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´╗┐Title: Hawk Carse
Author: Gilmore, Anthony
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hawk Carse" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Astounding Stories November 1931.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


                              Hawk Carse

                        _A Complete Novelette_



                          By Anthony Gilmore

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER I

_The Swoop of the Hawk_

[Illustration: _The Hawk stood there, both arms hanging easily at his
sides._]

[Sidenote: One of the spectacular exploits of Hawk Carse, greatest of
space adventurers.]


Hawk Carse came to the frontiers of space when Saturn was the frontier
planet, which was years before the swift Patrol ships brought Earth's
law and order to those vast regions. A casual glance at his slender
figure made it seem impossible that he was to rise to be the greatest
adventurer in space, that his name was to carry such deadly
connotation in later years. But on closer inspection, a number of
little things became evident: the steadiness of his light gray eyes;
the marvelously strong-fingered hands; the wiry build of his
splendidly proportioned body. Summing these things up and adding the
brilliant resourcefulness of the man, the complete ignorance of fear,
one could perhaps understand why even his blood enemy, the impassive
Ku Sui, a man otherwise devoid of every human trait, could not face
Carse unmoved in his moments of cold fury.

His name, we know, enters most histories of the period 2117-2148 A.
D., for he has at last been recognized as the one who probably did
most--unofficially, and not with the authority of the Earth
Government--to shape the raw frontiers of space, to push them outward
and to lay the foundations of the present tremendous commerce between
Earth, Vulcan, Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter. But, little
of his fascinating character may be gleaned from the dry words of
history; and it is Hawk Carse the adventurer, he of the spitting
ray-gun and the phenomenal draw, of the reckless space ship
maneuverings, of the queer bangs of flaxen hair that from a certain
year hid his forehead, of the score of blood feuds and the one great
feud that jarred nations in its final terrible settling--it is with
that man we are concerned here.

A number of his exploits never recorded are still among the favorite
yarns spun by lonely outlanders in the scattered trading posts of the
planets, and among them is that of his final encounter with Judd the
Kite. It shows typically the cold deadliness, the prompt repaying of a
blood debt, the nerveless daring that were the outstanding qualities
of this almost legendary figure.

It began one crisp, early morning on Iapetus, and it ended on Iapetus,
with the streaks of ray-guns searing the air; and it explains why
there are two square mounds of soil on Iapetus, eighth satellite of
Saturn.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse pioneered Iapetus and considered its product his by right of
prior exploration. One or two men had landed there before he came to
the frontiers of space and reported the satellite habitable, possessed
of gravital force only slightly under Earth's, despite its
twelve-hundred-mile diameter, and of an atmosphere merely a trifle
rarer; but they had gone no further. They had noticed the forms of
certain strange animals flitting through the satellite's jungles, but
had not investigated. It was Carse who captured one of the creatures
and saw the commercial possibilities of the pointed seven-inch horn
that grew on its head, and who named it phanti, after the now extinct
Venusian bird-mammal.

There were great herds of them, and they constituted Iapetus' highest
form of life. The space trader cut off a few of their opalescent and
green-veined horns and sent them as samples to Earth; and, upon their
being valued highly, he two months later established his ranch on
Iapetus, and thus laid the foundation for the grim business that men
sometimes call the Exploit of the Hawk and the Kite.

No doubt Carse expected trouble over the ranch. To protect the
valuable twice-yearly harvest of horn from Ku Sui's several bands of
pirates, and other semi-piratical traders who roamed space, he built a
formidable ranch-house with generators for powerful offensive rays and
a strong defensive ray-web, and manned it with six competent men.
Moreover, he came personally twice a year to transport the cargo of
horn, and let it be known throughout the frontiers that the sign of
the Hawk was on that portion of Iapetus, and that all who trespassed
would have to answer to him. This should have been, ordinarily,
enough. But there was always the sinister, brilliant Dr. Ku Sui,
plotting against him and his belongings, and reckless others to whom
the ranch might look like easy pickings. From these Carse had long
anticipated a raid on Iapetus.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now he was worried. Clad as usual in a faded blue tunic, open at
the neck, soft blue trousers and old-fashioned rubber soled shoes, he
showed it by pulling occasionally at the bangs of flaxen hair that had
been trained to hang down his forehead to the thick, straw-colored
eyebrows. In his new cruiser, the _Star Devil_, he was within an
hour's time of Iapetus, which lay before the bow observation ports of
the control cabin like a giant buff-tinted orange, dark-splotched by
seas and jungles, on the third of his semi-annual voyages for the
harvest of horn. Away to the left, scintillating and flaming in the
blackness of space, whirled Saturn, his rings clear-cut and brilliant,
his hard light filling the control cabin. Carse was staring unseeingly
at the magnificent spectacle when the giant negro standing nearby at
the space-stick rumbled:

"Well, suh, Ah cain't think they's anything wrong--no, suh. They's
nobody'd _dare_ touch that ranch! No, suh--not Hawk Carse's ranch."

This was "Friday," the herculean black Earthling whom Carse had
rescued years before from one of the Venusian slave-ships, and now a
member of that strange trio of totally dissimilar comrades, the third
of whom was Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow, now absent and at work in
his secret laboratory. Friday thought the Hawk just about the greatest
man in the Solar System, and many times already had he given proof of
his devotion.

Carse looked full at him. "You're a good mechanic, Eclipse," he said,
"but in some ways very innocent. Crane hasn't replied to us for
seventy minutes. He knows we're coming and he should be on duty. That
cargo's valuable, and it's all ready and packed."

"Hmff," Friday grunted. "But who you think'd dare try an' swipe it
when we're so close? One o' Ku Sui's gang, maybe?"

"Perhaps. I haven't heard anything of Ku Sui for some time, and he's
never more dangerous than when he keeps silent," said the Hawk
thoughtfully. "But Crane might be sick. Or his radio might have broken
down temporarily. Still--"

It was then that the third man in the cabin, Harkness, the navigator,
straightened abruptly and put a sharp end to the trader's last word by
calling out:

"Radio, sir!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A red dot of light was winking on a switchboard. Friday watched the
Hawk move in his quick, effortless way to it and pull a lever down,
all in the same motion, and then the negro's neck muscles corded as he
listened to the sounds that came, choking and barely intelligible,
from a loudspeaker:

"Carse--Hawk Carse--Crane speaking from the ranch. We're
besieged--pirate ship--outnumbered--can't hold out much longer. We got
most of the cargo inside here, but our generators--they're
weakening--and I'm fading, I guess, and the others that're left are
wounded. Carse--hurry--hurry...."

Five words went back into the microphone before the receiver went
dead.

"I'm coming, Crane! Hold on!"

Friday had seen the Hawk in such moments before, and he knew the
sight; but the navigator, Harkness, had not been with Carse very long,
and now he stood silent, motionless, while despite himself a shiver
ran down his spine as he stared at the tight-pressed bloodless lips
and the gray eyes, cold now as space. He started nervously when the
Hawk turned and looked him in the eye.

"I want speed," came his quiet, soft, deceptive voice. "I want that
hour's running time sliced by a third. Streak through that
atmosphere."

"Yes, suh!" answered Friday.

"And you"--to Harkness--"be very sure you get out every ounce she's
got. Tell the engineer personally."

"Full speed. Yes, sir," said the navigator, and felt relieved when
Carse turned his eyes away. For the Hawk, as always when he learned
that property had been ravaged and his friends shot down, seemed less
human than the Indrots at the far end of the frigid deeps of space he
roamed. His face was mask-like, graven, totally expressionless: blood
had been shed, and for each ounce another had to be spilled to balance
the scales. At a speaking tube that reached aft to the three other
members of the crew, he whispered: "Fighting posts. Arm and be ready
for action. Pirates are attacking ranch," and then went noiselessly to
the forward electelscope. Meanwhile Friday kept his eyes strictly on
the dials before him and held the space-stick rigid, while aft, in the
ship's other compartments, three men strapped on ray-gun belts and
wondered who was doomed to be caught in the swoop of the Hawk.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse himself wondered that. The raider so far showed as a newcomer to
the frontiers of space; he was one who as yet had never faced the
Hawk, one to whom the tales that were told of him seemed laughable, to
whom the rich consignment of horn looked like a gift. Certainly such
an open attack did not resemble Ku Sui's subtle methods, or those of
his several henchmen, pirates of space all; they, rather, struck
behind his back, and then only when the infamous Eurasian had prepared
what seemed an escape-proof trap.

"Foolish to raid when I'm so close!" he murmured as he trained the
electelscope and peered into its eye-piece. "Stupid! Unless...."

Friday, at the space-stick, mopped the trickles of sweat from his brow
and with a vast sigh shifted his bulk. The job of speeding into an
atmospheric pressure was always ticklish, and it was with some relief
that he reported "Into th' atmosphere, suh," according to routine. He
waited for the usual acknowledgment, and when it did not come repeated
his observation in a louder voice. Two full minutes of silence passed.
Then, finally, Hawk Carse turned from the electelscope, and even the
negro shivered at sight of the deadly mask that was his face.

For the ranch-house in its clearing had dimly appeared in the
electelscope just as Friday had spoken.

Carse spoke.

"More speed, if it burns us up," came his almost whispered words. "I
want much more speed."

Harkness gulped. "Yes, sir," he said, and, moistening his lips, he
returned to the engine-room. The frigid gray eyes swung back to the
sight that was revealed on Iapetus.

The long, lean shape of a rakish space ship was resting on the soil
some three hundred yards from the ranch-house, and between were the
hazy figures of six men, busily dragging as many boxes towards their
craft. The boxes contained the whole half-year's harvest of phanti
horns, and had obviously been looted from the house. The resistance
had been overcome; the pirate raid had succeeded. The trim,
gray-painted ranch-house was lifeless....

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hawk switched off the electelscope. His colorless lips were
compressed very tightly. "I'll take the helm," he said curtly to
Friday. "Turn on the defensive web, and prepare all ray batteries."

"Yes, suh!" The negro's big, yellow-palmed hands worked dexterously
among the instruments to his right; then, amidships, grew a shrill
whine which keened upward in pitch. A few sparks raced by the _Star
Devil's_ after ports, quickly to disappear after they left the almost
invisible envelope of delicate bluish light that entirely wrapped her
hull.

She was making dangerous speed. The wind screamed as she streaked
through the satellite's atmosphere, and the great friction of her
passage raised her outer shell to a perilous glow. The altitude
dial's finger almost jumped from forty thousand to thirty-five.

"Ready for bow-ray salvo."

"Aye, sir!" replied Harkness, and a moment later repeated crisply:
"All ready for bow-ray salvo, sir!" His voice showed no sign of the
fear within him--fear that the _Star Devil's_ outer hull would reach
the melting point--but his lips fell apart and his face lost its
discipline when the Hawk next spoke and acted.

"Steady," came the low whisper to his ears--and he saw the controlling
space-stick being shoved down as far as it would go.



CHAPTER II

_Pursuit_


That was the Hawk's method, and it had given him the name which he had
made famous. It was characteristic of the man that he preferred to
strike at an enemy ship in a wild, breath-taking swoop, even as the
fierce hawk plummets from high heaven to sink its talons deep into the
flesh of its more sluggish prey. Nerves were uncomfortable things to
have on such occasions, and Harkness had them, and accordingly he felt
his heart hammer and something tight seemed to bind his throat. He
tried to assume the unshakable calmness of the motionless figure at
the stick, but could not, for his body was only flesh and blood--and
Hawk Carse was tempered, frosty, steel. Through staring eyes the
navigator watched the surface of Iapetus rushing into the bow ports,
watched it spread accelerating outward, until he could plainly see the
pirate ship lying there, and the nearby figures of men tugging at the
heavy boxes of horns.

