Had not old John Sewell, the historian, recognized Hawk Carse for what he was--a creator of new space-frontiers, pioneer of vast territories for commerce, molder of history through his long feud with the powerful Eurasian scientist, Ku Sui--the adventurer would doubtless have passed into oblivion like other long-forgotten spacemen. We have Sewell’s industry to thank for our basic knowledge of Carse. His “Space-Frontiers of the Last Century” is a thorough work and the accepted standard, but even it had of necessity to be compressed, and many meaty episodes of the Hawk’s life go almost unmentioned. For instance, Sewell gives a rough synopsis of “The Affair of the Brains,” but dismisses its aftermath entirely, in the following fashion (Vol. II, pp. 250-251):
“ ... there was only one way out: to smash the great dome
covering one end of the asteroid and so release the
life-sustaining air inside. Captain Carse achieved this by
sending the space-ship Scorpion crashing through the dome
unmanned, and he, Friday and Eliot Leithgow were caught up
in the out-rushing flood of air and catapulted into space,
free of the dome and Dr. Ku Sui. Clad as they were in the
latter’s self-propulsive space-suits, they were quite
capable of reaching Jupiter’s Satellite III, only some
thirty thousand miles away.
“Then speeding through space, Captain Carse discovered why
he had never been able to find the asteroid-stronghold. He
could not see it! Dr. Ku Sui had protected his lair by
making it invisible! But Carse was at least confident that
by breaking the dome he had destroyed all life within in,
including the coordinated brains.
“So ended The Affair of the Brains.
“The three comrades reached Satellite III safely, where,
after a few minor adventures, Captain Carse...”
[Footnote 1: See the March, 1932, Issue of Astounding Stories.]
Sewell’s ruthless surgery is most evident in that last paragraph. Of course his telescoping of the events was due to limited space; but he did wish to draw a full-length, character-revealing portrait of Hawk Carse, and with “ ... reached Satellite III safely, where, after a few minor adventures, Captain Carse...” learned old John Sewell slid over one of his greatest opportunities.
The resourcefulness of Hawk Carse! In these “few minor adventures” he had but one weapon with which to joust against overwhelming odds on an apparently hopeless quest. This weapon was a space-suit--nothing more--yet so brilliantly and daringly did he wield its unique advantages that he penetrated seemingly impregnable barriers and achieved alone what another man would have required the ray-batteries of a space-fleet to do.
But here is the story, heard first from Friday’s lips and told and re-told down through the years on the lonely ranches of the outlying planets, of that one dark, savage night on Satellite III and of the indomitable man who winged his lone way through it. Hawk Carse! Old adventurer! Rise from your unknown star-girdled grave and live again!
Thirty thousand miles was the gap between Dr. Ku Sui’s asteroid and Satellite III, the nearest haven. Thirty thousand miles in a space-ship is about the time of a peaceful cigarro. Thirty thousand miles in a cramped awkward space-suit grow into a nightmare journey, an eternity of suffering, and they will kill a good number of those who traverse them so.
For, take away the metal bulkheads and walls, soft lights and warmth of a space-liner, get out in a small cramped space-suit, and space loses its mask of harmlessness and stands revealed as the bleak, unfeeling torturer it is. There is the loneliness, the sense of timelessness, the sensation of falling, and above all there is the “weightless” feeling from pressure-changes in man’s blood-stream--changes sickening in effect and soon resulting in delirium. Nothing definite; no gravity; no “bottom,” no “top”; merely a vacuum, comprehended by the human mind through an all-enveloping nausea, and seen in confused spectral labyrinths as the whole cold panorama of icy stars staggers and swirls and the universe goes mad. Such a trip was enough to churn the resistance of the hardiest traveler, but for Hawk Carse, Friday and Eliot Leithgow there was more. On Ku Sui’s asteroid they had gone through hours of mental and physical tension without break or relaxation, and they were sleep-starved and food-starved and their brains fagged and dull. What would have been a strong reaction on land hit them, in space, with tripled force.
