This etext was produced from Astounding Stories November 1932. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
The Table of Contents is not part of the original magazine.
One word in Chapter II could not be read. It has been marked as illegible.
The Passing of Ku Sui
A Complete Novelette
By Anthony Gilmore
* * * * *
Chapter I The Plan II Three Figures in the Dawn III The Raid IV The Voice of the Brains V "My Congratulations, Captain Carse!" VI The Deadline VII To the Laboratory VIII White's Brain—Yellow's Head IX Four Bodies X The Promise Fulfilled XI Ordeal XII Flight XIII In Earth's Shadow XIV The Hawk Strikes XV There Is a Meteor
* * * * *
[Sidenote: A screaming streak in the night—a cloud of billowing steam—and the climax of Hawk Carse's spectacular "Affair of the Brains" is over.]
The career of Hawk Carse, taken broadly, divides itself into three main phases, and it is with the Ku Sui adventures of the second phase that we have been concerned in this intimate narrative. John Sewell, the historian, baldly condenses those adventures of a century ago together, but on research and closer scrutiny they take on an individuality and significance deserving of separate treatment, and this they have been given here. For fictionized presentation, we have spaced the adventures into four connected episodes, four acts of a vibrant drama which ranged clear from Saturn to Earth, the core of which was the feud between Captain Carse and the power-lusting Eurasian scientist, Dr. Ku Sui—that feud the reverberations of whose terrible settling still echo over the solar system—and in this last act of the drama, set out below, we come to its spectacular climax.
The words of John Sewell's epic history sit lightly on paper; easy words for Sewell, once the collection of data was over, to write; not very significant words for the uninitiated and casual reader who does not see the irresistible forces beneath them. But consider the full meaning of these words, and glance for a moment at the two figures conjured up by them. We see Hawk Carse, a man slender in build, but with gray eyes and lithe, strong-fingered hands and cold, intent face that give the clue to the steel of him; we see Dr. Ku Sui, tall, suave, unhurried, formed as though by a master sculptor, in whose rare green eyes slumbered the soul of a tiger, notwithstanding the courtesy and the grace that masked always his most infamous moves. These two we see looming through and dwarfing Sewell's words as they face each other, for they were probably the most bitter, and certainly the most spectacular, foe-men of that raw period before the patrol ships swept up from the home of man to lay Earth's laws through space.
Carse and Ku Sui, adventurer and scientist, each with his own distinctive strength and his own unyielding character—those two were star-crossed, fated to be foes, and whenever they met there was blood, and never was quarter asked nor quarter expected. How could it have been otherwise? Ku Sui controlled the isuan drug trade, and Carse was against it, as he was against everything underhanded and unclean; Ku Sui had tricked and, by a single deed, driven Carse's loved comrade, Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow, from his honored position on Earth, and Carse was sworn to bring Ku Sui to Earth to clear the old scientist's name. Either of these alone was enough to seal the feud, but there was more. Carse was sworn to release from their bondage of life-in-death Ku Sui's most prized possession, his storehouse of wisdom—the brains of five great Earth scientists, kept alive though their bodies were dead.
These, then, were the forces glossed over so lightly by John Sewell's words. These the forces that clashed in the episode set out below: that clashed, then drew apart, and knew not one another for years....
* * * * *
It will be recalled that, in the second of these four episodes, "The Affair of the Brains," Hawk Carse, Eliot Leithgow, and the Negro Friday broke free from Dr. Ku's secret lair, his outwardly invisible asteroid, and in doing so thought they had destroyed the Eurasian and all his works, including the infamous machine of coordinated brains. In the third episode, "The Bluff of the Hawk," it will be remembered that the companions came in Dr. Ku's self-propulsive space-suits to Satellite III of Jupiter; and that there Carse learned that in reality the Eurasian and the brains had survived, and that Dr. Ku might very possibly soon be in possession of a direct clue to Leithgow's hidden laboratory on Satellite III. We saw Carse take the lone course, as he always preferred, sending Leithgow and Friday to his friend Ban Wilson's ranch while he went to erase the clue. And we saw him achieve his end at the fort-ranch of Lar Tantril, strong henchman of Ku Sui, and, in brilliant Carse fashion, turn the tables and escape from the trap that had seemingly snared him, and proceed towards where, fourteen miles away, Leithgow and the Negro were waiting for him.
[Footnote 1: See the March, 1932, issue of Astounding Stories.]
[Footnote 2: See the May, 1932, issue of Astounding Stories.]
His three friends were waiting very uneasily that day. Eleven hours had passed since Leithgow and Friday had parted from the Hawk, and they had heard nothing from him. They knew he was going into high peril: Leithgow had in vain tried to dissuade him; and so it was with growing fear that they watched the hours pass by.
With Ban Wilson, they sat near dawn in the comfortable living room of the ranch's central building. Although largely rested from the ordeal of the journey to Satellite III, the huge Negro was fidgety, and even Leithgow, more controlled, showed the strain by continually raising his thin white fingers to his lined face and stroking it. Wilson's men were on watch outside in the graying darkness, but often Friday supplemented them, going to the door, staring down to the beach of the bordering lake, staring up to the skies, staring at the black and murmurous flanks of the jungle—staring, scowling and returning to sit and look gloomily at the floor.
* * * * *
Ban Wilson was the most active physically. He was a miniature dynamo of a man, throbbing with a restless, inexhaustible tide of energy. Short and wiry, he stared truculently at the universe through wonderfully clear blue eyes, surrounded by a bumper crop of freckles and topped by a mat of bristly red hair. His short stub nose had prodded into countless hostile places where it most emphatically was not wanted. It would be hardly necessary to old acquaintances of his to say that he was now speaking.
"No, sir! I say the Hawk's safe and kicking! Can't kill him! By my grandmother's false teeth, I swear I'd follow him to hell, knowin' I'd come out alive and leavin' the devil yowlin' behind with his tail tied into pretzels! He said he would meet you here? Well, then, he will."
Friday looked up mournfully.
"Yes, suh, Cap'n Ban; but Cap'n Carse was going into a pow'ful lot of trouble. An' he was worn an' tired, an' he only had a space-suit an' a raygun, an' you know he wouldn't stop for anything till he'd done what he set out to. I kind of feel ... I dunno ... I dunno...."
"By Betelguese!" swore Ban Wilson, "if he doesn't come soon I'll take that damned Porno apart till I find him!"
Eliot Leithgow gave up the late radio newscast from Earth he had been pretending to read. A brief silence fell, and through it the old scientist seemed to feel something, seemed to expect something. And he was not mistaken.
It was a cry from one of the watchers outside. Friday leaped out of his uneasy seat and was through the door even before Ban, who followed with Leithgow. They heard the Negro roar from ahead:
"Cap'n Carse! Cap'n Carse! Sure enough, it's Cap'n Carse!"—and they saw his great form go bounding down to the gray-lit beach of the lake, to a slight, weary figure that came stumbling along it.
* * * * *
Hawk Carse had come as he said he would, but he was a sore figure of a man. Though he was not in it now, for days he had worn the harsh, grating metal and fabric of a space-suit, and its marks were left on him. Even from a distance the others could see that his once-neat blue trousers and soft flannel shirt were torn through in many places, revealing ugly purplish bruises; on his haggard face was a nap of flaxen beard, and in his blood-shot gray eyes utter exhaustion, both mental and physical. The Hawk had been acting at high tension for days past, and now the reaction was exacting its inevitable toll.
He came stumbling heavily along the beach, his feet dragging through its coarse sand, and it seemed as if he would drop any moment. With a slight smile he greeted Friday, then Eliot Leithgow and Wilson, all running down.
"Hello, Eclipse," he murmured, "and Eliot—and Ban—"
There he wavered and half fell against the Negro's body. Friday wished to carry him, but he would have none of it: by himself he walked up to the ranch-house, where he slumped into a chair while Ban Wilson went shouting into the galley for a mug of hot alkite.
After draining it, Carse revived slightly. Again aware of the three men grouped around him, and recognizing their eagerness for his news, he forced himself to speech.
"Sleepy—must sleep. But—yes—some things I'll tell you." In quick, staccato sentences, his tired eyelids shut half the time, he sketched his adventure at Lar Tantril's ranch, explaining how, even though captured, he had destroyed the figures, telling of the location of Leithgow's laboratory; and a slight smile appeared on his lips as he told of the ruse by which he had escaped. "Got away. Told them the lake-front was very dangerous to them. Made them let me show them. I walked out—dozens of them round me, guns on me—walked out till I went under water. Could do it in the suit. I walked under water half a mile or so, then came up and cached the suit. I guess they're still watching! Easy!"
* * * * *
He chuckled, and then, after a short pause, went on:
"But here's what's important—Ku Sui is alive. Yes, I know it. He has an assignation with Tantril at Tantril's ranch. In five days. And the coordinated brains I promised to destroy—they still exist. So, Eliot, these are orders: prepare plans for infra-red and ultra-violet devices—they ought to do it—so we can see Dr. Ku's invisible asteroid when it comes. Friday, you go down and get my space-suit: it's cached ten miles down the beach, beneath a big watrari tree. And then—" His head slumped over; he appeared to have abruptly fallen to sleep.
"Yes, Carse? What is your plan?" Eliot Leithgow asked softly. But the Hawk was only making a great last effort to gather the threads of his idea.
"Yes," he responded, "the plan. Ban stations a man to keep watch on Tantril's ranch, while we go back to your laboratory, Eliot, where you'll make the devices and repair the gravity-plates of my suit. Then, four nights from now, if the watcher's seen no one arrive, Ban, Friday and I return and lie in ambush round Tantril's ranch. Awaiting Dr. Ku. When he comes, he'll surely leave his asteroid somewhere near. And while he's at Tantril's, we capture the asteroid—and my promise to the coordinated brains will be kept.