His eyes were on those figures when they broke. First they teetered
hesitantly a moment, glancing wildly around and up at the vision of
death that was coming like a silver comet from the skies, and then
they melted apart. Three scrambled towards the rim of jungle foliage
close at hand, while their fellows leaped in the other direction,
trying to make an open port in their craft. Harkness saw them tumble
headlong through it and slam it shut. Then a web of blue streaks
appeared around the ship, and softened until her hull was bathed is
ghostly bluish light.

"Their defensive ray-web's on, sir!" he managed to gasp. Carse, though
close, might not have heard, so intently was he watching. The altitude
dial's pointer reached for one thousand and slid past. Harkness's face
was pale and drawn; his tight-gripped fingers and clenched teeth
showed that he expected to crash into the ground in a molten,
shapeless tomb of steel. But Friday was grinning, his teeth a slash of
white.

"Stand by bow projectors," sounded the Hawk's clipped voice. The negro
extended his hands and rumbled:

"Ready, suh."

"Fire."

"Fire!" Friday roared.

His rich laugh rang out and he whirled the wheels over. With a hissing
as of a hundred snakes, the rays struck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well aimed, the bolt speared straight and true. The distance was
short, and it came from generators that were perhaps not equaled in
space; no ordinary ship's defensive web could resist its vicious
thrust. From the streak of silver that represented the Hawk's swoop, a
stream of orange cut a swathe through the air ahead, holding
accurately on the brigand ship. For just a tick of time there was a
turmoil of color as offensive ray met defensive web; then the air
cleared again--and the pirate was unmarked!

By rights she should have been split in two; and, though his face did
not show it, it must have been surprising to Carse that she wasn't.
With one flick of the wrist he wrenched the _Star Devil_ out of her
plunge and sent her scudding, a hundred feet up, over the jungle rim.
Friday was gaping. Harkness, still numb from the dive, foolishly
staring; and then the brigand bared her fangs in return.

Orange light winked from her stern, and the Hawk's ship was bathed in
a streak of color. But the bolt caromed harmlessly off the side of the
arcing _Star Devil_! and the next instant the pirate's lean bulk
swayed, lifted a little and zoomed up into the heavens, abandoning the
boxes of horn without further fight.

"Runnin' foh it! Scared stiff!" muttered Friday, unholy joy in his
gleaming eyes. He looked at the figure at the stick. "Follow 'em now,
suh, an' wear out their projectors?"

Carse thoughtfully smoothed his bangs with his free hand. "Plenty of
time for that," he said patiently. "Some of the men on the ranch may
still be alive: we must care for them. I'm going to land. Tell the
engineer to keep watch through the electelscope on that ship. I'll
start overtaking it shortly."

"Funny our rays didn't ha'm 'em," Friday ruminated aloud. "Ain't no
ordinary craft, that. No, suh, they's more in this heah business than
hits yo' eyes!"

"Now you're getting cynical, Eclipse," the Hawk said dryly.

       *       *       *       *       *

A quarter-mile-square block of land had been fenced off as a corral
for the ninety-head herd of bull phantis Carse kept on Iapetus. These
creatures resembled mostly the old ostrich of Earth, but grew no
feathers. The neck, however was shorter than the ostrich's; the
leathery skin of a drab gray color; the powerful hind feet, on which
they stood erect, prehensile and armed with short stabbing spurs; the
forearms short and used for plucking the delicate shoots and young
leaves on which they lived. There was a dim flicker of rudimentary
intelligence inside the bullet heads; they recognized men as their
enemies, and hated them. And therefore they necessitated careful
handling, for, even without the valuable head-horns, their
sharp-spurred feet could rip a human being into shreds in seconds.

They were clustered now behind the wire corral-fence, electrified to
prevent them from breaking through. They bellowed angrily and shoved
each other about as their wicked little blood-shot eyes caught sight
of the _Star Devil_ as she came dropping gently down.

At the electelscope of the descending craft was the ship's engineer.
He had just centered the instrument on the fleeing pirate craft that
by now was leaving the satellite's atmosphere, and the image was large
on the screen above the bow windows, where he kept a steady eye on it.
The inner door of the port-lock swung open, the outer door down, and
Carse walked through, followed by Friday and Harkness.

An ugly scene lay spread out before them in the glaring daylight. The
trader had only gone a few paces when he paused and looked down at an
outsprawled thing that had once been a man. Stooping, he very gently
turned the mess of charred flesh over and peered at what was left of
the face. There were small, burnt holes in it, and the flesh
surrounding them looked as though it had been suspended for some time
over a slow fire....

Carse rose and stared into space.

"Ruthers, a guard," he said softly, as if speaking to himself. He
walked on.

Another heap of flesh was pitched before the front wall of the
ranch-house. The man it had been a little while before had evidently
been running for the door when the deadly rays had got him. His
ray-gun was lying a few feet away. Again Carse stooped and again very
gently pulled the ragged thing over.

"By God!" stammered Harkness suddenly, staring, his face white,
"that--that's Jack O'Fallon--old Jack O'Fallon! Why, we went to
navigation school together! We--"

"Yes," said the Hawk, "O'Fallon, overseer." He stepped into the house.
Friday, impassive and grim, pulled Harkness away from the distorted
body.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three more were tumbled together behind a splintered table in the main
room. The rays had done their work well. Three were welded, it seemed,
into one.... It was some time before the Hawk's frigid whisper came.

"Martin ... Olafson ... and this--Antil ... Antil was the only
Venusian I ever liked...."

The chairs and tables in the room were overturned, most of them bore
the seared scars of ray-guns, which showed plainly enough that there
had been a desperate last minute hand-to-hand struggle there, after
the defensive ray-web had failed and the pirates rushed the building.
The radio alcove was choked with seared, cracked wreckage. Crane, the
operator, still sat in his seat, but he was slumped over forward, and
his head and chest were pitted with slanting ray holes. One hand had
been reaching for a dial. The other was twisted and charred.

"And Crane, the last," said Hawk Carse, and for some moments he stood
there, his face cold and unmoving save for the tiny twitching of the
left eyelid. Utter silence rested over the bitter three--a silence
broken only by the occasional roar of an angry phanti bull outside in
the enclosure.

Finally Carse took a deep breath and turned to Friday.

"You'll see to their burying," he ordered quietly. "Get the power ray
from the ship and burn out two big pits on that knoll off the corner
of the corral."

Friday looked at him in puzzlement. "Two, suh?" he repeated. "Why two?
Why not put 'em all in one?"

"You will put all my men in one. I'll need the other later.... You,"
he went on, to Harkness, "get the cargo of horns aboard. We can't
leave it out there, for three of those pirates fled into the jungle. I
haven't time to find them, and they'd come out and bury the horns if
we left them. I'll be with you soon. We take off in ten minutes."

"Yes, sir," answered the navigator, and he and the negro went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a little while Carse stayed in the cubby. As he softly stroked the
flaxen bangs of hair over his brow, he visualized what had happened
inside that house of death, piecing a number of things together and
forming a whole. On the surface it seemed plain enough, and yet there
were one or two points.... His face showed a trace of puzzlement. He
shook his head slightly; then he stooped and picked up the radio
operator's body with an ease that might have seemed surprising from
such a slender man, and walked out of the house.

Beyond one corner of the corral, upon a slight rise in the ground,
Friday was melting out the second grave with the ship's great portable
ray-gun. Carse laid Crane's body gently down in the first grave, then
went to where Harkness, with the _Star Devil's_ radio-man and cook,
was loading the cargo of horns aboard. The trader opened several of
the boxes, glanced at the upper layers to inspect the quality, and,
satisfied, closed them again. All the boxes were trundled soon into
the craft's open port and aft to her cargo hold.

The engineer on watch at the electelscope and visi-screen felt a hand
on his shoulder and looked around to find his captain standing by him.
He pointed up at the screen: on it, the brigand ship was a mere four
inches in size, and bearing straight out on an unwavering course. "I
reckoned their speed to be about ten thousand an hour, a minute ago,
sir," he reported. "Now about five thousand miles away."

"How soon," Carse asked, "do you think we could overhaul them?"

The other grinned. "If you're in a hurry, sir, about two hours and a
half."

"I am in a hurry. I want all the speed you can muster."

"Yes, sir. Might be able to get it down, to two."

The Hawk nodded. "Try. Return to your post."

Outside, through the port, he saw Friday smoothing over the grave, the
burying finished, and he beckoned him in. At that second Harkness
reported the cargo all fastened down. Carse snapped out his orders.

"Harkness," he said shortly, "you and Friday with me in the control
cabin. Sparks, you can get an hour's sleep, but leave the radio
receiver open. Cook, an hour's rest if you want it--and I think you'd
better want it. There's war ahead. Close port!"

The inner and outer doors nestled snugly, one after the other, into
place with a hiss; the rows of gravity plates in the ship's belly
angled ever so slightly. She quivered, then, in a surge of power,
lifted straight up and poised; then, answering the touch of
space-stick and accelerator, she went streaking through the atmosphere
on the trail of the distant craft that had left its mark of blood on
Iapetus and provoked the vengeance of the Hawk....



CHAPTER III

_Death Rides the Star Devil_


Usually, when pursuing an enemy, Hawk Carse was impassive and grim,
apparently emotionless, icy. But now he seemed somehow disturbed.

He fidgeted around, glancing occasionally at the visi-screen to make
sure his quarry was not changing course, now watching Friday juggle
through the skin of atmosphere into outer space, and now standing
apart, silent and solitary, brooding.

There was something about the affair he didn't like. Something that
was deeply hidden, that could not be grasped clearly; that might, on
the other hand, be pure imagination. And yet, why--

Why, for instance, had the brigands taken to their heels with just the
barest semblance of fight? Why, with their defensive ray-web proof for
some time at least against his offensive rays, had they left without
more of a struggle for the horn? Why were they so willing to flee,
knowing as they must that he, the Hawk, would follow? Did they not
know he had--thanks to Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow--the fastest
ship in space, and would inevitably overtake them?

Were they Ku Sui's men? It seemed so, certainly, from the great
strength of their defensive ray-web. No other ships that he knew of in
space save Ku Sui's possessed such power. But--it wasn't the brilliant
Eurasian's customary style. It was too simple for him.

Carse stroked his bangs. The factors were all mixed up. He didn't like
it.

Iapetus' atmosphere was left behind; in minutes the light blue wash of
her sky changed to the hard, frigid blackness of lifeless space. The
_Star Devil's_ lighting tubes glowed softly, though Saturn's rays,
coming through the wide bow windows, still lit every object in the
control cabin with hard and dazzling brilliancy. Inside, light and
color, life and action; outside, the eternal, sable void, sprinkled
with its millions of sparkling motes of worlds. And ahead--shown now
on the visa-screen only by the light dots of its ports--was the
brigand craft.

The _Star Devil_ was smoothly building up the speed that would
eventually bring her up to the craft of the enemy. Carse's Earth-watch
told him that an hour and a half had passed. A vague anxiety oppressed
him, but he shook it off with the thought that soon the time for
accounting would arrive. Only forty minutes more; probably less. His
fears--foolish. He was getting too suspicious....

       *       *       *       *       *

Then came the voice.

It pierced through the control cabin from the loudspeaker cone above
the radio switchboard. It was rough and mocking. It said:

"Hawk Carse? Hawk Carse? You hear me?" Many times it repeated this.
"Yes? You hear me, Hawk Carse? I've a joke I want you to hear--a very
funny joke. You'll enjoy it!" There interrupted the staccato sounds of
an irrepressible amusement.

