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JERRY SHELTON

BATTLE OF THE BRAINS

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RGL e-Book Cover 2019


Ex Libris

First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1946
Reprinted in Fantastic Story Magazine, May 1953

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-10-05
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Cover Image

Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1946, with "Battle Of The Brains"



Illustration


Immortal powers were conferred upon men when the colossus Klarth implanted their brain cases into invincible super-bodies—but Mason knew it meant humanity's enslavement!



TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. — A MONSTER IS BORN

ENDLESSLY the tape droned, over and over.

"... Do not be alarmed.... You are James Mason.... Do not be alarmed... This is an electronic brain-tape message.... Do not be alarmed...."

The brain stirred, a relay clicked.

"Awake! You must remember you are James Mason.... Do not be alarmed. Awake! You must remember...."

The tiny tendril of consciousness glimmered, then struggled Poised relays thudded.

"...James Mason.... Awake! .... You must remember your great destiny.... Do not be alarmed.... James Mason...."

Up—up out of velvet blackness, slowly, the mind spiraled. Thought tendrils, awakening, writhed uneasily. They pushed out questioning impulses.

"....You must remember you are James Mason.... Awake!.... You must remember your great destiny.... Do not be alarmed...."

Long stagnant thought channels connected. James Mason? That was him. Someone was calling. There was something he had to do—

Mason tried to move, and the effort blasted his mind with a wave of stinging agony. He had something to do, quickly, without delay. What was it? His world was a world of bottomless dark, spotted with whirling red flashes of pain.

James Mason someone had said. That was him! Memory prodded. And the pain—somehow he knew that was to have been part of it. He must expect pain. That, he knew. But why? The answer avoided him, shrinking as if his consciousness refused to face some dread knowledge.

"...Good, James Mason.... You are beginning to remember.... Do not be alarmed. ... The following periods will be painful but necessary if you are to succeed in your destiny.... You few men and women of great courage must survive.... This first impulse is connected to sight... You must locate and control this primary...."

Mason's mind jerked as if tugged by an invisible string. Sight? He had almost remembered. And that flick of a memory of the girl, her eyes brimming with tears? What—

Agony, searing bright, lashed at his mind like the cut of a whip. His darkness danced with jabbing flashes of pain, and Mason fought back in desperation. His thoughts raged up and down their quivering thought corridors, trying to stem the flashes. And failed.

"...Courage, James Mason.... Remember that all free mankind knows you men and women are our last desperate hope.... They thank you for your willingness to make such a sacrifice.... The next impulse will be severe.... It is connected to all your methods of hearing and speaking.... Courage, James Mason.... You must survive...."


ON the instant, Mason's reeling mind almost went berserk. The intolerable torture swelled. Up and up until the original intensity tripled. There, it held constant. Mason's ego shuddered. His thoughts were becoming jumbled and blurred. Distantly, he knew he had expected pain—but not this!

How did he know that? Why couldn't he see? Or hear? And like an evil cloud, the dark realization crept over him that he couldn't sense any connections with his arms, or legs—or anything. Desperate, in its agony, his mind flopped around erratically until it concentrated on one searing spot and straining, forced the pain down, and down—into nothing.

Mason thought he would faint, but his sub-level consciousness, clutching him up out of the darkness, supported him until he had finished seeking out and subduing each flashing spot of pain. The cool darkness that followed was soothing. Ecstasy!

"...Good, James Mason.... You may rest while your memory channels fully readjust.... You will begin to remember our great need for a super weapon after being driven to this our last refuge.... Accordingly, your brain was removed from your body and placed in the brain-case of a super...."

Mason's sub-level mind twisted. It had remembered! In terror, it tried to, scream. No—they couldn't do this! His mind—he—his consciousness in one of those metallic monstrosities. They couldn't!—

As remembrance washed into him, the ego that was Mason fought grimly to control the rising surges of horror that tried to engulf him. He had a job to do. There was no turning back now. The deed was done, and the regretful memory of that lithe body of his he had bid good-by—and the good-by to the girl with tears in her eyes—those things must be forgotten. All that was past.

He, James Mason, must put all those things out of mind. Irrevocably, there was no turning back. He had known that. He had volunteered—and he had a job to do. But first he must learn. It would take a long time. And pain. Much pain.

"...And therefore you now have a type of immortality.... You will no longer need sleep.... Your brain is fed and nourished constantly in an indestructible brain-case that is a complete unit in itself.... Your body is formidable.... How long a period of time it will take for the first stirring of your brain to activate these instructional tapes I do not know...

"Some of you patriots will never awaken, and some, if they awake, will be unable to withstand the pain necessary to locate all of their various channels.... Therefore some are doomed to go on living, imprisoned forever in a living death ... Courage, James Mason.... The next impulses will be locomotion methods attached to what originally were the nerve endings of your legs... Control them..."

The impulses ripped into him. Ruthless, strong and insistent, demanding the attention of his total consciousness. For an eternity, they jerked and twisted at his dodging mind. The moment he had located and subdued one agony, fresh points of hurt came darting at him.

Finally, there was no pain. He was floating in a pleasant soft blackness. Then—

"....You should by now have located all of your major channels.... The subdivisions are up to your own exploration.... Your sub-level consciousness will now begin to function as a separate automatic part of you. Attending to all the necessary involuntary functions of your existence similar to breathing and digestion in your original body.... In a way these will also assume protective and defensive measures...."

Mason felt almost peaceful. He had noticed that he now was beginning to feel a sense of existing as a body. Something deep down, buried beyond his consciousness, seemed to be taking over unguessable functions. It was a strange sensation, almost frightening.

He could feel fingers and arms and legs—but the alien quality of that feel sent a chill through him. He felt human—or didn't he? The blackness, occasionally, was beginning to show patterns. But what they were, he didn't know. And he was drowsy, and relaxed as if—The thought startled him. As if what?

His mind grappled with the problem, trying to find a word for the subtle difference and he became more uneasy. He was going to retain his humanness, wasn't he?

"....Like a developing child, James Mason, you must learn how to use and handle this body entrusted into your care.... This body has cost us millions of credits and millions of man-hours to create.... It is infinitely complex.... Do not be discouraged... It will take time.... But I urge you to hurry for time is vital....

"At the first outward sign or movement from you, we will contact you and prepare you for your purpose..... But since you now have strength and possibilities of destruction beyond your present comprehension, I advise you to be cautious.... Until then, James Mason.... You are on your own."

The tape clicked off, and James Mason's elation swelled up inside of him until he thought his brain would burst He had made it! The rest was up to him. And then the fearful question knocked at his brain about the others. How many hadn't made it? How many had made it? And how long ago? Was he late—or early?

His mind jerked back to himself and his alien body. Now—the rest of it was up to himself alone.


IT took a long time. A long, long time. But Mason finally moved what he thought was a leg. At first, he felt a resistance, then sudden movement and a jarring crash. He knew, with some sort of an unfamiliar sense, that he was in a different position. And more and more he was beginning to have a feeling of completeness. Of being almost whole again.

Well, he had moved. Now let somebody contact him.

