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Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet
by Blake Savage
Edition 1, (December 20, 2006)

Illustrated by E. Deane Cate

Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

Dust Jacket Blurb

"Foster, Lieutenant, R. I. P.," blared the voice horn, and five minutes later Rip Foster was off into space on an assignment more exciting than any he had ever imagined. He could hardly believe his ears. Could a green young Planeteer, just through his training, possibly carry out orders like these? Sunny space, what a trick it would be!

From the moment Rip boards the space ship Scorpius there is a thrill a minute. He and his nine daring Planeteers must cope with the merciless hazing of the spacemen commanding the ship, and they must outwit the desperate Connies, who threaten to plunge all of space into war. There are a thousand dangers to be faced in high vacuumโ€”and all of this while carrying out an assignment that will take every reader's breath away.

Major Barris Faced Rip and the New Planeteers
[pg 009] Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet

Chapter One - SCN Scorpius, Spacebound

A thousand miles above earth's surface the great space platform sped from daylight into darkness. Once each two hours it circled the earth completely, spinning along through space like a mighty wheel of steel and plastic.

Through a telescope from earth the platform seemed a lifeless, lonely disk, but within it, hundreds of spacemen and Planeteers went about their work.

In a ready-room at the outer edge of the platform, a Planeteer officer faced a dozen slim, blackclad young men who wore the single golden orbits of lieutenants. This was a graduating class, already commissioned, having a final, informal get-together.

The officer, who wore the three-orbit insignia of a major, was lean and trim. His hair was cropped short, like a gray fur skull cap. One cheek was marked with the crisp whiteness of an old radiation burn.

[pg 010]

"Stand easy," he ordered briskly. "The general instructions of the Special Order Squadrons say that it's my duty as senior officer to make a farewell speech. I intend to make a speech if it kills meโ€”and you, too."

The dozen new officers facing him broke into grins. Major Joe Barris had been their friend, teacher, and senior officer during six long years of training on the space platform. He could no more make a formal speech than he could breathe high vacuum, and they all knew it.

Lieutenant Richard Ingalls Peter Foster, whose initials had given him the nickname of "Rip," asked, "Why don't you sing us a song instead, Joe?"

Major Barris fixed Rip with a cold eye. "Foster, three orbital turns, then front and center."

Rip obediently spun around three times, then walked forward and stood at attention, trying to conceal his grin.

"Foster, what does SOS mean?"

"Special Order Squadrons, sir."

"Right. And what else does it mean?"

"It means, 'Help!' sir."

"Right. And what else does it mean?"

"Superman or simp, sir."

This was a ceremony in which questions and answers never changed. It was supposed to make Planeteer cadets and junior officers feel properly humble, but it didn't work. By tradition, the Planeteers[pg 011] were the cockiest gang that ever blasted through high vacuum.

Major Barris shook his head sadly. "You admit you're a simp, Foster. The rest of you are simps, too. But you don't believe it. You've finished six years on the platform. You've made a few little trips out into space. You've landed on the moon a couple times. So now you think you're seasoned space spooks. Well, you're not. You're simps."

Rip stopped grinning. He had heard this before. It was part of the routine. But he sensed that this time Joe Barris wasn't kidding.

The major rubbed the radiation scar on his cheek absently as he looked them over. They were like twelve chicks out of the same nest. They were all about the same size, a compact five-feet-eleven inches, 175 pounds. They wore loose black tunics, belted over full trousers which gathered into white cruiser boots. The comfortable uniforms concealed any slight differences in build. The twelve were all lean of face, with hair cropped to the regulation half inch. Rip was the only redhead among them.

"Sit down," Barris commanded. "I'm going to make a farewell speech."

Rip pulled a plastic stool toward him. The others did the same. Major Barris remained standing.

"Well," he began soberly, "you are now officers of the Special Order Squadrons. You're Planeteers. You are lieutenants by order of the Space Council,[pg 012] Federation of Free Governments. Andโ€”space protect you!โ€”to yourselves, you're supermen. But never forget this: to ordinary spacemen, you're just plain simps. You're trouble in a black tunic. They have about as much use for you as they have for leaks in their air locks. Some of the spacemen have been high-vacking for twenty years or more, and they're tough. They're as nasty as a Callistan teekal. They like to eat Planeteer junior officers for breakfast."

