Transcriber's Note: This e-text was produced from Astounding Stories, March, 1932. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
The Affair of the Brains
A Complete Novelette
By Anthony Gilmore
Off to the Rendezvous
Though it is seldom nowadays that Earthmen hear mention of Hawk Carse, there are still places in the universe where his name retains all its old magic. These are the lonely outposts of the farthest planets, and here when the outlanders gather to yarn the idle hours away their tales conjure up from the past that raw, lusty period before the patrol-ships came, and the slender adventurer, gray-eyed and with queer bangs of hair obscuring his forehead, whose steely will, phenomenal ray-gun draw and reckless space-ship maneuverings combined to make him the period's most colorful figure. These qualities of his live again in the outlanders' reminiscences and also of course his score of blood-feuds and the one great feud that shook whole worlds in its final terrible settling—the feud of Hawk Carse and Dr. Ku Sui.
Again and again the paths of the adventurer and the sinister, brilliant Eurasian crossed, and each crossing makes a rich tale. Time after time Ku Sui, through his several bands of space-pirates, his individual agents and his ambitious web of power insidiously weaving over the universe, whipped his tentacles after the Hawk, and always the tentacles coiled back, repulsed and bloody. An almost typical episode is in the affair which followed what has been called the Exploit of the Hawk and the Kite.
It will be remembered—as related in "Hawk Carse"—that Dr. Ku laid a most ingenious trap for Carse on the latter's ranch on Iapetus, eighth satellite of Saturn. Judd the Kite, pirate and scavenger, was the Eurasian's tool in this plot, which started with a raid on the ranch. The fracas which followed the Hawk's escape from the trap was bloody and grim enough, and resulted in the erasure of Judd and all his men save one; but the important thing to the following affair was that Judd's ship, the Scorpion, fell into Carse's hands with one prisoner and the ship's log, containing the space coordinates for a prearranged assignation of Judd with Ku Sui.
 See the November, 1931, issue of Astounding Stories.
All other projects were postponed by the Hawk at this opportunity to meet Dr. Ku face to face. The trail of the Eurasian was the guiding trail of his life, and swiftly he moved along it.
There was work to be done before he could set out. Three men had emerged alive from the clash between the Hawk and the Kite: Carse himself, Friday, his gigantic negro companion in adventure, and a bearded half-caste called Sako, sole survivor of Judd's crew. Aided sullenly by this man, they first cleaned up the ravaged ranch, burying the bodies of the dead, repairing fences and generally bringing order out of confusion. Then, under Carse's instructions, Friday and the captive brigand tooled the adventurer's own ship, the Star Devil, well into the near-by jungle, while the Hawk returned to the Scorpion.
He went into her control cabin, opened her log book and once more scanned what interested him there. The notation ran:
"E.D. (Earth Date) 16 January, E.T. (Earth Time) 2:40 P.M. Meeting ordered by Ku Sui, for purpose of delivering the skeleton and clothing of Carse to him, at N.S. (New System) X-33.7; Y-241.3; Z-92.8 on E.D. 24 January, E.T. 10:20 P.M. Note: the ship is to stand by at complete stop, the radio's receiver open to Ku Sui's private wave (D37, X1293, R3) for further instructions."
He mulled over it, slowly stroking his flaxen bangs. It was a chance, and a good one. Judd's ship would keep that rendezvous, but it would sheathe the talons of the Hawk. This time a trap would be laid for Ku Sui.
* * * * *
The plan was simple enough, on the face of it, but the Eurasian was a master of cunning as well as a master of science, and high peril attended any matching of wits with him. Carse closed the log, his face bleak, his mind made up. A shuffle of feet brought his gaze up to the port-lock entrance.
Friday, stripped to shorts, a sweat-glistening ebony giant, stood there. Shaking the drops of steaming perspiration from his face, he reported:
"All finished, suh—got the Star Devil in the jungle where you said to hide her. An' now what? You still figurin' on keepin' that date with Dr. Ku in this ship?"
Carse nodded, absently.
"Then where'll we pick up a crew, suh? Porno? It's the nearest port, I reckon."
"I'm not taking any crew, Eclipse."
Friday gaped in surprise at his master, then found words:
"No crew, suh? Against Ku Sui? We'll be throwin' our lives——"
"I've lost enough men in the last two days," Carse cut in shortly. "And this meeting with Dr. Ku is a highly personal affair. You and I and Sako can run the ship; we've got to." One of the man's rare smiles relaxed his face. "Of course," he murmured, "I'm risking your life, Eclipse. Perhaps I'd better leave you somewhere?"
"Say!" bellowed the negro indignantly.
The Hawk's smile broadened at the spontaneous exclamation of loyalty.
"Very well, then," he said. "Now send Sako to me, and prepare ship for casting off."
But as Friday went aft on a final thorough inspection of all mechanisms, he muttered over and over, "Two of us—against Ku Sui! Two of us!" and he was still very much disturbed when, after Carse had had a few crisp words with the captive Sako, telling him that he would be free but watched and that it would be wise if he confined himself to his duties, the order came through to the engine room:
Gently the brigand ship Scorpion stirred. Then, in response to the delicate incline of her space-stick, she lifted sweetly from the crust of Iapetus and at ever-increasing speed burned through the satellite's atmosphere toward the limitless dark leagues beyond.
The Hawk was on the trail!
* * * * *
Carse took the first watch himself. Except for occasional glances at the banks of instruments, the screens and celestial charts, he spent his time in deep thought, turning over in his mind the several variations of situation his dangerous rendezvous might take.
First, how would Ku Sui contact the Scorpion? Any of three ways, he reasoned: come aboard from his own craft accompanied by some of his men; stay behind and send some men over to receive the remains of the Hawk—for either of which variations he was prepared; or, a third, and more dangerous, direct that the remains of Carse be brought over to his ship, without showing himself or any of his crew.
Whatever variations their contacting took, there was another consideration, Carse's celestial charts revealed, and that was the proximity of the rendezvous to Jupiter's Satellite III, less than three hundred thousand miles. Satellite III harbored Port o' Porno, main refuge and home of the scavengers, the hi-jackers, and out-and-out pirates of space, so many of whom were under Ku Sui's thumb. Several brigand ships were sure to be somewhere in the vicinity, and one might easily intrude, destroying the hairbreadth balance in Carse's favor....
There was peril on every side. The Hawk considered that it would be wise to make provision against the odds proving too great. So, his gray eyes reflective, he strode to the Scorpion's radio panel and a moment later was saying over and over in a toneless voice:
"XX-1 calling XX-2—XX-1 calling XX-2—XX-1 calling XX-2...."
* * * * *
After a full two minutes there was still no answer from the loudspeaker. He kept calling: "XX-1 calling XX-2—XX-1 calling XX-2—XX-1 calling——"
He broke off as words in English came softly from the loudspeaker:
"XX-2 answering XX-1. Do you hear me?"
"Yes. Give me protected connection. Highly important no outsider overhears."
"All right," the gentle voice answered. "Protected. Go ahead, old man."
The Hawk relaxed and his face softened. "How are you, Eliot?" he asked almost tenderly.
"Just fine, Carse," came in the clear, cultured voice of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow, probably the greatest scientific mind in the solar system, Ku Sui being the only possible exception. He spoke now from his secret laboratory on Jupiter's Satellite III, near Porno, this transcendent genius who, with Friday, was one of Carse's two trusted comrades-in-arms. "I've been expecting you," he went on. "Has something happened?"
"I'm concerned with Ku Sui again," the Hawk told him swiftly. "Please excuse me; I have to be brief. I can't take any chances of his hearing any of this." He related the events of the last two days: Judd's attack on the Iapetus ranch, the subsequent fight and outcome, and finally his present position and intention of keeping the rendezvous. "The odds are pretty heavily against me, M. S.," he went on. "It would be stupid not to admit that I may not come out of this affair alive—and that's why I'm calling. My affairs, of course, are in your hands. You know where my storerooms and papers are. Sell my trading posts and ranches; Hartz of Newark-on-Venus is the best man to deal through. But I'd advise you to keep for yourself that information on the Pool of Radium. Look into it sometime. I'm in Judd's ship, the Scorpion; our Star Devil's on Iapetus, hidden in the jungle near the ranch. That's all, I think."
"Carse, I should be with you!"
"No, M. S.—couldn't risk it. You're too valuable a man. But don't worry, you know my luck. I'll very likely be down to see you after this meeting, and perhaps with a visitor who will enable you once again to return to an honorable position on Earth. Where will you be?"
"In eight Earth days? Let's make it Porno, at the house you know. I'll come in for some supplies and wait for you."
"Good," the Hawk said shortly. "Good-by, M. S."
He paused, his hand on the switch. There came a parting wish:
"Good luck, old fellow. Get him! Get him!"
The Master Scientist's voice trembled at the end. Through Ku Sui he had lost honor, position, home—all good things a man on Earth may have; through Ku Sui he, the gentlest of men, was regarded by Earthlings as a black murderer and there was a price on his head. Hawk Carse did not miss the trembling in his voice. As he switched off, the adventurer's eyes went bleak as the loneliest deeps of space....
The Coming of Ku Sui
Straight through the vast cold reaches that stretched between one mighty planet and another the Scorpion arrowed, Carse and Friday standing watch and watch, Sako always on duty with the latter. Behind, Saturn's rings melted smaller, and ahead a dusky speck grew against the vault of space until the red belts and one great seething crimson spot that marked it as Jupiter stood out plainly. By degrees, then, the ship's course was altered as Carse checked his calculations and made minor corrections in speed and direction. So they neared the rendezvous. And a puzzled furrow grew on Friday's brow.
What was bothering his master? Instead of becoming more impassive and coldly emotionless as the distance shortened, he showed distinct signs of worry. This might be natural in most men, but it was unusual in the Hawk. Often the negro found him abstractedly smoothing his bangs of hair, pacing the length of the control cabin, glancing, plainly worried, at the visi-screen. What special thing was wrong? Friday wondered again and again—and then, in a flash, he knew.