He waited, and as the moments dragged into hours, he concentrated on the spot where he seemed to see images—blurry and confused—but images. He focused his attention on a small pattern in the center of the curtain before his mind. He strained his—eyes?

He moved his leg, and the pattern changed.

Realization came with such abruptness that it shocked him. He was actually seeing, by some sort of process, into outside! Mason's mind trembled. At last! Now he wasn't cut off from whatever was out there. Many pictures were there in the pattern of his mind, all blended into a single tapestry. And when he had moved, he had heard the scrape of metal against something. Of that he was certain.

Impatient, Mason wondered why somebody didn't contact him. He stared at the center picture again, and as he concentrated, unexpectedly, dismay crashed at him in an overwhelming wave. He could see girders—bat they were twisted and torn. And heaps of stone choked in weeds. He tensed. Those girders were rusted, as if—

Violently, Mason forced his legs to move, and he saw all the picture patterns change with a clarity that stunned him. The pictures showed wreckage, but from different angles and tons of it crushed their weight in an imprisoning grip on the long slim stern portions of himself.

Mason strained to drag himself free, and he heard tons of debris crumble and fall with thunderous crashes as he lumbered clumsily into the open. Undoubtedly, he had strength.

Through the rising clouds of dust he probed his vision—it seemed to be capable of various wavelengths—and saw that he was in a grass-covered opening that sloped through flame-seared trees down to a beach that dipped into an emerald green ocean. The pinkish sun, sinking on the horizon, glinted dully on the gaunt skeleton of what once must have been a proud and majestic building. And as night crept quietly into the lengthening shadows Mason felt an uneasy peace. At least he was free. But where were the others? And the wreckage—why?


CHAPTER II. — AWAKENING BRAIN-CASE

MOTIONLESS, six days and six nights, Mason lay in the grass-carpeted glade, waiting for the promised contact, and exploring his new body. He was monstrous, and fearsomely beautiful. Thirty long meters of diamond-hard steel. And his feet—the huge caterpillar treads—would retract into his cigar-shaped fuselage to make him a smooth, streamlined body should he desire to be airborne or water-borne.

The two immense steel-taloned arms that could fold flush into his hull were capable of removing the forward or aft gun turrets to the repair shop amidship near his brain-case.

Mason was tired of waiting. Doubt was gnawing at his mind. Perhaps he had been forgotten. Perhaps he was needed at this very moment. Surely a trial flight would—

Mason made a decision, and gave his innards a final check. Flight it would be. He wasn't sure of his control over this massive body of his as yet, but he would make an attempt. Things had worked out much more quickly than he had expected. To master the ability of seeing by the reflection of the short radio waves he himself could beam out had been difficult. It still gave him an alien sensation when night hid the face of the earth and he sent his vision roaming far and wide.

Hearing, and speaking, by air-vibrationary methods had been less involved as he could practise by talking to himself. In fact, he still remembered the thrill it had given him when he first discovered how to shout Vision by ordinary light he had from every direction including the inside of his own body. That had pleased him.

Amidship, he could see and feel his smaller fingers, inside the workshop, putting things away in spanking order. The troubles he had experienced in trying to hear and speak directly in the radio spectrum still troubled him. It troubled him chiefly because he couldn't pick up anything on his receiving sense in that wave length. Surely, the doubt nagged him, the humans hadn't advanced so far during his long sleep that they no longer communicated by radio—or had they?

Evidently, he had been asleep a long time. The rust on the girders was rust. He had tasted it with his chemical analysis sense. Temperatures he could gauge to the fraction of a degree. And anything his ten-meter arms were capable of lifting, he knew to the gram, its weight. Anything else he needed he could manufacture in his workshop or jury-rig. It was a fine workshop complete with everything he might need.

Mason retracted his treads and concentrated on his main drive. For a moment, the results blurred even his super-senses as instantly, without warning, his ponderous body slid forward. It soared upward with such frightful force that the portion of building blocking his path was brushed aside as a straw in a hurricane.

Wavering, dipping and skidding, his seventy-five tons of hardened steel shot up and out over the emerald-green sea until the sky darkened to blue-black. His tense mind began to relax. Up here, he had room. Room to maneuver without fear of making a few mistakes in learning to handle this power that was now his. For the first time, then, he exerted himself to the utmost, narrowing his mind into an impulse of pure driving energy.


LIKE a meteor, he felt himself hurtled through distance. His mind began to sing. This was living. This was power. Behind him he could hear a crackling roar of thunder as the air thudded into the vacuum he was drilling through the thin atmosphere. He was like lightning, he thought He could make thunder! The thought was exhilarating. And exciting. A message sparked through space:

"233-G calling Klarth.... Evidence of brief surges of unscreened atomic engine somewhere on Earth.... Advise...."

Mason heard And understood. That had been radio! Elated, he was about to send out a call, but the brief joy dissolved as he heard the answer:

"Klarth to 233-G.... Locate.... Determine reason... If from awakening brain-case follow usual procedure.... If resistance is encountered dismantle brain-case by force.... Bring it here.... That is all."

Awakening brain-case? They must have been talking about him! But that message had sounded as if—

Mason checked his drive. Something was wrong here. Something was most definitely wrong. If resistance is encountered dismantle brain-case by force! Why should he resist?

Why should he resist what?

His vision flashed down at the city that budded from the continent rolling up over the horizon. That message had suggested outer space. The fact was becoming apparent that he was going to have to shift for himself. He had better investigate. Now!

Beneath him the land expanded and the city rose to meet him. It was a wrecked city. As far as he could see, the dead city was a twisted mass of tumbled, weed-choked ruins. Fire-blackened and overgrown with strangling vegetation.

The thickening air pulled at his body as Mason tensed himself for a landing. Then so powerful that it deafened his senses, a message knifed into his brain:

"Stop radiating all that energy, you fool." The voice had a strange quality to it. "You'll have them down here searching again."

Startled into inaction for the moment, Mason struggled to regain control of his hurtling body only to feel it crash a shattering half-mile passage through crumpling buildings and splintering trees before he lurched heavily to a stop. "What's this?" Mason managed. "Who are you?"

"Never mind. Wait for us to contact you. Either screen your radiation or get out of this area."

He tried to seize the direction of the beam and failed.

"Answer me," he beamed full power, "where are you? Who is Klarth?" Silence, in his mind.

Savagely, Mason lumbered his bulk around and a sudden flicker of motion on his upper panel showed figures moving on his starboard side. He shortened the wave length of his vision to see through the dust.

Humans! They were running away from him! And they were looking back over their shoulders, screaming with fear.

Mason was shocked. Why should they run? Why should they scream? They feared him! Why? He started after them at a reckless lumbering pace, heedless of the destruction his heavy steel body was creating. Desperately, Mason wanted to talk to somebody. He had questions to ask.

Like scurrying mice, dashing among the ruins, the men and women evaded him. Even the children eluded him. He could see them clearly now. Bronzed, half-naked in tattered clothes and ragged animal skins. Mason felt a sinking sensation. What had happened to his civilization that humans should run like frightened animals bare-footed in the ruins of a weed-choked city? Were all the cities like this?

