The Coming of Leithgow Hawk Carse awoke to the touch of a hand on his brow. He came very slowly to full consciousness. His pain was great.
His whole body was sore: every joint, every muscle in it ached; his brain was feverish, pumping turmoil. When he at length opened his eyes he found Friday's face bent close down, tender anxiety written large over it.
"You all right, suh? How do you feel now?"
A harsh sound came from the Hawk's throat. He pressed a hand to his throbbing temple and tried to collect his senses. Sitting up helped; he glanced around. They were back in the same cell, and they were alone. Then, shortly, he asked: "Did I tell him?"
"About Mr. M. S., suh?"
"Of course, I can't quite remember--a bit blurred----"
"I guess you did, suh," Friday answered mournfully. "I didn't hear you, but Ku Sui said you told him where Master Leithgow is. But dog-gone--you couldn't help it!"
Carse forgot his pain as his brain straightened these words out into their overwhelming consequence, and something of its old familiar mold, hard and graven, emotionless, came back to his face. His eyes were bleak as he murmured: "I couldn't help it--no. I really don't think it was possible. But I could have refused to get into the machine. I thought I could resist it. I took that risk, and failed." He stopped short. His body twitched with uncontrolled emotion, and in decency the negro turned his back on his master's anguish. A broken whisper reached him: "I have betrayed Leithgow."
For a short while neither man moved, or made any sound. Friday was a little afraid; he guessed what must be going on in Carse's mind, and had no idea what to expect. But the Hawk's next move was quite disciplined; he was himself again.
He got up and stretched his body, to limber its muscles. "How long have we been here?" he asked.
"Don't know suh; I was unconscious when they brought me here myself. But I guess not less'n six or eight hours."
"Unconscious?" asked the Hawk, surprised. "You fought, and they knocked you out?"
The big negro looked sheepish and scratched his woolly head.
"Well, no suh," he explained. "I was aimin' to butt in some, but they wouldn't let me."
"Then how did you get unconscious?"
Friday fidgeted. He was acutely embarrassed. "Don't know, suh, Dog-gone, I just can't figure it, unless I fainted."
"Oh." The Hawk smiled. "Fainted. Well so did I, I guess. I suppose," he went on seriously, "you couldn't tell whether the asteroid moved or not. I mean toward Satellite III."
Friday scratched his head again.
"I guess I can't, suh," he replied. "I haven't felt any movement."
"The door is locked?"
"Oh, yes, suh. Tight."
"Very well. Now please be silent. I want to think."
He went over and leaned against the far wall of the cell. His right hand rose to the bangs of flaxen hair and with a slow regular movement began to smooth them. Lost in thought he stood there, thinking through the situation in which he found himself.
He had expected, of course, to subject himself to great risk in keeping the rendezvous with Dr. Ku Sui, but he had never thought he would be endangering Eliot Leithgow also. It was torture to know he had put the gentle old scientist into the Eurasian's web.
That was it: if he could not somehow shear through that web, he must destroy Leithgow himself, and follow on after. The scientist would prefer it so. For whatever Dr. Ku's exact reason for wanting the Master Scientist was, it was an ugly one: that it was worse than quick death, he knew full well.
Shear through the web. How? Where was the weak strand in Ku Sui's cunningly laid plot? The Hawk visualized all he could of the asteroid's mechanical details, and surveyed them painstakingly. Two great port-locks flanked by little ones; secret opening combinations--not much hope in that avenue. Judd's ship, resting above: could he reach it, and raise it and douse the buildings with its rays? No; Dr. Ku had spoken of defense rays--they would certainly be far more powerful than the Scorpion's. Then, somewhere there were the mighty gravity-plates batteries which motivated the asteroid and held it controlled in space. The dynamos. Two men, working swiftly, might wreak an unholy amount of damage in little time; in the resulting confusion anything might happen. If!
Into the depths of his concentration came the odor of tsin-tsin flowers, followed by the familiar, silkie voice of his arch-enemy.
