The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 114
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"Yes, I've heard of him," Manthis said after he had been informed of the encounter. "A naturalized Russian. Used to do quite a bit of valuable work in various fields of physics. But he was some sort of radical--seems to me an old-fas.h.i.+oned anarchist--and not popular. He dropped out of sight several years ago. I presumed he was dead."
They soon had the new equipment installed and again began exploring the wave bands, beginning with the comparatively lengthy ones and working down into those only slightly longer than light. It was tedious work, but all were by now as adept as Jack in combing the ether and their task progressed rapidly. Despite the labor, however, nothing could be heard. There was only the universal, breathless silence. At times they moved to the commercial bands and tried to pick up the stations they had heard on the previous day, but even there they met with failure.
By the evening of the third day they had left the wave bands which could be measured in meters and were exploring those strange and almost wholly uncharted depths of the ether which must be calculated in centimeters. There at last luck favored them. It was Jack who caught a strange pulsating tone on the three-centimeter band. It rose and fell, rose and fell, then died away like the keening of a lost soul.
"Listen," he whispered. "Plug in here. I've found something."
June and the doctor followed his instructions. Delicately fingering the coils, Baron picked up the sound again, only to lose it. Then it came once more. This time he followed it as it changed to the five centimeter band. Back and forth it went as though weaving an intricate and devilish web.
"What do you make of it?" queried the doctor at last.
"Don't know." Jack bit his lips. "It's no natural phenomenon, I'll swear. Somebody is manipulating a broadcasting station of terrific power not far from here and playing with that wave as a helmsman brings a sailing s.h.i.+p into the wind and lets her pay off again."
"What do we do now?" The little chemist, finding his theory apparently confirmed, was at a loss. "Could we wreck that station?"
"Fat chance!" The engineer laughed bitterly as he reached for a cigarette. "Whoever has conceived that bit of h.e.l.lishness is well guarded. The three of us wouldn't have a ghost of a show. What I can't understand is--"
"No use talking about theories now." Manthis sat down, crushed. Dropping his head in his bands, he pulled his few hairs as though that might drag out an idea. "What's to be done? Do you realise that we hold more responsibility than ever man has held before? Caesar! Napoleon! They were pikers. We have to save a world."
Silence greeted his outburst. The scratching of a match as June lit a cigarette sounded like an explosion. Then the smoke eddied undisturbed while the three stared vacantly into s.p.a.ce, trying to think.
"Couldn't we"--the girl swallowed hesitantly as she realized her ignorance of radio engineering--"couldn't we interfere with that wave? Interfere with the wave which already is breaking up the thought waves. Cancel its power. Oh, Jack, you must know what I mean."
"With this d.i.n.ky, five-kilowatt station? We couldn't reach Yonkers against the power they've got. By Jove!" He leaped to his feet as a new thought struck him. "Maybe we could just wake up New York. Get help from the police then! Smash that other station afterwards!"
"But we don't know whether interference would break the spell," interposed the practical doctor. "And it will take a lot of practise to follow that wave. It jumps back and forth like a gra.s.shopper."
"And if we don't do it right the first time, whoever is operating that station will be down on us like a ton of brick," admitted Jack.
"Let's get the child we saved," suggested June. "We can bring her up here. Then we'll need only a little power, just enough to be effective in this room, to bring her to life if we can. They wouldn't hear our wave."
"Great!" Jack bent over and kissed her. "You're a real help. I'll be back in a minute." He dashed out. Soon they heard his step on the stairs and he reappeared, tenderly bearing his golden-haired burden.
"Now, June," he commanded briskly, "place her in a comfortable position on the work table while I get ready." He began arranging equipment and connecting it with the bank of storage batteries.
"Shall I adjust a headset for her?" asked the impatient doctor.
"Be yourself!" Jack placed a crooked vacuum tube near the child's head and clamped two flat electrodes on her temples. "This wave must act directly on the brain. The sense of hearing has nothing to do with it.
"All right, Sleeping Beauty." He stretched the kinks out of his aching back. "Let's see what we can do for you. Pardon me, Doctor, if I seemed rude. This is ticklish work. Pick up the outside wave for me. Thanks. Now I've got our d.i.n.ky sending station set on the same wave length at a different frequency. It's adjusted so that as I keep in touch through this tuning coil, our wave will fluctuate over the same path as the other. It should take six or eight hours to overcome the effect on her, I judge. Here we go. June, you'd better get yourself and your dad some food. Doctor, you examine the kid from time to time. In an hour or so June can relieve me."
