Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Power" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second 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 a twenty-third century society divided between the gray-clad workers and the purple-clad elite, Scott Terris is a physicist and a member of the elite. One night he finds one of the workers carrying out an experiment in his laboratory. The workers, Gail Destinn, invites Terris to see the lower levels of New York City, and Terris agrees. He meets Destinn's unpleasant ward leader, Tom Prouty, and joins Destinn as he travels to a gathering in the Square . . .

Chapter II: The Storm

They found a sizable gathering of the gray-clad workers in one corner of the Square whose massive columns extended from the fiftieth to the sixtieth levels in the Food Company section. A fiery little hunchback with abnormally large head and long arms that waved in wild gestures as he talked, was addressing them from a platform near one of the public newscasting stations. His voice was raised in harsh competition with the announcer's, and the attention of his audience strayed ever and anon to the changing views on the bright screen.

"Sarovin," Gail Destinn whispered hoarsely, "the most dangerous agitator we have down here. Notice how the police watch him?"

Scott saw that half a dozen of the red-coated guards were close by, far more alert in their interest than was usual. These meetings of the workers, which were numerous, were smiled upon by the authorities and rarely occasioned them serious concern. But this Savorin, one knew instinctively, was a personage, a power; there was an ominous note in his voice, a ring of insolent defiance, that carried with it the assurance that comes only with the certainty of powerful backing and political protection.

"Comrades," he was shouting, "I call upon you now to give up this milk-and-water plan of the Council of Five and their scientists. As things are going, it will be years before results are obtained -- if they ever are. Forget it, I say; let us rise in our might and take what is ours. We have earned it by the sweat of our brows, this vast wealth that is in the hands of the few who wear the purple. We, who toil for a pittance that they may live their lives of luxury and ease; we, whom they consider as inferior to the mechanicals and as dust beneath their feet -- we have made of this so-called republic a power so great that the entire world is prostrate before us. And they have taken it from us, these bloated plutocrats of the upper levels. It is high time we asserted ourselves, comrades, and there is only one way of regaining what is rightfully ours -- by force. I am here to tell you that force is to be used; blood must be spilled in the cause. Blood, I tell you! It is only with their lives that they can pay for what they have done. And the time is at hand."

"Easy there, Sarovin," a lieutenant of the red police called out good-naturedly, "that's becoming a bit strong."

Gail Destinn gripped Scott's arm with fingers that trembled, and his face was flushed to match the hue of his tousled thatch. There were rumblings of approval from the audience, and eyes no longer were turned to the screen of the newscasts. Sarovin had struck answering chords in the breasts of his hearers.

"To hell with the police!" a voice thundered. "Go on, Sarovin."

"There spoke a man," the hunchback gloated. "If the rest of you had half his guts there'd be nothing to it. Why listen, comrades, the red police can't stop us; neither can those of the purple. Think of our many millions, aroused, and of the handful with whom we have to deal. After all, there are only a score or so we must get out of the way -- the President and his cabinet, who are but tools of the Power Syndicate -- Matt Crawford, the real Dictator, and --"

"Sarovin! Wait -- you're crazy!" Young Destinn was ploughing his way through the milling crowd toward the platform, despite hands that clutched and voices that screeched in protest.

The lieutenant of red police yelled an order to his men and they bored into the crowd with maces swinging. Instant uproar echoed in the Square as the shriek of a siren rang out in frantic call for police reserves. A swelling cadence of angry voices came booming from the balconies surrounding the enclosure at the levels above.

There was the popping of riot pistols in the hands of the red police, and the gurgling bursts of their rubbery missiles, as twining tentacles spurted forth to imprison the flailing arms of the workers and bring them helpless to the pavement. From the vaulted reaches overhead, cable cars of the police swooped down as the wearers of the gray streamed into the Square in ever-increasing number.

"Comrades!" Destinn was shouting from the platform, where he held Sarovin squirming in his long arms, "Don't listen to this fool. It'll mean war if you do; murder and destruction -- rapine --"

"Let it be war!" Sarovin screamed, and Gail clamped a huge hand over his mouth.

"No!" he bellowed. "There's a better way. And it won't take years, either. We're almost ready now to lick the Power Syndicate at their own game. This cosmic energy of theirs will be supplanted by a source we will control. Their sting will be gone then, and we'll have the situation in hand -- peaceably."

His words fell on unheeding ears or were drowned out by the cries of the angry mob. Scott forced his way closer to the platform and saw that others were climbing over its edge. Tom Prouty, red of face and spouting profanity, was the first to reach young Destinn. Something flashed bright in his hand, crackling spitefully. A needle-gun! -- one of those dread weapons of the war of 2212.

And then Gail Destinn was swaying there, clawing at the slender dart that had pierced his shoulder. Prouty, clubbing his pistol, was hammering away at him as his hands worked frantically to free the thing that even now glowed to its destroying incandescence and brought wisps of smoke curling from the flesh it scorched. But the ward leader's blows rained on him unnoticed; with a mighty wrench he tore the dart free and dashed it to the platform, where it sang its shrill song of death in the furious and murderous discharge of atomic energy.