"Then—but that's enough for now; I am so tired. Ban, will you please—some food—"
Wilson, who had been listening eagerly and, at the end, grinning in prospect of action with the Hawk, darted off like a spark. A few minutes later, after his third mouthful of food, Carse murmured:
"We'll use your ship to go to Eliot's lab in, Ban, but I think you'll—have to—carry me—aboard. So sleepy. Wake me when we get to—lab."
On this last word his sleep-denied body had its way, and at once he was deep in the dreamless slumber of exhaustion.
While he slept, the others rapidly carried out his orders. Within two hours Friday, in the ranch's air-car, had retrieved the cached suit. Ban Wilson had manned and made ready his personal space-ship for the trip to the laboratory, and Eliot Leithgow had jotted down a few preliminary plans for the infra-red and ultra-violet instruments which Carse would need in order to see the invisible asteroid of Dr. Ku Sui.
Three Figures in the Dawn
The fourth night after the Hawk had met his friends at Ban Wilson's was sunless and Jupiter-less, nor was there the slightest breath of wind; and in the humid, dank jungle surrounding on three sides the isuan ranch of the Venusian Lar Tantril the sounds of night-prowling animals burst full and loud, making an almost continuous babel of varied and savage noise.
In the midst of this dark inferno, Tantril's ranch was an island of stillness. Within the high guarding fence, the long low buildings lay quiet and were [illegible] brushed periodically by the light from the watch-beacon high overhead as it swept its shaft over the jungle smother and then around over the black glassy surface of the Great Briney Lake, bordering the ranch enclosure on the fourth side. And, vigilantly, the eyes of three Venusian guards followed the ray.
They stood on the three lookout towers which reared at equal intervals up above the circumference of the ranch; and though the buildings below seemed deserted, in reality wide-awake men were stationed at posts within them, waiting for the clang of the alarm which the pressing of a button in any one of the lookout towers would effect. Lar Tantril's ranch was not asleep. It was as alert and wary as the beasts tracking through the jungle outside its fence, and all its defensive and offensive weapons were at the ready.
No one within the ranch knew it, but within two hundred yards lay the foe Lar Tantril and his men feared most.
* * * * *
Regularly around the watch-beacon swept, slicing the blackness with an oval white finger, the farthest edge of which reached a hundred and fifty yards. Over the "western" lake—and its inky ripples sparkled somehow ominously. Over the jungle's confusion—and trees, great bushes, spiky vines and creeper-growths leaped into momentary visibility, and then were again swallowed up in the tide of night. Here a cutlas-beaked bird, spotlighted for an instant, froze into surprised immobility with the pasty, bloated worm it had seized twisting and dangling from its mouth, to flap squawking away as the ray glided on: there the coils of a seekan, in ambush on a tree limb, glittered crimson for the sudden moment of illumination; or a nameless huge-eyed pantherlike creature was glimpsed as it clawed at a nest of unfledged haris, while the frantic, screaming mother beat at it with wings and claws....
But all this was usual and unalarming, merely the ordinary routine of the jungle at night. Could the beacon have reached out another fifty yards, the guards on their towers would have seen that which was not usual—and would have summoned every weapon of the ranch beneath.
Or could the guards have heard, besides the cries and crashings and yowls of the jungle folk, the man-made sounds which sped silently back and forth across the ranch within their tight and secret radio beams—then, too, the alarm would have clanged.
Had the beacon suddenly stretched its path outward another fifty yards, it would have fallen upon a massive, leafy watrari tree, taller than most: and the guards, looking close, might have caught in one notch of the tree's many limbs a glint of metal: might have seen, had the light held on that glint, a bloated monster of metal and fabric braced there, hiding behind a screen of leaves.
This giant, not native to the jungle, was posted due "north" from the ranch. Another waited to the "south," in a similarly large tree; and another to the "east."
Hawk Carse and his friends were abroad again and waiting to strike.
* * * * *
Ban Wilson, hot, itching and uncomfortable inside the heavy space-suit that he wore, and supremely aware of his consequent awkwardness, watched the ranch's beacon sweeping past him thirty or more yards away, and again sought relief from the tedium in conversation.
"Jupiter should be rising soon, Carse. It's the darkest hour—seems to me he'll come now if he comes at all. What do you think?"
He was the one posted in a watrari tree "south" of Tantril's ranch. Flung on the tight beam of his helmet-radio, which had been tuned and adjusted by Eliot Leithgow so as to reach only two other radios, the words rang simultaneously in the receivers of Friday, who was "east" of the ranch, and Carse, who was "north."
The Hawk responded curtly:
"I don't know when he'll come; I suspect not before full morning."
Ban Wilson grunted at receipt of this discouraging opinion, and then once more, as he had been doing regularly all through the night, raised to his eyes the instrument that hung by a cord from the neckpiece of the suit. Through it he scanned slowly and methodically the portion of black heaven that had been assigned to him. The instrument would have resembled a bulky pair of electro-binoculars with its twin tubes and eyepieces, had not there been, underneath the tubes, a small, compact box which by Leithgow-magic revealed the world through infra-red light by one tube, and ultra-violet the other.
"Nothing!" Ban muttered to himself, lowering the device. "And damn Ku Sui for makin' these space-suits so infernally uncomfortable! Might as well have made 'em space-ships, while he was at it!... Say, Carse," he began again aloud into his microphone, "maybe Dr. Ku's come already. I know my men said no one had arrived at the ranch in a suit like these we've got on—but, hell, if his whole asteroid's invisible, why couldn't he make his space-suit invisible, too?"
"I don't think he's done that. Otherwise he would have—" The adventurer's level tone raised incisively. "Now, both of you, still! Conceal yourselves with great care—Jupiter's rising!"
* * * * *
The "western" horizon, a moment before indistinguishable, was now faintly flushed, a flush which deepened quickly into glowing, riotous crimson, causing long streamers to shoot out over the surface of the Great Briney, tingling it, sparkling it. The light reached the jungle: and when the first faint reflected rays filtered down through the matted gloom of tree and vine and bush the creatures that had tracked for prey all night looked to their lairs: and gradually, the tenor of the jungle noises waned off into a few last screams and muttered growls, and then died altogether into the heavy, brooding hush that comes always with dawn over the jungles of Satellite III.
Jupiter thrust his flaming arch upwards over the horizon, and climbed with his whole vast blood-blotched bulk into a sky turned suddenly blue. Lake and jungle shimmered under the rapidly dissipating night vapors. The ranch-beacon paled into unimportance. Day had come.
And now the three bloated figures of metal and fabric that were men crouched closely back beneath the leaves of the trees that concealed them, and waited tensely, not daring at first to move for fear of discovery. Each one could see, through the intervening growth, the watch-towers of the ranch; but Friday, from his post in the tree to the "east," could see the area best, and it was Friday to whom Carse's next words were addressed.
"Eclipse?" his terse voice asked. "Do the guards in the towers seem to notice anything?"
The big Negro strained cautiously for a better view.
"No, suh, Cap'n Carse. Sure they can't see us at all. Just pacin' round on their towers, kind of fidgety."
"Anyone else in sight?"
"No, suh.... Oh, now there's somethin'. Two of the guards are looking below, cupping their ears. Someone down there must be tellin' them somethin'. Now they're lookin' up to the sky—the northern sky. Yes, suh! All three of 'em! They're expectin' someone, sure enough!"
"Good. He must be coming. Use your glasses."
* * * * *
Then in all three trees the instruments that Eliot Leithgow had shaped were raised, and the whole sweep of horizon and the glowing, clear blue dome of sky subjected to minute inspection through their detecting infra-red and ultra-violet. Ban Wilson, perhaps, stared most eagerly, for he had never seen Ku Sui's asteroid, and despite himself still only half-believed that twenty craggy, twisted miles of rock could be swung as its master willed in space, and brought down bodily to Satellite III.
But he saw nothing in the sky; nothing looming gigantically over any part of the horizon; and he reported disgustedly:
"Nothing doing anywhere. Carse."
"Don't see nothing either, suh," the Negro's deep voice added. And both of them heard the Hawk murmur:
"Nor do I. But he must be—Ah! There! Careful! They're coming!"
"Where? Where is it?" yapped Ban excitedly, jerking the instrument to his eyes again.
"Speak low. Not the asteroid. Three men."
For a tense minute there was silence between them, until, in a low, crisp voice, the Hawk added:
"Three men in space-suits like ours, coming from the "north" straight for Tantril's. Ban, you may not be able to see them till they get to the ranch, so you keep hunting for the asteroid with your glasses. Friday, you see them?"
"Yes, suh! Three! One ahead of the others!"
"Keep your eyes tight on them. No talking now from either of you unless it's important."
The steely voice snapped off. And carefully, in his tree, Hawk Carse brushed aside a fringe of leaves and concentrated on the three figures the dawn had brought.
* * * * *
Hard and sharp they glittered in the flood of ruddy light from Jupiter, great grotesque figures of metal and bulging fabric, with shining quarzite face-plates and the abnormally large helmets and boot-pieces which identified them as being of the enemy. At a level fifty feet above the jungle's crown they came in fast, horizontal transit, and there was much of beauty in the picture that they made—sparkling shapes flying without sound or movement of limb against the blue sky, over the heaped colors of the jungle below. One flew slightly in the lead, and he, the watching Hawk felt positive, was Ku Sui, and the other two his servants—probably men whose brains had been violated, dehumanized—mere machines in human form.
Straight in the three figures flew, without hesitation or swerving, closer and closer to the watching man in the tree. The Hawk's lips compressed as his old enemy neared, and into his watching gray eyes came the deadly cold emotionless look that was known and feared throughout space, wherever outlaws walked or flew. Ku Sui—so close! There, in that even-gliding figure, was the author of the infamy done to Leithgow, of the crime to the brains that lived though their bodies were dead; of the organized isuan trade. Go for him now? The thought flashed temptingly through Carse's head, but he saw sense at once. Far too dangerous, with the powerful, watching ranch so close. He could not jeopardize the success of his promise to the brains.
And so Dr. Ku Sui passed, while two pairs of eyes from two leafy trees watched closely every instant of his passing, and one man's hand dropped unconsciously to the butt of a raygun.
