The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 99
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"Certainly not. Why would she come down here?"
"I thought she might be useful, Doctor."
"Carnes, as you know, I dislike using women because they can't control their emotions or their expressions. She would just be in the way."
"It seems to me that she saved both our lives in Russia, Doctor, and but for her, you wouldn't have come out so well in your last adventure on the Aberdeen marshes."
"She did the first through uncontrolled emotions, and the second through a flagrant disobedience of my orders. No, don't tell her to come. Tell her not to come if she asks."
Carnes turned away, but hesitated.
"Doctor, I wish you'd let me have her come down here. I didn't trust her at first when you did, but she has proved her loyalty and worth. Besides, I don't like the idea of leaving her unguarded in Was.h.i.+ngton with you and me down here, and with Haggerty coming down."
Dr. Bird looked thoughtful.
"There's something in that, Carnes," he reflected. "All right, tell her to come along, but remember, she is not in on this case. She is being brought here merely for safety, not to mix up in our work."
The detective returned in ten minutes with a worried expression.
"She wasn't in your office, Doctor," he reported.
"Who? Oh, Thelma. Where was she?"
"No one seems to know. She left yesterday afternoon and hasn't returned."
"Oh, well, since I am out of the city, I expect she decided to take a vacation. Women are always undependable. Did you get hold of the rest?"
"They'll be down at midnight, all but Davis. He'll come down in the morning."
"Good enough! Now, Colonel, if you'll have the officers who are going out to-morrow a.s.sembled, we'll divide the territory and make our plans for the search."
A week later, the situation was unchanged. Secret service operatives and soldiers from the Proving Ground had covered, foot by foot, square miles of territory south of the Proving Ground, but without result. Not a single unexplainable thing had been found. Sensitive instruments sent down from the Bureau of Standards, instruments so sensitive that they would detect an electric light burning a mile away, had yielded no results. As a final measure, General Merton had ordered a dozen planes with steel-cylindered motors to the Proving Ground and they had repeatedly crisscrossed the suspected territory, but had acquired no static charge large enough to affect them. It was evident that Saranoff's device, if it existed, had been moved, or else was not in operation.
Also, to Carnes' openly expressed and Dr. Bird's secret worry, Thelma Andrews had not returned to the Bureau of Standards. The Russian girl, formerly known as Feodrovna Androvitch, a tool and follower of Ivan Saranoff, had acted with Carnes and the doctor in their long drawn-out fight with the arch-communist often enough to be a marked woman.
Urged by Carnes, Bolton, the head of the Secret Service, put a dozen of his best men on her trail, but they found nothing. She had disappeared as thoroughly as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up. At last, as the combing of the Aberdeen marshes yielded no results, Dr. Bird acceded to Carnes' request, and the detective left for Was.h.i.+ngton to take personal charge of the search. Dr. Bird sat alone in his quarters at the Officers' Club, futilely wracking his brains for a clue to his further procedure.
The telephone rang loudly. With a grunt, he took down the receiver.
A feminine voice spoke with a strong foreign accent.
"I vant der Herr Doktor Vogel, plees!"
"You want who? Oh, yes. Vogel--bird! This is Dr. Bird speaking."
The voice instantly lost both its foreign accent and its guttural quality.
"I thought so when you spoke, Doctor, but I wanted to make sure. This is Thelma Andrews."
"Where the devil have you been? Half the Secret Service is looking for you, including Carnes, who deserted me and is in Was.h.i.+ngton."
"He is? I'm sorry. Listen, Doctor, it's a long story and I can't go into details now. I got a clue on the day you left. As I couldn't get in touch with you, I followed it myself. I've located Saranoff's main base in the Bush River marshes."
"You have! Where is it?"
"It's underground and you've pa.s.sed over it a dozen times during the past week. It's unoccupied now and the machines are idle until your search is over. I know the way to it. If you'll join me now, we can get in and hopelessly wreck the device in a short time. To-morrow you can bring your men down here and take charge of it."
Dr. Bird's eyes glistened.
"I'll come at once, Thelma!" he cried. "Where are you?"
"I'm down on Romney Creek. Come down to the Water Impact Range below Michaelville, and I'll meet you at the wharf. You'd better come alone, because we'll have to sneak."
"Good for you!" cried the doctor. "I'll be down in an hour."
"All right, Doctor. I'll be waiting for you."
At Michaelville, Dr. Bird left his car and stepped on the scooter which ran on the narrow gauge track connecting the range house with the wharf on Romney Creek. He started it with no difficulty and it coughed away into the night. For three and a half miles, nothing broke the monotony of the trip. Dr. Bird, his hand on the throttle, kept his eyes on the twin ribbons of steel which slid along under the headlight. The road made a sharp turn and emerged from the thick wood through which it had been traveling. Hardly had the lights shot along the track in the new direction than Dr. Bird closed the throttle and applied the brakes rapidly. A heavy barricade of logs was piled across the track.
