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Title: Formula For Conquest
Author: Adams, James R.
Language: English
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                         Formula For Conquest

                           By JAMES R. ADAMS

              August Q. Twilken had a formula, Freebooter
               Tod Mulhane had a nose for adventure and
                 Mon Pordo had an urge for Interworld
              domination. When those three got together,
                     hell had to explode--and did.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                       Planet Stories Fall 1945.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


"I have a formula," the little man said loudly.

I punched him ungently in the ribs and jerked my head toward the mangy
crew whooping it up in the close confines of the ill-smelling Martian
_musk-parlor_.

"Shh. Not so loud, guy," I whispered from the corner of my mouth.
"This bunch would slit your throat in a minute, if they knew you had
something on you that would bring a credit or two. I don't know what
your game is, but let's go in the back room where we can talk without
startin' someone's ears to burnin'."

I wrapped my arm around the guy's shoulders and steered him toward
the back room, singing and laughing, as though I had an overload of
_Meez-musk_ and was feeling a little bit happy.

I didn't know what had brought the little fellow to me. I'd never seen
him before yet he seemed to know me and had made his way directly to
the bar where I stood and addressed me by name. Anybody that knew that
much about Tod Mulhane, soldier of fortune, needed looking into, and I
was determined to give this mild-mannered, shrimp of a man a thorough
going over.

I bolted the door behind us and seated myself at the table always kept
there for various games of chance.

"Mousie" nervously assumed a seat and sat staring at me, his big,
milky-blue eyes blinking nearsightedly and a withered, vein-covered
hand tweaking incessantly at a bedraggled gray mustache.

"I'm Professor August Q. Twilken," he essayed. "I have a formula."

"And I'm Tod Mulhane, as you seem to know, and I have a couple of great
big ears, open and waiting. What can I do for you, Twilken?"

Twilken's face suddenly became grim and the milkiness left his eyes a
moment, to disclose dancing, hard lights of determination.

"Nothing for me, Mr. Mulhane," he said slowly. "This is for the world!
Yes, for three worlds!"

I nodded patiently, thinking maybe I had a nut on my hands.

"Of course, Twilken. And just what is it we're going to do for these
worlds?"

"We're going to save them from the coming Interplanetary War!" Twilken
said forcefully. "Here's the way things--er--stack up. We know Jupiter,
Saturn and Uranus have their armies poised for a quick thrust at
the Allied Worlds--Mars, Earth and Neptune. But, so far, they have
hesitated, knowing both sides are pretty well matched in strength and
fearing the assault might be drawn out in a long, destructive conflict
that would gain them nothing. They won't wait forever, however, and,
sooner or later, they'll find a weakness in the Allied Worlds' armor
and strike with all the force at their command. Mr. Mulhane, the Allied
Worlds _must_ be the ones to break this deadlock. _We_ must be the ones
to gain an edge in strength and force them to disarm, or be destroyed
by the ruthless machine of the brain behind their mad plot. But, I
forget, you know all of this, Mr. Mulhane."

"Tod's the name," I said absently. "Yes, I know all about Xan VIII's
scheme to defeat the Allied Worlds. So what? There's nothing I can do
about it. Naturally, being a Martian, I am anxious to see the Allied
Worlds win. But I can't see--"

"You're a Martian?" Twilken stared, aghast. "But--but you look like an
Earthian!"

"I have many disguises," I smiled. "And many pseudonyms--among them
being that of Tod Mulhane. A soldier of fortune such as I must resort
to numerous devices to elude his enemies. Incidentally, how did you
know who I was and where to find me?"

"I have--uh--contacts," Twilken stammered. "But your disguise seems so
realistic! I would swear you're an Earthian!"

"I put my entire being into a part. I would long since be dead if I
were unconvincing in my characterizations. But we digress, Twilken.
Come to the point."

"The point is this," Twilken recovered from his astonishment. "If we
had the support of one of the lesser planets, such as Venus, we could
easily overthrow Xan's regime and bring a lasting peace to the System.
But, at the time, the inhabitants of Venus are in a crude stage of
evolution and are too stupid to be of much help. They have expressed
their willingness to help, but their ignorance might well be a weight
on our progress and turn the tide against us."

I shifted uneasily in my chair and glanced at the door.

"But supposing evolution could be speeded up on Venus," Twilken
continued. "Supposing the inhabitants could be developed as much in
two months as would ordinarily take a thousand years. They would soon
emerge to a state of intelligence as to be of immense value and aid to
our cause. I have something that will do this very thing, Tod!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I leaped from my chair and wrenched the door open, just about scaring
Professor Twilken out of a year's growth.