Quickly, the Eurasian and his servitors were gone, their straight, steady flight obscured by the trees around Tantril's ranch, below which they slanted.
Dr. Ku Sui had arrived at his assignation. But where was the asteroid?
* * * * *
Through his instrument, Carse sought horizon and heaven for the massive body, but in vain. He spoke into his helmet-radio's mike.
"See the asteroid anywhere?"
"Nowhere, by Betelgeuse! I've looked till my eyes—"
The Hawk cut him short. "All right. Stand by. Friday?"
"Can you see anything special?"
"No, suh—only that the three platform guards keep lookin' down towards the center of the ranch."
"Good. That means Ku Sui's being received," said Carse; and then he considered swiftly for a minute. Decided, he continued:
"Ban and Friday, you both wait where you are, keeping a steady lookout. None of us can see the asteroid, but it must be somewhere comparatively near, for Dr. Ku has no reason to bother with a long journey in a space-suit. I think the asteroid's close down, hidden by that distant ridge in the direction from which they came. I'm going to find it. When I do, I'll tell you where to come meet me. Inform me at once if Ku Sui leaves or if anything unusual happens. Understood?"
The assenting voices rang back to him simultaneously.
"Right!" he said; and slowly his great bulging figure lifted.
* * * * *
Cautiously, the adventurer made through the watrari tree to the side facing away from the ranch. There, poising for a second, he manipulated the lateral direction-rod on the suit's chest, and, still very slowly, floated free from the shrouding leaves. Then, mindful of the lookouts on the towers behind, he employed the tactics he had used before, and kept constantly below the uneven crown of the jungle, gliding at an easy rate through the leafy lanes created by the banked tree-tops.
In that fashion, in the upthrust arms of the jungle, twisting, turning, sometimes doubling, but following always a path the objective of which was straight ahead, Hawk Carse soared soundlessly for miles. He maneuvered his way with practised ease, and his speed increased as the need for hiding his flight decreased.
He was familiar with the landmarks of the region, and it was towards the most pronounced of them that he flew. Soon it was looming far above him: a long, high ridge, rearing more than three miles above the level of the Great Briney, and crowded with trees even taller and sturdier than those of the lower jungle plains. Beyond it was the most likely spot....
The Hawk paused at the base of the ridge. There had been no warning from Ban or Friday, but, to make sure, he established radio connection.
"Friday?" he asked into the microphone. "Any activity on the ranch? Any sign they're aware of our presence?"
Clear and deep from miles behind, the Negro's voice answered:
"No, suh. Dead still. I guess they're inside the buildings—except the guards, and they're taking things easy. Where are you, suh?"
"About ten miles from you, 'north' and a little 'east,' at the foot of the ridge. I think I'll know something soon now. Stand by."
Then Carse moved forward again, slowly winding up between the trees to the summit of the ridge.
At the top he stopped. His eyes took in a long, wide valley, of which the ridge where he hung was the southernmost barrier. He knew at once something was wrong. Through his opened face-plate he was aware of a breathless hush that hovered over the valley, a hush which embraced its fifty miles or more of jungle length, a hush which was rendered actually visible in several places by the unmoving, limp-hanging leaves of the trees. Below, in the valley, all the myriad life of the jungle seemed to have frozen, and only occasionally was the pause of life and sound disturbed by the faint, muffled cry of a bird.
What had wrought the hush? Nothing showed to the naked eye.
From the summit of the ridge, Hawk Carse lifted Leithgow's glasses to his eyes. And the valley was suddenly changed, and the hush explained. The miracle lay before him.
A dim, shimmering outline through the infra-red, the valley lay revealed as a great natural cradle for a mammoth body of rock which had been swung down from the deeps of space to the surface of Satellite III.
Titanic, breath-taking in its majesty of sheer bulk, the asteroid of Dr. Ku Sui was made visible.
It hung suspended, low over the tree-tops of the valley, and it filled the valley with rock and towered above it. This was the asteroid, exploded into a separate entity by the cataclysm that gave birth to the planets, which Dr. Ku Sui had wrenched from the asteroidal belt between Mars and Jupiter and built into a world of his own, swinging it through space as he willed, and cloaking it with invisibility to baffle those who marveled at how he came and went, unseen, on his various errands. This was the mighty rock fortress in which lay the key-stone of his mounting power. This his lonely, unsuspected home, come for a while to rest....
Hawk Carse scanned it closely.
It lay roughly head-on to him, its nearest massive, craggy end lying some three miles from where he hung. On that end lived the life of the asteroid, and were located all Ku Sui's works. On a space planed flat in the rock, rested the dome, like an inverted quarter-mile-wide bowl of glittering glasslike substance, laced inside with spidery supporting struts—the half bubble from inside which men guided the mass. Therein an artificial atmosphere was maintained, even as on any space-ship, and there lay the group of buildings, chief of which was the precious laboratory in which were the coordinated brains to whom the Hawk had made his promise.
Carse lowered the glasses, and again the Jupiter-light poured normally around him, the valley hushed and seemingly empty once more. He put through his call to Friday and Ban, giving them simple directions how to find him. And twenty-five minutes after that, he saw, looking back down the ridge, their two giant metallic figures come twisting and turning in noiseless flight through the top lanes of the jungle below, and they were together.
* * * * *
It was seldom that Friday would intrude his thoughts when with his master and his master's friends, so when he arrived he merely surveyed the asteroid through his glasses and was silent. But Ban Wilson, after a long, comprehensive stare, during which one could almost feel the amazement leaping through him, sputtered:
"By jumping Jupiter, Carse—I never would've believed it! That Ku Sui's sure a genius! To have that whole asteroid there, man, and to take it with him wherever he wants to go! Look at it! Fifteen, twenty miles long, it must be! And that dome—"
"Yes," said the Hawk shortly, "but easy on that now. We've work to do, and it's got to be done quickly. Now listen:
"There are two main port-locks in the dome for space-ships, and the starboard one has a smaller man-size lock beside it. We're going to the smaller one. There'll no doubt be a guard on watch at it, so to him we're Ku Sui and the two men who accompanied him. We'll have to chance recognition; but at least there's no difference in the suits we're wearing, and we'll clasp our glasses on all the way to the lock, for surely Dr. Ku has to use some similar device. Keep your faces averted as much as you can though, when near, and your rayguns in your belts. If there's to be gunplay, leave the first shot to me. You'll both follow me just as those two followed Dr. Ku."
Ban Wilson asked: "Will you go down into the valley between the trees, then up the face of the rock? The guard wouldn't see us until we were right at the lock."
"No, he wouldn't: but he'd wonder why Ku Sui was being so cautious. We'll go straight across, in full view. We'll get in easily, or—well, that depends. Ready?"
They fastened the glasses over their eyes, keeping the helmet face-plates partly open. The rayguns they eased in their belt holsters, and slid back the hinged palms of their mittens, to give exit if need be to their gun-hands. They were ready.
Switching on the helmet gravity-plates to swift repulsion, the three soared out of the trees, soared up on a straight, inclined line for the dome on the asteroid, a steady, rapid climb that soon raised them one mile, a second and a third, where they leveled off and sped straight ahead. Now they could look right into the dome.
Rapidly the port-lock that was their objective grew in size. Behind it were the buildings: the large, four-winged central structure and the supplementary workshops and hangars, coolie-quarters and outhouses, all dim and shimmering through the infra-red—the mysterious, lonely citadel of Dr. Ku Sui. There it all was, inside the dome, with the rest of the asteroid looming massive behind.
A quarter-mile away, and swiftly half that, and half again the three grouped figures arrowed ahead without hesitation. And the Hawk said curtly:
"I see no men—do either of you? It looks deserted."
"There!" cried Ban, after a second. "There! Beside the port-lock. Just now!"
* * * * *
Beside the smaller port-lock's inner door a figure had appeared, clad in the neat yellow smock of a servitor of Ku Sui. It was a smooth, impassive Oriental face that turned to stare out at the approaching men; and even Ban knew that this sentinel stationed at the lock was one of the coolies whose brains Dr. Ku had altered, turning him into a mechanicalized man who obeyed no orders but his. He watched closely the three who swept on towards him, his hand at a raygun in his belt. The same questions were in the minds of all three of the raiders. Would he recognize something as being different, or suspicious? Would he summon others of his kind from the small guard-box he had come out of?
But the coolie evinced no alarm. It would have been difficult for anyone to have discerned distinguishing features inside the cumbersome helmets, behind the instruments clamped to the faces of the men who wore the suits. He called no others, but merely watched.
Soon the opaque metal plates of the small lock's outer door had neared to within a few feet of Hawk Carse, and he stopped short, Ban and Friday following suit. They hovered there outside the door, gently swaying like flies against the great gleaming sweep of the dome, the craggy rock face dropping sickeningly down for miles beneath them. And, like flies, they were powerless to open the door to gain entrance. Only the coolie inside could do that; and he, through the dome to one side, was peering at them.
Apparently he was satisfied with his scrutiny. After a moment, bolts shifted and the door stirred and swung out, revealing the all-metal atmosphere chamber and the inner door at the far side. Immediately Carse floated into the chamber, and the two others pressed in behind. They saw the outer door swing shut, and heard its locks thud over.
They were sealed from sight inside the port-lock's atmosphere chamber.
"Looks to me," whispered Ban Wilson, "like a very sweet trap. If that fellow inside wants to—"
The Hawk's cool voice cut him off.
"We can take off the glasses now," he said casually. "Keep alert."
And for a full minute they waited.
* * * * *
At length a circle of light showed around the rim of the inner door, and it grew quickly into the full flood of Jupiter-light as the door opened.
Carse floated through, no longer attempting to avert his face.
The coolie, standing just outside the chamber, saw the adventurer's features and remembered—and drew the raygun in his belt.