"Why—how we goin' to see Dr. Ku?" he burst out. "Didn't that Judd say somethin'——"
The Hawk nodded. "That's just the problem, Eclipse. For you'll remember Judd said that Ku Sui 'comes out of darkness, out of empty space.' That might mean invisibility or the Fourth Dimension—and God help us if he's solved the problem of dimensional traveling. I don't know—but it's something I can't well prepare against." He fell to musing again, utterly lost in thought.
* * * * *
A day and a half later found Friday genuinely worried—an unusual state for the always cheerful black. The laugh wrinkles of his face were re-twisted into lines of anxiety which gave his face a most solemn and lugubrious expression. From time to time he grasped the butt of his ray-gun with a grip that would have pulped an orange; occasionally his rolling brown eyes sought the gray ones of the Hawk, only to return as by a magnet to the visi-screen, whose five adjoining squares mirrored the whole sweep of space around them.
Jupiter now filled one side of the forward observation window. It was a vast, red-belted disk, an eye-thrilling spectacle at their distance, roughly a million miles. Against it were poised two small pale globes, the larger of which was Satellite III. Several hours before, when they had been closer to the satellite, Carse had scrutinized it through the electelscope and made out above its surface a silver dot which was a space-ship. It was bound inward toward Port o' Porno, and might well have been one of Ku Sui's. But the Scorpion, slowing down for her rendezvous, had attracted no attention and had passed undisturbed.
Now she hung motionless—that is, motionless with respect to the sun. Only the whisper of the air-renewing machinery disturbed the tension in her control cabin where the three men stood waiting, glancing back and forth from the visi-screen to the Earth clock and its calendar attachment. The date the clock showed was 24 January, the time, 10:21 P. M. Dr. Ku Sui was one minute late.
Sako, the captive, was sullen and restless, and made furtive glances at the Hawk, who stood detached, arms hanging carelessly at his sides, gray eyes half closed, giving in his attitude no hint of the strain the others were feeling. But his attitude of being relaxed and off his guard was deceptive—as Sako found out. Suddenly his left hand seemed to disappear; there was a hiss, an arrowing streak of spitting orange light; and Sako was gaping foolishly at the arm he had stealthily raised to one of the radio switches. A smoking sear had appeared as if by magic across it.
Hawk Carse sheathed his gun. "I would advise you to try no more obvious tricks," he said coldly. "Cutting in our microphone is too simple a way to give warning to Dr. Ku Sui. Move away from there. And don't forget your lines when Dr. Ku calls. You will never act a part before a more critical and deadly audience."
Sako mumbled something and rubbed his arm. A pitying smile came to Friday's face as he comprehended what had happened. "You damned fool!" he said.
* * * * *
It was 10:22 P.M. Still, in the visi-screen, no other ship. Nothing but the giant planet, the smaller satellites poised against it, and the deep star-spangled curtain of black space all around.
They had carefully followed the instructions in the log. They were at the exact place noted there: checked and double-checked. The radio receiver was tuned to the wave-length given in the log. But of Ku Sui, nothing.
And yet, in a way, he was with them. His enigmatic personality, his seldom-seen figure was very present in their minds, and with it were overtones of all the diabolic cunning and suave ironic cruelty that men always associated with him. "He comes out of darkness, out of empty space...." Friday licked his lips. He was not built for mental strain: his lips kept drying and his tongue was as leather.
A little sputtering sound tingled the nerves of the three waiting men, and as one their eyes went to the radio loudspeaker. A contact question was being asked in the usual way:
"Are you there, Judd? Are you there, Judd? Are you there, Judd?"
The voice was not that of Ku Sui. It was a dead voice, toneless, emotionless, mechanical.
"Are you there, Judd?" it went on, over and over.
"The mike switch, Friday," the Hawk said, and then was at Sako's side, his ray-gun transfixing the man with its threatening angle. "Play your part well," was the whisper from his lips.
The switch went over with a click. Trembling, Sako faced the microphone.
"This is Sako," he said.
"Sako?" the dead voice asked. "I want Judd. Where is Judd?"
"Judd is dead. The trap failed, and there was a fight on Iapetus. Judd was killed by Carse, and most of the others. Only two of us are left, but we have Carse and the negro, prisoners, alive. What are your instructions?"
A half minute went by, and the three men hardly breathed.
"How do we know you are Sako?" said the voice at last. "Give the recognition."
"The insignia of Dr. Ku Sui?"
"Yes. It is——"
Carse's ray-gun prodded the stomach of the sweating Sako.
"An asteroid," he said hastily, "in the center of a circle of the ten planets."
The unseen speaker was quiet. Evidently he was conferring with someone else, probably Ku Sui.
"All right," his toneless voice came back at last. "You will remain motionless in your present position, keeping your radio receiver open for further instructions. We are approaching and will be with you in thirty minutes."
Carse motioned to Friday to switch off the mike. Sako sank limply into a chair, soaked with perspiration.
"Now we must wait again," the Hawk murmured, crossing his arms and scanning the visi-screen.
* * * * *
They had heard from Ku Sui, but that had not answered the old tormenting question of how he would come. It was more puzzling than ever. The visi-screen showed nothing, and it should have shown the Eurasian's decelerating ship even at twice thirty minutes' time away. They looked upon the same vista of Jupiter and his satellites, framed in eternal blackness; there was no characteristic steely dot of an approaching ship to give Carse the enemy's position and enable him to shape his plan of reception definitely.
Twenty minutes went by. The strain the Hawk was under showed only in his pulling at the bangs of flaxen hair that covered his forehead as far as the eyebrows. He had, from Judd's words, expected a mystery in Ku Sui's approach. There was nothing to do but wait; he had made what few plans and preparations he could in advance.
Friday broke the tense silence in the control cabin. "He's got to be somewhere!" he exploded. "It isn't natural for the screen not to show nothin'! Isn't there somethin' we can do?"
The Hawk was surprisingly patient. "I'm afraid not," he said. "It's invisibility he's using, or else the fourth dimension, as Judd said. But we've got one good chance. He'll send more instructions by radio, and surely, after that, his ship will appear——"
A new voice, bland and unctuous, spoke in the control cabin from behind the three men.
"Not necessarily, my honored friend Carse," it said. "You will observe there is no need for a ship to appear."
Ku Sui had come.
The Wave of a Handkerchief
He stood smiling in the door-frame leading aft to the rear entrance port. There was all grace in his posture, in the easy angle at which one arm rested against the side bulkhead, in the casual way in which he held the ray-gun that bored straight at Carse. Height and strength he had, and a perfectly proportioned figure. Beauty, too, of face, with skin of clearest saffron, soft, sensitive mouth and ascetic cheeks. His hair was fine and black, and swept straightly back from the high narrow forehead where lived his tremendous intelligence.
It was his eyes that gave him away, his eyes of rare green that from a distance looked black. Slanting, veiled, unreadable beneath the lowered silky lashes, there was the soul of a tiger in their sinister depths. It was his eyes that his victims remembered....
"So you have arrived, Dr. Ku," whispered Hawk Carse, and for a second he too smiled, with eyes as bleak and hard as frosty chilled steel. Their glances met and held—the cold, hard, honest rapier; the subtle perfumed poison. The other men in the cabin were forgotten; the feeling was between these two. Strikingly contrasted they stood there: Carse, in rough blue denim trousers, faded work-shirt, open at the neck, old-fashioned rubber shoes and battered skipper's cap askew on his flaxen hair; Ku Sui, suavely impeccable in high-collared green silk blouse, full-length trousers of the same material, and red slippers, to match the wide sash which revealed the slender lines of his waist. A perfume hung about the man, the indescribable odor of tsin-tsin flowers from the humid jungles of Venus.
"You see I meet you halfway, my friend," the Eurasian said with delicate mock courtesy. "A surpassing pleasure I have anticipated for a long time. No, no! I see that already I shall have to ask you a small favor. A thousand pardons: it's my deplorable ability to read your mind that requires me to ask it. Your so justly famed speed on the draw might possibly overcome this advantage"—he raised his ray-gun slightly—"and, though I know you would not kill me—save in the direst emergency, since you wish to take me a living prisoner—I would find it most distressing to have to carry for the rest of my life a flaw on my body. So, may I request you to withdraw your ray-guns with two fingertips and put them on the floor? Observe—your fingertips. Will you be so kind?"
* * * * *
The Hawk looked at him for a minute. Then silently he obeyed. He knew that the Eurasian would have no compunctions about shooting him down in cold blood; but, on the other hand, even as the man had said, he could not kill Ku Sui, but had to capture him, in order to take him to Earth to confess to crimes now blamed on Eliot Leithgow. "Do as he says, Friday," he instructed the still staring negro; and, like a man in a trance, Friday obeyed.
"Thank you," the Eurasian said. "It was a most friendly thing to do." He paused. "I suppose you are wondering how I arrived here, and why you did not see me come. Well, I shall certainly tell you, in return for your favor. But first—ah, friend Carse—your gesture! A reminder, I assume."
Slowly the Hawk was stroking the bangs of hair which had been trained to obscure his forehead. There was no emotion on his chilly face as he answered, no slightest sign of feeling unless it were a slight trembling of the left eyelid—significant enough to those who could read it.
"Yes," he whispered, "a reminder. I do not like to wear my hair like this, Ku Sui, and I want you to know that I've not forgotten; that, though I'm now in your power, there'll be a day——"
"But you wouldn't threaten your host!" the other said with mock surprise. "And surely you wouldn't threaten me, of all men. Must I point out how useless it has always been for you to match yourself, merely a skilful gunman, against me, against a brain?"
"Usually," the cold whisper came back, "the brain has failed in the traps it has laid for the gunman."
