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BULL RAIDERS FROM THE RED ORB

 

The first episode taken from Adventure No. 1130 - April 7th 1945.

JUST STARTING! A Wild West story a million miles from the Wild West!

WITHERING CATTLE

A score of powerful cars were parked outside the big homestead on the Circle-7 Ranch, in Texas. Most of them lacked paint and polish, and looked as though they were habitually driven over rough country, but all were in perfect mechanical condition. The ranchers of Pueblo Valley could not afford to have breakdowns. An important meeting was taking place in the long room facing the paddock. Over forty men were present, and between them they owned over several million cattle. Everyone looked grim and worried. A few were plainly nervous as they stared expectantly at the group who had come in from another room and mounted the temporary platform that had been erected. There was George Baird, chairman of the meeting, and owner of the Circle-7, and with him was a grey haired, alert looking stranger whose preciseness of dress and of movement marked him out as something very different from the rest of the occupants of the room. There was silence when Baird raised his big hand. “Friends an’ neighbours, there’s no need for me to take up time with introductions and explanations,” he commenced. “We all know why we’re here, and why Professor Cordell Hamilton is here with us.” He nodded to the grey haired man at his side. “He has some important announcements to make to you…Professor Hamilton!”

There was a subdued buzz as the scientist stepped to the front of the platform and glanced at the papers in his hand. His voice was sharp and as precise as his movements. “I have finished my investigations,” he announced, “and have some definite conclusions to put before you. When I was called in by the Associated Cattle Owners the situation was that some strange and lingering disease had afflicted thousands of cattle in this region. They were wasting away to living skeletons, losing flesh, becoming listless and without appetite, utterly useless for either store purposes or for breeding. The Association asked me to investigate. He glanced out of the window towards the corner of the main corral, where something huge stood covered by a green tarpaulin. “At the same time, although that was nothing to do with me, I learned that there had been an extraordinary epidemic of cattle stealing form various ranches. Only stud bulls were taken, picked animals which represented a value of hundreds of thousands of dollars. As I have said, that was not my business, but before long the two matters were connected, but that was not until the astral-machine was found partially wrecked over at Bolt Canyon.” Again he looked towards the object in the corral. “I was fortunate in being in the vicinity when the discovery of that strange machine was made,” he continued. “I recognised it at once as belonging to another world. The figures of human beings utterly unlike any race found on earth, confirmed my opinion. As you all know, that machine proved to have come from the Red Orb, one of the lesser known planets, nearly a million miles away. In with these dead men, within a special compartment, was found a bull from Mr Holliday’s ranch. “For some reason the people on this planet needed bulls for breeding purposes, and they took the bold step of sending an astral-machine here to Texas each night to bring away one or two selected bulls.

 

The fact that they were never seen or heard until the machine struck the side of the canyon and was damaged proves them to be cunning and resourceful beings. That accident betrayed what had been going on unknown to you cattle owners. As you know the four occupants had been killed in the smash, as was the bull which they had just stolen. But for the finding of this machine, I doubt whether I should have succeeded in the rest of my investigations.” “Then you have succeeded?” came a harsh voice from the back of the room. “You’ve discovered what’s causing our cattle to wither away, Professor?” The voice was that of Skag Sanderson, the richest cattle-baron in Pueblo Valley, and the most unpopular. A short, burly, pugnacious man, he was as ruthless as a mountain-lion. “Yes, I’ve found out that this disease came with that machine from Red Orb. On the footwear of those dead men I have found strange germs which have infected our grass and in turn caused our cattle to wither. My theory is that Red Orb is suffering from a shortage of good cattle, and that the kidnapping of your bulls was meant to introduce new blood into their herds up there. We know very little about that planet, but there must be grass or something that can take its place in the diet of cattle. The germ which is now spreading so rapidly through the West, and threatening the world with a meat famine, undoubtedly came from the grass these men had walked on before they entered their machine.” “But if they’ve got that disease, how do they expect their cattle to thrive, even with our bulls to help?” asked another of the ranchers. “Knowing so little about conditions up there, I cannot answer that, but the possibility is that the germs are harmless to cattle up there. Maybe there is something in the air, or the soil, that neutralities the harmful effects.” “That’s all very well,” rang out the bull-like voice of Skag Sanderson, “but what we want is the antidote to this disease. Can you give us that, Professor, before all the cattle in the continent of America are wiped out?” Professor Hamilton folded his papers and put them in his pocket. He looked over the mass of anxious faces before him and signed. “I cannot do that. I can only assure you that no such antidote exists on earth. The germ of that disease is of a class utterly unknown to us. Nothing we have in our world of science can deal with it, although I have not the slightest doubt that the necessary elements could be found to cure this disease on this other planet.” “Then what chance have we of getting the antidote?” Sanderson stormed. “Do you think those doggone astral cattle rustlers are going to have the decency to send us down what we want?

