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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN

SECRET OF THE LOST PLANET

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First published in Amazing Stories, May 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-03-17
Produced by Paul Sandery and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Amazing Stories, May 1941, with "Secret of the Lost Planet"


TABLE OF CONTENTS



Headpiece

"I'll come back, Markham," Wade Baron raged. "I'll make you pay for this!"



CHAPTER I. — [NO TITLE]

"THREE years," Wade Baron told himself happily as he stuffed the last of his space gear into the supply crates, "three long and lonely years on this God-forsaken rock in space. But I'm going back today!"

Wade whistled cheerfully and inspected his strong, clean- shaven jaw in the mirror above his bed. The three years he had lived alone on Planetoid Jaytwo, three years of solitude spent compiling charts for the Asteroid Survey Department had enabled him to grow a beard as long as a fur coat.

But now the beard was gone, for he'd shaved this morning. Shaved in honor of his start back to Earth.

He had even combed his lank black hair carefully, after doing a sketchy job of trimming it with his chart scissors. Combed his hair carefully while thinking of the girl who waited for him on Earth. The girl whom he would marry immediately upon his return—Nada Warren.

"Whoopee!" he chortled. "Damn, but it'll be fine to see Nada once more!"

Now that the three lonely years were at an end, Wade was able to see that they had been worth it. Not only from the asteroid research he had been able to compile here on Jaytwo, but from the fact that his service here would be rewarded with a splendid post on Earth—at a fine salary that would enable Wade and Nada to live in luxury.

"Nada, an Earth position in the Survey Bureau, and plenty of dough on which to be happy! Wow, it's going to be great!" Wade told the silent crates.

He sat down on the edge of his bed, after the last of the gear had been packed into the crates, and tried to picture his return. Nada would be at the Space Base, of course. She'd probably been marking the days to his return just as eagerly as he had. Nada would be there, of course.

Matt Markham, good old Matt, one of his closest pals, would more than likely be waiting there for him also. Matt was a grand guy. He'd been fine about seeing to it that Nada wouldn't be lonely during Wade's absence. The sort you could trust with the girl you were going to marry, that was Matt Markham.

Wade ground out his cigarette impatiently and rose to peer into the radio-receptor which had been installed in the corner of his tiny quarters. He saw nothing but the bleak expanse of little Jaytwo. It was hard to hold back his impatience. The Space Patrol ship, which was to pick him up and take him back to Earth, should be due pretty soon.

He lighted another cigarette and grinned.

"I'll probably go crazy at the sight of that patrol ship," he told himself. "More than likely want to kiss the pilot."

Even as he inhaled deeply from his cigarette, a faint humming started from the sound vibrator in the radio-receptor. In a single bound Wade was across the room, his hands trembling slightly as he tuned in the receptor to a higher volume. The humming grew into a louder and louder snarl. Peering into the view-sights, Wade felt his heart pound excitedly against his ribs, for there, approaching Jaytwo from the northerly end, was a Space Patrol Ship!

Then and there, in the solitary silence of the little room which had been his only home for three years, Wade Baron went into a dance reminiscent of the ancient movements of the redmen who had inhabited Earth centuries before.

"Wow!" Wade repeated over and over again. "I'm acting like a fool, but I can't help it. Oh, Lord, I can't help it!" His eyes, glowing happily, were also a little moist around the crinkled corners.


LESS than fifteen minutes later, Wade was racing across the barren plain outside his cabin, rushing to greet the members of the Space Patrol Ship which had just slipped to a graceful landing on Jaytwo. His long legs ate up the distance between his tiny shack and the space ship, and even in the cumbersome, clinging thickness of his space suit, he made speed.

Wade could see the percussion doors of the ship swinging open, could see the glass-helmeted heads of the crew peering forth, and he wanted to shout with joy at the sight of the lettering on the side of the craft. Huge, red, block letters that said, "Government Space Patrol." He wondered for a swift instant whether or not there would be anyone he knew in the crew. Any of his pals from the patrol service. He hoped so. But even if there weren't, just the sight of human beings was enough to send his heart leaping joyously.

He was almost able to make out the faces of the glass-helmeted patrolmen, but as yet he couldn't tell if he knew any of them. One of the crew—evidently the Flight Patrol Leader, for he was clad in a rich purple space suit—had already clambered to the rock terrain of Jaytwo. Wade could discern his features now, sharp and space-burned, like those of countless space pilots. This chap had a short pointed moustache and a deep scar across his brow.

Wade frowned. He couldn't remember any such person in the ranks of Patrol Pilots. But then, three years had passed, and the roster had undoubtedly changed a bit since the last time Wade had had contact with Earth.

The receptor mechanism on Wade's space suit hummed, an indication that the Flight Patrol Leader was speaking to him. Wade threw the reception switch wide, and the visitor's voice flooded into his helmet.

"Hello, there," said the Flight Patrol Leader, "you're Wade Baron, I imagine."

"Well," Wade grinned in answer, "I'm not Doctor Livingstone, old chap."

The Flight Patrol Leader, members of his crew following behind him, drew closer, so that Wade saw the answering grin flashing across his face.

"You sound glad to see us, Baron. My name is Jenkins, Carse Jenkins, Flight Patrol Leader for this ship. Have you your gear and equipment packed?"

Wade was finally alongside of him, taking the Flight Leader's outstretched gauntlet in a firm grip of greeting.

"Lord, Jenkins, I've had that gear packed and ready to go for the last three years!"

There was laughter from the lean Jenkins and a like response from the members of his crew. Good bunch, Wade thought, seem like fine chaps, all of them. The six or seven crew members passed Wade on their way to his tiny quarters to get his crates. Jenkins, still grinning, said:

"They'll bring all your gear along, Baron. Come on into the ship with me, fellow, and we'll have a drink on your return."

"A swell idea," Wade answered. "The first swell idea I've heard in three years!"


CHAPTER II. — ARRESTED FOR—WHAT?

IN the Flight Leader's cabin in the Space Patrol ship, Wade faced Carse Jenkins. Minus his space suit, the lean Jenkins looked slightly older than he had seemed to Wade at first sight. There was a gray tinge at his temples. But he was jovial, entertaining, Wade thought as he sipped his drink.

"And tell me," asked Wade, "how Matt Markham is getting along? Is he still with the Survey Bureau?"

Carse Jenkins looked at the glass he held in his thin strong fingers.

"No," he said after a moment. "Markham has been promoted."

Wade's enthusiasm was sincere.

"Great," he said, "that's swell to hear, Mark deserves all he gets. He's a smart chap. Always was. Knew what he wanted all along."

"Yes," Jenkins answered dryly. "Markham always knew what he wanted. But what's more important, he knew how to go about getting it."

Suddenly, and with no explanation as far as Wade could see, there was an embarrassed silence between himself and the Flight Patrol Leader, Perhaps it had been due to Jenkin's slightly peculiar response to the mention of Matt Markham. Wade couldn't tell. But he decided to get on to other subjects.

"It'll be great to get back," Wade said quickly, feeling slightly foolish at repeating a phrase he must have used at least two dozen times so far.

"You don't seem like a bad sort at all," Jenkins said quite unexpectedly. At the words, and the tone in which they were uttered, Wade looked up sharply at the moustached Flight Patrol Leader.

"What made you say that?" Wade asked bewilderedly.

Jenkins suddenly looked hard at the glass in his hands.

"You've been completely out of touch with things for three years, Baron. Changes can occur in three years, y'know."

Wade was frowning now. He didn't know what was responsible for the odd manner of Jenkins. Didn't know, but he was going to try to find out.

"I don't get it," he said sharply. "What are you driving at, Jenkins."

Jenkins looked up from his glass, Unexpectedly he smiled, once again the affable host.

"Not a thing, fellow. Forget it."

Wade could see that any chance of getting to the bottom of the scarred, moustached Flight Patrol Leader's strange attitude was closed. So he gave it up, gratefully gulping the cooling liquid of his drink. What the hell, just getting back to Earth once more, Earth and Nada, was enough to think of for the moment. Earth, and Nada.


"EARTH and Nada," Wade told himself two days later as he gazed out the front vision plates of the Space Patrol ship. In another half hour they would be at Space Base, in New York.

Just the thought of Nada, Nada, who was probably waiting down there at Space Base at this very moment, was enough to send the tingling of eagerness rushing once more through Wade Baron. He fished into his pockets and found a cigarette, lighting it with hands that trembled in excitement.

Five times already, this morning, Wade had been back and forth between the baggage compartments and the control room, checking his baggage and gear. He had dressed himself carefully, even had one of the crew trim his hair more carefully, and smoothed his garments every so often. No sense in returning to Nada looking like a space bum.

"Lord," Wade muttered to himself, "I wish this crate would get some speed on. Here I've gone three years without a sight of Nada, and now a mere half hour looks like a century!" He grinned to himself. "It seems like the time will never pass."

But the half hour finally passed for Wade Baron. And he found himself waiting for the landing gangway to be dropped as the Space Patrol Ship nosed into berth at Space Base.

"Little old New York!" Wade marveled, as the towering city revealed itself to him on every side. Down below the ship, he could see the crowds forming beneath the spot where they would moor. His heart pounded wildly in his chest, threatening to leap to his mouth, and peering down, he tried to imagine which of the tiny dots representing people, was Nada.

It seemed like ten glacier periods later that Wade stepped out onto the landing gangway to take his first deep breath of Earth air in three years—and to search the crowd eagerly for sight of Nada. He looked, too, for some sign of big, blond Matt Markham, who would probably be there with Nada to meet him. It was going to be grand to see them!

Wade took three steps downward, then he heard his first greeting.

"Wade Baron?"

He looked up at the speaker, surprised to see that it was a huge fellow in the uniform of a government guard. Behind the towering government guard, Wade saw at least a dozen others waiting at the bottom of the gang-landing, all of them wearing the crimson tunics of guards.

"Yes," said Wade bewilderedly, eyes still scanning the crowd in an effort to find Nada and Matt. "Yes, I'm Wade Baron. What do you want?"

The towering government guard reached forth his hand. Perplexedly, Wade extended his own hand, wondering at this strange greeting. A moment later, and Wade Baron's wonder had turned to icy horror, for the officer deftly snapped steel wristbands around Wade's outstretched hand!

"You're under arrest," said the huge guard, "by order of Government!"


TURNING swiftly, the big guard beckoned to the others at the bottom of the landing. In an instant, Wade was surrounded by a crimson-uniformed cordon.

"Search him!" the officer directed one of his platoon.

Before he could move, before his bewildered brain could find an answer to this ghastly mistake, hands held Wade helpless, while other hands ran through his clothing.

"Here," said one of the guards, pulling forth a sheaf of papers from the lining of Wade's tunic. "He had these hidden in there!"

Wade's eyes went wide at the sight of the papers. What they were, he had no idea. How they got there, he was equally unable to explain. Terror clutched at his heart with icy fingers, closing down until Wade felt he could scarcely breathe.

"What is this!" Wade cried wildly. "What in the hell is this all about? I demand to know!"

The large government guard had taken the papers, was scanning them swiftly.

"Our information was correct," he said grimly. "These papers are all the proof we need." He turned again to Wade. "Baron," he rasped, "the charge against you is treason against the government!"

"Treason?" Horror was closing in on Wade. "Good God! What is this all about? I've done nothing, I tell you! Nothing!"