"Only because of the mistakes of its agents. Unfortunately for you, the brain is dealing with you directly this time, my friend. It's quite a different matter. But this small talk—although you honor——"
"Of course you intend to kill me," said the Hawk. "But when?"
Dr. Ku gestured deprecatingly. "You insist on introducing these unpleasant topics! But to relieve your mind, I've not yet decided how I can entertain you most suitably. I have come primarily to ask you one trifling thing."
"And that is?"
"The whereabouts of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow."
* * * * *
Hawk Carse smiled. "Your conceit lends you an extraordinary optimism, Dr. Ku."
"Not unfounded, I am sure. I desire very much to meet our old friend Leithgow again: his is the only other brain in this universe at all comparable to mine. And did I tell you that I always get what I desire? Well, will you give me this information? Of course, there are ways...."
For a moment he waited.
The Hawk only looked at him.
"Always in character," the Eurasian said regretfully. "Very well." He turned his head and took in Friday and Sako, standing near-by. "You are Sako?" he asked the latter. "It is most unfortunate that you had to deceive me a little while ago. We shall have to see what to do about it. Later. For the present, move farther back, out of the way. So. You, black one, next to my friend Carse: we must be moving along. So."
Ku Sui surveyed then with inscrutable eyes. Gracefully, he drew close.
Carse missed not a move. He watched the Eurasian draw, from one of the long sleeves of his blouse, a square of lustrous black silk.
"This bears my personal insignia, you see," he murmured. "You will remember it." And he languidly waved it just under their eyes.
Friday stared at it; Carse too, wonderingly. He saw embroidered in yellow on the black a familiar insignia composed of an asteroid in the circle of ten planets. And then alarm lit his brain and he grimaced. There was a strange odor in his nostrils and it came from the square of silk.
"Characteristic, Dr. Ku," he said. "Quite characteristic."
The Eurasian smiled. An expression of stupid amazement came over Friday's face. The design of asteroid and planets wavered into a blur as the Hawk fought unconsciousness; a short, harsh sound came from his lips; he lurched uncertainly. The negro crumpled up and stretched out on the deck. Carse's desire to sleep grew overpowering. Once more, as from a distance, he glimpsed Ku Sui's smile. He tried to back to the wall; made it; then a heavy thump suggested to his dimming mind that he had collapsed to the deck. He was asleep at once....
Hawk Carse awoke with a slight feeling of nausea, and the smell of the drug faint in his nostrils. He found he was lying on the floor of a large, square cell whose walls and ceiling were of some burnished brown metal and which was bare of any kind of furnishing. In one wall was a tightly closed door, also of metal and studded by the knob of a lock. Barred slits, high in opposite walls, gave ventilation; a single tube set in the ceiling provided illumination.
He was not bound. He sat up and regarded the outflung figure of Friday, lying to one side. "Something in his look seemed to reach the giant negro, for, as he watched, the man's eyelids flickered, and a sigh escaped his full lips. He stared up at Carse, recognition, followed by gladness, flooding his eyes. The Hawk smiled also. There were close bonds between these two.
"Lord, I'm sure thankful to be with you, suh!" said the negro with relief. His eyes rolled as he took in the cabinlike cell. "Hmff—nice homey little place," he remarked. "Where do you reckon we are, suh?"
"I think we're at last at that place we have searched so long for—Ku Sui's headquarters, his own spaceship."
It will be remembered by those who have read their history that the Eurasian's actual base of operations was for a long time the greatest of the mysteries that enveloped him. Half a dozen times had the Hawk and his comrade in arms, Eliot Leithgow, hunted for it with all their separate skill of adventurer and scientist, and, although they had twice found the man himself, always they had failed to find his actual retreat.
For those who are unacquainted with the histories of that raw period a hundred years ago, it will be impossible to understand the spell of fear which accompanied mention of Dr. Ku throughout the universe—a fear engendered chiefly by the man's unpredictable comings and goings, thanks to his secret hiding place. Those who were as close to him as henchmen could be—which was not very close—only added to the general mystery of the whereabouts of the base by their sincerely offered but utterly contradictory notions and data. One thing all agreed on: the outlaw's lair was a place most frightening.
Therefore it can be understood why, on hearing the Hawk's opinion, Friday's face fell somewhat.
"Guess that means we're finished, suh," he opined moodily.
* * * * *
Carse had walked to the lone door and found, as he of course expected, that it was tightly locked. He responded crisply:
"It's not like you to talk that way, Eclipse. We're far from that. We have succeeded in the first step—if, as I suspect, this cell is part of Dr. Ku's real headquarters—and surely before he decides to eliminate us we will be able to learn something of the nature of his space-ship; perhaps how it can be attacked and conquered."
Conversation always cheered the naturally social Friday; he seldom had the opportunity for it with his usually curt master. He objected:
"But what good'll that do us, suh, if we take what we've learned to where it won't help anybody, least of all us? An' what chance we got against Ku Sui now, when we're prisoners? Why, he's a magician; it ain't natural, what he does. Lands in our ship plop right out of empty space! Puts us out with a wave of his handkerchief!" With final misery in his voice he added: "We're sunk, suh. This time we surely are."
Carse smiled at his emotional friend. "All you need is a good fight, Eclipse. It's thinking that disintegrates your morale; you should never try to think. Why—there was an anesthetic on that handkerchief! Simple enough; I might have expected it. As for his getting into our ship, he entered from behind, through the after port-lock, while we were looking for his ship on the visi-screen. I don't understand yet why we could not see his craft. It's too much to suppose he could make it invisible. Paint, perhaps, or camouflage. He might have a way of preventing, from a distance, the registering of his ship on our screen. Oh, he's dangerous, clever, deep—but somewhere, there'll be a loophole. Somewhere. There always is." His tone changed, and he snapped: "Now be quiet. I want to think."
* * * * *
His face stiffened into a cold, calm mask, but behind his gray eyes lay anything but calmness. Ku Sui's easy assumption that the information as to Eliot Leithgow's whereabouts would be forthcoming from his lips, puzzled him, brought real anxiety. Torture would probably not be able to force his tongue to betray his friend, but there were perhaps other means. Of these he had a vague and ominous apprehension. Dr. Ku was preeminently a specialist in the human brain; he had implied his will to have that information. Suppose he should use something it was impossible to fight against?
And he alone, Hawk Carse, brought the responsibility. He had asked Leithgow where he would be, and he remembered well the place agreed upon. He dared not lose the battle of wits he knew was coming!...
His eyes shot to the door. It was opening. In a moment Ku Sui stood revealed there, and behind him, in the corridor, were three other figures, their yellow coolie faces strangely dumb and lifeless above the tasteful gray smocks which extended a little below their belted waists. Each bore embroidered on his chest the planetary insignia of Ku Sui in yellow, and each was armed with two ray-guns.
"I must ask forgiveness, my friend, for these retainers who accompany me," the Eurasian began suavely. "Please don't let them disturb you, however; they are more robots than men, obeying only my words. A little adjustment of the brain, you understand. I have brought them only for your protection; for you would find it would result most unpleasantly to make a break for freedom."
"Of course, you're not the one who wants protection!" sneered Friday, with devastating sarcasm. "Or else you'd 'a' brought a whole army!"
But the negro paled a little when the Oriental's green tiger eyes caught him full. It was with a physical shock—such was the power of the man—that he received the soft-spoken reply:
"Yours is a most subtle and entertaining wit, black one; I am overcome with the honor and pleasure of having you for my guest. But perhaps—may I suggest?—that you save your humor for a more suitable occasion. I would like to make the last few hours of your visit as pleasant as possible."
* * * * *
He turned to Hawk Carse. "I have thought that an inspection of this, my home in space, would intrigue you more than anything else my poor hospitality affords. May I do you the honor, my friend?"
"You are too good to me," the Hawk replied frostily. "I will duplicate your kindness some day."
The Eurasian bowed. "After you," he said, and waited until Friday and the Hawk passed first through the door. Close after them came the three automatons of yellow men.
The passageway was square, plain and bare, and spaced at intervals by other closed doors. "Storerooms in this wing," the Eurasian explained as they progressed. He stopped in front of one of the doors and pressed a button beside it. It slid noiselessly open, revealing, not another room, but a short metal spider ladder. Up this they climbed, one of the guards going first in the half darkness; then a trap-door above opened to douse them with warm ruddy light. They stepped out.
And the scene that met them took them completely off guard. Friday gasped, and Carse so far lost his habitual poise as to stare in wonder.
Soil! And a great glassy dome!
* * * * *
Not a space-ship, this realm of Ku Sui. Soil—soil with a whole settlement built upon it! Hard, grayish soil, and on it several buildings of the familiar burnished metal. And overhead, cupping the entire outlay, arched a great hemisphere of what resembled glass, ribbed with silvery supporting beams and struts: an enormous bowl, turned down, and on its other side the glorious vista of space.
Straight above hung the red-belted disk of Jupiter, with the pale globes of Satellites II and III wheeling close, and all of them were of the same relative size they had appeared when last seen from the Scorpion!
Dr. Ku smiled unctuously at the puzzlement that showed on the faces of his captives.
"Have you noticed," he asked, "that you are still in the neighborhood of the spot in space where we had our rendezvous? But this isn't another of Jupiter's satellites. Ah, no. This is my own world—my own personally controlled little world!"
"Snakes of the Santo!" Friday gasped, the whites of his eyes showing all around. "Then we must be on an asteroid!"
They were. From the far side of the dome ahead of them the asteroid stretched back hard and sharp in Jupiter's ruddy light against the backdrop of black space. It was a craggy, uneven body, seemingly about twenty miles in length, pinched in the middle and thus shaped roughly like a peanut shell. One end had been leveled off to accommodate the dome with its cradled buildings; outside the dome all was untouched. The landscape was a gargantuan jumble of coarse, hard, sharp rocks which had crystallized into a maze of hollows, crevices, long crazy splits and jagged out-thrusting lumps of boulders. Without an atmosphere, with but the feeblest of gravities and utterly without any form of life—save for that within the dome built upon it—it was simply a typical small asteroid, of which race only the largest are globe-shaped.