A wall reared up before him, blocking his path, and he smashed violently through it. His port arm flashed out to seize the stumbling figure of a man. He felt bones snap in the flailing arm as his steel-taloned hand closed. Mason flinched—he hadn't intended to hurt. He only wanted information.

"Who is Klarth?"

He realized, with a start, that his voice sounded unnaturally loud and harsh.

The man's mouth was wide. Screaming. His terrified eyes rolled until only the whites showed. Mason swung his starboard arm around to try to hold the struggling figure less painfully. "Who is Klarth? Tell me! I'll let you go."

"He is like you," the man moaned. "He is up in the sky and his flying demons come down to take our best men and women."

Mason's mind skittered. Flying demons in the sky? Like himself? His metal hand tightened.

"Tell the truth, or I'll crush you like a frog. Why do you run from me? Why do you live in this wrecked city like animals?"

A distant part of his mind seemed to be rebuking him, cautioning him to be more gentle.

The human squirmed.

"You metal demons steal our minds. You won't let us build up the cities. You take our tools, our weapons."

"What happened to the war?"

Mason pulled his mind tight, waiting for the answer.

"Klarth ended it—many generations ago."

"Generations ago?" Mason was aghast. "Who is Klarth?"

"Like you—like you!" The man fainted.


A SCREAM—a woman's scream, reacted on Mason's taut nerves like a bomb blast. He saw a woman, beautiful in a human way, with long flying auburn hair, firm bronzed legs, running up to where his huge talon held the limp figure of the unconscious man. She was frightened, but her face and lips were tight as she tried vainly to pry her man free of his metallic fingers. The futile gesture gave him a wrenching shock.

Without word or movement, emotionally numbed for the moment, Mason watched her. A sickness was sweeping into him. Somewhere the Great Plan had gone astray. Some unforeseen factor had pushed in and wrecked the Plan.

Desperate men, pushed to the limits of human endurance, and the creation of a super-weapon, had seemed the only way to stem the sweeping onslaught of the human jackals that had enslaved nine-tenths of the world. The Supers were to have been the factor to save civilization, later to become impartial judges and eternal storehouses of human knowledge.

And this was the end result of what so many brave patriots had risked torture and death for—to become Supers! And the Supers had—what?

The anguish in Mason was intense. He was a Super now. For evermore! And mankind, for some reason unknown, hated him, feared the sight of him. He relaxed his claw and let the man slip into the dust covered rubble. He watched the woman begin to drag the man away, her muscles pulling and straining.

Yes, came the bitter thought, he had immortality, and unlimited power and super-senses. But to what end? For him there was-no hope of ever receiving a love like this woman expressed for her man. Nothing was left for him from mankind except hate and fear. He was unhuman. A metallic monstrosity.

And Klarth had caused all this? The question was an electric shock. The answer came almost quietly. Then he still had a job to do!

Mason roused himself. The woman had succeeded in dragging the man near a fire-blackened doorway. Grim, Mason pushed out his talons. The woman's despairing scream as he seized them was like salt in a fresh wound. He swung them back toward his workshop as the lock fell open and his inner fingers reached out to lift them inside.

The woman was hysterical.

"Don't," she begged, "don't take our minds. We're not smart. Please—"


CHAPTER III. — "IN THE NAME OF KLARTH"

MASON withdrew his hearing from the workshop. This was going to be unpleasant. Distantly, he watched a set of his inner fingers fashion metallic splints and adjust them to the man's shattered arm while his auxiliary hands manufactured a shovel, an axe and other tools. Before it was done, the woman had subsided and revived the man. Visibly, both of them were still terror-stricken. Mason lifted the couple outside. "You want tools. Here"—his fingers piled implements at their feet—"take them, and if you'll tell me how to find Klarth, I'll—"

"Klarth will find you, you fool," the voice crackled into his brain, "if you don't screen all that radiation."

This time, Mason was not caught napping. His automatic recorders snapped at the beam and indicated the direction.

"You again," he roared, "now I'm going to settle this."

Then to his irritation, his upper screen nickered to show the man and woman dashing away into the ruins. Anger boiled up in him. He had wanted more information. The tools lay untouched where he had placed them.

"All right, smart boy," he projected into the ether, "now I'm going to root you out."

He swung off in the direction of the beam and his churning treads threw swirling clouds of dust and pulverized stone high into the air.

"Please"—the voice had a tinge of urgency—"wait. You don't understand. Don't come here with all that radiation. I beg of you."

"Please? I beg you?" Mason repeated grimly. "What sort of a—" Even as the reply was uttered, his mind pulled itself up short as it guessed the answer. "Don't tell me you're a—"

Mason's attention was jerked away. Automatically, his sub- level functions, attending his far-flung safety-senses, had spotted something dropping rapidly in his direction from high in the stratosphere.

"In the name of Klarth—" It was the voice he had heard in that first alarming message—"I greet you."

Before Mason was aware of it, his sub-level had bristled his gun turrets out into the open. His guns began to track the path of the descending object.

The effect was immediate.

"Resistance is futile." The voice became brittle. "In the name of Klarth, surrender peaceably."

Mason tried to frame an answer while he examined the deadly sleek smoothness of the thing. Here was a Super that transcended the word. Its body filled the sky. His own body was like a baby in comparison. Despair clutched him as he noted the multiple heavy armament.

This Super wanted him to surrender—and would probably remove his brain-case! Then lie would be helpless beyond comprehension. Here was a crisis, and he had to face it now!

His mind began weighing the chances of escape by pure unexpected flight alone. Or did the Super expect that? And how fast a drive did this Super have?

"One question," Mason beamed. "If I surrender, what happens to me?"

His gun turrets continued to track, figuring deflection and angle of fire.

"Pull in your pop-guns." The Super sounded impatient. "The weak are not permitted to ask questions."

"I'm not so weak. I asked a question."

There was a pause. Then:

"Your brain-case will be removed and placed where it can learn to fulfill its proper purpose."

"What purpose?"

"The purpose of helping Klarth to build. And after you have had the proper disciplining Klarth thinks necessary, your brain- case will be placed in a Super worthy of the name and not in an antiquated junk heap like you now wear. Enough! Pull in your guns."

"Who is Klarth and what is he doing to the humans?"

"That is no concern of yours." The heavy guns swung on him. "Withdraw your turrets and surrender or 111 blast you."

IN answer, Mason's body exploded with every gun he could bring to bear on the circling Super and threw himself up and away with such terrific velocity that he could feel the resisting air begin to heat his outer skin. It was a warming sensation, and puzzled him, but his entire attention was concentrating on the earth that was a fleeting panel of dark green and the rapidly darkening sky.

His guns were still belching continuous streams of shells as his vision saw his first projectiles strike the side of the now pursuing Super. The shells exploded in violent flashes. And nothing happened!

"In the name of Klarth,"—the voice sounded bored—"I ask you to surrender."

The Super was gaining rapidly.

Mason threw everything he had, and saw three heavy rocket shells dart toward him. He dodged. The shells followed.

