(part 11) (review)
This is the twelfth and final installment of "Power", an early science fiction story by pioneering writer Harl Vincent, and the middle story of a trilogy that began with "Gray Denim" and finished with "Master Control". "Power" was originally published in the January 1932 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has never been reprinted until now.
The story so far:
In the twenty-third century, the cities of the world are divided between the gray-clad workers and the purple-clad elite. One member of the elite, the physicist Scott Terris, finds a worker named Gail Destinn secretly conducting an experiment in his laboratory. Destinn has discovered a new source of limitless energy, one that will end the tyrannical rule of the Power Syndicate. When Destinn is paralyzed during a workers' revolt, Terris promises to continue his work. Assisted by Destinn's wife, Norine Rosov, Terris perfects the new energy source. He uses his newly-gained power to seize control of United North America, introducing sweeping reforms to end the distinctions between the workers and the elite.
All goes well for seventy-five days, until Matt Crawford, the ousted former head of the Power Syndicate, returns with a band of Asian pirates, determined to regain control and wreak vengeance on Terris. Assisted by a former associate of Crawford's named Arthur Mason, Terris uses an air-yacht with a newly-developed weapon to defeat Crawford . . .
Chapter XII: Revelation
In solemn ceremony Washington buried its dead while the whole world buzzed of this battle in the clouds and of the triumph of Iron Terris. That Arthur Mason had piloted the tiny ship, whose mysterious ray had shot the pirate down, was a nine-day wonder. And in many sections of Asia and Central Europe officialdom breathed easier in the knowledge that the most dangerous of the several pirate bands had been exterminated. Perhaps even they might expect aid from America's Dictator in making a similar end to those who still infested the mountains.
Vice-President Peterson had taken the oath of office and now was recognized as President. His succession to the title in replacement of the murdered Owens was hailed with scarcely a flutter of excitement, for the world knew that Iron Terris remained at the helm and in that knowledge was serenely confident of what the immediate future held. Terris was a young man -- not yet thirty-five -- and many years of his firm and sagacious guidance might be expected to work miracles for United North America and the world at large.
But Scott would have none of the adulation they tried to force upon him, for well he remembered those first frenzied weeks so short a while back, when, in open rebellion and in secret plittings, in rioting mobs and in the more sinister attempts of the would-be assassins, they had worked against him. And only too well did he know that his power over them would wane with the first sign of softening or relaxation of his iron grip. He was worn and tired and most gladly would have welcomed a release and rest, but, knowing that he must carry on in order to prevent a return to the old ways, he held himself sternly aloof and unapproachable, a mysteriously inflexible personage that was the more strongly entrenched in the popular fancy.
Confidential advice had come to him from the Medical Center in New York that Gail Destinn was fully restored to his normal capabilities by the operation Travis had performed, and was now recuperating in Scott's own apartments. Forgetting all else, he hastened to the great city which sprawled in its steel-cased irregularity of outline along the Hudson River.
For some reason he could not have explained, he had kept Arthur Mason with him. There was a quality in the man's new character he could not define; a quality that adapted him to some particular niche where he would be most valuable to society. He had not been able to determine the location of that niche as yet and was waiting for the inspiration that would come sooner or later. Together, they made the trip on one of the fast intercity liners.
* * *
Gail Destinn rose from his wheel-chair with alacrity when they were admitted to the sick room. He was thin and somewhat pale as yet, but the sparkle had returned to his eyes with the ability to use his body once more. The nurse, radiantly respectful, bowed herself from the room.
"Terris," Gail said, "this is a strange reunion -- for me. In the past few days I have learned the news. All of it, I think. And I don't know what to say to you; how to express my gratitude."
"There's nothing to say, Destinn," Scott returned gruffly.