"Once," the Eurasian went on softly as they took all this in, "this world of mine circled with its thousands of fellows between Mars and Jupiter. I picked it from the rest because of certain mineral qualities, and had this air-containing dome constructed on it, and these buildings inside the dome. Then, with batteries of gravity-plates inserted precisely in the asteroid's center of gravity, I nullified the gravital pull of Mars and Jupiter, wrenched it from its age-old orbit and swung it free into space. An achievement that would command the respect even of Eliot Leithgow, I think. So now you see, Carse; now you know. This is my secret base, this my hidden laboratory. I take it always with me, and I travel where I will."
The Hawk nodded coldly his acceptance of the astounding fact; he was too busy to make comment. He was observing the buildings, the nature of them, the exits from the dome, how they could best be reached.
* * * * *
They stood on the roof of the largest and central building, a low metal structure with four wings, crossing at right angles to make the figure of a great plus mark. The hub was probably Dr. Ku's chief laboratory, Carse conjectured. On each side stood other buildings, low, long, like barracks, with figures of coolies moving in and out. Workshops, living quarters, power-rooms, he supposed: power-rooms certainly, for a soft hum filled the air.
There were two great port-locks at ground level in the dome, one on each side, each sizable enough to admit the largest space-ship and each flanked by a smaller, man-sized lock. To reach them....
"And over there," Dr. Ku's voice broke in, "you see your borrowed ship, the Scorpion. But please don't let it tempt you to cut short your visit with me, my friend. It would avail you nothing even if you reached her, for it requires a secret combination to open the port-locks, and my servants' brains have been so altered that they are physically incapable of divulging it to you. And of course I have offensive rays and other devices hidden about—just in case. All rather hopeless, isn't it? But surely interesting.
"Let us go: I have more. Below, in my main laboratory in the center of this building, there's something far more interesting, and it concerns you, Carse, and me, and also Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow." He let the words sink in. "Will you follow me?"
And so they went below again, down the spider ladder into the corridor. There was nothing else to do: the guards, ever watchful, pressed close behind. But a tattoo of alarm was beating in Hawk Carse's brain. Eliot Leithgow again—the hint of something ominous to be aimed at him, Carse, for the extraction of information he alone possessed: the whereabouts of his elderly friend the Master Scientist.
The corridor was stopped by a heavy metal door. As the small party approached, it swung inward in two halves, and a figure clad in a white surgeon's smock emerged. He was a white man, tall, with highly intelligent face but eyes strangely dull and lifeless, like those of the coolie-guards. His gaze rested on Ku Sui, and the Eurasian asked him:
"Is it ready?"
"Through here, then, my friends." The door opened and closed behind them as they stepped inside. "This is my main laboratory. And there, friend Carse, is the object which is to concern us."
With one glance the adventurer took in the laboratory. It was a great room, a perfect circle in shape, with doors opening into the four wings of the building. The walls were lined with strange, complicated machines, whose purpose he could not even guess at; in one place there was a table strewn with tangled shapes of wire, rows of odd-bulging tubes and other apparatus; and conspicuous by one door was an ordinary operating table, with light dome overhead. A tall wide screen placed a few feet out from the wall hid something bulky from view. Carse noted all these things; then his gaze went back to the object in the middle of the floor which Ku Sui had indicated.
It was, primarily, a chair, within a suspended framework of steely bars, themselves the foundation for a network of fine-drawn colored wires. Shimmering, like the gossamer threads of a spider's spinning, they wove upward, around and over the chair, so that he who sat there would be completely surrounded by the gleaming mesh.
Within the whole hung a plain square boxlike device, attached to the chair and so placed that it would be directly in front of the eyes of anyone sitting there. Ropes were reeved through pulleys in the ceiling, for raising the wire-ball device to permit entrance. And standing ready around it, were four men in surgeons' smocks—white men with intelligent faces and dull, lifeless eyes.
* * * * *
The Hawk knew the answer to the question he curtly asked. "Its purpose, Dr. Ku?"
"That," came the suave reply, "it will be your pleasure to discover for yourself. I can promise you some novel sensations. Nothing harmful, though, however much they may tire you. Now!" He gave a sign; one of his assistants touched a switch. The wire ball rose, leaving the central seat free for entrance. "All is ready. May I ask you to enter?"
Hawk Carse faced his old foe. There was stillness in the laboratory then as his bleak gray eyes met and held for long seconds Ku Sui's enigmatic green-black ones.
"If I don't?"
For answer the Eurasian gestured apologetically to his guards.
"I see," Carse whispered. There was nothing to be done. Three coolies, each with ray-guns at the ready; four white assistants.... No hope. No chance for anything. He looked at the negro. "Don't move, Friday," he warned him. "They'll only shoot; it can do no good. Eight to two are big odds when the two are unarmed."
He turned and faced the Eurasian, holding him with his eyes. "Ku Sui," he said, clipping the words, "you have said that this would not permanently harm me, and, although I know you for the most deadly, vicious egomaniac in the solar system, I am believing you. I do not know you for a liar.... I will enter."
The faint smile on the Oriental's face did not alter one bit at this. Carse stepped to the metal seat and sat down.
* * * * *
The web of shimmering wires descended, cupping him completely. Through them he saw Ku Sui go to a switchboard adjoining and study the indicators, finally placing one hand on a black-knobbed switch and with the other drawing from some recess a little cone, trailing a wire, like a microphone. A breathless silence hung over the laboratory. The white-clad figures stood like statues, dumb, unfeeling, emotionless. The watching negro trembled, his mouth half open, his brow already bedewed with perspiration. But the only sign of strain or tension that showed in the slender flaxen-haired man sitting in the wire ball in the center of the laboratory, came when he licked his dry lips.
Then Dr. Ku Sui pulled the switch down, and there surged out a low-throated murmur of power. And immediately the ball of wire came to life. The fine, crisscrossing wires disappeared, and in their stead was color, every color in the spectrum. Like waves rhythmically rising and falling, the tinted brilliances dissolved back and forth through each other; and the reflected light, caroming off the surfaces of the instruments and tables and walls, so filled the laboratory that the group of men surrounding the fire-ball were like resplendent figures out of another universe.
Ku Sui pressed a button, and the side of the boxlike device nearest Hawk Carse's eyes assumed transparency and started to glow. Beautiful colors began to float over its face, colors never still but constantly weaving and clouding into an infinity of combinations and designs. Eyes staring wide, as if unable to close them to the brilliant kaleidoscopic procession, the adventurer looked on.
* * * * *
Friday knew that his master at that moment was impotent to move, even to shut his eyes, and, with a wild notion that he was being electrocuted, he made a rash rush to destroy the device and free him. He learned discretion when two ray-streaks pronged before him and forced him back; and thereafter he was given the undivided attention of two guards.
From the outside, through the ball of color, Carse was a ghostlike figure. Rigid and quivering, he sat in the chair and watched the color-maelstrom. His face was contorted; his cheek muscles stood out weltlike in his sweat-glistening skin; his eyes, which he could not close, throbbed with agony. But yet he was conscious; yet he still could will.
He defended his secret as best he could. Obviously this machine was being used to force from his mind the knowledge of Eliot Leithgow's whereabouts, and therefore he attempted to seal his mind. He fastened it on something definite—on Iapetus, satellite of Saturn, and his ranch there—and barred every other thought from his head. Mechanically he repeated to himself: "Iapetus, Iapetus—my ranch on Iapetus—Iapetus, Iapetus." Hundreds of times.... Hours.... Days....
The blinding waves of color rioted about him, submerged him, fatigued him. He had a strong impulse to sleep, but he resisted it.
Days seemed to pass.... Years.... Eons. All this.... Continued without change.... To the end of the world....
Dimly he knew that the color-storm was working on him; sensed danger when a great drowsiness stole over him; but he fought it off, his brain beating out hundreds of times more: "Iapetus, Iapetus—I have a ranch there—Iapetus, Iapetus...."
Then came excruciating pain!
* * * * *
An electric shock suddenly speared him. His nerves seemed to curl up, and for a second his mind was thoroughly disorganized before it again took up the drone about Iapetus. Recovery ... dullness ... a kind of peace—and again the shock leaped through him. It was followed by a question from afar off:
"Where is Eliot Leithgow?"
Somehow the question meant a great deal and should not be answered....
Again the stab of agony. Again the voice:
"Where is Eliot Leithgow?"
Again the shock, and again the voice. Alternating, over and over. He could brace himself against the shock, but the voice could in no way be avoided. It was everywhere about him, over, around, under him; he began to see it. Desperately he forced his brain on the path it must not leave. He had forgotten years ago why, but knew there must be some good reason.
"Iapetus, Iapetus—I have a ranch there—Iapetus, Iapetus—Where is Eliot Leithgow?—Iapetus, Iapetus—I have a ranch there—Where is Eliot Leithgow—I have a ranch there—a ranch there—Iapetus, a ranch—Where is Eliot Leithgow?—Where is Eliot Leithgow?—Where is Eliot Leithgow?" ...
After two hours and ten minutes the Hawk crumpled.
He was quite delirious at the time. The combined effect of the pain, the physical and nervous exhaustion of the shocks and light, the endlessly repeated question, his own close concentration on his Iapetus ranch—these were too much for any human body to stand against. He lost his grip on his mind, lost the fine control that had never been lost before, the control about which he was so vain. And the lump of flesh that was Hawk Carse gave the information that was tearing wildly at its prison.
A stammering voice came from the heart of the color-sphere:
"Port o' Porno, Satellite III—Port o' Porno, Satellite III—Port o' Porno Sat——"
Dr. Ku Sui interrupted him; leaned forward.
"The house is number——?"
"Ah!" breathed the Eurasian. "Port o' Porno! So near!"