Suddenly a red haze swept his mind, and he lashed out with his free hand, catching one of the guards in the mouth. In a split- second, bodies closed in on him, and he was buried beneath the bludgeoning blows of his captors.

In the short, unequal struggle which followed, Wade thought he saw the grim, unsmiling face of Flight Patrol Leader Carse Jenkins looking down on the scene from the cabin of the ship. Then he was being dragged down the landing gangway, still surrounded by the crimson cordon of police.

Despairingly, Wade called out wildly.

"Matt, Matt Markham! Damn you swine! Let me find Matt Markham. He'll rectify this outrage!"

The huge government guard laughed shortly, unpleasantly.

"I suppose Markham is a friend of yours?"

"You're damn right he is. He's somewhere in this crowd. Ask him about me, you fool! He'll identify me!" Wade was near hysteria, the hysteria of red, burning rage.

"You'll see Commissioner Markham soon enough," the guard said harshly. "You're being picked up on his orders!"


CHAPTER III. — MATT MARKHAM—TRUE FRIEND

IT was a confused, badly beaten, and terribly bewildered Wade Baron who sat hunched dejectedly on a cell cot in Government Prison Ten, several hours later.

In his mind, Wade was desperately turning over the events of the past hours, trying to put them together, trying to link them to an answer to his ghastly nightmare. The huge guard's remark, calling Matt Markham Commissioner, had been the most bewildering of all. And yet it fitted in perfectly with Carse Jenkins' statement that Matt had been promoted. But Commissioner—! Why, next to the supreme post of Unifyer, the Commissioner's position was the most important on Earth!

Even so, even if Matt had risen to a position of such importance in three years, what could explain the fact that all this was the result—if the guard could be believed—of Matt's orders?

"It must be a joke, a stunt on Matt's part," Wade mumbled in confusion. But the bitter futility of the remark was evident in the cuts and bruises about his body. That was no part of a joke. And Nada—where had Nada been?

Where was Nada now? Had she been in the crowd? Had she been waiting for him? She knew that he was to return today. If she had been in the crowd she would most certainly have seen what happened. Most certainly she would have followed him to the prison, straightened the mess out. Especially since Matt was now Commissioner. She would have gotten in touch with Matt immediately, had him take care of the ghastly error.

Error! The word flashed neon-like into Wade's mind. Error? Of course it was an error. But what about those papers, those papers which had been found on his person. Wade was certain that he had never seen them before, had no knowledge, even, of their existence. They must have been planted on him without his being aware of it.

"It must be a joke!" Wade insisted desperately. "Probably Matt didn't tell those stupid thug guards that it was a joke. They probably took the thing seriously. He probably didn't know they'd push me around like they did. It'll all be straightened out. Of course it will. Of course it will!"

But Wade Baron argued against himself without conviction. The facts, as they stood, pointed inevitably to one conclusion. A conclusion that he tried desperately to push to the back of his mind. He wouldn't accept it, he couldn't accept it, until he had seen Matt Markham.


WADE'S thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heavy heels ringing down the corridor leading to his cell. He sat up sharply, just in time to see a platoon of four guards, crimson- tunicked, halt before the door of his cell. A fifth guard, their leader, inserted a key into the lock of the door, and it swung inward.

Standing, Wade spoke.

"What now?" There was bitterness in his voice. "Where to?"

The guard leader, a cold, impassive little man, answered unconcernedly.

"To the Planet Chambers. You're to be heard by the Commissioner and the Board."

A chill swept over Wade. Matt Markham was going to see him. What would the outcome be? Jest? Or—he still hated to face the idea—an incredible doublecross?

Then, guarded on all sides, Wade was led through the bleak gray corridors. Silent, damp, monotonous cell blocks on every side. The place sent a chill of apprehension shuddering along Wade's back. They came, at length, to a great steel door which Wade remembered passing when he was led into the prison.

There were other crimson-tunicked guards outside the door, armed only with the small but very deadly light-lugers, pistols that could turn a human being to a cinder from the distance of five hundred yards. These other guards looked at Wade curiously, but without a trace of compassion on their faces.

The guard leader who had taken Wade from his cell spoke to the men before the great steel door.

"Tell them," he said, "that we have the prisoner awaiting their pleasure."

Moments later, after disappearing through the door, the guard who had entered the chamber reappeared.

"You are to enter," he announced. "The Commissioner is waiting."

Noiselessly, the huge steel door swung open. Surrounded once again by the cordon of guards, Wade was led inside, into one of the most enormous and richly-colored rooms he had ever beheld. Vast and high-ceilinged, the place was a cross between a mighty cathedral and an inordinately large court room.

Towering pillars of marble reached to the ceiling, and the rich red rugs beneath Wade's feet were as soft as thick velvet. Drapes of golden mesh formed a covering to the coldness of the marble walls. At the far end of the room was a huge dais, constructed of black oak and draped in red.

It was in the center of this dias, surrounded on either side by lower dignitaries, that Matt Markham, Commissioner Matt Markham, sat watching the approach of the prisoner.


TO Wade, who had never had occasion to enter the Justice Chambers before, the place was bewildering, awe-inspring, in its utter splendor. Seeing Markham, Wade tried to catch his eye, but his friend was gazing abstractedly at a sheaf of papers, and it wasn't until Wade was led directly before him, at the center of the dais, that he looked up.

"Matt!" Wade blurted. "Matt, I'm glad to see you, fellow. Get this mess straightened out immediately, won't you? A joke is a joke, and all that, but these chaps don't seem to know it!" He was grinning embarrassedly at Markham, but the glance that his friend returned was cold, thoughtful.

"Wade Baron?" Matt Markham asked icily, his bushy blond eyebrows knitting in a frown.

Wade gulped. He looked wildly from one to the other of the lesser officials seated around Markham, hoping to find some sign of levity in their eyes. This had to be a joke. It had to!

Wade's eyes flashed back to Markham, swiftly appraising his friend, noting the slight changes that three years had brought about in him. He was heavier, Markham was, and his face was lined with a sternness which Wade had never seen before. His blond hair was closely cropped, and his wide mouth was set in a rigid uncompromising line. His eyes, as they bored down on Wade, were gray and flinty in their hardness. Something inside of Wade, something akin to instinct, told him that there was no levity here. Markham was playing no joke. There would be no mercy, no friendship.

"Wade Baron?" Markham repeated again, impatiently.

Red creeped up from Wade's collar, sweeping hotly to his lean features, to the crown of his lank black hair. His hands were moist and shaking as rage took possession of him.

"Markham," he said as evenly as he could. "I don't know what in the hell this is all about. You'd know that. But something pretty rancid is going on here. I've done nothing. If this is your idea of humor—"

"You are charged with treason," Markham broke in coldly, and Wade sensed a hidden mockery behind those flinty eyes. "Treason against Government is a crime punishable by death. We," he waved his hand slightly to indicate the other dignitaries, "have debated on your case for the past three hours. The papers found in your possession were enough to damn you. Definite evidences of your alliance with the enemies of Government have been proven. What have you to say in your defense?"

"Defense?" Wade exploded. "Defense? Defense against what? Defense against something about which I know nothing? I've never seen those papers you speak of, except for that moment at the Space Base when they were supposed to have been found in my pockets. I haven't even the slightest idea of what they contain. If they indicate treason, I can't even tell you how, or in what fashion they do so. This thing is a ghastly fraud, a horrible frame-up, Markham. I don't know what it's all about. But I know my rights. I demand public trial, an Open Chamber hearing on this thing!"

Markham shook his head slowly, and his voice softened as he spoke.

"We were friends at one time, Wade Baron. Everyone in this Chamber knows as much. But my duty has always been my sacred bond. I cannot go back on it. There have been many changes in the past three years—three years during which you were under constant observation on Jaytwo. You thought you were alone, isolated on a deserted little planet. You thought that your dealings with the enemies of Government could be carried on in perfect secrecy from such an isolated base. But that is where you made your error. Your movements were constantly watched by us. Intelligence had you under constant surveillance."

Wade's interrupting laugh was bitter. "Watched, watched was I? Watched while I charted my asteroid surveys? Watched while I worked night and day in the service of Government?"

Markham shook his head.

"The evidence has been compiled and presented to the court. The most damning piece we have against you is contained in the documents found on your person when you returned to Earth. We have reached our verdict, Wade Baron."


THE rage had drained from Wade, leaving his throat dry and choked, his eyes blurred with tears of futility and bewilderment. Was the cold official sitting upon the huge dias Matt Markham? Matt Markham the friend he had eagerly waited to see? Matt Markham, who had taken care of Nada for him during those three years? What had happened? And Nada, where was she at this moment?

"As I said," Markham continued, "the punishment for treason is death."

A chill swept Wade's spine at the words. He tried to open his mouth, tried to find words to protest. But the very coldness around him told him that resistance would be futile, laughably futile. He was framed, solidly, definitely, and there wasn't a thing in the world he could do about it. He ran his hand across his face, trying to wipe away the nightmare surrounding him.

"However," Markham went on, "we have decided that, inasmuch as your previous service to Goverment has been more than exemplary, we will commute your sentence to life imprisonment. Life imprisonment in the government penal institution on the planet Cardo!"

Wade raised his eyes hopelessly to Markham. Cardo! Death, he knew, would have been far better than Cardo. Markham knew it, too, Wade was certain. A frame-up, not a chance to demand trial, resulting in the living hell of Cardo penal institution!

Softly, as if from a great distance, Wade heard his own voice speaking.

"Markham," he was saying, "Markham, I don't know the why or wherefor of this. But I do know one thing, I'll get you, Markham. I'll get you if it's the last thing in the universe I ever do!"

There was a caustic relish in Matt Markham's voice as he replied.

"And, of course, as far as the world is concerned, Wade Baron, you are dead. Your relatives and ah, er, friends ..." Wade knew he meant Nada Warren, will be informed of your death. It will save them the knowledge of the shame and disgrace you have brought upon them."

The world at that moment, collapsed utterly around Wade Baron. Numbly, helplessly, he stood there, gazing dry-eyed at the man who had conspired this ruin for him. The man who would, in another hour, inform Nada Warren that her fiancÚ, Wade Baron, was dead!

To all appearances, as Wade stood there powerless against the forces that had crushed him, he was beaten, impotent, drained of all emotion. But deep inside his chest a spark had ignited a glowing coal. A fiercely burning resolve that was deeper than hate, stronger than any anger.

"Markham," Wade repeated dully, "you'll pay for this. Pay for it with every last bit of searing agony I can bring your soul!"

"The prisoner is committed to Cardo for the remainder of his natural life!" Commissioner Markham declared, and a gavel fell heavily on the thick oak of the dias.


CHAPTER IV. — CARDO, WORLD OF LIVING HELL

FROM the porthole of the prison spaceship, Wade Baron, shackled hand and leg to twenty other prisoners, watched the planet Cardo grow in the distance. The past twenty-four hours had been burning torment to his soul. Hustled back to the cell from which he'd been taken, Wade was given a change of tunic to the gray prison garb, then speedily and secretly taken to Space Base where the prison spaceship was waiting to carry its cargo of condemned humanity to the penal planet.

When the guards had fixed the shackles on him, Wade had had to force himself to hold back the rage that swept him. It would have been futile to struggle. He knew that much. Others among the twenty-one convicts had tried it and were even now whimpering over the ghastly burns inflicted on them by the merciless guards. Burns that would remain open sores for many months to come.