So Friday--our ultimate authority--remembered little of the transit. He had bad short periods of wakefulness, when the recurring agony of his body woke and racked him afresh, and only during these did he see the other two grotesque figures, sometimes widely separated, sometimes close, dazzlingly half-lit by Jupiter’s light. But he was conscious that one of the three was keeping them more or less together, though only later did he know that this one was Carse--Carse, who hardly slept, who drove off unconsciousness and fought through nausea to keep at his task of shepherding, failing which they would have drifted miles apart and become hopelessly separated. He was able to maintain them in a fairly compact group by his discovery of a short metal direction rod on the breast of the suit, which gave horizontal movement in the direction it was pointed when its button was pressed.
But though it seemed endless, the journey was not; Satellite III grew and grew. Its pale circle spread outward; dark blurs took definition; a spot of blue winked forth--the Great Briney Lake. The globe at last became concave, then, after they entered its atmosphere, convex. This last stretch was the most grueling.
Friday remembered it in vivid flashes. Time after time he dropped into confused sleep, each time to be awakened by Carse jarring into him, shouting at him through the suits’ small radio sets, keeping him--and Leithgow--attentive to the job of decelerating. The man’s efforts must have been terrific, taxing all his enormous driving power, for he at that time was without doubt more exhausted than they. But he succeeded, and he was a haggard-faced, feverish shell of himself when at last he had them in a dangling drunken halt in the air a hundred feet from the surface.
Primal savagery lay stretched out below, and there seemed to be no safe spot whereon to land. The foul, deep swamp that reached for miles on every side, the towering trees that sprouted their spiny trunks and limbs from it, the interlaced razor-edged vines and creeper-growths--all was a stirring welter of tropic life, life varied and voracious and untamed. From the tiny poisonous bansi insects layers deep on the nearest tree to the monster gantor that crouched in a clump of weeds, gently sawing his fangs back and forth, all the creatures of this world were against man.
Carse scanned the scene wearily. They had to land; had to sleep under normal conditions, and eat and drink, before they could go further. But where? Where was haven? He snapped out the direction rod, moved away a short distance, and then glimpsed, below and to the left, a small peninsula of firm soil which seemed safe and uninhabited. And there was a pool of fairly clear water before it, containing nothing but an old uprooted stump. He came back to the others, shook them, and led them down to the place he had discovered.
They landed with a thump which seemed to shake all life from two of them. Friday and Eliot Leithgow collapsed into inert heaps, asleep immediately. Carse extracted a ray-gun from the belt of Leithgow’s suit and prepared to stand watch. But that was too much. He over-estimated his capacity. He had come through thirty hours of hellish sleep-denied delirium, and he could not stave sleep off any longer. He staggered and went down, and his eyelids were glued in sleep when his body hit the ground.
But mechanically, with an instinct that sleep could not deny, his left hand kept clasped around the butt of the ray-gun...
Satellite III’s day has an average of seven hours’ duration, her night of six. It was perhaps the last hour of daylight when the three metal and fabric-clad figures lying outsprawled on the little thumb-shaped piece of soil had landed. Now quickly the huge sweeping rim of Jupiter plunged down, and night fell over the land.
Fierce darkness. Jungle and swamp awoke with their scale of savage life. Swift swooping shapes winged out from the trees, prey-hungry eyes gleaming green. And from the swamps came bellowings and stirrings from monster mud-encrusted bodies, awakening to their nocturnal quest for food. The night reechoed with the harsh cacophony of their cries.
With lumbering caution, its smooth knob head waving on a long reptilian neck, its heavy armored tail dragging behind its body’s folds of flesh, a giant night-thing came stumping out of a copse of jungle growth--a buru. Its eyes were watchful, but centered mainly on the pool of water to one side of the peninsula of firm soil. Its drinking water was there. With several pauses, it went right out on the spit, and a flat-bottomed foot twice the size of an elephant’s missed one of the sleeping forms by inches. But the buru cared not for them. It was not a flesh-eater. Its undulating neck stretched far out; its head dipped; water was lapped up--until it caught sight of the uprooted giant stump lying pitched in the pool. The beast drank but little after that, and retreated as cautiously as it had come.