Ku Sui returned the switch and pressed one of the buttons. The pool of colors faded; the laboratory returned to comparative dimness. The machine in its center seemed but a great web of wire.
Slumped in the seat within it was a slender figure, his flaxen head bowed over on his chest, his eyes closed, and sweat still trickling down his unconscious brow.
And lying on the floor was another unconscious figure.
Friday had fainted.
Port o' Porno
The pirate port of Porno is of course dead now, replaced by the clean lawfulness of Port Midway, but a hundred years ago, in the days before the patrol-ships came, she roared her bawdy song through the farthest reaches of the solar system. For crack merchant ships and dingy space trading tramps alike, she was haven; drink and drugs, women and diversions unspeakable lured to her space ports the cream and scum, adventures and riffraff of half a dozen worlds. Sailors and pirates paid off at her and stayed as long as their wages lasted in the Street of the Sailors; not a few remained permanently, their bodies flung to the beasts of the savage jungle that rimmed the port. There only the cunning and strong could live. Ray-guns were the surest law. Modern scientific progress stood side by side with murderous lawlessness as old as man himself.
The hell town had grown with the strides of a giant, rising rapidly from a muddy street of tio shacks to a small cosmetropolis. She was essentially a place of contrasts. Two of the big Earth companies had modern space-ship hangars there, well-lighted, well-equipped, but under their very noses was a festering welter of dark, rutted byways extending all the way to the comparative orderliness of the short, narrow Street of the Merchants, itself flanked by the drunken bedlam of the Street of the Sailors. It can be understood why these men who flew, who needed a whole solar system for elbow room, disdained setting to order the measly few acres of dirt they stopped at, but it is a mystery why, when used to living through vast leagues of space, they endured such narrow streets and cluttered houses. Probably, tired from their long cramped cruises, impatient for their fling, they just didn't care a whoop.
The whole jumble that was this famous space port rested in the heart of Satellite III's primeval jungle.
* * * * *
Tall electric-wired fences girdled Port o' Porno to keep the jungle back. It was equivalent to a death sentence to pass unarmed outside them; the monstrous shapes that lived and fought in the jungle's swampy gloom saw to that. Hideous nightmare shapes they were, some reptilian and comparable only to the giants that roamed Earth in her prehistoric ages. Eating, fighting, breeding in the humid gloominess of the vegetation shrouded swamps, their bellows and roars sometimes at night thundered right through Porno, a reminder of Nature yet untamed. Occasionally, in the berserk ecstasy of the mating season, they hurled their house-high bodies at the guarding fences; and then there was panic in the town, and many lives ripped out before a barrage of rays drove the monsters back.
They were not the only inhabitants native to Satellite III. Deep underground, seldom seen by men, lived a race of man-mole creatures, half human in intelligence, blind from their unlit habitat, but larger than a man and stronger; fiercer, too, when cornered. Their numbers no one knew, but their bored tunnels, it had been found, constituted a lower layer of life over the whole satellite.
Probably more vicious than these native "Three's" of Porno were the visiting bipeds, man himself, who thronged the kantrans—which may be defined as dives for the purveying of all entertainments. In them were a score of snares for the buccaneer with money in his pocket and dope in his blood. The open doors on the Street of the Sailors were all loud-speakers of drunken oaths and laughter, pierced now and then by a scream or cry as someone in the sweating press of bodies inside knew rage or fear.
* * * * *
One interplanetarily notorious kantran made a feature of swinging its attractions aloft in gilded cages, where all of them, young and old, pale and painted, giant and dwarf, ogled the arrested passers-by and invited sampling of their wares.
Of all kinds and conditions of men were these passers-by. Earthling sailors, white, negro, Chinese and Eurasian, most of them in the drab blue of space-ship crews, but each with a ray-gun strapped to his waist; short, thin-faced Venusians, shifty-eyed, cunning, with the planet's universal weapon, the skewer-blade, sheathed at their sides; tall, sweaty Martians, powerful brutes, wearing the air-rarifying mask that was necessary for them in Satellite III's Earthlike atmosphere. Business men and sight-seers, except the most bold, were apt to stay in their houses after their first visit to the Street of the Sailors. Each face on the street or in the kantrans that lined it bore the mark of drink, or the contemptuous, insolent expression bred by Porno's favorite drug, isuan.
Around Porno was the constant threat of savage life; below it were half-human savagery and mystery; above, in the very shadow of their mighty engines of space, were the most vicious animals of all—degraded men.
This was the Port o' Porno of a hundred years ago.
This was the Port o' Porno where Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow for very good reasons had told Hawk Carse he would meet him. 574. The house of his friend.
* * * * *
Night descended suddenly on the outlaw space-port that day the elderly exile waited in vain for his comrade in arms Hawk Carse to show up.
There were six hours when the blasting heat received by Satellite III from near-lying Jupiter would be gone, and in its place a warm, cloying tropical darkness, heavy with the odors of town and exotic products and the damp, lush vegetation of the impinging jungle. The night would be given over to carousing; for these six hours the Street of the Sailors came to life. It was a time to keep strictly in hiding.
In the middle of that night, when the pleasures of Porno were in full stride, there emerged suddenly, from one of the dark, crooked byways that angled off the Street of the Sailors, a squad of five men whose disciplined pace and regular formation were in marked contrast to the confusion around them. They were slant-eyed men, with smooth saffron faces, and strongly built, and they were armed, each one, with both a ray-gun and a two-foot black, pointed tube. But it was not their numbers, formation or weapons that caused the carousing crowd to fall silent and hastily get out of their path. It was, rather, the insignia embroidered on the breasts of the gray smocks they wore. The insignia represented an asteroid in a circle of the ten planets, and the Street of Sailors knew that sign and dreaded it.
The squad pressed along rapidly. A still-comely woman, new to Porno, plucked smirking at the leader's sleeve; but his pace did not slacken, and she fell back, puzzled and afraid because of her feeling of something lifeless, dumb, machinelike in the man. Ahead, an isuan-maddened Earthling fell foul of a Venusian; a circle cleared in the mob, a ray-gun spat and missed, and the Venusian closed, the gleam of a skewer-blade playing around him. This was combat; this was interesting; but none of the squad's five men gave the fight a glance, or even turned his head when, as they passed, the butchered Earthling coughed out his life.
* * * * *
So they passed, and soon they were gone down another black-throated byway.
They padded noiselessly along in the darkness to turn again presently, pausing finally before a low, steel-walled house, typical of the strongholds of prudent merchants of the port. No lights were visible within it; all seemed asleep.
Silence filled the narrow street, and unrelieved darkness. Occasionally a desultory breeze brought sounds of a burst of revelry from the Street of the Sailors; once the ports of an outbound space-ship flashed overhead for an instant. But there was mainly silence and darkness, and in it the five men, parleying close together in toneless whispers.
After a little they separated. On cat's feet four of them stole around the sides of the house. The fifth, drawing the black, pointed tube from his slash, crept up to the front entrance-port and held the tip to it. Blue light sparkled fantastically, revealing his impassive face, outlining his crouching body. Then, quite suddenly, the port appeared to melt inward, and he disappeared into the blackness of the interior.
Presently there came a stir of movement, a whisper, a rustle from inside. A challenge, shouts volleying forth, a scream, another, and the peculiar rattling sound that comes from a dying man's throat. Then again silence.
Five shadows melted from the front entrance-port. They were carrying something black and still and heavy between them.
The errand was done....
The Coming of Leithgow
Hawk Carse awoke to the touch of a hand on his brow. He came very slowly to full consciousness. His pain was great.
His whole body was sore: every joint, every muscle in it ached; his brain was feverish, pumping turmoil. When he at length opened his eyes he found Friday's face bent close down, tender anxiety written large over it.
"You all right, suh? How do you feel now?"
A harsh sound came from the Hawk's throat. He pressed a hand to his throbbing temple and tried to collect his senses. Sitting up helped; he glanced around. They were back in the same cell, and they were alone. Then, shortly, he asked:
"Did I tell him?"
"About Mr. M. S., suh?"
"Of course, I can't quite remember—a bit blurred——"
"I guess you did, suh," Friday answered mournfully. "I didn't hear you, but Ku Sui said you told him where Master Leithgow is. But dog-gone—you couldn't help it!"
Carse forgot his pain as his brain straightened these words out into their overwhelming consequence, and something of its old familiar mold, hard and graven, emotionless, came back to his face. His eyes were bleak as he murmured:
"I couldn't help it—no. I really don't think it was possible. But I could have refused to get into the machine. I thought I could resist it. I took that risk, and failed." He stopped short. His body twitched with uncontrolled emotion, and in decency the negro turned his back on his master's anguish. A broken whisper reached him: "I have betrayed Leithgow."
* * * * *
For a short while neither man moved, or made any sound. Friday was a little afraid; he guessed what must be going on in Carse's mind, and had no idea what to expect. But the Hawk's next move was quite disciplined; he was himself again.
He got up and stretched his body, to limber its muscles. "How long have we been here?" he asked.
"Don't know suh; I was unconscious when they brought me here myself. But I guess not less'n six or eight hours."
"Unconscious?" asked the Hawk, surprised. "You fought, and they knocked you out?"
The big negro looked sheepish and scratched his woolly head.
"Well, no suh," he explained. "I was aimin' to butt in some, but they wouldn't let me."
"Then how did you get unconscious?"
Friday fidgeted. He was acutely embarrassed. "Don't know, suh, Dog-gone, I just can't figure it, unless I fainted."
"Oh." The Hawk smiled. "Fainted. Well so did I, I guess. I suppose," he went on seriously, "you couldn't tell whether the asteroid moved or not. I mean toward Satellite III."
Friday scratched his head again.
"I guess I can't, suh," he replied. "I haven't felt any movement."
"The door is locked?"
"Oh, yes, suh. Tight."
"Very well. Now please be silent. I want to think."