He pressed a switch. The tubes filled with a green glow.
Two hours pa.s.sed, and the sun was sinking behind the trees of the park in a b.l.o.o.d.y haze when Jack at last signaled for June to handle the dials. For a time he guided her slim fingers. Then, as she caught the trick, he rose and stretched his cramped muscles.
"Don't lose the wave for a moment or we'll have to start all over again," he warned. "Now for dinner!"
She nodded and, frowning slightly, bent over the dials.
At that moment there came a heavy knock on the apartment door.
"Who's that?" gasped Manthis, his face turning grey.
"Probably Solinski," replied Jack, feeling his spine crawl as he remembered the moldy Russian. "Fine time he chose for a visit."
"Shall I let him in?"
"Don't see what else there is to do."
"Good evening," cried their guest as Manthis opened the door. "Ah, Dr. Manthis, I believe. I have heard so much about your work." His hoa.r.s.e yet ringing voice made the little man start violently and caused June to shake her head in annoyance as the sound interfered with the humming of the vagrant wave. "Sorry I could not come earlier." Solinski advanced into the laboratory, giving the effect of driving the chemist before him. "Trying to revive one of the sufferers, I see. May G.o.d aid you in this n.o.ble work."
He spread the tails of his long coat and sat down. As he talked his eyes flashed about the room, taking in every detail and at last fastening on June's fresh beauty like those of a vampire. "Not," he boomed as he lighted a cigarette, "not that I believe it possible--"
Catching an agonized glance from Jane, Jack interrupted: "You'll have to speak softly, sir. This is ticklish work."
"I beg your pardon." The Russian lowered his voice so that it squeaked piercingly like a rusty hinge. He wrung his hands audibly.
"Perhaps we'd better move into the living room," suggested the doctor, hovering in the background. "There we can talk without interrupting."
Their guest unfolded joint by joint like a collapsible rule.
"Of course, if you think I'm spying," he grated.
"Not at all," protested Jack, although he longed to strike the brute across the face. "It's just that voices of certain pitches interfere. Surely you have seen radio operators go all to pieces when spoken to."
Ungraciously Solinski allowed himself to be ushered into the outer room. Once there he disposed his lean form on another chair, unctuously refused a highball, and, forgetting his momentary anger, soon was deep in a scientific discussion of the problems involved in revivifying the world.
He mentioned the nearby radio station but declared that he had been unable to locate it despite a careful search. Dismissing this he turned to other topics, displaying a vast knowledge of all departments of scientific achievement and, despite his depressing personality, holding his bearer's attention so closely they forgot the pa.s.sage of time until the clock struck ten.
"Time for daily injection," said the doctor. "Do you use Andrev's solution too, sir?"
"Naturally," replied the other, lighting one cigarette from the b.u.t.t of another.
Manthis hurried into the laboratory. A few moments later he reappeared in the doorway and called to Jack in an agitated voice. As the younger man joined him he closed the door and turned a white face to him.
"The drug is almost gone," Manthis said. "Didn't you obtain a new supply?"
"We--I forgot it," admitted Jack, feeling his own face grow pale. "The shock of running across Solinski at the laboratory upset me."
"Well, that's all right, then. It gave me a turn, but we have plenty of time." The doctor laughed shakily. "Run down to the nearest drug store. There should be a supply there. Better take a flashlight."
He pushed open the door, then shrank back. Leaning against the jamb was the Russian. His manner had changed subtly. His thin lips spread from ear to ear in a wolfish grin. His fingers clicked like castanets.
"Ah," he purred. "So you have used up the last of your solution?"
"What's that to you?" The doctor was gripped by cold unreasoning fear.
"Only that you will be unable to obtain more. Since my first meeting with your daughter I have had my men collect all the Cannabis Indica in the city."
"Your men!" Manthis was thunderstruck.
"Certainly, you old fool. Do you think I'm a bungling theorist like yourself? Who do you think is operating that short-wave station? I am. Who do you think put the world to sleep? I did. Who do you think will wake it? I will."
Solinski's figure appeared to expand. He took deep drafts from his cigarette. The smoke seemed to impel some terrific force into his gaunt frame.
"So it was your voice I heard!" cried Manthis bitterly. "And those awful tales about you were true. A has.h.i.+sh smoker! A person whose mind is rotting, in control of the world!" He seemed about to leap at the other, and his chubby figure, in that att.i.tude, would have seemed ludicrous if it had not been tragic. "It shall not be!" he shouted.
