The Brain Speaks A case lay revealed.
At first, while it was unlit, it seemed nothing more than that: a case like those glass-sided and glass-topped ones found in museums, a case perhaps three feet high, three feet deep and five feet in width. Under this glass upper part of the case was an enclosed section a little more than a foot in depth. The whole structure was supported at each corner by short strong metal legs. And that was all.
But, second by second, as the captives took in these details, a change came over the interior. No doubt it was the result of the increasing action of some electrical current loosed by the throwing of the switch; the whole insides of the glass case little by little lightened, until it became apparent it was full of a strange liquid that seemed of itself to have the property of glowing with soft light. As this light increased, a row of five shadowy bulks the size of footballs began to take form between what looked, from where the men sat, like a forest of fibers of silk.
In a few more seconds a miracle of complicated wiring came into visibility. The silk fibers were seen to be wires, threads of silver gossamer that interconnected the five emerging bulks in a maze of ordered complexity. Thousands interlaced the interior; hundreds were gathered in each of five close bunches that sprouted from the floor of the case and then spread, fanwise, to various groupings of delicate liquid-immersed instruments.
In several seconds more Eliot Leithgow and Hawk Carse were staring with horror at what the now brilliantly glowing liquid revealed the five shapes to be. As one man they rose, went to the cabinet and gazed with terrible fascination.
"Brains!" exclaimed Leithgow. "Human brains! But not alive--surely not alive!"
"But yes," contradicted the triumphant Eurasian. "Alive."
Five human brains lay all immersed in the glowing case, each resting in a shallow metal pan. There were pulsings in narrow gray tubes which led into their under-sides--theatrical evidence that the brains held imprisoned there were, as the Eurasian had said, alive--most strangely, unnaturally and horribly alive. Stark and cruelly naked they lay there, pulsing with life that should not have been.
"Yes, alive!" repeated Ku Sui. "And never to die while their needs are attended!"
One of his long artistic fingers tapped the glass before the central brain, which was set somewhat lower than the others. "This," he said, "is the master brain. It controls and coordinates the thoughts of the others, avoiding the useless, pursuing the relevant and retaining the valuable. It is by far the most important of the five, and is, of course the superior intellect. It is the keystone of my gateway to all power."
Eliot Leithgow's face was deathly white, but, as one in the grip of some devilish hypnotic fascination, he could not tear his eyes away from the revolting, amazing achievement of his brilliant enemy. The Eurasian with the cruelty of a cat picked that awful moment to add: "This master brain is all that was best of Master Scientist Cram."
The frail old man took this statement like a blow.
"Oh, dear heaven--not Raymond Cram! Not Cram, the physicist, brought to this! Why, I knew him when----"
Ku Sui smiled and interrupted. "But you speak of him as if he were dead! He's not. He's very much alive, as you shall see. Possibly even happy--who knows? There is no good---- Keep back, Carse!"
His tiger's eyes had not missed the adventurer's slight crouch in preparation for a shove which might have toppled the case and ended the abominable servitude of its gruesome tenants. The Hawk was caught before he had well started; and had he not stopped his gathering muscles he would have been dead from the coolie-guards' rays by the time he touched the near side of the case.
He took his failure without comment; only stepped back, folded his arms and burned his enemy with the frigid glare of his eyes. The Eurasian continued as if nothing had happened, addressing himself chiefly to Leithgow.
"The others, too, you once knew; you are even charged with their murder. Let me introduce you once more to your old colleagues and friends. There, at the right, is the brain you once compared notes with in the person of Professor Estapp. Next to him is Dr. Swanson. To the left of Master Scientist Cram, is Professor Geinst, and this last is Dr. Sir Charles Esme Norman. Now think what this group represents!
"Estapp, Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry; Swanson, Psychology; Geinst, Astronomy; Norman, Mathematics. And Cram, the master brain, of course, Physics and Electricity, although his encyclopedic knowledge encompassed every major subject, well fitting his brain for the position it holds. All this, gathered here in one! The five outstanding intellects of Earth, here gathered in one priceless instrument! Here are my advisors; here my trusty, never-tiring assistants. I can have their help toward the solution of any problem; obtain from their individual and combined intelligences even those rare intuitions which I have found almost always precede brilliant discoveries.
"For they not only retain all they ever knew of science, but they can develop, even as brains in bodies can develop. Their knowledge does not become outmoded, if they are kept informed of the latest currents of scientific thought. From old knowledge and new they build their structures of logic once my command sets them on. Wills of their own they have none.
