The Madness of Professor Pye
THE STORY: In a gloomy isolated house, back from the Dorking-Guildford Road in Surrey, England, lives professor Pye, a distinguished physicist and a man of great wealth. Of a bitter, scornful, misanthropic nature, hating the world because it had never acknowledged his genius and fancying himself belittled and cheated by his contemporaries,
Professor Pye lives a friendless and secluded life, working intensely in a well-appointed laboratory that in its isolation and sternness has every appearance of a fortress. His household consists of one old deaf servant named Hands, who is devoted to the professor, and a dog.
One summer afternoon Hands is startled by a terrific explosion, Rushing to the laboratory, he discovers the windows smashed, the floor littered with glass and metal fragments, and the professor lying unconscious. As soon as the frightened servant revives him, the professor struggles to his feet and aies out exultantly,
Professor Pye had succeeded in isolating an atomic ray which he called the “On,” a strange neti’ force that could be controlled and projected into space, with the power of annihilating, seaetly and silently, all within its path. Assured of the sticcess of his experiments which had almost cost him his life, he tttrns to the perfection of the means by which he will be able to project this “Onforce”—his atomic gun.
One morning when he has persuaded Hands to take a holiday for the day, he carries the gun to the observation tower of his laboratory. Looking over the pleasant and quiet countryside for a likely target, he sees cattle grazing peacefully in a field in the hollow of a valley some distance away. Cautiously he adjusts the gun, trains it on the cattle, and lets loose the force. At once the cattle fall down and lie as dead.
At the same time Professor Pye sees the crotvded highway, a little farther aivay, strewn with the wreckage of motor cars.
PROFESSOR PYE was like a man possessed. The immensity of the thing intoxicated him. He seemed to shake with a cold rage; the urge to prove his power became a merciless and ordered frenzy. For a little while he stood observing through his glasses that minor catastrophe in the valley. He focused those agitated and active ants on that tarmac road. And then he observed, in particular, two figures; one, that of a police constable, the
other that of a chauffeur in a linen coat. They were standing together looking up at his white house. One of them raised an arm and pointed. He was pointing out the white tower and the little figure poised there.
They were pointing at him! How dared they point at him ! Did these slaves suspect?
Professor Pye stepped back behind the palmyrium tube. He rearranged the tripod and trained the gun on the road below. He released the diaphragm and switched on the current, and with an air of sardonic glee awaited the result.
There was sudden stillness down yonder. The man in the dust coat was lying on his back in the middle of the road. The police constable had crumpled into an inert blue heap.
They had dared to point at him, had they? him—the
great Professor Pye, god of the On-force, the greatest man alive !
His self-exaltation was in full flood. Inevitably he was challenged to prove the extent of his new power. Men were no more than ninepins to be bowled over. Was it not possible for him to efface humanity or as much of it as he pleased, or perhaps to permit a remnant to crawl to him and hail him as god and master? The passion to prove his power became a frenzy. He must choose some particular ant heap and reduce it to nothingness so far as man was concerned. He stood brooding in the September sunlight, while at Newlands Comer and on Leith Hill hikers and motorists and children played and made love and picnicked in ignorance of the menace.
What ant heap should he choose?
No, London would be too immense, too large and luscious a fruit to begin with. He would prefer gradualness, a subtle crescendo.
Brighton, Hands’ Brighton, flashed into his mind.
Why not Brighton?
And then he remembered Hands.
Confound the fellow! He would have to get rid of Hands, and to that deaf and disfigured creature Professor Pye allowed one moment of compassion. Hands had been a good creature. Should he keep the fellow here? But no, that was impossible. He could permit no man to witness his humbling of humanity. Hands must go. He would give the fellow money and tell him to go. But whither? Professor Pye’s pity shrugged its shoulders. After all, this was fate. And then he heard the voice of. Hands calling to his dog. “Jumbo! Jumbo! Come on, old lad.”