Five or six of its fellows of the swamps followed at intervals to the water, grotesque hulking shapes, odorous and slimy with mud. All drank from the same spot; all ignored, save for a tentative rooting snuffle, the unconscious figures lying puny beneath them. But all noticed the twisted roots of the stump, sticking out in a score of directions, and avoided them.
And then there came smaller, more cautious animals who did not drink from the favored spot, who surveyed it, sniffed, hesitated, and finally retreated. There was a good reason for this caution.
For with the falling of night the stump had been at least thirty feet out in the water; now it was not ten feet from the side of the spit, and not twelve feet from the nearest sleeping figure. The suits that clad the three figures were sealed, the face-plates closed, so there was probably--after their trip through the void--no man smell to attract the giants of swamp and trees. But those three figures had moved. That was lure enough for one monster.
When the first ruddy arrows of Jupiter’s light laced through the jungle’s highest foliage, the twisted, gnarled stump was settled on the peninsula’s rim, half out of the water. And when day burst, when Jupiter’s flaming arch pushed over into view, the long seeming-roots eeled forward in sinuous reptilian life.
In one second Hawk Carse was snatched from sleep into the turmoil of a fight for life.
Something hard and enormously powerful was wrapping his waist with a vise-like grip that threatened to cut him in two. He felt a leg go up and crumple back, almost breaking under the force of a lashing blow. He was squeezed in, caged, compressed, by a score of tough, encircling tentacles, and his whole body was drawn toward a wide, flexible, black-lipped mouth yawning in the center of the monster he had thought a stump. Moving with loathsome life, its sinewy root-tentacles sucking him whole into the maw, the thing hunched itself back to the water.
The water frothed around Carse. He had been too dazed to resist; he had not known what had gripped him in his unconsciousness and weakness. But he remembered his ray-gun.
The lips of the hideous mouth were pressing close. Both were now under the surface. Carse’s suit was still tight and he could breathe even while totally submerged in the water. He strained his left arm against the tentacle that looped it, worked the ray-gun still clasped in his hand in line with the thing’s monstrous carcass, and at once, gasping and sick, pulled the trigger clear back.
The orange stream sizzled as it cleared a path through the water and bit true into the gaping mouth. There sounded a curious, subterranean sob; beady eyes on each side of the mouth bulged; the woodish body quivered in agony. Its tentacles slackened, and, half fainting, the Hawk wrenched free. He staggered up onto the land, streams of water running off the suit, and toppled over; and from there he saw the thing drag its writhing shuddering shape farther out from the shore. When perhaps sixty feet away it again subsided into a “harmless” uprooted old stump...
Carse lay resting and collecting himself for a quarter of an hour, while Leithgow and Friday slept on, unconscious of what had happened; then he got to his feet, opened their face-plates and bathed Leithgow’s pale brow with water. The scientist awoke with the quickness of old men, but Friday stirred and stretched and blinked and sat up at last, yawning.
The Hawk answered their questions about his wet suit with a brief explanation of the fight, then got down to business.
“There’s water here, but we must have food,” he said. “Friday, you go back and find fruit; some isuan weed, too, if it’s growing nearby. A chew of it will stimulate us. Keep your ray-gun ready. I wouldn’t be here if I’d not had mine.”
The isuan was a big help. In its prepared form it is degrading, mind-destroying, but in natural state it gives a powerful and comparatively harmless stimulation. Chewing on the leaves that the Negro brought back, they made strength and renewed vitality for their bodies, and came, for the first time since they had started their flight through space, to a near-normal state. Meaty, yellow globules of pear-like fruit, followed by prudent drafts of water, aided also. Friday’s long-absent grin returned as he bit into the juicy fruit, and he announced through a mouthful:
“Well, things’re lookin’ sunny again! We’ve got food and water inside us; we can reach Master Leithgow’s laboratory in these here suits; an’ to top it all we’ve finished high an’ mighty Ku Sui. He’s dead at last! Boy, it sure feels good to know it!”
Eliot Leithgow was lying back, breathing deeply of the fresh morning air. His lined, worn face and body were relaxed. “Yes,” he murmured, “it is good to know that Dr. Ku is now just a thing of the past. He and his coordinated brains.” He glanced aside at the Hawk, sitting silent and still, and stroking, as always when in meditation, the bangs of flaxen hair which obscured his forehead. “Why so serious, Carse?” he asked.
