The Coming of Ku Sui Straight through the vast cold reaches that stretched between one mighty planet and another the Scorpion arrowed, Carse and Friday standing watch and watch, Sako always on duty with the latter. Behind, Saturn's rings melted smaller, and ahead a dusky speck grew against the vault of space until the red belts and one great seething crimson spot that marked it as Jupiter stood out plainly. By degrees, then, the ship's course was altered as Carse checked his calculations and made minor corrections in speed and direction. So they neared the rendezvous. And a puzzled furrow grew on Friday's brow.
What was bothering his master? Instead of becoming more impassive and coldly emotionless as the distance shortened, he showed distinct signs of worry. This might be natural in most men, but it was unusual in the Hawk. Often the negro found him abstractedly smoothing his bangs of hair, pacing the length of the control cabin, glancing, plainly worried, at the visi-screen. What special thing was wrong? Friday wondered again and again--and then, in a flash, he knew.
"Why--how we goin' to see Dr. Ku?" he burst out. "Didn't that Judd say somethin'----"
The Hawk nodded. "That's just the problem, Eclipse. For you'll remember Judd said that Ku Sui 'comes out of darkness, out of empty space.' That might mean invisibility or the Fourth Dimension--and God help us if he's solved the problem of dimensional traveling. I don't know--but it's something I can't well prepare against." He fell to musing again, utterly lost in thought.
A day and a half later found Friday genuinely worried--an unusual state for the always cheerful black. The laugh wrinkles of his face were re-twisted into lines of anxiety which gave his face a most solemn and lugubrious expression. From time to time he grasped the butt of his ray-gun with a grip that would have pulped an orange; occasionally his rolling brown eyes sought the gray ones of the Hawk, only to return as by a magnet to the visi-screen, whose five adjoining squares mirrored the whole sweep of space around them.
Jupiter now filled one side of the forward observation window. It was a vast, red-belted disk, an eye-thrilling spectacle at their distance, roughly a million miles. Against it were poised two small pale globes, the larger of which was Satellite III. Several hours before, when they had been closer to the satellite, Carse had scrutinized it through the electelscope and made out above its surface a silver dot which was a space-ship. It was bound inward toward Port o' Porno, and might well have been one of Ku Sui's. But the Scorpion, slowing down for her rendezvous, had attracted no attention and had passed undisturbed.
Now she hung motionless--that is, motionless with respect to the sun. Only the whisper of the air-renewing machinery disturbed the tension in her control cabin where the three men stood waiting, glancing back and forth from the visi-screen to the Earth clock and its calendar attachment. The date the clock showed was 24 January, the time, 10:21 P. M. Dr. Ku Sui was one minute late.
Sako, the captive, was sullen and restless, and made furtive glances at the Hawk, who stood detached, arms hanging carelessly at his sides, gray eyes half closed, giving in his attitude no hint of the strain the others were feeling. But his attitude of being relaxed and off his guard was deceptive--as Sako found out. Suddenly his left hand seemed to disappear; there was a hiss, an arrowing streak of spitting orange light; and Sako was gaping foolishly at the arm he had stealthily raised to one of the radio switches. A smoking sear had appeared as if by magic across it.
Hawk Carse sheathed his gun. "I would advise you to try no more obvious tricks," he said coldly. "Cutting in our microphone is too simple a way to give warning to Dr. Ku Sui. Move away from there. And don't forget your lines when Dr. Ku calls. You will never act a part before a more critical and deadly audience."
Sako mumbled something and rubbed his arm. A pitying smile came to Friday's face as he comprehended what had happened. "You damned fool!" he said.
It was 10:22 P.M. Still, in the visi-screen, no other ship. Nothing but the giant planet, the smaller satellites poised against it, and the deep star-spangled curtain of black space all around.
They had carefully followed the instructions in the log. They were at the exact place noted there: checked and double-checked. The radio receiver was tuned to the wave-length given in the log. But of Ku Sui, nothing.
And yet, in a way, he was with them. His enigmatic personality, his seldom-seen figure was very present in their minds, and with it were overtones of all the diabolic cunning and suave ironic cruelty that men always associated with him. "He comes out of darkness, out of empty space...." Friday licked his lips. He was not built for mental strain: his lips kept drying and his tongue was as leather.
A little sputtering sound tingled the nerves of the three waiting men, and as one their eyes went to the radio loudspeaker. A contact question was being asked in the usual way: "Are you there, Judd? Are you there, Judd? Are you there, Judd?"
The voice was not that of Ku Sui. It was a dead voice, toneless, emotionless, mechanical.