The dog had loitered, and Professor Pye, crossing to the back of the tower and looking over the parapet, saw Hands standing in the courtyard. The decision was made and taken. He would have to play the autocrat with Hands.
He locked the door of the tower staircase and descended. Hands was just entering the house with the dog at his heels. “Hands, you must go for your holiday.”
"Yes, at once.”
“I’m going to London tonight in the car. I insist on your taking a holiday. Hands. I shall pay for your holiday.”
The professor went into the laboratory and opened his safe. When he returned to the hall he had six five-pound notes in his hand. He thrust them at Hands.
“Here’s the money. Pack a suitcase. Catch a bus to Guildford. No, better still, 1*11 drive you to Guildford.”
Hands looked bothered. He took the money, and stood hesitant.
“I’ll go to Brighton, sir.”
The professor’s face expressed exasperation. Hang the fellow! He couldn’t go to Brighton. By midnight there might be no Brighton in any human sense.
“Don’t be a fool, Hands. Go and see something. Go to Scotland. Get some mountain air. Good for the dog, too.”
“But where’ll I stay, sir?”
“Stay? Why—at hotels, of course. Enjoy yourself. Eat, drink and be merry.”
It occurred to Hands that the professor would have to be humored. He could allow the professor to drive him into Guildford and leave him at the station. He could take a train to London and another train to Brighton. Scotland? No, he was not going to Scotland, and the professor need not know about it. Besides, he would be pretty welcome at Brighton with thirty pounds in his pocket. He and Brother Jim could have a bit of a beano on thirty quid. He could buy the kids presents.
The professor himself opened the doors of the garage and backed the two-seater into the yard. Hands hurried in to pack. Years of intimate experience had taught him that when some bee buzzed in Professor Pye’s bonnet, it was necessary to let that bee buzz itself to death. Besides, thought Hands, as he tossed his belongings into an old fibre case, the Brighton idea with thirty quid to blow was a bit of all right. He could take Jumbo down to the beach and introduce the dog to the sea. Jumbo had never seen the sea.
He hurried out to the waiting car. The professor, hatless, was sitting in the driving seat. It struck Hands that Professor Pye’s hair looked more turbulent and fierce than usual. , “Do you want your hat, sir?”
Professor Pye looked contemptuous. Need the world’s
god and master be reminded of the conventional hat? “Get in, Hands. Better nurse your dog.”
Hands slung his suitcase into the rumble seat and got in, holding Jumbo in his arms.
THE PRIVATE LANE struck the main road about a quarter of a mile from where the On-force had acted, but even here cars were strung out and people were standing talking. Professor Pye threaded his way through the crowd. He took the Merrow Road, and on the long hill to Newlands Comer they met a couple of ambulances.
Hands was interested.
“Must have been an accident, sir.”
“Probably, Hands, probably.”
“A pretty bad smash, I should say, sir.
Road blocked, and two ambulances.”
“The roads are full of fools, Hands.”
“Must have been a motor coach, sir.”
“Perhaps two motor coaches, Hands.”
The professor drove into Guildford, and]in his state of mental exaltation he drove rather carelessly. He ignored or did not observe the signal of a policeman on point duty, and the constable whistled to him and came and said rude and sarcastic things to the professor. He was a tall and superior young man with thin lips and a Roman nose.
"Careless driving—dangerous driving.
The professor went red.
“I didn’t see you.”
“You were not looking, sir.”
“I’ve something more important to do,” said Pye, “than look for fools in uniform.”
That put the official back up. The professor had to produce his license. The policeman took notes and told Mr. Alfred Pye that the case would be reported.
The professor smiled a little sneering smile.
“Think so, do you? Poor idiot!”
The policeman waved him on.
“You might watch your manners, sir.”
Manners, indeed ! The professor drove on to the station and deposited Hands, dog and suitcase. He was abrupt with Hands.
“Enjoy yourself. Go and see Loch Lomond.”