Twisting, turning in vain evasive action, Mason watched the rockets follow his every turn and sweep into him to explode in roaring bursts of white-hot flame.

Instantly, pain racked him. His mind faltered. This was impossible—pain! Sticking to his outer skin, the shells were burning and eating at him with unbelievable ferocity. His pain impulses, he realized in a flash, must be connected to his safety factors and they were trying to warn him that his body was burning. Burning in three places.

Like a hooked fish, he dodged and shook, trying to dislodge the searing agony that was destroying his vitals. Reaching out his arms he tried to brush the dripping, white-hot metal away and felt his talons melt into useless, fused blobs of steel.

The heat was becoming intolerable, and as the Super circled across his bow, a desperate thought drilled him. He would ram!

At lightning speed, his drive lashed him forward and the startled Super tried to evade. But Mason swung, feeling his nose section bite deep into the rear drive mechanism of the swerving body. As he ricocheted away he saw the Super pin-wheeling erratically off into space. He was free! And alive!

And then his own drive sputtered, and stopped. As his body, helpless to check its headlong fall, sighed down toward the waiting sea he heard a message, savage in its intensity, flung into space:

"Super 233-G calling Klarth—met with resistance—steering gear temporarily disabled—Super original type—falling into sea ten kilometers off Kanaka Island at—"

Mason hardly heard the rest of the message. Except for the knowledge that he was falling. Falling with an increasing whistling velocity into a deep emerald-green sea. And the torture of the white-hot chemicals that were eating him filled his entire consciousness. His body was melting, and the sea was pushing up at him.

He struck, with a resounding smack that threw an exploding, hissing geyser of steam and sea water hundreds of meters into the air. The shock penetrated, even into his brain-case, and Mason felt weight crushing his mind as the waters resisted his driving speed.

Helpless now, he plummeted down and down through ever- darkening green water that soon became black. He could feel sea- water pouring into him in gushing torrents and the hiss and crackle of short-circuits.

His super-sight went dead. He was blind! And still he settled through the darkness that was now a squeezing pressure, dragging him down into its cold bosom.

At last he felt himself touch bottom, sinking into a soft ooze. Remorseless, the crushing water still penetrated deeper into his innards. Frantically, lying on his side, he tried to right himself with the blobs of metal that were his arms. His treads churned at top speed—and the muck sucked him deeper. Mason concentrated on his main drive until his mind ached. No result!

Panic was now smothering him. He had to get out of this bottomless ooze. The relentless pressure was squeezing the deadly water into all his vital parts. In moments his mechanical functions would cease, leaving him buried forever under tons of chill black water.

Mason fought. His struggles only forced him deeper and deeper into the clinging muck until finally, his treads slowed, and stopped. He was trapped. His last hope of escape was gone.

The devastating reality closed on his mind like a vise. He had failed. He had had a job to do—and failed.

For a long time, Mason's thoughts did nothing but revolve grimly in an immense whirlpool that spun slowly around that one fixed idea—he had failed! The blackness had swallowed him. Now he was doomed to a living death until the seeping sea-water finally, in ages to come, would eat out his life. That would take a long, long time. Mason's mind refused to guess how long.


SOMETHING touched him! Mason jerked himself alert. He had felt the scrape of metal.

"You fool, I warned you," he heard. "Why didn't you wait for us to contact you? Can you answer?"

Hope flared up like an expanding nova. He tried to answer and realized sickeningly, that his power of communication was out. He could only receive.

"Never mind, we have been watching you," the message came. "This beam has a limited range, so listen quickly while there is yet time. Before long Klarth's patrol will find you and remove your brain-case. They'll take you to Klarth and your mind will be drained of all it knows. Therefore I can't tell you much, only that we are desperate and we intend to take the gamble that this small piece of information will go unnoticed. If it doesn't get by—then you're finished anyway and we'll try something else."

The first wave of hope now splintered into shocked amazement. What could this mean? If here were forces opposing Klarth, why wasn't an attempt at rescue made here and now? Before the patrol found him?

"We've got to get information into Klarth's fortress in jigsaw portions," the voice went on, "and when you arrive, after you are disciplined, one of our agents will contact you by presenting a part of this hook-up I'm about to give you. Later, I will permit myself to be captured and I will then have the third part.

"It's risky, but it is the only way we can get at Klarth. With it completed we should be able to do something. From the small parts I know, I'm still ignorant of what it is or what it will do. Now listen."

In a dark mood, Mason listened. The voice described part of an electronic hook-up. That was all. And the portion of it he had didn't make sense. The voice finished; he felt a metallic scrape and then the rest of the message seemed to be fading in the distance:

"If you were trying to guess back there at our first meeting"—the voice hesitated dryly—"that I am a female—you are right." Mason could barely hear the words now. "You didn't think only you males had the nerve to survive into a Super did you?"

Mason raged at his useless water-soaked interior. He wanted to say something.

"I'll be seeing you," came faintly, "the name's Judy."

As the minutes, then the hours, limped by, Mason regarded the black curtain that was himself almost without emotion. The death of the brief hope that had flared up like a flame within him had left him empty and dry. There was nothing more he could do. Except wait. And while he waited he thought about the female mind that said her name was Judy.

Why should she let herself be willingly captured by Klarth if she knew more of the chances she was taking and the possible horrors that might befall her than he did? That took courage. Or did he really have the slightest idea what this was all about? Things had moved too fast—without enough explanation.

Mason had the uneasy sensation that he was an infant in a world of adults. He wondered about Klarth, and the hook-up, and if he would betray himself. What then? Time passed, and the dark sea-water ate at his life.

It was a question whether he would survive long enough to become part and parcel of the dangerous plan to destroy Klarth. He was not in it alone. Others were depending upon him One was a girl. He must fight to help them and help himself.


CHAPTER IV. — NUMBER 405

THE patrol arrived. Mason could hear them. They conversed among themselves, ignoring him completely, as they cut out his brain-case. And when his connections were cut he was left immersed in a universe of silence and darkness. What took place after that, or how long he was imprisoned in his blind, soundless world until light flooded him, he never knew. But now he could see again. In one direction only.

He was in an airless room that soared away from him into an arching vastness of polished blue metal and gleaming green columns. The exquisite designing and perfect craftsmanship drove home the realization of the mighty organization he intended to try to match wits with. At the far end of that immense room was a colossal figure—a statue—of a man, arms upflung as if reaching high into space above for some unguessable purpose. Mason tried to estimate the size of the figure and failed.

It was gigantic, seemingly carved from a single solid crystal of some crimson jewel. It sparkled, and cast glittering lances of bloody light as if it were alive.

Then astoundingly, the arms moved and folded themselves across the monstrous chest. The noble head looked down upon him. Apprehension fluttered through Mason. How far had these Supers gone with their experiments in being—not human?

Voices boomed inside his brain-case:

"We—Klarth, greet you."

For three seconds, the unbelievable greeting just skipped across Mason's already tightened mind. He heard his own voice:

"We—?"

"James Mason, you are one of the last remaining brain-cases to awaken. In the years that have rolled by, we have accomplished wonders greater than the original Planners could dream. You are about to receive a period of disciplining to prove to you it is useless to combat the minds that make up Klarth."

