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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ON THE TRAIL OF THE SPACE PIRATES *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA [Transcriber's note: This is a rule 6 clearance. PG has not been able to find a copyright renewal for this book.]

Hawks stood up and eyed the two men coldly

Tom saw three pretty girls board the ship

The hatch opened again and the two spacemen entered the air lock

The scar-faced man obviously wanted something from Tom

The young cadet timed his move perfectly

All Solar Guard defense measures seemed to be futile

Astro and Coxine were locked in mortal combat



A metallic voice rasped over the loud-speakers and echoed through the lofty marble and aluminum concourse of the New Chicago Monorail Terminal. "Atom City express on Track Seven! Space Academy first stop! Passengers for Space Academy will please take seats in the first six cars!"

As the crowd of people waiting in the concourse surged through the gate leading to Track Seven, three boys in the royal-blue uniforms of the Space Cadet Corps slowly picked up their plastic space bags and joined the mass of travelers.

Wearily, they drifted with the crowd and stepped on the slidestairs leading down to the monorail platform. In the lead, Tom Corbett, the command cadet of the unit, a tall, curly-haired boy of eighteen, slouched against the handrail and looked back at his two unit-mates, Roger Manning and Astro. Manning, a slender cadet, with close-cropped blond hair, was yawning and blinking his eyes sleepily, while Astro, the third member of the unit, a head taller than either of his unit-mates and fifty pounds heavier, stood flat-footed on the step, eyes closed, his giant bulk swaying slightly with the motion of the slidestairs.

"Huh! A real snappy unit!" Tom muttered to himself.

"Hmmm? What?" Roger blinked and stared bleary-eyed at Tom.

"Nothing, Roger," Tom replied. "I only hope you guys can stay awake long enough to get on the monorail."

"It's your own fault, Tom," rumbled Astro in his bull-like voice. "If your family hadn't thrown so many parties for us while we were on leave, we'd have had more sleep."

"I didn't hear any complaints then," snorted Tom. "Just get into the car before you cork off, will you? I'm in no shape to carry you."

Seconds later, the slidestairs deposited the three boys on the platform and they slowly made their way through the crowd toward the forward cars of the monorail. Entering the third car, they found three seats together and collapsed into their luxurious softness.

"Oh, brother!" Tom groaned as he curled himself into the cushions, "I'm going to sleep all the way to the Academy."

"I'm asleep already," mumbled Roger, his voice muffled by his cap pulled low over his face.

Suddenly Astro sat bolt upright. "I'm hungry!" he announced.

"Oh, no!" moaned Tom.

"Why, you overgrown Venusian ape, Mrs. Corbett gave you dinner less than an hour ago!" Roger complained. "Steak, French fries, beans, corn, pie, ice cream...."

"Two helpings," chimed in Tom.

"And now you're hungry!" Roger was incredulous.

"Can't help it," calmly answered Astro. "I'm a big guy, that's all." He began digging through his space bag for an apple Mrs. Corbett had thoughtfully provided.

Tom finally stirred and sat up. He had learned a long time ago the futility of trying to deny Astro's Gargantuan appetite. "There's a dining car on this section of the monorail, Astro," he said, slapping a crumpled mass of credits into the Venusian's hamlike hand. "Here. Have yourself a good time." He slumped back in his seat and closed his eyes.

"Yeah," growled Roger, "and when you come back, don't make any noise!"

Astro smiled. He got up carefully and climbed over his two sleeping mates. Standing in the aisle, he counted the credits Tom had given him and turned to the front of the car. Suddenly a heavy voice growled behind him.

"One side, spaceboy!"

A hand grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him to one side. Caught off balance, Astro fell back on his sleeping unit-mates.

"Hey! What thβ€”" stuttered Astro as he sprawled on top of his friends. The two sleepy cadets came up howling.

"Astro! What in blazes do you think you're doing?" roared Tom.

"Why, you space-brained idiot," yelled Roger, "I ought to lay one on your chin!"

There was a tangle of arms and legs and finally the three cadets struggled to their feet. Astro turned to see who had pushed him.

Two men standing at the end of the car grinned back at him.

"It was those two guys at the end of the car," explained Astro. "They pushed me!" He lumbered toward them, followed by Tom and Roger.

Stopping squarely in front of them, he demanded, "What's the big idea?"

"Go back to your beauty rest, spaceboy!" jeered the heavier of the two men and turned to his companion, adding with a snarl, "How do you like his nerve? We not only have to pay taxes to support these lazy kids and teach them how to be spacemen, but they're loud-mouthed and sassy on top of it!"

The other man, smaller and rat-faced, laughed. "Yeah, we oughta report them to their little soldier bosses at Space Academy."

Astro suddenly balled his fists and stepped forward, but Tom grabbed his arm and pulled him back while Roger eased himself between his mates and the two grinning men.

"You know, Tom," he drawled, looking the heavier of the two right in the eye, "the only thing I don't like about being a Space Cadet is having to be polite to all the people, including the space crawlers!"

"Why, you little punk," sneered the bigger man, "I oughta wipe up the deck with you!"

Roger smiled thinly. "Don't try it, mister. You wouldn't know what hit you!"

"Come on, Wallace," said the smaller man. "Leave 'em alone and let's go."

Astro took another step forward and roared, "Blast off. Both of you!"