Carse did not shoot. He never killed unless he could not avoid it; this was as much a part of his creed as his remorseless leveling of a blood-debt. He struck with the suit. Under a quick turn of the control, the great heavy bulk of fabric-joined metal lunged forward. The move was quick, but not quite quick enough, for just before the coolie was bowled headlong to the ground, he got out a high-pitched warning yell; and then, as he lay sprawled out, apparently unconscious, a thin hot orange streak sizzled by Hawk Carse's helmet from the left.
This time Carse shot. His gun leaped from belt to hand, and had twice spoken from the hip before one could quite grasp what had happened. Seemingly without bothering to take aim, his deadly left hand had stricken into lifeless heaps two coolies who had come running and shooting from the nearby guard-box.
As Carse stood looking down at their bodies he was startled by another sizzling spit. He wheeled to see Friday holding the raygun that had spoken.
The Negro said apologetically:
"Sorry, suh—I had to. The other coolie, the one you knocked down, came to and was aimin' at you. Guess they're all three dead now, sure enough."
* * * * *
His master nodded, and said in a low, thoughtful voice: "In spite of what some men have said, I never like to kill; but for these robots, more machines than men, with nothing human to live for, it's release rather than death.
"Well," he began again, more briskly, "we're inside, and whoever else is here apparently doesn't know it yet. I expected more of a commotion. I wonder how many coolies Ku Sui had, altogether? Fourteen or fifteen were killed when we broke through the dome, before, and now these three. There surely can't be many left. Of course, there are the four white men, his surgical assistants."
Ban Wilson spoke after what was for him a long silence. He had watched the Hawk's gunplay with an awe-stricken face; its speed never failed to amaze him. He observed:
"These buildings certainly look lifeless. Well, what now, Carse?"
"A search." He planned it out in his head, then gave quick orders. "Ban," he directed, "you go through all the out-buildings, your gun ready. The five main ones are a workshop, a power-house, storehouse, a ship hangar and a barracks for coolies. Whoever you find, take prisoner. Keep in touch with me by radio."
"Friday," he continued, "I'm leaving you here. First get these bodies in that guard-house they came out of. Then keep sharp watch. I don't think Ku Sui will return within fifteen minutes, but we must take no chance. At the first sign of him, warn me."
"Yes, suh. But what are you goin' to do?"
"Take over the central building," said the Hawk. "And then, when the whole place has been reconnoitered, fulfil my promise to the brains."
"And what about Ku Sui?"
"Later," he said. "It should not be hard to take him prisoner.... Now, enough!"
The three parted.
The Voice of the Brains
The central structure of the group of buildings was shaped like a great plus-mark, each of its four wings of identical square construction, with long smooth metal sides and top, and with a door at the end giving entrance to a corridor that ran straight through to the chief central laboratory of Dr. Ku Sui.
Carse skimmed swiftly, two feet off the glittering metallic soil, towards the end of the nearest wing, where he gently landed. He tried the door giving entrance. It was open. He cautiously floated through into complete darkness.
The Hawk was prepared for that. He drew a hand-flash from the belt of his suit, and, standing motionless, his raygun ready in his left hand, he probed the darkness with a long white beam. Spaced evenly along the sides of the corridor were many identical doors, and at the end a larger, heavier door which gave entrance to the central laboratory. He found no life or anything that moved at all, so, methodically, he set about inspecting the side rooms.
The doors were all unlocked, and he moved down the line without alarm, like a mechanical giant preceded by a sweeping, nervous flow of light. Such he might from the outside have appeared to be, but the man within himself was more like a cat scenting for danger, all muscles and senses delicately tuned to alertness. Door by door, a cautious and thorough inspection; but he found nothing of danger. All the rooms of that wing were used merely for stores and equipment, and they were quite silent and deserted. When he came at last to its end, Carse knew that the wing was safe.
He paused a minute before the laboratory door. He had expected to find it locked, and that he would have to seek other means of entrance; but it was not. By pushing softly against it, it easily gave inward on silent well-oiled hinges. He entered.
* * * * *
Carse found himself in a place of memories, and they were sharp and painful in his brain as he stood there. Here so much had happened: here death, and even more than death, had been, and was, so near!
The high-walled circular room was dimly lit by daylight tubes from above. The damage he, Carse, had wrought when besieged in it, a week before, had all been repaired. The place was deserted—it seemed even desolate—but in Carse's moment of memory it was peopled. There had been the tall, graceful shape in black silk; there the operating table and the frail old man bound on it; there the four other men, white men and gowned in the smocks of surgeons, but whose faces were lifeless and expressionless. Dr. Ku Sui and his four assistant surgeons and his intended victim, Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow....
They were all gone from the room now, but there was in it one thing of life that had been there before. It lay behind the inlaid screen which, standing on roller-legs, lay along the wall at one place. The Hawk did not look behind the screen. He could see under it, to know that no one lurked there. He knew what it was meant to conceal. There his promise lay.
But his promise could not be fulfilled immediately. There were four wings to the building, four doors leading into the laboratory, and he had inspected but one.
An open door to his right revealed a corridor similar to the one he had reconnoitered. He repeated down it his methodical search and found no one. Then he returned to the laboratory.
Surely there were men somewhere! Surely someone was behind one of the two closed doors remaining! Gun and flashlight still at the ready, Carse listened a moment at the nearest one.
Silence. He grasped the knob, turned it and quickly threw the door open. A rapid glance revealed no one. Wary and alert, he passed through, and discovered that in this wing were the personal living quarters of Dr. Ku Sui.
The quarters were divided into five rooms: living room, bedroom, library, dining room and kitchen, and the huge metal figure passed through all five, the cold gray eyes taking in every detail of the comfortable but not luxurious furnishings. There was a great interest to him, but it would have to wait.
He reentered the laboratory and went to the remaining door. Bending his head he again listened. A sound—a faint whisper? He fancied he heard something.
Ready for whatever it was, Carse pulled the door wide. And before him he saw the control room of the asteroid, and the men for whom he had been hunting.
* * * * *
They were white men. Carse recognized them immediately as the four assistants of Dr. Ku Sui. Once, they had been eminent on Earth, respected doctors of medicine and brain surgery, leaders in their profession: now they were like the mechanicalized coolies. For their brains, too, the Eurasian had altered, divested of all humanity and individuality, so as to utilize unhampered their skill with medicine and scalpel.
They were clad in soft yellow robes and seated at ease at one end of a room crowded with a bewildering profusion of gauges, machines, instruments, screens, wheels, levers, and other nameless controlling devices. They did not show surprise at the huge clumsy figure that stood suddenly before them, a raygun in one hand. Like the coolies, their clean-cut features did not change under emotion. All they did was rise silently, as one, gazing at the adventurer out of blank eyes, saying nothing, and making no other move.
Carse tried simple measures in dealing with them. His voice gentle yet firm, he said:
"You must not try to obstruct me. You have seen me before under unfortunate conditions, yet I want you to know that I am really your friend. I mean you no harm; but you must realize that I have a gun, and believe that I will not hesitate to use it if you resist me. So please do not. I only want you to come with me. Will you?"
They were simple words, and what he asked was simple, but would the meaning reach these violated brains? Or would there instead be the desperate reaction of the coolies, who had tried to kill him? Carse waited with genuine anxiety. It would be hard to shoot them, and he knew he could not shoot to kill.
A moment of indecision—and then with relief he saw all four, with apparent willingness, move forward towards him. He directed them through the laboratory and, without sign of resistance, herded them down the corridor he had first searched to the outside.
* * * * *
The light of Jupiter, flooding undiminished through the dome, dazzled him at first. When he could see clearly, he distinguished the great form that was Friday standing motionless by the small port-lock, and, an equal distance away, moving around one of the out-buildings, another similar figure. He spoke by radio.
"Find any, Ban?"
Cheerful words came humming back.
"Only one coolie, Carse. Had no trouble after I disarmed him. He's now locked inside a room in this building. Safe place for prisoners."
"Good," said Carse. "You can see I've got four men—white men. I believe they're unarmed and quite harmless, but I want you to take them, search them and put them away in that room too."
The distant form rose lightly, skimmed low over the open area between, and grew into the grinning, freckle-faced Ban Wilson. He bounced down awkwardly, almost losing his balance, then surveyed, wonderingly, the four assistants of Ku Sui.
"By Betelgeuse!" he muttered, "—like robots! Horrible!"
"Yes," said the Hawk shortly. "You had no trouble, eh?"
Ban grinned again. "Nothing to mention. This has been soft, hasn't it?"
"Don't be too optimistic, Ban. All right—when you've put these men in the room, please relieve Friday. Send him to me in the laboratory—he knows where it is—and stand watch yourself. If Ku Sui appears—"
"I'll let you know on the instant!"
Hawk Carse nodded and turned back into the corridor from which he had just come. Now he would fulfil his promise. With no possibility of a surprise attack from anyone within the dome, and Ban Wilson posted against the return of Ku Sui, he could attend unhampered to the vow which had brought him there.
* * * * *
He returned to the central laboratory. Quickly be rolled back the high screen lying across one part of the curved wall and stood looking at what was behind it. The monstrousness of that dead-and-alive mechanism overwhelmed his thoughts again.
Before him stood a case, transparent, hard and crystal-like, as long as a man's body and half as deep, standing level on short metal legs. What it contained was the most jealously guarded, the most precious of all Dr. Ku Sui's works, the very consummation of his mighty genius, his treasure-house of wisdom as profound as man then could know. And more: it held the consummation of all that was so coldly unhuman in the Eurasian. For there, in that case, he had bound to his will the brains of five of Earth's greatest scientists, and kept them alive, with their whole matured store of knowledge subservient to his need, although their bodies were long since dead and decayed.
For some time the adventurer stood lost in a mood of thoughts and emotions rare to him—until he was startled back into reality by a heavy, clumping noise coming down the corridor through which he had entered. His gun-hand flickered to readiness, but it was only Friday, coming as he had been ordered. Carse greeted the Negro with a nod, and said briefly:
"There's a panel in this room—over there somewhere—you remember—the place through which Ku Sui escaped when we were here before. It's an unknown quantity, so I want you to stand watch by it. Open your face-plate wide, and warn me at the slightest sound or sight of possible danger."