Wade forced himself to endure the indignities heaped on him by the guards, and spent his time in observation of his fellow convicts. He noted, with growing surprise, that there were only four of them, at the most, who looked or acted like men of criminal nature. The rest, like himself, were clear-eyed, upstanding, with an air of decency about them. They looked like professional, medical, or business men.

Wade was puzzled. What had been the crimes of these men? Had they, like himself, been railroaded, framed? But Cardo—at least as recently as three years previously—had not been a political prison. It had been a quarantine planet for the scum and riff-raff of the criminal world.

As for the names of the other prisoners, there was no way in which Wade could ascertain who they were, or had been. The huge block numbers on the front of the prison gray tunics were all there was to identify them. Wade's was 397. The white-headed old man beside him was 408. He was of special interest to Wade. There was an air of aristocracy, dignity, about him that commanded respect. He was short, with an inquisitive way of holding his head, and had a white moustache and goatee.

As soon as he could do so without the knowledge of the guards, Wade spoke to him. The old man was gazing forth at the approaching penal planet, his expression inscrutable, through a porthole near Wade.

"That's going to be some home, eh?" Wade remarked dryly.

The old man turned wordlessly, looking at Wade as though in appraisal. At length he spoke.

"Yes," he said, "a lovely home, indeed. Constructed to shield the universe from swine, it is now going to conceal the universe from you and me."

"My name..." Wade began. The old man interrupted, holding up his hand,

"What difference does a name mean to either of us now?" he observed dryly. "We are numbered, like cattle. But if you must stand on formality, my young friend, my name is Hannes Jardon."

Wade about to reply with his own identification, stopped short and gasped.

"Jardon?" Then, reddening, he blurted, "Not Professor Jardon?"

The old man smiled, nodded.

"Yes, Professor Jardon." Then, before Wade could speak again, "What is your name?"

Wade told him hurriedly, then went on to express his utter astonishment at the professor's identity.

"But you, Professor, one of the greatest minds in modern science, what, how, that is, why are you here? Why are you a prisoner shackled aboard this ship?"

The old man shrugged.

"Does it make any difference now? You might ask Commissioner Markham. I believe he mentioned something about treason."

Wade was about to voice his amazement when a guard approached.

"Break it up," the crimson-tunicked captor snarled. Wade moved clumsily away, hampered by his shackles, and the old man did likewise nodding his head to indicate that they would talk later.


IT was much later before Wade saw old Professor Jardon again. Three months later to be exact. Three months spent in the damp dungeons of Cardo. Three months living in comparative solitude broken only by the twice daily sloppy rations pushed into his stinking little cell by a guard.

The prison on Cardo was an immense affair. Countless winding corridors, endless lines of stinking dungeons. Dungeons in which a man had only to extend his hands to either side to touch both walls at once. Dungeons the blackness of which was never broken, save on the twice daily ration visits of the guards. Men were not meant to serve out their sentences on Cardo. It hadn't been designed for that. It was a place where men vanished. No one returned from there—alive.

All this Wade Baron had heard. And all this he now knew to be true. There were cells adjoining his, cells above him, cells beneath him. And from these, through the long endless hours, Wade could hear the ceaseless sobbing of his fellow unfortunates.

The sobbing invariably followed the visits of the guards, and the sickening sound of their heavy blows on defenseless flesh. Wade wondered more than once why he was left unmolested. But solitude, to Wade Baron, was not enough to break him. He had lived alone for three years. On Jaytwo there had been no voices save his own, no thoughts save those he conjured. Even hell can be bearable if a man can listen to his own thoughts.

And Wade Baron had learned to do just that. For he had much to think about. After his first several days of solitude in his cell on Cardo, Wade had managed to push remorse to the back of his mind, knowing that it is remorse and remorse alone that licks a man. Wade wasn't licked. Didn't intend to be licked. For there was his score, his score with Matt Markham and the others who had done this to him.

Revenge, carefully planned, diabolically matured, was the one factor that kept Wade Baron living on. And bit by bit, Wade was arriving at a scheme, a possible way to freedom and the fulfillment of that revenge.

A scheme that grew still more plausible after those first three months had passed, that took definite shape on his meeting with Professor Jardon.

For some unaccountable reasons of generosity, Wade and ten of the prisoners who had arrived on Cardo with him, were permitted a brief glimpse of light, a brief breath of air, in the exercise yards of the prison.

Jardon was among those ten. And, seeing him for the first time in three months, Wade paled, clenching his fists and biting his lip to hold back the exclamation of horror he felt rising to voice. The professor, wretchedly pale, terribly emaciated, was barely able to struggle along in the line of shuffling prisoners.

Twice he fell, and twice the brutal kicks of the guards brought him staggering once more to his feet. The men were unfettered, but shackles would have been unnecessary, such was their physical condition. Even Wade found walking difficult after the cramped confinement that had been his for the past three months. Looking at the ghastly pallor of his fellow prisoners, Wade realized that he, too, must look much the same.

"Move on there!" The command barked by one of the crimson-clad guards jerked Wade's attention from his fellow sufferers. He looked at the burly guard who had barked the order, and thought mentally of what he would give to have a light-luger in his hand for only a moment.

Then Professor Jardon fell for the third time.

"Get him up! Make that damned old goat stay erect!" Two of the guards crossed the exercise yard to where Jardon lay inertly on the ground. There was a series of sickening blows as their heavy boots thudded mercilessly into the old man's ribs.

Wade Baron could stand it no longer. Some how he was running, staggering, across the exercise yard to where the Professor lay.

"Blast your stinking hides!" he shouted. "Stand away from that poor devil!"

Wildly his hands tore at the guard closest to the inert old man, spun the fellow around. The blow which Wade smashed into the surprised fellow's face was feeble, but the unexpectedness of it caught the guard off balance, and he sprawled backwards.

In another instant, as Wade was dropping to his knees beside Professor Jardon's beaten body, three guards hurled themselves on his back, flattening him to the ground beside the old man. Wade didn't have time to shield himself from the blows that rained on him a moment later, didn't have time to roll out of range of those punishing kicks. The merciful curtain of unconsciousness slipped over him as his tortured body could bear the pain no longer.

"Throw them in the same cell together," one of the crimson tuniced guards snapped, "and get those others back to their cells. We'll take care of them later!"


CHAPTER V. — PROFESSOR JARDON'S SECRET

WADE BARON rose dazedly to one elbow, blinking back the pain that seared his aching head, and trying to focus his eyes in the stygian darkness that enveloped him. The damp musky smell that assailed his nostrils told him instantly that he was once again in one of the dungeons, possibly his own.

The sharp pain subsided to a dull throbbing above his eyes. Wade was able to see faintly through the aid of a murky beam filtering into the cell from a narrow window close to the ceiling.

With the chill of the slimy cobble-stoned floor forcing him to shiver involuntarily, Wade managed to rise painfully to his feet. For a moment he stood there, swaying slightly, fighting to keep from toppling forward again. Then, the nausea in his stomach settling somewhat, Wade looked about.

Someone else was in the cell with him. Someone lying in a queerly twisted heap less than a yard from his feet. And as recollection came to him, Wade recognized Professor Jardon. Cursing softly between swollen lips, he stepped swiftly forward and bent over the old man. In a moment he was cradling the scientist's bloody head in his lap, shaking him gently, trying to bring the old man back to consciousness.

"Professor," Wade whispered, "Professor, come around old fellow. They've gone!"

His only answer was a tremulous sigh, a soft moan.

Suddenly Wade gasped. His arms, in which the old man's head rested, were warm and moist. He didn't have to see the color of the substance to know it was blood that slowly oozed from a deep wound in the side of Professor Jardon's head. And as he tenderly touched his hand to the wound, Wade shuddered. The old fellow's skull had been crushed, just beneath the ear, by one of those brutal kicks!

Jardon's eyes flickered faintly. Then they opened, and he looked weakly, blankly, up at Wade.

"They, they shan't have them," he murmured.

Tears rolled down Wade Baron's cheeks, and he answered the old man softly.

"It's all right, Professor, no one will harm you."

The scientist opened his mouth to form words again, then his eyes lighted slightly in recognition.

"Oh, it is you, my young friend. You—you—" he was speaking with much difficulty, "shouldn't have endangered yourself for me."

Wild rage was flooding Wade Baron's mind. Rage at the beasts who had done this. Rage at the beast who had been responsible for this living hell. He bit his lip, choking back his emotion.

"Young man," the Professor was murmuring, "listen to me, young man." He coughed hackingly, red saliva running from the corners of his mouth. "Listen to me," he repeated, his voice growing faint for a moment. "I'm dying, I fear."

Wade said nothing, merely biting deeper into his underlip until the blood ran salty in his mouth. Tears blurred his vision until he was barely able to see the face of the kindly old man.

"Someone must know," the scientist was saying. "I must pass my knowledge on to someone. Planet Twenty, they want Planet Twenty." His voice faltered once more, and he fought for breath, his frail chest heaving spasmodically.

Wade still held his tongue. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do to help. The old man was dying. Wade suspected that he was delirious. He tried to ease the scientist's head gently to a more comfortable position.

"Young man," the scientist resumed in a voice a little more even, "you probably think me raving, delirious. Hear me, please. I am quite in possession of my faculties. There is not much time, hear me."

Voice choked, Wade managed to answer him.

"Go ahead, Professor. I'm listening. Go ahead with what you have to tell me,"

"They want Twenty, Planet Twenty. Markham wanted it. I wouldn't reveal its location. That's why I'm here." He broke off once more, his breath coming fainter. "Bend closer, young man," he faltered, "I've not long. Minutes precious."

Wade bent his head to the old man's lips, brushing back the tears from his face as he did so.

"You will find the papers, papers giving the location of Twenty, in my tunic. Take them from my body. There is knowledge there, young man, and wealth and power which I would never allow to fall into the hands of Markham. My secret laboratories, no one else knows their location, others are dead long since." The old fellow's breath was beginning to rattle in his throat.

"Yes," Wade answered, "I'll take them, Professor."

"Use them, boy. You look clean, decent. Don't let them fall into other hands. Markham, Markham wants that knowledge to destroy the Unifyer, take control of Government." The old man's voice was barely audible now. "I pass the information on to you, use it boy. Destroy Markham. But if you fail, destroy the papers. Destroy them bef—"

Professor Jardon ended the sentence abruptly. As abruptly as Death took him from the arms of Wade Baron. Gently, Wade lowered the old man to the damp cobblestones of the dungeon floor.

"Another item, Markham," Wade muttered softly, "another item for which you'll roast!"

Respectfully, then, Wade removed the shirt of his tunic. For an instant he hesitated as he held it above the old scientist. He bit his lip in indecision. The scientist might not have been raving. Gently, then, he placed his hands inside the tunic of Professor Jardon. Placed his hand beneath the tunic and stopped sharply at what it encountered, a sheaf of papers!

He withdrew the papers, placing them at his side, then gently placed his tunic shirt over the scientist's face. He remained kneeling there for a moment in silent tribute to the old man. Then, picking up the papers, Wade rose and walked over to where the murky beam of light filtered faintly in from the window near the ceiling.

There Wade, straining his eyes in the gloom, scrutinized the papers left by Professor Jardon. There were seven or eight electratyped sheets, and one large parchment-like paper folded several times to the size of the others. Wade unfolded the parchment first.

It was a planetoid chart, a cosmic map. His eyes narrowed, then he gasped involuntarily. The charted planet sector was that in which his former habitat, Jaytwo was located!