"I see you are deep in thought, my friend. I trust it indicates your complete recovery."
Dr. Ku Sui stood smiling in the doorway, his same bodyguard of three armed men behind him. His sardonic words brought no reply. He went on: "I hope so. I have arranged, thanks to your kindness, a meeting with an old, dear friend of yours. An illustrious friend: he already honors my establishment with his presence. I have come to ask you to join us."
The Hawk's gray eyes turned frigid: a lesser man would have blanched at the threat implied in his answer.
"God help you, Ku Sui."
The Eurasian turned it aside. "Always," he said, "God helps those who help themselves. But come with me, if you'll be so kind. We are expected in the laboratory."
This exchange passed quickly. Friday was still grasping at its underlying meanings as they again filed down the short straight outside corridor. It brought a perverse satisfaction to see the coolie guards bearing their ray-guns unsheathed and ready. Ku Sui's general attitude did not fool him. He knew that the man's suave mockery and flowery courtesy were camouflage for a very real fear of the quick wits and brilliant, pointed action of his famous master, the Hawk.
Carse walked steadily enough, but every step he took beat in his mind like the accents of a dirge. For he had betrayed into the hands of the Eurasian his most loved and loyal friend. Betrayed him! Despicably egotistical he had been in submitting to the chair, in not making one last wild break for freedom at that time. He had thought he could beat Ku Sui at his own game. Ku Sui, of all men!
Unseen hands opened from the other side the metal laboratory door, they passed through and the close-fitting halves closed behind them. Ku Sui went to the main switchboard and Carse glanced rapidly around. Leithgow was not there. The wire-ball device was gone, but otherwise the details of the room were unchanged, even to the four white-clad assistants whose fine heads had eyes so lifeless and faces so expressionless. Emphasized, now, somehow, was the tall screen that hid something on one side of the room, and an intuition told the Hawk that what lay behind the screen was in some way connected with their fate.
He waited stolidly for what he knew was coming.
"Now," Dr. Ku murmured. He smiled at his two prisoners and pressed one of the switchboard's array of buttons. A door opposite them swung open.
"Believe me, this is a pleasure," he said.
Flanked by two impressive slant-eyed guards, a frail figure in a rubber apron stood revealed.
Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow blinked as he looked about the laboratory. Helpless, pitifully alone he looked, with his small, slightly stooped body, his tragedy-aged, deeply-lined face. The blue veins showed under the transparent skin of his forehead; his light-blue eyes, set deep under snow-white eyebrows, darted from side to side, dazed by the light and perhaps still confused by the events which had snatched him so suddenly from his accustomed round and struck him with such numbing force. His years and frailty were obviously fitted rather to some seat of science in a university on Earth than the raw conditions of the frontiers of space.
Hawk Carse found words, but could not control his voice.
"This is the first time I've ever been sorry to see you, M. S.," he said simply.
Dr. Ku Shows His Claws The scientist brushed back his thinning white hair with a trembling hand. He knew that voice. He walked over and put his hands on his friend's shoulders.
"Carse!" he exclaimed. "Thank God, you're alive!"
"And you," said the Hawk.
Ku Sui interrupted.
"I am most glad, honored Master Scientist," he said in the flowery Oriental fashion that he affected in his irony, "to welcome you here. For me it is a memorable occasion. Your presence graces my home, and, however unworthily, distinguishes me, rewarding as it does aspirations which I have long held. I am humbly confident that great achievements will result from your visit----"
Quickly Eliot Leithgow turned and looked squarely at him. There was no bending of spirit in the frail old man. "Yes," he said, "my visit. Your sickening verbal genuflections beautifully evade the details--the house of my friend raided at night; he, himself, unarmed, shot down in cold blood; his house gutted! You are admirably consistent, Dr. Ku. A brilliant stroke, typical of your best!"
Five faint lines appeared across the Eurasian's high, narrow brow. "What?" he exclaimed. "Is this true? My servitors must be reprimanded severely; and meanwhile I beg you not to hold their impetuousness against me."
