The empty skull-pan of the ape awaited the brain of Keller.
Bentley could feel the sweat burst forth on him in every pore as he tried to throw off his awful inertia, to go to the aid of Keller. If Barter should see the perspiration on his cheeks....
Bentley thought of Samson in the midst of his enemies, blind and beaten, of how he had prayed to be given strength to pull down the pillars of the temple....
"Oh God," said Bentley to himself, "only this once give me strength to throw off these chains. Grant that I do something to save the man from this horror."
But he could still move only the tips of his fingers when Barter had finally closed the sutures in the skull-pan of the ape, renewing again the ape's skull, with the brain of Keller inside. Keller was finished. He had not moved on the table. Even his chest stood still, stark and lifeless. Barter had not troubled to restore Keller's skull-pan. What was the need?
Naka Machi gathered up the carcass of Keller and bore it swiftly to the boxlike hole in the wall of the ghastly room....
He thrust it in. He stepped back and caught up the incineration tube of concentrated fire ... and Bentley saw the body of the murdered man shrivel up so quickly it seemed as though it had dissolved before his eyes. Down from the ceiling of the hell-hole dropped the fine gray ash, all that remained--save the imprisoned brain--of Frank Keller, the diplomat.
Now Bentley was cognizant of something else. With Barter's concentrated work on Keller, something of the power went out of him. Ever so slightly Bentley could feel that Barter was lacking in strength. Some of his will, some of the essential essence of his brain, of his soul, had been expended in the operation--and by so much was Bentley enabled to move. For now he could move two full fingers on each hand. But how carefully he kept watch to see that neither Naka Machi nor Barter noticed that he was bursting from his invisible prison.
If he could get that incineration tube. He'd do the necessary things first ... then direct the ray of it against the softer portions of the hideout of Barter. The flame would eat through. Somewhere it would finally reach wood; that was inflammable.
There would be smoke, and fire ... and in the end people would come. Tyler would be watching for a sign, anyway. Barter had said that the police knew approximately where he, Barter, was located.
"Now, Bentley," said Barter, "I'll explain what I intend doing while I rest a moment before the next ordeal. The whole world is against me now because it regards my experiments as horrible, but if I prove to the world that I am right, and that the men of my creation are supermen, in the end the world will be on my side. I can force it to obey me, in time, but I prefer the world to serve me willingly, because it realizes that what I do for civilization should really be done."
Bentley said nothing, because he could not speak.
"I'll send Keller to his office under my instructions," said Barter. "Of course I'll issue a manifesto, first, so that the city will know that it is not a wild ape that has escaped. When the new Keller, with the strong brain of Keller and the mighty body of an ape, appears at his office and proves to his people that he has been vastly improved by my experiment...."
Bentley tried to shut his mind to the horrible picture Barter's words drew before his eyes. Barter broke off short, while Bentley's mind seemed to rock with the shock of Barter's last statement. He saw a picture ... a great office filled with many desks occupied by white-faced men and women ... an ornate desk where a "manape" sat.... It was ghastly beyond comprehension. It must never come to pass.
Barter spoke again to Naka Machi.
"Bring me David Fator and ape S-19."
"Yes, my master," replied Naka Machi.
Again Bentley went through the horror from beginning to end. He could now move his toes. If only he could fall forward, grasp that incineration tube, turn it on Barter! With Barter unable to control him he would regain his senses in time, he hoped, to stave off the certain charge of Naka Machi, whose hatred for himself he now understood too well.
He hoped, if he were able to accomplish what he planned, that horror upon awakening would cause Ellen to faint. While she was out he could destroy the horror with the cleansing flame ... and tell her she hadn't seen it, after all.
Bentley could feel the strength pour back into him. Barter was becoming moment by moment more intent on his labors. He was becoming careless with Bentley, not because he underestimated him but because he was intensely absorbed in his work.
By the time two more men had gone bodily into the incinerator and mentally into a pair of apes, the first ape, carelessly dumped on the floor, came out from under the effects of the drug.
"Stand over there in the corner, Keller," Barter said to the hybrid carelessly, "and remember that no matter how you may wish to escape you can only do so if I will. Remain quiet there and consider whether you will oppose me or obey me. Oppose me and your only escape is self-destruction. Obey me and possess the world!"