"Are you there, Judd?" it went on, over and over.
"The mike switch, Friday," the Hawk said, and then was at Sako's side, his ray-gun transfixing the man with its threatening angle. "Play your part well," was the whisper from his lips.
The switch went over with a click. Trembling, Sako faced the microphone.
"This is Sako," he said.
"Sako?" the dead voice asked. "I want Judd. Where is Judd?"
"Judd is dead. The trap failed, and there was a fight on Iapetus. Judd was killed by Carse, and most of the others. Only two of us are left, but we have Carse and the negro, prisoners, alive. What are your instructions?"
A half minute went by, and the three men hardly breathed.
"How do we know you are Sako?" said the voice at last. "Give the recognition."
"The insignia of Dr. Ku Sui?"
"Yes. It is----"
Carse's ray-gun prodded the stomach of the sweating Sako.
"An asteroid," he said hastily, "in the center of a circle of the ten planets."
The unseen speaker was quiet. Evidently he was conferring with someone else, probably Ku Sui.
"All right," his toneless voice came back at last. "You will remain motionless in your present position, keeping your radio receiver open for further instructions. We are approaching and will be with you in thirty minutes."
Carse motioned to Friday to switch off the mike. Sako sank limply into a chair, soaked with perspiration.
"Now we must wait again," the Hawk murmured, crossing his arms and scanning the visi-screen.
They had heard from Ku Sui, but that had not answered the old tormenting question of how he would come. It was more puzzling than ever. The visi-screen showed nothing, and it should have shown the Eurasian's decelerating ship even at twice thirty minutes' time away. They looked upon the same vista of Jupiter and his satellites, framed in eternal blackness; there was no characteristic steely dot of an approaching ship to give Carse the enemy's position and enable him to shape his plan of reception definitely.
Twenty minutes went by. The strain the Hawk was under showed only in his pulling at the bangs of flaxen hair that covered his forehead as far as the eyebrows. He had, from Judd's words, expected a mystery in Ku Sui's approach. There was nothing to do but wait; he had made what few plans and preparations he could in advance.
Friday broke the tense silence in the control cabin. "He's got to be somewhere!" he exploded. "It isn't natural for the screen not to show nothin'! Isn't there somethin' we can do?"
The Hawk was surprisingly patient. "I'm afraid not," he said. "It's invisibility he's using, or else the fourth dimension, as Judd said. But we've got one good chance. He'll send more instructions by radio, and surely, after that, his ship will appear----"
A new voice, bland and unctuous, spoke in the control cabin from behind the three men.
"Not necessarily, my honored friend Carse," it said. "You will observe there is no need for a ship to appear."
Ku Sui had come.
The Wave of a Handkerchief He stood smiling in the door-frame leading aft to the rear entrance port. There was all grace in his posture, in the easy angle at which one arm rested against the side bulkhead, in the casual way in which he held the ray-gun that bored straight at Carse. Height and strength he had, and a perfectly proportioned figure. Beauty, too, of face, with skin of clearest saffron, soft, sensitive mouth and ascetic cheeks. His hair was fine and black, and swept straightly back from the high narrow forehead where lived his tremendous intelligence.
It was his eyes that gave him away, his eyes of rare green that from a distance looked black. Slanting, veiled, unreadable beneath the lowered silky lashes, there was the soul of a tiger in their sinister depths. It was his eyes that his victims remembered....
"So you have arrived, Dr. Ku," whispered Hawk Carse, and for a second he too smiled, with eyes as bleak and hard as frosty chilled steel. Their glances met and held--the cold, hard, honest rapier; the subtle perfumed poison. The other men in the cabin were forgotten; the feeling was between these two. Strikingly contrasted they stood there: Carse, in rough blue denim trousers, faded work-shirt, open at the neck, old-fashioned rubber shoes and battered skipper's cap askew on his flaxen hair; Ku Sui, suavely impeccable in high-collared green silk blouse, full-length trousers of the same material, and red slippers, to match the wide sash which revealed the slender lines of his waist. A perfume hung about the man, the indescribable odor of tsin-tsin flowers from the humid jungles of Venus.
"You see I meet you halfway, my friend," the Eurasian said with delicate mock courtesy. "A surpassing pleasure I have anticipated for a long time. No, no! I see that already I shall have to ask you a small favor. A thousand pardons: it's my deplorable ability to read your mind that requires me to ask it. Your so justly famed speed on the draw might possibly overcome this advantage"--he raised his ray-gun slightly--"and, though I know you would not kill me--save in the direst emergency, since you wish to take me a living prisoner--I would find it most distressing to have to carry for the rest of my life a flaw on my body. So, may I request you to withdraw your ray-guns with two fingertips and put them on the floor? Observe--your fingertips. Will you be so kind?"