A short, fat Jovian fell into the room and lay grinning up from the
floor. His pink, shaggy-browed eyes searched our faces briefly, then he
arose, bowing deeply.

"Gendlemen," he intoned. "I hope I am nod indruding. I was leaning
wearily againsd dis door, half asleep, and den I suddenly find myself
lying here on de floor!" He gestured at the bare planks and laughed. It
sounded like a snake hissing. "Mosd clumsy of me!"

The Jovian's inability to pronounce the letter "T" made his speech
sound like that of a Venusian gunman. I wondered how much he had
overheard.

The Jovian bowed again, brushing dust from his gleaming, spun-metal
tunic.

"I drusd I have nod inconvenienced you gendlemen. I musd be more
careful, in de fudure. I have a nasdy habid of falling asleep ad odder
people's doors! Now, if you will excuse me..."

The Jovian slid through the door and lost himself in the hubbub beyond.
I had a hunch we were going to have trouble from him. People just
didn't go around 'falling asleep' against strange doors without a
purpose.

Twilken had sat all this time, his milky eyes looking about for a hole
to crawl in to and his hand clutched his breast, as though about to
have a heart attack.

"Is that your formula?" I indicated his tunic pocket.

"Yes! It must never fall into the hands of the Jovians, Tod. They
could make fearful use of it! We must carry out my plan quickly, or
that son-of--" Twilken clapped a hand over his mouth, to stifle the
strong words he had been about to utter. "--that mad devil will warn
his consorts and they'll be after us like hounds. In all fairness, Tod,
you must know the Allied Worlds Council is not endorsing my venture.
The diplomatic relations between worlds are stretched to the breaking
point, and, if the Jovian government thought the Council was supporting
such a plan, they might strike immediately with devastating results
to the morale of our people, for there are some who think we can't
possibly stand against such an efficient organization as Xan's. That's
why I need you. You have a fast ship; you have courage and the brains
to carry out my course of action if I should fall by the wayside. Will
you help me?"

I grinned and hitched up my pants, Earth-fashion.

"When do we start?"

       *       *       *       *       *

We were well out in the void, thundering toward Venus, when Twilken
pointed excitedly at a small speck on the telescreen.

"That's a ship, Tod!" he yelled. "That blasted Jovian's following us!"

I poured more power to my craft and slammed down frantically on the
meteor-shield stud--but it was too late. A great blast rocked the ship
and girders groaned their protest as they buckled under the terrific
pressure. A piece of flying metal smacked Twilken on the head and he
sank to the floor, out cold.

I ran to the navigation room locker and snatched out a couple of
spacesuits. I tugged and stuffed Twilken into one and barely made it
into my own when the air began to hiss out through the torn plates.

We were caught up in the vacuum and whisked out into the dark, cold
vastness, to float about like two corks in a millpond.

The Jovian ship, for such it proved to be, rushed in quickly and
fastened a grappling-beam on our helpless figures. In less than a
minute, we were inside the cruiser and facing the leering Jovian of the
_musk-parlor_ incident.

"I am mosd pleased ad dis oppordunidy do renew our acquaindance," he
smirked. "No doubd you know whad I am afder? I shall wasde no dime in
playing cad and mouse. Give me de formula and dere shall be no drouble."

Twilken came to long enough to shout: "You shan't have it!"

"Bud I will," the Jovian assured him. "I have bud do search you. I am
cerdain we shall find de formula on your person. Will you surrender id
volundarily or musd we use force?"

"Give it to him, Augie," I said. "We're cold turkey."

"Misder Mulhane is quide correcd," the Jovian agreed. "You have no
aldernadive bud do relinquish your secred."

       *       *       *       *       *

Twilken groaned despairingly and removed his bulger. He dug in his
pocket and brought out the formula, somewhat the worse for wear.

The Jovian snatched it eagerly and beamed toothily at us, his thin,
pointed tongue darting like a snake over his bloated lips.

"Dank you, Misder Dwilken. Never fear, I shall make good use of your
formula. Would you care do know how I indend do defead de Allied Worlds
wid id?"

We remained silent.

"Very well, I shall dell you. Jusd as you have a podendial ally in
Venus, de inhabidands of Pludo are likewise sympadedic to _our_ cause.
As you know, dey long ago reached and passed de poind of greadesd
indelligence, and are slowly reverding do de savage sdage from which
dey evolved. I propose do hald dis redrogression, wid de assisdance of
Misder Dwilken's formula, and resdore dem do deir former greadness. Dey
will be dankful do us Jovians, yes, and dey will be happy do assisd us
in our conquesd of de Allied Worlds."

