Prisoners of Space


Prisoners of Space

Prisoners of Space was a Dan Dare story that ran in the original "Eagle" comic from Volume 5, Issue 22 (dated 28 May 1954) to Volume 6, Issue 18 (dated 6 May 1955)). It was drawn by Desmond Walduck.

ynopsis

Transport ships from the Earth - Venus run have been disappearing in the region of space known as area X, and Sir Hubert has arranged for Dan to investigate in his new ship, the "Performing Flea". Dan, Sir Hubert and Digby are overseeing the final preparations for the "Flea" when an exact model of the ship, fired from the nearby "Astral" training college, almost hits them.

"Flamer" Spry, the junior cadet who made the model, is arrested, but released when senior cadet Steve Valiant provides an alibi for him. Impressed by the model, Dan arranges for "Groupie", an elderly mechanic, to show Flamer and Steve over the real "Flea".

Reports come in that contact has been lost with Space Station XQY, located in the centre of Area X. Since Dan has already programmed the route to XQY into the "Flea"'s memory, he intends to travel there straight away. In the meantime, however, Flamer and Groupie accidentally operate the lift-off mechanism in the "Flea", which takes off.

When the "Flea" arrives at XQY, the three on board notice the apparently dead body of its commander in the landing bay. Steve and Groupie go out to investigate and are immediately captured by assailants who enter the "Flea" and seize Flamer. On Earth, Dan sees enough of the enemy on his televiewer to recognise the Mekon's Treens.

The Mekon speaks to Dan on the televiewer, offering to trade his captives for Dan himself. He then tells Steve to talk to Dan, and Steve pretends to crack up and beg Dan to come and save him, while simultaneously sending a Morse message telling him to destroy XQY and everything in it. Dan, however, insists that he must accept the Mekon's terms and go to XQY alone and unarmed, even though it means certain death.

Sir Hubert provides Dan with a ship called "Astro-Arrow" for the trip. Digby misses take off, and Dan is horrified to discover that he has stowed away on the "Arrow" with a cache of small arms. Digby insists that he made no pact with the Mekon, and intends to rescue Dan and all the others. He then takes control of the ship.

The Mekon tells Flamer and Groupie that he intends to put them to death with Dan. Only Steve will be spared, as he is continuing to pose as a useful traitor. When Dan reaches XQY's observation turret, he is about to tell the Mekon about Digby, when Groupie tells him that the Mekon intends to break his oath. He is shot for this, and Dan and Flamer react by hitting out at the Treens. They are soon overpowered, and the Mekon orders a guard to shoot Flamer.

Meanwhile, Digby has crawled up a waste-chute to the obbo-turret. He arrives just in time to freeze the guard with para-gas, and, in the resulting confusion, Flamer escapes down the chute. He and Digby then reach the master controls for the station's lighting systems and black-out the obbo-turret, enabling Dan to reach the chute.

The three then head back to the "Astro-Arrow" to use it as a base, so as to prepare a raid to rescue Steve and recover Groupie's body. Dan contacts Sir Hubert, telling him to assemble a fleet of his fastest ships and destroy XQY as soon as possible.

The Mekon takes his Treens to cut their way into the "Arrow", leaving only one guard with Steve. Steve is amazed to discover that Groupie is still alive, and the two of them overpower the guard, and secure the doors of the obbo-turret. Groupie then sends a general message out to Dan, and the Mekon abandons the assault on the "Arrow", and tries to cut his way into the turret instead. Steve tells Dan that they will just have time to open the air-lock doors and get the "Arrow" away before the Treens get in.

Groupie in fact opens both air-lock doors, and Dan decides to go around the station to prevent the "Flea" from falling into the Mekon's hands. The Mekon sends a guard up the waste chute, enabling him to take over the turret faster than Dan had anticipated. Digby and Flamer get away in the "Arrow", but Dan does not get the "Flea" moving until the air-lock doors are closing. A tail-fin clips the door, and the "Flea" circles in space, out of control. The Mekon sends his fighters to destroy the "Flea", and Dan only just manages to bale out in time.

Believing Dan to be dead, the Mekon announces that Steve and Groupie will suffer the fate he had in plan for Dan. He has his flagship brought aboard XQY from its moorings behind the station -- which enables Dan to re-enter the station -- and has his "Solar-Cell" placed in it. Steve and Groupie are to be loaded into the Cell, and left to float in space with only enough air for twelve hours.

Dan fixes a limpet mine to the Mekon's flagship, and then heads for the obbo-turret to tell Earth about the Solar-Cell. The Mekon, however, also wishes to speak to Sir Hubert, and sends his chief guard to the obbo-turret. The guard is shocked to find Dan still alive, and, convinced that Earthpeople have learned to overcome death, concludes that the Mekon's cause is lost. He swears that he will follow Dan instead.