Hands saluted the professor as he drove off. Gosh, but the old lad had put it across the policeman! Would he, Hands, be hailed to court as a witness? Probably, but not till after he had completed a classic week at Brighton. He watched the two-seater disappear and, with Jumbo on the lead, he walked into the booking-office and took a third-class ticket and a dog ticket for London.
The professor left Guildford by the Shalford Road. He had no desire to repass that insolent young officer, but so poor a thing was his philosophy that it pleased him to think that all such insolent and obstructive fools would soon be effaced, with all courts and crossroads. Alfred Pye’s return was without adventure. Certainly, he did pass a number of cars whose occupants had the serious and subdued faces of people who had seen some strange and rather terrible thing. In fact, by the Albury fork a scout signalled to the professor and shouted a warning to him.
“Better go slow, sir! There’s been a bad accident along there !”
Professor Pye, head in air, smiled at him.
“Thank you. I will be exceedingly careful to avoid accidents.”
Professor Pye left his car parked at the bottom of the . lane, and walked along the highroad to observe in a proper scientific spirit the results of his experiment. There was still a considerable crowd here, and both the crowd and the traffic were being controlled by the police. Professor Pye wormed his way as far as the nearest policeman, but when he attempted to pass the officer he was ordered back. There
were some twenty tenantless cars along that section of road. Police, ambulance men and volunteers had had to extract the dead motorists and lay them on the grass beside the road. Some of the bodies were still there.
It was a shocked, sober, quiet crowd. The whole business was a mystery, and Professor Pye was able to savor the elements of the sensation he had produced. He was not shocked by the tragedy. He was immensely curious as to the lethal effects of the On-force on the human body.
He listened to two men talking, educated men.
“It couldn’t have been carbon monoxide. How could it have been?”
"Well, what else? People just dead in their cars. The doctors tried artificial respiration.”
”No use:., Something extraordinary, sinister and strange. Apparently there was no explosion of any kind, nothing to be seen or heard. Just as though poison gas had been released.”
“Could there have been anything in one of those first cars?”
"What’s the idea?”
“I’m not a chemist, but supposing one of those cars had contained a carboy of some chemical that vaporized easily, and the gas was lethal?”
“It’s possible, I suppose.”
"People just collapsed where they sat or stood. Something very potent and deadly.” “Anyhow, it’s pretty ghastly.”
Someone was shouting in the field above the road, a farm hand who had come to collect those cows for milking, and had found them dead. The hedge happened to be a high one, and no one in the road liad seen those dead beasts. The farm hand ran down to the hedge and shouted to one of the policemen.
“Hi! Come and look! All our cows dead !”
People scrambled up the bank and tried to peer through the hedge. The driver of a van found a gate and climbed over it. The crowd followed him, and suddenly some premonition warned Professor Pye of possible complications. He hurried back to his car. drove it up and into the garage, and locking all doors, ascended to the top of the tower.
He crouched and looked over the parapet. The lower field was stippled with human figures. He saw faces turned toward the house on the hill. Someone was pointing and sweeping an arm as though to indicate the direction and drift of a gas cloud. People were arguing.
“If you take that house on the hill, and these dead cows and the road—they line up, so to speak. What is that place up there?” Someone pointed to the live cows in the upper field,
“What about those beasts? If your gas idea—”
'Tm thinking of that affair in Belgium when people were gassed by the emanation from a factory.”
“But that was foggy weather. Besides, who would emit a lethal gas on the top of the downs?”
"Yes, but supposing someone wasexperimenting? A heavy gas would roll downhill on a still day like this.”
“But. my dear sir. those other cows there are none the worse.”
"That’s so. Anyway, it’s a pretty ghastly puzzle.”
“The autopsies on those poor devils ought to show something.”
”1 suppose so.”
Professor Pye was thinking rapidly and logically, and for the first time his demoniac egotism was tinged with fear. He had let death loose. He had stirred up the social hive, and these angry insects would be buzzing hither and thither, seeking—what? No, the simile of the hive and the insect swarm did not apply. He and mankind were at war. and man was a creature of intelligence who could think, reflect and explore. His wits were at war with the wits of mankind.