Bentley could imagine the horror and despair of "Keller," for he himself had known that horror and despair.
Now he could swing his wrists slightly. Naka Machi turned once with a sudden movement and almost caught him at it, and perspiration broke out on Bentley's face again. Thank God, Ellen realized none of what she was experiencing.
Two other men gave their lives at Barter's hands ... yet Bentley had only regained sufficient possession of himself to fall forward on his face if he tried to walk, but even that was something.
Five men were gone now. Could he possibly regain muscular control in time to save the lives of some of the eighteen? As he watched the five go into the furnace, one by one, he began to despair of saving any of the eighteen, but with each operation Barter lost mental strength. If he lost in arithmetical progression as he had during the last five, Bentley estimated that he, Bentley, would be able to move his arms enough to grasp the incineration tube by the time Barter had finished his eighth transplantation.
So, the horror growing until nausea ate at Bentley's stomach like voracious maggots, he watched Barter destroy three more men and create godless monsters in their places. As each manape regained consciousness Barter told him what he had told Keller--and Naka Machi took them out, one by one, and placed them in their allotted cages.
Naka Machi placed the eighth man in the furnace, returned the incineration tube to the table.
"Now, oh God the Father!" moaned Bentley.
He leaned forward, striving with all his will to force his hands to go truly to their target as he fell. He had little or no control of his legs or knees. But let him once hold that tube in his hands....
He fell soundlessly, his hands clutching for the tube. His fingers touched it as he crashed to the floor, and it fell near him. His fingers fumbled for the tube and now gripped it tightly.
From under the table, writhing and twisting, striving to break his mental bondage, Bentley saw the legs of Caleb Barter. He snapped the button on the tube and turned its open end toward those legs.
"I must not look into his eyes as he falls," thought Bentley, "or all is lost."
A terrible scream rang through the operating room. Barter was falling, crumpling as he fell, and as his body slid downward past the table edge, Bentley held the end of the tube toward it. As the bodies of the eight had shriveled, so shriveled the body of Caleb Barter.
Ellen Estabrook screamed horribly, and sprawled on the floor within a foot or two of Bentley. Nature had mercifully sent her into momentary oblivion when the will of Barter, holding her in thrall, had snapped to show her the horror of what she did.
Naka Machi was screaming. Bentley was Bentley again, crawling forth from under the table. Naka Machi met him in a rush and dissolved before the deadly ray as though he had never existed. Its effect must have been a silent explosion, for a fine gray ash came down from the ceiling as the residue which falls when a soaring rocket has exploded and expended its power. The gray ash was Naka Machi, forever rendered harmless to Ellen.
Bentley walked over and stood looking at the manapes in their cages. What could be done with them? There was no hope, no possible way by which they could resume their normal lives, for of their human bodies there remained but heaps of fine powdery ashes.
Suddenly the manape Keller swept his great hairy arm out between the bars and snatched the tube from Bentley's hand. With a cry of mortal anguish Bentley recoiled from the cage. God! Now all was lost if the manape clicked on the deadly ray and swept it over the room.
Before he could formulate a plan of action, the manape pressed the fatal button. With a cry Bentley threw himself across the room to where Ellen lay unconscious, his only thought to somehow protect her from the tube.
But the manape, Keller, swung the ray upon the other apes with the human minds, and they dissolved into ashy nothingness with bewildering rapidity. The keen mind of Keller was doing what he knew must be done for the good of everyone concerned.
Numbed with horror, Bentley saw the ray directed on Morton and Stanley. They fell silently and without protest....
Keller clicked off the button and looked over at Bentley. He alone remained of Barter's frightful experiment. He alone remained and it seemed that he was trying to tell Bentley something ... asking him to now take the tube and turn it full on the body which housed his human brain.
While Bentley hesitated, the manape bent down and placed the tube on the floor of the cage, the muzzle pointing inward. With a clumsy motion of a long hairy arm he reached out and snicked on the button, then placed himself within its deadly range. Keller vanished and the ray bit into the wall back of the cage; began to eat through.
Bentley leaped to his feet and tore across the floor. He plunged his trembling hand through the bars of the cage, switched off the button and lifted the tube.