Carse froze. His fingers by habit fluttered over his ray-gun butt as
he wheeled and looked into the loudspeaker. Friday, at the
space-stick, stared at him; Harkness's face was puzzled as he peered
at the loudspeaker and then turned and gazed at his captain.

"But where," he asked, "--where does the voice come from? Who is it?"

As if thinking aloud, Carse whispered:

"From that ship ahead. I half expected ... I know it well, that voice.
Very well. It's the voice of ... of ... I can't quite place it.... In
a minute.... The voice of--"

The chuckling ceased, and again the voice spoke.

"Yes--a very funny joke! I can't share it all with you, Carse, because
you'd spoil it. But do you remember, some years ago, five men--and
another who lay before them? Do you remember how this last man said:
'Each one of you will die for what you've done to me?' That man didn't
wear bangs over his forehead then. Remember? Well, I'm one of the five
the mighty Hawk Carse swore he would kill!"

Again the voice broke into a chuckle.

But it ended suddenly. The tone it changed into was entirely
different, was cruel with a taunting sneer.

"Bah! The avenging Hawk! The mighty Hawk! Well, in minutes, you'll be
dead. You'll be dead! The mighty Sparrow Carse will be dead!"

A brief eternity went by. Carse remembered, and the glint in his gray
eyes grew colder.

"Judd the Kite," he whispered.

Friday's lips formed the words.

And even Harkness, new to the frontiers of space, knew the name and
echoed it haltingly.

"Judd the Kite...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Of all the henchmen Dr. Ku Sui had gathered about him and banded
against Earth, and against Carse, and against all peaceful traders and
merchant-ships, Judd was perhaps the most cruel and relentless.

The Kite he was called--though only behind his back--yet it might
better have been Vulture. Big and gross, with thick unstable lips and
stubby, hairy fingers, more than once he and his motley gang of
hi-jackers had painted a crimson splash across the far corners of the
frontiers, and daubed it to the tortured groans of the crews of honest
trading ships. Often they had plunged on isolated trading posts and
left their factors wallowing in their life blood. And more....

There are things that cannot be set down in print, that the carefully
edited history books only hint at, and into this class fell many of
the Kite's deeds. He was a master of the Venusian tortures. He and his
band during the unspeakable debauches which always followed a
successful raid would amuse themselves by practising certain of these
tortures on the day's captives; and his victims, both men and women,
would see and feel indescribable things, and Death would be kept most
carefully away until the last ounce of life and pain had been squeezed
quite dry.

"Judd the Kite," Carse repeated in a hardly audible whisper. "Judd the
Kite ... one of the five...." Slowly his left hand rose and smoothed
his long bangs of flaxen hair. "I have been looking for him."

"Will you reply to him, sir?" asked Harkness.

"What use? His trap--Ku Sui's trap, of course--has already been set."
His brain raced. "What could it be?" he whispered slowly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Friday was scratching his woolly hair, his smooth face puzzled, when
Carse, with the crisp decisiveness that always came to him when in
action, looked up at the visi-screen. The brigand was still clinging
to a straight course, and being overhauled rapidly. Another thirty
minutes and they would be within striking distance. He said tersely:

"Set up the defensive web. Spiral and zig-zag the ship all you dare,
altering the period of the swing each time. Harkness, you and I are
going to make an inspection tour. General alarm if Judd's course
changes, Friday."

"Yes, suh." The negro, frowning, gave his undivided attention to his
instruments as the Hawk and Harkness went aft into the next
compartment, the engine room.

It looked quite normal. The great dynamos were humming smoothly; the
air-renewing machine was functioning steadily; the gauge hands all
slept or quivered in their usual places. Nothing uneven in the slight
vibration of the ship; nothing that might possibly forbode trouble. Up
on his perch, the engineer peered down curiously and asked:

"Anything wrong, sir?"

"Not yet," Carse answered shortly. "You're sure everything is regular
here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. But check every vital spot at once--and quickly. Then keep
alert."

They passed on into the following compartment, the mess-room and
sleeping quarters for the crew. Solid, rhythmical snores were issuing
from the cook's open mouth as he lay sprawled out on his bunk; the
smell of coffee hovered in the air; the cabin was quiet and
comfortable with an atmosphere of sleep and rest. The radio-man,
reading in his bunk, looked over and, seeing it was Carse, sat up.

"Notice anything wrong?" he was asked.

"Wrong? What--Why, no, sir. You want me for duty?"

"Yes. Stay here and keep your eyes open for signs of trouble. I'm
expecting some. General alarm if the slightest thing happens." And
Carse went noiselessly into the last division of the ship.

This was the cargo hold. The boxes of phanti horns were neatly stacked
in precise rows; the dim tube burning overhead showed nothing that
gave the smallest cause for alarm. The Hawk's narrowed eyes swept
walls, deck and ceiling in a search for signs of strain or buckling,
but found none.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he let himself down into the ship's belly, in the three-foot-high
space between the deck and the bottom outer hull. He found the three
rows of delicately adjusted gravity plates in good order. Harkness
joined him.

Their hand-flashes scanned every inch of the narrow compartment as
they made the under-deck passage from stem to bow and up through the
forward trap-door into the control cabin. They found nothing abnormal.
The water and fuel tanks, built in the space between the inner and
outer shells above the living quarters, also yielded nothing; likewise
the storeroom.

Nothing. Nothing at all. The whole ship was in excellent condition.
Everything was working as it should. Carse went forward again with
Harness; turned and faced him with puzzled eyes.

"I can't understand it," he said. "Why that threat, when everything
seems all right? How can Judd reach me to kill me? And in minutes?"

The navigator shook his head. "It's beyond me, sir."

The Hawk shrugged his shoulders. "Well, we'll see. It might be
something altogether new. You report to the engine-room and keep on
watch there. Any sound or sign, give the general alarm."

"Yes, sir," he said, and left.

"He talkin' foolish, that Judd," grumbled Friday, seeing that the
search had been fruitless. "He think maybe he can bust through our
ray-web? Hmff!"

His master said nothing. He was standing motionless in the center of
the cabin, waiting--waiting for he knew not what.

Then it came.

A preparatory sputter from the loudspeaker that spun Friday around.
Hawk looked up, tensed. Again sounded the hard, sneering voice of Judd
the Kite.

"We're ready now, Carse: there was a little delay. I'll give you, say,
five seconds. Yes--one for each of the five men you did _not_ kill.
Shall I count them off? All right. You have till the fifth.

"One."

Friday's big eyes rolled nervously; he wiped a drop of sweat from his
brow and cursed.

"Two."

       *       *       *       *       *

He glanced at the Hawk, and tried himself to assume the unshakable
steely calm of the great adventurer. But his fists would clench and
unclench as he stared up at the visi-screen. No change! The brigand
was running straight ahead as ever, apparently fleeing.

"Three."

The negro's breath came more quickly; the tendons of his neck stood
sharply out, and his powerful arms twitched nervously. "What's he
goin' to do, suh? What's he goin' to do?" he asked hoarsely. "What's
he goin' to do?"

"Four."

"Change course--a-starboard!" Carse rapped. The space-stick moved a
little, all Friday dared, at their speed; the position dials swung;
the dot of a fixed star that had been visible a moment before through
the bow windows was now gone. Till the fifth, Judd had said.

"Five!"

The two men in the control cabin of the _Star Devil_ peered at each
other. One of them licked his lips and wiped the sweat from his brow.
But there was nothing. No sound, no change. No general alarm bell. No
offensive ray spearing across the reaches of space; no slightest
change in the brigand's course. He who had mopped the sweat away
laughed loud and long in overwhelming relief.

"All foolishment!" he gurgled. "That Judd, he crazy. Try to scare us,
I guess--huh! Try to--"

"_What's that?_" whispered Hawk Carse.

A sudden faint rustle of noise, of movement, had breathed through the
ship.

At first it was hardly discernible; but it grew. It grew with
paralyzing rapidity into a low but steady murmur, blended soon with
voices raised in quick cries. There was one piercing, ragged shriek,
and all the time an undertone of the indefinite, peculiar sound of
something rustling, creeping, growing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then came the harsh jangle of the general alarm bell.

"Space-suits!" Carse snapped. The alarm was the signal to put them on;
it was a safeguard from a possible breach in the ship's walls. Against
such an emergency they had drilled often, and all over the ship the
crew would be springing rapidly into space-suits hanging ready.

The space-stick automatically locked as Friday, eyes rolling, leaped
with his master to the nearby locker. The shriek from aft had quickly
died, the alarm bell had snapped off; but now there came a frantic
rush of feet, and a man tumbled through into the control cabin, his
face white, his eyes stark with horror, his breath coming in gasps and
the sweat of fear on his brow.

It was Harkness.

He slammed the door tight shut behind him and stumbled to the suit
locker; and as his fingers fumbled at his suit with the clumsiness of
panic, he stammered:

"The cargo--the boxes of horn--it came from aft! Fungus! Planted in
the horn! It's filling the ship! Got all the others and grew--_grew_
on them! Dead already. There--look, look!"

Carse and Friday, grotesque giants in the bulky sheathings of stiff,
many-plied fabric, turned as one and peered through their quartzite
face shields to where the navigator's bulging eyes directed them.

It was the door between control cabin and engine room--the door he had
just slammed shut. At first nothing was visible; then they saw the van
of the enemy that had swarmed through the ship.

A thin line of bright yellow color had appeared along the under crack
of the door. A second later the door was rimmed on all sides with it.
It grew; reached out. Energy flowed through it: fingers of dusty
yellow pronged out from the cracks where the door fitted, hung
wavering for a moment, melted together, then slumped to the floor to
more quickly continue the advance. It increased marvelously, in minor
jerks of speed. It was delicate in texture, mold-like. The more there
became, the faster it grew: in seconds shreds of it had darted out
from the main mass and affixed themselves to the walls and ceiling of
the cabin, there to accelerate the horrible filling process.

       *       *       *       *       *

All this happened more quickly than it can be related. Within ten
seconds most of the cabin was coated by the yellow stuff; grotesquely
formed clumps and feathers hung from the ceiling; fern-like fingers
kept spurting everywhere. Friday stepped back, before the advance, but
not the Hawk. Useless to try and evade the stuff, he knew, and he was
fairly positive that there was no immediate danger: the tough fabric
of the suits should resist it. A pseudopod-like surge flicked to his
leg; crept up; cloaked the suit in patches of yellow; thickened and
enveloped him. But it could not pierce through.

"Cap'n Carse! Look heah!"

He turned to the alarmed voice, brushing light, feathery particles of
yellow from his face shield, and found the bulky giant that was Friday
a few steps behind him, and pointing mutely at Harkness.

The young officer was slumped limply down against a wall, his legs
sprawled and body twisted unnaturally. His suit was covered with the
yellow, and he had fallen, silently, while they were watching the
advance of the fungus and checking the fastenings of their suits.

Carse reached him in three steps, stooped, brushed the fungus off the
face-shield and peered through. Friday looked over his shoulder. The
yellow enemy had laid its deadly fingers on Harkness's fine pale face.
Sprouts of yellow trailed from the nostrils; the mouth was a clump of
it; tendrils of spongy substance had climbed out the ears and were
still threading rapidly over the head, even as the Hawk and Friday
watched.

"That's how the others died," the adventurer said slowly. "Harkness
must have carried a bit of the stuff from aft. It was on him when he
put on his suit. At least I hope so. If it can get into these
suits...." He left the thought unfinished.

"You mean, suh," asked Friday haltingly, "you mean that maybe--maybe
it'll get in our suits too?"

