BRITISH COMICS

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S.O.S. FROM PLANET X

First episode taken from The Hotspur issue: 923 July 17th 1954.

THIS ASTOUNDING STORY STARTS TO-DAY

The story of two London policemen who get the job of starting a police force—on another world.

A Strange Appointment.

There were roars of laughter in the sergeants’ room at Scotland Yard. Everyone off duty was gathered round the tall, broad shouldered young sergeant whose face was pink with indignation as he rustled a bundle of neatly typewritten papers and mimicked the voice of Chief Detective Inspector Jameson. “Horton!” he said to me. ‘Horton, the trouble with you youngsters who have been through the police college is that you have too many brains and not enough commonsense.’ ” There was another hoot of laughter, and Sergeant John Horton screwed up the papers in his hand in disgust and hurled them at the wastepaper basket. “So now my treatise on ‘Ear Shapes and Identification’ doesn’t even get as far as the Deputy Commissioner! I might as well give up being keen on my job. I’m ready to chuck the police altogether. I’m browned off.” There was more laughter, but of an uncertain kind, for they could see that John Horton was genuinely disappointed. Then a grizzled, red-faced old-timer in the corner took his pipe from his mouth and stabbed at the folded newspaper in his hand. “Why not try for this? Maybe you’d get them to listen to your theories.” He coughed as he prepared to read aloud. “Listen to this—“Wanted, experienced, keen police officers with modern ideas. None below the rank of sergeant need apply. Required to combat crime-wave on Planet X. Apply Monuk, Room 456, Trebizon Hotel, London W.!.’ What about it, Horton?” John Horton blinked. “Are you pulling my leg, Shorty? Where did you say the job was?” “On Planet X, so it says here.” Shorty passed over the paper. “Maybe that’s the other side o’ the moon, or the first on the left after passing Mars.” There was more laughter, and everyone wanted to see the advertisement. It was in the personal column of a reputable national daily newspaper, and well displayed. The advertiser must have paid a high rate to have it inserted. John Horton snorted and tossed the paper on to the table, where it was at once picked up by Sergeant Grant, a friend who had been at Hendon Police College at the same time as himself. Scottie Grant wrinkled his brows over the advertisement, realised that John Horton had picked up his hat and left the room, and promptly hurried after him. He caught him up at the end of the corridor. “About that advert, John. Why not answer it? I’ll come as well. You’re not the only one browned off,” he said. “Surely you’re not serious, Scottie? You don’t believe there is any such job offered? It’s a hoax.” Horton protested. “Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. It may be something crooked, something which two bright young sergeants should investigate,” insisted his friend. Sergeant Horton looked past the speaker down the corridor and saw Chief Detective Inspector Jameson’s door open. In another moment Jameson would have come out and spotted him.

John Horton felt he could stand no more ridicule from his superior that day. “Right, let’s go!” he snapped. Not fifteen minutes later they were at the Trebizon Hotel, asking to see the occupant of Room 456. “You mean Mr Monuk, the foreign gentleman,” said the desk clerk. “Fourth floor. The page boy will take you up and I’ll ring to say you’re on your way.” The boy accompanied them up in the lift, along the corridor, and tapped on the door of Room 456, which was ajar. “Come in, please,” said a mild voice, and John Horton led the way. It was a large bed-sitting-room, and at a desk in the corner sat a meek looking little man in a black suit. He was pale, his nose was very long, and his eyes were extraordinarily piercing. His hands were white and his head was completely bald. He bounced up and exclaimed—“Ah, yes, you are in answer to my advertisement. Please sit down. Before they quite knew what had happened they were sitting on chairs before him and being questioned closely about their credentials, there experience, and their past records. Mr Monuk made notes on a sheet of paper, and Scottie Grant, who was long sighted saw that these were in a language he did not recognise. Yet the little man’s English was perfect. “Will you have any difficulty in getting free from the police force at short notice?” he finally asked. Both said this would not take long, but John Horton went on to ask—“No mention has been made of salary. What is being offered, Mr Monuk?” “In view of your experience I can offer £200 monthly, in English money,” replied the little man. They stared in surprise, for this was several times what they were now getting. They decided they must be dealing with a very rich country. “And where did you say we shall have to go?” asked Grant. “It is written in the advertisement. I thought you had read that,” said Mr Monuk. “You will return with me to Planet X, which is a planet that your astronomers have not yet discovered. At the end of your period of service you will be returned to Earth with a good bonus.” “About transport, is that provided?” asked Grant gravely. “Certainly it is. How else would you get to Planet X? I do not think you Earthmen have developed space travel to any great extent. You will travel back with me, and you will have to leave tomorrow evening at the latest. Here is the address where I wish you to meet me. Be there not later than 10 p.m., or I shall leave without you. Can I rely on you?” asked Monuk. The sergeants dared not look at each other for fear of bursting out laughing. It all sounded so crazy. “Yes, certainly we’ll be there!” affirmed Horton. “Shall we need any special kit? How is the climate on Planet X?” He had decided to humour the madman. “Much as it is here,” was the quiet reply. “You may need to purchase a few extras, so as soon as you sign this contract I shall give you £100 each for incidentals. Please sign along these lines. He pushed towards them sheets of paper which felt strangely cold to the touch. They appeared to be covered with hieroglyphics of a peculiar type, and they looked identical. Grant raised his eyebrows at Horton, and the latter nodded slightly. They might as well carry on the joke.