He went over and leaned against the far wall of the cell. His right hand rose to the bangs of flaxen hair and with a slow regular movement began to smooth them. Lost in thought he stood there, thinking through the situation in which he found himself.
He had expected, of course, to subject himself to great risk in keeping the rendezvous with Dr. Ku Sui, but he had never thought he would be endangering Eliot Leithgow also. It was torture to know he had put the gentle old scientist into the Eurasian's web.
That was it: if he could not somehow shear through that web, he must destroy Leithgow himself, and follow on after. The scientist would prefer it so. For whatever Dr. Ku's exact reason for wanting the Master Scientist was, it was an ugly one: that it was worse than quick death, he knew full well.
Shear through the web. How? Where was the weak strand in Ku Sui's cunningly laid plot? The Hawk visualized all he could of the asteroid's mechanical details, and surveyed them painstakingly. Two great port-locks flanked by little ones; secret opening combinations—not much hope in that avenue. Judd's ship, resting above: could he reach it, and raise it and douse the buildings with its rays? No; Dr. Ku had spoken of defense rays—they would certainly be far more powerful than the Scorpion's. Then, somewhere there were the mighty gravity-plates batteries which motivated the asteroid and held it controlled in space. The dynamos. Two men, working swiftly, might wreak an unholy amount of damage in little time; in the resulting confusion anything might happen. If!
* * * * *
Into the depths of his concentration came the odor of tsin-tsin flowers, followed by the familiar, silkie voice of his arch-enemy.
"I see you are deep in thought, my friend. I trust it indicates your complete recovery."
Dr. Ku Sui stood smiling in the doorway, his same bodyguard of three armed men behind him. His sardonic words brought no reply. He went on:
"I hope so. I have arranged, thanks to your kindness, a meeting with an old, dear friend of yours. An illustrious friend: he already honors my establishment with his presence. I have come to ask you to join us."
The Hawk's gray eyes turned frigid: a lesser man would have blanched at the threat implied in his answer.
"God help you, Ku Sui."
The Eurasian turned it aside. "Always," he said, "God helps those who help themselves. But come with me, if you'll be so kind. We are expected in the laboratory."
This exchange passed quickly. Friday was still grasping at its underlying meanings as they again filed down the short straight outside corridor. It brought a perverse satisfaction to see the coolie guards bearing their ray-guns unsheathed and ready. Ku Sui's general attitude did not fool him. He knew that the man's suave mockery and flowery courtesy were camouflage for a very real fear of the quick wits and brilliant, pointed action of his famous master, the Hawk.
Carse walked steadily enough, but every step he took beat in his mind like the accents of a dirge. For he had betrayed into the hands of the Eurasian his most loved and loyal friend. Betrayed him! Despicably egotistical he had been in submitting to the chair, in not making one last wild break for freedom at that time. He had thought he could beat Ku Sui at his own game. Ku Sui, of all men!
* * * * *
Unseen hands opened from the other side the metal laboratory door, they passed through and the close-fitting halves closed behind them. Ku Sui went to the main switchboard and Carse glanced rapidly around. Leithgow was not there. The wire-ball device was gone, but otherwise the details of the room were unchanged, even to the four white-clad assistants whose fine heads had eyes so lifeless and faces so expressionless. Emphasized, now, somehow, was the tall screen that hid something on one side of the room, and an intuition told the Hawk that what lay behind the screen was in some way connected with their fate.
He waited stolidly for what he knew was coming.
"Now," Dr. Ku murmured. He smiled at his two prisoners and pressed one of the switchboard's array of buttons. A door opposite them swung open.
"Believe me, this is a pleasure," he said.
Flanked by two impressive slant-eyed guards, a frail figure in a rubber apron stood revealed.
Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow blinked as he looked about the laboratory. Helpless, pitifully alone he looked, with his small, slightly stooped body, his tragedy-aged, deeply-lined face. The blue veins showed under the transparent skin of his forehead; his light-blue eyes, set deep under snow-white eyebrows, darted from side to side, dazed by the light and perhaps still confused by the events which had snatched him so suddenly from his accustomed round and struck him with such numbing force. His years and frailty were obviously fitted rather to some seat of science in a university on Earth than the raw conditions of the frontiers of space.
Hawk Carse found words, but could not control his voice.
"This is the first time I've ever been sorry to see you, M. S.," he said simply.
Dr. Ku Shows His Claws
The scientist brushed back his thinning white hair with a trembling hand. He knew that voice. He walked over and put his hands on his friend's shoulders.
"Carse!" he exclaimed. "Thank God, you're alive!"
"And you," said the Hawk.
Ku Sui interrupted.
"I am most glad, honored Master Scientist," he said in the flowery Oriental fashion that he affected in his irony, "to welcome you here. For me it is a memorable occasion. Your presence graces my home, and, however unworthily, distinguishes me, rewarding as it does aspirations which I have long held. I am humbly confident that great achievements will result from your visit——"
Quickly Eliot Leithgow turned and looked squarely at him. There was no bending of spirit in the frail old man. "Yes," he said, "my visit. Your sickening verbal genuflections beautifully evade the details—the house of my friend raided at night; he, himself, unarmed, shot down in cold blood; his house gutted! You are admirably consistent, Dr. Ku. A brilliant stroke, typical of your best!"
Five faint lines appeared across the Eurasian's high, narrow brow. "What?" he exclaimed. "Is this true? My servitors must be reprimanded severely; and meanwhile I beg you not to hold their impetuousness against me."
* * * * *
Carse could stand it no longer. This suave mockery and the pathetic figure of his friend; the mention of raid and murder——
"It's all my fault," he blurted out. "I told him where you were. I thought——"
"Oh, no!" Dr. Ku broke in, pleasantly protesting. "Captain Carse is gallant, but the responsibility's not his. I have a little machine—a trifle, but most ingenious at extracting secrets which persons attempt to hold from me. The Captain couldn't help himself, you see——"
"It was not necessary to tell me that," said Leithgow.
"Of course," the Eurasian agreed and for the first time seriously; "but let me suggest that the end justifies the means. And that brings me to my point. Master Scientist, now you may know that I have for some time been working toward a mighty end. This end is now in sight, with you here, the final achievement can be attained. An achievement——" He paused, and the ecstasy of the inspired fanatic came to his eyes. Never before had the three men standing there so seen him. "I will explain."
His eyes changed, and imperiously he gave an order to his assistants. "A chair for Master Leithgow, and one for Carse. Place them there." Then, "Be seated," he invited them with a return of his usual seeming courtesy. "I'm sure you must be tired."
Slowly Eliot Leithgow lowered himself into the metal seat. Friday, ignored, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The Hawk did not sit down until with old habit he had sized up the whole layout of laboratory, assistants and chances. The two chairs faced toward ward the high screen; to each side stood the five coolie-guards; mechanically alert as always; the four Caucasian assistants made a group of strange statues to the right.
Ku Sui took position, standing before the screen. Seldom did the cold, hard iron of the man show through the velvet of his manner as now.
"Yes," he said, "I will talk to you for a while; give you broad outline of my purpose. And when I have finished you will know why I have wanted you here so badly, Master Leithgow."
* * * * *
He began, and, as never before, he hid nothing of his monstrous ambition, his extraordinary preparations. With mounting fear his captives listened to his well-modulated voice as it proceeded logically from point to point. He had fine feeling for the dramatic, knew well the value of climax and pause; but his use of them was here unconscious, for he spoke straight from his dark and feline heart.
For the first time in the Affair of the Brains, the tiger was showing his claws.
"For a long time," Ku Sui said, "we four gathered here have fought each other. All over space our conflict has ranged, from Earth to beyond Saturn. I suppose there never have been more bitter enemies; I know there has never been a greater issue. I said we four, but I should have said we two, Master Leithgow. Captain Carse has commanded a certain respect from me, the respect one must show for courage, fine physical coordination and a remarkable instinct and capacity for self-preservation—but, after all, he is primarily only like the black here, Friday, and a much less splendid animal. It is a brain that receives my respect! A brain! Genius! I do not fear Carse: he is only an adventurer; but your brain, Master Leithgow, I respect.
"For, naturally, brains will determine the future of these planets around us. The man with the most profound and extensive scientific knowledge united to the greatest audacity—remember, audacity!—can rule them every one!"
He paused and looked into the eyes of the Master Scientist. Pointedly he said:
"You, Master Leithgow, have the brains but not the audacity. I have the audacity and the brains—now that you are here."
* * * * *
Cold prickles of fear chased down Carse's and the scientist's spine at this obscure threat. Some of their reaction must have shown in their faces, for the Eurasian permitted himself a brief, triumphant smile and added:
"You shall know just what I mean in but a few minutes. Right now, in this very laboratory, the fate of the planets is being decided!"
Hawk Carse licked his dry lips.
"Big words!" he said.
"Easily proved, Captain Carse, as you'll see. What can restrain the man who can instantly command Earth's master-minds of scientific knowledge, the man who has both a considerable brain of his own to call on and the mightiest brains in existence, all coordinated for perfect, instant effectiveness. Why, with these brains working for him, he can become omnipotent; there can be but feeble resistance to his steps toward universal power! Only chance, unpredictable chance, always at work, always powerful, can defeat him—and my audacity allows me to disregard what I cannot anticipate."
"You talk riddles," answered Leithgow. "You do not explain your intended means. What you imply you can do with brains is utterly impossible."
"Impossible? Ever a foolish word, Master. You know that the brain has always been my special study. As much as ten years ago, I was universally recognized as the greatest expert in my specialty. But I tell you that my knowledge of the subject was as nothing then to what it is now. I have been very busy these last ten years. Look!"
With a graceful sweep of a hand he indicated the four coolie-guards and his four white-smocked assistants.