Running his thumb rapidly across the map, Wade located Jaytwo, located, also, the other planets in its vicinity which he had spent three years in charting. Then his thumb stopped at the far corner of the map. There was a planet charted there—a planet which, as far as Wade had previously known, was non- existent!

Beneath the marking of this planet was scrawled, "Twenty."

Wade frowned. This, evidently, was the Planet Twenty which the old man had mentioned again and again in his last moments. But there couldn't be any such planet. He himself had charted that interspacial area for three years, charted it minutely and in infinite detail. It was impossible. But Jardon had mentioned a Planet Twenty, and this map showed it.


FOLDING the map, Wade stuffed it beneath his arm and turned his attention to the electratyped sheets. The first of them, bearing Professor Jardon's signature, was titled, "Concerning Twenty."

Brows knitted, eyes straining in the faint illumination coming from the tiny window, Wade read the page. Then he re-read it, excitedly. When he finally had done with it, he had scanned it a total of eight times.

The next sheet was titled, "Record of Twenty and Its Equipment. Details Leading to Markham's Discovery of Its Existence." This information, Wade saw at a glance, was contained in the remaining seven pages.

He slumped down to the floor, leaning his back against the damp wall, and gave himself over to the perusal of Jardon's manuscript.

It was a half hour later before Wade put aside the papers and rose once more. There was a burning restlessness in his movements as he paced rapidly back and forth in the narrow confines of the tiny cell. His mind was wrestling excitedly with the information set down in Professor Jardon's manuscript. Excitedly and incredulously, for the statements that were set carefully down in electratype were the most astonishing revelations Wade had ever encountered.

"If I could be certain," Wade muttered, "that the old man was quite sane when he compiled that information. If I could be sure—" The implications left in his mind by those seven pages were staggering to the imagination.

Twenty, a planet previously unheard of, a planet containing untold treasure in scientific knowledge, containing incredible power. The story of that planet, Jardon's secret, of the old scientist's laboratories hidden there from the universe, all this had been contained on those electratyped pages, the parchment map.

Wade looked at the silent figure lying on the floor, at the old man who had created this fabulous secret scientific hoard, created it and kept the secret sealed until now.

In the pages, too, was information which filled the gaps of Wade's knowledge of what had happened in the universe during his three years isolation on Jaytwo. Tersely, the old scientist had told of Matt Markham's rise to power in Government. Had told, too, of the Professor's realization that Markham had to be thwarted before it became too late.

Planet Twenty—that had been Jardon's solution to the rising menace of Matt Markham. With the aid of a few trusted fellow scientists, Professor Jardon had constructed his secret laboratories on the uncharted, unknown planet. Matt Markham, the pages stated, had suspected the plan of Jardon, had gotten some inkling of it. Jardon's aids had been mercilessly tortured to death in Markham's attempts to wring the secret from them. But they had died rather than turn the tremendous power of Twenty into the power-mad young politician's hands.

Until there was only Professor Jardon left with the knowledge of the secret.

Wade could see it all clearly now, and what he didn't know was supplied by the information contained in the documents the old man had passed on to him. The old scientist had been sent to Cardo to break him, to reduce him to a state wherein he would willing turn over his information to Markham. But the job had been done too well. And now Jardon was dead.

And the terse electratyped pages supplied more information. They stated that Markham knew, had somehow found out, that the secret planet of Professor Jardon was somewhere within the cosmic area of Jaytwo. He had discovered that much, but had still been unable to get the exact location of the place.

Which, Wade realized, was where he entered into the scheme of his former friend. Markham, knowing that Wade had spent three years in exhaustive research of that interplanetary range, and knowing that Wade was returning with extensive information about that cosmic range, figured that the surveys might lead him to Professor Jardon's secret Planet Twenty.

"I can see," Wade whispered bitterly to himself, "why Markham wanted me out of the way, why he wanted my asteroid survey reports." Even as he spoke, he knew also that Markham had another reason for wanting him out of the way. That reason was Nada Warren.

Markham's lust, Markham's greed for power, had been his reasons for framing Wade Baron. Even though Wade had once been his closest friend. The picture of that scene in the Justice Chambers flashed back to Wade Baron, then. He saw himself facing Markham. He heard his own voice saying huskily, "I'll get you Markham."

There in the darkness and stench of the tiny cell, standing above the body of the brutally murdered Jardon, Wade Baron reasserted his vow.

"It's still a bet," he told the silence. "I'm going to get you, Markham. I'll get you if it's the last thing I do!"


CHAPTER VI. — A BREAK FOR LIBERTY

FOR three hours Wade kept silent vigil beside the body of Professor Jardon, and during those hours his mind explored the possibilities of escape.

The murky half-light which seeped into the cell from the high barred window near the ceiling had almost vanished, making the gloom of the tiny cell deeper. Frantically, Wade searched for some idea, some method by which he could escape.

The guards, he knew, were due to arrive at any moment. It was imperative, consequently, that he prepare himself to strike for freedom then. His opportunity would never be better. They would be thrown into confusion when they found Jardon dead. It might give Wade a chance to make his break.

For the knowledge from those documents would never be of aid unless he could gain freedom. He had stuffed the papers deep into the side of his space boots, which he still wore.

Once he was free, once he had gained Planet Twenty—Wade had plans after that.

Wade panthered furiously back and forth in the narrow confines of the tiny cell, accepting ideas only to reject them again as implausible, unworkable. Time was an essential. At any moment he might hear the tramp of guards marching down the silent cell corridors.

His lean features twisted in desperate concentration, Wade ran his hand through his lank black hair, across the short beard which three months had grown, and looked up toward the ceiling.

The tiny aperture, barred and high from the floor, which served as the only window, provided no chance for escape. It was much too narrow to permit Wade to wriggle through, even to slide half a shoulder into. He discarded the thought. Discarded the thought, and then returned to it.

Brow wrinkled in contemplation, Wade studied the window. He looked, then, at the still body of Professor Jardon. Restlessly his eyes scanned the barred opening once again.

"It might," he muttered softly. "It might work."

Rapidly, then, he tore long strips from the tunic shirt which he had placed over Jardon's face. Working swiftly, lest the guards approach before he was ready, Wade twisted the strips into a long cord. He jerked it several times to test its strength, was satisfied that it would hold. Long enough anyway.

Then, improvised rope in his hands, Wade sat down on the damp cobble-stoned floor of his cell to wait for the sounds of approaching guards. Silently, desperately, he was praying that it would work.

Later, perhaps a half hour, perhaps an hour, the faint sound of heels clacking down the corridor outside the cell came to Wade's ears. He leaped to his feet, straining his ears. He had to make certain. Couldn't take a chance.

"The guards," he grunted in satisfaction a moment later. Then, swiftly, Wade Baron went to work. A lot hinged on the reaction of the guards when they'd find Jardon dead by the door.

His makeshift rope was through the bars of the tiny window. Through the bars while Wade, finding foothold in the irregular surface of the damp wall, clambered toward the opening until he could hang from it by one hand.

The sounds of the approaching footsteps were growing much louder, and sweat broke out on Wade's forehead as he worked desperately with his free hand—fastening a noose.

It was ready, and Wade managed to swing his head through it, after tying the other end of the improvised rope to one of the bars. He still clung, with his remaining strength, to the bar by means of his free hand. A lot was going to depend on timing. He couldn't wait too long, couldn't be too hasty, in letting himself drop into the strangling bonds of the noose.

For Wade Baron intended to hang himself.


THE sound of the footsteps was less than twenty feet from the cell door now. Twenty feet, coming closer. Wade prayed that the guards would cut him down in time. The strangulation would black-out consciousness—it would be better than feigning it—and seem similar to death. But it couldn't kill him, if the guards acted in time. Wade had to chance that.

The death of the scientist, and the consternation of the guards at it, would make Wade's pseudo-suicide seem real enough when they saw him dangling from the bars.

Keys were clicking around the lock of the cell door. Voices muffled by the intervening door, were grumbling. Wade released his grip on the bars. Released his grip and felt the strangling cord cutting in on his throat, cutting off his breath.

Spots were dancing before his eyes, and he could feel the veins bulging out on his forehead. The keys were still clicking tantalizingly in the door. Through the wave of horrible darkness that was pressing in on him, Wade had time to pray that they would enter the cell in time, would cut him down before his trick turned into horrible reality.

The spots were bigger and blacker, flashing sparks mingling with them. Voices swam dizzily in Wade's brain. As if in a nightmare, he could feel his hands reaching up to his neck, clawingly, desperately. Then Wade Baron knew no more.

The noose had closed out consciousness....

"Throw 'em in the corner. Dead ones. Stiff cremation tomorrow morning." The voices buzzed fuzzily in Wade Baron's mind, and he felt hands lifting his apparently lifeless body high, a few steps, then a sickening drop as he struck stone pavement.

Some instinct enabled Wade to keep from moving, keep from crying out, although his mind was still hazy, still dazed. He lay there, scarcely breathing, hearing the voices, hearing footsteps sounding by his body.

"Going to catch hell," he heard the voices clearer now. "The old man wasn't supposed to have been liquidated, just pushed around a bit. Doesn't make any difference about the other, though. Just as good dead." Recollection of what had happened was returning to Wade. "I'd hate to have been the one who kicked the old man's skull in."

It had worked. The air on his cheek told Wade that he was in some sort of a clearing. He'd been cut down in time, taken for dead, and dragged outside with old Professor Jardon's body!

He held his breath, certain that the excited hammering of his heart could be heard by anyone within a yard of him.

The voices were moving away.

"Pick 'em up in the morning. There are other stiffs to bring up. Six more passed off in their cells today. Cremation for the bunch tomorrow."

Eyes shut fast, Wade waited until the last echo of the foot- steps died away on the pavement. He didn't move then, however, for he couldn't be certain that all had gone. He wondered if it were dark enough to risk opening his eyes, then remembered that twilight was descending into the gloomy cell when the guards were approaching. It must be dark, he reasoned, for his eyes would have sensed any light, even though shut.

Nevertheless, Wade waited for what seemed to be an endless century until he was certain that there were no more sounds. Then he opened his eyes a hair-breadth of an inch. Darkness surrounded him.

Moving his head slowly to one side, accustoming his eyes to the darkness as he did so, Wade could see that he was in a large court, open to the sky. A large pavemented court in which at least fifteen or twenty bodies lay lifelessly together. Lifelessly with the exception of one—Wade.

Still Wade acted with infinite caution, moving laboriously, slowly, inch by inch, until he was in a better position to view the court. It was deserted save for the corpses.


CAUTIOUSLY, Wade rose to his feet. Looking at the bodies lying around him, he was forced to shudder. Some of them had obviously been here at least a week. Evidently the cremation spoken of by the guard took place at spaced intervals, possibly every two weeks.

The freshness of the air did not entirely drive off the stench of dead flesh. Wade's jaw shut grimly. So far so good. But this was a momentary sort of freedom. He couldn't stay here.

He was free of the cell. But now he had to find some manner of escaping Cardo itself. Slipping into the even inkier blackness along a wall beside him, Wade proceeded cautiously toward a gate which was visible at the far end of the court.

Now and again he would pause, listening, craning his neck to peer through the darkness ahead. Then, assured that the way was safe, he would move forward several yards more. In this fashion he finally reached the gate to the courtyard.