At any moment he might have that crowd jwuring up the hill to investigate. His experiment went to prove that for some
unexplained reason his On-force did not exert its effect until it had travelled four hundred yards. If those people advanced into the non-lethal zone, he and his discovery would be at their mercy.
HIS RUTHLESSNESS was reinforced by fear. After all, this was war, Alfred Pye contra mundum. Was he—the new Jove—to flinch with the lightning in his hand? He stood up. He opened the diaphragm and switched on the current. With a kind of cold and frozen glee he saw that death was there—painless, sudden death.
For some minutes a kind of frenzy possessed him. The gun was mounted on a ball and socket joint and roller bearings, and could be slewed in any direction. He swung it south, west, north, east, keeping the hypothetical range low. He would create about him a circle of silence and security. He would efface any near possible interference. He must have time to think, time to act.
Was he aware of the silence that fell upon all that part of Surrey, such a silence as had not been known since the glaciers of the ice age piled up their deposits of gravel and sand? Motor cars, suddenly released from control, ran on till they ended in hedges or ditches. Guildford High Street with its chaos of cars and of shoppers was a place where people seemed to have fallen asleep in cars and on pavements. At the foot of the steep hill runaway motors had piled themselves. Shop assistants lay dead behind their counters. There was not a sound to be heard, save perhaps the ticking of hundreds of clocks. Even the dogs and the cats and the birds were dead. At Newlands Comer the turf was covered with the figures of men, women and children who seemed to sleep. Spectral trains ran for a while past signal boxes and through stations where life had ceased. In a thicket not half a mile from the white house, two lovers lay dead in each other’s arms.
Professor Pye walked down to the field where the dead lay. There was no anguish here, no distortion, merely the semblance of sleep. It would appear that the On-force acted upon the central nervous system, producing shock and syncope. The human heart ceased beating.
Professor Pye looked at the first dead in the war between a mad scientist and humanity. Almost, he felt kindly toward these victims. Had they not helped to prove his power? Moreover, might he not be regarded as a beneficent being? He could give peace and sudden painless oblivion to a world of disease, of futile little strivings, discontents, poverty, bitterness. The class war, votes, the dole, the common people, stupid and arrogant, politicians orating, the sensational puerilities of the press! He could put an end to all this. He could cleanse the earth, efface all the fools and mental deficients, and leaving perhaps a hardyremnant in some comer of Canada or Japan, renew the human experiment on scientific lines. He. Professor Pye, would be its god and dictator.
Returning, he crossed the upper field where those live cows were still grazing. One of the beasts raised a head and stared at him with large, liquid eyes.
Professor Pye raised a hand as though blessing the beast.
“Behold your god. my dear. You shall be retained in his service.”
His madness had reached its zenith. It transcended even a great man’s folly. It was egotism that forgot both the bull and the cowherd. Who would milk those beasts? Or did Professor Pye propose to live in a desert on wild apples and honey? But even the bees were dead. The only survivals were the trees and the grasses and all green things, and certain low forms of life whose central nervous system was not sufficiently sensitive to be shocked by the On-force.
BUT THE ALARM was being sounded.
Professor Pye had silenced everything within a radius of fifteen miles, but into that reservation other humans were beginning to penetrate. Waterloo Station was all crowds Continued on page 26
Continued from page 20
and chaos. Telephone operators, tired of calling “Hello, Guildford,” and finding themselves repulsed by a most strange silence in all that part of Surrey, left their instruments and became part of a London that stood in the streets and listened to monstrous rumors. The bus depots were disorganized. Such and such a bus had never returned. Scared motorists, who had passed through that zone of death, pulled up when they rediscovered people who were living, and with white faces spread the incredible news.
"Half Surrey’s dead.”
“Miles of derelict cars and buses.”
“At Addlestone a train had stopped at the level crossing. Full of dead people. Signalman dead in his box. We couldn’t get through that way.”
The thing seemed too ghastly and immense to be true.