Lieutenant Felipe "Flip" Villa asked, "With salt, Joe?"

Major Barris sighed. "No use trying to tell you space-chicks anything. You're lieutenants now, and a lieutenant has the thickest skull of any rank, no matter what service he belongs to."

Rip realized that Barris had not been joking, no matter how flippant his speech. "Go ahead," he urged. "Finish what you were going to say."

"Okay. I'll make it short. Then you can catch the Terra rocket and take your eight earth-weeks leave. You won't really know what I'm talking about until you've batted around space for a while. All I have to say adds up to one thing. You won't like it, because it doesn't sound scientific. That doesn't mean it isn't good science, because it is. Just remember this: when you're in a jam, trust your hunch and not your head."

The twelve stared at him, open-mouthed. For six years they had been taught to rely on scientific[pg 013] methods. Now their best instructor and senior officer was telling them just the opposite!

Rip started to object, then he caught a glimmer of meaning. He stuck out his hand. "Thanks, Joe. I hope we'll meet again."

Barris grinned. "We will, Rip. I'll ask for you as a platoon commander when they assign me to cleaning up the goopies on Ganymede." This was the major's idea of the worst Planeteer job in the Solar System.

The group shook hands all around; then the young officers broke for the door on the run. The Terra rocket was blasting off in five minutes, and they were due to be on it.

Rip joined Flip Villa and they jumped on the high speed track that would whisk them to Valve Two on the other side of the platform. Their gear was already loaded. They had only to take seats on the rocket and their six years on the space platform would be at an end.

"I wonder what it will be like to get back to high gravity?" Rip mused. The centrifugal force of the spinning platform acted as artificial gravity, but it was considerably less than earth's.

"We probably won't be able to walk straight until we get our earth-legs back," Flip answered. "I wish I could stay in Colorado with you instead of going back to Mexico City, Rip. We could have a lot of fun in eight weeks."

[pg 014]

Rip nodded. "Tough luck, Flip. But anyway, we have the same assignment."

Both Planeteers had been assigned to Special Order Squadron Four, which was attached to the cruiser Bolide. The cruiser was in high space, beyond the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn doing comet research.

They got off the track at Valve Two and stepped through into the rocket's interior. Two seats just ahead of the fins were vacant and they slid into them. Rip looked through the thick port beside him and saw the distinctive blue glow of a nuclear drive cruiser sliding sternward toward the platform.

"Wave your eye stalks at that job," Flip said admiringly. "Wonder what it's doing here?"

The space platform was a refueling depot where conventional chemical fuel rockets topped off their tanks before flaming for space. The newer nuclear drive cruisers had no need to stop. Their atomic piles needed new neutron sources only once in a few years.

The voice horn in the rocket cabin sounded. "The SCN Scorpius is passing Valve Two, landing at Valve Eight."

"I thought that ship was with Squadron One on Mercury," Rip recalled. "Wonder why they pulled it back here?"

Flip had no chance to reply because the chief rocket officer took up his station at the valve and[pg 015] began to call the roll. Rip answered to his name.

The rocket officer finished the roll, then announced: "Buttoning up in twenty seconds. Blast off in forty-five. Don't bother with acceleration harness. We'll fall free, with just enough flame going for control."

The ten-second warning bell sounded, and, before the bell had ceased, the voice horn blasted. "Get it! Foster, R.I.P., Lieutenant. Report to the platform commander. Show an exhaust!"

Rip leaped to his feet. "Hold on, Flip. I'll see what the old man wants and be right back."

"Get flaming," the rocket officer called. "Show an exhaust like the man said. This bucket leaves on time, and we're sealing the port."

Rip hesitated. The rocket would leave without him!

Flip said urgently, "You better ram it, Rip."

He knew he had no choice. "Tell my folks I'll make the next rocket," he called, and ran. He leaped through the valve, jumped for the high speed track and was whisked around the rim of the space platform.

He ran a hand through his short red hair, a gesture of bewilderment. His records had cleared. So far as he knew, all his papers were in order, and he had his next assignment. He couldn't figure why the platform commander would want to see him. But the horn had called "show an exhaust," which[pg 016] meant to get there in a hurry.

He jumped off the track at the main crossrun and hurried toward

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