 

There are no aeroplanes in existence that could reach that durn place.” “No!” said the Professor, in his clipped, dry tone. “But I was about to tell you that I have repaired the astral machine which brought those men here. I have been experimenting by night for the past month, and am now in a position to say that I am prepared to set off from this planet in search of the antidote just as soon as I can get three or four volunteers to accompany me. It may be a trip from which there will be no return, but the stakes are large, gentlemen, no more or less than the entire cattle population of the earth. I am convinced that unless the disease is checked, it will sweep throughout the world and deprive all countries of their beef supplies.” There was a stupefied silence, again broken by Sanderson, who had stiffened tensely as he leaned forward. “You—mean—that?” he gasped. “By gee, if anyone could get hold of that antidote and bring it back, they could make the whole world sit up and beg for it! They could charge what they liked for it! They could—” “Mr Sanderson, interrupted Hamilton coldly, “if I go in search of that antidote it will not be with the idea of squeezing a fortune from my fellow men, but with the idea of saving the world from famine and suffering.” Skag Sanderson’s face twisted in a snarl, then broke in a broad grin. He dug his elbow into the lean, pale shadow at his side. “Hear that, Lemmy! The Prof. Thought I meant it. He didn’t know I was pulling his leg…Professor, I’ve more to lose from this disease than any other man in the room. I’ve a hundred thousand cattle on my ranches, and they’re all infected. I’m coming with you to find the durn antidote.” “Well,” said Hamilton. “I need one or two others besides Mr Sanderson. The machine cannot be operated by less than four. It is really very simple to control, but four will be needed to work watches. “Easy enough!” bellowed Skag Sanderson. “I’m bringing Lemmy, and— ” “And I’m certainly coming!” declared George Baird. “I’m the next biggest loser to Sanderson. That makes your four, Professor.” “Then there will have to be five,” came the quiet voice of a broad-shouldered young fellow who had been standing by without uttering a word. “The Associated Cattle Owners deputized me to hunt down those rustlers. I’m going after them even if it leads me to another planet. You might find me useful, Professor.” Cordell Hamilton looked at the keen face and steadfast eyes of the cattle detective. He had heard a lot about Lew Rankin since he had come to Pueblo Valley, and everything he had heard had been to the good. Rankin had the name of being the deadliest shot and the cleverest cattle man in Texas. “Delighted to have you, Rankin!” he said, and the sudden outburst of excited chatter from the crowd drowned the protests which Skag Sanderson had been about to offer.

 

SPEEDING THROUGH SPACE

It was a week later before the entire population of Pueblo Valley collected at the Circle-7 Ranch to witness the start of the most amazing expedition which had ever left the United States. They filled the corrals and paddocks, but left clear the corner where the astral-machine stood uncovered. Farewells had been made, stores and weapons had been taken aboard, the five who were setting off for another world were going up the short metal ladder into the cabin. They wore their ordinary clothes, and all but the Professor were armed with six guns. None of them except the Professor knew much about the astral-machine. There were many things about it that had to be found out en route. About fifty feet long, it was shaped like a torpedo, with two short vanes or planes at the forward end. There were no propellers, the machine being driven by jet-propulsion. Air was the fuel employed, the oxygen in this being exploded in compression chambers by the admission of a single drop of a chemical which was stored in the only tank aboard. So little was used that the Professor had calculated there was still sufficient aboard for a return trip to any of the nearer planets. The complicated navigating and directing instruments were all in the forward cabin, and Professor Hamilton was the only one who knew how to use them. The final door clamp had been levered over, and at that moment Professor Hamilton pressed the starter. The astral-machine shot forward along the ground on its retractable wheels, gaining such instant velocity that the three by the window were hurled in a heap against the rear bulkhead. By the time they had sorted themselves out and staggered up, they were ten thousand feet in the air, and the ranch buildings were like dolls’ houses in the midst of a rapidly receding landscape. “It’s all right,” came the voice of the Professor, from the control-chair. “I opened the throttle a little too wide at first. One can only learn by experience. Once we level out and gain a really high speed, you’ll feel no motion at all.”