"You--you fiend!" Augie spluttered ineffectually. "You're going to use
_my_ formula to swing the balance of power in _your_ favor!"

"Dad's righd," the Jovian bowed. "Is nod dis de very same ding you
indended to do for your own worlds? Durn aboud is fair play, I once
heard on Eard."

"But we weren't planning to destroy you and your crummy bunch with it!"
Augie shouted, incensed at the Jovian's condescending air. "We were
only going to use it to force your armies to disarm and to remove your
cutthroat clique from power."

"No doubd," the Jovian waved a plump, bejewelled hand. "And dad musd
never be. Xan VIII has udmosd confidence in my abilidy as chief of de
Jovian Secred Police and, if I fail, he would surely kill me before
rediring indo exile. I remember his exacd words: 'Mon Pordo, if you
bedray de drusd placed in you, dere can be nodding bud dead as a
reward!' You can readily appreciate my predicamend, gendlemen. I musd
give vicdory do my governmend or perish as a resuld. Nadurally, when I
overheard your conversashion ad de musk-parlor, I realized dad here was
a means do an end."

"You're a sly devil, Mon Pordo," I said harshly.

"Dank you, Misder Mulhane. Dad is a necessary evil of
my--ah--profession. Dis ship has sed a course for Jupider and, dere,
you will be held prisoners, pending de oudcome of our experimends wid
Dwilken's formula."

"And then you'll kill us!" Augie said hotly.

"Perhaps. Dad is for me do decide. You cerdainly have no choice in de
madder. And now," Pordo indicated three hulking Jovian brutes, waiting
to pounce on us, "dese gendlemen will escord you do your cells. Id is
regredable I cannod allow you de run of de ship, bud de oppordunidies
dus offered might prove doo dempting do resid. I advise you do go
quiedly, gendlemen."

We went quietly.

We were placed in adjoining cells and Twilken spent his rage in
rattling the bars and cursing Mon Pordo for a bloody, ill-spawned,
war-mongering idiot. The Jovians paid no attention, however, and Augie
soon simmered down to a slow boil, pacing his cage like a trapped
animal.

We got to talking and Augie wanted to know all about me, why I had
chosen such a career and did I have any immediate plans for escape?

At first, I was reluctant to talk about my life-history as a
free-booter of space, but Augie was persistent and I soon broke down.
I hardy knew how to start, but the words came easy once I got going.
Augie listened attentively, interjecting questions here and there.

"I _am_ a Martian," I began. "But I was reared and educated on Earth
and, consequently, I think, act and talk much as an Earthian. I suppose
that's the main reason I most generally adopt the role of Tod Mulhane
when hiring out my services. My real name doesn't matter--it wouldn't
mean anything to you. As to why I became a soldier of fortune, perhaps
it's because of an insatiable appetite for adventure I possess or maybe
because I was left an orphan at an early age and just naturally drifted
into it. That doesn't matter either. I've put a lot of space behind my
tubes in my brief span of years and seen a lot of things that would
make your blood run cold--things I've never talked of before, nor will
I tell of them now. So you can sketch in the details yourself, if you
care to. I've told all that's worth listening to."

       *       *       *       *       *

We had been conversing in low whispers and Augie glanced up and down
the corridor to make sure no guards were present before voicing his
most imperative query.

"Most interesting," he approved. "But, surely you have a method of
escape planned? We can't just sit here and let these devils go through
with their mad deed."

I motioned for silence and Augie subsided, watching my antics with
great interest. I placed my hand between two bars and pulled gently,
with an even pressure. My companion stared bug-eyed as the hand came
loose, exposing a pink tentacle ending in five, wire-thin appendages.

Augie gasped, suddenly remembering his Martian anatomy.

"Of course!" he breathed jubilantly. "I'd forgotten! If Pordo had
realized you were a Martian he would never have placed you in an
uninsulated cell!"

I laughed.

"We're not going to escape yet, though," I said softly. "It would do no
good. Pordo would merely recapture us and lock us away in the insulated
cargo-hold. We wouldn't have a chance then."

"What do you plan to do, then?" Augie asked perplexedly.

"We'll let them think we're helpless," I explained. "They'll go ahead
with their scheme and, at the crucial moment, we'll step in and queer
the works." I replaced the false hand.

"How?" Augie wanted to know.

"_That_," I said, "remains to be seen."

       *       *       *       *       *

The pilot brought the cruiser in for a perfect landing and the
unceasing throb of the rockets sputtered, died and gave way to a loud
silence.