There was no one at the gate. Dead men need no guards. With a soft sigh of relief, Wade slipped through the portal. He forced back an exclamation of joyous surprise, as his eyes swept the terrain ahead of him.

Off in the distance was the towering black bulk of Cardo prison—which meant that the guards had taken him outside of its confinement completely! Evidently the convicts who died inside its walls were removed to this court where they were left until cremation.

Wade judged the prison to be more than a mile away, and lying on the far side of it, he knew, was the landing base for the prison space ships.

The government guards and wardens who served on Cardo Planet were quartered less than a quarter of a mile from the space landing platforms, Wade recalled, remembering a descriptive map of the planet which he had studied in connection with a survey some years before.

Between Wade and the space platforms lay the prison, with guards stationed in watchtowers, and the Resident Service quarters. If he could slip past these—His jaw hardened. He had to!

Wade Baron started toward the prison, across the open terrain. Suddenly he stopped short. The chance of his being seen by a guard was too great. He dropped to the ground instantly on this realization. His fingers, as he pushed himself slowly across the barren stretch, kept slipping in the peculiar clay substance from which Cardo was formed. He paused, breathing heavily, the confinement of months in the cramped cell telling heavily on his strength.

He wondered if his gray tunic could be discerned from the watchtowers, and as he wondered was seized with an idea. Five minutes later, Wade had smeared himself from head to foot with the black slime clay—perfect camouflage.

Inching once more along the open terrain, Wade stopped suddenly, his veins turning to ice.

"Watch!" The word came from somewhere behind him, accompanied by the sluck-sluck sound of boots moving toward the place where he lay. His heart began a furious tattoo of terror in his chest, and he buried his face deep in the slime clay.

"All well, Watch!" another voice answered through the darkness. But the boots moved closer, closer. Wade thought he could hear other steps retreating, fading away.

There was an almost imperceptible knoll to Wade's left, and he prayed that it might conceal him from the approaching sentry. From the sound of the sentry's steps, Wade judged him to be less than ten yards away by now.

Five yards. Wade held his breath.

There was a startled gasp, and simultaneously Wade knew that he had been observed and the guard was investigating. He cursed inwardly, body tensing, as the steps slucked directly toward him. He knew that he would never be hidden, once the sentry drew within a few feet of him. So he did the only thing left to him under the circumstances. He waited until he heard the tread of the boots almost directly beside him.

Then Wade Baron rose from the slime, black, terrifying, gaunt. Rose from the slime and launched himself in a swift dive at the guard who stood frozen in open-mouthed horror less than three feet away!


CHAPTER VII. — A WAY TO ESCAPE?

TO Wade's advantage were the surprise and confusion of the guard. Whatever he had expected to find, when his attention was drawn to the object in the black slime, he certainly wasn't prepared for an incredibly wild attack by an escaped convict.

A hoarse cry catching in his throat, the guard went down beneath the weight of Wade's body. Wade's fingers had found the jugular vein, worked along the neck to the wind-pipe, and he squeezed without compassion, without mercy—savagely.

The cry choked off into a weak gurgle, and minutes later, Wade felt the helpless struggling of the fellow cease, felt the body go limp beneath him.

Wade's hand flashed to the side of the guard's body, found the holster and pulled forth a light-lugger. He rolled off the inert, unresisting form of his victim, lying silent on his stomach for an instant, looking wildly about to see if the struggle had been noticed.

It hadn't.

Light-luger clutched in his hand, Wade started to inch ahead once more. Started, then stopped. Quickly, he inched back to the body of the guard, an idea born. Stripping off his tunic trousers, Wade used the inside of the garment to partially scrape the slime from his body. Then he went swiftly to work on the guard.

Five minutes later, still slightly dirtied by the remnants of the black slime, Wade Baron rose. He was clad in the crimson tunic of a Government guard. In the darkness, from a distance, he looked like any patrolling sentry.

Wade walked rapidly, now, and with confidence. From the watchtower he would never be taken for anything but a sentry. That was all he needed, to get past the prison. Past the prison and onto the space landing platforms.

He passed beneath the first watchtower some three minutes later. Passed beneath unchallenged. The same held true of the other three watchtowers. Five more minutes, and Cardo Prison was behind him.

Down a gently sloping hill lay the Resident Service quarters, a series of alumno-chrome structures as modern as the prison was medieval. From the glowing fluero-domes on the tops of the buildings, Wade knew that many of the guards and wardens were resting for the night.

He hoped, with a brief fervor, that they were resting soundly. For going through that small village was going to be his most difficult task by far. The streets, through which he would be forced to pass, were all illuminated. Not brilliantly, but enough to give him away should he be seen by any restless guards.

Wade steeled himself. The streets were deserted, but he couldn't be certain that they were going to remain that way. His hand slipped to his side, and he patted his holstered light-luger for reassurance.

"This should help," he muttered, "if anything goes wrong!"

On the other side of the little village were the space landing platforms. In gaining those platforms lay his only chance of gaining freedom. Wade stepped into the first of the streets, walking swiftly, but not at a pace that would cause undue suspicion. He was conscious of the appearance he presented under light.

Clay slime still matted his beard and hands and face, and although he was clad in the Guard crimson, he knew that one look at his face would betray him.


WADE made the first block unmolested, unnoticed, and breathed a short sigh of relief. There were two blocks left to cover. Two blocks left to the landing platforms. Already Wade could make out the platforms in the distance. Huge space hangars, squatting frog-like along the edges of the platform, seemed empty-jawed in the darkness.

On the landing runways were at least a dozen space craft, set in mooring for immediate take-off. Wade could see this by the outlines of shadow on the platforms, even though the platforms themselves were cloaked in darkness.

He was in the middle of the second block when it happened.

The sound of a door swinging open made him turn. Turn to face a man emerging from a building less than five feet off the street beacon he was passing. The fellow, Wade saw instantly from his flashing tunic, was a sentry, a guard!

The fellow, a burly man with massive shoulders, had just strapped on his holster when he sighted Wade. His mouth opened, as if to voice a greeting, at the sight of Wade's crimson tunic. Then his startled glance shot to Wade's face, took in the matted beard.

Wade's light-luger was in his hand at the same moment that the guard drew his. Simultaneously, white flashes spat from both guns, the peculiarly loud whine of the shots breaking the silence.

Wade had thrown himself forward even as he squeezed the trigger, taking his fall into consideration as he aimed. The guard hadn't thought as speedily. An expression of horrified pain split his wide features, and his light-luger clattered to the pavement as he crumpled face forward after it. The acrid stench of burning flesh filled the air immediately, but Wade didn't need it to know he'd scored a hit.

Scored a hit and roused the other houses with the sounds of the shots. Wade didn't wait. He set out at a dead run for the landing platforms. Somehow they seemed miles away, and Wade, zigzagging wildly down the center of the street to destroy the aim of the guards whom he knew would be in pursuit, knew that luck and luck alone would enable him to reach the platforms alive.

Flashing light-lugers were already whining behind him, and Wade knew that luck wouldn't play partner long enough for him to reach the platform. Shouts from the street from which he had just fled, told him that the guards were pouring out after him. Soon, he knew, he'd be brought down by a searing light blast.

One block remained. One block between Wade and comparative safety. But even as he turned down its lighted pavements, he knew it would be too much. His light-luger was still in his hand, and he resisted a crazy impulse to turn and fight it out with his pursuers. His breath was tearing in his throat, rasping, choking him.

Flashing spurts from the light-lugers of his pursuers whined around his ears, and Wade knew that he'd be lucky to make fifteen steps more before one of those shots brought him down.

An then, to his right, he saw the glimmer of a neon conductor pole, a thin, column-like tube placed back three or four feet from the street edge. Wade aimed as accurately as his stumbling run would permit, his mind subconsciously registering the fact that the street lighting depended upon the power from this tube. Aimed and squeezed hard on the trigger of his light-luger. It was a direct hit.

The neon conductor tube shattered explosively, and the streets were thrown into utter darkness in the next instant.

Breathing a choked prayer of thanks, Wade darted sharply to the right, lurching onward to the space landing platforms. He gained the first platform two minutes later. He could hear the confused shouting of his pursuers ringing in the darkness behind him.

Wade clambered onto the second landing platform, heading for a row of small space fighter ships. If there was one ready—

There was, and Wade climbed inside its cabin just as he heard the footsteps of his pursuers clattering onto the first platform. Wade made his way to the control board and struggled into the pilot's seat. An instant later, and he threw the rocket throttle wide. His heart caught somewhere in his throat as he listened for the answering response. If the ship weren't charged—it was!

The deafening detonations of the rocket explosions belched sweet music in Wade Baron's ears, and orange streaks of flame splashed across the platform from the rear and side rockets of the tiny space fighter.

Wade released the gravity brake. Released the brake and felt the angry power of the rockets hurl him back against his seat as the ship hurtled upward toward space—and freedom!


CHAPTER VIII. — PLANET TWENTY

PROFESSOR JARDON'S cosmic map in his chart panel, Wade Baron sat at the controls of the tiny space fighter more than thirty hours later.

There had been no pursuit from the guards on Cardo. The darkness, the confusion, had evidently made them give up the idea of following Wade. A radiograph, Wade knew, had more than likely been issued to the Space Patrols, warning them of his escape. But Wade, taking an obtuse course, stayed away from the space lanes.

And now, according to the interplanetary range chart of Professor Jardon, Wade knew that he was less than three hours away from the old scientist's fabulous planet, Twenty.

The strain was telling on Wade Baron, and his eyes were red and puffed from fatigue, his muscles screaming their demand for rest. But he clamped his jaw tighter, shaking the veil of weariness from his mind. He had to carry on. Once he reached Planet Twenty, there would be a chance for badly needed rest. But not until then.

"Not until then. Not until then. Not until then." The voice was a drone in Wade's ears, buzzing, humming, sleep-provoking. With a start, he sat bolt upright. He realized that the voice was his own, that he had almost fallen asleep at the controls. Looking at his panel he gasped. The time register told him that two hours had passed! His gaze shot swiftly forward to the visascope, and he threw back on his space brake violently, slackening speed.

He was rushing down on Planet Twenty!

It was less than a quarter of an hour later that Wade eased the space fighter gently along the smooth terrain of Twenty, slipping to a landing, less than three minutes after that when he clambered out of the space ship.

Wade had donned space-gear over his crimson Guard tunic, for he knew the atmospheric conditions of such a small planet would make such protection necessary.

Standing there, Wade gazed open-mouthed at the gleaming silver domes of a village-like cluster of buildings a quarter of a mile in the distance.

"Jardon's science structures," Wade breathed. His mind was still grappling with the realization that here was a planet about which no one—save himself—had any knowledge.

He moved forward then, toward the science structure village, a hundred questions in his mind. Questions concerning the power that lay within those silver-domed buildings. The power at which Jardon had only hinted.

Wade found himself on the streets of the strange, silent village five minutes later. On all sides of him were the silver- domed structures which, on closer inspection, resembled great dynamo turbines.

There was a tall, box-like building of chromealloy directly in the center of the village, and Wade made his way toward this. It was, he was fairly certain, the central laboratory about which Jardon had spoken in the electratyped documents.

The documents had stated that there, in the central laboratory, would be contained the information key to Planet Twenty and its treasures of scientific power.

The deserted streets seemed ghost-like, ominous, to Wade. And he recalled again that men had died, that Jardon had given his life, rather than reveal the secrets of these silent avenues.