But already police cars, pressmen, adventurous motorists and agonized city men were penetrating into that circle of death. The Prime Minister had called an emergency meeting of the Cabinet at No. 10 Downing Street. Scotland Yard was at work. The press rushed out alarmist editions. Almost, they were fought for by the crowds in the streets. Press agencies were telephoning all over the world.
What has happened in Surrey?”
Is it an attack from Mars?”
Police cars, returning from the dead area, had to force their way through scared and eager crowds. Rumor became actuality, and as the news spread a shocked and bewildered silence seemed to spread over London. People were inarticulate. The thing was too vast, too terrible, too astounding. It was said that the Prime Minister himself had hurried down into Surrey. Aldershot had been wiped out as well as Guildford and Godaiming. Woking, Byfieet and the districts along the river were full of dead people. The Guards were being paraded. The whole of the available police were being mobilized.
People rushed to their wireless sets. What had the British Broadcasting Company to say?
The little voice of the announcer was official.
“The Prime Minister appeals to everyone to remain calm. He asks you to mistrust all wild rumors and to avoid panic. All the possible causes of this unprecedented and terrible tragedy are being explored.”
Professor Pye had been sitting at his wireless set. It had an extensive range and he could listen in on London, Paris, Berlin, Milan. He picked up fragments of continental agitation. Paris was commenting upon the incredible cataclysm in England. Had there been an escape of some strange subterranean gas through a crack in the earth’s crust? No seismic shock had been recorded. Milan was speculating as to cosmic dust. Or had the lethal atmosphere of some passing comet brushed across a portion of Great Britain? Eminent scientists were being asked to give their views upon a catastrophe that was of startling significance to the whole world.
Professor Pye went up to his tower. He looked out over Surrey. He heard the lowing of those abandoned and unmilked cows in the field below. He heard the sound of a car in the valley, and saw its headlights cleaving the darkness. That ingenious and irrepressible insect, man, was buzzing back into the death zone. The car stopped in the valley. And then Professor Pye heard the drone of an airplane overhead.
His madness became cunning. He had left the lights on in the laboratory, and he hurried downstairs and switched them off.
If he showed a light, especially a stationary light, his enemies might infer that someone was alive. Life itself would inspire curiosity and suspicion. He had other brains pitted against his.
He returned to the tower. He had hurried up the staircase. He was agitated. That airplane was droning overhead, and its sound was angry and menacing. He would have to deal with airplanes. Just before dusk he had taken his bearings and left the atomic gun trained upon Brighton. Yes, he would try more current. It was a risk, but he would have to take that risk. He stood in the darkness behind the tube and released a larger volume of On-force.
The gun had stood the strain.
But just how far would its lethal effect carry ? Supposing that the range was limited by the size of the apparatus? What then? Yes, he would have to experiment and discover how far this power extended. By listening in, he would be able to define the dead zone from the living. If Paris remained vocal he would have discovered the limitations of his gun. What then? To maintain about him a zone of death, to repulse all penetration, until he had built a more powerful apparatus.
Ruthlessness, a kind of Satanic ruthlessness was inevitable.
Meanwhile, these explorers, these angry human insects in cars and airplanes were beginning to buzz about him. They would have to be dealt with, and that instantly. He must make his desert so deadly that no human creature would dare to venture into it. It was necessary for him to have leisure, breathing space, security. He had food and water, electricity, oil.
Inexorably, but with a slight and significant tremor of the hands he slewed the gun this way and that. There had been voices in the valley, but suddenly these were stilled, though the cars’ headlights continued to blaze. Crouching, he pointed the gun skyward toward the sound of the cruising plane. The drone did not cease, but it seemed to slip and to descend. There was the sound of a crash in the valley, and presently a knot of flame sprang up.
TERROR UPON terror, sensation after sensation.
The Prune Minister had not returned from Surrey. None of those who had hurried down to investigate had returned.
Heston Airdrome, which had sent out two scouting planes, reported both machines as missing.