Mon Pordo came down the passageway, flanked on each side by a
stony-faced guard. His cruel lips parted in a wide grin as he unlocked
our cells and motioned us out.

"We have arrived, gendlemen," he hissed. "I am pleased do node you
have made no efford do escape. We shall proceed immediadely do de
governmendal palace where you will be inderned in de underground
prison-block. You will accompany dese men who will lead you do your
quarders."

The musclemen hustled us from the ship and into a waiting surface-car.
I had refitted the false hand, fusing the ends of the plastic together
with a quick jolt of electricity. The stupid guards didn't suspect
anything as we roared from the Jove City Space-port, headed for the
luxurious palace which housed the high officials of Jovian government.
I could have burnt them to a crisp where they sat, but Twilken was to
one side of me and he would be the first to get it. I decided other
avenues of action would present themselves in due time, so I relaxed
against the cushions and stared casually out the window, mentally
mapping the route we were following, to use as reference in our coming
escape. Twilken sat dejectedly, his milky eyes playing tag with a small
insect beating frantically against the wondow. I felt a strange kinship
for this mild little man. He was so _darn_ concerned over our plight;
so _terribly_ anxious to regain the formula he had labored long and
hard to perfect. I wasn't so worried about our present unfavorable
circumstances as he--having built up an immunity to such misfortunes in
my past escapades. Nevertheless, my brain was working overtime--seeking
a way to circumvent the Jovian plot once we had escaped.

We braked to a halt in the palace courtyard and the two ugly Jovians
prodded us toward a massive, solid-steel door. The damp, moss-covered
tunnel through which we passed ran deep under the palace and row
after row of tiny, unlighted cells lined each side. Many of them
were occupied, and I didn't care to look twice at the wild-eyed,
disease-wracked bodies of Nan's victims. There was a hopeless look on
those hollow-cheeked faces; a blank, "why go on fighting?" stare in
the eyes of the more sane--the ones who hadn't been there very long
yet. The cells were wet and filth-littered and the suffocating stench
of the place was so dense you could almost see it.

We were more fortunate in the matter of living conditions. The cell in
which we were placed was large, tolerably dry and was supplied with a
couple of candles for illumination. Still, the unrelenting smell and
the tortured moans of the prisoners was enough to drive a man mad.

"Pordo wands do keep you alive awhile," one of the guards explained,
referring to the clean cell. "If dis formula doesn'd show resulds, id's
going do be doo bad for you fellows! Pordo don'd like do be dampered
wid, so, if all dis is jusd a drick--look oud!"

The Jovian slammed the door to and the pair went off down the tunnel,
echoes of their laughter rolling back to bounce gleefully through the
cells, plucking one more anguished groan from the lips of the half-dead
men within.

The old-fashioned wax candles were relics of a long-gone day and age,
manufactured solely for ornamentation. But some scientist had whiled
away a few idle hours by adding a couple of new features.

       *       *       *       *       *

Augie removed the cap from the wick of one and it burst into a
brilliant, unflickering flame. Even it was far superior to the crude
electric lighting of the ancients.

"What now?" Augie asked.

"We wait," I said. "This cell isn't too uncomfortable and we can bide
our time here; play the game Pordo's way and lull him into a sense of
invulnerability. Things may come to a head sooner than you think, and
you can bet we'll be in there fighting at the end."

Augie's eyes flamed and his face screwed into a mask of hate.

"I despise that tyrant Pordo!" he breathed soulfully. "D-damn him, if I
may use such a vulgar term."

I glanced about the cell and located a musty, well-worn cot. It was the
only one the room contained, so it was the floor for one of us. Night
must be spreading its black cloak across the world outside and we were
both dead-tired.

"We'll flip a coin for the bed," I said. "Then we'll alternate in its
use for as many nights as we're here."

Augie chose heads and flipped the coin. It came up tails.

"D-damn," he reiterated. "Seems my luck has flown the coop for good!"

He crossed the room and snapped the cap down over the candlewick.
Darkness rushed in, probing inky fingers under the cot and in crevices,
eager to strangle any loitering mote of its fleeing enemy.

Pordo visited us the next day, anxious to let us know how he was
progressing. He bowed his silly, condescending bow.

"I drusd you have slepd well, gendlemen. I am indeed sorry dere are no
bedder quarders available, bud de choice rooms of de palace are quide
well-filled wid de visiding diplomads of our allies. Incidendally, de
Pludonians have also arrived for de experimend!"

"You mean you're going to conduct the experiment right here on
Jupiter?" Augie exclaimed, wide-eyed.