The doctor pressed home on the brake lever until the steel shoes screamed in protest, but no brakes could bring the heavy scooter to a stop as swiftly as was needful to avoid a crash. It was still traveling at a good rate of speed when it rammed into the barricade and overturned.
Dr. Bird was thrown clear of the wrecked scooter. He landed on soft mud beside the track. As he strove to rise, the beam of a flashlight struck him in the eyes and a guttural, sneering voice spoke through the darkness.
"Don't move, Dr. Bird. It will be useless and will only lead to your early death, a thing I should regret."
"Saranoff!" cried Dr. Bird.
"I am flattered, Doctor, that you know my voice. Yes, it is I, Ivan Saranoff, the man whom you have so often foiled. You drove me from America and tried to bar the road against my return, but I only laughed at your efforts. I returned here only for one purpose, to capture you and to compa.s.s your death."
Dr. Bird rose to his feet and laughed lightly.
"You've got me, Saranoff," he said, "but the game isn't played out yet. I represent an organization which won't end with my death, you know."
A series of expletives in guttural Russian answered him. In response to a command from their leader, two men came forward and searched the doctor quickly and expertly, removing the automatic pistol which he carried under his left armpit.
"As for your organization, as you call it--pouf!" said the Russian scornfully. "Carnes, a brainless fool who does only as you tell him, a few half-wits in the Bureau of Standards, some of them already in my pay, and one renegade girl. She shall learn what it means to betray the Soviets and their leader."
"You'll have to catch her first," replied Dr. Bird, a sardonic grin on his face.
"I have but to snap my fingers and she will come whining back, licking my hand and imploring mercy," boasted the Russian. "Bring him along!"
TWO men approached and Seized the doctor by his arms. Dr. Bird shook them off contemptuously.
"Keep your filthy paws off me!" he cried. "I know when I'm bested, and I'll come quietly, but I won't be dragged."
The men looked at their leader for orders. From behind his light, the Russian studied his opponent. He gave vent to a stream of guttural Russian. The men fell back.
"For your information, Doctor," he said in a sneering tone. "I have told my men to follow you closely, gun in hand. At the slightest sign of hesitation, or at the first attempt to escape, they will fire. They are excellent shots."
"Lead on, Saranoff," was Dr. Bird's cheery comment.
With a shrug of his shoulders, the leader of the Young Labor party turned and made his way along the track toward the wharf. Dr. Bird looked anxiously ahead as they approached, fearing that Feodrovna Androvitch would be discerned in her hiding place. Saranoff correctly interpreted his gaze.
"Does der Herr Doktor Vogel eggspect somevun?" he asked in the voice which had first come over Dr. Bird's telephone. The doctor started and the Russian went on in the voice of the doctor's secretary. "I'm so glad you came, Dr. Bird. I am going to take you directly to the main base of our dearly beloved friend, Ivan Saranoff."
An expression that was a mixture of chagrin and relief spread over Dr. Bird's face.
"Sold, by thunder!" he cried.
The Russian laughed sardonically and tramped on in silence. Tied to the Romney Creek wharf was a boat with powerful electric motors, driven by storage batteries. At a nudge from his captors, Dr. Bird took his place in the craft. It glided silently away down the creek toward the Chesapeake's mouth.
In the bay, the boat veered to the south and ran along the sh.o.r.e until the mouth of Bush River opened before them. It turned west up the river, coming to a halt at one of the occasional bits of high ground which bordered the river.
"We get off here, Doctor," said Saranoff. "My base, which you have wasted so much time seeking, lies within a hundred yards of this point. Before I take you there, you may be interested in watching us conceal our boat."
Before the doctor's surprised gaze, the edges of a huge box rose above the surface of the water, around the electric boat. The boat was raised and water could be heard running out of the box which held it. When the box was drained, a man leaped in and made some adjustments. A cover, hinged on one side, swung over and closed the box tightly with the boat inside. Men closed clamps which held it in position. As they sprang to sh.o.r.e, the box sunk silently out of sight below the surface of the water.
"It is now beneath a foot of mud, Doctor," laughed the Russian, "and there is nothing to lead a searching party to suspect its existence. Now I will take you to my base."
He led the way for a hundred yards over the ground. Before them loomed an old abandoned fisherman's shack. They entered to find merely a barren room. The Russian stepped to the far side and manipulated a hidden lever. Half of the floor slid to one side, disclosing a flight of steps leading down into Stygian darkness.
Flashlight in hand, Saranoff descended, Dr. Bird following closely on his heels. They went down twenty-one steps before the stairs came to an end. Above them, the floor could be heard closing. There was a sharp click and the cavern was flooded with light.