WADE had taken forth the electratyped documents as he climbed the steps leading to the door of the central laboratory. There were directions on these pages, directions which would lead him to the power he sought. Halting momentarily before the chromealloy door, Wade flipped swiftly through these papers until he found the page concerning the laboratories.

"In the fourth room in the center of the laboratory, a room marked ZR2, will be found the necessary information," Wade read.

He marched through the door, his space boots ringing hollowly along the aluminum floored corridors of the vast hall in which he found himself. A hall that was lined on either side by a series of doors numbered in the fashion of the one he sought.

Wade pushed back his curiosity concerning these other rooms. He knew that the scientific wonders of Planet Twenty were not confined merely to the power he was after, but the rest could wait. His mission was clear. First of all, to satisfy Jardon's dying wish and his own revenge, Matt Markham would have to be taken care of.

"Ah, there it is." Wade paused before a door on his right. "ZR2!"

He pushed in through the door, and found himself in a small room, utterly barren save for an oblong chest of a peculiar metal which stood in the center of the place.

Wade frowned as he walked over to the chest. He bent over, inspecting its odd construction. He tried the lid, and it swung open, revealing a small, blued-metal box resting on a sheaf of papers.

Lifting the box from the chest, Wade saw that it was equipped with a double set of leather thongs, running along on either side of it. They looked as though they might be meant for a man to slip his arms through, like the straps of a knapsack.

Wade placed the metal box on the floor and pulled the papers from the chest. His brows creased bewilderedly at the title on the first of the papers.

Slowly, then, he began to read, now and again bending to inspect the small metal box and the series of dials on its flat surface. When he had finished the papers, Wade picked up the metallic box, slipping his arms through it, so that it hung suspended from his shoulders, dialed side facing outward. He had only to reach his hand to his chest to adjust the mechanism.

For a moment Wade stood there, continuing to study the papers which he had taken from the chest. Then he crossed the tiny room to the door, stepping once more into the corridor. He still held the papers in his hands, as he moved down the long hall toward the door by which he had entered the central laboratories.

Moments later, and Wade Baron found himself again in the silent streets of the science structure village. He moved along slowly, stopping every so often to inspect the turbine-like domed buildings.

"No wonder Markham wanted this information," he muttered in awe. "Good God, the havoc that could be wrought through it is more than incredible!"

Utter exhaustion was claiming the mind and body of Wade Baron, and he knew that he must rest before he collapsed there in the deserted ominous streets of Planet Twenty.

But after he was rested enough, once the fatigue was conquered, Wade had plans. Plans that involved Earth, and Matt Markham, and the reclaiming of Nada Warren—before it became too late to act. Before Markham had time to act.

Wade's red-rimmed eyes were utterly lack-lustre from his weariness. But a fierce determination blazed in his soul.

He would need rest, he knew that. But it was a selfless rest he sought as he retraced his steps to the tiny space fighter on the outskirts of the science structure village. A selfless rest that would strengthen him enough to carry on from where Professor Jardon had left off, to settle a long-awaited score with Matt Markham, and to rid Earth of the menace of Markham's greed.

Even as he unstrapped Jardon's precious secret from his shoulders, placing it carefully in a compartment near the instrument panel of the space fighter, Wade knew that he would have to force himself to sleep. For the burning eagerness to get on with his mission, to get back to Earth, was a ceaseless throb in his temples.

Wade stretched out on the cushions of the control seats in the tiny space craft, deliberately closing his eyes, letting the blissful blanket of coma slip about his mind. Minutes later, Baron slept....


IT was a refreshed, refurbished, newly resolved Wade Baron who sat behind the controls of the space fighter some twelve hours later. Planet Twenty—its secrets and strength symbolized by the small metallic box lying next to Wade—had faded back in the distance. Ahead lay Earth. Earth and Matt Markham.

Grimly, Wade pictured Markham's confusion and horror at the sight of the man he had thought condemned to a living death, pictured the swift and deadly justice that would come to Markham from Jardon's secret.

"I don't think," Wade muttered, "that Matt will have any welcome banners out for my arrival." Then he thought of Nada Warren, and the tiny muscles at the corner of his jaw tightened in a brief prayer. A prayer that he would arrive in time to prevent Markham from getting Nada. For Nada, thanks to Markham, thought Wade Baron was dead. Wade could vision Markham's phony condolences to Nada. Condolences that might make Nada turn to Markham for solace.

Hours slipped by as Wade drove the tiny craft mercilessly through space. In his mind he was forming a plan. It was obvious that he didn't dare land at Space Base in New York, for Government guards would seize him before he could reach Markham.

But there was a long unused and now deserted space landing base at Long Island. Wade decided to land at this point. From there he could make his way to Markham's palace at Government headquarters. For a while Wade had contemplated going directly to the Unifyer. He could place his information, information pointing to Markham's treachery before the Unifyer and leave the rest to the Government Leader.

This was the logical thing to do, if it weren't for the fact that Wade knew Markham had undoubtedly placed men in key positions close to the Unifyer. Men who would prevent any such information from reaching the highest official in Government.

Besides, Wade had a driving desire to see this through alone. In addition to the other scores that were to be settled with Markham, there was his own personal accounting to be demanded. Wade didn't want to relinquish this pleasure of revenge.

So Wade slipped to a landing, many hours later, at the long deserted space landing base at Long Island. He noticed, as he braked his tiny space craft into mooring at a rusty catch-tower, that there was no one about the place. Which was as he wished it.

Divesting himself of his space gear, Wade once more slid his arms through the knapsack-like harness attached to the metallic little box. When it was resting securely against his chest, he made several careful adjustments on the dialed front.

Moments later, and Wade stood alone on the deserted landing platforms.

"Now," he said to the silence surrounding him, "for a personal accounting with Matt Markham!"


CHAPTER IX. — FACE TO FACE

GOVERNMENT HEADQUARTERS in New York, located in the mile-high Unification Building, centered in the heart of the metropolis, buzzed with a suppressed excitement. On the top floor of the towering structure were the personal offices of Government Commissioner Matt Markham.

Behind an elaborate chromealloy desk, attired in the brilliantly crimson tunic of his military rank, sat Matt Markham, Commissioner. Blond and beefy, his face an inscrutable mask dominated by the coldness of his eyes, Markham faced three guard officers who stood at attention before him.

"This," Markham declared matter-of-factly, "is the day of reckoning. Our men, men loyal to your Commissioner and our Cause, have all received their instructions. To you three belongs the burden of this task." He looked at them for a moment of dramatic silence, then continued.

"Our plans have been carefully, exactingly made. There should be no flaw in the mechanism. Each and every man knows his exact duty. Each and every man knows our appointed zero hour, at which time he is to perform that task." He stopped again for an instant. "You men represent the inner guard. It is your duty to see that the armed forces of Government fall behind us in this plan."

A short, dapper little guard officer spoke.

"That will be taken care of, Commissioner. Everything will go through as scheduled. The rank and file of the guards, of course, know nothing of what is to happen. But the officers are so strategically placed that there should not be the slightest hitch in the plan. The men will follow the officers in control. We have seen to it that only officers loyal to our Cause will be alive when the zero hour arrives."

Markham smiled.

"Splendid, then. Our friend the Unifyer should be quite unpleasantly surprised within the next few hours!"

A thickset guard officer, heavily pockmarked, bared his lips in a jagged-toothed smile.

"The old fool will never know what happened to him."

"Neither," added Markham, "will the people."

Markham nodded, then, indicating the meeting was at an end.

"The next time I see you, gentlemen, it will be in the luxurious suite of the Unifyer. Good day, and good luck!" He gripped the hand of each briefly. Then they turned and left the room.

The pock-marked officer paused at the door.

"Good day, Unifyer!" he smiled.

Commissioner Markham smiled in return, and when the officers had gone he leaned back in his chair, a curious expression on his face, the lust of power in his cold eyes.

In just two more hours, Markham told himself, he would have complete control of Government. The neonboard on his desk flashed a deep purple, and Markham leaned forward, flicking the switch.

"Yes?" he said into the board receptor.

"Miss Nada Warren to see you, Commissioner," a voice answered in reply.

Markham's grin of self-satisfaction deepened.

"Send her in."


SEVERAL moments later Nada Warren entered the elaborate suite. Her ash-blond hair, falling to the shoulders of her black, close-fitting tunic, her delicately-chiseled features, soft red mouth, and warm brown eyes, served to produce the usual sensations on Markham. Behind the cold glitter of his gaze, his mind was inflamed with the dancing sparks of desire.

"Nada!" Markham rose from behind his desk and stepped forward to meet the girl in the center of the room. He took her hands in his, and the touch of them served to make his beefy face flush deeper.

"Matt," Nada was speaking, "I've just come from the Patrol officers."

Markham's eyes narrowed.

"I told you, Nada, you must get reconciled to the fact. Any further search for poor Wade is useless. He's gone, Nada. Dead. I've checked the Patrol offices myself, every day for the last three months. If there was anything to indicate that Wade was still alive, they surely would have known."

Nada Warren seemed to crumble inside at the words.

"I, I suppose you're right, Matt. But I can't help clinging to some hope. You know how I feel about it."

Matt Markham forced himself to soften his tone.

"Sure, Nada, I know how you feel, poor kid. I feel the same about Wade myself. But we must accept the fact that he'll never return. Lost in a space wreck, poor devil. He's gone, Nada, and we must face it, the two of us."

Nada Warren turned tear-stained eyes to the man who held her hands in his.

"Matt," she said brokenly, "you've been splendid. I shall never be able to repay you for what you've done, for the consolation you've been to me."

Matt Markham was thinking: Yes you will, Nada, you'll be able to repay me. You're going to repay me, Nada, and sooner than you think.

Markham said:

"I don't expect any repayment from you, Nada. Wade meant much to me, too, don't forget it." He dropped her hands. "Sit down, Nada, and relax a bit. I've something I must tell you."

Nada Warren took a seat beside the huge chromarble desk.

Matt Markham brought forth a platnoid cigarette case, offered a cigarette to Nada, took one for himself. When he had lighted them both, he returned to his seat behind the chromarble desk.

"Funny," he said, blowing a cloud of blue toward the ceiling, "how many ancient customs have clung, in spite of civilization. We still smoke, for example, just as those in centuries before us."

But as Markham spoke he wasn't concerned with the words he uttered. He was thinking: Yes, many things are the same in spite of progress, Nada. The desire of a man for a woman. My desire for you. Civilization's progress hasn't been able to change things as basic as that. I want you, Nada, and I'll have you. I'll have power, too, beyond all reckoning, within this hour. Within this hour my men will strike. You don't know about that, Nada. But it doesn't really matter.


MARKHAM'S thoughts made him glance abruptly at his watch. Less than an hour. In less than an hour the revolt would be under way. He cleared his throat, shifting his gaze to Nada Warren, knowing that the words he spoke would have to be carefully chosen.

"We've learned to have much in common, Nada," he began.

Nada Warren nodded.

"Yes, Matt. I guess we've been thrown together pretty much these past three years."

Markham smiled. This was taking the trend he wanted.

"The two of us have been through much," he continued. Then, abruptly, "What do you think of me, Nada?"

Nada Warren was slightly startled by the question.

"Why," she said slowly, "I think that you're splendid, Matt. You mean a great deal to me—as a friend and companion. You know that, Matt."