They signed, whereupon Mr Monuk shook them each by the hand, reached into a drawer, and gave them each a bundle of ten £10 Bank of England notes. “Until 10 p.m. tomorrow,” he murmured as he showed them out. Somehow they managed to get into the street before bursting out laughing. Then John Horton took a second look at his bundle of notes, and exclaimed—“But these are genuine notes! I thought it was fake money like they use on the stage. Hey, what are we going to do with the stuff? Take it back to the old geezer?” “Yes,” agreed Sergeant Grant, with a grin, “but let’s give it to him tomorrow night at the address he’s given us. We may as well follow the thing up till the end. If he isn’t trying some racket, he’s mad enough to be put away. Or do you think we ought to grab him now?” “No, wait until tomorrow night,” agreed John Horton.

Shocks For The Sergeants.

The address at which the two policemen presented themselves the following evening just before ten o’clock proved to be a large, old-fashioned house standing in its own grounds, surrounded by tall trees. The door was opened by the mild little man himself. “You are very punctual, gentlemen,” he murmured. “That is a good qualification. You have your luggage?” They blinked, for they had not troubled to bring anything, intending to return the money to Monuk when the showdown came. “We prefer to travel light,” explained Scottie Grant. “That was quite unnecessary,” the little man assured them. “Weight means nothing to the new Planet-rover, and there is plenty of storage space. However, you will be able to purchase everything you need when we reach our destination.” “When?” murmured John Horton, but they followed their guide down a corridor into a large conservatory. Beyond this there was a garden, entirely given over to a lawn. This was shut in by trees and walls. In the centre of the lawn stood a queer rocket shaped vehicle. Light streamed through an open door a few feet above ground level. The little man glanced at his watch, then at the sky. “By moon-time it is still too early for us to start,” he said. “I will make a few adjustments if you will excuse me.” He crossed the lawn and entered the machine. The two Yard men rubbed their chins and stared hard at each other. “He’s quite mad—absolutely cracked!” declared Horton. “Seems he’s wealthy enough to indulge his whims. He thinks he’s invented a machine to fly into space, and he’s had this built. Now he’s invented a Planet X, and thinks he may need some protection when he gets there, so he wants to hire his own police. He’s loony. We’ll have to coax him to come with us afterwards.”

Mr Monuk emerged from the machine and beckoned to them. “We can start now. Please come inside.” They entered a low chamber which was quite circular, and chiefly occupied by what looked like an enormous gyro-wheel. A ladder led upwards, and there they found a similar chamber divided in two. In one section there were bunks and a central table. They did not then see what was in the other half. There was a sudden sharp hiss in the chamber beneath them, as though an air-bottle had been opened. Then came the hum of the gyroscope wheel, and they felt their feet glued to the floor. They were conscious of an upward rush, of a dizziness in their heads, and of a convulsion in their stomachs. Then everything settled down, and only the gyroscope hummed. They could move their feet. “What in the name of wonder is he up to?” grunted John Horton, and jumped to the nearest observation port. “What’s happened? What’s that down there?” He pointed downwards. At first they could not recognise the vast, convex landscape that was dwindling away beneath them at alarming speed. Then they saw that it included most of the British Isles and the North of France, as well as the North Sea. Gradually the Scandinavian countries came into view, and the Atlantic. Then whirling mists hid everything, and they looked the other way to see a monstrous moon rushing towards them. “He’s actually done it!” gasped Scottie Grant. “The things worked. We’ve left the Earth behind. We’re travelling at two thousand miles or more!” The moon will collide with us soon!” cried Horton in alarm. “No, there is no danger, Sergeant Horton,” came the voice of Monuk from an unseen loudspeaker. “We are on the correct course. We pass the moon twenty thousand miles away. You need have no fear of colliding with anything during the journey, for we have an automatic course adjuster which senses all obstacles ahead of us and takes precautions accordingly.” John Horton suddenly spied the narrow crack of light which marked the doorway of the other cabin, and he slid it open to reveal little Mr Monuk sitting in a basket shaped chair which was suspended before an amazing instrument board. There were hundreds of switches and thousands of glittering lights, dials, and buttons.