"Maybe," said Carse without emotion.

They waited.



CHAPTER IV

_The Hawk Prepares a Surprise_


Hawk Carse's icy poise in times of emotional stress never failed to
amaze friends and enemies alike. Most of them swore he had no nerves,
and that in that way he was not human. This estimate, of course, is
foolish; Carse was perhaps too human, as was proved by the
all-consuming object of his life. It was rather, probably, an inward
vanity that made him stand composed as a statue while death was
gnawing near; that had, once, led him actually to file his nails when
apparently trapped and hotly besieged, with the wicked hiss of
ray-guns all around.

And so he stood within his suit now--calm, quite collected, his face
graven, while the yellow tendrils carpeted the whole cabin, penetrated
between the twin banks of instruments on each side and clouded the bow
windows, visi-screen and positionals until the two living men aboard
that ship of death were completely shut off from outside vision.
Friday, his large white eyes never for a moment still, and waiting as
the Hawk was waiting to find whether or not their suits, too, harbored
the fungus, could quite easily have been scared into a state of panic;
but the sight of the steely figure near him eased his nerves and
brought a vague kind of reassurance.

Minutes went by. Presently the Hawk said softly into his microphone:

"We're safe, now, I think. You'd better go aft and see what state the
ship's in. Come right back." And as Friday left, wading through the
clinging growth, the trader went to the eye-piece of the electelscope.

He brushed the puffy covering of yellow silt away and adjusted the
instrument's controls as best he could, centering it on where Judd's
craft had last been. Then he peered through--and saw that which made
him start.

The _Star Devil_ was rolling round and round, like a ball!

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse looked out on a star-studded panorama that was sweeping crazily
by. Now the cloudy globe of Iapetus, which had just before lain far
behind, came swinging into view, sliding rapidly from the bottom of
his field of view to the top, and so out of sight again, to quickly
give place to the flaming, ringed sphere of Saturn, which in turn
passed away and left the star-spangled blackness of space. Then
Iapetus once more. He snapped the electelscope off abruptly, and
turned from it to see Friday come clumping back.

"Swept everything clean, suh," the negro reported gloomily. "That
fungus's thick; cain't even see the men's bodies, it's so deep. It's
that way, all over."

"It's down in the gravity propulsion plates too," Carse said shortly.
"Their adjustment's been ruined by it, and we're out of control,
turning over and over. I couldn't possibly see Judd. Well, we've got
to go down to the plates and try and clean them."

It was a weird scene that faced him in the engine room. The complex
instruments and machinery were draped with straggling ferns of yellow;
up above, a solid clump some ten feet thick hung on the platform where
the engineer usually stood--a living tomb. The usual purr of the
mechanisms was muffled and hushed. So fecund was the fungus that the
path Friday had cleared in his passage aft was already filled, and
Carse had to clear a new one. The growth was deep there, but still
deeper in the next compartment.

It was practically a solid mass of yellow, for in it their invader had
found food. It had fed well on the lockers of supplies and devoured
all but the bones and clothing of the two men whom it had
caught--radio-operator and cook. Carse fought on through this tough,
clinging sea and came at last to the cargo hold, where, in the deck,
was the man-hole that gave passage down to the 'tween-decks
compartment where the rows of gravity propulsion plates were located.

       *       *       *       *       *

Friday raised the cover with a wrench: then, preceded by the rays of
their hand-flashes, they climbed down and wormed forward as best they
could in their hampering suits, to the plates. They found they had
lost their customary glitter beneath powdery coatings of yellow,
sufficient to disturb their faint electric currents and
microscopically adjusted angles. On hands and knees--for the
compartment, though as wide as the ship's inner shell, was only three
feet in height--the Hawk stopped and said:

"We might be able to get some use out of these plates if we can keep
the fungus brushed off. It's thin: let's try it."

But the yellow growth's vitality baulked them. Sweating from their
awkward exertions inside the hot space-suits, they again and again
brushed clean the plates with pieces of waste--only to see the
feathery particles regather as quickly as they were cleared away.
There wasn't more than an inch of the fungus, but that inch stuck.
There was no removing it.

"No use, boss," gasped the negro, pausing breathless. "Cain't do it.
Nothin' to do, I guess, but wait an' see what de Kite does. He'll sure
want this ship and the horn."

"I know," his captain answered slowly. "He'll want this ship, for it's
the fastest in space--but I can't understand how he'll board us. I'm
going up and see what I can find out. You stay here. Try cleaning the
plates again."

Up through the man-hole he went, and forward to the control cabin.
And, as before, the electelscope's eye-piece held a surprise for him.

Somehow, the _Star Devil's_ speed of wild tumbling had lessened. A
moment later the reason appeared. As her bow dipped down and down,
there slid across the field of view, about a mile away, the lighted
ports of another ship; and, from this other ship's nose there winked a
spot of green, the beginning of a ray-stream which stabbed across the
gulf to impinge on the _Star Devil's_ bow. Carse could feel his craft
steady as it struck. It was a gravital ray, with strong magnetic
properties, which Judd was using to stop her turnings so he and his
men could board!

       *       *       *       *       *

Again and again the beam flashed across the Hawk's field of view, and
he knew it was raying its mark neatly each time her bow swung abeam,
for soon she was hardly turning at all. Then Judd evidently was
satisfied. The port-lights of his ship veered aside; drew to a
position abreast of the other. The two cold gray eyes that watched saw
the outer port-lock door of the pirate open, revealing six figures,
clad in space-suits and connected by a rope, that stepped out, pushed,
and came floating towards the _Star Devil_.

Swiftly Carse moved. For many reasons it was useless, he rapidly
decided, to try and surprise them as they boarded; there was a better
and surer way. And, as always, he attended to every little
detail--details that to others might have seemed trivial--of this
preferred way.

With quick, strong fingers he removed the fungus-choked body of
Harkness from its space-suit, and threw the suit into a nearby locker.
From another locker he selected a loop of yellow-encrusted rope.
Holding this over one arm, he made his way back rapidly to the aft
man-hole, closed it carefully behind him and crept forward to the
anxious negro who was still futilely dusting the plates. He told what
he had seen, but nothing else.

Friday noted the rope, and he twisted his whole body to get a sight of
Carse's gray eyes, through the face-shield.

"What we do, then, suh?" he asked. "Try an surprise 'em?"

"Can't do that; we'd still be helpless, without a way to remove this
fungus. They probably know how to do it, and we've got to give them a
chance."

Puzzlement pricked the negro. "Then what you goin' to do with that
rope?"

"You'll soon see," snapped Hawk Carse.

       *       *       *       *       *

They waited.

It was hot and stuffy down in the belly of the ship, and also utterly
black, for the trader had flicked off his hand-flash. Friday was
unhappily possessed of an active curiosity; he wanted terribly to go
on with his questions and ask Carse what his plan was; but he did not
dare, for he knew very well from past experience that the Hawk was
impatient of detailing his schemes in advance. So he sat in silence,
and sweated, and stared gloomily into the darkness, thinking uneasy
thoughts.

True, he thought, Judd the Kite did not know that Carse and he were
still alive; on the contrary, he was probably convinced that they were
dead; but what good did that do? Surely it would have been better to
have surprised the brigands when boarding, but Captain Carse was
against that. And they were hopelessly outnumbered.

Friday remembered a tale told him once by a survivor of a trading ship
Judd the Kite had destroyed. It wasn't a nice tale. The Kite, so the
report ran, was diabolically ingenious with a long peeling knife, and
could improvise with it for hours. Friday pursued the tack of thought, and
then suddenly began to sweat in earnest. He recalled--horrible!--that Judd
possessed a special dislike for colored gentlemen!...

"Oh, Lawd!" he groaned, unconsciously--to have a cold voice ring in
his earphones.

"Quiet!" it snapped. "They're entering."

The negro threw a switch on his helmet so he could catch outside
noises. His body tensed. From above, unmistakably, had come the hiss
of the inner port-lock door opening. And again, moments later, the
hiss echoed. Twice! The lock could hold three men at a time. That
probably meant that all six had boarded. Friday turned in the darkness
and peered at Carse.

The adventurer without warning flicked on his hand-flash. The beam
fell on the parallel planes of the yellow-covered gravity plates. The
negro, every nerve in him jumping from impatience and suspense, gazed
at them, and suddenly straightened. The mold-like fungus which had
prevented them from getting the ship into control was slowly melting
away. It was dwindling into fine dust!

"Gas," came a soft whisper to him. "As I expected, Judd's cleaning it
out with some sort of gas. But the plates won't work yet--not until
they're polished bright." Unthinking, Friday raised his hand to his
helmet fastenings. "Keep your face-shield shut!" he was ordered
crisply. "The gas would be as fatal as the fungus."

       *       *       *       *       *

Silence rested tensely over the two men, to be broken at last by the
clump of feet proceeding aft on the deck above.

Carse switched off the light. His voice was but faintly audible.

"Coming down to clean off the dust. He'll have a flash. Hide behind
the truss-work at your side, and when he gets here seize him by the
neck. I'll be with you right away. I want no noise."

Friday saw a great light, and grinned in the confidence it brought
him. Of course! That explained the rope. The plan was so simple it had
escaped him. Already he felt cheerful. It was only mental worries, and
never physical hazards, that unsettled him. He angled around the
truss-work and shrank into as small a space as possible--which wasn't
very small, as he still wore his bulky, clumsy suit.

The clump-clump of feet had died: now there came the sound of the
man-hole aft being raised. A white beam pronged down into the
darkness, felt around and flicked off. Boots clanged on the connecting
ladder; reached the bottom. The light appeared again, lower now, and
came slowly forward. Limned faintly against the reflected light was
the outline of a crouching man's body.

He went to hands and knees and progressed carefully, his flash darting
to left and right. Suddenly, in a certain light, the two who awaited
his coming saw a swarthy, black-stubbled face in profile. He wore no
space-suit! That meant, Friday reflected, that the brigands had
cleared the ship of the gas in some way. It meant that they could get
out of their own suits.

But they could not possibly do so at the moment. They heard the nearby
pirate's breathing, a harsh oath as he stubbed a toe. The negro
tightened his giant arms and held himself ready, his eyes steady on
the black outline which signified his quarry. Then the pirate was
close enough.

It was over in seconds. Rounding the truss, Friday caught the man in
the armored crook of his arm. A startled croak preluded the thump of
two bodies on the hull; there was the tinkle of a falling hand-flash
and a slight squirming which was quickly stopped by a belting punch.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then Carse was there in the darkness, looping his rope around the
pirate's arms and legs--a difficult job when wearing a bulky
space-suit in such cramped quarters. He used a bunch of waste for a
gag and then hauled the captive to a girder farther forward and bound
him sitting to it. By the time he had finished, Friday was out of his
space-suit and asking:

"Shall I rub him out, suh? Best make sure of him."

"Never in cold blood," said the Hawk acidly. "You should know that
well enough by now!

"Now, there should be five left above, and I think they'll send
another down. We must get him, too. Get back where you were."

He took off his space-suit also: then, after minutes of silence, they
heard voices upraised in argument coming from the control cabin. Once
more came the sound of feet overhead; another flash bit down through
the man-hole, and another man wriggled into the compartment. He was
obviously uneasy and suspicious. He called:

"Jake! Hey, Jake! You there? Where the hell are you?"

Mumbling oaths, he advanced, his light ray weaving over every inch
before him.

"What you doing, Jake? Where are you?"