The Hawk looked at him for a minute. Then silently he obeyed. He knew that the Eurasian would have no compunctions about shooting him down in cold blood; but, on the other hand, even as the man had said, he could not kill Ku Sui, but had to capture him, in order to take him to Earth to confess to crimes now blamed on Eliot Leithgow. "Do as he says, Friday," he instructed the still staring negro; and, like a man in a trance, Friday obeyed.
"Thank you," the Eurasian said. "It was a most friendly thing to do." He paused. "I suppose you are wondering how I arrived here, and why you did not see me come. Well, I shall certainly tell you, in return for your favor. But first--ah, friend Carse--your gesture! A reminder, I assume."
Slowly the Hawk was stroking the bangs of hair which had been trained to obscure his forehead. There was no emotion on his chilly face as he answered, no slightest sign of feeling unless it were a slight trembling of the left eyelid--significant enough to those who could read it.
"Yes," he whispered, "a reminder. I do not like to wear my hair like this, Ku Sui, and I want you to know that I've not forgotten; that, though I'm now in your power, there'll be a day----"
"But you wouldn't threaten your host!" the other said with mock surprise. "And surely you wouldn't threaten me, of all men. Must I point out how useless it has always been for you to match yourself, merely a skilful gunman, against me, against a brain?"
"Usually," the cold whisper came back, "the brain has failed in the traps it has laid for the gunman."
"Only because of the mistakes of its agents. Unfortunately for you, the brain is dealing with you directly this time, my friend. It's quite a different matter. But this small talk--although you honor----"
"Of course you intend to kill me," said the Hawk. "But when?"
Dr. Ku gestured deprecatingly. "You insist on introducing these unpleasant topics! But to relieve your mind, I've not yet decided how I can entertain you most suitably. I have come primarily to ask you one trifling thing."
"And that is?"
"The whereabouts of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow."
Hawk Carse smiled. "Your conceit lends you an extraordinary optimism, Dr. Ku."
"Not unfounded, I am sure. I desire very much to meet our old friend Leithgow again: his is the only other brain in this universe at all comparable to mine. And did I tell you that I always get what I desire? Well, will you give me this information? Of course, there are ways...."
For a moment he waited.
The Hawk only looked at him.
"Always in character," the Eurasian said regretfully. "Very well." He turned his head and took in Friday and Sako, standing near-by. "You are Sako?" he asked the latter. "It is most unfortunate that you had to deceive me a little while ago. We shall have to see what to do about it. Later. For the present, move farther back, out of the way. So. You, black one, next to my friend Carse: we must be moving along. So."
Ku Sui surveyed then with inscrutable eyes. Gracefully, he drew close.
Carse missed not a move. He watched the Eurasian draw, from one of the long sleeves of his blouse, a square of lustrous black silk.
"This bears my personal insignia, you see," he murmured. "You will remember it." And he languidly waved it just under their eyes.
Friday stared at it; Carse too, wonderingly. He saw embroidered in yellow on the black a familiar insignia composed of an asteroid in the circle of ten planets. And then alarm lit his brain and he grimaced. There was a strange odor in his nostrils and it came from the square of silk.
"Characteristic, Dr. Ku," he said. "Quite characteristic."
The Eurasian smiled. An expression of stupid amazement came over Friday's face. The design of asteroid and planets wavered into a blur as the Hawk fought unconsciousness; a short, harsh sound came from his lips; he lurched uncertainly. The negro crumpled up and stretched out on the deck. Carse's desire to sleep grew overpowering. Once more, as from a distance, he glimpsed Ku Sui's smile. He tried to back to the wall; made it; then a heavy thump suggested to his dimming mind that he had collapsed to the deck. He was asleep at once....
Soil Hawk Carse awoke with a slight feeling of nausea, and the smell of the drug faint in his nostrils. He found he was lying on the floor of a large, square cell whose walls and ceiling were of some burnished brown metal and which was bare of any kind of furnishing. In one wall was a tightly closed door, also of metal and studded by the knob of a lock. Barred slits, high in opposite walls, gave ventilation; a single tube set in the ceiling provided illumination.
He was not bound. He sat up and regarded the outflung figure of Friday, lying to one side. "Something in his look seemed to reach the giant negro, for, as he watched, the man's eyelids flickered, and a sigh escaped his full lips. He stared up at Carse, recognition, followed by gladness, flooding his eyes. The Hawk smiled also. There were close bonds between these two.