"Dad is precisely whad I mean!" the Jovian bit out. "Do you objecd?"

Augie was too confused to offer a reply. He just stood staring at
Pordo, tiny beads of sweat popping out on his forehead.

"You will ask why," Pordo divined. "And I can see no danger in delling
you. We have god do desd de formula firsd on a selecded few individuals
from Pludo. Accordingly, de dwendy-five mosd highly advanced indellecds
of Pludo have been broughd here do de palace and will undergo de
speeded up evolushion process. In dis way, we may make advance condacd
wid de enlighdened Pludonians, before evolving de masses, and make
a pacd wid dem, pledging deir planed's aid in our projecd. Den, de
millions of odders will receive de dreadmend and we will be ready
do acd! We are nod doo sdupid do realize de evolved creadures mighd
possess animosidy doward our purpose. Dus, in our firsd experimend, we
are evolving no more dan can be easily eliminaded, should dey prove
hosdile. De formula is even now being prepared and will be applied
immediadely. According do Misder Dwilken's dada, de process should be
complede in dwo monds, ad de mosd. Id is pleasand to condemplade, isn'd
id, gendlemen?"

"It will never work!" Augie shrieked. "Your plan is utterly mad!"

"Id _bedder_ work," Pordo said significantly, "or I'm afraid I shall be
forced do adminisder drasdic punishment do dose who have dus wasded my
dime. Good-day, gendlemen!"

We watched the receding figures through the bars and, when Pordo was
out of sight, Augie said through grim lips:

"I don't like it, Tod. He's hitting into something he can't handle!"

The fifth day of our confinement, Augie did something that almost put
the fat in the fire.

A guard brought our food and water each day and would dawdle awhile in
the cell, heaping salt on our wounds by informing us of how well the
experiment was going forward. This day he was exceptionally boastful
and Augie was feeling particularly testy about the whole thing.

The Jovian had explained in much detail how you could actually _see_
the Plutonians evolving as the formula took effect. His eyes bugged
in awe as he told how the skin and flesh stretched and twisted on the
skeletons, forming itself into new substance.

As he turned to leave, smug in the knowledge he had paved the way for a
sleepless night, Augie jumped from the cot and hissed after him:

"_Mismu T!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

The guard whirled, eyes blazing. The Jovians were extremely sensitive
about their vocal defect that made forming of the letter "T" physically
impossible. Augie's hot expletive was the equivalent of telling Pordo's
underling he was too dumb to pronounce the sound.

The enraged dupe leaped at Augie, snarling fiercely. The two went down
in a tangle flying arms and legs, the Jovian pouring sledgehammer blows
into Augie's midriff--blows that were meant to kill. He wore no gun,
or he would have used it. The Jovians were giving us no opportunity at
escape.

I jumped into the fray, knowing if I didn't intercede in Augie's behalf
the guard would maul him into a bloody pulp.

The Jovian turned on me and closed in, fists flailing and teeth
gritting in fury at my interruption. I sidestepped his wild body punch
and heard bone crunch as I caught his chin on a well-timed upper-cut.
The guard screamed, blood dripping from his torn lips and Augie came in
triumphantly from behind, raining mincy, bird-like blows on his head.

[Illustration: _Professor Twilken clubbed futilely at the Jovian's
back._]

It didn't last long. The other guards, attracted by the clamorous
uproar, came on the run and quickly subdued us with clubbed
flame-pistols. Our badly-beaten opponent was dragged from the room,
uttering garbled, vengeful threats, and we were left to lick our wounds.

"You shouldn't have done that," I mildly reproached Augie.

"I was mad." He thrust out a stubborn chin. "They're stirring up a
hornet's nest, Tod, and I won't be responsible for what happens! My
formula was meant to be used on the native worlds of the subjects and
there's no telling what kind of monstrosities they may evolve by not
following the natural laws embodied in it. The resultant organisms may
be intelligent, yes, but--"

Augie broke off, tenderly fingering a swollen eye and munching
thoughtfully on his lower lip. He was sure down in the dumps all right,
and I couldn't blame him. We were in a hell of a mess, putting it
mildly. Three worlds to save, and we couldn't even save ourselves!

We spent two full months in the dungeon. I fretted away the last thirty
nights on the floor, since contact with the cold stone had goaded
Augie's rheumatism into full-flare.

News leaked in now and then and, on the sixty-second day, our guard
disclosed the experiment had been completed and the high officials
of Jupiter and its cohorts would meet that very day with the evolved
Plutonians in the Grand Assembly Hall of the palace to form a pact that
would seal the fate of the Allied Worlds.