The chair was automatically controlled, and moved this way and that, or up and down. “Do you mean to say you were telling the truth?” thundered John Horton. “The truth!” Monuk turned an indignant face. I always tell the truth. Why?” “You mean we are really going to some other planet?” demanded Sergeant Grant. “You aren’t crazy after all?” Monuk looked surprised as he answered—“Gentlemen! Gentlemen, that is not worthy of you! If two sergeants from Scotland Yard cannot judge whether a man is mad or not, it does not speak much for their cleverness. Of course we are bound for Planet X, and you have signed on to help us to combat a crime wave.” The two sergeants almost staggered back to the cabin and threw themselves on the bunks. There was a slight hissing sound as their weight caused gas to be expelled around them, and a gentle tiredness seized them. They fell asleep.

Murder In The Senate.

When the two sergeants woke up, the Planet-rover had landed on Planet X, and, with Monuk, they were transported by supersonic conveyor to the President’s palace, which overlooked the city of Maxos. They had glimpses of queerly garbed men through the transparent walls of the conveyor, as they flashed past. They were taken to a waiting room at the palace, and there given refreshments, while Monuk went to report to the President. Monuk returned, having changed into a tight fitting garment and a short cloak. Round his waist was a broad metal belt. On his head was a black skull cap. His legs were encased in boots of what appeared to be flexible metal to the knees. “The President wishes to meet the Senate immediately,” he announced. “I have reported to him, and he has called a meeting of the Senate. He will address it and you at the same time. In that way, time will be saved and you will learn your duties.” “Well, I’ll be durned!” muttered Scottie. “This way, please,” invited Monuk, and he led them into a corridor which had a moving escalator running down the centre. They stepped on to this and were whisked the length of the corridor to a lift which dropped them at terrific speed to ground level. There they found themselves in a corner of a great, columned hall. Some forty or fifty men were seated on long benches. Monuk whispered that they were Senators. Numerous attendants stood around the hall. An empty dias was in front. Monuk guided the two sergeants to seats at the rear of the hall, and shortly afterwards a tall, lean, elderly man with snow white hair and hearing aids on his ears, came through an inner door on to the dias. He wore the same dress as Monuk but in black and gold. His belt was of gold, and his skull cap of the same colour. Everyone stood until he had seated himself on a wide chair behind a desk, and then they sat again. “That is President Haros,” whispered Monuk. “Put on these earphones and everything he says will come to you in English.” “You know why you have been called here today,” began the President, without any preamble. “A new and terrible thing is happening on our planet, not in one place, but in several. Crime with violence is rearing its ugly head.” Sergeant Grant took off his earphones and frowned at them. Immediately the President became unintelligible. The sergeant hurriedly put them on again. “For over a thousand years we on Planet X did not know what crime was,” continued the President. “Long ago we rid ourselves of all criminals, and for many centuries our people have been brought up not knowing how to lie, to rob, or to kill. Gradually we got rid of our police, our prisons, our armies, and now we have none of these things.” “Phew!” said Sergeant Grant.