The Negro nodded and moved as silently as was possible in his space-suit to obey. And Carse turned again to the thing to which he had made a promise.
* * * * *
The icy-glittering case was full of a colorless liquid in which were grouped at the bottom, several delicate, colored instruments, all interconnected by a maze of countless spidery silver wires. Sheathes of other wires ran up from the lower devices to the case's main content—five grayish, convoluted mounds that lay in shallow pans—five brutally naked things that were the brains of scientists once honored and eminent on Earth.
Their bodies has long since been cast aside as useless to the ends of Ku Sui, but the priceless brains had been condemned to live on in an unlit, unseeing deathless existence: machines serving the man who had trapped them into life in death. Alive—and with stray memories, which Ku Sui could not banish entirely, of Earth, of love, of the work and the respect that had once been theirs. Alive—with an unnatural and horrible life, without sensation, without hope. Alive—and made to aid with their knowledge the man who had brought them into slavery unspeakable....
Hawk Carse's eyes were frigid gray mists in a graven, expressionless face as he turned to the left of the case and pulled over one of the well-remembered knife switches. A low hum came; a ghost of rosy color diffused through the liquid in the case. The color grew until the whole was glowing jewel-like in the dim-lit laboratory, and the narrow tubes leading into the undersides of the brains were plainly visible. Something within the tubes pulsed at the rate of heart-beats. The stuff of life.
When the color ceased to increase, Carse pulled the second switch, and moved close to the grille inset in a small panel above the case.
Slowly, gently he said into the grille:
"Master Scientist Cram, Professors Estapp and Geinst, Doctors Swanson and Norman—I wish to talk to you. I am Captain Carse, friend of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow. Some days ago you aided us in our escape from here, and in return I made you a promise. Do you remember?"
There was a pause, a silence so tense it was painful. And then functioned the miracle of Ku Sui's devising. There came from the grille a thin, metallic voice from the living dead.
"I remember you, Captain Carse, and your promise."
* * * * *
A voice from living brain cells, through inorganic lungs and throat and tongue! A voice from five brains, speaking, for some obscure reason which even Ku Sui could not explain, in the first person, and setting to mechanical words the living, pulsing thoughts that sped back and forth inside the case and were coordinated into unity by the master brain, which had once been in the body of Master Scientist Cram. A voice out of nothingness; a voice from what seemed so clearly to be the dead. To Hawk Carse, man of action, it was unearthly; it was a miracle the fact of which he could not question, but which he could not hope to understand. And well might it have been unearthly to anyone. Even to-day.
Still thrilling to the wonder of it, he went on:
"I have returned here to the asteroid with friends. Primarily I came to keep my promise to you, but I intend to do more. Dr. Ku Sui is not here now, and will not be for at least fifteen minutes; but when he does return, I am going to capture him. I am going to take him alive."
He was silent for a moment.
"Perhaps you do not know," he continued levelly, "but the people of Earth hold Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow responsible for your disappearance. He is therefore a fugitive, and there is a price on his head. It is my purpose to restore Eliot Leithgow to his old place by returning Dr. Ku to Earth to answer for the crimes he has effected on you.
"I am now ready to fulfil my promise to you. I expect no interruption this time. I regret exceedingly my inability to destroy you when I was here before, but I simply could not in the little time I had. I still do not know how best to go about it. Perhaps you will tell me. I will wait...."
An afterthought came to him. He added into the grille:
"There is no hurry. Your extraordinary position—your thoughts—I understand...."
Then there was a long silence. For once the Hawk was not impatient; in fact there was in him the feeling that the pause was only decent and fitting. For before him were the brains of five great scientists, who as captive remnants of men had asked him to end their cold and lonely bondage. Limbless, his was to be the hand of their self-immolation. The present silent, slow-passing minutes were to be their last of consciousness....
And then at last spoke the voice:
"Captain Carse, I do not wish you to destroy me. I with you to give me new life. I wish you to transplant me within the bodies of five living men."
* * * * *
The words, so unexpected, took Hawk Carse by perhaps the greatest surprise he had ever known. For a time he was completely astounded; he could hardly credit his ears. It required a full minute for him to summon even the most halting reply.
"But—but could that be done?" He strove to collect himself, to consider logically this course that he had never dreamed would be requested. "Who could do it? I know of no man."
"Dr. Ku Sui could transplant me."
"Ku Sui? He could, but he wouldn't. He would destroy you, rather."
Almost immediately the artificial voice responded:
"You have said, Captain Carse, that you will soon have Ku Sui captive. Will you not attempt to force him to do as I desire?"
Carse considered the suggestion, but it did not seem remotely possible. Ku Sui could not be prevented from having endless opportunities for destroying the brains while enjoying the manual freedom necessary to perform the operations of re-embodying them.
"I do not see how," he began—and then he cut off his words abruptly.
Something had come into his mind, a memory of something Eliot Leithgow had told him once, long before. Slowly the details came back in full, and at their remembrance his right hand rose to the odd bangs of flaxen hair concealing his forehead and began to smooth them, and a ghost of a smile appeared on his thin lips.
"Perhaps," he murmured. "I think ... perhaps...."
He said decisively into the grille:
"Yes! I think it's quite possible that I can force Ku Sui to transplant you into living bodies! I think—I think—I cannot be sure—that it can be done. At least I will make a very good attempt."
The toneless, mechanical voice uttered:
"Captain Carse, you bring me hope. My thoughts are many, and they are grateful."
But the Hawk had made a promise, and had to be formally freed of the duty it entailed.
"You release me, then," he asked, "from my original promise to destroy you?"
"I release you, Captain Carse. And again I thank you."
The adventurer returned the switches motivating the case, and the faint smile returned to his lips at the thought that had come to him.
But the smile vanished suddenly at the quick, excited words that came crackling into his helmet receiver.
"Carse? Carse? Do you hear me?"
He threw over his microphone control.
"Yes, Ban? What is it?"
"Come as fast as you can. Just caught sight of three distant figures flying straight towards here. It's Ku Sui, returning!"
"My Congratulations, Captain Carse!"
A few minutes later the trap was in readiness.
It had been swiftly planned and executed, and it promised well. Both the inner and outer doors of the smaller port-lock lay ajar. Hawk Carse was gone from view. The only figure visible there was that which lay sprawled face-downward on the ground close to the inner door of the port-lock.
The figure seemed to have been stricken down in sudden death. It was clad in the trim yellow smock of a coolie of Ku Sui. It was limp, its arms and legs spreadeagled, and it lay there as mute evidence that the dome of the asteroid had been attacked.
To one entering from outside, the figure was that of a dead coolie. The coolie that had worn those clothes was dead; his clothes now covered the wiry length of freckle-faced Ban Wilson.
Ban played the game well. His face lay in the ground, pointed away from the lock, so he could not see what was going to happen behind him: but before the Hawk had directed him to take off his suit and don the yellow smock, he had glimpsed, rising swiftly over the southernmost barrier of hills that edged the valley, three black dots coming fast toward the asteroid in straight, disciplined flight, and he knew that the leader of the three was Dr. Ku Sui.
As he lay limp on the ground, playing his important part as the decoy of the trap, he knew that his life depended on the action and the skill and the timing of Hawk Carse. But he did not worry about that. He had implicit faith in the Hawk, and trusted his life to his judgment without a tremor.
Still, it was hard for Ban to throttle down his excessively nervous nature and maintain the dead man pose for the long silent minutes that crawled by before there came any sound from behind. The Jupiter-light, flooding down on him from the glittering blue sky above, was hot and growing hotter, and of course he began to itch. Had he had the freedom of his limbs, he would not have itched, he knew; it happened only when he had to keep absolutely still; he cursed the phenomenon to himself. Minute after minute, and no sound to tell him what was happening behind, or how close the three approaching figures had come, or whether Carse was at all visible or not—and the mounting, maddening itch right in the middle of his back!
* * * * *
At last Ban's mental cursings stopped. His straining ears had caught a sound.
It was quickly repeated, and again and again—the heavy, grating noise of metal on metal. The boots of space-suits on the metal floor of the port-lock. They had arrived!
Ku Sui would be there, close behind him; probably gazing at his outflung figure; probably puzzled, and suspicious, and quickly looking around for the enemies that had apparently killed one of his coolies. With a raygun in hand—and guns in the hands of the two others with him—glancing warily around over the guard-chamber close to the port-lock, and the main buildings beyond, and the whole area inside the dome, and seeing no one.
Ban could tell it by the silence, then the harsh crunch of the great boots against the powdered, metallic upper crust of ground. But he lay without an eyelash's flickering, a dead coolie, limp, crumpled. He heard the crunch of boots come right up to him and then pause; and the feeling that came to his stomach told him unmistakably that a man was looking down on him....
Now—while Ku Sui's attention was on him—now was the time! Now! Otherwise the Eurasian would turn him over and see that he was white!
It seemed to Ban centuries later that he heard the welcome voice of the Hawk bark out:
"You are covered, Dr. Ku! And your men. I advise you not to move. Tell your men to drop their guns—sh!"
The sound of the voice from the guard-chamber was replaced by two spits of a raygun. Unable to restrain himself, Ban rolled over and looked up.
He saw, first, the figure of the Hawk. Carse had stepped out from where he had been concealed, in the guard-chamber, and was holding the gun that had just spoken. Standing upright, close to the inner door of the port-lock, were two suit-clad coolies. Ban saw that they had turned to fire at Carse, and that now they were dead. Dead on their feet in the stiff, heavy stuff of their suits.
Dr. Ku Sui was standing motionless above him, and through the open face-plate of the Eurasian's helmet Ban could see him gazing at Hawk Carse with a strange, faint smile on his beautifully chiselled, ascetic face.