Carse could stand it no longer. This suave mockery and the pathetic figure of his friend; the mention of raid and murder---- "It's all my fault," he blurted out. "I told him where you were. I thought----"
"Oh, no!" Dr. Ku broke in, pleasantly protesting. "Captain Carse is gallant, but the responsibility's not his. I have a little machine--a trifle, but most ingenious at extracting secrets which persons attempt to hold from me. The Captain couldn't help himself, you see----"
"It was not necessary to tell me that," said Leithgow.
"Of course," the Eurasian agreed and for the first time seriously; "but let me suggest that the end justifies the means. And that brings me to my point. Master Scientist, now you may know that I have for some time been working toward a mighty end. This end is now in sight, with you here, the final achievement can be attained. An achievement----" He paused, and the ecstasy of the inspired fanatic came to his eyes. Never before had the three men standing there so seen him. "I will explain."
His eyes changed, and imperiously he gave an order to his assistants. "A chair for Master Leithgow, and one for Carse. Place them there." Then, "Be seated," he invited them with a return of his usual seeming courtesy. "I'm sure you must be tired."
Slowly Eliot Leithgow lowered himself into the metal seat. Friday, ignored, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The Hawk did not sit down until with old habit he had sized up the whole layout of laboratory, assistants and chances. The two chairs faced toward ward the high screen; to each side stood the five coolie-guards; mechanically alert as always; the four Caucasian assistants made a group of strange statues to the right.
Ku Sui took position, standing before the screen. Seldom did the cold, hard iron of the man show through the velvet of his manner as now.
"Yes," he said, "I will talk to you for a while; give you broad outline of my purpose. And when I have finished you will know why I have wanted you here so badly, Master Leithgow."
He began, and, as never before, he hid nothing of his monstrous ambition, his extraordinary preparations. With mounting fear his captives listened to his well-modulated voice as it proceeded logically from point to point. He had fine feeling for the dramatic, knew well the value of climax and pause; but his use of them was here unconscious, for he spoke straight from his dark and feline heart.
For the first time in the Affair of the Brains, the tiger was showing his claws.
"For a long time," Ku Sui said, "we four gathered here have fought each other. All over space our conflict has ranged, from Earth to beyond Saturn. I suppose there never have been more bitter enemies; I know there has never been a greater issue. I said we four, but I should have said we two, Master Leithgow. Captain Carse has commanded a certain respect from me, the respect one must show for courage, fine physical coordination and a remarkable instinct and capacity for self-preservation--but, after all, he is primarily only like the black here, Friday, and a much less splendid animal. It is a brain that receives my respect! A brain! Genius! I do not fear Carse: he is only an adventurer; but your brain, Master Leithgow, I respect.
"For, naturally, brains will determine the future of these planets around us. The man with the most profound and extensive scientific knowledge united to the greatest audacity--remember, audacity!--can rule them every one!"
He paused and looked into the eyes of the Master Scientist. Pointedly he said: "You, Master Leithgow, have the brains but not the audacity. I have the audacity and the brains--now that you are here."
Cold prickles of fear chased down Carse's and the scientist's spine at this obscure threat. Some of their reaction must have shown in their faces, for the Eurasian permitted himself a brief, triumphant smile and added: "You shall know just what I mean in but a few minutes. Right now, in this very laboratory, the fate of the planets is being decided!"
Hawk Carse licked his dry lips.
"Big words!" he said.
"Easily proved, Captain Carse, as you'll see. What can restrain the man who can instantly command Earth's master-minds of scientific knowledge, the man who has both a considerable brain of his own to call on and the mightiest brains in existence, all coordinated for perfect, instant effectiveness. Why, with these brains working for him, he can become omnipotent; there can be but feeble resistance to his steps toward universal power! Only chance, unpredictable chance, always at work, always powerful, can defeat him--and my audacity allows me to disregard what I cannot anticipate."