"Now is the time, Augie!" I whispered excitedly.

Augie was electrified into action. He backed off in a corner and pulled
the cot down over him. There would be tremendous heat.

I placed one hand under a foot and heaved up. The false hand remained
on the floor, leaving my prehensile tentacle free to act.

I strode to the door and glanced up and down the tunnel. No guards
were present--they were probably outside discussing the conference,
which was now in progress.

I twined my "fingers" about a thick, steel bar and gave it all
the juice I had! The metal glowed red-hot slowly fading into an
incandescent white! The stuff began to melt, flowing out into the
tunnel and forming bubbling puddles at my feet. The door didn't last
long; all that was left was the cooling pools of metal and a gaping
frame that yawned invitingly! The way was clear!

"Willing to take a chance?" I asked.

Augie gulped and nodded weakly.

I boosted him to my back and made a sudden dash through the hissing,
liquid steel, taking care not to slip. I wasn't afraid for myself, I'm
non-conducive to heat. But Augie, perched precariously on my back,
would certainly be engulfed and devoured by the stuff if I should fall.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then we were through the molten hell, making our way cautiously down
the passageway. Pitiful moans assailed our ears; frenzied pleas for us
to release the sufferers inside welled forth from the dark cells. But I
was adamant.

"Time enough for that later, _if_ we're successful," I said to Augie.
"These half-dead creatures would only be in our way in the coming
fight."

We reached the outer door and I pulled tentatively on the handle. It
was unlocked! Apparently, the guards thought the thick cell-doors were
enough protection against escape and hadn't bothered to fasten this
one. Anyway, they would return soon.

"You wait here," I whispered to Augie. "They're probably outside the
door and would raise a hell of a noise if we came rushing out fighting.
I may be forced to use a little persuasion on them."

I opened the door and stepped casually outside. The guards were huddled
in a circle not ten feet from me, absorbed in an abstract debate on
what would arise from the palace conference. One of them spotted me and
let out a squeal.

"L-look!" he stammered. "One of de prisoners is loose!"

They marshalled their forces and advanced on me slowly, quietly, seeing
no reason to summon aid. There were five of them--I was but one.

They made a concerted rush and clamped eager hands on my arms. Mon
Pordo and Xan would reward them liberally for thwarting such an
ill-planned coup. It was so easy, too.

I placed my exposed tentacle on the shoulder of one and let go with a
few thousand volts!

The Jovians were packed together tightly and the electric charge
dispatched them with grim ease. There was nothing left but a sickening
mass of blackened, cooked flesh.

Augie poked his head through the door and gagged wretchedly at the
charnel sight.

"It was necessary," I said.

We stuffed the charred bodies inside the tunnel door and fled swiftly
across the courtyard to the palace-proper where I pointed to a high
window. Vines ran rampant on the wall. It would be an easy matter to
climb up them to the window.

We started up, gaining footing in small cracks between stones and going
hand over hand toward the opening. Augie looked down once, and turned a
pale green. From then on, he kept his eyes fastened to our objective.

I reached the window first and held out a hand to Augie. I pulled
him through and we stood looking about. We were on a huge balcony,
overlooking the brilliantly lighted Grand Assembly Hall. The most
eminent political figures of three planets were there below us.

Here was Taj Morkus and Klex II of Saturn. There was Wen Dorn and the
intellectual, if perverted, scientist, Haljin from Uranus.

The wily Mon Pordo was all about the Hall, like a fretful hen, bowing
and shaking hands and directing the villainous delegates to seats at
the council table.

At the head of the table sat Xan VIII himself, adorned from head to
foot with rare, exotic jewels, watching the redundant proceedings from
bored, seemingly-sleepy eyes.

There were more, many more, but those six were the main cogs of the
machine. I counted exactly one hundred figures seated around the
table, and some of them were strange beings indeed....

I knew immediately these were the evolved Plutonians. There were
twenty-five of them, ranged along one side of the immense table,
fidgeting uncomfortably under the concentrated attention of their
hosts. There was something odd about those creatures, although I
couldn't say just what. Certainly their color was strange; a sick,
yellowish-white--but that wasn't what bothered me. I could tell by
their actions they were rational, thinking beings. It was something
about their "flesh" that had me going. Augie solved the problem with
his next words.

"My lord!" he whispered loudly. "Those creatures are composed almost
entirely of an impure form of calcium carbonate! I thought something
like this would happen! Away from the native world, the Plutonian
process of evolution was torn between its natural tendencies and the
contradictory characteristics of its new environment. This is the
result!"