Screeching in mortal terror as a dazzling spray of hissing metal cascaded from the platform, Tom Prouty flung himself into the mass of humanity that fell back in sudden blind panic. Fighting madly among themselves and against the cordon of red police which hemmed them in; trampling those of their number who were borne down by the crush, they retreated before the roaring inferno the energy needle had created by expending its mighty forces in the steel floorplates instead of in the human flesh for which it was intended.

Scott found himself alone, close by the consuming blast of molten particles. Destinn was dragging himself painfully away from the searing flame, his features contorted in agony and his right side useless in the paralysis that had gripped him.

"Look!" he gasped, when Scott reached him. "Up there -- Sarovin! It got him." Then Gail Destinn collapsed and lay still.

The platform was sagging in blobs of flowing metal. And, standing erect in the white heat of the atomic blast that spouted there, was the thing which had been Sarovin. Like a flaming, bloated statue it stood there with arms outstretched as if to ward off the fires of hell that encompassed it. Pinpoints of flashing brilliance exploded rapidly in the distorted mass, and then, in a puff of swirling gases, it was gone.

There swelled a mighty roar from the throats of the thousands of gray-clad observers in the balconies. Voices, terrified and unintelligible at first, then coming in unison like a practised and prearranged chorus of long-suppressed hatred.

"Down with those of the purple! Down with the government! It is Sarovin they've killed. Sarovin! Death to the President and to Crawford. Death in the upper levels!"

Dazed by the vast tumult of sound and awed by the tremor that assailed the huge structure of the city under the measured stamping of thousands of feet, Scott Terris gazed out over the scene with eyes that saw only its wider significance. Here was a tremendous force unleashed, a savage fury that would spread to every city in the country through the mysterious communication channels of the gray-clad multitude. A reign of terror in the making; civil war that would threaten the very foundations of the nation -- of civilization itself.

* * *

From out of the press of the howling mob there dashed a slim figure, a girl-figure in gray, that sped to kneel at Gail Destinn's side. Her swift white fingers explored his wounds and then she looked up with startled wide eyes to regard the tall stranger who stood there as if rooted to the spot. Rendered speechless by the quick revelation of the girl's fresh beauty, Scott was able only so smile in sickly fashion at her suddenly contemptuous stare.

"Are you a friend of his?" she asked.

"Why -- why yes," he stammered.

"Then why don't you do something? He's terribly hurt -- dying. Here, help me with him -- if you can come out of the trance."

Suddenly Scott wanted more than anything else in the world to see young Destinn recover and to know more of this lovely bit of femininity in the gray of the sub-levels. Gail was conscious, he saw quickly, but was unable to move a muscle. The pain-glazed eyes regarded him with something of the beseeching look of a helpless dumb creature about to be used in a laboratory experiment.

With a swift return of his ordinary alertness, he lifted the limp form in his arms and straightened with a jerk. "All right," he growled in the girl's ear, "Where'll I take him?"

"This way -- hurry." The girl's voice was a bare whisper above the din of the Square. She pointed into the shadows of the great pillars where it seemed to be deserted of human presence.

The battle raged furiously behind them as they made their way in the direction she indicated. The roaring destruction of the energy needle had spent itself and only a gaping opening, its edges cooled already to dull red heat, showed where it had fused its way through the floorplates into the level below. Fresh detachments of the red police were arriving continuously and it seemed that they were getting the situation in hand -- temporarily at least.

"Here, to the westbound way," the girl was saying. "A dispensary is close by."

They were on the swiftly moving platform then, and Scott shifted his burden so that the wobbling head rested on his shoulder. Gail Destinn moaned feebly and mumbled words came from his lips.

"No, no," he objected. "Not to the dispensary. Take me -- up top. To your laboratory, Terris. There is work -- must be done."

The girl heard and understood. "You are Scott Terris," she exclaimed angrily, "down here, wearing the gray and misleading poor Gail. Getting him into this terrible trouble. Well, you can just put him down, Mr. Terris. I'll see him to the dispensary myself."

"Terris, don't do it," Destinn begged. "Tell her it's all right. I must go on."

"Put him down at once," the girl snapped.

"Did you hear his last words?" Scott bridled.

"No," coldly aloof, "I didn't. But I know what for his good."

Scott had little knowledge of the ways of the fair sex. Perhaps he would not have dared lose his temper as he did now, had he been more experienced. But he had made up his mind about Destinn and no mere woman could change it.

"Look here, young lady," he rasped, "I'm taking charge of this man. He's going up top as he desires, and my own physician will attend him. Get that?"

The girl faced him, white and speechless with indignation, as the moving platform sped on its smooth way to the west side. He thought he heard the injured man chuckle, but decided it was a cough.

"Thanks," Destinn whispered weakly. "Stay on this Way until you reach the turn. Norine will show you the entrance . . . to secret lift . . . she's a good sport . . . underneath . . . ." A gasp of pain cut short his words and he lapsed into unconsciousness.

Across the corridor the eastbound way was suddenly jammed with vociferous crowds of the gray-clad workers. They had heard of the affair in the Square and were on their way to join forces with their fellows. A few there were who shouted over the intervening space, but for the most part they paid no attention to the little group on the westbound platform.

The girl Norine huddled closely to his side as if she feared she would be recognized. She stroked Destinn's limp hand now, but kept her eyes averted from his face.

In the next instant her slight body was racked with dry sobs.

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