There were the remaining normal apes. They could have been saved for transportation to the zoo, but horror was on Bentley and he used the tube again, and yet again....
And there were the keys. He pulled them from their slots in the porcelain slab, in case there should be other "Stanley-Morton-Cleves" abroad of whom he knew nothing....
He turned the tube against the red lights and the green lights.
Then he turned the tube upward and held it steadily. He watched the charred hole grow bigger and deeper in the high ceiling....
When at last he heard the approaching clang of the fire engine bells and the screaming triumph of police sirens, he carefully snicked off the button of the tube and returned to lift the form of Ellen in arms that were strong to hold her.
THE ULTIMATE WEAPON.
by John Wood Campbell
When star fights star, is chaos the best defense?
RED SUN RISING.
The star Mira was unpredictably variable. Sometimes it was blazing, brilliant and hot. Other times it was oddly dim, cool, shedding little warmth on its many planets. Gresth Gkae, leader of the Mirans, was seeking a better star, one to which his "people" could migrate. That star had to be steady, reliable, with a good planetary system. And in his astronomical searching, he found Sol.
With hundreds of ships, each larger than whole Terrestrial spaceports, and traveling faster than the speed of light, the Mirans set out to move in to Solar regions and take over.
And on Earth there was nothing which would be capable of beating off this incredible armada--until Buck Kendall stumbled upon THE ULTIMATE WEAPON.
Patrol Cruiser "IP-T 247" circling out toward Pluto on leisurely inspection tour to visit the outpost miners there, was in no hurry at all as she loafed along. Her six-man crew was taking it very easy, and easy meant two-man watches, and low speed, to watch for the instrument panel and attend ship into the bargain.
She was about thirty million miles off Pluto, just beginning to get in touch with some of the larger mining stations out there, when Buck Kendall's turn at the controls came along. Buck Kendall was one of life's little jokes. When Nature made him, she was absentminded. Buck stood six feet two in his stocking feet, with his usual slight stoop in operation. When he forgot, and stood up straight, he loomed about two inches higher. He had the body and muscles of a dock navvy, which Nature started out to make. Then she forgot and added something of the same stuff she put in Sir Francis Drake. Maybe that made Old Nature nervous, and she started adding different things. At any rate, Kendall, as finally turned out, had a brain that put him in the first rank of scientists--when he felt like it--the general constitution of an ostrich and a flair for gambling.
The present position was due to such a gamble. An IP man, a friend of his, had made the mistake of betting him a thousand dollars he wouldn't get beyond a Captain's bars in the Patrol. Kendall had liked the idea anyway, and adding a bit of a bet to it made it irresistible. So, being a very particular kind of a fool, the glorious kind which old Nature turns out now and then, he left a five million dollar estate on Long Island, Terra, that same evening, and joined up in the Patrol. The Sir Francis Drake strain had immediately come forth--and Kendall was having the time of his life. In a six-man cruiser, his real work in the Interplanetary Patrol had started. He was still in it--but it was his command now, and a blue circle on his left sleeve gave his lieutenant's rank.
Buck Kendall had immediately proceeded to enlist in his command the IP man who had made the mistaken bet, and Rad Cole was on duty with him now. Cole was the technician of the T-247. His rank as Technical Engineer was practically equivalent to Kendall's circle-rank, which made the two more comfortable together.
Cole was listening carefully to the signals coming through from Pluto. "That," he decided, "sounds like Tad Nichols' fist. You can recognize that broken-down truck-horse trot of his on the key as far away as you can hear it."
"Is that what it is?" sighed Buck. "I thought it was static mushing him at first. What's he like?"
"Like all the other damn fools who come out two billion miles to scratch rock, as if there weren't enough already on the inner planets. He's got a rich platinum property. Sells ninety percent of his output to buy his power, and the other eleven percent for his clothes and food."
"He must be an efficient miner," suggested Kendall, "to maintain 101% production like that."
"No, but his bank account is. He's figured out that's the most economic level of production. If he produces less, he won't be able to pay for his heating power, and if he produces more, his operation power will burn up his bank account too fast."
"Hmmm--sensible way to figure. A man after my own heart. How does he plan to restock his bank account?"
