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   Chapter 3 No.3

Tarrano the Conqueror By Ray Cummings Characters: 11949

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Spy in the House

The insulated room was small, with a dome-shaped ceiling, no windows, and but one small, heavy door through which we entered, closing it carefully behind us.

"At last," Dr. Brende exclaimed. "Now we can talk freely."

But I was not satisfied. "That girl, Ahla-can you trust her?"

They all looked at me in surprise. When one is close to danger, sometimes one recognizes it least; with Ahla in this household for over a year now, they could not imagine her an enemy.

"I saw her looking up at the insulator," I added swiftly. "Out there in the corridor. Am I talking wild? Perhaps I am. But she seemed startled; and she was standing just under the insulator, wasn't she?"

"But-" began Elza.

"Wait," I exclaimed. "When I first saw the President fall, at Park Sixty, I felt that a Venus man had done it. These other murders-they're all the same. Done by Venus men of the Cold Country."

"Ahla's country," Elza murmured.

"Yes. Exactly. And the Venus Central State has been attacked and has fallen. An assassination on Mars, and three here on Earth-all simultaneously. It's one gigantic plot, I tell you-and the Cold Country of Venus is at the bottom of it."

Georg jumped to his feet. "I'll see if the room has been tampered with."

He was back presently. "The insulator is intact. I set the alarm bell. If she touches it-"

"Where is she?"

"In the cookery, where she should be. I told her we would eat in an hour. That ought to keep her busy."

Dr. Brende made an attempt at a smile. "I think we are all a little overwrought-though with reason, no doubt. Sit down, Jac. Elza, come here by me. Don't look so solemn, child."

He drew Elza to him, with his arm about her. I would have spoken, but his gesture checked me. "I have much to say, Jac. I think I understand these events, perhaps better than any of you. Let me go back two years-when I was in the Venus Central State."

I nodded my remembrance; and he went on:

"At that time the authorities there were greatly perturbed. They were menaced by rebellion in the Cold Country. They would not let the Cold Country people into the Central State, for it is already overcrowded. You did not know that, did you?"

"You mean the threatened rebellion?" I asked. "They were trying to keep it secret, but we heard rumors."

"Just so. And Jac, I will tell you why they kept it secret. The Central State was encouraging emigration to the Earth. The Venus Cold Country is a poor place to live in-and on a whole its inhabitants are miserable people. Villainous, too, I should say. The Central State did not want them within its borders; and so it kept secret its troubles with them-and encouraged emigration to the Earth.

"We-as you know-make no distinction between Venus people. We are friendly with the Central State, and the Cold Country is governed by it-or was until tonight. Thus, you see, we have been in the position of having to receive these renegade immigrants. Shut out from all the good land and decent climate of Venus, they began coming here.

"But we did not want them, and of late we have been holding them off, cutting the quota allowed very materially. Last week, as you also know, in Triple Conference, our three races decided to allow at each Inferior Conjunction of the Earth and Venus, so small a quota that the Central State protested vigorously.

"The controversy has been hot; but the Central State-trying to foist off its undesirables on us-knows it is in the wrong. And fundamentally, it is friendly to us-I think it has proven that in the last two hours."

Again I would have spoken, but he went on at once.

"I know you're familiar with most of this, Jac. But you news-gatherers sometimes reason in too lurid a fashion. Let me go on. Mars was drawn into the affair. To extricate ourselves, we offered to admit-under temporary guard-all Venus immigrants who would pass on at once-at the first astronomical opportunity-to Mars. This would have been very nice for us-but not for Mars."

"They are hot-headed, in Mars," Georg commented.

"Quite so," said the doctor. "But very direct and forceful, nevertheless. They met our suggestion with a law excluding Venus immigrants entirely. It was this, I think, that precipitated tonight's events-though of course they must have been brewing for a long time."

"This Tarrano-" I began.

"I heard of him when I was in Venus," said Dr. Brende. "He was at that time a lower official in the Cold Country. Evidently he has risen in his world.

"I come now to conjecture-but I think it must be fairly close to truth. Tarrano, leading the Cold Country, has risen to open rebellion. His attack upon the Central State must have come suddenly-"

"You mean, just this evening?" Elza asked.

"No, of course not. But hoping to quell the rebellion, the Central State has suppressed news of it. At such a time-with this controversy going on-such reports would only injure the Central State's inter-planetary position. That's obvious, isn't it? Then tonight, when things were desperate, the Central State gave out its call. Tarrano has conquered Venus, I'm sure. And at the last, before destroying its helio, the Central State tried to warn us."

"Of what?" I demanded. "And what about these murders?"

"Done by emissaries of Tarrano, no doubt. For revenge, because of the Martian and Earth legislation-or for-"

"I think we should not speculate too much," said Georg. "At least, not on that line. They warned you personally, father. We were so careful to keep everything secret-"

Dr. Brende mopped his forehead. He was trying to appear calm-I knew he did not want unduly to alarm Elza; but I could see that he was laboring under great emotion nevertheless.