Markham pursed his lips thoughtfully. This would have to well acted. Nada was no fool.

"Nada," he said, in an excellent imitation of painful hesitancy, "I don't know if I should tell you this." He paused abruptly. "No forget it Nada," his expression was one of remorse, "forget I ever tried to tell you."

Nada Warren frowned.

"What, Matt? What is it you're trying to say?"

Playing his role to the hilt, Markham shook his head sorrowfully.

"No, Nada, please forget it. I can't say it. I wouldn't be fair to the memory of Wade."

"Matt," Nada Warren's voice was soft, "Matt, please tell me what you're trying to say. Please."

Markham forced himself to keep his voice calm, with just the proper amount of torment in its undertones.

"I'd never say this, Nada, if Wade were still alive."

The girl remained silent, gazing at him in perplexity.

"Nada," Markham burst forth, "you've come to mean more than anything in the universe to me!"

"I, I, don't understand, Matt," the girl replied. "We've had much in common; you've been grand. I think you're fine. But for anything—"

Markham rose, face flushed.

"Nada!" he said huskily, "you have to listen to me, Nada. I want you, girl. I can make you happy. I can make you forget the tragedy of Wade's death. You think a lot of me, Nada. You said so. You'd make my life utterly complete, Nada!"

Nada Warren rose from her chair.

"Matt!" she said, and Markham could feel the shock in her voice, the bewilderment.

"Nada," Markham said desperately, "I'd never had told you, if Wade were still alive, believe me, Nada. Please believe me!"

Nada Warren's face had gone white, strained.

"Please, Matt. Please. You don't know what you're saying!"

Markham moved to where the girl was standing, reaching out and taking her hands roughly in his.

"Please, Matt!" The bewilderment in Nada Warren's voice, bewilderment and growing alarm, was lost on Markham. He pulled the girl toward him.

Nada freed herself in a quick twisting motion, retreating a few steps.

"Matt, don't, please. Don't!"

Markham's eyes glittered coldly, while cursing himself inwardly for his poor timing. But the die had been cast. It was up to him to force the thing through.

"I just want to give you happiness, Nada, that's all. I love you, Nada. I always have. Now that Wade is gone, can't you, won't you consider me?" His voice was hoarse, pleading.

"Matt, you're forgetting yourself!" The alarm had gone from Nada Warren's voice, to be replaced by icy frigidity. She fixed Markham with a cool level gaze, her eyes meeting his.

"Nada!" Markham's voice was strangled with passion and he moved toward her a second time.

His eyes, the lust he couldn't conceal behind them, made Nada gasp in terror.

"Matt! No! No!"

"I'll have you, Nada. Just as I'll have the world at my feet within the hour. I'll have the world to offer you, Nada. Riches, power, anything you want will be yours!" Markham had abandoned sham, abandoned pretension. His face was shining in unholy triumph, greed.


NADA WARREN had backed to the huge windows to the side of Markham's desk. Windows as wide as the other three walls. She felt their cool surface against her palms. Her heart was pounding wildly in terror, as she read the truth in his eyes. Her hand went to her red mouth.

"Matt!" she whispered hoarsely, "you killed Wade!"

Markham's laugh was savage.

"So you've figured it out, eh?" His voice became sharper. "Don't be a fool, Nada. I'll control the universe within this hour. I'll give you anything you want, girl. I'll have you whether you say yes or no!"

"You're mad!" Nada's voice was vibrant with horror and loathing for the man who advanced menacingly toward her.

Despairingly, Nada was aware that the window behind her was too thick, too solid, to smash her way through it. Through it to the streets a mile below.

"Don't come any closer," she choked, "stay where you are!"

"I want you, Nada," Markham leered, moving cat-like toward her, "I want you, and I'm going to have you!"

"No Markham. No, I don't think you are!"

Nada's glance shot to the far corner of the room, cloaked in heavy draperies. Markham halted, puzzled, bewilderedly, in his tracks. He turned automatically to face the intruder.

Nada Warren's voice came to him as he turned.

"Wade!" Nada gasped hysterically. "Wade!"

Wade Baron, mud-caked and bearded, gaunt and unsmiling, clad in a tattered crimson tunic, stood facing them! A small metallic box was strapped to his chest, and he held a light-luger unwaveringly in his right hand.

"Your draperies," Wade said with ominous softness, "provide an excellent listening post. You should have them removed, friend Matt!"


CHAPTER X. — THE FLAME OF REVOLT

"BARON!" Markham's cry was choked, strangling. "Wade Baron!"

"You seem surprised, Markham." Wade said with the same deadly softness to his voice. "Didn't you expect any visitors? Or was it that you didn't expect any ghosts as visitors? For I am a ghost, Markham. A man you sent to Hell. Remember?" Wade was moving slowly toward him.

"No!" Markham's voice was a trembling moan. "You're dead, on Cardo. They told me you died there!" His hands shot convulsively to his jaw.

"Look into my eyes," Wade said quietly, menacingly, "look into my eyes and tell me what you see there. A soul? No, Markham, you killed that thing they call a soul!"

Nada Warren crumpled beneath the strain, falling forward in a faint.

Markham's hand flashed to his side, but Wade was quicker. He was across the room in a bound, smashing the side of his light- luger against Markham's unprotected cheek. The weapon for which Markham had grabbed thudded to the thick rugs, and he stumbled backward, holding his hand to the gash inflicted by Wade's blow.

"Don't get any ideas, Markham. I want to talk to you, before I take care of you for once and for all!" Wade grated.

"How did you get in here?" Markham bleated.

"That's unimportant. Take a seat behind that desk," snapped Wade, indicating his command with a movement of his light- luger.

Wade was beside Nada Warren, now, the hate in his eyes softening for a brief instant as he bent over her body. His light-luger, however, was still trained unwaveringly on Markham.

"Water," Wade indicated the decanter on Markham's desk. Hand shaking, eyes fixed in horror on Wade's light-luger, Markham complied. In a moment Wade was forcing the liquid down Nada's throat. She was whimpering softly, and he held her tenderly in his arms.

"Nada," he whispered, "Nada!"

The girl sat up, dazed, shaking. She looked at Wade, at Markham, still frozen in terror behind his desk.

"Wade!" she sobbed, burying her head in his chest, Wade helped Nada to her feet, light-luger never leaving Markham's body for an instant.

"Go over there, dear," Wade said, pointing to the far corner of the room. Mechanically, Nada moved away, and Wade turned on Markham.

"Markham," Wade said with quiet menace, "we'll forget the things I've sworn to make you pay for—for the moment. I have a message for you. A message from another soul you ruined—Professor Jardon!"

Markham sat looking rigidly at Wade's pistol, wordless, hypnotized. A faint murmuring, a rumbling, drifted into the room from the huge windows by his sides.

"I've learned enough to fill the gaps during my absence from Earth, Markham. Jardon told me. A kindly, decent, splendid old man. The man you had kicked to death. Remember? He told me of your greed, your madness for power, and the way in which you intended to seize that power. I swore to him that I would prevent it, Markham. And I shall!"

Suddenly, as if coming out of a coma Markham leaned forward. The mention of Jardon, the reminder of his scheme, had changed him instantly.

"Baron," Markham said with returning confidence, "you're too late for your Girl Guide heroics. In another ten or twenty minutes I'll be supreme here on Earth, supreme in the councils of universal Government!"

Then his head cocked to one side, as the murmuring coming through the window grew sharper, louder. "Baron!" Markham rose from behind his desk, face flushed in triumph, "Hear that noise drifting up here from the streets?"

The sounds were stronger, a strange confused mixture of stacatto roaring. Wade, listening, paled slightly.

"That's the little coup you intended to stop, Baron!" Markham snarled with savage triumph. "It's started. No one is going to stop it, Baron. It means that in another hour I'll be Unifyer. My men are moving across the metropolis at this instant, sweeping on toward the Government quarters of the Unifyer. The army is behind them."


WADE stood rooted, facing Markham, doubt and anxiety mingled on his features.

"Harm me, Baron," Markham continued, "and it will be hell for you, hell for Nada, too!"

Wade had moved now, moved swiftly to the great window. He peered out, out down into the streets a mile below. It seemed as if thousand tiny ants swarmed excitedly, angrily around the streets. He knew, then, that Markham wasn't bluffing, that the hour of revolt was at hand!

Markham was laughing, now, laughing harshly.

"Go ahead, Boy Scout! Stop it. Stop it if you can!"

Wade was still facing Markham, light-luger trained on his enemy's body. His hand shot quickly to his chest, to a tiny dial on the lower right side of the metallic box strapped there.

"I'll turn it over to Jardon, to the hell he made for this emergency. The secret which you sought to wring from him!" Wade said evenly.

Markham's laughter was redoubled. "A little metal box, excellent!" His soft body shook with mirth. "Capital, Baron. A splendidly stupid bluff."

"Wait," Wade said, "perhaps you'll change your mind." His voice was level but his mind was chanting a desperate prayer, a prayer that beseeched his Creator to let the dream of the old man, Jardon's secret, not fail him.

Wade's gaze flashed momentarily to the great window, through which was pouring the increased volume of roarings from the street below. In the sky, he could see tiny red dots, doubtless space fighters controlling the revolt from the air. Wade knew that it was these space fighters of Markham's which would decide the fate of the battle. The Unifyer's loyal troops might crush an uprising on the ground but not while the insurgents controlled the air. Wade knew that Markham's space fighters must be conquered, destroyed before the revolt could be put down.

His hands flew to the metal box strapped to his chest, made swift adjustments. If Jardon's plan worked—

At that instant, as Nada screamed warning, Markham launched himself on Wade.

Wade had only time to half-wheel, as the heavy body of the other drove into him. He felt himself going down. The light-luger was still in his hand, and he brought it down heavily on the top of Markham's skull. Again, and again, until at last Markham went inert beneath the blows. Wade pushed him aside and rose to his feet, cheek torn from Markham's clawing hands.

He glanced quickly again through the great window. The huge clouds of scarlet-coated fighting ships were thundering in on the defenseless city, sending their streams of death blasting into the ranks of the Unifyer's troops.

A grim smile touched his lips as he felt a sudden throbbing hum emanating from the metallic box strapped to his chest. From across the uncharted expanses of space, from the silver-domed dynamos on Planet Twenty, power was flowing to him.

He waited anxiously, while precious seconds ticked away, while Markham's hordes of ships spewed destruction on the city, until suddenly an orange glow gleamed from a crystal indicator set on top of the metallic box.

Wade's jaw hardened. This was the moment. He moved closer to the window overlooking the vast panoramic view of the holocaust that raged below.


HIS fingers touched the master switch; the switch ominously and cryptically marked, Release. For a frozen atom of eternity he breathed a silent prayer and then his lean fingers shoved it home.

The humming stopped for a split second; Then it crescendoed into a shrill whining roar of power. Wade felt the metallic box on his chest quiver as untold, unimaginable power poured into it.

For an instant the volume of power grew—and then—from the tiny inch-wide opening in the face of the metallic box a myriad of silver pellets began to pour.

Like angry wasps they flashed toward the window, smashing through it with savagely destructive power. Wade watched tensely as the silver pellets continued to blast from the metallic box and roar into the atmosphere, swiftly gathering into white clouds above the scarlet-coated space fighters.

A savage exultation filled him. This was Jordan's secret. Electron bullets! Electron bullets powered by the mighty dynamos on Planet Twenty and possessing a destructive force beyond the imagination.