Mason exploded.

"Minds? What—"

The majestic figure went on as if Mason had not spoken:

"In the years past, since We grasped the futility of serving or fighting wars for the puny desires and wishes of the human race, We put a stop to their further efforts to build and fight among themselves. Our science has expanded and advanced until now We are approaching the brink of a goal that We—Klarth, have preordained."

"What are you doing to those humans?" Mason's voice rapped before he could control the impulse. "Who do you think you—"

Without warning, his power of speech was yanked from him.

Mason raged inwardly. His mind went white-hot, brimming to the bursting point with anger and helplessness.

Surface fire flickered over the towering statue.

"James Mason, you are helpless to resist Our wishes. Your training and discipline is about to begin, after We have drained your brain on the chance that you might possess information concerning the few outlaw Supers that continue to defy Our demands.

"Let it be known to you now, that an attachment will be wired into your brain-case that gives Us the power to punish or reward you, or if necessary to blast your brain into oblivion the instant We so desire. You are about to feel the power of this attachment."

Unable to move, Mason watched a low, squat machine roll toward him.

"Also let it be known to you that ample opportunity will be given you to study and learn. Your brain will be subjected to a test at the end of each one-thousand-hour period to check on your development and loyalty. From this moment on, you will be known as number Four hundred Five with a classification of A. As your mentality and capabilities develop, your alphabetical rating will increase. When you attain an E rating you may request assignment. That is all."

Unbearable brilliance streamed from Klarth.

"Proceed with the examination and install the control."

Mason watched the darkening figure return to its original position of supplication, and unexpectedly, his contact of sight and hearing was removed. He was again in darkness.

Mason felt something unclean come crawling and wiggling into his mind. It was unpleasant The sensation nauseated him. It felt like a monstrous leech beginning to suck at his brain. It made him want to retch. The sucking continued until mentally he felt weak and exhausted, and then it stopped.


SECONDS later, he felt tingling impulses shoot into him, swelling and growing into a tickling irritation that became intolerable. He wanted to move. To twitch and scratch things he could not reach—and he was held immobile. The sensations piled up, topping each other in rapid succession until his consciousness became a whirling, jumbled maelstrom of agony.

Each separate sensory channel was jamming with the ultimate feeling it could produce. He heard a mind-shattering roar like thunder, and piercing, high-pitched squeaks that grated his nerves. Every pain his human body had ever been capable of experiencing was being relentlessly pounded into his splitting brain.

Mason knew he was burning and freezing and hungering and smothering. His mind screamed—until it all mounted up into a wrenching climax that was rapidly pushing him over the brink of reason into insanity.

Mason had stopped thinking. He was suffering.

Then it stopped. Musically, like the delicate shattering of a crystal bell, and the fragments tinkled down into a quiet that was dark. Relief swept over him like the touch of drifting rose petals.

A long period followed and Mason was filled with peace. He seemed to be floating in an ethereal world of soft light and shadow, tinged with unearthly colors that streamed out to touch and paint the drifting pattern of his mind with fragrant perfumes that chimed and danced, swirling in and out of him with sensations of unbearable sweetness. Fleeting ecstasies that left behind the overwhelming longing for all this to go on and on, and on....

Mason drifted. Time stood still except for a tiny nagging voice within him that continued to grow louder and louder, forcing itself into his drowsy consciousness, demanding to be heard. He had a job to do! That was it! He had a job to do.

It was an effort, but Mason struggled, and fought against the animal impulses that were greedily soaking up the drug-like sensations that stupefied his mind.

Blurry images began to appear. They sharpened into focus. He was in some sort of a laboratory. Hearing flooded him like the crash of a wave.

"Welcome, Four-o-Five A." The voices were rich and vibrant. "You have a remarkable mind, and evidently great force of will. Your length of submission to the purest of pleasure impulses was shorter than the usual brain would accept. That is highly commendable. You should do well and advance rapidly."

Mason sensed he had a body. Small, but he could move. And hands. He tried to locate the source of the voice he had heard when he awakened. But he was alone, in a gigantic room, crowded with white tables piled high with unfamiliar apparatus. He saw thousands and thousands of spools of reading tapes. Lathes, coils, wires, presses—hundreds of thousands of silent objects that overwhelmed his immediate comprehension. Like the room of Klarth there was no atmosphere. Where was he?

"Observe, Four-o-Five A," the voices beamed into him. "You see before you all of civilization's amassed knowledge. All this is yours to investigate and use as you see fit. The ways of Klarth can be wonderful indeed. You have just had a lesson in the administration of extreme pain—and extreme pleasure.

"Klarth has the powers to grant you the sensations of your own choosing. This choice you will make by your conduct, inner thoughts and rate of progress. At the end of one thousand hours, if your progress has been satisfactory, you will be elevated to the rank of Four-o-Five B and rewarded with a period in the Worlds of Pleasure. That is all."

Mason wasted no time in useless speculation as to where he was or why. He went to work immediately. If he was to accomplish anything he would have to make up for lost time. But the uneasy question remained of when, where, or how, he was going to find out what he was supposed to do with his third of the electronic hook-up.

When the time came, Mason was determined to do his part whatever it might be, in spite of the fact that the might of Klarth made any attempt seem utterly hopeless. Meanwhile, he had many things to learn.


THE first one-thousand-hour period passed all too quickly. Mason was astounded that the time had slipped away. He had been so engrossed in the contents of the laboratory, drinking from the incredible fountain of inexhaustible knowledge, that he felt a sense of irritation when the rich voices broke in on him.

"Klarth offers Their congratulations. You have been observed. You have done well in your investigations. Following a brief mental examination and a period of reward in the Worlds of Pleasure you will be promoted to Four-o-Five B. For the next thousand-hour period you will be permitted to build a body of your own design using the knowledge you have gained, and incorporating any fittings or inventions you may choose. When you have risen to the grade Four-o-Five D you may move in. That is all."

Mason's world went blank. He fretted at the waste of deme. He wanted to get on with what he had to do. The leechlike sucking at his brain this time was brief, and to his surprise he found his mind was strong enough now practically to ignore it.

A crystal tone, shattering into fragments, announced the influx of the pleasure sensations. For the first few moments Mason chafed and fought to free himself as he had done before, but the sensations continued in overpowering force. And somehow, they were different this time. More exquisitely so. As if his mind were capable of greater powers of pleasure and fantasy.

Finally, Mason relaxed and gave himself up completely. Perhaps Klarth really did know what was good for him. The thought only shocked his drowsy mind a trifle. He wasn't slipping, was he—letting Klarth win him over? No, deep down, an inner part of him knew he still had that job to do—even if—his lazily drifting mind had to admit it... Klarth really had something here....

Mason awoke, and buried himself in his second period. He labored unceasingly on the body he was building for himself. Although massive in bulk, it was still trim and exquisitely beautiful. Its translucent, milk-white skin flowed constantly with writhing streamers of soft colors. Mason was proud of it. He had it finished before the second period was up.

