Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Power" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth 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 worker, 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.

A demagogue named Sarovin rouses the workers to revolution. When Destinn attempts to stop him, Prouty shoots him with an energy weapon. Destinn is severely wounded, and Sarovin is killed. Terris is joined by a girl named Norine Rosov, and together they carry Destinn away to the elite level of the city while a workers' revolt erupts behind them. They learn that Destinn has been permanently paralyzed by Prouty's weapon, and promise to carry on Destinn's work: perfecting an atomic fusion process that will break the stranglehold of the despotic Power Syndicate. While Terris creates a stable energy center, Rosov returns to the lower levels to retrieve a vital component. When she fails to return, Terris becomes concerned . . .

Chapter V: Awakening

Instantly sensing the tremendous importance of the thing Destinn had been trying to tell him, Scott made desperate efforts to revive him. If only he had told him the definite composition of the metal used in those protective secondary screens; if only he could get him to speak the few necessary words!

But it was useless. Gail Destinn had slipped into a coma from which he might not awaken for many hours, the nurse told him sternly. And, if Mr. Terris had any sense of human kindness; if he had any consideration at all for a man who was desperately ill, he would leave the sick room at once.

Scott left. He dashed into the laboratory and listened once more at the panel of the secret shaftway. But, if there was any sound of the lift rising he could not have heard it for the intense note of the raging fury within that primary screen. The thing nearly filled the tiny cylinder now, and it was bouncing about at a terrific rate.

He shut off the theta rays without result. The thing seemed to take on new energy with their cessation. Of course! Excitation had been completed; the madly whirling thing would continue now in its acquisition of mass unaided. And, if not properly screened and its vast potentiality directed into the intended channels, it would go on and on until it had destroyed New York and all of its millions -- until it had destroyed the earth itself; the solar system, perhaps.

He searched through his crucibles in a frenzy. Selecting one of pure tungsten, he placed it gingerly over the small cylinder. There was a tremendous thump that seemed to wrench the very space about him, and the crucible vanished in a puff of light that left him blinking and blinded.

"Scott -- Scott Terris!" a voice sobbed then in his consciousness. "Am I too late?"

It was Norine. His vision was clearing and he saw her swaying before him, her face marble-white and her eyes staring at some nameless horror they still beheld. In her arms was a shimmering metallic object, a hollow cone with a hinged lid on the flaring end.

"Oh, oh!" she moaned, letting the cone clatter to the floor. "It's dark down there in the sub-levels -- dark. They've shut off the power, Scott, and the Ways are stopped. There's terror down there and vile murdering of innocent people. The Council; I found them wallowing in their own blood, all five. And Prouty -- I killed him with my bare hands!"

She swayed toward him, and somehow Scott found her in his arms. The white gleam of her body through rents in her clothing set his blood afire and he crushed her to him. For a moment she yielded, sighing. Soft, moist lips met his own and clung passionately.

Then she had pushed him away. Her eyes blazed scornfully and the white of her neck and cheeks flared a sudden angry red.

"I'm sorry, Norine, sorry," he mumbled, reaching for the all-important secondary screen. "I was mad, I guess."

In another moment he'd have the terrific thing they had created safely controlled; the energy center, at least. The other -- the feeling she had created in him -- could never be quenched. He wasn't sorry; he was a man insane with the new flame that burned within him.

* * *

Wilson was there, sputtering, "Crawford, sir, Crawford -- the big boy himself is at the entrance. Th-three of the red police are with him, sir. They're cutting down the door with acetylene torches."

Norine screamed, "Gail, Gail! They'll get him, Scott."

She ran from the room as Scott advanced hastily to where the ball of raw energy spun crazily within the tottering primary screen. In a daze, he fumbled with the lid of the cone.

The crash of the massive steel door out there falling inward gave him warning that the time was short. Damn that lid! He couldn't open the thing. The primary screen had careered violently and threatened to spew forth its fearful content.

And then they were in the laboratory; a lieutenant of the red police with two of his men. Crawford bringing up the rear; dragging Norine back into the room, the swine!

"You're under arrest, Terris!" the lieutenant snapped.

"Arrest, hell!" The lid of the cone swung back and Scott had the mighty energy center under control.

In after years, when he thought back on that scene, he realized he must have lost his senses completely after that. Norine, when they had released her and closed the door, stood there in a cold fury. He had taken advantage of the legalized companion of another man, her eyes accused him -- a man who lay helpless but a few steps away. And in that maddening gaze of hers there was unforgiving antipathy -- abhorrence.

What mattered it to him now that terror stalked down there in the sub-levels? What mattered the class distinctions of modern life; the injustice? All that mattered was power -- power to take and to smash; to bring the highest and the lowliest to their knees. And he, Scott Terris, was master of that power. In spun there, waiting to be used, in that unassuming cone of metal that reposed on his workbench.

"Arrest!" His maniacal laugh set the lieutenant back on his heels. Terris, the mild-mannered scientist, had gone crazy!

"Drop it!" Scott yelled, as the officer reached for his riot pistol. "Drop it, I say!" He grabbed the cone, and the angry hum that arose from within silenced even the babblings of Crawford.