"These men of mine," he continued, "do they appear normal, would you say? Or, rather, mechanicalized; lacking in certain things and thereby gaining enormously in the values which can make them perfect servitors? I have removed from their minds certain superficial qualities of thought. The four men in white were, a few years ago, highly skilled surgeons, three of them brain specialists and noted for exceptional intellects and bold, pioneering thinking. I needed them and took them, diverting them from their natural state, in which they would have resisted me and refused my commands. Certain complicated adjustments on their brains—and now their brains are mine, all their separate skill at my command alone!"
* * * * *
Leithgow sat back suddenly, astonishment and horror on his face. His lips parted as if to speak, then closed tightly together again. At last he uttered one word.
Dr. Ku smiled. "In a sense, yes. But let me go on.
"The reshaping of these mentalities and of the mentalities of all my coolies, were achievements, and valuable ones; but I wanted more. I wanted much more. I wanted the great, important part of all Earth's scientific knowledge at my fingertips, under my control. I wanted the exceptional brains of Earth, the brains of rare genius, the brains that lived like lonely stars, infinitely removed from the common herd. And more than that, I wanted them always; I wanted them ageless. For I had to seal my power!"
The Eurasian's words were coming more rapidly now, though the man's thoughts and tone were still under control; and Carse, sitting there silently, felt that the climax was being reached; that soon something unthinkable, something of dread, would be revealed. The voice went on:
"These brains I wanted were not many—only six in all. Most of them you knew, Master Leithgow, these men who constituted the cream of Earth's scientific ability. Professor Estapp, the good-looking young American; Dr. Swanson, the Swede; Master Scientist Cram—the great English genius Cram, already legendary, the only other of that rank beside yourself; Professor Geinst, the hunchbacked, mysterious German; and Dr. Norman—Dr. Sir Charles Esme Norman, to give him his English title. I wanted these men, and I got them! All except you, the sixth!"
* * * * *
Again Dr. Ku Sui smiled in triumph. To Eliot Leithgow his smile was unspeakable.
"Yes," the elderly scientist cried out, "you got them, you murderer!"
"Oh, no, no, Master Leithgow, you are mistaken. I did not kill them. Why should I be stupid as to do that? To these men I wanted so badly? No, no. Because these five scientists disappeared from Earth suddenly, without trace, without hint of the manner of their going, the stupid Earthlings believe they were killed! Stupid Earthlings! Abducted, of course; but why assume they were killed? And why, of all people, decide that Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow had something to do with their disappearance? I confess to having planted that evidence pointing to you, but if they had the sense of a turnip they would know that you were incapable of squashing a flea, let alone destroying five eminent brothers in science! You, jealous, guilty of five crimes passionel! Pour le science! Credulous Earthlings! Incredible Earthlings! And here are you, a hunted man with a price on your head!
"So for ten years you have thought I murdered those five men? No, no. They were very much alive for eight years and very troublesome prisoners. It took me eight years to solve the problem I had set myself.
"You will meet them in a minute—the better part of them. You'll see for yourself that they are very usefully alive. For I succeeded completely with them. I have sealed my power!"
His silk pajamalike clothing rustled loud in the strained silence as he turned to the screen behind him. For some obscure reason the perfume about him, flowers of tsin-tsin, seemed to grow in their nostrils.
"Observe!" he said, and lifted it aside. An assistant threw a switch on a nearby panel. The unnatural quiet in the laboratory was resumed.
"The ultimate concentration of scientific knowledge and genius! The gateway to all power!"
The Brain Speaks
A case lay revealed.
At first, while it was unlit, it seemed nothing more than that: a case like those glass-sided and glass-topped ones found in museums, a case perhaps three feet high, three feet deep and five feet in width. Under this glass upper part of the case was an enclosed section a little more than a foot in depth. The whole structure was supported at each corner by short strong metal legs. And that was all.
But, second by second, as the captives took in these details, a change came over the interior. No doubt it was the result of the increasing action of some electrical current loosed by the throwing of the switch; the whole insides of the glass case little by little lightened, until it became apparent it was full of a strange liquid that seemed of itself to have the property of glowing with soft light. As this light increased, a row of five shadowy bulks the size of footballs began to take form between what looked, from where the men sat, like a forest of fibers of silk.
In a few more seconds a miracle of complicated wiring came into visibility. The silk fibers were seen to be wires, threads of silver gossamer that interconnected the five emerging bulks in a maze of ordered complexity. Thousands interlaced the interior; hundreds were gathered in each of five close bunches that sprouted from the floor of the case and then spread, fanwise, to various groupings of delicate liquid-immersed instruments.
In several seconds more Eliot Leithgow and Hawk Carse were staring with horror at what the now brilliantly glowing liquid revealed the five shapes to be. As one man they rose, went to the cabinet and gazed with terrible fascination.
"Brains!" exclaimed Leithgow. "Human brains! But not alive—surely not alive!"
"But yes," contradicted the triumphant Eurasian. "Alive."
* * * * *
Five human brains lay all immersed in the glowing case, each resting in a shallow metal pan. There were pulsings in narrow gray tubes which led into their under-sides—theatrical evidence that the brains held imprisoned there were, as the Eurasian had said, alive—most strangely, unnaturally and horribly alive. Stark and cruelly naked they lay there, pulsing with life that should not have been.
"Yes, alive!" repeated Ku Sui. "And never to die while their needs are attended!"
One of his long artistic fingers tapped the glass before the central brain, which was set somewhat lower than the others. "This," he said, "is the master brain. It controls and coordinates the thoughts of the others, avoiding the useless, pursuing the relevant and retaining the valuable. It is by far the most important of the five, and is, of course the superior intellect. It is the keystone of my gateway to all power."
Eliot Leithgow's face was deathly white, but, as one in the grip of some devilish hypnotic fascination, he could not tear his eyes away from the revolting, amazing achievement of his brilliant enemy. The Eurasian with the cruelty of a cat picked that awful moment to add:
"This master brain is all that was best of Master Scientist Cram."
The frail old man took this statement like a blow.
"Oh, dear heaven—not Raymond Cram! Not Cram, the physicist, brought to this! Why, I knew him when——"
Ku Sui smiled and interrupted. "But you speak of him as if he were dead! He's not. He's very much alive, as you shall see. Possibly even happy—who knows? There is no good—— Keep back, Carse!"
* * * * *
His tiger's eyes had not missed the adventurer's slight crouch in preparation for a shove which might have toppled the case and ended the abominable servitude of its gruesome tenants. The Hawk was caught before he had well started; and had he not stopped his gathering muscles he would have been dead from the coolie-guards' rays by the time he touched the near side of the case.
He took his failure without comment; only stepped back, folded his arms and burned his enemy with the frigid glare of his eyes. The Eurasian continued as if nothing had happened, addressing himself chiefly to Leithgow.
"The others, too, you once knew; you are even charged with their murder. Let me introduce you once more to your old colleagues and friends. There, at the right, is the brain you once compared notes with in the person of Professor Estapp. Next to him is Dr. Swanson. To the left of Master Scientist Cram, is Professor Geinst, and this last is Dr. Sir Charles Esme Norman. Now think what this group represents!
"Estapp, Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry; Swanson, Psychology; Geinst, Astronomy; Norman, Mathematics. And Cram, the master brain, of course, Physics and Electricity, although his encyclopedic knowledge encompassed every major subject, well fitting his brain for the position it holds. All this, gathered here in one! The five outstanding intellects of Earth, here gathered in one priceless instrument! Here are my advisors; here my trusty, never-tiring assistants. I can have their help toward the solution of any problem; obtain from their individual and combined intelligences even those rare intuitions which I have found almost always precede brilliant discoveries.
"For they not only retain all they ever knew of science, but they can develop, even as brains in bodies can develop. Their knowledge does not become outmoded, if they are kept informed of the latest currents of scientific thought. From old knowledge and new they build their structures of logic once my command sets them on. Wills of their own they have none.
"I have not succeeded in all my secondary alterations, however. For one thing, I have been unable to deprive them altogether of the memory of what they formerly were; but it is a subdued memory, to them doubtless like a dream, familiar yet puzzling. Because of this I imagine they hate me—heartily!—yet they lack the will, the egocentricity which would enable them to refuse to answer my questions and do my work.
"Frankly, without them this whole structure"—his hands swept out widely—"my whole asteroidal kingdom, would have been impossible. Most of my problems in constructing it were solved here. And in the future other problems, far greater, will be solved here!"
* * * * *
Hawk Carse by now understood very well Dr. Ku Sui's purpose in bringing M. S. Leithgow to his laboratory, and was already goading his brain in search of a way out. Death was by all means preferable to what the Eurasian intended—death self-inflicted, and death that mutilated the brain—but there were no present chances that his searching mind could see.
If Leithgow suspected what was in store, his face gave no sign of it. He only said:
"Dr. Ku, of all the things you have ever done, this is the most heartless and most vile. I would have thought there was a limit in you somewhere, but this—this thing—this horrible life you have condemned these five men to——"
He could not continue. The Eurasian only smiled, and replied, with his always seeming courtesy:
"Your opinion is natural Master: I could expect no other. But when great ends are to be gained, he who would gain them must strip himself of those disturbing atavistic things we call the tender emotions. The pathway to power is not for those who wince at the sight of blood, who weep at the need for death. I hope, for special reasons, that you'll make an effort to understand this before we come to the phase which will follow my demonstration....
"Now, please allow me to show you my coordinated brains in useful operation. Will you be seated again? You, too, Captain Carse."
* * * * *
It was Ku Sui's show: there was nothing for the two men but to obey. But they felt, both of them, a great unnaturalness in being seated for the demonstration to come.
"Thank you," the Eurasian said, and went to the panel flanking the case. There, he turned and remarked: "Before we begin, I must ask you to remember that the opinions of my brains may always be accepted as the probable truth, and always, absolutely, are they honest and without prejudice." He threw a small knife switch and again turned. Nothing seemed to happen.
