Desolation Scape Transformation1

Art by Norman E. Masters

Background by Montserrat
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"For the first six centuries they had traveled a straight line,
trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the Central Cluster.
Finally they began to search the dusky worlds of the Rim."

Dusts Of Death

by Earl Pearson

A star. A star out far from the warmth of the central cluster. A dying star upon the Rim, "where stars grow thin and the cold of space creeps in." A star in the last of its life emitting only a dull red glow against the cold of the eternal night.

A planet. Circling the ancient sun, a cold dead planet, third of a family of nine. Dead planets, all but the innermost frozen to death. The inner one is now warm, but life was long ago burned from its face.

Dwyl turned from the telecube and faced the other three in the control room. "There's no need to tell you that we can go no further. Our power supply is almost gone. We'll have to try and make a landing on one of the planets of this system. Ronak, since you're our astrogator, which one do you think is our best chance?"

The astrogator looked up, nervously aware that all eyes were on him. "Well, really I don't know too much about planetography," he began apologetically. It was the simple truth. But then, who did? Of the 2,000 who had fled upon the ancient ship, four alone remained.

It was only blind luck that among them were a pilot and a navigator. Somewhere hidden deep in the ancient ship the knowledge lay, but they had neither time nor did they realize all the skills that they were lacking, or more than partially realize it.

Almost eight centuries ago a small group of refugees desperately conceived a plan. Xinod Tebor was an obscure historian on the little planet of Evorlt, less than half a parsec from Ailairtenc, center of the galaxy, home of the Galactic Federation. He, along with a few others, saw what was coming, a break-up of the Federation, decades of civil strife and revolution that would follow. But most of all, they realized that man, a minor race whose legends said that he rose from the dust of the Rim, would be totally annihilated.

Man, the violent barbaric race, would meet a violent end. Out of this desperation, Xinod gathered the remnants of the species together, and they desperately plotted an escape.

Slowly, but surely, their plans were laid. A great library was compiled. Experts in all fields were found. One by one, all the problems fell before the determined effort. But time was running out, and there was still one problem that defied them. That was the ship they would have to use.

Stellar freighters are expensive, especially if you must have one that is large enough to establish a closed-life cycle in. One other thing had to be taken into consideration. They would have to flee far from the Central Cluster; and any of the super-C, faster than light ships would be useless. For once the stars began to thin, the ship's power would be lost as the ivlre radiation concentration diminished.

So the only place they could find such a ship was in a museum. The only way they could get it was to steal it. Finally they located the ship "Planet Explorer" in the Museum of Life on Ailairtenc. Calculations were immediately made.

Finally, on the third of Syrius, 3160 A.C., the group moved. A quick, well-organized infiltration put a skeleton crew on the "Explorer." They lifted the ship through a hole blasted in the dome housing it. It rose tiredly into the center of a makeshift escort of ships they had been able to throw together.

Miraculously only one third of the escort was ionized before they landed at their secret base on Evorlt. In only two chronos, the tight schedule of refitting was complete and again the ship and escort lifted. They immediately set a course for the spiral arms of the galaxy. By the time they were out of the Federation, only two of the escort were left.

After that they pushed the ship as fast as they dared. For the ship had been old when The Federation had been a dream in the heads of visionaries. The legends of pre-history said it had brought the first party of explorers to Ailairtenc. Through the centuries her metal had been crystalizing, and no one could say just how much the old girl would take.

For the first six centuries they had traveled a straight line, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the Central Cluster. Finally they began to search the dusky worlds of the Rim. The centuries slid by, and slowly the refugees's hope turned to apathy. They felt a growing conviction that they never would find a world to settle on, and slower still the number of them decreased. Men and women decided it was better to be childless than condemn their heirs to endless wandering in a metal prison. And the specialized skills of civilization and survival which didn't need to be practiced were lost. Now there were four.

"But as far as I can tell," continued Ronak, "we might as well try the third one."

"Are there any questions?" Dwyl searched the faces of his compatriots. "Well, let's strap in for the landing."

Dwyl was sweating. Even under ideal conditions it would be hard to land the ship without the aid of a proper field. But to make matters worse, he had never landed one, even though he was a pilot. The ship hadn't been grounded in over a century. For a crew he had an inexperienced stripling, a kid who had chanced to be an astrogator, and a young engineer.

Dwyl flipped on the rear viewers and watched the planet mushrooming on the screen above him. Well, it was now or never; he cut the braking rockets. The ship began to slow. Then suddenly there was a muffled explosion, and the ship began to tilt. Dwyl, with the lightning-quick reflexes of a trained pilot, counteracted with the steering vanes. From deep within the ship rose the scream of tortured metal moving to answer a call after centuries of inactivity. Slowly the ship righted herself.

But still the ship was falling too fast. Dwyl gently eased more power from the ship. Slowly he pushed the power lever over as far as he dared. The ship slowed more, and it was beginning to look as if things were going to turn out all right after all.

1,000 feet, 500 feet, and then came a series of explosions. The image on the screen lurched sickeningly and went blank. Dwyl didn't have a chance to get half way thru the First Prayer before blackness engulfed him.

Bertor shrugged the cloak tighter over his shivering body. He couldn't help but see the irony of it all. He, the only one of four who had no knowledge, should be the one to survive the crash. As he peered at the horizon in the growing darkness, a blast of wind and snow slapped at him. There was nothing in sight anywhere but wasteland. Maybe they had made a mistake... Well, no use thinking about it. He cast one last glance at the wrecked "Explorer," tomb of his last contacts with life. Then he slowly drew his blaster.

[pp. 23 - 27, THE NO-EYED MONSTER #1, Winter 1964]

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