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The star lord, p.1
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       The Star Lord, p.1

           Boyd Ellanby
 
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The Star Lord


  Produced by Greg Weeks and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's note:

  This etext was produced from Imagination Stories of Science and FantasyJune 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.

  THE STAR LORD

  _By Boyd Ellanby_

  To some passengers a maiden voyage was a pleasure cruise; to others it meant a hope for new life. Only the Captain knew of its danger!

  The _Star Lord_ waited, poised for her maiden voyage. The giganticsilvery spindle, still cradled in its scaffoldings, towered upwardsagainst the artificial sky of Satellite Y.

  The passengers were beginning to come on board before Captain JosiahEvans had finished checking the reports of his responsible officers. Theship was ready for space, now, and there was nothing more he could dountil takeoff. With long, deliberate steps he walked to his cabin,closed the door, and in the privacy he had come to regard as thegreatest luxury life had to offer him, he sank into his chair andreached for the post-bag which had been delivered by the morning'srocket ferry from earth.

  There were no personal letters for him. He rarely received any and neverreally expected any, for his career had always been more important tohim than personal ties. Shoving aside the official documents, he pickedup the small brown parcel, slit the pliofilm covering with his pocketknife, and inspected the red leather cover with its simple title: _Ley'sRockets and Space Ships._ At the bottom of the cover was a date: May 1,2421, Volume 456. In the nearly five hundred years since the publicationof Volume one, which listed all the earth's rocket ships on half of onepage, the annual edition of this book, regularly edited and brought upto date, had become the spaceman's bible.

  Captain Evans was annoyed to find that his hands were shaking as heleafed through the pages, and he paused a few seconds, trying to controlhis excitement. His black hair had begun to turn gray above his ears,and there were a few white hairs in his bushy eyebrows. But a healthypink glowed under the skin of his well-fleshed cheeks, and the jut ofhis chin showed the confidence of one used to receiving immediate,unquestioning obedience. When his long fingers had stopped theirtrembling, he found the entry he had been looking for, and a triumphantsmile lighted his heavy features as he settled deeper in his chair andread the first paragraph.

  "_Star Lord: newest model in space-ships of the famed Star Line. VitalStatistics: Construction begun February 2418, on Satellite Y.Christened, October, 2420. Maiden voyage to Almazin III scheduledspring, 2421._"

  He looked up at the diagram of the ship which hung on the wall at hisright, then glanced at the zodiometer on his desk. May 3, late spring.

  "_Powered by twenty-four total conversion Piles. Passenger capacity1250. Crew and maintenance 250. Six life boats, capacity 1500. Captain.Josiah Evans._"

  His throat swelling, he was almost choked with pride as he read thefinal Statistic. This, he thought was the climax of his career, theplace he had been working towards all his life. It had been a long roadfrom his lonely boyhood in a Kansas orphanage, to Captain of the earth'sfinest spaceship.

  The _Star Lord_ was the perfection of modern space craft, the creationof the earth's most skilled designers and builders, the largest shipever launched. Protected by every safety device the ingenuity of man hadbeen able to contrive, she was a palace to glide among the stars.

  His heart beat more rapidly as he read the next section.

  "_Prediction: her maiden voyage will break all previous speed records,and regain for her backers the coveted Blue Ribbon, lost ten years agoto the Light Lines._"

  No question of that, he thought. No faster ship had ever been built. Buthe frowned as he read the final paragraph:

  "_Sidelights: Reviving a long obsolete custom, certain astrologers inLondon have cast the horoscope of the Star Lord and pronounced theauguries to be unfavorable. This verdict, plus the incident at thechristening, has caused some head-shaking among the superstitiousfringe, and some twittering about 'cosmic arrogance'. But few of thelords of the earth, we imagine, will therefore feel impelled to canceltheir passages on this veritable Lord of the Stars._"

  * * * * *

  Evans remembered that christening. High in the scaffolding he had stoodon the platform with the christening party: the Secretary ofInterstellar Commerce, the Ambassador from Almazin III, the Governor ofSatellite Y, and President and Mrs. Laurier of Earth.