"Now see here, Doctor"--Solinski a.s.sumed a friendly tone--"you're making a grave mistake. I have something to offer better than you ever dreamed of."
"What do you mean?"
"Just this. How would you like to be a.s.sistant to the King of the World?"
"Crazy already," sneered the doctor, squinting up at his tormentor.
"Crazy or not, when the world awakes I will be its king."
"Why, d.a.m.n you, I thought you were an anarchist and wanted to do away with kings and governments," sputtered the little man.
Solinski burst into a gale of fiendish laughter.
"An anarchist is merely a capitalist without money or power," he quoted.
"What do you want of us?" demanded Manthis, playing for time.
"Very simple. This: I intend soon to begin awakening those who will serve me, first in New York and then throughout the world. When I have a skeleton government built up, I will withdraw the wave and allow the people to revive. Clever, isn't it? Especially for such a madman as you think me." He snapped his fingers and leered cunningly at them.
The doctor choked but Jack's hand on his arm steadied him.
"You have a very beautiful daughter," resumed their diabolical visitant.
"Leave my daughter's name out of this," cried Manthis, recoiling.
"Not at all. Her charm and ability have greatly impressed me--so impressed me that I have decided to make her my queen."
"You sc.u.m of the gutter. You filthy beast. I'd die before I'd be a party to such a thing!" The doctor was beside himself.
"I consider myself justified," replied the other, taking great delight in baiting his foe. "The world was never able to govern itself. We anarchists have bided our time, although overshadowed by communists, Fascists and such ridiculous experimenters. Now comes our turn. I shall be the viceroy of G.o.d. Under my rule and that of Queen June the world shall become a second heaven."
He rolled his eyes upward at those words. As he did so, Jack, who had been awaiting just such an opportunity, struck him on the jaw.
The blow would have felled an ox but Solinski merely staggered back a step and snarled. Before Baron could renew the attack he jerked an automatic from beneath his coat and leaped to the hall door.
"You I shall kill," he grinned evilly. "But not now. First you must taste the horror of sinking into the long sleep. You have no more drug, nor can you obtain any. Those pitiful storage batteries will be exhausted by the time you have aroused the child. So you must sleep unless you have the courage to kill yourself. Doctor, I deeply regret that this has occurred, but you see that I must let you and June sleep too. When I have need of you I will recall you. That is all. Farewell. May G.o.d pity you, Baron. I will not."
He sprang through the door and, the tails of his black coat flapping like the wings of a gigantic bat, vanished down the stairs.
Manthis slammed the door and locked it, then leaned weakly against the panels and wiped his round face. His hands shook pitifully.
"This then is the end," he whispered hoa.r.s.ely.
"Is there none of the drug left?" Jack shook him out of his lethargy.
"Enough for a half portion for all of us," sighed the doctor. "But what use of that? Better we poisoned ourselves now and escaped that demon."
"Nonsense. A half portion means twelve hours of life. In that time I can rig up the big transmitter. Perhaps there is still time to revive New York. Solinski won't know we have a generator until we turn on the power. Quick. Poor June must be nearly frightened to death at our shouting."
But they found the girl sitting tense and jubilant at the controls.
"Father! Jack!" she cried as the door opened. "It's working. I saw her move. That means we may be able to revive the world!" Her face was streaked with tears.
"Her heart's beating," whispered the doctor, feeling the child's pulse. "Slow but steady. She'll regain consciousness any moment now."
"No time to wait." Disregarding June's cry of protest Jack stripped off the electrodes. "We must get the big machine working."
"But the little thing will die again," cried June, throwing herself on her knees beside the tot. "I didn't think you could be so cruel."
"Solinski has cut off our drug supply," explained Manthis gently. "He's operating the other station. Don't blame Jack. We must work fast."
"You mean that Russian is responsible for all this?"
"Yes, child. But maybe we can defeat him yet. Don't lose courage. Now I must go and prepare what's left of the drug. We're overdue for it now."
Meanwhile Jack was busy running leads from the generator room, connecting banks of tubes, stringing an aerial on the terrace.
"Twelve hours! Twelve hours!" he muttered. "Just time to make it if the doctor's calculations are correct. June, hand me those pliers, but be careful of the wires. I haven't time to insulate them. When we start the dynamo they'll be carrying twelve thousand volts."
"But won't Solinski and his men come back and kill us?" For the first time the full weight of despair descended upon her brave spirit.
"Probably. Does your father have a revolver?"
"I--I think so."
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 114
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