 

George Baird groped his way forward and peered at one of the dials. “Did you say a really high speed, Professor? You’re already doing over a thousand miles an hour!” “A mere nothing!” Hamilton assured him. “If we were going to travel as slowly as that, we would be weeks on the journey.” Ten minutes later the earth lay revealed behind them as a great ball surrounded by clouds and mist. Already it was almost impossible to pick out the vast continent of America. The passengers realised that the Professor had kept his word about boosting up the speed. The only sound which came to their ears was the whistle of air past the convex windows, and even that presently ceased. They had run out of the Earth’s atmospheric belt, and were travelling through the ether. But for the clever reconditioning apparatus which kept the air in the machine breathable life, life under these conditions would have been impossible. Skag Sanderson produced a pack of cards from his pocket and slapped them down on the table. “Poker? Who wants a hand?” he demanded. “You stand in, Rankin?” “No,” grunted the cattle-tec, “not just now. I’ve got a book here I want to read. The Professor lent it to me. It gives all the particulars that we know about planets. I always like to know something about any locality where I’m going to operate.” Sanderson’s lip curled. “Suit yourself! All I need to know is that there’s air to be breathed, that I’ve got a good gun on my hip, an’ that Lemmy has two more. That’s good enough for me. No matter what these men are like, we’ll handle ‘em as we want.”

 

“I wonder!” drawled Lew Rankin, saw that the other three were occupying the only comfortable chairs, and remember there was another compartment in the rear of the machine, a compartment fitted up as a double stall for cattle or horses. He walked down the short passageway and opened the door of this double stall. It was in here that the rustlers from the sky had made the stolen bulls as comfortable as possible on their voyage to the Red Orb. In one corner there still lay a big pile of strangely brown hay. It looked comfortable enough for Rankin’s purpose. He closed the door, walked to the corner, and flung himself down to study his book. “Ow-w!” came from beneath the hay. “You’re squashing me, Mr Rankin!” The cattle-tec jumped to his feet quicker than he had ever moved in his life. His hand had flashed to one of his guns, but there was no need for that. The face that was upturned to him from amongst the hay was that of a boy of some fourteen years, a ruddy, freckled youngster with open-necked shirt and tousled hair in which some of the hay had got entangled. “Davie, how did you get here?” thundered Rankin, recognising George Baird’s son. “You young scamp, you stowed away there before the trip started?” “Yes, an hour before you got going,” admitted Davie, emerging and stretching himself. “I asked Dad if I could come with him and he refused, so I decided to do this…Phew, it gave me a jolt when we got going!” Lew Rankin took him by the ear. “You little imp of wickedness! I bet your father’ll tan the hide off you for this…Come and get it over!” “It’ll be worth it!” declared the unrepentant stowaway. “You can’t turn back now…I’m going to be the first boy ever to set foot on another planet.”

 

A BAD BEGINNING

The Professor’s calculations were exact. It was early the following evening when the whistle and hiss of air outside the windows told them they had entered another atmospheric belt. Below them, growing larger every moment, was the planet. It glowed strangely red, and as they pressed their faces to the observation windows, they could see wide belts of something of that colour dividing what were evidently mountain ranges. “Possibly grass or some form of vegetation,” explained the Professor. “It seems we’ve struck a pastoral country for a start. This is a stroke of luck. I’m aiming to land between two of the mountain ranges, but we’ll make our final choice when we get lower.” “Red grass!” exclaimed Davie, who was the most excited member of the party, now that he had got over the painful interview with his father. “Cows would never eat red grass.” “Cows are colour-blind,” Hamilton told him. “They will eat anything as long as it tastes and smells right… Now stand by for a jolt. We are descending so fast that I cannot judge distance any more. At the right moment I have to reverse the jets. That means we’ll use our own power as a cushion to take the shock. It may be uncomfortable, so be ready.” They were rushing towards that startlingly red belt of vegetation. There were towering mountains on either side, some water glittering somewhere ahead, and little else that they could pick out for the moment

 

“Now!” shouted the Professor, and the next moment the astral-machine shuddered and creaked as though it had struck against solid rock. The staggering passengers thought their pilot had hit the ground at full speed. Actually he was still many thousands of feet above it. What they had felt was the sudden cessation of their swift descent. Slowly and deliberately they glided down. Hamilton had done splendidly. The original designers of the machine could not have handled it better. They landed with scarcely a bump. Five tense passengers heaved sighs of relief; Cordell Hamilton mopped his brow and rose from his cramped position at the controls. “Well, my friends, we’ve done it,” said the Professor. “I don’t know what will come of it, but we’ve reached this Red Orb. We are the first Earth-men ever to travel from one planet to another. We can consider ourselves pioneers.” “I claim the right to be the first to set foot outside!” growled Skag Sanderson, and before anyone could prevent him, he had pulled back the powerful clamps which held the door sealed, and took a jump from the top step that should have landed him five or six feet away. Instead of that he went sailing through the air in grotesque fashion, struck a boulder fully twenty-five feet distant, and rebound heavily, rolling on his back to the accompaniment of wrathful growls. “If you had given me time to do so, I would have warned you about that,” murmured the Professor, whilst Davie Baird tried to hide his grins. “This Red Orb is only a quarter the size of the Earth, and the pull of gravity is therefore only a quarter of that known to us. Consequently we shall only need a quarter of the energy to move about. We shall rapidly accustom ourselves to it, but if we jump or stride too vigorously we’ll lose our balance.”