  Swaying gently in the still air, the traditional bottle of champagnehung before them, suspended at the end of a long ribbon. Mrs. Laurier'seyes were shining, her cheeks flushed, as she looked at her husband fora signal. At his smile and nod she had said in a high clear voice, "Ichristen thee _Star Lord_!" and then reached out to grasp the bottle.Before she could touch it, somewhere above them the slender ribbonbroke.

  The bottle fell like a stone, plummeted straight down and crashed into amillion fragments on the floor of the satellite.

  An instant's shocked silence, and then a roar of voices surged up fromthe crowds watching below. Mrs. Laurier had put her hand to her mouth,and shivered.

  "What a dreadful thing!" she whispered. "Does that mean bad luck?"

  President Laurier had frowned at her, but the Secretary of InterstellarCommerce had laughed.

  "Don't be alarmed, Mrs. Laurier. There is no such thing as luck. Evenwithout a bath of champagne, this magnificent vessel will prove that manis certainly master of the universe. She begins her life well and trulynamed."

  The Star Line ought to abandon that silly custom of christening a newship, thought Captain Evans. It was an archaic ceremony, utterlyirrational, a foolish relic of a primitive world in which people hadbeen so uncertain of their machines that they had had to depend on luck,and to beg good fortune of unpredictable gods.

  Taking up _Ley's Space Ships_ again, he began fondly to reread the page,when there was a knock at the door and a crewman entered.

  "Mr. Jasperson to see you, sir."

  The Captain stared, a tiny muscle in his cheek quivering.

  "You know I'm not to be disturbed until after takeoff, Stacey."

  "Yes, sir. But Mr. Jasperson insisted. He says he knows those rulesdon't apply to _him_."

  Evans closed the book, laid it on his desk, and stood up. He leanedforward and spoke softly.

  "Tell Mr. Jasperson--"

  "Tell him what, Josiah?" boomed a voice from the opening door. "You cantell me yourself now."

  Burl Jasperson was a portly little man with legs too short for hisbulging body, and clothes that were too tight. His head was bald exceptfor a fringe above the ears, and he might have been a comical figure butfor the icy blue eyes that probed from under the dome of his forehead.

  "What have you got to tell me? You're quite right not to let the ragtagand bobtail bother you at a time like this, but I know your old friendBurl Jasperson is always welcome."

  With scarcely a pause, the Captain extended his hand.

  "How are you, Burl? Won't you come in? I hope the Purser has taken careof you properly?"

  "I'm comfortable enough, thanks, and I'm looking forward to the trip.It's odd, come to think of it, that though I've been Chairman of theboard of directors, and have spent some thirty years managing a fleet ofspace liners, yet I've never before made a trip myself. I don't likecrowds of people, for one thing, and then I've been busy."

  "What made you decide to go along on this one?"

  * * * * *

  Reaching across the table, Jasperson picked up the silver carafe andpoured himself a glass of water.

  "Ah! Nothing like a drink of cold water! The fact is, I wanted to checkup on things, make notes of possible improvements in the Star Line'sservice, and samp
le passenger reactions. Then too, I'll have thesatisfaction of being present on the trip which will establish theLine's supremacy, once and for all. This crossing will make history. Itmeans everything to us, Josiah. You know we're counting on you to breakthe record. We want to win back the Blue Ribbon, and we expect you tomanage it for us."

  "I shall do my best."

  "That's the spirit I like to see. Full speed ahead!"

  "Certainly--consistent with safety."

  "Consistent with _reasonable_ safety, of course. I know you won't letyourself be taken in by all this nonsense about the imaginary dangers ofhyperspace."

  "What do you mean?"

  "All this nonsense about the Thakura Ripples! But then, of courseyou're a sensible man or we wouldn't have hired you, and I'm sure youagree with me that
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