Rick Purvis set his space-cruiser on autopilot and settled back into the comfortable pilot’s chair. He enjoyed watching the display of stars and comets hurtling past. Far out ahead and to starboard, he saw one of the extremely rare creatures dubbed the Moby Dicks of Space due to their similarity to Terran whales. He smiled, thinking what his friend Homer Glint would give for a glimpse of that uncommon sight.
His on-board communicator buzzed, waking him from his thoughts. He stabbed the button to open communications, and the image of Homer Glint’s face clicked into view on the screen.
“Homer, old buddy!” Rick said warmly. “I was just thinking of you. There’s a Moby Dick of Space not forty parsecs off my starboard!”
“I assume that made you think of me because of my interest in rare animals, and not because I need to go on a diet,” Homer joked, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m calling to ask if you’ve heard about the big scavenger hunt!”
Rick’s eyebrow shot up with interest. “Scavenger hunt? No, I hadn’t heard. Tell me more!”
“It’s being thrown by Julian Pierce, the Terran multi-trillionaire,” Homer explained. “He’s compiled a list of items scattered throughout charted space. The person or team who brings the greatest number of items to him by the specified date wins the prize: one quintillion credits to the charity of the winner’s choice, plus a solid iridium trophy encrusted with precious gems from the nine planets.”
“Interesting!” Rick cried enthusiastically. “Sounds right up our alley! Have you notified Karel?”
“I tried to reach her, but she was away from her communicator. I left a message; she should be contacting us shortly.”
“Right here, boys,” Karel Sorenson’s musical voice chimed in as her lovely face appeared on another monitor screen. “I got your message, Homer. I was at Brown’s Fine Weapons Shop, picking up some new blaster-pistols. Sounds like fun!”
“OK, I’m hyperfaxing you both the list of items,” Homer said. On their respective screens, Rick and Karel watched him manipulating controls on his console. Seconds later, flashing lights indicated that Rick and Karel had received his transmission. Both switched on the dataviewer.
“Hmm, it says this Blue Stone of Baradhi, whatever that is, is located in a ruined temple on the planet Melcor-78,” Karel said. “I’m pretty close to there now.”
“And the list calls for the egg of a Mbula bird,” Rick added. “They’re fairly common on Jaebrum; I can be there in a tic.”
“We also need a flaming seashell,” Homer pointed out. “The mollusks of the Purple Ocean of Paav have shells of a substance that bursts into flame on contact with air. They never leave their ocean, but the ocean floor is covered with their shells.”
“OK, let’s all go after our targets and rendezvous at Pierce’s winter chalet on Bonn,” Rick suggested. “We can drop off our booty, let him know we’re in the running, and then go grab some more.”
“Excellent idea!” Karel chimed in. “OK, boys; last one to Bonn buys dinner!”
“You’re on, Karel!” Homer said before clicking off his communicator. His two fellow Star Rovers followed suit, and each took off in pursuit of their prize.
Homer Glint’s spaceship glided through the atmosphere of Paav. Like Earth, the planet was more than three-quarters covered in ocean; unlike Earth, the ocean was a rich purple color.
Setting his ship down on the coast of a small island, he watched as bright yellow fish with long, streaming fins leaped out of the water and back in again. He wished he had the time for some fishing. Paav had no indigenous lifeforms any higher evolved than small quadruped mammals, but some of the animal life was fascinating.
Homer climbed into his underwater gear, which included pressurized suit and oxy-helmet. He would have to go fairly deep; the mollusks of Paav never went very near the shore. His suit was equipped with a jet-belt; Homer had tried it underwater before, and it was just as capable of propelling him through water as through air. He packed a glassium box into his equipment sack for carrying the shell back to the surface, and dived into the purple water.
The faceplate of his oxy-helmet translated the lower spectrums into visible light for Homer, giving him perfect underwater eyesight. He watched the ocean floor drop away beneath him as he glided into deeper and deeper water, propelled by his jet-belt. He saw beautiful orange plants and tiny bronze-colored fish darting in and out among them. The panorama was so enthralling, he nearly did not notice the hands grasping at his ankles.
Homer gasped as he felt the tug at his ankle. He turned in the water to see one of the hideous reptilian creatures native to Paav. A xenoceanographer had christened these grasping creatures grindylows, based on an ancient Earth legend. They were deadly to humans, as they grasped their prey in their vise-fingered grip and hauled them to the bottom, keeping them there until they died and then fed on them.
Fortunately, they were easy to escape. Homer touched his belt-control, and a brilliant burst of light flared forth from his pressurized suit. The grindylow released him, its long-fingered hands flying to its eyes. It swam off quickly, frightened by the light.
Homer turned to continue his search for the shell when he saw something even more incredible than the grindylow — a dolphin. That was impossible; the species was indigenous to Earth and had not been seeded in Paav’s oceans. But there it was, plain as day. It was waving its tail-fin at Homer, as if beckoning for him to follow it.
He adjusted his jet control and headed for the dolphin. The dolphin nodded its head and swam off deeper into the purple ocean, Homer Glint in its wake, still not believing he was following a dolphin in the ocean of Paav.