"You talk riddles," answered Leithgow. "You do not explain your intended means. What you imply you can do with brains is utterly impossible."
"Impossible? Ever a foolish word, Master. You know that the brain has always been my special study. As much as ten years ago, I was universally recognized as the greatest expert in my specialty. But I tell you that my knowledge of the subject was as nothing then to what it is now. I have been very busy these last ten years. Look!"
With a graceful sweep of a hand he indicated the four coolie-guards and his four white-smocked assistants.
"These men of mine," he continued, "do they appear normal, would you say? Or, rather, mechanicalized; lacking in certain things and thereby gaining enormously in the values which can make them perfect servitors? I have removed from their minds certain superficial qualities of thought. The four men in white were, a few years ago, highly skilled surgeons, three of them brain specialists and noted for exceptional intellects and bold, pioneering thinking. I needed them and took them, diverting them from their natural state, in which they would have resisted me and refused my commands. Certain complicated adjustments on their brains--and now their brains are mine, all their separate skill at my command alone!"
Leithgow sat back suddenly, astonishment and horror on his face. His lips parted as if to speak, then closed tightly together again. At last he uttered one word.
Dr. Ku smiled. "In a sense, yes. But let me go on.
"The reshaping of these mentalities and of the mentalities of all my coolies, were achievements, and valuable ones; but I wanted more. I wanted much more. I wanted the great, important part of all Earth's scientific knowledge at my fingertips, under my control. I wanted the exceptional brains of Earth, the brains of rare genius, the brains that lived like lonely stars, infinitely removed from the common herd. And more than that, I wanted them always; I wanted them ageless. For I had to seal my power!"
The Eurasian's words were coming more rapidly now, though the man's thoughts and tone were still under control; and Carse, sitting there silently, felt that the climax was being reached; that soon something unthinkable, something of dread, would be revealed. The voice went on: "These brains I wanted were not many--only six in all. Most of them you knew, Master Leithgow, these men who constituted the cream of Earth's scientific ability. Professor Estapp, the good-looking young American; Dr. Swanson, the Swede; Master Scientist Cram--the great English genius Cram, already legendary, the only other of that rank beside yourself; Professor Geinst, the hunchbacked, mysterious German; and Dr. Norman--Dr. Sir Charles Esme Norman, to give him his English title. I wanted these men, and I got them! All except you, the sixth!"
Again Dr. Ku Sui smiled in triumph. To Eliot Leithgow his smile was unspeakable.
"Yes," the elderly scientist cried out, "you got them, you murderer!"
"Oh, no, no, Master Leithgow, you are mistaken. I did not kill them. Why should I be stupid as to do that? To these men I wanted so badly? No, no. Because these five scientists disappeared from Earth suddenly, without trace, without hint of the manner of their going, the stupid Earthlings believe they were killed! Stupid Earthlings! Abducted, of course; but why assume they were killed? And why, of all people, decide that Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow had something to do with their disappearance? I confess to having planted that evidence pointing to you, but if they had the sense of a turnip they would know that you were incapable of squashing a flea, let alone destroying five eminent brothers in science! You, jealous, guilty of five crimes passionel! Pour le science! Credulous Earthlings! Incredible Earthlings! And here are you, a hunted man with a price on your head!
"So for ten years you have thought I murdered those five men? No, no. They were very much alive for eight years and very troublesome prisoners. It took me eight years to solve the problem I had set myself.
"You will meet them in a minute--the better part of them. You'll see for yourself that they are very usefully alive. For I succeeded completely with them. I have sealed my power!"
His silk pajamalike clothing rustled loud in the strained silence as he turned to the screen behind him. For some obscure reason the perfume about him, flowers of tsin-tsin, seemed to grow in their nostrils.
"Observe!" he said, and lifted it aside. An assistant threw a switch on a nearby panel. The unnatural quiet in the laboratory was resumed.
"The ultimate concentration of scientific knowledge and genius! The gateway to all power!"