The adventurer’s gray eyes were cold and sober. No relaxation showed in them. His hand paused in its slow smoothing movement and he spoke.
“Why I overlooked it before,” he said quietly, almost as if to himself, “I don’t know. Probably because I was too tired, and too busy, and too sick to think. But now I see.”
“What?” Leithgow sat up straight.
“Eliot,” said the Hawk clearly, “doesn’t it seem strange to you that Ku Sui’s asteroid continued to be invisible after we had smashed through its dome?”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve assumed that our smashing the dome and opening it to space killed Ku Sui and everyone inside, and destroyed all the mechanisms, including the coordinated brains. But the mechanism controlling the asteroid’s invisibility was not destroyed. The place remained invisible.”
The old scientist’s face grew tense. Carse paused for a moment.
“That means,” he went on, “that Ku Sui provided the invisibility machine with special protection for just such an emergency. And do you think he would give it such protection and not his coordinated brains? Wouldn’t he first protect the brains, his most cherished possession?”
Eliot Leithgow knew what this meant. The Hawk had promised the brains in that machine--brains of five renowned scientists, kept cruelly, unnaturally alive by Dr. Ku--that he would destroy them. And his promises were always kept.
There was no evading the logic of this reasoning. The Master Scientist nodded. “Yes,” he answered. “He certainly would.”
“I couldn’t damage the case they were in,” Carse continued. “The whole device seemed self-contained. It means just one thing: special protection. Since the mechanism for invisibility survived the crashing of the dome, we may be sure that the brain machine did too. And more than that: we may assume that there was special protection for the most precious thing of all to Dr. Ku Sui--his own life.”
Friday’s mouth gaped open. The old scientist cried out:
“My God! Ku Sui--still alive?”
“It would seem so,” said Hawk Carse.
He amplified his evidence. “Look at these space-suits we’re wearing. We got them and escaped by them, but they’re Dr. Ku’s. Couldn’t he have protected himself with one too? He had plenty of time. And then the construction of the asteroid’s buildings--all metal, with tight, sealed doors! Oh, stupid, stupid! Why didn’t I see it all before? Here, in my weakness and sickness, I thought we’d killed Ku Sui and destroyed the coordinated brains!”
Leithgow looked suddenly very old and tired. The calamity did not end there. There were other angles, and an immediate one of high danger. In a lifeless voice he said:
“Carse, our whole situation’s changed by this. We intended to go straight to my laboratory, but we may not be able to. The laboratory may already be closed to us. And even if not, there’d be a big risk in going there.”
“Closed to us by what?” the Hawk demanded sharply. “At risk from what?”
Old Leithgow pressed his hands over his face. “Let me think a moment,” he said.
There were very good reasons why Eliot Leithgow maintained his chief laboratory on the dangerous Satellite III. Other planets might have offered more friendly locations, but III possessed stores of accessible minerals valuable to the scientist’s varied work, and its position in the solar system was most convenient, being roughly halfway between Earth and the outermost frontiers. Leithgow had counterbalanced the inherent peril of the laboratory’s location by ingenious camouflage, intricate defenses and hidden underground entrances; had, indeed, hidden it so well that none of the scavengers and brigands and more personal enemies who infested Port o’ Porno remotely suspected that his headquarters was on the satellite at all. Ships, men, could pass over it a score of times with never an inkling that it lay below.
After a short silence, Eliot Leithgow began his explanation.
“You’ll remember,” he told the intent Hawk, “that Ku Sui’s men kidnapped me from our friend Kurgo’s house in Porno. There were five of them: robot-coolies. They took us entirely by surprise, and killed Kurgo and bore me to Ku Sui’s asteroid.
“Well, I had come to Kurgo’s house in the first place to arrange for supplies for building an addition to my laboratory, and I had with me a sheaf of papers containing plans for this addition. The plans are not important; they tell nothing--but there was a figure on one of the papers that might reveal everything! The figure 5,576.34. Do you know what that stands for?”