The President continued. “We had no need for these things, or for guards of any kind. But now, suddenly, during the past six months, crime has returned again to our planet. There have been robberies with violence throughout Maxos. People in high places have been murdered. Public works have been sabotaged. A reign of terror is beginning, and we do not know whence it comes, or why, but we are afraid.” John Horton sat with his chin on his hand. Here was something he had never dreamed about—a world without crime—a world without criminals or policemen. “We have done our best to hunt down these villains, but we have no experience of such things, nor any organisation to do it,” declared the President. “We have failed dismally. Then Monuk, whom you all know is Minister for Home Affairs, suggested sending down to Earth and recruiting some clever detectives or policemen to deal with our criminals. He volunteered to go himself, and today he has returned with the men who are going to save our planet.” He pointed at Horton and Grant. Everyone turned and stared. Monuk jumped to his feet. “Yes, Mr President, these are two of the best men I could have got, from the great Scotland Yard, home of the finest police force on Earth. They are both young and keen, and have advanced ideas, also a knowledge of all the latest scientific methods of combating crime. The two friends grinned. This was singing their praises a little too high. “I suggest that we give them a free hand and all the help they need,” went on Monuk. “I am sure they will do their very best to restore law and order here.” To the embarrassment of the two new arrivals, everyone rose and milled around them, trying to shake hands and slapping them on the back. In the confusion their earphones got knocked aside and they could not understand a word that was said. The President was banging on his desk for silence when a piercing shriek rang out above the general din, and the excited crowd fell back from one particular spot and stared at the ground in horror. “For Pete’s sake, there’s somebody hurt!” exclaimed Scottie, and habit was so strong that he at once sprang forward and called commandingly. “Back! Let him have air! Stand back there!” It was the powerful thrusts of his arms which sent them back, but a few moments later he saw that no amount of air would be of any use to the senator on the floor. Blood was seeping through the back of his cloak. There was a neat round hole under his left shoulder blade. “Stabbed!” growled Sergeant Grant. “Stabbed before the eyes of all of us.” Hardly had he announced this when Sergeant Horton gave Monuk a push. “See that every door out of here is closed and guarded,” he snapped. “See that nobody leaves the hall. The murderer must still be here among us.” While Monuk hastened to carry out these orders, Horton pushed his way towards the body. “Stabbed with a quick upward jab of something sharp and pointed,” reported Sergeant Grant. “The killer must have been standing right behind him. With all that shouting and shoving it was easy for him to strike. We’ve got to find out who was closest to him at the time.” “Just a minute!” Horton stooped and looked at something close to the hole in the cloak, then whispered to his colleague. “Have you noticed that every senator has a row of buttons round the cuff of each sleeve?” “Yes,” agreed Grant, “they’re small metal buttons. “And I’ve no doubt the edges of some of them are sharp,” continued Horton, while the entire Senate watched and listened in silence.

Even the President had not stirred. “Take a look at the fabric close to the hole made by the dagger.” Scottie did so, then pursed his lips in a silent whistle. “Could be! Could be!” he said. “It’s worth trying,” decided John Horton, and again called on Monuk to interpret—“I want every senator lined up in one long row across the floor of the chamber,” he said. “They are to stand with their hands clasped together above their heads like this.” He demonstrated, linking his fingers on top of his head. Monuk explained to the others what he wanted, and nobody objected. They were all looking with pathetic helplessness at the two Earthmen. It was only too obvious that nobody else there knew how to go about seeking the murderer. The senators lined up and put their hands on their heads. Even the President came down and joined the game. This done, the two sergeants walked along the back of the row. The position of the arms enabled them to see the cuffs of each man, and the row of buttons that extended round each cuff. The sergeants peered at each cuff in turn, sometimes making a man take down his arms so that they could look more closely. Finally they stopped simultaneously behind the same man. Caught in one of the buttons of his cuff were two blue threads, and the dead man had been wearing a blue cloak when struck down. John Horton touched him on the shoulder and beckoned him out of the line. Then the sergeant donned the earphones. “Why did you strike down your fellow senator?” he asked, and Monuk translated. The man turned white, then violently shook his head. “It is a lie! I had nothing against Carasos, as everyone knows. No one but a stupid Earthman would suggest such a thing.” “You struck him down,” repeated John Horton quietly. “We have proof!” The man’s eyes became wilder. “There is no proof! Search me for the weapon. I have no weapon. I did not do this thing.” “The proof is here,” said the Scotland Yard man, lifting the other’s arm. “When you drove the dagger home you drove it in so far that these buttons rubbed the back of his cloak. This button was sharp and caught in two of the threads. They are here to be seen by everyone—blue like the cloak of Carasos. I do not yet know why you killed him, but—” With unexpected violence the man tore himself free and pushed an open hand against Horton’s chest, sending him back a couple of paces. Turning, the killer drove through those who surrounded him like a charging bull. He did not make for any of the doors, for they were closed and guarded. Instead he made for the big central column which held up the roof. “Stop him!” shouted Horton, who guessed what the man was going to do. Nobody was quick enough. The man commenced to climb the highly ornamented surface of the pillar, using fingers and toes with great agility. Up and up he went, while everyone waited helplessly. The two Yard men motioned back those nearest the column.

Eighty feet from the marble floor the man let go his hold and deliberately threw himself backwards, landing on his head. He was quite dead when they picked him up, and by his death he had confessed that the two Scotland Yard men were right. He had been the killer of Carasos. He had killed himself for fear that he might be made to tell why he had done it, and how he had come to be mixed up in the gang which was organising a reign of terror in Planet X. Sergeant Horton turned from the body. “This is where our job really begins,” he said.

S.O.S. FROM PLANET X 12 Episodes in The Hotspur issues 923 – 934 (1954)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007