Friday gathered his muscles, unhampered now by the restricting suit.
But light must have been reflected by the round whites of his eyes,
for the pirate suddenly stopped and called in sharp alarm:

"What's that? What's that there? You, Jake? Hey! I'll ray you--"

And that was all he said. Friday was too far away to reach him in
time, but the Hawk was closer; he approached behind the brigand,
crouched on silent cat's feet. Two powerful arms reached out and
tightened in a strangle hold--and two minutes later the second man was
bound and gagged.

Carse loosened his ray-gun in its holster.

"Now we attack," he whispered. "Four to two are fair odds, I think.
You go aft and wait by the man-hole; wait till you hear me call. Don't
be seen--wait. And when I call, come at once."

"Yes, suh. You goin' forward 'tween the hulls?"

A curt nod answered him.

"Then up through that--"

"Don't ask so many questions!" the Hawk rasped crisply.

They separated.



CHAPTER V

_The Hawk and the Kite_


In the deck of the control cabin, between a bank of instruments and
the starboard wall, was another man-hole that gave entrance from the
'tween hulls compartment to the cabin.

Only two men besides Carse knew of its existence. The adventurer for
good reasons of his own had it built in; and so cunningly was its
cover fitted on that its outlines were not visible.

Beneath it, now, on the three-rung ladder that led up from the lower
shell, Hawk Carse waited.

He could hear quite clearly the angry, snarling voice of Judd the
Kite, haranguing his men.

"Rinker, you go down and see what's wrong. Just because Jake and Sako
don't come back right away, you guys seem to think the ship's haunted!
Haunted! By Betelguese! A sweet bunch of white-livered cowards I've
got for a crew--"

"Ah, lay off!" growled a deep, sullen voice. "I ain't scared, but this
looks fishy to me. Something's wrong down there 'tween the hulls--damn
wrong, I tell you. We only found four skeletons, an' four, ain't the
full crew for a ship like this. There oughta to be a couple more
somewhere. Carse, blast him! he's got nine lives. How do we know he
was one of the four?"

Another spoke up, as Rinker evidently hesitated. "I say we all go down
and investigate together."

"Stow it!" thundered Judd. "They didn't get their space-suits out, did
they? Why, they hadn't a chance to escape--none of 'em. They were
killed, every one, quick! And four's plenty to work this ship. Carse
is dead, see, dead! This was one trick he didn't know--one time he
couldn't worm out. He was clever, all right, but he couldn't quite
stack up against me. I swore I'd get him and I did. He's dead!"

"Judd," said a low, clear voice.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kite whirled around. He stared. The hand-flash he was holding
dropped to the deck with a clang. His hands went limp, and his voice
was suddenly weak and dazed.

"My God--Carse! Hawk Carse!"

"Yes," a whisper answered. "Hawk Carse. And not dead."

It was a scene that might have puzzled a newcomer to the frontiers of
space. Certainly there seemed to be nothing menacing about the slender
figure that stood by the now open man-hole, both arms hanging easily
at his sides; the advantage, on the contrary, appeared to be all with
the men whom he confronted. All but one was big, and each was fully
armed with a brace of ray-guns and knives.

But, though there were four guns to one, they made no attempt to draw.
For it was the Hawk they faced, the fastest, most accurate shot in all
those millions of leagues of space, and in his two icy eyes was a
menace that filled the control cabin with fine-drawn silence.

At last Judd the Kite opened his lips and wetted them.

"Where did you come from?" he stammered.

"No matter," came the answer from the thinly smiling mouth. "Friday!"

"Yes, suh!" boomed the big black's distant voice.

Judd's three men turned their heads and saw Carse's famous satellite
step into the control cabin, a ray-gun in each capacious hand. He was
all flashing white teeth, so wide was his grin.

"Well, well!" he chuckled. "Ain't this the pleasure! Certainly am
pleased to meet old friends like this--yes, suh! Jus' drop in?"

But the Kite's head had not turned; he seemed not to hear Friday's
words; his eyes were held fascinated by Carse's. The attention of
everyone came back to the two leaders.

"Ku Sui is in back of this?" asked the Hawk.

Judd licked his lips again. He had to spar for time: to divert for a
while the vengeance he knew possessed the other's mind, so that he
might find some chance, some loop-hole.

"That's right," he began eagerly, "it was Ku Sui. I had to do this,
Carse: I hadn't any choice. He's got something on me: I had to go
through with it. Had to!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hawk's eyes were glacial; the ghost of a smile hovered once more
around the corners of his lips.

"Go on," he said. "What was that fungus?"

"I don't know. Ku Sui developed it in his laboratory. He just gave me
a sealed cartridge of the spores with instructions to raid your ranch,
as you saw, and plant them in a drilled-out phanti horn. There was a
simple mechanism in the cartridge that allowed us to release the
spores by a radio wave from our ship. When I wanted them to grow I
simply--"

"I see. A clever scheme," Carse said. "Quite up to Ku Sui's standard.
The idea of those three men running for the jungle when I came down on
Iapetus was to insure my taking the horn cargo aboard, of course. The
raid was only incidental to your scheme to get me. And Crane, the
radio operator, was dead when I received that S.O.S. It was faked, to
bring me quickly for your schedule."

Judd stared at him. "How in hell did you know that? Damn you, Carse,
you're--"

"Where," interrupted the adventurer coldly, "is Ku Sui?"

The pirate's eyes shifted nervously. "I don't know," he muttered.

"Where," came the steady question again, "is Ku Sui?"

The other licked his lips. His fingers clenched, unclenched, gripped
tight. "I don't know!" he protested. His eyes widened as he saw the
Hawk's left hand stir slightly, and he started as he heard the
whip-like word:

"Talk!"

"Carse. I swear it! No one knows where he is. When he wants to see me
personally, he comes out of darkness--out of empty space. I don't know
whether it's done by invisibility or the fourth dimension, but one
moment his ship's not there; the next it is; I don't know where his
base is; and if he knew I'd told you what I have, he'd--"

"How do you arrange your meetings, then?"

"They're always in a different place. The next is in seven days. I
don't remember the figures: they're in the log of my ship."

Carse nodded. "All right. I believe you. And now--there are a few
accounts to be settled."

       *       *       *       *       *

During the few minutes the Hawk had questioned Judd, the brigand crew
in the cabin had stood silent, their breath bated, their eyes watching
fascinated. But now they started, and shifted uneasily. They suspected
what was coming. The inexorable, seemingly inhuman adventurer went on
emotionlessly:

"Six of my men were killed on Iapetus, treacherously, without a
chance. Four more were slaughtered by the fungus. That's ten. Back up
to your men, Judd."

Judd knew all too well what that order portended. He could not move.
His cunning eyes protruded with fear as they shifted down and riveted
on the shabby holster that hung on Carse's left side. His breath came
unevenly, in short, ragged gasps through parted lips.

"Back, Judd!"

The stinging, icy force of the voice jolted him back despite his will.
One short retreating step after another he took, until at length he
was standing with his three men against the side wall of the cabin,
the dividing line between it and the engine room. Friday's guns were
still covering the pirates.

"You goin' to shoot us down in cold blood?" one of them asked
hoarsely.

The Hawk surveyed the speaker until the man shivered. Beneath their
coldness, his gray eyes were faintly contemptuous.

"No--I leave that for yellow-streaked hi-jacking rats such as you. I'm
going to give you a chance: more than a chance. Friday," he called.

"Yes, suh?"

"Do you want to come in on this?"

Without the slightest hesitation the negro answered, grinning:

"Yes, suh!"

"I thought you would. Come here alongside me, then sheathe your guns."

Friday did so. He stood in position beside his master, just in front
of the opening that led below. The four brigands were some fifteen
feet away. The two groups faced each other squarely.

"Good," whispered Carse.

       *       *       *       *       *

They stood there, four men to two, deadly enemies; yet not one hand
moved toward a ray-gun. Again, an outsider would have marveled why
Judd, the numbers on his side did not draw and fire; why he waited;
why his face was pale, his eyes nervous. But he knew too well what the
least sign of a draw on his part would entail; he preferred to wait,
to receive the advantage of the cold vanity in Carse which demanded,
in gun-play, that the odds of numbers be against him. Perhaps this
time that vanity would lead the Hawk a little too far. Perhaps even
yet a loop-hole for strategy might appear.

So the Kite waited, but fear was strong within him.

"A little earlier," the Hawk's frigid voice went on, "there was some
counting. To the number five. Remember, Judd? Well, since you managed
so poorly before, perhaps you'll count again."

"You mean to count to five?"

"Yes. And on the fifth count, we draw and fire."

Judd's eyes narrowed, shifted, while thoughts clashed and meshed in
his brain. Hawk Carse smiled icily.

"Is that clear?" he asked.

Judd said after a while:

"All right."

Friday noted one of the pirates: a brawny, black-browed giant almost
as large as himself, and decided to go for him when the time came. He
whispered this to Carse; then, keeping his gaze on the man, he stood
ready.

"Begin, I'm waiting," reminded Hawk Carse.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kite crouched, drew a deep breath--but before his lips could form
the first count there was a quick, sharp stir of movement from the
brigand to his right; Carse's left hand seemed to vanish; a hiss
followed, a streak of wicked blue light. Friday grunted, not yet quite
realizing what had happened; Judd, gaped at Carse's lowering weapon,
then turned his eyes to the right--and choked out an oath.

The brawny giant by his side was standing, but his face was creased
and puzzled. One hand was at a holster; the other grasped a
gun--unfired. Accurate to an inch, between his eyebrows there had
appeared is if by magic a neatly seared, round hole.

His knees crumpled. His gun clanged to the deck. His head bowed; he
bent; he pitched forward, sprawled face downward. Then he quivered and
lay still. A burnt odor was in the air....

"I'm still waiting, Judd," came an ironic whisper.

"My God!" stammered one of the pirate chief's two remaining men. "He's
a devil. Fast as light!"

Judd's eyes had returned to the Hawk, and they still showed some of
his reaction of surprise to what had happened, when a peculiar thing
occurred. For a split second his gaze shot past Carse, took in
something, then switched back again. And when he had done so his face
showed a faint but unmistakable feeling of relief.

This was old stuff to the Hawk, but he could not afford to take
chances. Instantly he rapped:

"Look behind. Friday! Quick!"

The negro jerked his head around. He was too late. He had a glimpse of
a man standing in the man-hole behind--a glimpse of a short steel bar
that flashed to Carse's head in a vicious arc, and again to his own.
He was rocked by pain is blackness came across his vision; and
together, white man and black crumpled to the deck....



CHAPTER VI

_Back to Iapetus_


An indefinite time later Carse awoke to a trip-hammer of pain thudding
through his head. He groaned a little, and tried to turn over in an
effort to ease it. He found he could not. Then his eyes opened and he
blinked up.

He found himself lying on the deck of the control cabin, near the
after wall, and bound hand and foot with tightly strapped rope. Over
him, looking down, was Judd the Kite, hands on his hips, a gloating
smile on his coarse lips, and in his eyes a look of taunting, exultant
triumph. He drew back his foot and kicked the netted Hawk in the ribs.
The trader made no sound; his pale face did not change, except to set
a trifle more rigidly.

"Pretty easy the way my men got you, Carse," said Judd. "Seems to me
you're just a damned fool with a big rep you don't deserve. You're
too careless. You ought to know by now not to leave bound men in reach
of high-powered cable. It cuts as good as an electric knife. Does your
head hurt where you were hit?" Deliberately, still smiling, he rapped
his foot brutally against Carse's head.

