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Mystery In Space 17
"The Last Mile of Space!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND December - January, 1954

Story: John Broome Art: Murphy Anderson

The Aperture -- an opening in a cliffside on the small planet of Deimos -- has had many visitors -- all are exiles for a single, dreaded reason! But, for those who have gone through the Aperture, it was Lieutenant Kirk who most regretted having to walk... "The Last Mile of Space" On the splash page, the Lieutenant and his men step through the glowing Aperture, but each regrets having to leave their own universe... forever! In the formative years of the 29th Century... there is an outpost of the Interplanetary Legion on Deimos -- one of the two moons of Mars. New replacements have arrived, a Lieutenant Kirk Davies and a squad of enlisted personnel... The commanding officer tells the young Lieutenant about the outpost's mission of guarding the Aperture...

The 28th Century space-explorer, Tycho Danti, was the first to discover the Aperture... He could see twin suns shining in there. The Aperture enabled Danti to peer into another dimension, which co-existed simultaneously in the same space with Deimos. Later that year, Danti led a party into Dimension Minus - X -- which he named, and all returned from the trip. Dimension Minus X might have been colonized if not for the startling discovery that each man contracted a new radioactive sickness. It spread quickly and could not be cured! The Solar Authorities held an emergency meeting... those afflicted would be sent into Dimension Minus - X, where they would be safe and not infect others. The Aperture was the site of many farewells -- as those afflicted bade their universe farewell for the last time.

The radioactive sickness was not erradicated, but its spread was checked. The commanding officer then speaks of what is not known to the general public... Many of the exiles returned through the Aperture -- and overcame the guards on duty. A gun-mount was seized, and with it, the exiles disappeared back through the Aperture. The event remained a mystery until the commanding officer received a report from headquarters. He reads how scientists have discovered that the sickness also affected the mind, gradually turning the afflicted into maddened warlike beings. This caused the Solar Authorities to triple the size of the outpost... Lieutenant Kirk Davies understands why they must remain on the alert. As the week progressed, the Lieutenant and his squad relieve those guarding the Aperture... Corporal Klif is told by Davies to take the first patrol post, and to bear in mind that they may be under the watch of the exiles from within Dimension Minus - X! As the Plutonian Corporal turns to leave -- both he and Davies see a tree begin to wither, and Klif knows that this is a sign of the radioactive sickness!

Pulling a red flower from a nearby bush, Klif watches as it begins to turn black in his hand, and the Lieutenant knows that this is the new sickness! The Commanding Officer learns of the news, and has them prepared for exile. Davies and his squad begin their grim march towards the Aperture... On the other side of the Aperture... they are welcomed to Dimension Minus - X, and are summoned to the Venusian Chieftain, Thrundar. The Venusian is pleased to see the military men, and knows that they can play an active part in his great plan! The exiles intend to burst through the Aperture and overpower the outpost guards in a surprise attack!

The Federated Solar Worlds would be forced to surrender to them, and their chosen weapon of war is contained in a flask... filled with trillions of the micro-spores which cause the radioactive sickness! The exile scientists have isolated the virus, and by opening the flask, the solar worlds would be forced to surrender! Lieutenant Davies congratulates Thrundar on the cleverness of his plan... but unfortunately for the Venusian, the solar worlds had suspected a plot -- and sent them inside to uncover it! Thrundar is seized and bound, as the Legion Squad prepare to make their retreat through the Aperture... Davies orders the flask to be buried, while Klif spots no signs of pursuit... On Deimos, the Commanding Officer decodes a top secret message, and learns that Davies and his men are intelligence operatives, who had pretended to contract the radiation sickness, and spy on the inhabitants of Dimension Minus - X. As Davies and his squad exit from the Aperture... the Commanding Officer realizes that the withering tree and the blackened flower were only tricks, and as Davies offers his regrets on not telling him, due to their orders....

They watch as the tree withers, and Klif sees that this time, it's not a trick... and they are infected! After a quick examination, the entire squad has become infected with the dreaded disease... Davies and his men has one more task to perform... The squad vanishes -- for the second and last time -- through the Aperture... BOOM! The Commanding Officer sees that Davies and his men destroyed the Aperture from inside Dimension Minus - X with an atomic charge -- sealing themselves inside forever! The year of 2932... a time when the radioactive sickness no longer threatens the world of Deimos, where a plaque has been placed by a grateful Solar Federation... "In Memory Of The Interplanetary Legionnaires Whose Unselfish Bravery Secured The Welfare Of The Universe Against A Dreadful Menace -- Lt. Kirk Davies -- Corporal Klif.

The uniforms of the Interplanetary Legionnaires resembles those of the U.S. Cavalry: Blue with gold suspenders, and brown boots.

Lieutenant Kirk Davies resembles Errol Flynn in appearance.

The Plutonians resemble humans in appearance, but have large eyes, making them always seem to be in a perpetual state of wide-eyed amazement.

Thrundar, the Venusian has pale-skin, blue hair, pointed ears, and a bird-like nose. He favors a brown tanktop and shorts.

The Commanding Officer has a goatee, while his assistant has twin antennae.

The concept of other-dimensional gateways has been depicted on such programs as Sliders and Stargate SG-1.

This story was reprinted in Strange Adventures #229, whose "Spotlight On... Strange Adventures" has a letter from Chris Juricich of Burlingame, CA:

Dear Editor:

Your second Gigantic Strange Adventures was a sensation!

Undoubtedly the best story presented was "The Winner"! Mr. O'Neil has surpassed himself. Your previous picture-story was drab when compared to this superb piece. I suppose the reason why I judged it so was due to the fact that it was not a comic sci-fi drama, but strictly a sci-fi drama with illustrations! Excellent! The artwork was Murphy Anderson.

Interesting aspects: the creation of a new breed of humankind emerging from what I gathered, a self-destroying series of bacteriological wars; a humankind changed for better... and worse. An emotionless soldier somewhat contemptible of a world of soft men and women, unable to respect anyone who is not physically adept as he is. The terms "scunge," "buggie," "cold-sleep," "Cee-Oh" (Commanding Officer), all terms belonging to an era to come. If Mar-O had appeared talking with 20th century speech patterns, the entire effect of the story would have been destroyed. The ending was intriguing.

There's little more than I can say save that I hope Mr. O'Neil's imaginings remain imaginings.

This Review Is Dedicated To Chris Juricich and Rich Goldberg

Steve Chung
"The Last Mile of Review!"