The adventurer thought for a moment, then shook his head. Leithgow nodded. He went on:
“Few would. But among the few would be Ku Sui!
“You’ll remember that on building my laboratory we considered it extremely important to have it on the other side of the globe from Port o’ Porno--diametrically opposite--so that the movements of our ships to and from it would be hidden from that pirate port. Diametrically opposite--remember? Well, the diameter of Satellite III is 3,550 miles. This diameter multiplied by 3.1416 gives 11,152.63 miles as the circumference, and one half the circumference is 5,576.34 miles--the exact distance of my laboratory from Port o’ Porno!”
“I see,” Carse murmured. “I see.”
“That figure meant nothing to you, nor would it to the average person; but to a mathematician and astronomer--to Dr. Ku Sui--it would be a challenge! He would be studying the paper on which it is written down. One of Eliot Leithgow’s papers. Plans for an addition to a laboratory. Therefore, Eliot Leithgow’s laboratory. And then the figure: half the circumference of Satellite III. Why, he would at once deduce that it gave the precise location of my laboratory!”
The Hawk rose quickly. “If those papers fell into Dr. Ku’s hands--”
“He would know exactly where the laboratory is,” Leithgow finished. “He would search. Its camouflage would not hold him long. And that would be the end of my laboratory--and us too, if we were caught inside.”
“Yes,” snapped the Hawk. “You imply that the papers were left in Kurgo’s house?”
“I had them in the bottom drawer of the clothes-chest in the room I always use. The coolies did not take them. At that time they wanted nothing but me.”
Friday, rubbing his woolly crown, interjected: “But, even if Ku Sui’s still alive, he wouldn’t know about them papers. Far’s I can see, they’re safe.”
“No!” Leithgow cried. “That’s it! They’re not! Follow it logically, point by point. Assuming that Dr. Ku’s alive, he has one point of contact with us--Kurgo’s house, in Porno, where I was kidnapped. He wants us badly. He will anticipate that one of us will go back to that house: to care for Kurgo’s body, to get my belongings--for several reasons. So he will radio down--he probably can’t come himself--for henchmen to station themselves at the house and to ransack it thoroughly for anything pertaining to me. The papers would fall into their hands!”
“All right,” said Carse levelly. “We must get those papers. They will either be still in the house or in the possession of Dr. Ku’s men at Porno. But whichever it is--we must get them before Ku Sui does.” He paused.
“Well,” he said, “that means me.” He turned and looked down at the old man and smiled. “There’s no use risking the three of us. I’ll go to Kurgo’s house myself.”
“If the papers are gone, suh?” asked Friday.
“I don’t know. What I do will depend on what I discover there.”
“But,” said Leithgow, “there may be guards! There may be an ambush!”
“I have a powerful weapon. M. S. Unknown, so far; new to Satellite III. Ku Sui himself supplied it. This space-suit.”
The Hawk scanned the “western” sky and began giving brisk orders.
“Eliot, you’ve got to go to some place of safety until this is all over. You too, Eclipse, to take care of him. Let me see ... There’s Cairnes, and Wilson ... Wilson’s the one. He should be at his ranch now. You remember it: Ban Wilson’s ranch, on the Great Briney Lake? Right. Both of you will go there and wait. I’ll meet you there when I’m finished. And at that time I’ll either have the papers or know that Ku Sui has found the laboratory.”
Again on his feet, the old Master Scientist regarded anxiously this slender, coldly calculating man who was his closest friend. He was afraid. “Carse,” he said, “you’re going back alone into probable danger. The papers--the laboratory--they’re important--but not so important as your life.”
There was visible now in the Hawk’s face that hard, unflinching will-to-do that had made him the spectacular adventurer that he was. “Did you ever know me to run from danger?” he asked softly. “Did you ever know me to run from Ku Sui?...” And Eliot Leithgow knew that the course was set, no matter what it might hold.
Carse again glanced at Jupiter, hanging massive in the blue overhead. “About three hours of daylight left,” he observed. “Now, close face-plates. We must go up--far up--to get our bearings.”