The trader said nothing. He glanced around, to get the situation
clearly. Friday, he saw, was in the control cabin too, lying stretched
out and bound as he was, but evidently still unconscious from the
ugly, bloody welt on his head. One of Judd's men was at the ship's
space-stick, another stood by her dials, occasionally glancing back at
the prisoners and grinning; the two remaining pirates were apparently
aft. The body of the one whom Carse had killed had been removed.

Through the port bow window, far out, he noticed a small spot, half
black and half brilliant with the reflected light of Saturn: that
would be the other space ship, the Kite's, on the same course as they.
And ahead was the large-looming sphere of Iapetus. The pirate was
returning, then, to the ranch, probably to pick up his three men, and
perhaps to leave a small crew to work it.

"Yes. I'm afraid this is the end of the Sparrow Hawk!" Judd sneered
the name and laughed harshly. "A lot of people will be glad to hear
it. There'll be a big reward for me, too, from Ku Sui. Head still
bad?" And again he swung his leg and drove its heavy shoe into his
captive's head.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse's lips compressed till they were colorless. He looked steadily
at Judd's eyes and asked:

"What are you going to do with Friday and me?"

"Well," grinned the pirate, "I can't tell you definitely, but it's
sure to be interesting. It'd suit me best if I could teach you a few
little tricks with a peeling knife--the Venusians have some very neat
ones, you know--and then perhaps burn you full of holes. Little holes,
done with a mild needle-ray. But unfortunately I can't kill you
personally, for Ku Sui will want to do that himself. You're worth a
hell of a lot of money alive."

"I go to Ku Sui, then?"

"That's right. I'll hand you over when I have my rendezvous with him,
seven days from now. Clever man, Ku Sui! Half Chinese, you know. He'll
be tickled to get you alive."

A muscle in the Hawk's cheek quivered. Then he asked:

"And Friday?"

Judd laughed. "Oh, I don't much care; he's not worth anything. I'll
throw him in with you for good measure, probably. How's the head?"
Once more the foot swung.

Carse's gray eyes were as frigid as the snow caps of Mars. The left
eyelid was twitching a little; otherwise his pale face was as if
graven from stone.

"Judd," he whispered, so softly that his voice was almost inaudible.
"I shall kill you very soon. I shall make it a point to. Very soon.
Judd...."

The Kite stared at the pallid gray eyes. His lips parted slightly. And
then he remembered that his captive was bound, helpless. He spat.

"Bah!" he snarled. "Just your old stuff, Carse. It's all over with you
now. You'll be screaming to me to kill you when Ku Sui begins to touch
you up!" He guffawed, again kicked the man at his feet, and turned
away.

Hawk Carse watched him walk to the forward end of the cabin; and,
after a little while, he sighed. He could be patient. He was still
alive, and he would stay alive, he felt. A chance would come--he did
not know how or when; it perhaps would not be soon; it might not come
until he had been delivered to Ku Sui, but it would arrive. And
then....

Then there would be a reckoning!

The deceptively mild gray eyes of the Hawk were veiled by their lids.

       *       *       *       *       *

Night had settled over the ranch by the time the _Star Devil_ and
Judd's accompanying ship were in the satellite's atmosphere. It was
the rare, deep, moonless night of Iapetus, when the only light came
from the far, cold, distant stars that hung faintly twinkling in the
great void above. Occasionally, the tiny world was lit clearly at
night by the rays of Saturn, reflected from one of the eight other
satellites; and occasionally, too, there was no night, the central sun
of the solar universe sending its distance-weakened shafts of fire to
light one side of the globe while ringed Saturn gilded the other.

But this season was the one of dark, full-bodied nights; and it was
into the hush of their blackness that the _Star Devil_ and her
attendant brigand ship glided.

Below, on the surface of the Satellite, glowed the pin-prick of a
camp-fire. When the ships were some fifteen thousand feet up, Judd's
orders caused long light-rays to shaft out from the _Star Devil_ and
finger the ground. They rested on the ranch house and then passed on
to douse with white the figures of three men standing by the fire.
Through the electelscope the pirate chief saw them wave their arms in
greeting.

Ten minutes later the two ships nestled down close together a hundred
yards or more from the ranch clearing, and Judd said to his mate,
standing next to him:

"We'll have a little celebration to-night. Break out a few cases of
alkite and send three of the boys to the ranch's storeroom after meat
for the cook to barbecue."

"What you goin' to do with them two?" the other asked.

"Carse and the nig? Keep them here in the control cabin; I'll detail a
couple of men to guard them. I'm taking no chances: they must be in
sight every minute. Carse is too damned dangerous." He peered back at
the captives. The trader's eyes were shut; Friday still appeared
unconscious from the brutal blow on his head. "Asleep. Well, they'd
better sleep--while they have eyelid's to close!" Judd said mockingly,
and his mate laughed in appreciation of his wit.

But neither the Hawk or Friday was asleep. Nor was the negro
unconscious. Carse had ascertained this some time before by cautious
signals.

A little stir had come within him when he heard Judd say there would
be a celebration, for a celebration, to these men, meant a debauch and
relaxed discipline, and relaxed discipline meant--a chance. First,
however, there were the tight bonds of rope; they were expertly tied,
and strong. But the Hawk was not particularly concerned about them.

He had dismissed them as a problem after a few minutes of
consideration, and his mind ran farther ahead, planning coldly,
mechanically, the payment of his blood debts....

       *       *       *       *       *

All in all, Judd was to blame for what happened that night on Iapetus.
He was an old hand and a capable one, and certainly he should have
known that extraordinary measures had to be adopted when Hawk Carse
became his prisoner. By rights, he should have killed Friday
immediately, and steered straight for his rendezvous with Ku Sui,
keeping his eye on Carse all the time. He would have had to loaf on
his way to the rendezvous, of course, for it needed but five days to
get there, and he had seven; and he would also have had to pick up his
three marooned men later. But that was what he should have done.

Yet, when one regards the personal angles, it is necessary to divide
Judd's responsibility for succeeding events. He felt like having a
celebration, and certainly he and his men had earned one. He had
captured the man who had stood, more than anyone else, in his and in
Ku Sui's way for years; the man who had quashed any number of their
outlaw schemes, and who had given more trouble to them than all the
forces of law and order on Earth and the patrol ships in space. More,
he had captured him alive, and that meant a much fatter reward from Ku
Sui. He possessed the valuable cargo of phanti horn; he had taken a
brand new ship, alone worth millions, besides being the fastest in
space. Judd was naturally elated; he had two nights and a day to
spare; he felt expansive, and ordered a celebration.

Such decisions--trivial when seen from the eminence of a hundred
years--have directed the tide of history more than once.

There were thirteen men left of Judd's crew, including the three
posted on Iapetus; these three and the six who manned the pirate's own
craft came running to the _Star Devil_ and piled into her open
port-lock. They milled around in the control cabin, shouting in high
spirits, swearing, throwing clumsy jests at the two silent figures on
the deck; and Judd joined with them. There was much loot to be split,
and the Hawk was snared at last! Their chief stilled them for a moment
and said:

"Well, I guess we deserve a little jamboree. I'm breaking out some
alkite and meat; make a big fire outside and dig some barbecue pits.
Go ahead--out of here! But wait: you, Sharkey, and you, Keyger."

These last two men, more husky and alert than most of their fellows,
he detailed for guard duty ever Carse and Friday. They were much cast
down at the job, but he premised them a larger slice of the loot for
recompense, and then stalked out after the other men.

The two guards stuck a brace of ray-guns in their belts and looked
over the captives. Angry at missing the carousal, the man called
Keyger kicked Friday, whose eyelids did not budge and whose body did
not quiver, and then, more gingerly, kicked Carse and swore at
him--but he turned somewhat hastily when the mild gray eyes slowly
opened and stared up into his.

Then the two guards pulled out chairs and placed them by the open
port-lock, where they could command a view of the celebration. They
drew one ray-gun each, laid them ready, close by, and sat down.



CHAPTER VII

_Jamboree_


Two hours later their eyes were taking in a fantastic, mad scene, one
that in some ways might have occurred in the days when buccaneers
roamed the Spanish Main of Earth.

A little over a hundred yards away, straight before them, was the
corral of the phantis: far behind it encroached the shadowy fringe of
the jungle: to their right, closer to the corral than to the space
ships, was the ranch house, lonely now and silent. But these objects
were only the background for what had grown in front of the corral
wire.

It was the roaring mass of the monster fire that had been lit, a
splash of fierce, leaping flames in the velvety cool of the night.
Black shapes were clustered around it; bottles were raised and
drained; and a frieze of shadows, staggered and jumped and danced
around the ruddy pile of fire. The carousal was in full swing; a
chorus of wild song rose noisily into the night; more cases were
smashed open and more alkite drawn out. The carcases of three animals
taken from the ranch's storehouse sizzled on the barbecue pits, to be
ripped apart and the rich, dripping meat torn at, tooth and claw. Ever
higher pierced the shrieks and oaths, till the calm night was
distorted and crazy.

Other heavier sounds accompanied the bedlam of human noise: deep
snortings and roarings and the scraping of scores of horn-shod feet.
Behind their wired electric fence was clustered the herd of phantis,
staring with their evil, red-shot little eyes at the flames and the
shapes of the hated men. The big bulls were bellowing, bucking their
heads angrily, churning up the soft soil with their strong,
dagger-spurred feet: the welter of noise and the sight of so many men
had wrought them up into a vicious and dangerous state.

Judd the Kite, a bottle in one hand and in the other a huge joint of
meat which he was tearing at with his teeth, suddenly paused with
mouth crammed full and stared over through the flickering light at the
phanti corral. A cruel light gleamed in his eyes: he gulped down the
meat and then turned to the shapes staggering around him. He yelled:

"Hey, there--let's get out the nigger! A little entertainment,
fellows! Bring him out; but don't touch Carse: he's Ku Sui's. Douse
him with water if he's unconscious."

       *       *       *       *       *

They yelled in drunken delight at his words, and half of them reeled
off towards the _Star Devil_. Judd, lips up-curved in a smile, drew
his ray-gun and set the lever over for the low-power, continuous
ray-stream. These guns, unlike our present weapons, could shoot in two
ways: they could spit about twenty high-power discharges, a fraction
of a second each in duration and easily sufficient to burn a man's
head through; or they could deliver a long-lasting low-power stream,
just strong enough to sear and crisp a human skin. For the
entertainment Judd had in mind he needed low power.

The men sent to the _Star Devil_ shoved past the guards on watch near
the port-lock and over to the prisoners. They found them lying, very
close together near the after wall.

"Gonna have some fun with the black, Judd's orders," they explained to
the guards. "Still unconscious?"

Certainly Friday looked unconscious, his eyes closed, his full lips
slightly parted, showing the powerful white teeth.

"I'll give him a shot of the ray," another brigand cut in. "That'll
bring him to. Be ready to grab him."

They got an unpleasant shock when the low-power stream flicked the
negro's leg. With a gigantic bellow that rang throughout the ship,
Friday resisted.

It was like seeing a dead man come to life, and it startled them.
Bound as he was, Friday made things unhealthy for his would-be
captors; he shunted his legs up and down and squirmed mightily, and
once his gleaming teeth snapped into an arm, bringing a howl of pain
and several minutes of cursing. The unexpected resistance, once the
surprise was over, infuriated the rum-sodden men. One of them yelled:
"Sock him; Shorty!" A ray-gun's butt was slapped down on Friday's
head; the negro rolled over, stunned. Then he was picked up without
resistance and borne out into the night, where fantastic figures
cavorted around the towering fire.

"The black devil was faking all the time!" one of the guards said
amazedly. "He wasn't unconscious. What in hell did he do that for?"

"Dunno," snarled the other, rubbing a bruised leg. "Must have
suspected what he's gonna get. Wish we was over there."