"I have not succeeded in all my secondary alterations, however. For one thing, I have been unable to deprive them altogether of the memory of what they formerly were; but it is a subdued memory, to them doubtless like a dream, familiar yet puzzling. Because of this I imagine they hate me--heartily!--yet they lack the will, the egocentricity which would enable them to refuse to answer my questions and do my work.
"Frankly, without them this whole structure"--his hands swept out widely--"my whole asteroidal kingdom, would have been impossible. Most of my problems in constructing it were solved here. And in the future other problems, far greater, will be solved here!"
Hawk Carse by now understood very well Dr. Ku Sui's purpose in bringing M. S. Leithgow to his laboratory, and was already goading his brain in search of a way out. Death was by all means preferable to what the Eurasian intended--death self-inflicted, and death that mutilated the brain--but there were no present chances that his searching mind could see.
If Leithgow suspected what was in store, his face gave no sign of it. He only said: "Dr. Ku, of all the things you have ever done, this is the most heartless and most vile. I would have thought there was a limit in you somewhere, but this--this thing--this horrible life you have condemned these five men to----"
He could not continue. The Eurasian only smiled, and replied, with his always seeming courtesy: "Your opinion is natural Master: I could expect no other. But when great ends are to be gained, he who would gain them must strip himself of those disturbing atavistic things we call the tender emotions. The pathway to power is not for those who wince at the sight of blood, who weep at the need for death. I hope, for special reasons, that you'll make an effort to understand this before we come to the phase which will follow my demonstration....
"Now, please allow me to show you my coordinated brains in useful operation. Will you be seated again? You, too, Captain Carse."
It was Ku Sui's show: there was nothing for the two men but to obey. But they felt, both of them, a great unnaturalness in being seated for the demonstration to come.
"Thank you," the Eurasian said, and went to the panel flanking the case. There, he turned and remarked: "Before we begin, I must ask you to remember that the opinions of my brains may always be accepted as the probable truth, and always, absolutely, are they honest and without prejudice." He threw a small knife switch and again turned. Nothing seemed to happen.
"I have contrived, of course, an artificial way of communicating with my helpers. This inset grille here contains both microphone and speaker--ear and mouth.
"The ear picks up my words and transmits them to every brain. If I have asked a question, it is individually considered and the respective answers sent to the master brain; they are there coordinated and the result spoken to me by means of the mechanical mouth. When the opinions of the individual brains do not agree, the answer is in the form of a poll, often with brief mention of points pro and con. Sometimes their meditations take considerable time; but simple questions always bring a prompt and unanimous answer. Shall we try them now?"
The man's spectators did not answer; even the Hawk was for once in his life too overcome by conflicting feelings of horror and dread, and compelling morbid fascination. Dr. Ku paused dramatically, a slight smile on his enigmatic lips; then turned his head and spoke into the grille.
"Do you hear me?" he asked, easily and confidently.
The silence in the laboratory was for one brief moment almost overpowering. Then, from the grille, came a thin metallic voice. Inhuman, artificial, it sounded in the tense strain of the silent room, voice from the living dead that it was.
"I do," were its words.
"Strange," mused the Eurasian, half aloud, "that their collective answer is always given as 'I.' What obscure telescoping of egotisms can be the cause of that...."
He dropped the mood of wonder at once. "Tell me," he said, looking deliberately at Leithgow: "Would the brain of Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow be more valuable in the position of the master brain than Cram's?"
A horrible eternity passed. Again came the inhuman voice: "I have answered that question before. Yes."
Dr. Ku broke the stunned silence that followed this verdict.
"Don't forget that several ray-guns are centered on you, Carse," he remarked casually. "Others, black, are on you. Earthlings would no doubt consider your emotions very creditable; I only suggest that you keep them under control."
But the Hawk had given no slightest intimation that he might attempt anything. He sat quietly, a little tensely, his face an icy mask, only the freezing shock of his steady gray eyes betraying his emotion as they bore straight into those of the Eurasian. No man could meet such eyes for long, and even the tiger ones of Ku Sui the all-powerful went aside at the icy murder that showed there.
Friday still stood in back of the chairs where were seated his two friends. He was scared to death from the thing he had seen. His face was a sickly, ashy gray, and his eyes large round rolling white marbles; but at the slightest sign of a break he would have metamorphosed into a demon of destruction, however hopeless the try, with ray-guns covering him at all times. Such was his love and loyalty for his famous master.
Eliot Leithgow was a man resigned. His head sank down on his chest. Dr. Ku's next words, though aimed at him, did not seem to penetrate his consciousness.
"You see, Master Leithgow, I have no choice. My purposes are all-important; they always come first; they demand this substitution. Were your intellect of lesser stature, I would have no interest in you whatever. But as it is...." He shrugged.
Hawk Carse stood up.