He snapped back the lid and withdrew the cone with a flipping motion, leaving the mysterious roaring thing it had contained to spin there in mid-air a blinding ball of fire. Fully an inch in diameter now, its note rose to a scream as it took on additional mass by the acquisition of new electrons from the disintegrated components of the surrounding atmosphere. The metal walls, the floor and ceiling of the great room emitted fearful sounds of harmonic vibration that added to the din.

Crawford, his flabby jowls sagging, opened his thick lips to cry out, but no sound came from the vocal chords that were paralyzed with fear. The lieutenant struck out at the whirling thing with the butt of his pistol. There was a thumping wrench of surrounding space and the weapon was dissolved in one of those blinding light flashes, only to add further to the mass of the dancing horror that spun so swiftly before him. Screaming, he fell back waving the cauterized stump of his forearm, from which hand and wrist had vanished.

"Power! Power!" Scott yelled, advancing on Crawford. "I'll show you what power is. Arrest me, will you? Crawford, you're through; your reign is over. I shall be Dictator in United North America. Come here!"

* * *

* * *

"You -- you can't do this, Terris," the man faltered, extending a pudgy hand before his face in a feeble attempt to shield it from the searing radiations of that incredible whirling thing which had struck terror to his craven soul.

"Can't I? You haven't seen half of what I can do. Call off your men, Crawford . . . . You withdraw your charges, don't you?"

"W-what do you intend to do?"

"All in good time. Call them off, I say!" Scott brought the open end of the cone close to the screaming energy center and the thing drifted several feet nearer the erstwhile king of the kilowatts.

Dripping agonized perspiration, the terrified financier waved the police away. Only too glad to escape the awful menace of the thing that danced there blinding them and causing their very blood to boil in their veins, they slunk off, supporting the collapsed and moaning lieutenant between them.

Scott brought the insulating cone down over the energy center and returned it to the workbench. "That, Crawford," he said grimly, in the deathly silence that followed, "is the secret of your downfall. A man-made thing that will revolutionize the production of power and render useless all of your vast plant units out there in the stratosphere."

"You're bluffing," with a trace of his usual courage returning. "It's a laboratory trick of yours, designed to frighten us." Crawford mopped his brow nervously and straightened his slumped shoulders.

"Frightened you, too, didn't it?" Scott grinned. "No, it's not a bluff; it's the real thing. Observe the readings of the spectrometer, Crawford, and the radiation meter. Here, make it snappy!"

Cowed anew and paling visibly when Scott's fingers strayed toward the cone, he bent over the instruments indicated. The sheaf of calculations fluttered in his nerveless grip as he examined the figures that spelled the ruin of his vast enterprises, the collapse of the mighty organization he had built up.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked abjectly.

"First of all, you will obtain a visiphone connection with the executive chambers in Washington -- using my instrument here. You will present me to the President as your successor. Following that, you will call together the dummies who are supposed to be the directors of the Power Syndicate. You will resign as President and Chairman of the Board, appointing me to succeed you in those positions.

"But my stock, Terris -- I own controlling interest."

"Bah! It'll not be worth the paper it's engraved on when I've finished. After you have done the things I've mentioned, you will establish connections with your representatives in each of the cities of our country; you will resign from each and every industrial board of which you are a member; you will transfer your proxies to me. And you will notify your spies and your undercover men in the various departments of the government of the new order of things. Get busy now, Crawford."

"Terris, the thing's impossible," the broken man pleaded. "I just can't do it -- I can't!"

Scott looked at his pocket chronometer. "Crawford," he said in brittle tones, "if you're not at the visiphone in sixty seconds, making that first call, your worthless carcass will go to swell the mass of the energy center. I mean it. This power is mine; I'm taking it, and a piffling thing like the life of a man like you will not stand in my way. Step now!"

Matt Crawford moved with ludicrous haste. His fat fingers fumbled with the visiphone lever and he put in the call for President Owens.

Scott turned slowly to face Norine Rosov. The girl had stood there a rigid and scornful figure throughout the proceedings; now her pale lips moved in low, tense monosyllables.

"Thief! Cad!" she whispered huskily. "Oh, you -- you --"

"Norine," he interrupted her, and his voice was silky and even. "I don't expect that you'll understand. Women never do. But this thing I'm doing is the only thing possible under the circumstances. And don't think I'll weaken in my purpose. I shall do exactly as I have said, and tomorrow the cities of United North America will have their first taste of the medicine I shall prescribe."

His jaw set in taut lines as the girl flushed in swift anger. She crouched there, braced against the wall as if about to spring upon him clawing and tearing like some wild creature of the jungle.

His next words were clipped off in steely determination. "But one thing I ask -- no, I command it. You will leave Gail with me so that he can be properly treated. I give you my word he will be provided with all the attention that money can buy -- the finest medical care -- everything."

The fierce look of a beautiful animal went suddenly from her face and her lips trembled. "You -- you promise?" she faltered.


"Yes . . . yes, it is better so. I couldn't provide for him," she agreed, her voice choking. "And, Scott, may I . . . visit him?"


Crawford was talking rapidly before the disc of the visiphone where President Owens regarded him with open-mouthed astonishment.

Deliberately cruel, Scott snarled at the girl, "Go, now! Go, I say! Can't you see that you're in the way? Go!"

And Norine Rosov, beaten and sobbing, made her uncertain way to the secret lift.

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