"Oh, yes there is -- plenty. But I can't say it properly, except this: what you've done for the country speaks for itself; what you've done for me is a debt I may never repay. And the thing you accomplished with my discovery is a miracle far beyond the wildest dreams I entertained. No one but yourself could have put the thing across -- I see it now. With my lack of prestige and influence, I was helpless. And the plans of the Council of Five would have gone for naught, even had they succeeded. Only in the way it was done and by the man who did it, could things have turned out as they have. I'm amazed, and -- and humble, Terris. I -- I --"
"That's enough, Gail. You're lying like a gentleman and entirely forgetting your part in the matter; the hard work and the vision in the research which made the whole thing possible." Scott gripped his hand in sudden appreciation of the friendship that showed there in the fine eyes under that flaming thatch. He needed friends now, friends who would stick close and who would understand. "And you'll be able to take over your new duties when?" he asked.
"You mean at the head of the Power Syndicate? I listened to the recordings of your speech, Terris. I -- I can't do it. It's too big a thing."
"Nonsense! You can do anything you set out to do. And this job is yours, Gail; you are the one man for it. Not as head of the Power Syndicate -- forget that old designation -- but of Destinn Power."
Gail Destinn looked long and earnestly at the man they called Iron Terris. Perhaps what he said was true; perhaps he could hold down the responsible position at the head of the reorganized industry that bore his own name. One felt impelled to almost any impossible task and to its accomplishment by the determined look of that lean jaw and by the knowledge of the powerful backing his approval and support provided.
"Where's Norine?" Scott asked irrelevantly.
Destinn flushed hotly. "I -- I don't know," he stammered.
"What! She hasn't come to you?"
There was a curiously sheepish look about young Destinn. Chagrin, that was it. He was abashed that his companion's loyalty and concern seemed to be under question. A prey to sudden fierce emotion, Scott rushed to the library and called for a visiphone connection with Police Headquarters.
"Merkel," he snapped, when the face of the Chief stared out in astonishment from the disc, "I want the girl Norine at once."
"But Terris, you said not to molest her or --"
"Never mind what I said -- get her! I want her at my place here inside of fifteen minutes, or there'll be hell to pay."
"Yes sir. As you say."
Scott swore as he broke the connection. What in the devil was wrong with things anyway? Three weeks and more, it was now, since the girl had visited her stricken mate. What had happened at that time; had they quarreled? No, that couldn't be; she wouldn't desert a sick man, a man who had been part of her life -- whom she had loved with all her intense nature. What then? His throat tightened in awful fear at the swift thought that harm might have come to her; she rose up before him in her vivid beauty, a vision to haunt him . . . memories came, that blasted and seared . . . .
* * *
Norine arrived, cool and collected, with two of the red guards. Scott felt the hot blood pounding at his temples as his eyes drank in her loveliness, and his heart leaped as his fears for her safety were dispelled.
"You sent for me?" she asked without emotion.
"Yes, Norine, it's Gail. He's well again -- completely cured."
"No!" Her lips whispered the word and her eyes widened with a sudden glad light that brought in its wake a radiant smile and a flush of happiness. "Oh, Scott, where is he? I can't believe it. He -- he can walk again? And use those strong capable hands -- everything?"
"Yes, yes -- come and see." Forgetting his own pain in her joy, Scott led her to the room where Gail and Arthur Mason waited unknowning.
The girl stood staring as the man advanced a step, stretching his hands toward her. Then she was across the room in a single bound, clinging to his fingers, laughing and sobbing in the same breath.
"Oh, Gail, Gail. I'm so glad -- and so sorry."
"Sorry?" Destinn's eyes misted.
"Yes -- about my last visit."
"Oh, that was nothing. You see, I knew the reason."
Scott and Mason were tiptoeing to the door.
"Wait!" Destinn called out. "Wait, Scott. I think Norine owes you an explanation."
"No, no." The girl was pleading, obviously distraught.
"Yes." Gail was sternly insistent.
