The Terrible Tentacles of L-472
Sewell Peaslee Wright
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Commander John Hanson of the Special Patrol Service records another of his thrilling interplanetary assignments.
It was a big mistake. I should not have done it. By birth, by instinct, by training, by habit, I am a man of action. Or I was. It is queer that an old man cannot remember that he is no longer young.
But it was a mistake for me to mention that I had recorded, for the archives of the Council, the history of a certain activity of the Special Patrol—a bit of secret history which may not be mentioned here. Now they insist—by "they" I refer to the Chiefs of the Special Patrol Service—that I write of other achievements of the Service, other adventures worthy of note.
Perhaps that is the penalty of becoming old. From commander of the Budi, one of the greatest of the Special Patrol ships, to the duties of recording ancient history, for younger men to read and dream about. That is a shrewd blow to one's pride.
But if I can, in some small way, add luster to the record of my service, it will be a fitting task for a man grown old and gray in that service; work for hands too weak and palsied for sterner duties.
But I shall tell my stories in my own way; after all, they are my stories. And I shall tell the stories that appeal to me most. The universe has had enough and too much of dry history; these shall be adventurous tales to make the blood of a young man who reads them run a trifle faster—and perhaps the blood of the old man who writes them.
This, the first, shall be the story of the star L-472. You know it to-day as Ibit, port-o'-call for interplanetary ships, and source of ocrite for the universe, but to me it will always be L-472, the world of terrible tentacles.
My story begins nearly a hundred years ago—reckoned in terms of Earth time, which is proper, since I am a native of Earth—when I was a young man. I was sub-commander, at the time, of the Kalid, one of the early ships of the Special Patrol.
We had been called to Zenia on special orders, and Commander Jamison, after an absence of some two hours, returned to the Kalid with his face shining, one of his rare smiles telling me in advance that he had news—and good news.
He hurried me up to the deserted navigating room and waved me to a seat.
"Hanson," he said. "I'm glad to be the first to congratulate you. You are now Commander John Hanson, of the Special Patrol Ship Kalid!"
"Sir." I gasped, "do you mean—"
His smile broadened. From the breast pocket of the trim blue and silver uniform of our Service he drew a long, crackling paper.
"Your commission," he said. "I'm taking over the Borelis."
It was my turn to extend congratulations then; the Borelis was the newest and greatest ship of the Service. We shook hands, that ancient gesture of good-fellowship on Earth. But, as our hands unclasped, Jamison's face grew suddenly grave.
"I have more than this news for you, however," he said slowly. "You are to have a chance to earn your comet hardly."