the ripped and
tortured hull plates where the _Thunderbird_ had been sundered. By the
light of their helmet lights Pop could see the thoroughness of the
wrecker's work. He had been her captain, this Carnavon, and he had
known just how to murder her. The outer hull was a shambles and the
pressure hull holed in three places. It had been a thorough job. Only
one prepared for the sudden horror of her death could have survived it.
Pop Wills thought of his boy and sobbed.

The dark companionways were empty, blown clean by the violence of the
_Thunderbird's_ death. Ron Carnavon led the way down into the ship to
the purser's office and the vault.

Rubble cluttered the small room, bulkheads bent awry and pipes and
wires littered the deck. Carnavon turned Pop loose and set him to
work cleaning out a path to the vault. Pop's breath was coming in
shuddering, grating gasps when he finished the work a half-hour later.
Carnavon nodded approvingly and motioned him away from the vault.

Pop watched while the wrecker braced himself and took careful aim at
the vault's lock mechanism with the blaster. There was a searing flash
of blue flame, and red sparks showered as the oxy-hydrogen bolt sliced
into the steel of the door. Pop found himself praying fervently that it
would take two more shots.

Carnavon fired again, and the tiny room blazed. Pop muttered shakily
under his breath and waiting for the wrecker to blast just once more.

The lock surrendered in a trickle of white-hot slag and Pop felt
himself sink low. There was still that one shot left for him--and he
wasn't needed now.

The door swung open and Carnavon knelt to rifle the vault. When he at
last straightened, he held a pool of jagged blue fire in his gloved
hand. The gems sparkled with a life of their own--two dozen faceted
beauties--each worth a king's ransom--and each bought with a man's life.

Presently they stood again on the outer hull, under an unreal canopy
of stars. Nearby, a ghastly satellite was swinging inward toward the
ship. Pop stared at it and back to Carnavon. He began to understand
what the wrecker planned. He was going to leave him here--on the wreck.
And he would die here. He understood that the shot that remained in the
blaster wasn't for him after all. Carnavon wasn't going to waste it
on him. There was a spanner in the wrecker's hand and he now advanced
purposefully toward Pop Wills.

Pop stepped backwards, retreating from the heavy figure of the wrecker.
Fear was surging in waves through him--fear mixed with blind hate and
contempt for himself and his senile weakness. Overhead, against the
stars, the awful satellite drew nearer.

Carnavon reduced the power in his magnetic shoes and moved lightly
toward Pop, the spanner raised to strike. The old man stumbled against
a long shard of steel on the hull that floated upward at his touch.
Fear paralyzed him, and he stood now, waiting for the blow of the
spanner that would smash his helmet and leave him a distended corpse
spinning through space. Above him, the satellite spun inward.

Pop glanced up--into the agonized, dead face of a twelve-year-old boy.
He shrieked. The sound deafened him in the bubble of his helmet. All
the fear and weakness turned to a bitter hate and surged forward in
one insane motion toward his tormentor. The long shard of steel came
to hand like a lance. The rusted, warped old watch spring that was Pop
Wills recoiled and unwound in one raging moment. He charged Carnavon.

Carnavon evaded the clumsy charge instinctively. With an almost
unconscious motion, he raised the blaster and fired point-blank.

The searing bolt caught Pop Wills in the chest and spun him around,
tattered ribbons of charred flesh and melted metal from his suit
intermingled. He curled inward upon himself in an awkward graceless
fashion and sank to the hull plates, a nimbus of ice flowing from the
gap in his suit as the water-vapor and blood spurted into the vacuum.
But there was something strangely like a smile on his face as life left
him. Pop had conquered his fear at last.

But Carnavon, on the other end of the bolt of fire that had ended Pop
Wills' life, spun outward--away from the _Thunderbird_, away from the
_Carefree_, end over end, driven by the fiery recoil of his own weapon.
At a speed considerably less than the muzzle-velocity of the blast, but
still much higher than the best speed of the feeble suit motor, Ron
Carnavon spun into space. Out and away, the precious sapphires spilling
out of his hand, glittering in the faint sunlight as they took up their
orbits about him like tiny, mocking moonlets....

       *       *       *       *       *




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