Asteroid Justice can be found in Magazine Entry

Planet Stories

June-Aug. 1947

Vol. III, No. 8



What was Sam Knox up to now—drifting helplessly in a tiny eggshell across black oceans of space with two weeks' grub? Was this the way the great man-hunter deftly snagged his prey?

SAM KNOX TOUCHED A BUTTON in the control room of the Wanderer, and the draperies slid back from her transparent nose. He stood a moment, a sturdy compact figure, gazing into the dark.

"Look at them!" he said bitterly. "They hang there like stars."

Before the Wanderer he could see the mining fleet at the edge of the Asteroid Belt, their identification lights twinkling out from the enshrouding ebon mantle of space.

They might as well be stars, for all the progress he had made with them. He had been here a week, spreading his nets for asteroid fragments like the rest of them, and never a sign of his presence had they shown. They hung there, cold and aloof—almost suspicious, he would have thought, had they any reason to be suspicious.

Not that they were unfriendly by nature, these men who spread their nets to trap the errant meteors; but they were a clannish tribe, known to one another from season to season, more snobbish than any social ruling class. They were close-knit, bound together by bonds of danger and hazard, and the dream of sudden wealth.

Perhaps it is only a matter of time, he thought. Perhaps time will make me one of them. He must win their friendship soon, if he were to find Pell.

And that was his job, to find Pell. His was not the hunt for wealth in the heart of some fragment of asteroid. Yet the excitement of the search had long been a part of his life. What Sam Knox hunted he found. Sam Knox hunted men.

He had two bosses. The most lenient of these was the Department of Terran Justice. His other boss lay deep inside himself, demanding much—expecting everything.

Through the left lower quadrant of the transparent nose he saw one of the nets flare into quick acceleration. It was too far away to be his own, and he watched it, each corner of the net a flaming ribbon of rocket fire in the velvet black of space.

A moment later he knew whose net it was, for the mining ship Fleetblast slid by him in pursuit, controlling the rocket-powered net from the remote controls in her maw. The Fleetblast sped on, unable to equal the instant acceleration that the touch of the meteor sent into the rockets of the net.

But she was soon catching up. With her remote controls she was slowing the rockets of the net, as she increased her own speed. In a few minutes both ship and netted meteor would be hanging motionless alongside, the meteor caught and halted just as a small boy catches a swift ball in his cap.

Sam grimaced. What would it contain when they melted it open with the heat rod? Probably nothing. Possibly mineral ore, to be refined into metal for new heat rod tips, for from this the miner fishers of the Asteroid Belt eked out their precarious existence.

But perhaps — PERHAPS — there was wealth and fortune. Here might be the dream come true. Here by the luck of space, might lie one of the rare jewels of the asteroids, spawned in some once-fiery sun, and flung into space in the heart of a fragment. For this the eternal hope of man yearned, and men spent their lives fishing and mining here. For this they risked the swift and horrible infections of life in the Asteroid Belt.

THE VISAPHONE sprang into life. Sam recognized the voice as that of a woman.... "Fleetblast calling Aeries 99 The Fleetblast lay some fifty miles ahead, a speck of light, where the chase of her net had led her. Just to her right, closer, lay the only near ship, the Aeries.

"Aeries speaking—go ahead..."

Before the Aeries her net spurted four ribbons of flame. In a surge of power the Aeries was off, acceleration full, straining like a hound after a rabbit. There would be no more conversation from the Aeries, Sam knew, until the ca...

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