The Eurasian's voice fell away. The ensuing silence gave an icy, clear-cut sharpness to the whisper that then cut through it from thin lips that barely moved: "God help you, Ku Sui, if you do it. God help you."
Dr. Ku Sui smiled deprecatingly and again shrugged.
"I have told you before that God helps those who help themselves. I have always had splendid results from helping myself."
For a moment he looked away as he considered something in his mind. Then to his veiled eyes came the old mocking irony, and he said: "I think perhaps you'd like to observe the operations, my friend, and I'm going to allow you to. Not here--no. I could never have you interrupting; the series of operations is of infinite delicacy and will require weeks. But I can make other arrangements; I can give you as good as ringside seats for each performance. A small visi-screen might be attached to one wall of your cell to enable you to see every detail of what transpires here." His tone suddenly stiffened. "I wouldn't, Carse!"
The Hawk relaxed from the brink on which he had wavered. A sudden mad rush--what else remained? What else? For an instant he had lost his head--one of the several times in his whole life. Just for an instant he had forgotten his phenomenal patience under torture, his own axiom that in every tight place there was a way out.
"That's much safer," said Ku Sui. "Perhaps you and the black had better return to your cell."
Certain little muscles in the Hawk's face were trembling as he turned to go, and his feet would not work well. The ray-guns of the coolie-guards covered his every move. Friday followed just behind.
As the adventurer came to the door he stopped and turned, and his eyes went back to those of the frail, elderly scientist.
The doomed man met the gray eyes and their agony with a smile.
"It's all right, old comrade," he said. "Just remember to destroy this hellish device, if you ever possibly can. My love to Sandra; and to her, and my dear ones on Earth, anything but the truth.... Farewell."
Carse's fingernails bit each one into his palms. He hesitated; tried, but could not speak.
"All right, Carse--you may go."
The feelingless guards nudged white man and black out, and the door swung solidly closed behind them....
In the Visi-Screen There were those among the few claiming to have any insight into the real Hawk Carse who declared that a month went out of his life for every minute he spent in the cell then. The story, of course, came trickling out through various unreliable sources; we who delve in the lore of the great adventurer have to thank for our authorities Sewell, the great historian of that generation--who personally traveled several million miles to get what meager facts the Hawk would divulge concerning his life and career--equally with Friday, who shared this particular adventure with him. Friday's emotional eyes no doubt colored his memory of the scenes he passed through, and it is likely that the facts lost nothing in the simple dramatic way he would relate them.
But certainly the black was as fearful of his master during that period in the cell as he was of what he saw acted out on the screen.
We can picture him telling of the ordeal, his big eyes rolling and his deep rich voice trembling with the memories stamped forever in his brain; and picture too the men who, at one time or another, listened to him, fascinated, their mouths agape and a tickling down the length of their spines. It was probably only Friday's genius as a narrator which later caused some of his listeners to swear that new lines were grooved in Carse's face and a few flaxen hairs silvered by the minutes he spent watching Eliot Leithgow strapped down on that operating table, close to the beautiful surgeon fingers of Dr. Ku Sui.
But whether or not that period of torture really pierced through his iron emotional guard and set its mark on him permanently by aging him, it is impossible to say. However, there were deep things in Hawk Carse, and the deepest among them were the ties binding him to his friends; there was also that certain cold vanity; and considering these it is probable that he came very close indeed to the brink of some frightening emotional abyss, before which he had few shreds of mind and body-discipline left....
He reentered the cell like a ghost; he stood very still, his hands slowly clenching and unclenching behind his back, and his pale face inclined low, so that the chin rested on his chest. So he stood for some minutes, Friday not daring to disturb him, until the single door that gave entrance clicked in its lock and opened again. At this he raised his head. Five men came in, all coolies, three of whom had ray-guns which they kept scrupulously on the white man and black while the other two rigged up an apparatus well up on one of the cell walls. They remained wholly unaffected the several times their dull eyes met those of the Hawk. Perhaps, being mechanicalized humans, practically robots, they got no reaction from the icy gray eyes in his strained white face.
The device they attached was some two square feet of faintly gleaming screen, rimmed by metal and with little behind it other than two small enclosed tubes, a cuplike projector with wires looping several terminals on its exterior, and a length of black, rubberized cable, which last was passed through one of the five-inch ventilating slits high in the wall. Carse regarded it with his hard stare until the door clicked behind the coolies and they were once more alone. Then his head returned to its bowed position, and Friday approached the apparatus and began to examine it with the curiosity of the born mechanic he was.
"Let it be, Friday," the Hawk ordered tonelessly.
A dozen minutes passed in silence.
