My dear Space Explorers, I am writing to you from far across the system, out in the Keiper belt to be exact. I know this missive will take a long time to reach you, I’m not sure how long exactly, but certainly months. I was called away soon after I returned from PulpFest, last Summer. It’s a story that you probably won’t believe but I’m going to tell you anyway.
You must have heard of Captain Future, the Wizard of Science. No? Well, he has been gone for a very long time. And his museum on the moon, the one that used to be his home and laboratory…it doesn’t get as many visitors as it once did. He’s become something of a legend. Many people don’t believe that he was a real man. I must admit to some doubts myself, at least before the events of the last few months. Now, of course, I have proof and somehow that makes my heart lighter.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was at home when the trouble started. The annunciator on my televisor sounded and I put down my pen and quickly wiped ink off my fingers.
“Yeah, it’s Sara,” I said distractedly.
The face of my old friend, Amanda Pershing, head curator of the Lunar Museum, appeared on the screen. She looked haggard.
“His ring’s gone, Sara!” She said breathlessly. “I don’t know how it was stolen. It was in a stasis-locked case, anyone who tried to get it out would have been frozen.”
Amanda and I had been friends since graduate school. Later, we interned at the same museum. I told her to calm down and tell me the whole story. There wasn’t much to tell. The night before, Captain Future’s famous nine planet ring vanished from the museum. It was the only thing taken and there was no sign of any other disturbance. The case was still locked, and nothing else was disturbed. Security cameras showed nothing out of the ordinary. There was only one clue. The clock on the wall was six hours ahead.
Amanda’s image wrung her hands. “Could it have been his ghost? The moon was off-limits when he lived here, maybe he’s come back to haunt his old home. Or…maybe, he’s projecting his thoughts and used some form of psychokinesis. Oh, I’m sure he’s furious with us!”
Consensus, of course, is that Captain Future and the Futuremen were long dead, killed on one last adventure outside of the solar system. I have to admit that I believed they were dead. I mean, it’s been a very long time since anyone saw them, even reported seeing them. Even with life extension treatments Curt Newton would be a very old man by now. And even if he was dead, if any of the unhuman Futuremen still lived, we’d know about it.
He left his ring in his laboratory, inside a sealed glass box. No one knew why he left it behind. Maybe his mission was so dangerous he knew that he wouldn’t be returning. I’ve always thought that it was his promise that he’d one day return. Childish, I know, but I’ve always been a dreamer.
The Planetary Patrol was searching the nine planets and some the larger moons and asteroids. But that’s all they’d do. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, spread themselves thinner, even for the famous hero’s lost ring.
“I’m going to search for the ring myself. Will you come with me?” Amanda peered at me hopefully through her glasses. “You’re an exo-archeaologist and know all the system legends, maybe there’s a clue in one of the old stories.”
Of course, I agreed. It would be the adventure of a lifetime. I closed up shop immediately, packed a bag, and left on the next moon rocket. Amanda met me at Tycho landing field. “I’ve got the crew waiting,” she said through her space suit’s audio unit. I heard her clearly through my suit’s receiver, even though we were standing on the airless, lunar surface. She gestured to a small rocket standing on its tail fins a small distance away.
“But what about the museum?” I asked.
She waved a gloved hand. “My assistant can handle things until we get back. We have to find that ring, Sara. You know what it means to the system.”
Indeed, I did know. Our greatest space explorer and hero, Captain Future. With him gone, his ring reminded us of battles won and technology advanced. And the system’s history…the far past and the distant future, Curt Newton and the Futuremen had visited both. I paused thoughtfully as I considered mighty Grag, the robot, sinewy Otho, the android, and the amazing Simon Wright, the disembodied Brain. They fought space pirates and solar systems criminals, and came up with solutions to planet’s withering air supplies and other disasters. Future’s ring, with its blazing solar jewel and slowly rotating planets, reminded us that we were not unprotected even with our hero gone. We simply had to find it.
I shall not trouble you with the routine parts of the trip — the trip from the moon to Mars to conduct some preliminary research at the university. Or, our trip to Saturnoplis, the capital city of Saturn, where we got our first solid lead. We traveled with the Planetary Patrol for two weeks in early September, Earth time, escorting us to what turned out to be a dead end on Styx, Pluto’s moon. Finally, we got a break, a clue leading us to Eros, the strange Mars crossing asteroid.
Eros is a highly strange shape, not round but more similar to a rounded dog bone. It has a very strange and chilling reputation, the stories say that no one who lands there ever returns. But I knew from his journals that Captain Future went there twice and returned. He was never quite clear on the time distortion effect that occurred there, something about time moving abnormally slowly.
We landed on the Sunward side, near the great Fungus Forest and the biggest Erosian town. We didn’t have much time, the asteroid’s strange gravitational field would start to affect us within minutes. We hurried to the little town with its quaint minareted buildings. The population of the town was out in force today, that is to say, there were many people on the street, but all were as still as statues. A man stood with foot upraised, in the midst of taking a step. A woman was scolding a small child, her mouth open and hand, mid-gesture. People seemed in the midst of many ordinary tasks but seemed frozen in place. But they were not frozen but moving very, very slowly.
Amanda’s mouth quirked. “Sara, are you sure you want to ask their chief? We can still get back to the ship before we start slowing down.”
I shook my head “The clues lead here,” I said resolutely. “We have to stay.”
Future’s notes said that the people of Eros were alive, just lived slower. It was known as the slow-motion world. Most space travelers avoided it like the plague.
We waited. After a few minutes the people seemed to be moving infinitesimally faster. But they had not changed, we had. My body was tingling now as the asteroid’s strange gravitational field affected my nerves. We were stepping down to a slower time rate. Soon, we would be moving as slowly as they were.
Continued in the next issue of The Rocketeer.