"Well, we can watch from here," grumbled his companion, and returned
to the seats by the port-lock.

They both sat down, their backs half turned to the figure still lying
on the deck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse had said nothing, made no protest, had not even moved when
Friday struggled in fierce resistance. He could have done much more,
but it would have been useless. Long before, he had seen the negro's
opening eyes and signaled him to feign unconsciousness thus deflecting
attention and making him appear harmless. He had also broached his
plan for escape to Friday. He had not, however, reckoned on Judd's
desire to torture: he would, he now saw, have to act with his greatest
speed to save his mate from as much pain as possible.

And he began to act.

The control cabin was streaked with patches of shadow and light, made
vague by pools of darkness thrown by the banks of instruments. Only
one lighting tube was dimly burning. In this indefinite half-light the
Hawk set about stalking his prey.

With eyes narrowed and steady on the two guards who were completely
absorbed in the happenings outside, he drew his hands from beneath
him. They were no longer bound. The rope knotted around them had been
gnawed through strand by strand--sliced by the strong white teeth of a
negro....

Cautiously, without a whisper of sound, Carse reached towards the
bonds on his legs. The lean fingers worked rapidly. Quickly the knots,
yielded and the rope was unwound. The legs were free. For a moment
Hawk Carse, ever with careful calculation of time, stretched his
cramped muscles, limbering them for action.

A mutter came from the port-lock. He froze. But it was only:

"Look at 'im! This is goin' to be good! Judd gets some damn clever
ideas!"

They were utterly wrapped up in the scene outside, and unconscious of
the low blot that moved with steely purpose behind them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hawk got to hands and knees; moved forward, the ghost of a shadow.
The two men who were his quarry were sitting close together, hunched a
little forward in their eagerness not to miss a single detail. Their
heads were not a foot apart. Each wore a ray-gun and had another lying
on the deck at his side.

Carse came near to their backs. He paused, imperceptibly tensed,
judged the distance carefully. Then in a sudden, snake-like movement,
he sprang.

A forearm of steel clamped around the back of each guard's head and
jerked it sharply into the other's. There was a quick crack; then,
dazed, only half-conscious, the two men toppled off their seats and
fell to the deck.

"Quiet!" warned an icy whisper. They stared, gaping, then staggered up
to their feet.

A ray-gun that just before had been lying on the deck was leveled
steadily at them, held in the hand of a gray-eyed man whose fine
features were as if graven from stone and on whose wrists were deep
blue lines that showed where ropes had pressed. The guards' faces
whitened as realization came. One of them choked:

"It's him!"

"Yes," whispered the Hawk dryly. He took a few steps backward, eyes
not moving. "Go to that locker," he said to the shorter of the men,
indicating with a curt nod the place where space suits were stowed.
"First draw your gun and lay it on that table. Hurry!"

The man hastily complied. Anything else was unthinkable; meant quick
and lonely and useless death. Shouts and laughter and drunken shrieks
were echoing from outside. No one would have ears for him.

When he had stepped into the locker, Carse closed and sealed the door.

"What you goin' to do with me?" croaked the remaining guard. He was
big and burly and he towered inches over the figure facing him, but
his lips were trembling and his eyes wild with fear.

"You," whispered the Hawk frigidly, "kicked me when I was bound." He
sheathed his ray-gun in his holster, then spoke again. "Go for your
gun."

The pirate trembled all over. His mouth fell open, and his eyes stuck
on Carse's shabby holster. He seemed half hypnotized.

"Draw."

The other's swarthy brow beaded with sudden-starting sweat. His hands
hung limp, twitching at the finger-tips. He watched death stare him in
the face.

"Damn you, Carse!" he burst out and suddenly went for his ray.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse deliberately let him get the gun out. Not until then did his
left hand move. But even with such a head-start, so bewildering was
the adventurer's speed that only one streak of orange light made a
flash in the cabin, and that streak was the Hawk's. The brigand
quivered, his face still contorted with his last desperate emotion;
then he fell slowly forward and thudded into the deck. His body
twitched a little, and in a spasm rolled over. Square between the eyes
was a crisp, smooth-burned hole.

Hawk Carse gave the body not a glance, but sheathed his ray-gun,
picked up the three others, stuck them in his belt, and glided to the
port-lock. There, he peered outside.

His face hardened.

Blobs of flame that flared from wood torches were clustered about the
nearest side of the phanti corral. A dark blur of figures were ringed
in a half-circle, and from it came yells of delight and almost
hysterical laughter. The Hawk's eyes were chilling to look at when he
saw, through gaps in the circle of black shapes, the figure of a huge
negro, standing with his back almost touching the wire fence of the
corral. The actions of Friday gave the clue to what was happening.

He was caught in a broad ray of orange light, and in it he shuddered
and hopped grotesquely from one leg to the other in an agony of pain,
his lips drawn back taut over the gleaming teeth, his face flexed and
the whites of his eyes showing as the eyeballs rolled. The glow that
in part hung around him streamed from a ray-gun that was held in the
right hand of Judd the Kite. Heat! Friday was being slowly crisped
alive; seared on his feet in a furnace of heat: and the men who ringed
him were yelling advice at him between their laughter. Carse strained
his ears. In a jumble, he caught:

"Jump over"--"Nah, he'd have to climb"--"Climb! The juice's
cut!"--"Into the corral!"--"Climb over, you black buzzard"--"Hoowee!"

       *       *       *       *       *

About a foot behind Friday was the wire fence, behind which the
phantis, their snouts converged towards the pirates, their red-shot
eyes glaring, their powerful hind feet clawing at the ground, were
bellowing in wild and ferocious excitement. Sudden, awful death waited
on the other side of the fence; slow death by burning on this side.
Yet Friday still hoped, still had faith in his master, for he did not
put a quick end to his living death by rushing the devilish circle or
clambering over into the thick of the sharp stabbing spurs.

Carse's brain moved with the swiftness of light. He could not rush the
group: the odds were too great, and besides, Judd's gun was already
out. Nor could he dive at them with the _Star Devil_ itself, or ray
them from above: that would mean Friday's death too. It would have to
be something else--and in a moment he had it. Carefully he examined
all variations and checked the scheme back: it promised to be the
final move, engendering the final meeting, and there must be no slip.

First, the Hawk slipped shadow-like to the entrance port of the other
space ship, lying a few hundred feet away, shrouded in darkness. He
had to know if anyone were aboard.

Gruffly he called inside:

"Judd! Hey, Judd! You there?"

There was no answer. Again he called, but the gloomy interior's
silence was not broken. Satisfied that it was empty, he doubled back
with noiseless speed, skirted round the _Star Devil_ and arrived like
a wind-carried wraith at the rear wall of the ranch house.

A short leap and his hands closed on the copper drain. The muscles of
his wiry arms flexed, and the lean figure raised himself foot by foot
to the eaves, where a pull and press up brought him over the edge.
Stooping, he padded to the side which faced on the clearing and the
corral.

And then the ray-gun was drawn from its holster.

For seconds the cold gray eyes reckoned the shooting distance and the
angle. The weapon came up and rested at arm's length. The first finger
of the deadly left hand began to squeeze back.

A pencil-thin streak of orange light speared the air!



CHAPTER VIII

_Stampede_


Judd the Kite was enjoying himself hugely. His bestial sense of humor
was tickled. It was very funny, the contortions of the negro in the
orange ray-stream!

"Climb over!" he suggested, amid roars of laughter from the circle of
men. "Climb over, why don't you? I've turned off the current. There's
no electricity in the fence. You won't be hurt. Why don't you climb
over?"

Friday did not, could not answer. His lips were sucked tight together
now in wordless agony; the cheek muscles, strained taut, stood out
like welts of flesh; the huge body, bathed always in that steady glow
of orange, was slightly livid in patches. He hopped mechanically,
changing from one aching leg to the other; his eyes were closed half
the time, his whole being one dumb agony. He did not know when it
would end, but he still had faith.

Overhead, the flames of four tarred wood torches bobbed and reeled as
the men who held them reeled; seemed to shake in the gusts of laughter
and yells and oaths that came ceaselessly from the onlookers. And in
this distorted light the half-shadowed snouts and bodies of the
phantis, clustered behind their nine-foot-high fence, looked indeed
diabolical. The fence was high, for the creatures possessed surprising
jumping powers; it was composed of eight strands of wire, running
parallel a foot apart from each other, with inter-crossing supports.
The electric current, now turned off, always kept the phantis from
crashing through.

Judd smiled more widely. "I guess I'll increase the power," his coarse
lips pronounced. "We'll see how you can duck a strong thin beam. I'll
give you about five minutes to climb over. After that you'll be burned
down slowly to a cinder. Now--will you climb? See--I'm moving the
lever over. Watch, now, and feel--"

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly his voice broke off short. There had been a hiss--a
_spang_--a slight whip of sound. He glanced around swiftly. No, his
men had not noticed it. They were still laughing, roaring, swaying in
drunken merriment. The Kite's lips curved upward again. He continued:

"Feel the heat increase. It's stronger, now, and--"

Again the _spang_, the whip, the streak of something swift. The men
noticed his expression and quieted somewhat. Judd was looking around
him, and even as he saw what it was there came a cry from a pirate
nearby.

"Look! The fence!"

Judd's eyes widened; his lips slackened and lost their smile. The
noise, the laughs, the shouts, screams and oaths died into the night;
frightened silence fell over the group, and all that was left were the
concerted bellowings and snortings from the enraged herd of beasts
just beyond.

All--except for another _spang_ that sounded as a streak of orange
light arrowed from somewhere through the flickering torchlight. And
with its coming the third parallel strand of the corral-fence whipped
apart with a little singing swish, shot neatly through, as were the
two below it. Ten feet of fence on each side slumped visibly.

"Someone's shooting it through!" came a scared whisper. Yet still the
brigands, held fascinated by fear and puzzlement, stared at the fence
and at the surging crowd of stampede-crazy animals beyond.

Another _spang_, another streak of light! With deadly accuracy the
shot clove the fourth strand. The lower half of a whole section of
fence was gone. Behind it the bucking, red-eyed phantis inched
forward, still afraid of the electric shock they thought was somewhere
there, but drawn to the opening by their hatred of the two-legged
creatures so near. Closer, closer! Then the befuddled pirates found
their senses. Even as the fifth arrow of light came from the invisible
marksman and snapped the fifth strand, a concerted cry of fear of the
advancing beasts went up from the crowd of men.

"Run! Run! They're coming! They're coming out!"

They turned, panic-stricken; the torches fell flaring to the ground,
to lie there in pools of flame; the brigands ran for the nearest
shelter, the dark bulk of the ranch house close by. They ran, fear
tingling their spines, in their ears the sound of the maddened
phantis.

       *       *       *       *       *

From his vantage point on the roof of the ranch house, the Hawk
confirmed his quick decision that this was the only way.

Rapidly, as was his custom, he had reckoned the problem out minutely
and carefully; had considered and checked every possibility. He had
to shoot the fence, not the brigands. For he couldn't hope to get more
than a couple of them: a pirate toppling over dead would jar the
others into instant action; they would scatter in the darkness,
leaving the odds too great. And leaving, besides, small chance of
wiping out every one of the pirates.

As for Friday, he had to take his chance. There was, this way, a good
chance, if he used his brain. For, to the left, as close as the ranch
house to the corral, were the grave-pits he himself had dug some hours
before, and one was still empty, waiting to be filled. It offered
shelter, a good chance--if he used his brain. He, Carse, would do all
he could to protect him from the stampeding beasts while he ran.