It was then I knew what we must do. We went over the plan hurriedly,
yet making sure there were no flaws. Down below, Mon Pordo was
beginning a speech. He stood at the table importantly, white teeth
flashing against the purple background of his corpulent lips.

"Gendlemen," he began blandly, as if that was the only form of address
he knew. "I have de unequalled honor of presending do you a mosd
marvelous revelashion. I have de privilege of making known do you dad
which has been kepd secred from your eyes; dad which we have ofden
hinded ad in the pasd dwo monds, bud have nod yed divulged. Once I
have mad dis gread disclosure, you will realize vicdory is widin our
grasp--jusd as our enemies will realize furder resisdance is endirely
fudile and will abandon deir idealisdic cause. I--"

       *       *       *       *       *

He rambled on like that for half an hour, finally getting around
to introducing the Plutonians. Things moved more swiftly then. The
Plutonians were just the least bit reluctant to form an allegiance
and the experienced diplomats argued, pleaded, thrust and parried
and generally browbeat them into a decision. The confident delegates
finally withdrew to other parts of the palace to give the beleaguered
Plutonians a chance to think it over in private. This was what I had
been counting on, and we took quick advantage of the situation.

Augie scurried back through the window and clung to the vines outside,
to be a safe distance away from what was to come. An hour, the
diplomats had said. We would make good use of those sixty minutes. I
leaped to the balcony-rail and plummetted down in the center of the
Hall.

The Plutonians didn't have time to get out so much as a peep. I had
divested myself of both false arms and, even in mid-air, I released a
killing charge of electricity that left the duped creatures slumped
in their chairs--lifeless hulks. If the armed Mon Pordo had been
there, things would probably have been different. The Jovians were
quick-eyed and quick-acting and he would have blasted me to pieces with
his ato-matic the minute I appeared on the balcony-rail. That's why I
couldn't risk it before. I didn't want Augie facing the devils alone.

I spent quite a little time in the Hall, standing in the center of the
table and sending out wave after wave of electricity over the dead
Plutonians--doing things to their bodies.

Finally satisfied I had accomplished my purpose, I arranged the beings
in life-like poses along the table and moved silently to a spot beneath
the balcony-rail.

Augie had succeeded in tearing one of the tough vines loose from the
palace wall and now he lowered it to me, keeping a wary eye on the Hall
door.

Going quickly up the thin fiber strand, I stepped jubilantly over the
rail--and found myself looking directly into the venom-filled eyes of
Mon Pordo!

He was standing in back of Augie, a little to one side, so the deadly
ato-matic held unwaveringly in his hand could cover us both.

The frozen surprise on my face caused Augie to turn and stare sickly.
All the heart seemed to go out of him at that moment. His shoulders
slumped wearily and the hard lines of determination in his face
dissolved into a black pool of despair beneath the caustic solvent of a
big, unashamed tear. We were beaten!

For once, Pordo was so infuriated he forgot all about bowing. His
eyes smouldered like blobs of hot grease, about to burst into flame;
frenzied, unholy hate seemed to ooze from every pore. Even so, he spoke
quietly.

"A nead plan, gendlemen. Bud id has failed, jusd as all plods againsd
Xan VIII will fail! Drue, you have given us a demporary sed-back by
killing de Pludonians, bud we sdill have de formula and dere are odders
who, dough nod as indelligend, will well serve our purpose. Id is doo
bad I decided do visid you during de recess, isn'd id? Odderwise, your
rash acd may have succeeded! When I found you gone and your guards
dead, I knew insdandly whad you were up do and came here as de logical
poind for you do sdrike from. I am sorry, gendlemen, bud you are doo
dangerous do be allowed do live. So, I musd eliminade you!" Pordo
raised the gun and his finger tightened on the firing stud.

This was it! I couldn't blast Pordo with an electric shock without
killing Augie, too. Good-bye, "Tod Mulhane"--you've had a short but
interesting life! I steeled myself for the atomic capsule that would
soon rip through my body.

Augie acted almost impulsively. He still held the fibrous vine in his
hand and had noted slyly one of Pordo's feet enmeshed in the extending
end. He lunged suddenly backward and Pordo came down hard on the
balcony floor!

       *       *       *       *       *

Instantly we were on him; clawing, punching--making a desperate bid for
the ato-matic. Pordo tried to scream and Augie planted a solid kick in
his belly. The Jovian suddenly decided he didn't want to scream; maybe
because there wasn't any air left in him to yell with.

I whipped a tentacle about the fat throat and began tightening my
muscles, ruthlessly. Pordo's eyes bugged hideously and the wind
whistled through his teeth in a vain effort to enter his lungs.