Dr. Bird looked around him with keen interest. Before him stood a static generator of gigantic proportions and of a totally unfamiliar design. Attached to it was an elliptic reflector of silvery metal, from which rose a short, stubby projector tube.
"I suppose, Dr. Saranoff--" began Dr. Bird.
"Ivan Saranoff, if you please, Doctor," interrupted the Russian. "I have renounced the trumpery distinctions of your bourgeois civilization as far as I am concerned."
"I suppose, Ivan Saranoff," said Dr. Bird obligingly, "that this is the apparatus with which you send out a stream of negative particles."
"It is, Doctor. I had no idea that the nature of it would ever be discovered; at least not until I had changed the United States to a second Sahara desert. I reckoned without you. In point of fact, at the time that I built this device and started it in operation, I had not clashed with you. Now, I know that my plan is a failure. You have left data on which other men can work, have you not?"
"I would not have believed you had you said otherwise," replied the Russian with a sigh. "Yet this device has done much good. Now it shall be destroyed. It has not been a failure, for its destruction will accomplish both yours and that of your friend, Carnes."
"You haven't caught Carnes yet."
"That is easy. The same bait which caught you has caught him even more easily. I have a real sense of humor, Doctor, and before I went out of my way to bring you here, my plans were carefully laid. Mr. Carnes is now on his way here from Was.h.i.+ngton, lured by my voice. He is rus.h.i.+ng, he thinks, to your rescue."
Dr. Bird was suddenly silent.
"I am glad you comprehend my plan so readily, Doctor. Yes, indeed, Mr. Carnes knows that I have captured you. He knows the exact location of this cavern and, more important, he knows the location of the power line which feeds my device when it is in operation. He also knows that there is stored in this cavern, fifty pounds of radite, your ultra-explosive. He knows that you are chained close to the explosive and that it is rigged with a detonator, connected with the power line. In only one thing is he in error.
"He thinks, that if he can sever the power line before he attempts to penetrate the cavern, that the charge will be rendered harmless, and that you will be safe. In point of fact, the charge is set with an interrupter detonator which will explode as soon at the power line is severed. It pleases my sense of humor that it will be the hand of your faithful friend, Carnes, that will send you in fragments to eternity."
Beads of sweat shone on Dr. Bird's head as the Russian finished his speech, but his expression of amused interest did not change. Neither did his voice, when he spoke, betray any nervousness.
"And I presume that Carnes is also to be blown into bits by the explosion?" he asked.
"No, indeed, Doctor, that would frustrate one of the most humorous angles of the whole affair. He will cut the line at the base of a large rock, some two hundred yards from here, far enough away that he will not be seriously injured by the force of the explosion. Thus he will witness the explosion and realize what he has done. In order to be sure that he knows, as soon as he cuts the wire, my men will capture him. I, personally, will tell him of it. I wish to see his face when he realizes what he has unwittingly done."
"Then, I presume, you'll kill him?"
"I doubt it. I rather think I'll let him live. He should be useful to me."
"Carnes will never work for you!"
"With Feodrovna in my power, I rather think that Mr. Carnes will be an efficient and loyal servant. If not, he shall have the pleasure of watching me wreak my vengeance on her before he, himself, takes his last long trip."
"Saranoff," said Dr. Bird in a level voice, his piercing eyes boring straight into the Russian's, "I will remember this. Later, when you grovel at my feet and beg for mercy, it will be my friend, Operative Carnes, who will read your doom to you and choose the manner of it. I can promise you that your death will not be an easy one."
The Russian laughed, albeit the laugh had more of uneasiness than humor in it.
"When you have me in your power, Doctor, you may do as you like," he said, "but I do not fear dead men. In another two hours, you will be among the dead."
He turned to the three Russians who stood behind him.
"Seize him!" he cried.
The Russians leaped forward, but Dr. Bird was not caught napping. The first one went down like a felled tree before the doctor's fist. The other two came in cautiously. Dr. Bird sprang forward, feinting. As he leaped back, his foot struck a rod which Ivan Saranoff had thrust behind him. He staggered and fell. Before he could recover his balance, the two burly Russians were on him.
Even then, they had no easy task. Dr. Bird weighed over two hundred and there was not an ounce of fat or surplus flesh on him. First one, and then the other, of the Russians was thrown off him, but they returned to the attack, unsubdued by the cras.h.i.+ng blows which the doctor landed on their faces and heads.
Gradually their ardor began to evaporate. With a sudden effort, Dr. Bird strove to regain his feet. A crash as of all the thunders of the universe sounded in his ears, and flashes of vivid light played before his eyes. He felt himself falling down ... down....
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 99
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 99 summary
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