Klarth seemed pleased with his creation and from then on Mason's promotion was rapid. His 405-C period he devoted entirely to the further development of his brain, and the results became apparent to him during the succeeding pleasure period. He discovered he had an awakening power that could partially control the Worlds of Pleasure to his own whim or design. The effect stunned him.

If this was possible with a C rating—what could he do with the powers of an S rating which Klarth possessed? He was beginning to conceive the infinite powers that were possible when many human minds were interlocked as one brain.

How many minds made up Klarth? The unwelcome thought came that perhaps Klarth had the key to the ultimate destiny of humans. After all, weren't brains what made humans—human?

And then the dark thoughts would come of what Klarth was doing to the human race—holding them in bondage, smothering their development and raiding their ramshackle villages for brains. Brains to be put into the limited brain-cases that controlled the machines to keep Klarth's civilization functioning.

Why should Klarth give only the awakening brain-cases such unlimited opportunities? Could it be that the original brain-case volunteers had a mental fiber that was necessary?

Mason tried to imagine the horror that flooded the hapless humans, who, unwillingly were forced into brain-case service. The mortality rate must be enormous. The awakening minds either snapped, or else became so damaged that they were capable of running only the most simple machines. Occasionally, Mason tried to guess Klarth's ultimate purpose and got nowhere.


CHAPTER V. — CONSPIRACY OF THE SUPERS

WHEN Mason was granted 405-D and permitted to move into his powerful milk-white body his elation was short- lived, as the entire period of study passed without indication of contact from the agent concerning his purpose. He was beginning to feel power and wanted action.

The first clue that things were beginning to happen came when he received his 405-E rating, and asked to be assigned to the repair laboratories, explaining he wished to study the installations of more mature Supers.

The huge repair laboratories were located several levels above the room where he originally awakened. The connecting corridors were wide, airless tubes that permitted the Supers to pass each other with room to spare. Mason learned much, but it was not until 537 hours, when Super 233-G came in to have his circuits checked, that he knew things were approaching a climax.

Mason recognized him instantly as the Super that had shot him down the day of his first flight. Without a word, he rolled over and began an inspection of the wiring system. When he had finished he heard the Super say:

"Take a look at my short-beam transmitter. I need some ideas on screening."

Silent, Mason extended his vision inside the transmitter. Unexpectedly, he received such a mental shock that his vision blurred for an instant. There, in a tiny corner of the transmitter, was a portion of an electronic hookup that would fit a part of his jigsaw portion perfectly.

"Got any ideas?" continued the Super in a cool voice.

Mason could feel strength gather within him. The contact had come. Things were beginning to happen at last. He was about to insert his working fingers with the essential equipment when doubt struck him. This could be a trap! Perhaps Klarth had tripped up the other agent and was trying to draw Mason out.

Mason hesitated only a moment. The chance had to be taken. He inserted the proper tubes and adjusted the wiring. He rolled back.

"Would that help?" Mason asked.

"Perfectly," the Super replied. "It is not complete, but I think I will have the rest of it soon. Meanwhile, I suggest you build a similar circuit and see what you can do with it. Perhaps it was more than luck that it was I who shot you down—otherwise I might never have received this assistance. That is all."

233-G lifted smoothly out of the lab.

Mason's mind tightened. It was evident from 233-G's casual talk that some sort of observation was probably being made. That meant he had to work harder than ever to get the freedom and equipment of a G. And the next promotions were increasingly difficult.

But at least with a G rating, he should be able to contact 233-G outside the confines of wherever he was. Mason still didn't know where he was. He returned to his work on other Supers.


EIGHTEEN hours later, without warning, Klarth's all-too- familiar mental torture thudded into his mind. Mason fought, with all the new-found power of his brain, but the pitiless punishment tore his attempt to quivering threads, and while the agony continued, voices spoke:

"This is a lesson, Four-o-Five. You are receiving this disciplinary measure for failure to report fully the extent of overhaul of Super Two Thirty-three-G."

The torture vanished as suddenly as it had come.

"You will file a complete report immediately," the voices went on, "and your brain will be checked for accuracy."

Mason was dismayed. He couldn't file a true report, and although he had been studying the original models of those brain- leeches in an attempt to find some way to outwit those brain- sucking periods, he still wasn't positive he could do it. Regardless, he would make out a false report and try to drill the knowledge of the electronic hook-up down to a level where the leeches could not get at it.

The false report was made out, and while he waited for the coming check-up, Mason experimented with the deadly little attachment on his brain-case that gave Klarth such complete power over him and all the other Supers.

To his keen disappointment, Mason discovered that it was impossible to tamper with the device without flooding himself with such intense agony and dizziness he couldn't continue. Klarth seemed to never overlook a thing.

The brain-leeches came and tested him. They departed without comment from Klarth. For the first time in many periods, Mason returned to his labors with a definite feeling of confidence. For once he had outwitted Klarth.

If he could do it once, he could do it again. But the thought that became a nagging worry, as the following periods slid by, was concerning 233-G. Suppose 233-G were given a surprise test? Surely he had some means of deceiving those unholy leeches—or did he?

Pulsing, as if gorged with blood of its own, the colossal crimson statue towered over Mason as he slid his own ponderous body to a stop beneath it and waited. Whether this figure was actually Klarth or not, he thought somberly, it was effective. He was about to receive final instructions.

"Congratulations, Four-o-Five G." The voices were like music. "You are now in the first stage of independent action. You will be allowed freedom and given patrol duties to perform. You will discover that this kingdom of Klarth is an independent world of metal, floating or moving where We so desire. You are to guard it with your existence itself. After a suitable period you will be advanced. That is all."

As if to impress him, Mason saw the tall figure gesture, and bewilderingly, Mason found himself floating in free space. The stars were hard and unwinking, staring at him through the distant black curtain of space.

Mason's growing confidence in himself collapsed like a house of cards. Where was he? How did he get here? What unguessable power was he trying to conquer with a pitiful two-thirds of an electronic hook-up he didn't even know the use of?

Somewhere in his mind, an instinct was beating that told him the direction of the world of Klarth. He was about to swing in that direction when his far-flung vision reflected an object hurtling like a meteor across his bow.

Automatically, he recognized it as 233-G and Mason saw with amazement that 233-G's entire forward structure, gun turrets included, had been blasted away as if the steel were made of tinfoil. A melted hole gaped in the stern.

"Capture that Super!" The message crackled into his brain. There was no mistaking it was from Klarth. "Avoid as much damage as possible. Bring him here."

The shock of his discovery, and the puzzling message poured torrents of indecision into Mason. What should he do? 233-G was evidently in trouble.

"Do as they say, Mason." It was a tight beam boring into his brain from 233-G. "They can't hear this. I've got to talk to you."

A blast of rocket shells erupted from his stern gun turrets in Mason's direction.

On the instant, Mason took flashing evasive action, and then his first quiver of alarm at the flares from the gun turrets subsided when he saw that 233-G was shooting at such an angle that he would have plenty of time to neutralize the magnetic charge of the rockets.

Mason tightened his communication beam as he easily demagnetized the oncoming rockets and avoided them in a skidding swerve to the port.