Moreover, doctors in the area surrounding that centre of darkness and of silence were being summoned to hundreds of people who had fainted and remained unconscious for short periods of time. The On-force, lethal over a definite field, weakened upon dispersal until it produced nothing more than syncopic attacks, giddiness, nausea.
A telephone operator, speaking to the Brighton exchange, was left stranded in sudden silence.
“Hello ! Brighton, hello !”
Brighton did not reply.
Other people who were speaking to friends in Brighton experienced the shock of that same silence. Voices died away and did not return.
Trains that had left Brighton after dark, or were in the Brighton area, failed to arrive.
Horsham, Cuckfield, Hassocks werp equally silent. So were Peacehaven and Shoreham, Steyning and Lewes. Worthing and Eastbourne reported hundreds of cases of people fainting in the streets, on the sea front, in theatres, hotels, houses.
The area over which the On-force was active had the shape of one elongated egg. It spread gradually from its point of origin, reached a certain extreme width, and then contracted. Earth contours, hills and valleys, appeared to have no obstructing effect upon the force. It penetrated wherever there was air. People were killed in tunnels, subways and cellars.
During that first night very few people slept. A venturesome aviator, flying in the early morning over Surrey and Sussex,
returned safely to Croydon Airdrome. He and his observer had the stark faces of men who had looked upon some horror.
“Brighton’s a vast morgue. Yes, we flew low along the Brighton front. Thousands of people lying dead there.”
The Cabinet, sitting at No. 10 Downing Street, received the news of this latest cataclysm. Already they had called in scientific experts, among them Professors James and Beddington. Maps were spread. With such facts as they could command these ministers and experts attempted to define the area of death, and to arrive at some explanation of the mystery.
There was the problem of a public panic and the press.
“Better stop all the morning papers.” “Wouldn't that be more likely to produce a panic? The press has been asked to refrain from publishing too much detail.” Professor Beddington, bending over a map, was shading certain portions of it with a blue pencil. He had a police report beside him.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer bent over Beddington’s shoulder.
“Any theory, Beddington?”
Beddington was a dispassionate, largeheaded man who had the appearance of a farmer.
“There seems to be a definite focus. Our information goes to show that the focus is on the North Downs between Guildford and Dorking.”
The Leader of the House, standing by a window and smoking a pipe, asked the question that was at the back of every mind. “It might happen—to London?”
Professor Beddington looked up.
“Yes. Obviously so.”
Somewhere in the room a voice sounded a note of fear.
“What is the cursed thing? We must find out.”
“Any views on the Martian theory, Beddington?”
The man at the table tapped his teeth with the end of the blue pencil.
“Not very likely. If Mars were bombarding us with some kind of cosmic ray there would be more dispersion. I mean, I think the area covered would be larger. We have had no reports from the Continent, have we, of similar happenings?”
The Leader of the House, his pipe in his right hand, came and stood at the table. “Then the thing’s—human?”
“Inhumanly human. Satanic.”
Professor Beddington leaned back in his chair.
“Supposing some individual who was antisocial and not quite sane had discovered how to control and use such a thing as— shall we say—atomic energy?”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Is that possible? Of course, Beddington, you are one of the few men—”
“It is what we have been working for— but beneficently so.”
“Then the inference is that if some malignant genius had evolved something of the kind he could wipe out humanity?” “Exactly.”
“Good heavens! How would one deal with him?”
Professor Beddington smiled.
Professor James had been scribbling on a writing pad. He raised his head suddenly and spoke.
“I have been jotting down names, Beddington, alphabetically. I have just come to Pye. Did you ever meet Pye?”
“Rather a poisonous little person but infernally clever. I happen to know that Pye lives in Surrey. He had a grievance against everybody and everything. He was supposed to be researching on his own. Now supposing, for the sake of argument, a man like Pye—?”
Professor Beddington nodded his large h&d.
“That’s my feeling, too, James. I think we have to deal with some infernally clever super-megalomaniac. One ought to try and
put one’s hand on every7 physicist in the country7.”