The Hawk came towards them, the raygun steady on his old foe; but while he was still yards away, and before he could do anything to prevent it, the Eurasian spoke a few unintelligible words into the microphone of his helmet-radio. Carse continued forward and stopped when a few feet away. Dr. Ku bowed as well as he could in his stiff suit and said courteously, in English:
"So I am trapped. My congratulations, Captain Carse! It was very neatly done."
* * * * *
The two puffed-out, metal-gleaming figures faced each other for a moment without speaking. And in the silence, Ban Wilson, watchful, with a raygun he had drawn from his belt, fancied he could feel the long, bitter, bloody feud between the two, adventurer and scientist, there met again....
Carse spoke first, his voice steel-cold.
"You take it lightly, Dr. Ku. Do not rely too much on those words you spoke in Chinese. I could not understand them—but such things as I do not know about your asteroid I have already guarded against; and I think we can forestall whatever you have set in action.... You will please take off your space-suit."
"Willingly, my friend!"
"Watch close, Ban," said the Hawk.
Dr. Ku Sui unbuckled the heavy clasps of his suit, unscrewed the cumbersome helmet, and in a moment stepped free. At the suit slid to the ground, there stood revealed his tall, slim-waisted form, clad in the customary silk. He wore a high-collared green silk blouse, tailored to the lines of his body, full trousers of the same material, and pointed red slippers and red sash, which set the green off tastefully. A lithe, silky figure; and above the silk the high forehead, the saffron, delicately carved face, the fine black hair. Half-veiled by their long lashes, his exotic eyes rested like a cat's on his old enemy.
The Hawk moved close to him, and swiftly patted one hand over his body. From inside one of the blouse's sleeves he drew a pencil-thin blade of steel from its hidden sheath. He found no other weapon. Stepping back, he quickly divested himself of his suit also.
"And now, Captain?" the Eurasian murmured softly.
"Now, Dr. Ku," answered Carse, once again a slender, wiry figure in soft blue shirt and blue denim trousers, "we are going to have a little talk. In your living room, I think.
"Ban," he continued. "I don't believe there's anyone else who can even see the asteroid, but we have to be careful. Will you stay on guard here by the port-lock? Good. Close its doors, and yell or come to me if anything should occur."
He turned to the waiting Eurasian again.
"You may go first, Dr. Ku. Into the laboratory, and then to the living room of your quarters."
* * * * *
They found Friday on guard where he had been stationed in the laboratory. The big Negro, on recognizing the Eurasian, grinned from ear to ear and gave him what he considered a witty greeting.
"Well, well!" he said with gusto, "—come right in. Dr. Ku Sui! Make yourself at home, suh! Sure glad to have you come visitin' us!" He laughed gleefully.
But his words were wasted on Dr. Ku. His eyes at once fastened on the case of coordinated brains, standing at one side. Carse noticed this.
"No. Dr. Ku," he said. "I have not touched the brains. Not yet. But that's what we're going to talk about." He motioned to one of the four doors connecting the central laboratory with the building's wings. "Into your living room please, and be seated there. And no sudden moves, of course: I have a certain skill with a raygun. Friday, keep doubly alert now. Better take off your suit. I will call for you in a few minutes."
Ku Sui walked on silent feet into the first division of his personal quarters, the softly-lit living room. A lush velvet carpet made the floor soft; ancient Chinese tapestries hid the pastelled metal of the walls; books were everywhere. It was a quiet and restful room, with no visible reminder of the asteroid and its controlling mechanics.
Dr. Ku sank into a deep armchair, linked his fingers before him and looked up inquiringly.
"We were going to talk about the brains?" he asked.
* * * * *
Carse had closed the door behind him, and now remained standing. He met the masked green eyes squarely.
"Yes." He was silent for a little, then, quietly and coldly he went to the point.
"You'll be interested to hear that I have talked with the brains and been relieved of my premise to destroy them. They requested something else. Now I have committed myself to attempt their restoration into living bodies."
"So?" murmured the Eurasian. "So. Yes, Captain, that is very interesting."
"Very." The Hawk spoke without trace of emotion. "And some courtroom on Earth will find more than interesting the testimony of your re-embodied brains."
Dr. Ku Sui smiled in answer. "Oh, no doubt. But, my friend—this transplantation—you accept its possibility so casually! Won't it prove rather difficult for you, who have never even pretended to be a scientist?"
"Not difficult. Impossible."
"And Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow—I have unbounded respect for his genius, but brain surgery is a specialty and I really think that this task would be outside even his capabilities. I am sure he himself would admit it."
"You are right, Dr. Ku: he has admitted it. We both realize there is only one person in the universe who could achieve it—you. So you will have to perform the operations."
"Well!" said Dr. Ku Sui. The smooth, fine skin of his brow wrinkled slightly as he gazed up at the intent man facing him. "Is this just stupidity on your part, Captain? Or do you attempt a joke at which in courtesy I should smile?"
The Hawk answered levelly: "I was never farther from joking in my life."
* * * * *
With a delicate shrug of his silken shoulders, Ku Sui averted his eyes. As if bored, he glanced around the room. Slowly he unclasped his hands.
"I am a very fast shot, Dr. Ku," whispered Carse. "You must not make a single move without my permission."
At that the Eurasian laughed aloud, a liquid laugh that showed his even teeth between the finely cut lips.
"But I am so completely in your power, Captain Carse!" He held on to the last syllable, a low, sustained hiss—and then he snapped it off.
"S-s-stah!" His mood had changed: the smile vanished from a face suddenly thin and cruel; the green eyes unmasked, to show in their depths the tiger.
"What insane talk! You say such things to me! Don't you know that to coordinate those brains I worked for years with a devotion, a concentration, a genius you can never hope even to comprehend? Don't you realize they're the most precious possession of the greatest surgeon and the greatest mind in the universe? Don't you understand that I've fashioned a miracle? Realize these things, then, and marvel at yourself—you who, with your gun and your egotism, think you can make me undo their wonderful coordination!"
The tiger returned behind the veil, its power and fury again leashed, and Dr. Ku Sui relaxed his green eyes once more masked and enigmatic. Hawk Carse asked simply:
"Could you transplant the brains?"
"You insist on continuing this farce?" murmured the Eurasian. "I would not be rude, but really you try my patience!"
"Could you transplant the brains?"
Dr. Ku Sui looked at the colorless face with its eyes of ice. With a trace of irritation, he said:
"Of course! What I have once transplanted, I can transplant again. But I will not do it—and my will no one, and no force, can alter. Perhaps it is clear now? In no way can you touch my will. I am sorry that I so grossly insulted you, Carse, for there are certain things about you that in a small way I respect. But here you are helpless."
"Not entirely," said the Hawk.
* * * * *
Ku Sui leaned forward a trifle. In that moment, perhaps, he first felt real concern, for Carse's quiet voice was so confident, so assured. He attempted to sound him out.
"A gun?" he asked. "Torture? Threats? These against my will? Absurd! Consider, my friend—even if I seemed to consent to the operations, could I not easily destroy the brains while ostensibly working on them?"
"Of course," said Carse, with a faint smile. "And threats and torture would be absurd. Against your will, Dr. Ku, a more powerful weapon will have to be used."
The Eurasian's eyes were brilliant with intuition.
"Ah—I see," he murmured. "Eliot Leithgow!"
"Yes, Dr. Ku!"
The two gazed at each other, Carse still with the faint smile, the other with the face of a statue. Presently the adventurer went on:
"Unfortunately for you, Eliot Leithgow can provide a method of compulsion neither you nor any other man could ever resist. Not guns, torture, threats—no. A subtler weapon, worthy of your fine will."
As he spoke, Carse saw the Eurasian's green eyes narrow, and in the pause that followed he knew that the swift, trained mind behind those eyes was working. What would it evolve? What move? And those Chinese words, uttered out by the port-lock—what would they result in, and when? Dr. Ku Sui was concerned now, the Hawk knew, seriously concerned, and inevitably, would take serious steps. What was growing in his resourceful brain? He would have to ward off any trouble when it came, for he could not know now. He said curtly:
"But enough of that. Now, I have a trifling favor to ask of you—something concerning the laboratory. Will you please return to it."
A strange light glimmered for an instant in Dr. Ku Sui's eyes—a mocking of the slender man before him. Only for an instant; then it was gone. Gracefully he raised his tall figure.
"The laboratory? Of course, my friend. And as for the favor—almost anything."
Friday greeted them with another wide grin, and would again have bludgeoned the Eurasian with his wit had not the Hawk motioned him to silence. Looking at Dr. Ku, he said:
"I have Friday posted here because of the secret panel somewhere in this wall. You escaped through it before—do you remember?"
"Of course I remember. And if I'd had merely a fraction of your luck then, my present situation would be quite different."
"Perhaps," said the Hawk. "This panel is now the unknown quantity so far as I'm concerned, and I don't like unknown quantities; so I am asking you to show me where it is and how it works. That's my favor. Of course you can refuse to reveal it, but that will not delay me very long. The method of compulsion I mentioned...."
Dr. Ku-Sui appeared to reflect a moment, but his decision was not tardy in coming. He smiled.
"You terrify me, Captain, with your ominous hints about compulsion. I suppose I'd better be reasonable and show it to you. Really, though, your concern over the panel is rather wasted, inasmuch as it conceals nothing more than a small escape passage leading out of this building. Nothing important at all."
But his words, Carse somehow felt, were a screen; something else lay beneath them. He watched the tall figure with its always present odor of tsin-tsin blossoms move forward in a few indecisive steps, then back again, considering. The smile and the easy words were a camouflage, surely—but for what?
"Nothing important at all." Dr. Ku Sui repeated pleasantly. "Come. I will show you. Friday—if I may so address you—over on that switchboard you will find a small lever-control. It is the one with a Chinese character above it. Will you be so kind as to throw it?"
The Negro glanced inquiringly at his master. Grimly Carse nodded.
An enigmatic light glimmered in the Eurasian's green eyes as they watched the Negro go to the switchboard and put thumb and forefinger on the control.
"Only a small escape passage," he said deprecatingly as the Hawk crouched, gun ready, his eyes on the suspected place in the wall.