Altitude swept back the horizon as they arrowed up through the warm, glowing air. From far in the heavens, perhaps twenty miles, Carse saw what he looked for--a bright gleam of silver in the monochrome of the terrain, where Jupiter’s light struck on the smooth metal hides of a group of space-ships resting in the satellite’s lone port, Porno. Eighty, a hundred miles away--some such distance. Into the helmet’s tiny microphone he said:
“That’s Porno, over to the ‘north,’ and there to one side is the Great Briney. It’s not far: you won’t have to hurry, Eliot. Head straight for the lake and follow the near shoreline toward Porno, and you’ll come to Ban Wilson’s ranch. Now we part.”
The three clinging, giant forms separated. The direction-rods for horizontal movement were out-hinged. A last touch of mitten-gloves on the bloated suits fabric; a nod and a smile through the face-plates; and a few parting words:
“Good luck, old comrade!”--in Leithgow’s soft voice; and the Negro’s deep, emphatic bass: “Don’t know how far these little sets work, suh, but if you need me, call. I’ll keep listenin’!”
And then white man and black were speeding away in the ruddy flood of Jupiter-light, and Hawk Carse faced the danger trail alone, as was his wont.
Caution rather than speed had to mark his journey, Carse knew. Several ranches lay scattered in the jungle smother between him and the port--stations where the weed isuan was collected and refined into the deadly finished product. They were worked for the most part by Venusians allied with Ku Sui: the Eurasian practically controlled the drug trade; and therefore, if any alarm had been broadcast, many men would already be on the lookout for him.
So the Hawk dropped low, and chose a course through the screening walls of the jungle. It did not take him long to attain full mastery of the suit’s controls, and soon he was gliding cleanly through the hollows created by the mammoth outthrusting treetops in a course crazy and twisted, but one which kept him pointing always towards Porno. Presently he found an easier highway and a faster--a sluggish, dirty yellow stream, quite broad, which ended, he was sure, in a swamp within a mile of his destination.
Flanked by the jungle growth which sprouted thickly from each bank, a gray, ghostly shape in the shadows lying over the water, he sped through the dying afternoon. He kept at least ten feet above the surface, well out of reach of such water beasts as from time to time reared up through the placid surface to scan him. Once a huge gantor, gulping a drink from the bank, snorted and went trumpeting away at the grotesque sight of him--flying without wings!--and once too, on rising cautiously above the treetops to reconnoiter, Carse saw life far more perilous to him: a small party of men, stooping over a swamp-brink and plucking the ripe isuan weed. At this he dived steeply and fled on; and he knew he had gone unobserved, for there came no outcry of discovery from behind.
Jupiter lowered its murky disk as the miles streamed past, breeding a legion of shadows welcome to the fabric-clad monster skimming through them and to the creatures who blinked and stirred as night approached. The stream broadened into shallow pockets; patches of swamp appeared and absorbed the stream; and Carse knew he was close to his destination.
He cut his speed and glanced around. Ahead, the dark spire of a giant sakari tree climbed into the gloom. It would be a good place. The man rose slowly; like a wraith on the wind he lifted into its top-most branches; and there, in the broad, cuplike leaves, he warily ensconced himself. For man-sounds came into his opened helmet, and through a fringe of leaves, across a mile of tumbled swamp and marsh, he could see the guarding fences of the cosmetropolis of Porno.
A last slice of blotched, flaming red, the rim of setting Jupiter, still silhouetted Porno, sprawled inside its high, electric-wired fences, and the flood of fading light brushed the town with beauty. The rows of tin shacks which housed its dives, the clustered, nondescript hovels, the merchants’ grim strongholds of steel--all merged into a glowing mirage, a scene far alien to the brooding swamp and savage jungle in whose breast it lay. Here and there several space-ships reared their sunset-gilded flanks, glittering high-lights in the final glorious burst of Jupiter-light...
The planet’s rim vanished abruptly, and Porno returned to true character.