Said the man with the pipe: “Why not begin with this fellow7 Pye? He can be located; he can be—”
Once again Professor Beddington smiled his quiet smile.
“Yes. But supposing Pye to be the man, Py7e will be unapproachable. We cannot raise Pye to the teeth by just deciding to do so. Pye can elevate us all to Paradise before—”
“Good heavens!” said the frightened voice. “We are like a lot of doomed rats in a ship.”
The man with the pipe relit it.
He said: “I never felt less like a rat.”
PROFESSOR PYE HAD not slept. He Khad been listening to the aerial voices of the earth.
Soon after dawn he carried a chair to the top of the tow7er and sat down beside his infernal gun.
He w7as like a little grey spider in the midst of a w7eb of silence.
Brighton—human Brighton had ceased to be. He had picked up that news from French sources. He w7as able to infer that his On-force had not reached the coast of France.
He sat with a map on his knees. He looked haggard, and his eyelids w7ere red. If London shivered on the edge of panic, Professor Pye w7as not very far from strange terror. His discovery w7as catastrophic, but in the clarity of that September dawn he confronted his limitations. Obviously, the range of his atomic gun was lethal up to perhaps a hundred miles, but bey7ond that point society was safe. The problem posed him. Either the gun as it was designed w7ould have to be made mobile, or a larger and more powerful apparatus constructed. If he mounted the gun on a car and lorry, he would need more current than a portable battery could supply. He might connect, of course, with local generating stations. But w'hen he had dealt with England, Wales and Scotland, he would arrive at the sea. A fast motor boat, and a dash across the Channel ! But he could infer that the air would be thick w7ith patrolling airplanes waiting for “It” to emerge from England. He would have to clear the sky as he wrent.
He began to shrink from the vastness of his w7ar upon society. It began to scare him. He went below and heated some coffee, and into it he poured some of his old brandy. A little knot of warmth hardened in his stomach. He lit a cigar, and with a faint suggestion of swagger, walked up and down the laboratory. How silent the w7orld was ! Sounds that he would not have reacted to on a normal day now impressed themselves on him by their absence. No trains, no traffic in the road, no birds, no Hands, no dog. Even those few live cows had stampeded in a panic, crashed through hedges, and had ceased to be. He heard nothing but the ticking of the laboratory clock, and the sound of his own footfalls. When he stood still to listen he could hear his own breathing.
But what was that?
He was growing jumpy. He stiffened and bristled like a scared cat.
Yes, there was some sound, a vibration in the air. Airplanes! Not one, but several. The distant roar of the engines and the hum of the propellers roused qualms in his stomach. Big drums beating, war drums! He rushed up the stairs of the tower; he crouched. He saw five planes in formation flying from the northeast. Soon they would be over the tower.
He crawled to the gun, slewed it round and up, and covered those planes. He released the On-force. For a second or two the planes held on before their formation broke; they appeared to drift this way and that like errant leaves. They dived, spun, disappeared beyond the hill. He counted five faint crashes.
Professor Pye left the gun pointed skyward and rose to his feet. He had wiped out that Royal Air Force squadron, but its appearance over the North Downs gave him furiously to think. Did the world suspect?
Had other brains than his spent sleepless hours over the elucidation of the problem, and were they approaching the most probable solution? Perhaps they were postulating the manifestations of some new form of energy controlled and applied by a human being who was hostile to his fellows? They were searching for the focus of the On-force and the man who controlled it. They were sending out planes to scout over Surrey.
A sudden frenzy took possession of Alfred Pye. They suspected him. They were trying to locate the new demigod. These
fools thought that they could destroy him and his discovery—a discovery that if wisely used could efface an idiot democracy and cleanse the earth of demagogues and claptrap. He had in his hands the power to create a new earth, to decide what should live and what should die. He was the new dictator, a super-eugenist who could purge the earth of the little people who preached the palsy of socialism. Equality! Brains like so many peas in a pod! Preposterous nonsense! He would demonstrate to the mob that it had a master.
To be Concluded