Friday threw the switch.
Immediately there sounded a short, sharp explosion. And acrid smoke billowed out from under the case of coordinated brains!
* * * * *
Carse sprang to Ku Sui, gripped one arm and cried harshly:
"What have you done?"
"Not I, Captain—your obedient servant, the Black. Please, your fingers—" He removed them from his arm; and then, smiling, he said:
"I am afraid that all your assurance, your threats, are now but so much wasted breath."
"Surely, Captain," said Ku Sui, "you must have known I would provide for such an emergency, as this. I chose not to risk your darkly-hinted method of compulsion, and so had Friday remove the need for it. The Chinese character above the switch stands for 'Death.'"
Frigidly the Hawk asked: "You've destroyed the brains?"
"I have destroyed the brains." The Eurasian's voice was deep with a strange, unusual tone. "No matter: it was time. I am far, far ahead of that work, great though it was; it has destroyed itself with its inherent, irremediable fault. Yes, far ahead. Next time...." He appeared to lapse into profound and melancholy reflections; seemed to forget entirely the two men by him.
But the Hawk acted.
"We'll see," he said curtly. "Friday, watch the Doctor closely; this trick may be only the first." An intent, grim figure, he strode to the case of coordinated brains, pulled over the first of its two controlling switches, and stood silent while slowly the pulsings of light grew through the inner liquid and very slowly irradiated the five gray, naked mounds that were human brains. The light came to full, and Carse threw over the second switch. He said into the grille:
"I am Captain Carse. I wish to know if you are aware of what has just happened. Do you hear me, and did you feel anything a minute ago?"
* * * * *
Silence. Friday, close to the Eurasian and watchful, hung breathless, hoping that words might come from the grille in answer. But the silken figure he watched was there only in body; Dr. Ku's mind was in a far space of his own.
Cold, unhuman words spoke out.
"Yes, Captain Carse, I hear you. I felt the vibrations of the explosion that occurred a minute ago."
"Hah!" grunted Friday, immediately relieved. "All bluff, suh! No damage to 'em at all!"
Carse asked quickly into the grille:
"You felt the explosion, but do you know what it meant?—what it did?"
Again a pause; and again the toneless voice:
"A vital part of the machinery through which I live his been destroyed. I have left only some three hours of life."
The Hawk returned to Ku Sui. "Is that true?" he snapped.
"Yes, Captain." The words made a whisper, gentle and melancholy, coming from afar. A man was turning back from the scanning of the long years of one phase of his life. "Three hours is all that is left to them.... But there was a fault inherent in such coordinated brains; it is just as well that they are going.... Ah, Carse. I am so far ahead of you ... but I tell you it is a painful thing to destroy so wonderful a work of my hands...."
Silence filled the laboratory. It was broken by the awful voice of the living dead.
"I release you from your second promise, Captain Carse. No doubt what happened was beyond your control.... I will soon be dead. Although there is still nourishment in my liquid, I grow weaker already. I am dying...."
Harshly, the Hawk asked a final question into the grille:
"Within what time will you retain the vitality necessary to undergo the initial steps of the transplanting operations? Do you know?"
Dr. Ku raised his head at this, though he seemed only mildly interested in what the reply would be.
"I think for two of the remaining three hours."
"All right!" said Hawk Carse decisively. He threw off the case's switches. "Dr. Ku," he said, "you've only succeeded in accelerating things. Now for speed! Friday, we're taking this asteroid to Eliot Leithgow's laboratory. Go see that the port-lock doors are closed tight, then you and Wilson hurry back here! Fast! Run!"
To the Laboratory
When the Negro returned, panting, with Ban Wilson, it was to discover Carse in the control room of the asteroid. He was studying the multifarious devices and instruments: and they, seeing his face so set in concentration, did not disturb him, but went over to where Dr. Ku Sui sat in a chair, and posted themselves behind it.
The apparatus in the control room resembled that of any modern space-ship of its time, except that there were extra pieces of unguessed function. Directly in front of Carse was the directional space-stick above its complicated mechanism: above his eyes was the wide six-part visi-screen, which in space would record the whole "sphere" of the heavens: while to his right was the chief control board, a smooth black surface studded with squads of vari-colored buttons and lights, These were the essentials, familiar to any ship navigator; but they were here awesome, for they controlled not the one or two hundred feet of an ordinary craft, but twenty miles of this space-ship of rock.
"Yes ... yes...." Carse murmured presently out of his study, then turned and for the first time appeared to notice Friday and Ban. He gave orders.
"Eclipse, you see the radio over there? Get Master Leithgow on it for me—protected beam. Ban, you bind Dr. Ku Sui in that chair, please."
Wilson was surprised.
"Bind him? Isn't he going to run this thing?"
"You're going to, Carse?"
"Yes. I don't quite trust Dr. Ku. The asteroid's controlled on the same principles as a space-ship: I'll manage. Please hurry, Ban."
"Cap'n., suh! Already got the Master Scientist!" called Friday from the radio panel. The Hawk strode swiftly to it and clamped the individual receivers over his ears.
"M. S.?" he asked into the microphone. "You're there?"
"Yes. Carse? What's happened?"
"All's well, but I'm in a tremendous hurry: I've only got time, now, to tell you we're on the asteroid with Dr. Ku prisoner, and that I'm undertaking to transplant the coordinated brains into living human bodies.... What? Yes transplant them! Please, M. S.—not now: questions later. I'm calling primarily to learn whether you have any V-27 on hand?"
Eliot Leithgow, in his distant laboratory, paused before replying. When his voice sounded in the receivers again, it was excited.
"I think I see, Carse! Good! Yes, I have a little—"
"We'll need a lot," the Hawk cut in tersely. "Will you instruct your assistants to begin preparing as much as they can in the next hour? Yes. And your laboratory—clear it for the operations, and improvise five operating tables. Powerful lights, too, M. S. Yes—yes—right—all accessories. Have someone stand by your radio; I'll radio further details while we're on our way."
"Right, Carse. All understood."
The Hawk remembered something else. "Oh, yes, Eliot—is everything safe in your vicinity?"
"There's a small band of isuanacs foraging around somewhere in the neighborhood, but otherwise nothing. They're harmless—"
"But possibly observant," finished Carse. "All right—I'll clear them away before descending to the lab. Until later, Eliot."
* * * * *
Carse switched off the microphone and turned to catch Friday's shocked expression. Carse looked inquiringly at his dark satellite.
"Lordy, suh," the Negro whispered, "Dr. Ku could hear all you said! He'll know where Master Leithgow's laboratory is!"
The Hawk smiled briefly. "No matter, Eclipse. I'm quite sure the information will avail him nothing. For this ride to the laboratory will be his last ride but one." He turned. "We're starting at once. Ban, you've bound him well?"
"If he can get out of those knots," grinned Wilson, "I'll kiss him on the mouth!"
The Eurasian's nostrils distended. "Then," he said. "I most certainly will not try. But Captain Carse, may I have a cigarro before we start on this journey?"
Carse had gone over so the space-stick and his eyes were on the visi-screen, but he now turned them to his old foe for a moment. "Not just now, Dr. Ku," he said levelly. "For it might be that all but two puffs of it would be wasted. Yes—later—if we survive these next few minutes."
The remark did nothing to ease the tension of their leaving. Ban Wilson could not restrain a question.
"Carse, are you going to risk atmospheric friction all the way to the laboratory?"
"No. Haven't time for that. Up and down—up into space, then down to the lab—high acceleration and deceleration."
He grasped the space-stick, then in neutral, holding the asteroid motionless in the valley. He glanced at the visi-screen again, checked over the main controls and tightened his hand on the stick.
"Ready everyone," he said, and gently moved the stick up and forward.
* * * * *
There was, to the men in the control room, little consciousness of power unleashed: only the visi-screen and the bank of positional instruments told what had happened with that first, delicate movement of the space-stick. It was an experiment, a feeler. The indicators of the positionals quivered a little and altered, and in the visi-screen the hills of the valley, that a moment before had been quite close and large, had diminished to purple-green mounds below.
Then the accelerating sensations began. Carse had the "feel" of the asteroidal ship and his controlling hand grew bolder. The steady pressure on the space-stick increased, it went up farther and farther, and the whole mighty mass of the asteroid streaked out at a tangent through the atmosphere of Satellite III toward the gulf beyond.
With dangerous acceleration the gigantic body rose, and from outside there grew a moaning which was quickly a shrieking—a terrible, maddened sound as of a Titan dying in agony—the sound of the cloven atmosphere. Twenty miles of rock were hurled out by the firm hand on the space-stick, and that hand only increased its driving pressure when the screaming of the air died away in the depthless silence of outer space.
In one special visi-screen lay mirrored the craggy back-stretch of the asteroid, half of it clear-cut and hard in Jupiter's flood of light, the other half lost in the encompassing blackness of space. Over this shadowed portion a faint, unearthly glow clung close, the result of the terrific friction of the ascent. In miniature, in the regular screens, was Satellite III, but a distorted miniature, for its half-face appeared concave in shape, and dusted with the haze of its atmosphere.
* * * * *
The Hawk was visibly relieved. He turned to the silent Ku Sui.
"I must congratulate you, Dr. Ku," he said, "on the operation of the asteroid. It's as smooth as any ship. And now, your cigarro. Ban, have you one?"
Wilson produced a small metal case from which he extracted one of the long black cylinders.
"You will have to put it in my lips, please," murmured Dr. Ku. "Thank you. And a light? Again thanks. Ah...." He drew in the smoke, exhaled a fine stream of it from his delicately carved nostrils. "Good." Then he looked up pleasantly at the Hawk.
"And my congratulations to you, Captain. Not only on your expert maneuvering of my asteroid, but on everything: your resourcefulness, your decision, your caution. I have long admired these qualities in you, and the events of to-day, though for me perhaps unfortunate, increase my admiration. My own weak resistance, my attempt to frustrate your plans in connection with the brains—how miserable in comparison! It would seem, Captain, that you cannot fail, and that you will indeed succeed in giving the brains new life, so swiftly do you move. Yes, my congratulations!"