"By mining on Mercury. He does it regularly--sort of a commuter. Out here his power bills eat it up. On Mercury he goes in for potassium, and sells the power he collects in cooling his dome, of course. He's a good miner, and the old fool can make money down there." Like any really skilled operator, Cole had been sending Morse messages while he talked. Now he sat quiet waiting for the reply, glancing at the chronometer.
"I take it he's not after money--just after fun," suggested Buck.
"Oh, no. He's after money," replied Cole gravely. "You ask him--he's going to make his eternal fortune yet by striking a real bed of jovium, and then he'll retire."
"Oh, one of that kind."
"They all are," Cole laughed. "Eternal hope, and the rest of it." He listened a moment and went on. "But old Nichols is a first-grade engineer. He wouldn't be able to remake that bankroll every time if he wasn't. You'll see his Dome out there on Pluto--it's always the best on the planet. Tip-top shape. And he's a bit of an experimenter too. Ah--he's with us."
Nichols' ragged signals were coming through--or pounding through. They were worse than usual, and at first Kendall and Cole couldn't make them out. Then finally they got them in bursts. The man was excited, and his bad key-work made it worse. "--Randing stopped. They got him I think. He said--th--ship as big--a--nsport. Said it wa--eaded my--ay. Neutrons--on instruments--he's coming over the horizon--it's huge--war ship I think--register--instru--neutrons--." Abruptly the signals were blanked out completely.
Cole and Kendall sat frozen and stiff. Each looked at the other abruptly, then Kendall moved. From the receiver, he ripped out the recording coil, and instantly jammed it into the analyzer. He started it through once, then again, then again, at different tone settings, till he found a very shrill whine that seemed to clear up most of Nichols' bad key-work. "T-247--T-247--Emergency. Emergency. Randing reports the--over his horizon. Huge--ip--reign manufacture. Almost spherical. Randing's stopped. They got him I think. He said the ship was as big as a transport. Said it was headed my way. Neutrons--ont--gister--instruments. I think--is h--he's coming over the horizon. It's huge, and a war ship I think--register--instruments--neutrons."
Kendall's finger stabbed out at a button. Instantly the noise of the other men, wakened abruptly by the mild shocks, came from behind. Kendall swung to the controls, and Cole raced back to the engine room. The hundred-foot ship shot suddenly forward under the thrust of her tail ion-rockets. A blue-red cloud formed slowly behind her and expanded. Talbot appeared, and silently took her over from Kendall. "Stations, men," snapped Kendall. "Emergency call from a miner of Pluto reporting a large armed vessel which attacked them." Kendall swung back, and eased himself against the thrusting acceleration of the over-powered little ship, toward the engine room. Cole was bending over his apparatus, making careful check-ups, closing weapon-circuits. No window gave view of space here; on the left was the tiny tender's pocket, on the right, above and below the great water tanks that fed the ion-rockets, behind the rockets themselves. The tungsten metal walls were cold and gray under the ship lights; the hunched bulks of the apparatus crowded the tiny room. Gigantic racked accumulators huddled in the corners. Martin and Garnet swung into position in the fighting-tanks just ahead of the power rooms; Canning slid rapidly through the engine room, oozed through a tiny door, and took up his position in the stern-chamber, seated half-over the great ion-rocket sheath.
"Ready in positions, Captain Kendall," called the war-pilot as the little green lights appeared on his board.
"Test discharges on maximum," ordered Kendall. He turned to Cole. "You start the automatic key?"
"Right as can be. Accumulators at thirty-seven per cent, thanks to the loaf out here. They ought to pick up our signal back on Jupiter, he's nearest now. The station on Europa will get it."
"Talbot--we are only to investigate if the ship is as reported. Have you seen any signs of her?"
"No sir, and the signals are blank."
"I'll work from here." Kendall took his position at the commanding control. Cole made way for him, and moved to the power board. One by one he tested the automatic doors, the pressure bulkheads. Kendall watched the instruments as one after another of the weapons were tested on momentary full discharge--titanic flames of five million volt protons. Then the ship thudded to the chatter of the Garnell rifles.
Tensely the men watched the planet ahead, white, yet barely visible in the weak sunlight so far out. It was swimming slowly nearer as the tiny ship gathered speed.