"What happened?" he asked on low power.

233-G's guns spewed forth another barrage of shells.

"Blast me so I can't escape," the other replied. "Make it look good and I'll explain while you take me back."


DODGING the speeding rockets, demagnetizes on full, Mason sensed what must be done if Klarth wanted to examine 233-G. He closed rapidly, firing with all eight gun turrets and watched 233-G disappear in a blinding flash of orange flame. He felt sure that only the rockets necessary to do what he intended, would hit.

"Perfect," came the low message. "Got my drive and also destroyed hook-up. Suggest you report to Klarth."

On full beam, Mason reported to Klarth in the proper manner as he extended his grapplers:

"Super captured. Am proceeding to base. That is all."

"Well done," flashed the brief reply, and he was alone in space with 233-G.

"Klarth had me hauled in for a surprise check-up," explained 233-G on the tight, low-powered beam. "The other third of the circuit has arrived and—"

Mason's mind soared.

"That means—"

"Don't interrupt, there isn't much time and I've got to tell you what to do. There isn't much chance for me after Klarth gets a talon on my hull. That was my area where I let you crash me the first time. I had to give them time to get to you with the information, since you were speeding things up by blundering around with all that unscreened energy."

"How was I to know?" Mason interrupted. "When I found all that wreckage I was mad enough to want to do something for the humans."

"We all want to help the humans," 233-G said tensely. "But a long time ago, six Supers put their brains together in a single unit as an experiment. The results were unfortunate. They became Klarth and got the upper hand by convincing the existing Supers at that time, that the attachment They wanted to install, was some sort of communication device. Once the gadgets were installed, Klarth became the masters. They can kill you with that thing, let alone torture."

"I know," said Mason bitterly.

"Anyhow, Klarth became suspicious of my interest in the newly arrived brain-case and demanded a complete inspection. The brain- leeches I could deceive—but I knew I couldn't stand a physical inspection.

"Klarth is pretty smart. If They found that hook-up they might be able to figure out the other third. So I didn't hesitate. I blasted down to the level where the mechanism for permitting ships to pass through the outer walls is located."

"Where is that?" cut in Mason quickly.

"Level twelve—section eight—corridor thirteen—room three. Got it?"

"Got it."

"You can't miss it. That's one of the things you had to know. We're getting close now. I'll have to hurry. Anyhow, I pretended trying to escape and figured I'd let you get me. That's the only way I could think of getting to you, now that the situation is critical. I knew I didn't have a chance, so I headed your way and They nicked me a few times."

The gray question was spreading through Mason's mind that if 233-G, with all his knowledge, had been caught and felt certain that he couldn't get away successfully—what chance had he? He pulled his attention back to the instructions.

"When we get inside and Klarth starts to give me a going over to find out what I know—I'll guarantee to hold Their entire attention for a short while. While I'm keeping Klarth busy, you've got to get to the new brain-case and find out the rest of the hook-up. It's in the workshop getting worked on for an exam. I haven't the slightest idea what that circuit is supposed to do, so from now on, it's all up to you."

Klarth's metal world was swelling in his bow plates. The outer skin glistened dully in the starshine, and as he approached with 233-G in tow he saw the metal skin become translucent, then transparent, as if nothing barred his entry into a yawning corridor.

"Proceed!"

It was a command.

Mason pushed on, felt a slight brushing resistance, and he was through into the corridor that led into the room of Klarth. Multiple talons reached up from the floor to relieve him of his burden.

"Well done, Four-o-Five G. Recharge your armament supplies and return to your patrol. That is all."

Mason lifted himself on his drive and drove down the center well to the arsenal. He stuffed himself to the full on the deadly heat-producing rocket shells. It looked as if soon he would need plenty.

His thoughts were grim as he flung himself in the direction of the workshop. This was going to be a close thing. What good were all these efforts if Klarth could blast their minds internally if they should show the slightest resistance?

But he certainly could not stop now, with so much at stake.


CHAPTER VI. — BATTLE OF THE BRAINS

THE D class Super working on the brain-case beamed Mason as he entered and lowered his treads. "Yes?"

"That brain-case ready for the examination?"

"Klarth hasn't ordered it sent in yet."

"I'll take it. Klarth is busy with an emergency."

The Super D's fingers paused from their work.

"That is not like Klarth. They would have informed me. I will contact Them first and—"

Mason's metallic talons flashed out. They closed on the body of the startled Super with a clash of sparks. The Super's working body of soft metal was crunched inward by the irresistible pressure as if it were made of cheese. In a split second, Mason's inner fingers had jabbed into it and disemboweled the life out of the mangled wreckage by jerking the brain-case, dangling wires and all, free from any possible contact with Klarth. He pushed it out of the way.

Immediately, the voice of Klarth crashed into him.

"Four-o-Five G, report to Our presence. Your actions have been observed."

Hurriedly, Mason lifted the newly arrived brain-case and swung it into his body where his inner fingers moved it into the main workshop he had installed forward of his own brain-case. He connected the speech and reception centers directly into his own system.

"This is Mason," he said tensely, "what's the rest of the hook-up and hurry."

"What's my name?" came the cool answer.

"This is no time for games. What—"

"What's my name?"

"Judy," he snapped. "What's that hook-up?"

He retracted his treads and lifted down the corridor toward the room of Klarth. For the moment, he had to appear as if he were obeying the command.

"I had to be sure." The voice had a soft feel to it. "It's so dark in here and I don't know where I am."

"The hookup—" Mason was impatient. He had to figure this thing out, find out what it would do, try to rescue 233-G and then he didn't know what. With each moment he was drawing nearer to the room of Klarth and the unknown fate that awaited him.

"All right!" came the piqued answer. "The others are waiting within tight beam range to help if you can make it work. Listen."

As the instructions followed, Mason assembled two of the circuits and plugged them into their brain-cases. The hook-ups didn't look like much.

Mason halted his massive body just outside the room of Klarth and his mind wrenched savagely at the problem. It was just a transmitting circuit of a type that didn't give him the slightest inkling of its use. He turned it to low power. Nothing seemed to happen. None of his senses could detect that it was even pushing out anything.

"Is it finished?" came her question. "What is it? What will it do?"

"I don't know." Mason's words were hushed.

It took seconds for the realization of what he had said, and the enormous significance of the words, before his mind thundered as from the blow of a gigantic hammer. Here was victory, apparently within his grasp—and he didn't know. And Klarth wanted him.

"Do that again," came her startled thought "Do what?"

Before he could get a reply he felt his ponderous body jerked with such irresistible force that the next few seconds were jumbled into a meaningless pattern.

When his senses cleared, he saw he had been pulled into the room of Klarth and massive talons held him in an unbreakable grip of steel. Near him, ripped from its body, lay the brain-case of 233-G.

"Four-o-Five G, you are guilty of treason," came the stern message. "Your unaccountable actions were observed. You will be punished, demoted and your brain-case removed to perform menial tasks. If you resist We will blast your brain into oblivion."


AS Mason felt the punishing torture grip his mind, despair poured into him in an all-engulfing flood. What a fool he'd been to think he could try openly to get that brain-case. There was no escape now. This then, was the end. The time was past for planning and dreams.