"All right then." Norine drew herself erect, flushing painfully as she faced Scott. "I'll explain. I'm not Gail's companion, nor the companion of any other man. I've never mated, legally or otherwise. I'm free as the air, Scott Terris, and intend to remain so. I made Gail tell you what he did because I hated those of the purple and was afraid; afraid of you and of myself. I've always hated those of the upper levels and their memory will forever remain a festering sore in my breast. The unsavory reputation of your men amongst the women of the sub-levels must have been known even to you, Scott. And there was my mother." She hesitated.
"Your mother!" Scott caught his breath. Angry, she was positively the most enticing . . . .
"Yes, my mother. Twenty-five years ago a man who wore the purple broke her heart. The old, old story of a woman very much in love and a man who was too far above her station to marry. I am the natural child of this man. I don't know who he was, but I've hated him with every fibre of my being -- I hate him now, and all his kind --"
"Norine!" Mason was advancing upon the girl, devouring her with eyes that held something of recognition, something of fear, and much of regret. "What was your mother's name, girl?"
"Rosov -- I took it!" Norine stared wondering; her red lips trembling and her breast heaving with the stress of emotion.
"Norine Rosov!" Mason paled and his step faltered. "Norine! Great God, girl, I'm your father."
"You!" The girl recoiled, then flung herself sobbing into the nearest chair.
Scott made his way swiftly and silently from the room.
* * *
His mind awhirl, Scott wandered through the laboratory and climbed to his old haunt on the rooftop. A cool sweet breeze from the river fanned his heated brow and the faint throb of the city's activity beneath lulled his turbulent senses as it always had done. He could think clearly here -- and reason.
Arthur Mason's daughter! The thing was horrible to contemplate, in the thought of the wrecked life of the girl's mother and the undying hatred which had been implanted in Norine's heart. And yet, somehow, there had been an undertone of longing in her voice when she spoke so bitterly of the man who had loved and gone away; a hint of softening when the tremendous truth was brought home to her by Mason's admission. And Mason, he knew, was a changed man; he'd do everything in his power to make things up to the girl now. If only she would accept him.
And to think how she had fooled him about Gail and herself. In her hatred and mistrust of the men of the upper levels she had made Destinn a party to her little scheme, believing that Scott would not dare to take advantage in a situation of the kind that was pictured. And then he had taken that very advantage in a moment of madness and desire. No wonder she had turned from him in loathing and disgust!
They had quarreled about it too, she and Gail. Quite likely he had disapproved of her continued rebellion and had tried to argue her into a more charitable attitude. Good old Destinn; he had wanted to smooth things over and had failed.
It was no use. Norine was the high-spirited sort who would never unbend. She'd never forgive him for that moment of weakness -- nor herself. With an infinite capacity for loving, she would steel herself against the possibility of again yielding to that power he knew had gripped her in that unforgettable moment in the laboratory.
And yet . . . .
"Scott!" a soft voice whispered out of the shadows.
His heart missed a beat -- two beats. Norine's fragrant nearness set it pounding madly once more.
"Oh Scott," she said hurriedly, and the white oval of her face looked up at him from its frame of golden hair made more glorious by the moonlight, "I couldn't hold out down there; there were two of them you know. And Arthur Mason is a wonderful man; he has driven all the bitterness away and -- and things are different."
"Norine -- you've forgiven him after all these years of hating?" Scott marveled. Anything might happen if this were true.
"Yes," in an agitated whisper. "And Scott, I want you to know about Gail. I've loved him -- as a sister. But never . . . you must understand that I was afraid . . . "
"I know." Scott roused suddenly from his wondering daze.
She was in his arms then, miraculously, and the power of a great love swept down over them to carry them away from the world and from all thought of the past in its overwhelming might.
No words were spoken; none was necessary in that merging of two souls whom the vagaries of life had kept too long apart. Understanding came, and peace -- the peace of that mighty yet tender passion that was to hold with them an undying force to the end of time.
Power! And love.
(part 11) (review)