The stream of electron bullets had stopped now and Wade's fingers flew to the rheostats that controlled the flight of the silver streaks of death that had blazed from the metallic box. He made calculations desperately, adjusted the rheostat with trembling fingers that steadied suddenly, became sure, deft. It was if somehow, Old Jordan the scientist was beside him, cautioning him, advising him, even in death.

The silver hordes of electron bullets were plummeting downward now, diving into the closely-packed scarlet-coated space fleet of Markham.

Tiny streaks of death and destruction! For every hit they scored a space ship exploded with ear-shattering detonations. Under Wade's miraculously inspired guidance the silver wasps of death flashed through the ranks of Markham's fighters, looping and circling, leaving in their hissing wakes a trail of tremendous explosions and carnage. The unhit ships rocked and swayed, tossed about helplessly by the mighty blasts that followed the destruction of their fellow crafts.

Wade's mouth set in a mirthless smile as he watched the destruction of Markham's crimson tube-ships. The remnants of the once-mighty fleet of space fighters were turning now, turning frenziedly and streaking away from the scene of battle.

The struggling in the streets, Wade could see, was slackening as the traitors turned their eyes to the heavens and saw what was left of their most powerful ally driven from the sky.


GRUNTING in grim satisfaction Wade swung the silver streams of electron bullets into the fray below. Again and again he sent hissing streaks of death flashing through the barricades outside the palace, mercilessly decimating the crimsoned ranks of the traitors.

Under this onslaught Markham's men broke at last, running madly, hysterically for shelter. It was then that the Unifyer's personal battalion, wearing the gold and purple tunics of the Home Guards, poured forth from behind the barricades they had set up to defend the palace.

It was then that Wade felt assured that the backbone of Markham's coup was shattered, and that the Home Guards would swiftly be able to restore order in the streets.

Every nerve, every fibre in Wade Baron's mind and body screamed tautly from the strain he had endured. His entire being was flooded with a vast and infinite weariness. The battle had raged only an hour, but in that hour Wade had been forced to project his command to every quarter of the hostilities. It had been a staggering, incredibly taxing job, but he had managed it. Managed it, and now watched the revolt turn into a route, as the Home Guard broke the remaining resistance among the shattered ranks of Markham's followers.

Wade, with the gesture of an ancient warrior sheathing a battle sword, flicked the dial that would send the wasps of death back to the silver-domed dynamos of Planet Twenty.

He felt no personal triumph, for it had been Jardon who had conceived this, whose staggering knowledge had given birth and actuality to this tool by which democracy had been preserved.

Wade ran a hand wearily across his browned lean features, through his lank, matted black hair.

His ears rang loudly from the sudden hush brought about by the cessation of the loud explosions. All was silent, save for the muted noises drifting ever more faintly up from the streets.

Suddenly Wade wheeled rapidly, thinking of Nada, of Matt Markham whom he had left unconscious on the floor. Wheeled, and turned ghastly white in sudden fear.

Both Nada and Markham were gone!


CHAPTER XI. — MARKHAM'S LAST ACE

WILDLY, Wade's gaze swept across the room. There wasn't a sign of the girl he loved, the man he hated. Despairingly, cursing himself for a fool, Wade realized that Markham had probably dashed for escape after coming out of the semi-conscious state in which he had left him. Dashed for escape, taking Nada Warren with him.

Wade realized that the deafening noises of battle would have drowned any cries made by Nada, even had they penetrated his tremendous concentration at that time. He realized this and cursed again, starting toward the door.

There was no sign of them as Wade dashed through the outer offices of Markham's suite. There was no sign of them as Wade raced into the corridor. The elevator tubes, by which passengers were taken to the various floors of the towering Government Building, were, Wade found an instant later, not in operation. Naturally, at the start of the revolt everything else had ceased, and the operators had deserted their posts, probably leaving the tubes at the first floor of the building.

Which left only the emergency shaft passage out of the building. Wade started for this, certain that Markham, too, had been forced to use it. It was at the far end of the corridor, an opening to long successive flights of stairs which led eventually to the bottom of the gigantic building.

Wade was starting down the first of these stair-flights, when a muffled sound came faintly to his ears, bringing him to an abrupt halt. He waited there on the stairs, listening for a repetition of the sound, his heart hammering wildly at the realization of what it meant. The sound, seeming like a choked cry, had come from above, from the opening onto the roofs above. The roofs which, Wade remembered quickly, were used as space landing platforms by the building employees and officials.

The sound came again, and Wade knew it for what it was—a sob from Nada Warren!

In an instant Wade had turned on the stairs, and was dashing wildly upward once more, past the top floor, onward to the roofs, toward the vast landing platforms up there.

Even as he struggled gasping up the last flight, the flight leading directly out onto the roofs, Wade heard a grunted curse which could only have come from the throat of Matt Markham!

Less than a minute later, Wade burst out onto the roofs, onto the broad aluminoid space landing platforms. Burst onto the roofs and caught sight of Nada and Markham!

In that split-second, while time hung motionless, suspended, the tableau stamped itself indelibly on Wade's brain. There was a space craft there, in front of which Matt Markham struggled frantically with the wildly clawing Nada Warren. An object in Nada's hand—the wrist of which Markham held savagely—made Wade's glance shoot swiftly to the atomic motor of the space ship. It was cracked, useless, from a series of sharp blows. Blows that could only have come from the metal space landing bar which Nada held.

What had happened was now clear to Wade. Crystally clear. The space ship was the only one on the roof. Markham had contemplated making his escape in it. But Nada had somehow gotten the metal bar, opened the motor cowl and rendered the ship useless.

All this stamped itself on Wade's mind in the instant he stood there after emerging onto the roof. Then, snarling savagely at the sight of Markham brutally twisting the bar from the grasp of Nada, Wade went into action.


MARKHAM hadn't seen him emerge on the roof, had his back half-turned to Wade as he approached. But Nada, spying Wade, cried out sharply, and Markham wheeled just in time to catch a vicious smash on the side of the jaw. The blow drove him back and to the side, so that he sprawled on his knees beside the spaceship.

Nada Warren had dropped the bar, and it slid to within an inch of Markham's hand. Wade, diving face forward for it, was too late. Groggily, Markham seized it and drove it in a smashing blow toward Wade's skull. It missed its mark, landing sickeningly, paralyzingly on Wade's shoulder, bone cracking beneath the impact.

Wade felt searing flashes of pain drive through his shoulder. Nevertheless he managed to roll free from a second blow and rise to his feet. Markham, too, was now standing, facing him, the bar held menacingly in his hand.

The fury of madness was in Markham's eyes, the blazing hatred of revenge in Wade's, as the adversaries faced one another.

"Wade!" Nada Warren's scream split the air, as Markham hurled the bar savagely at Wade's head. Hurled it savagely and cursed hoarsely as it snicked past Baron's head by inches.

Wade could feel that the arm which had taken Markham's first blow was useless, and automatically his right hand shot to his belt, pulling forth his light-luger.

Deliberately, Wade centered the gun on Markham's head, was sliding his finger to the trigger. Then, he lowered the luger, threw it far to one side of the platform, beyond the reach of either of them.

"To hell with it, Markham," Wade grated. "I could burn your damned brains out with that gun. But I'd prefer to beat them out. Beat them out, slowly, just to see them splatter the platform!"

Markham who had paled at the sight of the light-luger, then gasped in amazement as Wade tossed it aside, grinned ghoulishly. His eyes darting to Wade's injured arm. He knew that these odds would be better than ever for him. And he moved forward toward Wade with an animal-like growl.

In the next instant he drove in a flying tackle, catching Wade below the knees, smashing him to the platform beneath his crushing weight.

Kicking desperately, Wade rolled free, his good fist smashing twice into Markham's unprotected face. Smashing twice, to be followed by a driving blow from his elbow as he rose.

But Markham was on his feet also, and coming after Wade again, endeavoring to drive in toward him from the side he knew to be injured. Twice, Wade lashed out with his uninjured hand, sending Markham reeling back from the sledge-like force of the blows.

Their struggle had carried them more than twenty yards from the space ship, and now they were less than the same distance from the edge of the landing platform, from the sheer drop one mile to the streets below.

Wade was unaware of it, but Markham was cunningly forcing the struggle in that direction, forcing Wade back toward the lip of the platform, back toward that sheer drop to death.


AGAIN Markham carried the fight, butting in toward Wade with his bullhead lowered, arms lashing clumsily, yet tellingly against Wade's ribs and face. And again Wade managed to slip most of the blows, to send several more thudding into Markham's soft midriff.

But the struggle was horribly unequal.

Markham had the odds, and he was playing them to the hilt. He knew that he had merely to keep his eyes on Wade's uninjured arm. For from there, and there only, could Wade do damage.

Wade was further impaired by the presence of the metallic control box, Still strapped to his chest. Its straps confined even his uninjured arm, making quick movement difficult. Steadily, therefore, he was forced to yield ground to the dogged charges of Markham.

Perspiration clouded his vision, and his matted lank hair slipped constantly over his eyes. But Wade fought on with a desperate fury born of stark revenge, lashing, lashing, backing step by step, as Markham kept coming in.

Wade was less than ten yards from the edge of platform when another rush from Markham made him retreat a step as he drove his fist into his adversary's now bloody face. It was then that he slipped.

He felt himself falling forward, but was powerless to stop, and he felt Markham's huge bulk hurtling down on him as the platform rushed up. Another instant and Markham landed on his chest, driving every last breath of air sickeningly from his lungs. Groggily Wade tried to roll out from underneath him, fighting for breath as he did so.

To Wade's amazement Markham had risen to his feet, was weaving blindly, holding his hands to his eyes, his face pouring blood. And in that instant, Wade realized that Markham's face must have struck full force against Jardon's metal box on his chest, been badly lacerated by the stunning impact.

Somehow, Wade struggled to his feet, blinking back the sweat from his eyes, the sight of the weaving Markham dancing fuzzily in his vision. He started out after that vision, a scream shrilling in his ears as the vision of Markham suddenly vanished!

Someone was holding him, wiping the blood and sweat from his face, sobbing, crying his name. The fog cleared and he saw Nada.

"Over the edge," Nada was sobbing hysterically. "He was blinded with blood, and staggered over the edge of the platform! You started to follow him, but I stopped you in time! Oh Wade, Wade!"


NADA WARREN was waiting outside chambers of the Unifyer when Wade emerged the following day. Her face, glowing with possessive pride and happiness, shone especially brightly at the sight of Wade's clean-shaven lean features, carefully combed black hair, and smiling wide mouth.

"You look a little different, Wade," she said, taking his arm as they moved toward the door together. "So different that I'll bet you impressed the Unifyer into handing over an odd planet or two!"

Wade paused there in the hall, beside the main door where the Home Guards in purple and gold stood stoically at attention, and put his hands on Nada's shoulders.

"Look, honey," he said, drawing her closer, "we don't want any planets today. Or tomorrow, either, for that matter of fact. All we want is what I asked for, and got, that soft berth in the survey department of Government. A soft base on Earth, good old terra-whatcha-m'call-it, huh?"

"Terra firma, honey," Nada replied, "terra firma!"

Wade looked pained.

"If you're going to start picking on me already, we might as well get married pronto. Make the persecution legal, huh?"

Nada Warren disregarded the, stolidly watching sentries, disregarded everything, in fact, except her answer to Wade Baron's question....


THE END