Klarth had tripped him up and had him helpless like a stone in quicksand. He couldn't even attempt an escape. If he did, instantly Klarth would burn out his life. And the humans? He had bungled their only chance to have removed the heavy yoke that throttled them.

Mason's mind quivered. He was feeling an alien sensation struggling somewhere in his consciousness. It didn't belong there. What was it? Despite the pain whipping at his brain, he concentrated.

"Mason.... Mason.... This is Judy.... Are you getting me?.... Answer me.... Mason...."

Desperate, Mason seized at the thought, as a falling man grasps at a cloud.

"Judy.... What are you doing?"

"I don't know.... But I think it's that hook-up.... I started to pick you up when you first plugged in.... Turn it on full power...."

Mason could feel Klarth's mechanical talons cutting at his port lock as he pushed the tiny electronic hook-up to full load. He was astounded to feel the mental agony drop away from him as if it were dissolving wisps of fog.

Comprehension jolted him. Instantaneously, his starboard lock flung open. His darting talon seized the brain-case of 233-G and swung it inside as the lock clanged shut.

Like claps of thunder his gun turrets blasted, and the bases of the clutching arms melted into molten rivulets of running metal. Gone now was his fear of having his brain blasted. The room was filling with the continuous blinding flashes of exploding colors and the hiss of incandescent metal as his gun turrets belched streams of the deadly rockets.

So sudden, and unexpected was his violent attack that even Klarth Themselves must have been shocked into momentary inaction.

Mason had lifted his massive body up and around, driving out into the corridor before Klarth recovered. He could hear Klarth bellowing on full beam for Their Supers to handle the emergency.

Continuing to drive for the twelfth level, section eight, at as high a speed as the curving corridors would permit, Mason plugged in 233-G direct.

"Just as I thought," said Mason grimly, "Klarth hasn't any other gadgets outside of Their room to handle an emergency. They've been depending on that brain-case attachment too long."

"What happened?" cut in 233-G.

His voice sounded shaken.

"I think I know," said Mason swiftly. "But tell me—could you pick up my thoughts back there?"

"No," returned 233-G unsteadily. "All I know is that Klarth was giving me the pain treatment, hot and heavy, trying to make me talk, when suddenly, the pain just fell away."

"We've got it!" interrupted Judy's thought into Mason.

"Right," said Mason on the three-way channels. "That transmitting hook-up broadcasts something that neutralizes Klarth's control. This thought transference stuff is probably some sort of a secondary effect from hookup to hookup."

Mason's fingers completed another electronic circuit and wired it into 233-G as he swung into corridor thirteen. He headed for room three. His vision, although limited by the surrounding metal walls, still penetrated far enough for him to see Supers converging from every direction, blocking every path of escape.

He squeezed into room three and following 233-G's directions, activated the mechanism that softened the outer skin.

"How many of your friends are out there?" he thought at Judy. "What's the call?"

"About a dozen. Send anything. Just kick it out that they can get in and the gadget works."

"Right," thought Mason. "Now don't bother me." Concentrating all energy on his general transmitter he broadcast the information.

"Calling all Supers! Klarth's control over you has been destroyed. If my message were not true They could destroy me. I ask you to remember your birthright. You are still human—all of you! We must destroy Klarth, Humanity still has a job for us to do. That is all."

Mason flashed down the corridors toward the room of Klarth. His vision ranged out to see Supers beginning to battle with other Supers in the surrounding passageways. This proved that some of Klarth's subjects strove to maintain the situation as it was. Darting in and out of exploding laboratories and melting workshops, the Supers began playing a colossal game of blind- man's bluff. Friend or foe?

The vacuum of the corridors was filling with roaring torrents of molecules from the volatized metal of the super-heated walls, expanding and rushing at hurricane speed, ripping and buckling the steel walls themselves.


Illustration

The vacuum of the corridors was filling with roaring torrents of molecules.


Mason fought his way through the raging cross-currents toward the room of Klarth. He had one bad moment when three of the outlaw Supers that had entered from outer space caught him in a cross fire until he had identified himself.


GUN turrets bristling, every sense on the alert, Mason swept into the room of the gigantic jewel statue. The room was a shambles. The crimson statue sprawled as a shapeless blob of melted crystal.

High above, the soaring arches were sagging slowly as the heat, with no means of radiating, softened their metallic flesh. A fiery holocaust was now raging through every passageway, pushing the temperatures higher and higher.

Mason's temperature sense warned him. Rivers of molten metal were trickling across the sagging floor to gather in ever growing puddles of bubbling incandescence.

He felt uneasy. He had to get out of here soon. But where was Klarth? The far end of the room slid downward, and splashed to the floor, sending waves of glowing, molten steel lapping at his milk-white sides.

Suddenly, the roof crashed down at him. Mason fought to lift himself out into the roaring corridor as the falling white-hot metal clutched at his outer skin.

Klarth's entire metal world was melting and falling inward upon itself as he struggled and blasted his way toward the outside. He found the main exit corridor blocked by the motionless, fused bodies of two Supers locked in a death embrace.

Mason retreated and dived through the center well at headlong speed. If there was no exit—he'd make one!

Ahead of him he could see the glowing partition that sealed the well entrance from outside. His momentum increased with each passing second. He tensed as the distance shortened—and became nothing. He struck, with a smashing impact that blasted a gaping hole in the heat softened metal. He was through! Outside!

The cooling breath of space greeted him, and Mason's vision saw a watchful patrol of Supers circling at a thousand kilometers. Hastily, he identified himself and headed toward them as his stern plates watched the glowing metal sphere collapse.

Mason's thoughts were bleak as he remembered all the wonderful machines and strange sciences that were at this minute melting into unrecognizable heaps of junk. But at least the many unfortunate and unwilling brain-cases Klarth had enslaved would find peace in the forgetfulness of death. And where was Klarth?

As if in answer, Klarth's metal world unfolded, soundlessly, like a gigantic crimson flower of space, expanding in a bursting explosion that flung fiery fragments spinning in every direction.

It was the end of Klarth, They, the unconquerable brain combine, as it would always be the inevitable end for those who violated the freedom of human beings.

"Hey—!" the thought banged against Mason's mind. "How about plugging me in on some vision? I'm tired of sitting here all alone in the dark with nothing to do but read your nasty mind."

"Judy!" His own thought had a warmth in it that startled him. "I had forgotten about you."

He checked the emotions that were crowding into his consciousness.

"Have you been reading my mind, you little imp?"

Then as he pried at her brain, he unexpectedly felt her slam the opening shut as if it were a private door.

"Hey—" she flashed, "You get out of there. Sure I've been reading your mind." Then softly, "Just wait until I know you better and let you read mine."

Then a thought, that felt almost tired, came to both of them:

"Will you two people calm down and please try to remember this is still a three-way hookup?" The thought faltered a moment, then 233-G went on, "Really, I mean it. It's embarrassing."



Cover Image

Fantastic Story Magazine, May 1953, with "Battle of the Brains"


THE END


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