The luxury space liner Comet was famous for offering its wealthy passengers every legal amusement cosmic credits could buy. Venusian ambrosia poured from an ornate fountain in the middle of the ballroom, and senso-tapes were readily available for the stimulation of those who preferred other kinds of entertainment. A Neo-Jazz band played loudly from the hovering mobile bandstand, and elegantly clad dancers could be seen throughout the multi-leveled room on swirling anti-grav platforms. While other passengers dined, drank, and danced merrily, a handsome young man with a serious expression, dark hair, and intelligent eyes barely managed to disguise his overwhelming boredom.
Rick Starr yawned and shook his head. “Sizzling suns! For a pleasure voyage from New York’s Earthport to the North American Space Station, this has to be the dullest trip I’ve ever taken. What I wouldn’t give to be back in my lab outside MarsCity or racing my air car over the Burning Sands of Mars.”
I guess I’d better get used to being bored, he thought. This liner may have been named after one of the greatest space heroes of the twentieth century, but there’s nothing exciting about it. Of course, Dad wouldn’t have booked my passage at all if this trip promised to offer me anything more than a boring routine. Once we reach the station, I’m to meet with the board of directors and discuss new options for our Nuklengine program.
He referred to Thaddeus Starr, the celebrated CEO of their family company, Allied Solar Enterprises, which was perhaps the largest company in the known solar system. Rick was proud of his father and had a close relationship with him; however, the elder Starr didn’t really understand his son, nor could the business giant envision any future for the bright and athletic Rick that didn’t revolve around the corporate world.
“We employ billions of sentient beings on over two dozen planets,” his father once told him. “Our holdings include plutonium factories on Lunar Base and underwater hydro-atomic units on Venus. We hold patents on the 22-23-T ambuquad robot and the atmo gun, to name only two of hundreds. All of this will be yours when I’m gone. It’s time you stopped wasting time with Joe Jones and Dr. Pedri. They work for us. Our role is to manage the company. I don’t want you spending so much time with our hired help!”
Rick had heard that speech, or some version of it, for years. Thaddeus Starr couldn’t understand that his only son preferred doing things for himself over merely acting as a lofty executive removed from the daily work in the company labs and engineering division.
He sighed as he stood up from the table and began to walk away from the center of the room. Rick looked up for a moment at a glistening jewel that hung suspended in the air over the central dance area. The Heart of Ganymede is a rare treasure, he thought, but I’d give it away for a chance at doing something meaningful with my life. Making credits for the family company doesn’t appeal to me at all. I want something more out of life. I need something wealth can’t buy.
Rick neared the side exit and stepped aside, nodding politely as drunken newcomers swayed unsteadily into the room. I wish I could be content with this kind of life, like them, but I can’t. Settling down to a corporate routine will please Dad, but it sure won’t make my life into what I want it to be. With his health so fragile, I can’t risk upsetting him, or I’d simply tell him I’m going to live my own life.
He smiled momentarily as a beautiful blonde girl walked by. She wore the sparkly mini-dress all the Comet’s hostesses wore, but her combination of delicate beauty and vibrant personality made her stand out from the others. What a woman! he thought. She could easily have been Miss Cosmos with legs like those.
Rick frowned as the ballroom doors crashed open and a group of colorful figures raced inside. Space pirates? he wondered. Could I be this lucky?
The intruders brandished thermablaze guns, and Rick Starr quickly noticed that their sudden daring raid had obviously caught the liner’s security crew off-guard. He could detect a faint but bitter odor from outside the ballroom. They used gas on the crew! he realized.
As the music stopped and worried voices echoed through the room, the pirates stepped closer into the room. Under the glow of the bandstand spotlights that still swept across the room, Rick could see the pirates in detail. They seem a subspecies of Jovians, Rick mused. Those overly large eyes make that apparent.
A tall, inhumanly thick humanoid stepped to the front of the pirates. Like his crew, he had orange skin, and his lover jaw was marked by a thick ridge of hardened skin. Bulbous eyes dominated his skull. “Greetings!” he said in a strange, undulating tone. “You have the honor of being victims of Norvo the Cunning! If you hand over all your valuables to my fine crew, you will not be harmed.”
