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Into space he drifted, a tiny mote lost in infinity,
to be snatched from death by a weird ghostly derelict of the void

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN OF SPACE

By FREDERIC ARNOLD KUMMER JR.

CHAPTER I
Cast Adrift

THE forecastle of the Vestric was dim, sombre, in the feeble light of a single thorium bulb. Blind shadows groped their way across the metal walls, obscured the faces of the men lying in the bunks. From the liner's main ballroom on the deck below came the faint tinkle of music, soft, dreamy.

Jan Herrick, staring moodily at the rivet-studded bulkhead of the forecastle, hummed the air in a low, nostalgic baritone.

"Moons over Mars, glittering stars,
Waters whisper in the Main Canal,
Dusty red plain, unknown to rain,
Where..."

"Bah!" Balt, the leathery, grizzled boatswain, sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bunk. "So it's crooners they're signing these days instead of A. B.'s! You'd sing a different tune, my lad, if you'd seen some of the things I've faced!"

"Space serpents, I suppose," Jan grinned. "Or maybe Flying Dutchmen."

"Aye, laugh!" The old man's voice fell into a hoarse whisper. "Laugh, since you know no better! Space serpents I've seen, once off Jupiter and once on the route to Pluto, great bat-like things with blood red eyes and bodies twice the length of this ship! And aboard the same vessel, the old Philos, I've seen... the Faces!"

"The Faces?" a brawny engineer repeated, "Who... or what...?"

Balt pursed his lips, shot a stream of blue Jovian teel into the sand-box.

"White, pinched little faces," he said soberly, "like... like dead children, only their eyes are old as time. Outside the portholes you'll see them, beggin' piteous-like to be let in." The boatswain shuddered and, with the two remaining fingers of his right hand, wiped sweat from his forehead. All eyes turned automatically toward the glass-ex porthole; only the familiar blue-black sky, stippled with brilliant stars, met their gaze.

A scornful laugh issued from Jan Herrick's bunk. He stretched his long, lean frame, brushed back his dark hair.

"You fellows believe that?" he demanded.

"Waal," one of the ordinaries, a drawling Venusian, shook his head, "you know the first maxim of space—'Anything can happen'. An' Bill Jensen, navigator of the Goshawk, swears he saw the Flyin' Dutchman one night not far from where we are now. Passed right close to it, he said. An old, old ship, battered and worn, doomed to drift forever in space. The crew are damned spirits who know no rest. Mortal bad luck even to lay eyes upon the Dutchman, so they say."

"Aye." Balt nodded ominously, the shadows flickering over his scarred face. "A vessel of death, piloted by dead men! "

"Of all the superstitious dopes," Jan yawned, "you guys..."

A quick shudder shook the Vestric; she staggered, plunged forward once more. The men in the forecastle, half-dressed, were racing along the corridor when the general alarm sounded.

Jan climbed the iron ladder to the boat-deck, took up his station beside life-car number three. The Vestric, her progress unimpeded, seemed to be in no danger. Jan, thinking of his warm berth in the forecastle, swore softly. Ten cold, dragging minutes passed. Ahead, at car number one, he could hear Balt muttering something about "crooners and softies, not a real spacehand in the lot." Jan set his jaw grimly. He'd show that superstitious old fool! If he only had a chance to prove what he could do!

All at once Miles, the first officer, stepped out onto the boat-deck.

"No danger, men," he said crisply. "A small meteorite was somehow missed by our detectors, and buckled a few plates in the hull over the gymnasium. I have isolated the room by closing the air-tight doors. However, Captain Hale does not wish to inconvenience our passengers by depriving them of the use of the gym. If one of you will volunteer to make repairs..."

"I will." Jan stepped forward eagerly.

"Very good." The first officer nodded. "Get your space suit. You'll need a magnetic grapple and welding torch."

"Aye, aye, sir." Jan saluted, made his way toward the supply room.

Five minutes later he was ready. The bulky space suit hung limply over his spare frame, and the magnetic grapple, fastened by a long steel cord to his waist, dangled from his hand, its current as yet not turned on. In the other hand he held a small but powerful welding torch.

Jan was just approaching the air-lock when old Balt stepped up to him, eyes grave.

"Be careful, lad," he warned. "The torch recoil..."

"I know what I'm doing," Jan said coldly, snapping the heavy helmet into place. And as Balt tried to restrain him, he shook off the boatswain's arm, stepped forward into the air-lock.

As soon as the inner door of the lock clanged shut, Ian turned to the outer one, drew it open. The rush of escaping air swept him forward to the entrance, forcing him to hang on tightly for an instant. Then, very carefully, he swung the grapple out and against the ship's hull, switching on the current as he did so. Highly magnetized, it clung tightly to the ship's out...

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