"I have contrived, of course, an artificial way of communicating with my helpers. This inset grille here contains both microphone and speaker—ear and mouth.
"The ear picks up my words and transmits them to every brain. If I have asked a question, it is individually considered and the respective answers sent to the master brain; they are there coordinated and the result spoken to me by means of the mechanical mouth. When the opinions of the individual brains do not agree, the answer is in the form of a poll, often with brief mention of points pro and con. Sometimes their meditations take considerable time; but simple questions always bring a prompt and unanimous answer. Shall we try them now?"
The man's spectators did not answer; even the Hawk was for once in his life too overcome by conflicting feelings of horror and dread, and compelling morbid fascination. Dr. Ku paused dramatically, a slight smile on his enigmatic lips; then turned his head and spoke into the grille.
"Do you hear me?" he asked, easily and confidently.
The silence in the laboratory was for one brief moment almost overpowering. Then, from the grille, came a thin metallic voice. Inhuman, artificial, it sounded in the tense strain of the silent room, voice from the living dead that it was.
"I do," were its words.
"Strange," mused the Eurasian, half aloud, "that their collective answer is always given as 'I.' What obscure telescoping of egotisms can be the cause of that...."
He dropped the mood of wonder at once. "Tell me," he said, looking deliberately at Leithgow: "Would the brain of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow be more valuable in the position of the master brain than Cram's?"
A horrible eternity passed. Again came the inhuman voice:
"I have answered that question before. Yes."
* * * * *
Dr. Ku broke the stunned silence that followed this verdict.
"Don't forget that several ray-guns are centered on you, Carse," he remarked casually. "Others, black, are on you. Earthlings would no doubt consider your emotions very creditable; I only suggest that you keep them under control."
But the Hawk had given no slightest intimation that he might attempt anything. He sat quietly, a little tensely, his face an icy mask, only the freezing shock of his steady gray eyes betraying his emotion as they bore straight into those of the Eurasian. No man could meet such eyes for long, and even the tiger ones of Ku Sui the all-powerful went aside at the icy murder that showed there.
Friday still stood in back of the chairs where were seated his two friends. He was scared to death from the thing he had seen. His face was a sickly, ashy gray, and his eyes large round rolling white marbles; but at the slightest sign of a break he would have metamorphosed into a demon of destruction, however hopeless the try, with ray-guns covering him at all times. Such was his love and loyalty for his famous master.
Eliot Leithgow was a man resigned. His head sank down on his chest. Dr. Ku's next words, though aimed at him, did not seem to penetrate his consciousness.
"You see, Master Leithgow, I have no choice. My purposes are all-important; they always come first; they demand this substitution. Were your intellect of lesser stature, I would have no interest in you whatever. But as it is...." He shrugged.
Hawk Carse stood up.
The Eurasian's voice fell away. The ensuing silence gave an icy, clear-cut sharpness to the whisper that then cut through it from thin lips that barely moved:
"God help you, Ku Sui, if you do it. God help you."
* * * * *
Dr. Ku Sui smiled deprecatingly and again shrugged.
"I have told you before that God helps those who help themselves. I have always had splendid results from helping myself."
For a moment he looked away as he considered something in his mind. Then to his veiled eyes came the old mocking irony, and he said:
"I think perhaps you'd like to observe the operations, my friend, and I'm going to allow you to. Not here—no. I could never have you interrupting; the series of operations is of infinite delicacy and will require weeks. But I can make other arrangements; I can give you as good as ringside seats for each performance. A small visi-screen might be attached to one wall of your cell to enable you to see every detail of what transpires here." His tone suddenly stiffened. "I wouldn't, Carse!"
The Hawk relaxed from the brink on which he had wavered. A sudden mad rush—what else remained? What else? For an instant he had lost his head—one of the several times in his whole life. Just for an instant he had forgotten his phenomenal patience under torture, his own axiom that in every tight place there was a way out.
"That's much safer," said Ku Sui. "Perhaps you and the black had better return to your cell."
Certain little muscles in the Hawk's face were trembling as he turned to go, and his feet would not work well. The ray-guns of the coolie-guards covered his every move. Friday followed just behind.
As the adventurer came to the door he stopped and turned, and his eyes went back to those of the frail, elderly scientist.
The doomed man met the gray eyes and their agony with a smile.
"It's all right, old comrade," he said. "Just remember to destroy this hellish device, if you ever possibly can. My love to Sandra; and to her, and my dear ones on Earth, anything but the truth.... Farewell."
Carse's fingernails bit each one into his palms. He hesitated; tried, but could not speak.
"All right, Carse—you may go."
The feelingless guards nudged white man and black out, and the door swung solidly closed behind them....
In the Visi-Screen
There were those among the few claiming to have any insight into the real Hawk Carse who declared that a month went out of his life for every minute he spent in the cell then. The story, of course, came trickling out through various unreliable sources; we who delve in the lore of the great adventurer have to thank for our authorities Sewell, the great historian of that generation—who personally traveled several million miles to get what meager facts the Hawk would divulge concerning his life and career—equally with Friday, who shared this particular adventure with him. Friday's emotional eyes no doubt colored his memory of the scenes he passed through, and it is likely that the facts lost nothing in the simple dramatic way he would relate them.
But certainly the black was as fearful of his master during that period in the cell as he was of what he saw acted out on the screen.
We can picture him telling of the ordeal, his big eyes rolling and his deep rich voice trembling with the memories stamped forever in his brain; and picture too the men who, at one time or another, listened to him, fascinated, their mouths agape and a tickling down the length of their spines. It was probably only Friday's genius as a narrator which later caused some of his listeners to swear that new lines were grooved in Carse's face and a few flaxen hairs silvered by the minutes he spent watching Eliot Leithgow strapped down on that operating table, close to the beautiful surgeon fingers of Dr. Ku Sui.
But whether or not that period of torture really pierced through his iron emotional guard and set its mark on him permanently by aging him, it is impossible to say. However, there were deep things in Hawk Carse, and the deepest among them were the ties binding him to his friends; there was also that certain cold vanity; and considering these it is probable that he came very close indeed to the brink of some frightening emotional abyss, before which he had few shreds of mind and body-discipline left....
* * * * *
He reentered the cell like a ghost; he stood very still, his hands slowly clenching and unclenching behind his back, and his pale face inclined low, so that the chin rested on his chest. So he stood for some minutes, Friday not daring to disturb him, until the single door that gave entrance clicked in its lock and opened again. At this he raised his head. Five men came in, all coolies, three of whom had ray-guns which they kept scrupulously on the white man and black while the other two rigged up an apparatus well up on one of the cell walls. They remained wholly unaffected the several times their dull eyes met those of the Hawk. Perhaps, being mechanicalized humans, practically robots, they got no reaction from the icy gray eyes in his strained white face.
The device they attached was some two square feet of faintly gleaming screen, rimmed by metal and with little behind it other than two small enclosed tubes, a cuplike projector with wires looping several terminals on its exterior, and a length of black, rubberized cable, which last was passed through one of the five-inch ventilating slits high in the wall. Carse regarded it with his hard stare until the door clicked behind the coolies and they were once more alone. Then his head returned to its bowed position, and Friday approached the apparatus and began to examine it with the curiosity of the born mechanic he was.
"Let it be, Friday," the Hawk ordered tonelessly.
A dozen minutes passed in silence.
The silence was outward: there was no quiet in the adventurer's head. He could not stop the sharp remorseless voice which kept sounding in his brain. Its pitiless words flailed him unceasingly with their stinging taunts. "You—you whom they call the Hawk," it would say; "you, the infallible one—you, so recklessly, egotistically confident—you have brought this to pass! Not only have you allowed yourself to be trapped, but Eliot Leithgow! He is out there now; and soon his brain will be condemned forever to that which you have seen! The brain that trusted you! And you have brought this to pass! Yours the blame, the never-failing Hawk! All yours—yours—yours!"
A voice reached him from far away. A soft negro voice which said, timidly:
"They're beginning, suh. Captain Carse? On the screen, suh; they're beginning."
That was worse. The real ordeal was approaching. True, he might have thrown himself on the coolie-guards who had just left—but his death would not have helped old M. S.
Friday spoke again, and this time his words leaped roaring into Carse's ears. He raised his head and looked.
The tubes behind the screen were crackling, and the screen itself had come to life. He was looking at the laboratory. But the place was changed.
* * * * *
What had before been a wide circular room, with complicated machines and unnamed scientific apparatus following only its walls, so as to leave the center of its floor empty and free from obstructions, was now a place of deep shadow pierced by a broad cone of blinding white light which shafted down from some source overhead and threw into brilliant emphasis only the center of the room.
The light struck straight down upon an operating table. At its head stood a squat metal cylinder sprouting a long flexible tube which ended in a cone—no doubt the anesthetizing apparatus. A stepped-back tier of white metal drawers flanked one side of the table, upon its various upper surfaces an array of gleaming surgeon's tools. In neat squads they lay there: long thin knives with straight and curved cutting edges; handled wires, curved into hooks and eccentric corkscrew shapes; scalpels of different sizes; forceps, clasps, retractors, odd metal claws, circular saw-blades and a variety of other unclassified instruments. Sterilizers were convenient to one side, a thin wraith of steam drifting up from them into the source of the light.
Four men worked within the brilliant shaft of illumination—four white-clad figures, hands gloved and faces swathed in surgeons' masks. Only their lifeless eyes were visible, concentrated on their tasks of preparation. Steam rose in increased mists as one figure lifted back the lid of a sterilizer and dropped in some gleaming instruments. The cloud swirled around his masked face and body with devilish infernolike effect.
All this in deadest silence. From the darkness came another figure, tall and commanding, a shape whose black silk garments struck a new note in the dazzling whiteness of the scene. He was pulling on operating gloves. His slanted eyes showed keen and watchful through the eyeholes of the mask he already wore, as he surveyed the preparations. Ominous Ku Sui looked, among his white-clad assistants.