The silence was outward: there was no quiet in the adventurer's head. He could not stop the sharp remorseless voice which kept sounding in his brain. Its pitiless words flailed him unceasingly with their stinging taunts. "You--you whom they call the Hawk," it would say; "you, the infallible one--you, so recklessly, egotistically confident--you have brought this to pass! Not only have you allowed yourself to be trapped, but Eliot Leithgow! He is out there now; and soon his brain will be condemned forever to that which you have seen! The brain that trusted you! And you have brought this to pass! Yours the blame, the never-failing Hawk! All yours--yours--yours!"
A voice reached him from far away. A soft negro voice which said, timidly: "They're beginning, suh. Captain Carse? On the screen, suh; they're beginning."
That was worse. The real ordeal was approaching. True, he might have thrown himself on the coolie-guards who had just left--but his death would not have helped old M. S.
Friday spoke again, and this time his words leaped roaring into Carse's ears. He raised his head and looked.
The tubes behind the screen were crackling, and the screen itself had come to life. He was looking at the laboratory. But the place was changed.
What had before been a wide circular room, with complicated machines and unnamed scientific apparatus following only its walls, so as to leave the center of its floor empty and free from obstructions, was now a place of deep shadow pierced by a broad cone of blinding white light which shafted down from some source overhead and threw into brilliant emphasis only the center of the room.
The light struck straight down upon an operating table. At its head stood a squat metal cylinder sprouting a long flexible tube which ended in a cone--no doubt the anesthetizing apparatus. A stepped-back tier of white metal drawers flanked one side of the table, upon its various upper surfaces an array of gleaming surgeon's tools. In neat squads they lay there: long thin knives with straight and curved cutting edges; handled wires, curved into hooks and eccentric corkscrew shapes; scalpels of different sizes; forceps, clasps, retractors, odd metal claws, circular saw-blades and a variety of other unclassified instruments. Sterilizers were convenient to one side, a thin wraith of steam drifting up from them into the source of the light.
Four men worked within the brilliant shaft of illumination--four white-clad figures, hands gloved and faces swathed in surgeons' masks. Only their lifeless eyes were visible, concentrated on their tasks of preparation. Steam rose in increased mists as one figure lifted back the lid of a sterilizer and dropped in some gleaming instruments. The cloud swirled around his masked face and body with devilish infernolike effect.
All this in deadest silence. From the darkness came another figure, tall and commanding, a shape whose black silk garments struck a new note in the dazzling whiteness of the scene. He was pulling on operating gloves. His slanted eyes showed keen and watchful through the eyeholes of the mask he already wore, as he surveyed the preparations. Ominous Ku Sui looked, among his white-clad assistants.
The Eurasian seemed to give an order, and a white figure turned and glanced off into the surrounding darkness, raising one hand. A door showed in faint outline as it opened. Through the door two shadows moved, wheeling something long and flat between them.
They came into the light, two coolies, and wheeled their conveyance alongside the operating table. Then they turned into the darkness and were gone.
"Oh!" gasped Friday. "They've shaved off his head!"
The frail form of Eliot Leithgow, clad to the neck in loose white garments, showed clearly as he was lifted to the operating table. As Friday said, his hair was all gone--shaved off close--stunning verification of what was to happen. Awfully alone and helpless he looked, yet his face was calm and he lay there composed, watching his soulless inquisitors with keen blue eyes. But his expression altered when Dr. Ku appeared over him and felt and prodded his naked head.
"I can't stand this!"
It was a whisper of agony in the silence of the cell where the two men stood watching, a cry from the fiber of the Hawk's innermost self. The path he left across the frontiers of space was primarily a lonely one; but Friday and Eliot Leithgow and two or three others were friends and very precious to him, and they received all the emotion in his tough, hard soul. Especially Leithgow--old, alone, dishonored on Earth, frail and nearing the end of the long years--he needed protection. He had trusted Carse.
Trusted him! And now this!
Ku Sui's fingers were prodding Leithgow's head like that of any dumb animal chosen as subject for experimentation. Prodding.... Feeling....
"I can't stand it!" the Hawk whispered again.
The mask on his face, that famous self-imposed mask that hid all emotion, had broken. Lines were there, deep with agony; tiny drops of sweat stood out all over. He saw Ku Sui pick up something and adjust it to his grip while looking down at the man who lay, now strapped on the table. He saw him nod curtly to an assistant; saw the anesthetic cylinder wheeled up a little closer, and the dials on it set to quivering....
His hands came up and covered his eyes. But only for a moment. He would not be able to keep his sight away. That was the exquisite torture the Eurasian had counted on: he well knew as he had arranged it that the adventurer would not be able to hold his eyes from the screen. Carse had to look!