Chapter 1: Duquesne Goes Traveling
In the innermost private office of Steel, Brookings and DuQuesne stared at each other across the massive desk. DuQuesne’s voice was cold, his black brows were drawn together.
“Get this, Brookings, and get it straight. I’m shoving off at twelve o’clock tonight. My advice to you is to lay off Richard Seaton, absolutely. Don’t do a thing. Nothing, hold everything. Keep on holding it until I get back, no matter how long that may be,” DuQuesne shot out in an icy tone.
“I am very much surprised at your change of front, Doctor. You are the last man I would have expected to be scared off after one engagement.”
“Don’t be any more of a fool than you have to, Brookings. There’s a lot of difference between scared and knowing when you are simply wasting effort. As you remember, I tried to abduct Mrs. Seaton by picking her off with an attractor from a space-ship. I would have bet that nothing could have stopped me. Well, when they located me--probably with an automatic Osnomian ray-detector--and heated me red-hot while I was still better than two hundred miles up, I knew then and there that they had us stopped; that there was nothing we could do except go back to my plan, abandon the abduction idea, and eventually kill them all. Since my plan would take time, you objected to it, and sent an airplane to drop a five-hundred-pound bomb on them. Airplane, bomb, and all simply vanished. It didn’t explode, you remember, just flashed into light and disappeared, with scarcely any noise. Then you pulled several more of your fool ideas, such as long-range bombardment, and so on. None of them worked. Still you’ve got the nerve to think that you can get them with ordinary gunmen! I’ve drawn you diagrams and shown you figures--I’ve told you in great detail and in one-syllable words exactly what we’re up against. Now I tell you again that they’ve got something. If you had the brains of a pinhead, you would know that anything I can’t do with a space-ship can’t be done by a mob of ordinary gangsters. I’m telling you, Brookings, that you can’t do it. My way is absolutely the only way that will work.”
“But five years, Doctor!”
“I may be back in six months. But on a trip of this kind anything can happen, so I am planning on being gone five years. Even that may not be enough--I am carrying supplies for ten years, and that box of mine in the vault is not to be opened until ten years from today.”
“But surely we shall be able to remove the obstructions ourselves in a few weeks. We always have.”
“Oh, quit kidding yourself, Brookings! This is no time for idiocy! You stand just as much chance of killing Seaton--”
“Please, Doctor, please don’t talk like that!”
“Still squeamish, eh? Your pussyfooting always did give me an acute pain. I’m for direct action, word and deed, first, last, and all the time. I repeat, you have exactly as much chance of killing Richard Seaton as a blind kitten has.”
“How do you arrive at that conclusion, Doctor? You seem very fond of belittling our abilities. Personally, I think that we shall be able to attain our objectives within a few weeks--certainly long before you can possibly return from such an extended trip as you have in mind. And since you are so fond of frankness, I will say that I think that Seaton has you buffaloed, as you call it. Nine-tenths of these wonderful Osnomian things, I am assured by competent authorities, are scientifically impossible, and I think that the other one-tenth exists only in your own imagination. Seaton was lucky in that the airplane bomb was defective and exploded prematurely; and your space-ship got hot because of your injudicious speed through the atmosphere. We shall have everything settled by the time you get back.”
“If you have, I’ll make you a present of the controlling interest in Steel and buy myself a chair in some home for feeble-minded old women. Your ignorance and unwillingness to believe any new idea do not change the facts in any particular. Even before they went to Osnome, Seaton was hard to get, as you found out. On that trip he learned so much new stuff that it is now impossible to kill him by any ordinary means. You should realize that fact when he kills every gangster you send against him. At all events be very, very careful not to kill his wife in any of your attacks, even by accident, until after you have killed him.”
“Such an event would be regrettable, certainly, in that it would remove all possibility of the abduction.”
“It would remove more than that. Remember the explosion in our laboratory, that blew an entire mountain into impalpable dust? Draw in your mind a nice, vivid picture of one ten times the size in each of our plants and in this building. I know that you are fool enough to go ahead with your own ideas, in spite of everything I’ve said; and, since I do not yet actually control Steel, I can’t forbid you to, officially. But you should know that I know what I’m talking about, and I say again that you’re going to make an utter fool of yourself; just because you won’t believe anything possible, that hasn’t been done every day for a hundred years. I wish that I could make you understand that Seaton and Crane have got something that we haven’t--but for the good of our plants, and incidentally for your own, please remember one thing, anyway; for if you forget it, we won’t have a plant left and you personally will be blown into a fine red mist. Whatever you start, kill Seaton first, and be absolutely certain that he is definitely, completely, finally and totally dead before you touch one of Dorothy Seaton’s red hairs. As long as you only attack him personally he won’t do anything but kill every man you send against him. If you kill her while he’s still alive, though--Blooie!” and the saturnine scientist waved both hands in an expressive pantomime of wholesale destruction.
“Probably you are right in that,” Brookings paled slightly. “Yes, Seaton would do just that. We shall be very careful, until after we succeed in removing him.”
“Don’t worry--you won’t succeed. I shall attend to that detail myself, as soon as I get back. Seaton and Crane and their families, the directors and employees of their plants, the banks that by any possibility may harbor their notes or solutions--in short, every person and everything standing between me and a monopoly of ‘X’--all shall disappear.”
“That is a terrible program, Doctor. Wouldn’t the late Perkins’ plan of an abduction, such as I have in mind, be better, safer and quicker?”
“Yes--except for the fact that it will not work. I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face--I’ve proved to you over and over that you can’t abduct her now without first killing him, and that you can’t even touch him. My plan is the only one that will work. Seaton isn’t the only one who learned anything--I learned a lot myself. I learned one thing in particular. Only four other inhabitants of either Earth or Osnome ever had even an inkling of it, and they died, with their brains disintegrated beyond reading. That thing is my ace in the hole. I’m going after it. When I get it, and not until then, will I be ready to take the offensive.”
“You intend starting open war upon your return?”
“The war started when I tried to pick off the women with my attractor. That is why I am leaving at midnight. He always goes to bed at eleven-thirty, and I will be out of range of his object-compass before he wakes up. Seaton and I understand each other perfectly. We both know that the next time we meet one of us is going to be resolved into his component atoms, perhaps into electrons. He doesn’t know that he’s going to be the one, but I do. My final word to you is to lay off--if you don’t, you and your ‘competent authorities’ are going to learn a lot.”
“You do not care to inform me more fully as to your destination or your plans?”
“I do not. Goodbye.”