Homer followed the dolphin with a growing curiosity. Deeper and deeper into the ocean of Paav he swam. He wondered if this were not a trick of the grindylows somehow, but dismissed that notion; the creatures were not intelligent enough for such a ruse.
Soon he saw the shadow of the ocean floor looming up beneath him. The dark purple waters allowed little light this deep; Homer switched his faceplate to the lower spectrums. He gasped audibly; a shadow that he had taken for a rock formation was a spaceship. The ship looked familiar somehow, as if Homer had seen it on the news or something. Then he made out the name on the bulkhead — it was the Solar King.
Good Lord! he thought.
The Star Rover followed the dolphin to the crashed ship. It was wrecked; it had obviously come down hard. The dolphin paused, twitching its tail for Homer to follow, and swam in through the ruined hatch. Homer followed. The ship was only partially filled with water; the internal life-support systems were still functioning, and the magno-shields were keeping out most of the water. Homer made his way toward the cockpit, heart hammering in his chest. If there were a dead body in the pilot’s seat, he didn’t want to be the one who found it.
“Thank God!” a voice called out. “You did it, Cryll!”
Homer’s heart leaped with joy. Space Ranger wasn’t dead. “Space Ranger? Is that you?” he called, making his way down the corridor to the cockpit.
“Yes! Yes, I’m in here!” the basso voice of the interplanetary hero called. “I’m trapped; my legs are pinned! Thank God Cryll found you!”
Homer looked behind him and watched the dolphin morph into a small, comical-looking, pink-skinned creature. Of course! Cryll, Space Ranger’s shape-shifting comrade!
“Space Ranger sent me to get help,” Cryll said. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to find any; Paav is supposed to be deserted! I sure got lucky when I saw you!”
Homer smiled as he reached the cockpit door. He tried it and found it stuck.
“I’m afraid there’s a lot of debris blocking the door,” Space Ranger’s voice came from behind the door. “It’ll take some doing to get it open!”
“How far are you from the door?” Homer called. “I have a QNT charge I can blow the door with!”
“I think I’m far enough away, and there’s enough rubble to shield me,” Ranger’s voice called. “Go ahead and try it! But wait — can I know your name first?”
“Homer,” he called, as he opened his belt-pack for the QNT charge. “Homer Glint.”
“Homer Glint?” Space Ranger’s voice called. “The famous hunter and sportsman, one of the adventurers they call the Star Rovers?”
“The media have called us that,” Homer acknowledged. “I’m honored that you’ve heard of us!”
“The honor is all mine,” Space Ranger called. “Especially if you get me out of here!”
Homer chuckled. “I’ll do my best,” he promised.
Attaching the quadnitrotoulouene charge to the cockpit door, Homer set the timer.
“Get ready, Space Ranger,” Homer called. “It’s going to blow in ten seconds!”
“Roger!” Space Ranger called, and Homer bolted down the corridor. He heard the explosion, waited a few seconds, then charged back. The blast had forced the door and the rubble behind it forward a few feet, enough for Homer to work his way through. He saw Space Ranger lying on the cockpit floor, a massive piece of twisted metal lying across his legs.
“Hi,” he said. “Pleased to meet you, Homer.”
“Likewise,” Homer said. “Are you hurt? Are your legs injured?”
“No, my pressure-suit protected them,” Space Ranger said. “They’re just trapped. This stuff isn’t all that heavy; with both of us working on it, I think we can get it off.”
The two men proceeded to do just that. “How’d you come to crash-land here, anyway?” Homer asked as they pushed and pulled the debris.
“I was acting as escort to a group of prisoners being transferred from Earth to Takron-Galtos,” Space Ranger explained. “The prison ship was attacked en route by partners of one of the prisoners, trying to break him out. Between us, the prison ship and I defeated them, but my ship sustained massive damage. I tried to head for the nearest inhabited planet for repairs, but the damage was worse than I thought. The ship flamed out over Paav; I was forced to crash-land. Thank God you happened along!”
“I’m on a scavenger hunt,” Homer explained. “I came here to get one of the flaming shells.”
“Oh, I see!” Space Ranger said as they finally moved the debris completely off him, and Homer helped him to his feet. “Well, you came looking for a shell, and found me! Thanks again, Homer. I really appreciate it.”
“My pleasure,” Homer said. “Do you need a lift to a spaceport somewhere? Your ship is unsalvageable, I’m afraid.”
“Cryll and I could use a lift, sure,” Space Ranger said. “Any planet with a spaceport is fine.”
“OK. I have one stop to make, and then I’ll be glad to give you a ride.” Homer beamed as he and Space Ranger walked down the corridor of the ruined ship. What a story he’d have for Rick and Karel.
Karel Sorenson’s spacecraft zoomed into the upper atmosphere of planet Melcor-78. This was going to be a cinch; all she had to do now was find the ruined temple and the Blue Stone of Baradhi. Karel hadn’t known there were any such temples on Melcor-78. Come to think of it, she hadn’t known anyone who had ever explored this planet. It had only been charted as being the seventy-eighth planet found by the special tachyon telescope developed by Melcor Industries in the early twenty-first century, but spectrographic analysis had shown no profitable resources or any sign of life. The temple must have been overlooked, for that would have been of vast interest to xenoanthropologists.
