The Black Raider

: Gold In The Sky

For a stunned moment they were helpless as they struggled to pick

themselves up. The stable airlock deck was suddenly no longer

stable ... it was lurching back and forth like a rowboat on a heavy sea,

and they grabbed the shock-bars along the bulkheads to steady themselves.

"What happened?" Greg yelped. "I saw a ship...."

As if in answer there was another crash belowdecks, and the lurching

became worse. "
hey're firing on us, that's what happened," Johnny

Coombs growled.

"Well, they're shaking us loose at the seams," Greg said. "We've got to

get this crate out of here." He reached for his helmet, began unsnapping

his pressure suit.

"Leave it on," Johnny snapped.

"But we can't move fast enough in these things...."

"Leave it on all the same. If they split the hull open, you'll be dead

in ten seconds without a suit."

Somewhere below they heard the steady clang-clang-clang of the

emergency-station's bell ... already one of the compartments somewhere

had been breached, and was pouring its air out into the vacuum of space.

"But what can we do?" Greg said. "They could tear us apart!"

"First, we see what they've already done," Johnny said, spinning the

wheel on the inner lock. "If they plan to tear us apart, we're done for,

but they may want to try to board us.... We'll wait and see."

An orbit-ship under fire was completely vulnerable. One well-placed

shell could rip it open like a balloon.

Tom and Greg followed Johnny to where the control cabin was located. In

control they found alarm lights flashing in three places on the

instrument panel. Another muffled crash roared through the ship, and a

new row of lights sprang on along the panel.

"How are the engines?" Greg said, staring at the flickering lights.

"Can't tell. Looks like they're firing at the main jets, but they've

ripped open three storage holds, too. They're trying to disable us...."

"What about the Scavenger?"

Johnny checked a gauge. "The airlock compartment is all right, so the

scout ships haven't been touched. They couldn't fire on them without

splitting the whole ship down the middle." Johnny leaned forward,

flipped on the viewscreen, and an image came into focus.

* * * * *

It was a Class I Ranger, and there was no doubt of its origin. Like the

one they had seen berthing at the Sun Lake City racks, this ship had a

glossy black hull, with the golden triangle-and-J insignia standing out

in sharp relief in the dim sunlight.

"It's our friends, all right," Johnny said.

"But what are they trying to do?" Tom said.

Even as they watched, a pair of scooters broke from the side of the

Ranger and slid down toward the sun side of the asteroid. "I don't

know," Johnny said. "I think they intended to stay hidden, until Tom

lost control of his bumper, and got far enough around there to spot

them." He frowned as the first scooter touched down on the asteroid


"Can't we fire on them?" Greg said angrily.

"Not the way this tub is lurching around. They've got our main gyros,

and the auxilliaries aren't powerful enough to steady us. Another blast

or two could send us spinning like a top, and we'd have nothing to

stabilize us...."

There was another flash from the Ranger's hull, and the ship jerked

under their feet. "Well, we're a sitting duck here," Greg said. "Maybe

those engines will still work." He slid into the control seat, flipped

the drive switches to fire the side jets in opposite pairs. They fired,

steadying the lurching of the ship somewhat, but there was no response

from the main engines. "No good. We couldn't begin to run from them.

We're stuck here."

"They could outrun us anyway," Tom said, watching the viewscreen. "And

they're moving in closer now."

"They're going to board us," Tom said.

Johnny nodded, his eyes suddenly bright. "I think you're right. And if

they do, we may have a chance. But we've got to split up.... Greg, you

take the control cabin here, try to keep them out if you can. Tom can

cover the main corridor to the storage holds, and I'll take the engine

room section. That will sew up the entrances to control, here, and give

us a chance to stop them."

"They may have a dozen men," Tom said. "They could just shoot us down."

"I don't think so," Johnny said. "They want us, not the ship, or they

wouldn't bother to board us. We may not be able to hold them off, but we

can try."

"What about making a run for it in the Scavenger?" Greg said.

Johnny chuckled grimly. "It'd be a mighty short run. That Ranger's got

homing shells that could blow the Scavenger to splinters if we tried

it. Our best bet is to put up such a brawl that they think twice about

taking us."

They parted in the corridor outside control, Johnny heading down for the

engine room corridors, while Tom ran up toward the main outer-shell

corridor, a Markheim stunner in his hand. The entire outer shell of the

ship was storage space, each compartment separately sealed and connected

with the two main corridors that circled the ship. On each side these

corridors came together to join the short entry corridors from the

scout-ship airlocks.

Tom knew that the only way the ship could be boarded was through those

locks; a man stationed at the place where the main corridors joined

could block any entry from the locks ... as long as he could hold his

position. Tom reached the junction of the corridors, and crouched close

to the wall. By peering around the corner, he had a good view of the

airlock corridor.

Tom gripped the Markheim tightly, and he dialed it down to a narrow

beam. Nobody had ever been killed by a stunner ... but a direct hit with

a narrow beam could paralyze a man for three days.

There was movement at the far end of the airlock corridor. A helmeted

head peered around the turn in the corridor; then two men in pressure

suits moved into view, walking cautiously, weapons in hand. Tom shrank

back against the wall, certain they had not seen him. He waited until

they were almost to the junction with the main corridor; then he took

aim and pressed the trigger stud on his Markheim. There was an ugly

ripping sound as the gun jerked in his hand. The two men dropped as

though they had been pole-axed.