For a moment it appeared what it was: a blotched, disordered huddle, ugly, raw, fit companion of the swamp and jungle. Then beads of light appeared, some still, some winking, one crooked line of flaring illumination marking the Street of the Sailors, along which the notorious kantrans flourished, now ready for their nightly brood of men who sought forgetfulness in revelry. Soon, Carse knew, the faint man-noises he heard would grow into a broad fabric of sound, stitched across by shrieks and roars as the isuan and alkite flowed free. And all around the lone watcher in the sakari tree the night-monsters were crawling out in jungle and swamp on the dark routine of their lives as, in the town, two-legged creatures even lower in their degradation went abroad after the dope and liquor which gave them their vicious recreation.
The night flowed thicker around him.
From somewhere behind, the Hawk heard a suck of half-fluid mud as a giant body stretched in its sleeping place. A tree close to his suddenly fluttered with the unseen life it harbored. A hungry gantor raised its long deep bellow to the night, and another answered, and another.
It grew pitch black. Only a sprinkling of pin-points of light marked Porno to the eye. The sky beyond the town matched the sky to the rear. Jupiter’s light now had fled the higher air levels. The time had come.
Cautiously Carse brushed the branches aside, rose upright and pressed the mitten switch over to repulsion. In instant response his giant’s bulk lifted lightly. He sped upward, straight and fast; and at two thousand feet, still untouched by the sinking planet’s rays, he brought himself to an approximate halt and peered below.
Port o’ Porno lay spread out beneath, one thin line of light-pricks off which angled fainter lines, extending only a short distance and then dying widely off. There were perhaps two thousand men in the town--men from all the countries of the three planets inhabited by creatures that could be called human--and of these at least three quarters knew Hawk Carse as an enemy, because of his intolerance for their dope-trade. His approach to the house Number 574 had to be swift, direct, unseen, unheard.
He was able to make it so. Pointing the direction rod, he winged forward until directly above an estimated spot, then dropped a thousand feet. A pause while he searched; another drop. He knew Kurgo’s house well, but the scene was confusing from above, and the street the house was on was always dark at night.
He made it out at last. The squat two-storied structure, similar to other merchants’ strongholds, seemed unlit and unwatched. Carse swung back the hinged mittens of the suit and slid his hands out ready for action. In his left he took his ray-gun; then, pressing the mitten-switch, he dropped straight, silent, swift, like the Hawk he now truly was.
A single window-port, high up, broke the smooth rear of Kurgo’s house. It faced a silent alleyway. The steel shutters were closed, but a pull swung them noiselessly outward. For a brief moment Carse’s bulging giant’s figure of metal and fabric hung black against the shadowed window-port. The room he peered into was solid black. He heard no sound. Clumsily he thrust out and stepped in.
Silence. Inky nothingness--but the air was weighted with many things, and among them one which brought the short hairs on the Hawk’s neck prickling erect. A smell! It was not to be mistaken--a faint, but rank and fetid and altogether identifying smell--the body-smell of a Venusian!
For a moment Hawk Carse’s breathing stopped. Metal clanked on metal for an instant as he moved from the window-port and became one with the darkness inside; then silence again, as his eyes trained into the vault and his hand held ready on the ray-gun. He waited.
Was it a trap? He had seen no guards watching the house; had sensed it deserted. But the steep shutters, unlocked, readily permitting entrance--and the smell! Even if not still there, a Venusian had been in the room, and a Venusian of Port o’ Porno was an enemy. A Venusian ... There were only some sixty on the whole satellite, and, of these, fifty were the men of Lar Tantril. Lar Tantril, powerful henchman of Dr. Ku Sui, director of the Eurasian’s drug trade on Satellite III. But that line of thought had to wait.
“I see you!” he whispered suddenly and sharply. “My gun’s on you. Come forward!”
No answer; not the slightest sign or stir in the darkness. He breathed again.
Carse knew the arrangement of Kurgo’s house. He was in his second-story sleeping-room. There was a door in the wall ahead, leading into the room Leithgow was accustomed to use on his visits, and there the papers should be. But first he would have to have light.
His ears pitched for any betraying sound, Carse moved heavily to his left until a wall arrested him. He felt along it, located the desk he sought for and scoured through it. His fingers found the flash he knew was there.