"Lord, I'm sure thankful to be with you, suh!" said the negro with relief. His eyes rolled as he took in the cabinlike cell. "Hmff--nice homey little place," he remarked. "Where do you reckon we are, suh?"
"I think we're at last at that place we have searched so long for--Ku Sui's headquarters, his own spaceship."
It will be remembered by those who have read their history that the Eurasian's actual base of operations was for a long time the greatest of the mysteries that enveloped him. Half a dozen times had the Hawk and his comrade in arms, Eliot Leithgow, hunted for it with all their separate skill of adventurer and scientist, and, although they had twice found the man himself, always they had failed to find his actual retreat.
For those who are unacquainted with the histories of that raw period a hundred years ago, it will be impossible to understand the spell of fear which accompanied mention of Dr. Ku throughout the universe--a fear engendered chiefly by the man's unpredictable comings and goings, thanks to his secret hiding place. Those who were as close to him as henchmen could be--which was not very close--only added to the general mystery of the whereabouts of the base by their sincerely offered but utterly contradictory notions and data. One thing all agreed on: the outlaw's lair was a place most frightening.
Therefore it can be understood why, on hearing the Hawk's opinion, Friday's face fell somewhat.
"Guess that means we're finished, suh," he opined moodily.
Carse had walked to the lone door and found, as he of course expected, that it was tightly locked. He responded crisply: "It's not like you to talk that way, Eclipse. We're far from that. We have succeeded in the first step--if, as I suspect, this cell is part of Dr. Ku's real headquarters--and surely before he decides to eliminate us we will be able to learn something of the nature of his space-ship; perhaps how it can be attacked and conquered."
Conversation always cheered the naturally social Friday; he seldom had the opportunity for it with his usually curt master. He objected: "But what good'll that do us, suh, if we take what we've learned to where it won't help anybody, least of all us? An' what chance we got against Ku Sui now, when we're prisoners? Why, he's a magician; it ain't natural, what he does. Lands in our ship plop right out of empty space! Puts us out with a wave of his handkerchief!" With final misery in his voice he added: "We're sunk, suh. This time we surely are."
Carse smiled at his emotional friend. "All you need is a good fight, Eclipse. It's thinking that disintegrates your morale; you should never try to think. Why--there was an anesthetic on that handkerchief! Simple enough; I might have expected it. As for his getting into our ship, he entered from behind, through the after port-lock, while we were looking for his ship on the visi-screen. I don't understand yet why we could not see his craft. It's too much to suppose he could make it invisible. Paint, perhaps, or camouflage. He might have a way of preventing, from a distance, the registering of his ship on our screen. Oh, he's dangerous, clever, deep--but somewhere, there'll be a loophole. Somewhere. There always is." His tone changed, and he snapped: "Now be quiet. I want to think."
His face stiffened into a cold, calm mask, but behind his gray eyes lay anything but calmness. Ku Sui's easy assumption that the information as to Eliot Leithgow's whereabouts would be forthcoming from his lips, puzzled him, brought real anxiety. Torture would probably not be able to force his tongue to betray his friend, but there were perhaps other means. Of these he had a vague and ominous apprehension. Dr. Ku was preeminently a specialist in the human brain; he had implied his will to have that information. Suppose he should use something it was impossible to fight against?
And he alone, Hawk Carse, brought the responsibility. He had asked Leithgow where he would be, and he remembered well the place agreed upon. He dared not lose the battle of wits he knew was coming!...
His eyes shot to the door. It was opening. In a moment Ku Sui stood revealed there, and behind him, in the corridor, were three other figures, their yellow coolie faces strangely dumb and lifeless above the tasteful gray smocks which extended a little below their belted waists. Each bore embroidered on his chest the planetary insignia of Ku Sui in yellow, and each was armed with two ray-guns.
"I must ask forgiveness, my friend, for these retainers who accompany me," the Eurasian began suavely. "Please don't let them disturb you, however; they are more robots than men, obeying only my words. A little adjustment of the brain, you understand. I have brought them only for your protection; for you would find it would result most unpleasantly to make a break for freedom."
"Of course, you're not the one who wants protection!" sneered Friday, with devastating sarcasm. "Or else you'd 'a' brought a whole army!"
But the negro paled a little when the Oriental's green tiger eyes caught him full. It was with a physical shock--such was the power of the man--that he received the soft-spoken reply: "Yours is a most subtle and entertaining wit, black one; I am overcome with the honor and pleasure of having you for my guest. But perhaps--may I suggest?--that you save your humor for a more suitable occasion. I would like to make the last few hours of your visit as pleasant as possible."