Some of the pirates would be snared by the rush of phantis. Four or
five would probably reach the ranch house. That was what he wanted.

And that was what he got. His fifth shot fired, straight and true from
the ray-gun of the most accurate marksman of space, the Hawk lowered
the weapon and gazed at the scene resulting, a ghost of a smile on his
lips.

He saw the mob of creatures, in a bedlam of noise, sweep under the
fence that had for so long kept them back. Bellowing their hatred,
their cruel spurs eager for blood, they charged. Before them fled the
thin fringe of men, Friday on one flank. A man went down with a
scream; a half-grown horn knifed into him; he was trampled, gored,
spurred, and left a bloody welter of death in seconds. Another,
hearing the loud thud of feet just behind, turned with desperate eyes,
dodged, tripped, shrieked and was caught and ripped. Another and
another. In the dancing, flickering half-light of the flames of fire
and torches, a hellish scene of devastation and death spun out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carse was shooting again, with the cold mechanical precision of a
machine. There was Friday to be guarded. He was now separated from the
other men--cut off and edging to one side--to the side where was the
grave-pit! Dodging, wildly twisting and turning, he several times
barely escaped three or four phantis that thundered after him. The
leader took perhaps ten steps: then its body quivered and it tumbled
over and flopped on the ground, a little wisp of smoke curling from
its body. The other two went down in swift succession. But there were
many, and even as Friday melted into the shadows, a group of several
beasts detached themselves and roared after him. The deadly ray-gun on
the roof wrought swift slaughter amongst them, but some got into the
darkness beyond vision of the icy gray eyes.

Carse lowered his weapon. His face was very hard and very set. Would
they catch the negro? Tumble down on him if he made the pit? Well,
there was no helping it....

But the reckoning would soon be finished; the time was at hand. Cold
as the deeps of space despite the awful havoc he had just created,
totally without visible emotion, he drew the last unused ray-gun from
his belt and put it in the shabby holster. One would be enough.

Shadow-like, noiseless and swift, he moved towards the far end of the
roof.



CHAPTER IX

_The Hawk Strikes_


His face red, his breath coming in hoarse gasps, Judd the Kite
stumbled through the house's door on the heels of four of his men. He
swung rapidly and flung his weight against the door: locked and
double-locked it. A second later fists pounded on the outer panel, and
a voice, racked with fear and terror, screamed:

"Let me in! Let me in! Oh, God, let me in! Judd!"

Then there was the thud of drumming feet, and one awful shriek from
the man who had found the door locked against him.

But the Kite was not listening. A measure of courage returning to him
with the building's protection, he snapped:

"Get those other doors locked quick! And lights. Then search the
house."

The lighting tubes glowed, filling the room with soft radiance. Judd
survey his position.

He saw that it could have been far worse. But his men needed courage.

The rapid change from orgy to deadly peril had sobered them
completely. And they were frightened; nor was it fear of the beasts.
They came treading silently back from their inspection of the house,
reporting it empty; but their eyes kept shifting, their ray-guns ready
in hand. Each one knew, deep within him, who had fired the shots that
collapsed the fence. They had taken two captives; Friday had been
under their eyes; there was only one other, and he was--the Hawk.

Hawk Carse! The four men were nervous. More than a few lonely spots in
the countless leagues of space had seen his vengeance: and they--they
had killed his guards and his overseer, his radio-man, and, with the
fungus, his ship's crew; they had tortured Friday. They were now marks
for the fatal left hand: fugitives from gray, icy eyes. The Hawk was
loose!

       *       *       *       *       *

Judd saw the fear gnawing at their vitals. He felt it too. But there
seemed no immediate danger, so, with a ray-gun in each hand, he
summoned a blustering courage and said to the others, harshly:

"Yes, it was that damned Carse! He must have got loose in some way.
But pull yourselves together: we're safe here. He's somewhere
outside."

He reasoned it out for them.

"He couldn't have done that shooting from the _Star Devil_; it's too
far away. And he's not in it now or he'd be using it to try and find
that black of his--if the black's still alive. No, he's not in the
ship, and he's not in this house. He's somewhere outside, and he can't
reach us here while the phantis have the place surrounded. We can
shoot them down from the attic, and they'll soon beat it for the
jungle. When that happens we'll rush to the ships, and before Carse
knows what it's all about we'll be up and away and he'll be marooned.
Then we'll get him later."

His words brought a return of confidence. It was true, the others
thought: the Hawk could not reach them as long as the phantis were
around the house; and when they were driven away, the ships were near
at hand and empty. All they had to do was get to the ships before
Carse. The adventurer certainly was not then in one of the craft, or
he would be wasting no time hunting for Friday--and raying their
stronghold. No doubt he was up a tree somewhere; perhaps gored and
dead.

One of the men snickered, and Judd smiled at the sound. Their
confidence in him was encouraging.

"Get to the windows of the attic," he ordered. "Some of those crazy
brutes are horning at the house. We've got to shoot them and get out
of here, quick!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There were two rooms in the attic; the large one, used as a storeroom
for staple foods, had five windows, long, sloping affairs, three in
front and one in each side wall. The second room was small and at the
rear, and was used to store tools and spare technical apparatus. It
had one little window, set high up, and connected with the larger room
by a door set in the middle of the partition.

Judd placed one of his pirates at each of the windows of the large
room, taking himself the center one.

Around the house milled dozens of animal bodies, snorting, bellowing
and roaring, their little red eyes flashing, claws tearing the soil in
futile rage at the men they knew to be safely within. A babel of
brutish sounds rose from them. Two of the bulls fell foul of each
other and fought in fury, to suddenly turn and hurl their weight
against a ground floor door, quivering it. But their rashness was
answered by a streak of light from an attic window, and as one toppled
back, its body burnt through, the sights of the destroying ray-gun
were already on its fellow.

The huge fire the brigands had laid was dying, and night was seeping
ever thickening darkness over the scene. Glinting very slightly in the
starlight were the black shapes of the two silent space ships.

Then Judd the Kite, as he aimed and shot and aimed and shot again, was
suddenly struck by a disturbing idea. From where had Carse fired at
the corral fence? What was the logical vantage point for him?

A shiver trembled down his spine. He saw suddenly with terrible
clearness where that vantage point was--and it had not been searched.
The roof!

He turned swiftly, his lips opening to give orders.

And there, standing on the threshold of the door to the smaller
adjoining room, stood the figure of a man whose eyes were cold with
the absolute cold of space, and whose left hand held a steady-leveled
ray-gun that pointed as straight as his eyes at Judd!

"Hawk--Carse!"

"Judd," said the quiet, icy voice.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Kite went white as a sheet. His men turned slowly as one. One of
them gasped at what he saw; another cursed; the other two simply
stared with fear-flooded eyes; only one thing flamed in every
mind--the never-failing vengeance of the Hawk.

"Carse!" repeated Judd stupidly. "You--again!"

"Yes," whispered the trader. "And for the last time. We settle now.
There are a few debts--a few lives--a few blows and kicks--and a
matter of some torture to be paid for. The accounts must be squared,
Judd."

And slowly he raised his right hand to the queer bangs of flaxen hair
which hung down over his forehead. He stroked them gently. Judd's
eyes, dry, hot, held fascinated on the hand. He shuddered.

"It's not pleasant," came the whisper, "to always have to wear my hair
like this. That's another debt--the largest of all--I have to settle.
_Sheathe your guns!_"

The voice cracked like a whip. They obeyed without sound, though they
read death in the frigid gray eyes. As their guns went into holsters,
Carse's followed suit; he stood then with both hands hanging at his
sides. And he said, in the whisper that carried more weight to them
than the trumpets of a host:

"Once before we were interrupted. This time we won't be. This time we
will see certainly for whom the number five brings death. Count,
Judd."

With a jerk, the Kite regained some control over himself. The odds
were five to one. Five guns to one gun. Carse was a great shot, but
such odds were surely too great. Perhaps--perhaps there might be a
chance. He said in a strained voice to his men:

"Shoot when I reach five."

Then he swallowed and counted:

"One."

Aside from the tiny flickering of the left eyelid, the Hawk was
graven, motionless, apparently without feeling. Judd, he knew, was
just fairly fast; as for the others--

"Two."

--they were unknown quantities, except for one, the man called Jake.
He had the reputation of possessing a lightning draw; his eyes were
narrowed, his hands steady, and the body crouched, a sure sign of--

"Three."

--a gunman who knew his business, who was fast. His hip holsters were
not really worn on the hips, but in front, very close together; that
meant--

"Four."

--that he would probably draw both guns. So Judd must wait; the other
three, being unknowns, disposed of in the order in which they were
standing; but Jake must be--

"Five!"

--first!

       *       *       *       *       *

One second there was nothing; the next, wicked pencils of orange light
were snaking across the attic! And then two guns clanged on the floor,
unfired, and the man called Jake staggered forward, crumpled and fell,
a puzzled look on his face and accurately between his eyes a little
round neat hole that had come as if by magic. Two others, similarly
stricken, toppled down, their fingers still tensed on ray-gun
triggers; the fourth pirate, his heart drilled, went back from the
force of it and crashed into the wall, slithering down slowly into a
limp heap. But Judd the Kite was still on his feet.

His lips were twisted in a snarl; his hands seemed locked. His eyes
met the two cold gray ones across the room--and then his coarse face
contorted, and he croaked:

"Damn you, Carse! Damn you--"

His body spun around and flattened out on the floor with arms and legs
flung wide. A tiny black hole was visible through his shirt. He had
been last, and the Hawk had struck him less accurately than his
fellows.

The trader was unwounded. He stood there for several minutes,
surveying what lay before him. He looked at each body in turn, and his
eyes were calm and clear and mild, his face devoid of expression.
Silence hung over the attic, for the bellowings and snortings of the
beasts outside had died into faint murmurings as they straggled off
for their jungle home. The single living man of the six who had lived
and breathed there minutes before holstered his still warm ray-gun;
and then the sound of a step on the stairs leading from the rooms
below made him look up.

A man stood in the doorway of the attic.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was big and brawny; but, though his arms and bare torso were
streaked with blood, and his trousers torn into shreds, and his legs
crisscrossed with cuts, there was broad grin on his face--a grin that
widened as his rolling white eyes took in what lay on the attic floor.

Neither said anything for a moment. Then the Hawk smiled, and there
was all friendliness and affection in his face.

"You made the pit, Eclipse?" he asked, softly.

Friday nodded, and chuckled. "Yes, suh! But only just. If Ah'd bin a
leap an' a skip slower Ah'd bin a _tee-total_ eclipse!"

Dancing lights of laughter came to the Hawk's eyes.

"Still feeling chipper," he said, "--in spite of your burns. Well,
good for you. But I guess you've had enough of Ku Sui for a little
while!"

The negro grunted indignantly. "You surely don't imply Ah'm _sca'ed_
of that yellow Chink? Hell, no! Why--"

Carse chuckled and cut him off.

"I see. Well, then, drag these carrion out to your pit. And then--"

There was something in the air, something big. Friday listened
eagerly. "Yes, suh?" he reminded his master after a pause.

"Judd," said Hawk Carse softly, "was to have had a rendezvous with Dr.
Ku Sui in seven days. The place of the rendezvous is entered in the
log of his ship. I've got the last of Judd's crew a captive on the
_Star Devil_...."

The adventurer paused a moment in thought, and when he resumed his
words came clipped and decisive.

"I myself am going to keep that rendezvous with Ku Sui. I want to see
him very badly."

Friday looked at the man's gray eyes, his icy graven face, the bangs
of flaxen hair which obscured his forehead. He understood.

       *       *       *       *       *





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