Her craft skimmed the landscape of the dead planet, zooming over the dark green sands and reddish-brown rocks. She turned on her planetary sonar-scanner, searching for the temple. Finally her scanner indicated something that had to be it. It couldn’t be a large rock or boulder, for the sonar-scan indicated it was hollow. It must be a building! Karel thought, setting the ship to home in on that.
Suddenly, she saw a bright flash of light outside her view-screen window. She looked up and saw a man flying with a primitive rocket-pack. He was dressed in red and white, and had a maniacal look on his face. He stared at Karel’s ship, hesitating for a moment, then drew a ray-gun from a holster at his belt and fired.
Karel was so startled by the sudden appearance of the man, and by his likeness, that she had no time to dodge the blast of his gun. She arced her craft as best she could, but the sizzling energy-beam still tore a wide gash through her keel. The fusion unit that powered the ship was housed there, and the bolt knocked it hopelessly out of commission. Karel watched the jetpacked man vanish in another burst of light as she piloted her ship to a rough landing on the emerald sands.
As Karel surveyed the damage to her ship, she mused on her bizarre attacker. Who could he possibly be? Karel, a student of history and heroic legends, thought him a perfect doppelgänger for Adam Strange, the legendary Earthborn hero of twentieth-century Rann. (*) But how could that be? Karel finally gave up on her ship; it was repairable, but not with the tools and materials she had with her. The communications link was still working. Karel placed a call to the Interstellar Multi-Species Transport Authority and ordered a cab, before she took off on foot for the temple. She meant to have the Blue Stone in her possession when the cab arrived.
[(*) Editor’s note: Adam Strange’s brief appearance is due to residual zeta beam radiation that causes Adam to teleport to random periods in the future for brief time-jumps, also making him see threats that are not there; see “Adam Strange, Puppet of Time,” Justice League of America #138 (January, 1977).]
Karel trudged across the sand in the direction of the temple. Fortunately, her forced landing wasn’t far from it. Soon, as she topped a small dune, she saw the temple in the distance. Its architecture defied description; it was bizarre, similar to no style Karel had seen on Earth or any other planet. It was the only building to be seen; Karel wondered why it had survived when everything else on this dead planet, any evidence of any prior civilization, was gone.
As she stepped into the shadow of the building, she froze in her tracks. Three silvery, diamond-shaped things the size of footballs zoomed out of the window of the temple, headed straight for her. Karel, an expert markswoman, wasn’t startled long. She drew her ray-pistol and squeezed off three perfect shots, spearing each projectile dead-center. Far from removing the threat, however, this act doubled it; each projectile split into two perfect duplicates of itself, albeit half its size, and kept on coming for her. They began firing silver needles of light from their nose-cones; Karel leaped and dodged them, watching them shatter the rocks at her feet.
Karel froze, holding very still. She could not have named the instinct that told her to do that, when logic said to flee. But as she held still, the diamond-shaped things hovered in air. As long as she didn’t move, they did not move. Karel moved her left hand slowly, hesitatingly, testing them. The silver things quivered slightly, but did not move to attack.
Slowly, taking many minutes, Karel’s hand reached her belt buckle. She gingerly unfastened it from her belt and slowly cocked her hand back. With one quick motion, she flung the belt buckle as far as she could. Karel let out a long-held breath and promised to kiss Rick for teaching her to throw the discus, as the silver things darted off like hawks after the belt buckle. Karel quickly spun the barrel of her ray-pistol, setting it to wide spray, and fired at the retreating silver guardians of the temple. Thin needles of light struck them again and again, splitting them into smaller and smaller versions of themselves, until finally there were none left.
She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and proceeded into the temple. It was small and sparsely furnished. In a niche in the back wall sat a small blue sphere roughly the size of a baseball. That had to be it. Karel looked at it appraisingly; it didn’t seem like much for all this fuss to guard it. She dropped the stone into her belt-pouch and walked out of the temple.
When Karel reached her disabled ship, she saw a bright yellow space cab parked next to it. The cabbie, a handsome young man in the standard green uniform of the space cabbies, leaned against the hood, reading the Sports section of Milky Way Today.
“Hello,” Karel called. “Thanks for getting here so quickly!”
The cabbie put down his paper abruptly and hurried to open the door for his fare. “All part of the service, ma’am!” As Karel got into the cab, the cabbie looked at her closely. “Say… aren’t you Karel Sorenson, the intergalactic beauty queen?”
Karel laughed shortly. “Afraid so. Could you take me to Julian Pierce’s private asteroid, please? I have a stop to make there, before I call Amalgamated Astrovehicle Association to fix my ship.”
“You got it, Ms. Sorenson,” the Space Cabbie said enthusiastically. “I can’t wait to tell the other cabbies I had Karel Sorenson in old #7433!”
Karel settled back against the seat and smiled. And wait until she told Rick and Homer that her ship was shot down by Adam Strange.
Neither Karel nor the cabbie noticed, as they flew out of Melcor-78’s atmosphere, the small temple crumbling into the sand around it.