A shout, a scrape of metal against metal, and a shot ripped back at him

from the end of the corridor. Tom jerked back fast, but not quite fast

enough. He felt a sledge-hammer blow on his shoulder, felt his arm jerk

in a cramping spasm while the corridor echoed the low rumble of

sub-sonics. He flexed his arm to work out the spasm ... they were using

a wide beam, hardly strong enough to stun a man. His heart pounded. They

were being careful, very careful....

Two more men rounded the bend in the corridor. Tom fired, but they hit

the deck fast, and the beam missed. The first one jerked to his feet,

charged up the corridor toward him, dodging and sliding. Tom followed

him in his sights, fired three times as the Markheim heated up in his

hand. The beam hit the man's leg, dumping him to the deck, and bounced

off to catch the second one.

But now there was another sound, coming from the corridor behind him.

Voices, shouts, clanging of boots. He pressed against the wall,

listening. The sounds were from below. They must have gotten past

Johnny ... probably the men on the scooters. Tom looked around

helplessly. If they came up behind him, he was trapped in a crossfire.

But if he left his position, more men could come in through the airlock.

Even now two more came around the bend, starting up the corridor for


Quite suddenly, the lights went out.

The men stopped. Sound stopped. The corridor was pitch black. Tom fired

wildly down the corridor, heard shouts and oaths from the men, but he

could see nothing. Then, ahead, a flicker of light as a headlamp went

on. The men from the airlock were close, moving in on him, and from

behind he saw light bouncing off the corridor walls....

He jerked open the hatch to a storage hold, ducked inside, and slammed

the hatch behind him. He pressed against the wall, panting.

He waited.

Suddenly an idea flickered in Tom's mind.

It was a chance ... a long chance ... but it was something. If they were

going to be captured in spite of anything they could do, even a long

chance would be worth trying....

He waited in the darkness, tried to think it through. It was a wild

idea, an utterly impossible idea, he had never heard of it being tried

before ... but any chance was better than none. He remembered what

Johnny had said in the control cabin. The Ranger ship would have homing

shells. An attempt to make a run with the Scavenger might be


He thought about it, trying to reason it out. The Jupiter Equilateral

men obviously wanted them alive. They did not dare to kill Roger

Hunter's sons, because Roger Hunter might have told them where the

bonanza was. And Jupiter Equilateral would not dare let anyone of them

break away. If one of them got back to Mars, the whole U.N. Patrol would

be out in the Belt....

The plan became clear in his mind, but he had to let Greg know. He

fingered the control of his helmet radio. The boarding party would have

a snooper, but if he was quick, they wouldn't have time to nail him. He

buzzed an attention code. "Greg? Can you hear me?"

Silence. He buzzed again, and waited. What was wrong? Had they already

broken through to the control cabin and taken Greg? He buzzed again.

"Greg! Sound off if you can hear me."

More silence. Then a click. "Tom?"

"Here. Are you all right?"

"So far. You?"

"They got past me, but they didn't hit me. How's Johnny?"

"I don't know," Greg said. "I think he's been hurt. Tom, you'd better

get off, they'll have snoopers...."

"All right, listen," Tom said. "How does it look to you?"

"Bad. We're outnumbered, they'll be through to here any minute."

"All right, I've got an idea. It's risky, but it might let us pull

something out of this mess. I'll need some time, though."

"How much?"

"Ten, fifteen minutes."

There was an edge to Greg's voice. "What are you planning?"

"I can't tell you, they're listening in. But if it works...."

"Look, don't do anything stupid."

"I can't hear you," Tom said. "You try to hold them for fifteen

minutes ... and don't worry. Take care of yourself."

Tom snapped off the speaker and moved to the hatchway. The corridor was

empty, and pitch black. He started down toward the airlock, then stopped

short at the sound of voices and the flicker of headlamps up ahead.

He crouched back, but the lights were not moving. Guards at the lock,

making certain that nobody tried to board their own ship. Tom grinned to

himself. They weren't missing any bets, he thought.

Except one. There was one bet they wouldn't even think of.

He backtracked to the storage hold, crossed through it, and out into the

far corridor. He followed the gentle curve of the deck a quarter of the

way around the ship. Twice along the way he stumbled in the darkness,

but saw no sign of the raiders. At last he reached the far side, and the

corridor leading to No. 2 airlock. Again he could see the lamps of the

guards around the bend; they were stationed directly inside their own


Inching forward, he peered into blackness. Each step made a muffled

clang on the deck plates. He edged his boots along as quietly as

possible, reaching along the wall with his hand until he felt the lip of

a hatchway.

The lights and voices seemed nearer now. In the dim reflected light he

saw the sign on the door of the hatchway:

No. 2 Airlock


He checked the gauge, silently spun the wheel. There was a ping as the

seals broke. He pulled the hatch open just enough to squeeze into the

lock, then closed it behind him. Then he switched on the pumps, waiting

impatiently until the red "all clear" signal flashed on. Then he opened

the outside lock.

Just beyond, he could see the sleek silvery lines of the Scavenger.

It was their only chance.

He took a deep breath, and jumped across the gap to the open lock of the