The two men turned quickly and disappeared through the door leading to the next monorail car.

The three cadets turned and headed back down the aisle to their seats.

"Let's get some sleep," said Tom. "We better be in good shape for that new assignment when we hit the Academy. No telling what it'll be, where we'll go, or worse yet, when we'll blast off. And I, for one, want to have a good night's rest under my belt."

"Yeah," agreed Roger, settling himself into the cushions once more. "Wonder what the orders will be. Got any ideas, Tom?"

"No idea at all, Roger," answered Tom. "The audiogram just said report back to the Academy immediately for assignment."

"Hey, Astro!" exclaimed Roger, seeing the Venusian climb back into his seat. "Aren't you going to eat?"

"I'm not hungry any more," grunted Astro. "Those guys made me lose my appetite."

Tom looked at Roger and winked. "Maybe we'd better tell Captain Strong about this, Roger."


"Get Astro mad enough and he won't want to eat. The Academy can cut down on its food bills."

"Ah, rocket off, you guys," growled Astro sleepily.

Tom and Roger smiled at each other, closed their eyes, and in a moment the three cadets of the Polaris unit were sound asleep.

Suspended from a single gleaming rail that stretched across the western plains like an endless silver ribbon, the monorail express hurtled through the early dawn speeding its passengers to their destination. As the gleaming line of streamlined cars crossed the newly developed grazing lands that had once been the great American desert, Tom Corbett stirred from a deep sleep. The slanting rays of the morning sun were shining in his eyes. Tom yawned, stretched, and turned to the viewport to watch the scenery flash past. Looming up over the flat grassy plains ahead, he could see a huge bluish mountain range, its many peaks covered with ever-present snow. In a few moments Tom knew the train would rocket through a tunnel and then on the other side, in the center of a deep, wide valley, he would see Space Academy, the university of the planets and headquarters of the great Solar Guard.

He reached over and shook Roger and Astro, calling, "All right, spacemen, time to hit the deck!"

"Uh? Ah-ummmh!" groaned Roger.

"Ahhhoooohhhhhh!" yawned Astro. Standing up, he stretched and touched the top of the monorail car.

"Let's get washed before the other passengers wake up," said Tom, and headed for the morning room. Astro and Roger followed, dragging their feet and rubbing their eyes.

Five minutes later, as the sleek monorail whistled into the tunnel beneath the mountain range, the boys of the Polaris unit returned to their seats.

"Back to the old grind," sighed Roger. "Drills, maneuvers, books, lectures. The same routine, day in day out."

"Maybe not," said Tom. "Remember, the order for us to report back was signed by Commander Walters, not the cadet supervisor of leaves. I think that means something special."

Suddenly the monorail roared out of the tunnel and into brilliant early-morning sun again.

The three cadets turned quickly, their eyes sweeping the valley for the first sight of the shining Tower of Galileo.

"There it is," said Tom, pointing toward a towering crystal building reflecting the morning light. "We'll be there in a minute."

Even as Tom spoke, the speed of the monorail slackened as it eased past a few gleaming structures of aluminum and concrete. Presently the white platform of the Academy station drifted past the viewport and all forward motion stopped. The doors opened and the three boys hurried to the exit.

All around the cadets, men and women in the vari-colored uniforms of the Solar Guard hurried through the station. The green of the Earthworm cadets, first-year students of the Cadet Corps; the brilliant rich blue of the senior cadets like the Polaris unit; the scarlet red of the enlisted Solar Guard; and here and there, the black and gold of the officers of the Solar Guard.

The three cadets hurried to the nearest slidewalk, a moving belt of plastic that glided silently across the ground toward Space Academy. It whisked them quickly past the few buildings nestled around the monorail station and rounded a curve. The three cadets looked up together at the gleaming Tower of Galileo. Made of pure Titan crystal, it soared above the cluster of buildings that surrounded the grassy quadrangle and dominated Space Academy like a translucent giant.

The cadets stepped off the slidewalk as it glided past the Tower building and ran up the broad marble stair. At the huge main portal, Tom stopped and looked back over the Academy grounds. All around him lay the evidence of mankind's progress. It was the year 2353, when Earthman had long since colonized the inner planets, Mars and Venus, and the three large satellites, Moon of Earth, Ganymede of Jupiter, and Titan of Saturn. It was the age of space travel; of the Solar Alliance, a unified society of billions of people who lived in peace with one another, though sprawled throughout the universe; and the Solar Guard, the might of the Solar Alliance and the defender of interplanetary peace. All these things Tom saw as he stood in the wide portal of the Tower Building, flanked by Astro and Roger.

Turning into the Tower, the three cadets went directly to the office of their unit commander. The training program at Space Academy consisted of three cadets to a unit, with a Solar Guard officer as their teacher and instructor. Steve Strong, captain in the Solar Guard, had been their cadet instructor since the unit had been formed and he now smiled a welcome as the cadets snapped to attention in front of his desk.

"Polaris unit reporting as ordered, sir," said Tom, handing over the audiogram order he had received the day before.

"Thank you, Corbett," said Strong, taking the paper. "At ease."

The three boys relaxed and broke into wide grins as Strong rounded his desk and shook hands with each of them.

"Glad to have you back, boys," he said. "Did you enjoy your leave?"

"And how, sir," replied Tom.

"Tom's mother showed us a whale of a good time,"

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