The darkness then was slit by a hard straight line of white. It shot over the room picking out overturned chairs, a bowl that had toppled to the floor, scattering its contents of ripe akalot fruit, a sleeping couch, its sheets and pillows awry, and--something human.
A half-clothed body lay sprawled beside the couch, its hands thrust clutching forward and its unseeing eyes still staring at the door whence had come the shots that had burnt out the left side of its chest. Dead. Three days dead. The murdered master of the house, Kurgo, lying where Ku Sui’s robot-coolies had shot him down.
The Venusian-smell swept more strongly into his nostrils as the adventurer opened the door into Leithgow’s room. No Venusian had ever been in those rooms before the abduction.
Carse’s light danced over the room’s confusion: a laboratory table overturned; apparatus spilled; several chains flung around, one splintered: mute signs of the struggle Eliot Leithgow had offered his kidnappers.
In a corner stood a metal chest. In the bottom drawer was the all-significant answer. Hawk Carse crossed the room and slid it open.
The papers were gone!
Methodically Carse hunted through every drawer and corner of the room, but he found no trace of them. Every article that would be of value to an ordinary thief was left; the one thing important to Dr. Ku Sui, the sheaf of papers, was missing.
The presence of the Venusian body-smell started an important train of thought in the Hawk’s mind. It signified that the papers had been taken by henchmen of Ku Sui, which in turn signified that Ku Sui had survived the crashing of the dome and was alive and again aggressively dangerous. But was the Eurasian already on Satellite III? Was he already in personal possession of the papers?--perhaps conducting a search for Leithgow’s laboratory?
Or did it mean that Dr. Ku had merely radioed instructions for his Venusian henchmen to ransack the house, take whatever pertained to Leithgow, and wait for him?
Venusians ... There was only one logical man; and as Hawk Carse thought of him in that dark and silent house of tragedy, his right hand slowly rose to the bangs of hair over his forehead and began to stroke them...
His bangs were an unusual style for the period; they stamped him and attracted unwanted attention; but he would wear his hair in that fashion until he went down in death. For he had once been trapped--trapped neatly by five men, and maltreated: one, Judd the Kite, whose life had paid already for his part in the ugly business; two others whom he was not now concerned with; the fourth, Dr. Ku Sui; and the fifth--a Venusian...
That fifth, the Venusian, was Lar Tantril, now one of Ku Sal’s most powerful henchmen, and director of his interplanetary drug traffic--Lar Tantril, who possessed an impregnable isuan ranch only twenty-five miles from Port o’ Porno--Lar Tantril, who probably had directed the stealing of the papers from this room! The papers, if not already in Ku Sui’s hands, should be at Tantril’s ranch.
Carse’s deduction was followed by a swift decision. He had to raid Lar Tantril’s ranch.
He knew the place fairly well. Once, even, he had attacked it, in his Star Devil, seeking to wipe out his debt against Tantril; but he had been driven off by the ranch’s mighty offensive rays.
It was impregnable, Tantril was fond of boasting. Situated on the brink of the Great Briney, its other three sides were flanked by thick, swampy jungle, in which the isuan grew and was gathered by Tantril’s Venusian workers. Ranch? More a fort than a ranch, with its electrified, steel-spiked fence; its three watch-towers, lookouts always posted there against the threat of hijackers or enemies; its powerful ray-batteries and miscellany of smaller weapons. A less vulnerable place for the keeping of Eliot Leithgow’s papers could hardly have been found in all the frontiers of the solar system.
He, Carse, had raided it in a modern fighting space-ship, and failed. Now, with nothing but a space-suit and a ray-gun, he had to raid it again--and succeed!
The adventurer did not leave immediately. He thought it wise to make what preparations he could. His important weapon was the space-suit; therefore, he took it off and studied and inspected its several intricate mechanisms as well as he could in the carefully guarded light of his flash.
It was motivated, he saw, by dual sets of gravity-plates, in separate space-tight compartments. One set was located in the extremely thick soles of the heavy boots; the other rested on the top of the helmet. He saw why this was. The gravity-plates for repulsion were those in the helmet; for attraction, those in the boot-soles. This kept the wearer of the suit always in an upright, head-up position.