"Things get out, Georg," he said. "We have been careful-yes. But two years ago, when I visited the Central State, I told them there what I hoped to accomplish. There were no grave inter-planetary problems then-I thought I had

no need of great secrecy. And since then, though, we have been very careful-"

Careful! With a Venus girl from the Cold Country living in their household! Truly, humans are a strange mixture of sagacity and folly!

"The Central State has heard something concerning you," Georg said. "That could easily happen-prisoners captured from Tarrano's forces, for instance. With dispatches-or perhaps some intercepted aerial message."

What was this secret they were discussing? I was the only one in the room who did not know it. And why had Dr. Brende sent for me tonight?

I asked him both questions. His face went even more solemn than it had been before.

"I sent for you, Jac, because in a measure I anticipated what has now befallen. Danger specifically to us Brendes, I mean. We count you as our friend-"

How it warmed my heart to hear him say that; and to see the glance that Elza cast me!

"-Our friend. I am an old man-you are young. Yet you are wise, too. We need you tonight."

He raised his hand when I would have told him how glad I was to be with them.

"You know something of my work," he said, as a statement, rather than a question. "I should say, mine and Georg's and Elza's, for they have both helped me materially."

I knew that Dr. Brende had for years been one of the Earth's most eminent research physicians. It was he who discovered the light vibrations which had banished forever the dread germs of several of the major diseases. He did not practice; his work was research only.

He went on: "Jac, I have found what for years I have been striving to find-a vibration of light, though it is invisible-which so far as I can determine, kills every bacillus harmful to man. There is nothing new in the idea-I have been working at it all my life. Sunlight! Altered and modified in several particulars, yet sunlight nevertheless. How strange that for countless centuries, man never realized the blessed boon of sunlight-the greatest enemy of all disease!

"Each year, as you know, I have conquered some of what we call the major diseases. A few of them-cancer[5], for instance-persisted in eluding me. Its bacilli-you can easily recognize the tiny purplish, horned rods which cause what we popularly call cancer-just would not die. No form of light or other vibration I could devise, seemed to hurt them-unless I used a vibration harmful, even fatal, to the blood-contents itself: I killed the cancer-in the words of you news-gatherers-but I also killed the patient."

His eyes smiled at the jest, but his face remained intensely serious.

"Then, Jac, I solved that problem-just a few months ago. And upon the heels of it I solved another, of infinitely more importance." He paused slightly. "I have learned how to kill, or at least arrest, the bacillus of old age. It is a bacillus, you know. We grow old because every day we live beyond the age of thirty-the bacillus of old age is attacking us. I call them the Brende-bacilli-these tiny, frayed discs that make us grow old. I have seen them-and killed them!"

It dawned on me slowly, the import of what he was saying.

"You mean--"

"He means," said Georg, "that at present we cannot only banish disease-all disease-but we can keep your body from aging. Not permanently, doubtless-but with the span of life lengthened threefold at least. Only by violence now need you die prematurely."

This then was the secret the existence of which Tarrano had learned. He had....

But Dr. Brende was quietly voicing my thoughts.

"It seems obvious, Jac, that this Tarrano at least suspects that I have made some such discovery as this. That he would withhold it from mankind, for the benefit of his own race, seems also obvious. That he is about to make an attempt to get it from me, I am convinced."

I remembered the wording of the message of warning from the Central State. "Your Dr. Brende, in Eurasia." I mentioned it.

"Our main laboratory is there," Georg said. "In Northern Siberia-isolated from people so far as possible, and in a climate advantageous for the work."

Elza spoke for the first time in many minutes.

"We have guards there, Jac-eight of our assistants.... Father, I called Robins a while ago. He said everything was all right. But don't you think we should call him again?"

The doctor had drifted into deep thought. "What? Oh, yes, Elza. I was thinking we should go there. My notes-descriptions of how to build a larger apparatus-larger than the small model I have installed there-my notes are all there, and I want them. And I don't think, at such a time, I should trust Robins to bring them."

"What shall I send to Headquarters?" Georg asked. "They wanted an answer, you remember."

"I'm going there to the Potomac-tell them that. Tell them we will come there for safety. But first I must get my notes, and the model."

As Georg went to the door, something in his attitude made us all start to our feet and follow him. No alarm from the insulator had come, yet for myself I had not forgotten that Venus girl outside.

Georg was at the door, tense as though to spring forward as soon as he opened it. I was close behind him.

"What--"

"Wait, Jac! Quiet! I just want to see-in case she is doing something."

He jerked open the door suddenly and bounded through, with me after him.

The corridor was empty. But there was a whirring coming from the instrument room.

We leaped across the padded corridor. In the instrument room, Ahla the maid sat at the table with a head-piece clasped to her ears. She was talking softly but swiftly into the transmitter. In the mirror beside her I caught a glimpse of the place to which she was talking. A sort of cave-flickering lights-a crowd of dark figures of Venus men, seemingly armed.

She must have heard us coming. A sweep of her white arm dashed the mirror to the floor, smashing it. Then she cast off the head-piece, and leaping to her feet, faced us, blazing and defiant.

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