Dan hides when the Mekon speaks to Sir Hubert to demand the return of his power in Mekonta in exchange for the prisoners. On Earth, the squadrons assemble to attack, but Dan realises that they are unlikely to reach the Solar-Cell in time.

When the Mekon leaves, Dan and his new ally, Xalto, smash XQY's viewing equipment to keep the approach of the Earth squadron secret from the Mekon. Hank and Pierre, in a ship called "Lodestar" are ordered to accompany the "Astro-Arrow" back to Earth, but intend to put their co-pilot on board, while they head for XQY. They end up taking Digby and Flamer with them, while the "Arrow" returns to Earth alone.

In space, Dan crosses to the Solar-Cell by jet-pack. He manages to switch the Cell's motors off, and push it out of orbit, back to the station. The Mekon soon realises that the Cell has been tampered with, and has his guards bring it back aboard the station. Suspecting that Dan is still alive, he decides to destroy the station himself, and has Steve, Groupie and Xalto put into his flagship. On the station, Dan watches as an atomic bomb is lowered into XQY from the flagship, and climbs on board in its place.

From his ship, the "Speedstar", Sir Hubert sees the destruction of XQY, and the Mekons three ships heading for Venus. He notices "Lodestar" as well, and, although angered at their disobedience, allows Digby and Flamer to come with him. On the Mekon's flagship, Steve, Groupie and Xalto are put in the bomb-bay, where Dan is hiding. Dan tells them about the limpet mine -- it is due to explode around the same time they reach Mekonta.

A warning is sent from Earth to the Therons who are guarding the pro-Mekon Treens rebuilding Mekonta. But the guards are unarmed, and, when the Mekon arrives, the Treens easily overpower them. Dan manages to get out of the flagship unnoticed, and turns the timer on the limpet mine back an hour. He then heads for the catacombs beneath Mekonta, and finds a televiewer to warn "Speedstar" not to land there, and to turn back the Theron fleet also heading there. In the process, he loses his wristwatch.

The Mekon enters the same room shortly after Dan leaves, and finds the watch, which makes him realise that Dan must be alive. A Treen guard knocks Xalto unconscious for treachery, and Steve and Groupie are led out as human shields on a search for Dan. Convinced that Dan is within earshot of him, Steve yells a warning, for which he too is knocked out and dragged back to where Xalto is lying.

The Treens eventually corner Dan who locks himself in a room, which the Mekon realises is a gas chamber. With the gas turned on, Dan comes out and surrenders.

Steve and Xalto come around and overpower their guard. They then go to the communications centre and send a message to Sir Hubert that the situation is now hopeless unless they attack in full force, and Sir Hubert decides to fire a nuclear missile at Mekonta. The Mekon's guards then enter the communications centre, recapture Steve and Xalto, and view the approach of the Earth-Theron fleet. The Mekon realises what the fleet intends to do.

The Mekon has Dan, Steve, Groupie and Xalto pegged to the ground. He then has the Treens of Mekonta herded safely underground, while he and his troops take off in their ships, intending to return after the missile has struck.

In "Speedstar", Flamer is viewing the surface of Mekonta, and notices the prisoners staked to the ground, but a split second after Sir Hubert has launched the missile, "Multum Mark V". "Speedstar"'s pilot desperately tries to divert the missile, which turns eighty degrees at the very last moment.

The up-draught from the missile tears one of Xalto's arms free, and he is able to untie himself and his allies. Now, Dan realises that he must contact the Mekon -- the limpet mine is still on the hull of his flagship, and due to explode in twenty minutes.

The Earth-Theron fleet lands and is able to guard the entrances to the catacombs, holding the Treens in them. Other ships hover between the Mekon and Venus, and the Mekon decides to make a strategic withdrawal. As he heads into space, Multum Mark V, which "Speedstar"'s pilot had allowed to lose itself in space, appears. Its sensors lock onto one of the Mekon's ships, into which it crashes. The resulting explosion destroys all but the flagship.

Dan speaks to the Mekon by televiewer, informing him about the limpet mine, which now has only five minutes to detonation. The Mekon sends his troops on a spacewalk to find it. They cannot, but, certain that Dan is telling the truth, they realise that it would be suicide to stay near the flagship and desert into space.

Dan tells the Mekon to use the Solar-Cell as a lifeboat. The Mekon reluctantly agrees, and watches as the limpet mine finally destroys his last ship. Dan and Digby spacewalk over to the Cell, and push it towards "Speedstar". The ships then head for Earth, the Mekon a prisoner at last.

Notes

* Frank Hampson was unable to draw this strip due to ill-health, so the Hampson studio's "roughs" were sent to Desmond Walduck, a freelance artist who used a similar style.

* Christopher Phillip "Flamer" Spry, who debuts in this story would become a regular member of Dan's team from now on as Frank Hampson realised that he was of a similar age to "Eagle"'s readership, something the strip had previously lacked.


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