 

Slowly and deliberately the others descended the ladderway. They felt strangely light. Lemmy went to help raise Sanderson, who was swearing under his breath, and used so much unnecessary strength in doing so that he lifted the cattle-baron clean off the ground and dropped him again. “Confound it, you clumsy fool!” roared Sanderson. “Are you all trying to kill me? I’ll be black and blue for a week.” A chuckle came from Davie, but was immediately checked when his eyes happened to light on something approaching across the red vegetation. “Wh-what’s that?” he gasped, pointing. Everyone stared. It was about a mile away, and travelling at high speed. As it drew nearer they could see it was an animal with a human-being perched on its back. Neither the animal nor its rider resembled anything on Earth. The creature was lower and longer than a horse, and more streamlined, with a head which stuck out in line with its body instead of arching over as that of a real horse would have done. It was brown in colour, and its stride was short and terrifically fast. Even stranger was the rider. Taller and thinner than the average human being, his head was disproportionately large, and surmounted by a helmet with two horn-like projections. He wore a loose, flowing robe which touched the ground on either side of the horse, when it did not billow out behind. His skin was as brown as that of an Arab, and his features hawk-like and narrow. Having seen the bodies of the men who had been found near the crashed astral-machine in Pueblo Valley, the newcomers were not as shocked or as astonished as they might have been. They had been prepared for something like this. “So they use horses, or something resembling them,” muttered the Professor. “I thought we had struck a pastoral region. I can see no cattle, but I can make a shrewd guess this man works on something approximating to a ranch. Hullo, he’s stopped! He’s just discovered we’re not the people he expected to see descend from one of these machines.” The weird rider had come to a halt, then veered right and began to circle them at increasing speed. He was obviously studying them from all sides.

 

They called to him, and made signs for him to approach, but when he did so it was only to get a closer look at them and then beat a rapid retreat. “Come here, you durned idiot!” roared Sanderson wrathfully. “We’re not going to eat you. We want information. Come over here before we shoot you off that ugly nag o’ yours!” “No shooting!” exclaimed the Professor. “We want to make friends, not enemies.” The rider had slowed and was again coming nearer. Sanderson went to meet him, and Lemmy strode close behind. The others watched, not wishing to scare the rider. “No need to be scared!” Sanderson was saying, trying to produce an amiable grin. “We’ve come from Earth.” He pointed in what he believed to be the direction of Earth. “Friends! Good people! You get down from that animal and make friends!” His tone was not ingratiating. It was more like a command than an invitation. The rider scowled, and suddenly brought from under his gown a metal object which glittered brightly. Just what he was going to do with it, no one ever knew, for with the swiftness of a striking snake Lemmy produced a revolver and fired with the same upward movement of his hand. Crack-crack-crack! Three shots he fired in quick succession, and the man gave a shrill cry before toppling sideways from his mount. The animal stood looking down at his fallen master for a moment, then turned and went away at a speed which made the onlookers gasp. Even a gazelle could not have moved so fast on Earth. “You murderous fool, what was the idea of that?” shouted Cordell Hamilton, hurrying towards the spot where smoke still drifted from Lemmy’s revolver. “Are you mad? Why did you kill the poor wretch?” “Because I thought he’d drawn a gun to shoot the boss!” growled Lemmy sullenly. “That’s what I’m here for—to protect the boss, ain’t I?” He glared belligerently at those who surrounded him. There might have been more trouble, but the cattle-baron spoke to him softly, and he put away his gun. They all moved forward and examined the fallen man. The thing which had been in his hand had now dropped to the red, course grass. Hamilton picked it up. “It’s a metal whistle of some description, not a weapon,” he said. “Evidently the man intended whistling for more of his friends to come and see us.” “Huh, I guess Lemmy was a little too quick on the draw!” murmured Sanderson. “Not that it matters. These folk ain’t human.” “Human or not, we’ve lost any chance we had of making friends with them, and now we can expect nothing but trouble!” snapped Lew Rankin. “If I’m not mistaken, that horse o’ his will gallop straight back to wherever it came from, and everyone there will know something’s happened… We can expect real trouble when they get here and find we’ve killed him!”

 

 

Bull Raiders from the Red Orb 17 episodes appeared in Adventure issues 1130 April 7th 1945 – 1143 October 6th 1945

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007