He drew at the cigarro, and the smoke wreathed gently around his ascetic saffron face. A faint, queer glint was visible under the long lashes that half-veiled his eyes as he continued:
"But I have a question, Captain. A mere nothing, but still—"
"Yes, Dr. Ku?"
"The living bodies into which you propose to transplant the brains—where are they?"
Hawk Carse's face was stern and his voice frigid as he answered:
"Fortunately, those bodies are right here on the asteroid."
"Here on the asteroid, Captain? I don't understand. What bodies are here?"
"The bodies of your four white assistants, whom I have safely confined, and one of your robot-coolies, also confined. I did not intend to use these five, but, because you put a premium on time by your attempted destruction of the brains, it cannot be helped."
* * * * *
Dr. Ku Sui's impassive demeanor did not change. He did not seem in the least surprised. He puffed quietly at the cigarro and nodded.
"Of course, of course. You have five bodies right here on the asteroid. Yes."
"At least," continued Carse levelly, "I do not regret having to use the bodies of your men. They are no longer human: they are not men: they are in effect but machines of your making, Dr. Ku."
"I suppose you find it an unpleasant thought, to have to be the means of re-making them into whole, normal human beings?"
"On the contrary," breathed the Eurasian, "you inspire a very pleasant thought in my brain, Captain Carse—though I must confess it is not exactly the thought you mention." A smile, veiled by the smoke of the cigarro, appeared on his lips.
The Hawk looked at him closely: the words had a hidden meaning, and it was clear he was not intended to miss the implied threat. But what was Ku Sui's thought? Back in his mind an anxiety grew, indefinite, vague and devilish.
And that vague anxiety was still with him when, fifty-seven minutes later, the asteroid returned from its inverted U-flight, slowed in its hurtling drop from space and hovered directly over the secret, hidden laboratory of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow.
White's Brain—Yellow's Head
To Friday it was a bad mistake to reveal the location of the laboratory to Dr. Ku Sui. From him above all men had that location up to now been kept. Just a few days before, Hawk Carse had risked his life to preserve the secret. And yet now, deliberately, he was showing it to the Eurasian!
Nervously, Friday watched him, and he saw that his eyes were alive with interest as they scanned the visi-screen. It was too much for the Negro.
"Captain Carse," he whispered, coming close to the adventurer, "look, suh—he's seein' it all! Shouldn't I blindfold him?"
Carse shook his head, but turned to Dr. Ku, where he sat bound in the chair scrutinizing the visi-screen.
"Yes, Doctor," he said, "there it is—what you have searched for so long—the refuge and the laboratory of Eliot Leithgow."
"There, Captain?" murmured the Eurasian. "I see nothing!"
And true, the visi-screen showed nothing but a hill, a lake, a swamp, and the distant, surrounding jungle.
That spot on Satellite III had been most carefully chosen by the Master Scientist and Carse as best suiting their needs. It lay at least a thousand miles—a thousand miles of ugly, primeval jungle—from the nearest unfriendly isuan ranch, and was diametrically opposite Port o' Porno. Thus it allowed Leithgow and Carse to come and go with but faint chance of being observed, and the steady watch kept through the laboratory's telescopic instruments lessened even that. And even if their movements to and from the laboratory had been observed, a spy could have discovered little, so ingeniously was the camouflage contrived to use to best advantage the natural features of the landscape.
At this spot en Satellite III there was a small lake, long rather than wide. At its shallow end, the lake lost itself in marshy, thick-grown swamps; at its deep end it washed against the slopes of a low, rounded hill. Topping the hill was a rude ranch-house, which to the casual eye would appear the unimportant habitation of some poor jungle-squatter, with beds of various vegetables and fruits growing around it, and guarded against the jungle's animals by what looked like a makeshift fence. The ground inside the fence had been cleared save for a few thick, dead stumps of oxi trees, gnarled and weather-beaten, which made the whole outlay look crude and desolate.
So desolate, so poor, so humble, as not to deserve a second glance from the lowest of scavenger or pirate ships. So misleading!
* * * * *
Carse had brought the invisible asteroid to a halt perhaps a half mile above the hill. The minutes were slipping by, bringing the two-hour deadline ever closer, but he did not skimp his customary caution on approaching the laboratory. From the control room, he swept the electelscope over the surrounding terrain, and soon sighted the band of isuanacs Eliot Leithgow had mentioned.
Through the 'scope's magnifying mirrors they seemed but yards away, though they were wandering knee-deep in the marshes at the far end of the lake. All their repulsive details stood out clearly.
More beasts than men, were such isuanacs (pronounced ee-swan-acs), so called from the drug that had betrayed them step by step to a pit in which there was no intelligence, no light, no hope—nothing but their mind-shattering craving. In many and unpredictable ways did the drug ravish their bodies. They were outcasts from the port of outcasts, driven out of Porno into the wilderness, where they tracked out their miry ways searching ever for the isuan weed until some animal ended their enslavement, or the drug itself finally killed them in convulsions. They were the legion of the damned.
This band of half a dozen was typical, grubbing through the slime of the swamp, snarling at each other, now and again fighting over a leaf, then squatting down in the mud where they were, to chew on it, their torture of mind and body momentarily forgotten. Rags, mud-caked and foul, partly covered their emaciated bodies: their hair was matted, their eyes blood-shot....
Carse noted their position and looked up at Friday.
"Get the Master Scientist for me, please," he requested. The radio connection took only seconds: and then he said into the microphone:
"Eliot? We're directly above you, as you probably have seen. All well?"
"Yes, Carse. The laboratory's in readiness. But those isuanacs—they're still outside."
"I've seen them, and I'm going to drive them away. Then I'll be down to you. Have the upper entrance ready."
* * * * *
The Hawk turned back to the controls. Taking the space-stick out of neutral, he moved it very slightly down and to one side. Ban and Friday, not understanding his intention, watched the visi-screen.
The whole mass of rock that was the asteroid changed position at a gentle speed. The band of isuanacs came nearer and nearer, and then were to the right. Completely oblivious of the great bulk hovering above them, they continued their grubbing through the swamp; and then the asteroid was over the jungle beyond them, and lowering its craggy under-side.
The under-side brushed the crown of the jungle. The trees bent, crackled and broke, as if swept by a vicious but silent hurricane. Only a moment of contact; but in that moment a square mile of interwoven trees and vines was swept low—and to the isuanacs the effect, as was intended, was terrifying.
They stared at the phenomenon. There had been no sound, no whip of wind, nothing—yet all those trees had bent and crashed splintering to the ground. Their slavering lips open, the isuan weed forgotten, they stared: and then howling and shrieking they broke and went splashing off panic-stricken through the marsh.
In five minutes the band had disappeared into the jungle in the opposite direction and the district was cleared; and by that time Hawk Carse was again in his space-suit, out of the control room and busy at the mechanism of one of the great ship-sized port-locks in the dome, having left behind him both Ban and Friday to guard Dr. Ku.
He mastered the controls of the port-lock quickly, and swung inner and outer doors open. He glided through, and then, a giant, clumsy figure, poised far out in the air, a soft breeze washing his face as he gazed down at the hill five miles below, judging his descent. As he did not use the infra-red instrument hanging from his neck, the asteroid might not have been there at all.
A moment or so later, after a straight, swift drop, Carse landed on the hill, close to a particular, gnarled oxi-tree stump. The nearby ranch-house looked deserted, the whole place seemed desolate. The Hawk waddled over to the stump, pressed a crooked little twig sticking out from it, and a section of the seeming-bark slid down, revealing the hollow, metal-sided interior of a cleverly camouflaged shaft.
There were rungs inside, but Carse could not use them. He squeezed himself in, closed the entrance panel, and, carefully manipulating his gravity controls, floated down. A descent of twenty-five feet, and he was on the floor of a short, level corridor with gray walls and ceiling.
Carse clumped along to the door at the other end of the corridor, opened it, and stepped into the hidden underground laboratory of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow, which, with its storerooms, living quarters and space-ship hangar, had been built into the hollowed-out hill.
* * * * *
"Welcome back, Carse!"
"Hello, Eliot," the Hawk nodded, rapidly divesting himself of the suit but retaining his infra-red device. "You've lost no time, I see."
The elderly scientist, his frail form clad in a buff-colored smock, turned and surveyed the laboratory. In the center of the square room five improvised operating tables were drawn up, each one flooded individually with, light from focused flood-tubes above in the white ceiling. Flanking them were tables for instruments and sterilizers, and, more prominent, two small sleek cylindrical drums, from one of which sprouted a tube ending in a breathing-cone.
"The best I could do on such short notice," Leithgow commented.
"Where are your assistants?"
"At work on the V-27. All I had on hand is in those cylinders."
"Enough for twelve hours for one man, but the process of its manufacture is accelerating; fortunately I had plenty of ingredients. Of course I've divined your intention, Carse. Ku Sui to perform the operations under the V-27. And it's possible, possible! It's stupendous—and possible!"
"Yes," said the Hawk, "but more later. I'm going up now to get Dr. Ku. I'll use the air-car. It's ready?"
"Yes." Leithgow answered. "But, Carse—one question I must ask—"
The Hawk, already halfway to the door in the opposite wall of the laboratory, paused and looked back inquiringly.
"What bodies are to be used?"
"The only ones available, Eliot," the adventurer replied, "since Ku Sui, in his attempt to destroy the brains, left us only two hours—now one hour—to complete the first steps of the transfer. They'll be those four white assistants of his—those men, you remember, whose intellects he's dehumanized—"
"Yes, yes?" Leithgow pressed him eagerly. "And the fifth?"
"A robot coolie."
"I know, Eliot! It won't be pleasant for one of those brains to find itself in a yellow body. But it's that or nothing."
The scientist nodded slowly, his first expression of shock leaving his old face to sadness: "But, a coolie. A coolie...."