The helpless crew and passengers began to obey their captors even as Rick carefully scanned the room. In a society in which almost every physical task was performed by servo-droids or automated computer systems, most people simply didn’t have the instincts or the courage to take direct action in a crisis. I may have craved excitement, but I can’t stand by while innocent people are being hurt, he thought.
He frowned grimly as a Jovian clawed at a plump dowager who was too slow in surrendering her glow-gems. “Give us the gems now!” growled the pirate as he raised the flat end of his blaster and threatened to strike the frightened old woman.
Rick moved forward with the easy speed and grace that had once made him an anti-grav polo champ during his university days. Rather than attack the pirates directly, he dived forward and managed to grasp the Heart of Ganymede from out of its display beam.
As the pirates loaded their stolen loot, Rick’s desperate dive caught their attention. They began to raise their guns in his direction even as he grabbed the gemstone with one hand.
“You can’t hide that beauty, boy,” growled Norvo. “I guess you thought you could steal it and blame us.”
Rick smiled grimly and thrust the gleaming gemstone directly under the swaying spotlight. “I wouldn’t dream of it, he said. “I want you to get exactly what you have coming to you.”
When the spotlight struck the multi-faceted gemstone, brilliant light beams exploded in a gleaming prism of light that swept across the ballroom and blinded the Jovians as the intense light struck their overly sensitive eyes.
Rick tackled the nearest pirate and grunted as the much heavier being finally collapsed beneath his expert tackle. He punched the alien and grabbed his blaster in time to carefully aim and shoot two of the pirates. I’ve set it on stun — after all, I don’t want to melt them, he mused as he dodged a stray energy beam and hurled a chair at the nearest pirate. Other passengers followed his example, and the crew began to fight back against their blinded foes.
As Rick Starr ducked beneath a flailing pirate’s burly arm, he connected with a swift kick that dropped the renegade and enabled the more agile Rick to vault over his bulky body and land directly on top of Norvo. He delivered three punches and nodded with satisfaction as the space pirate groaned before passing out.
“Terran punk!” growled another pirate as he struck Rick from behind. The young man fell forward and tried to roll to safety, but he was a bit dazed from the blow and merely landed a few inches away. “At least, I’ll kill you!” cried the Jovian as he pointed his gun at the fallen Starr.
Rick struggled to rise, but he had lost his blaster and could not dodge such a close blast.
“Take this, you overgrown frog!” cried the pretty blonde girl Rick had admired earlier. She had darted forward and now brought a heavy platter down on the alien’s skull. The space pirate groaned as his energy blast narrowly missed Rick, who lashed out with his leg and tripped the alien.
As the surprised pirate fell, the blonde hostess tossed Rick his lost gun. He caught the weapon and stunned the final pirate as the beautiful blonde winked at him. “Thanks, kid,” he said.
She smiled back and said, “Myra — my name is Myra Mason.”
“I’m Rick Starr,” he said as he moved closer to her. As he glanced around the room to see that the defeated Jovians had been taken into custody by the liner’s crew, and the crisis was abruptly over, he realized how much he had relished the entire fight. I’ve never felt that kind of rush before, he mused. That’s the kind of life I want.
A wizened Venusian in a captain’s tunic came forward and clasped Rick’s hand. “Mr. Starr, you saved my ship,” he said. “How can I thank you?”
Rick replied, “No thanks are necessary. I’m just glad no one was hurt.” He moved closer to Myra and said, “You saved my neck back there. How would you like to come work for me? I can promise you an excellent salary.”
Myra Mason blinked in surprise as she readily accepted his offer. “I’d love to!” she said. “Frankly, this job was not want I thought it would be. I am sick of being leered at by drunken passengers. I’d like to do something more important with my life. I guess that sounds silly to you.”
Rick took her hand in his and said, “Myra, actually, I think I know just how you feel.”