Sure, we were two on one, but fair play didn't enter the picture. We
were fighting to save three worlds, and Xan and his henchmen had used
the same tactics in their blood-drenched rise to power. This was a case
of 'Durn aboud _is_ fair play,' as Pordo would say.

Right now, he wasn't saying _anything_. The fat body had gone limp in
my grasp and Pordo's evil soul was probably this minute bowing at the
gates of hell and saying, "Gendlemen!"

"They'll be returning any minute!" Augie panted anxiously. "We've got
to work fast!"

I handed him a small chunk of stuff I'd gouged from the body of a dead
Plutonian and retired to my place at the balcony rail.

Augie took the stuff gingerly and placed it on the flat, upturned butt
of Pordo's ato-matic. He crossed the slanting balcony to a point where
the ceiling almost met the floor and waited there breathlessly.

A network of pipes ran across that ceiling. Pipes that contained water.
This part of the palace was much the same as it had been many years
ago, when the first Jovian dictator had met with his underlings here in
the Assembly Hall and formed the policies of government that had laid
the groundwork for eventual System domination. The Jovians entertained
a sentimental attachment to this outmoded room and wouldn't think of
modernizing it, except for inconsequential details such as lighting.
Even the ancient, automatic sprinkler system remained. Originally used
to combat fire, it was now nothing but an ornament; a relic of bygone
days. The Jovians didn't need it now; scattered about the room were
dozens of the recently invented _Kelecyrine-capsules_, one of which
could extinguish the most persistent of flames. But I was staking
everything on the hope the sprinkler was still connected to a water
pump.

The diplomats were reentering the room! They moved forward
confidently--unrealizing of the fact the Plutonians were dead. Xan led
the procession, his gigantic belly bouncing up and down in rhythm to
his pompous steps.

Now! I waved my hand frantically at Augie. He snapped to sudden life.
A stream of saliva squirted from his lips and impaled the stuff on the
gun butt. It literally exploded into flames! Fingers of fire danced
around the gun butt, questing hungrily for something to absorb.

Augie supplied that something. He moved the gun up under a rusty
sprinkler pipe and held it there. Luckily, he had had the foresight to
empty the gun's atomic capsules and wrap a torn piece of cloth about
his hand.

The Assembly Hall was big and the men below were walking slowly.
Augie's torch had ample time to heat the pipes before the group reached
the table.

Xan was getting suspicious. The unmoving forms of the Plutonians had
him puzzled. They ought to at least have the courtesy to rise from
their chairs to acknowledge his august presence.

At that moment, one of the dead beings tumbled from his seat, breaking
into a million pieces as he hit the floor. Xan yelped alarmedly and
rushed forward--just as the sprinkler pipes opened up and gushed forth
a thick sheet of water; drenching the whole assemblage!

       *       *       *       *       *

Things began to happen then! A tremendous _whooom!_ shook the room and
a canopy of flame flashed out from the table! In a trice, the Hall
was a blazing holocaust. Scream after scream tore from the throats
of the victims as the roaring inferno gulped them in and fiery teeth
gnawed the flesh from their bones. There wasn't a chance of one of them
reaching a _Kelecyrine-capsule_!

We raced to the window and tumbled down the vines. I had the location
of the space-port well fixed in my mind, although it didn't matter much
now if we were captured. The plot had been foiled!

"We have the Plutonians to thank for our success!" Augie yelled,
pounding across the courtyard.

He was right. Calcium carbonate had been almost the sole constituent
of the Plutonians. There were other elements, yes, but in a far less
degree. Using electricity for heat, I had simply converted that impure
carbonate into a crude form of calcium oxide! It was crumbly stuff,
but it had stuck together long enough to deceive the conspirators into
thinking everything was shipshape in the Assembly Hall. When those
sprinkler pipes let go with their load of water, well ... any high
school boy can tell you what happened.

"What about those devils in the dungeon, Tod?" Augie had to shout to
make himself heard above the turmoil. Guards were running for the
palace, intent on saving their ruler; screaming court-ladies were
dropping from windows, enveloped in clouds of dense, black smoke. I
knew the _Kelecyrine-capsules_ had long since burst and put out the
flames, but not before they had done their grisly job.

"They'll be released when the Jovians find their government has
collapsed about them!" I flung back. "We've got to get away from here
before these people come out of their daze!" That sounds cowardly, but,
to me, it was prudence.

We found a surface-car and sped for the Jove City Space-port. It
was deserted. Everybody had been drawn to the palace by the frantic
emergency calls of the Jovian Secret Police. We scrambled in a small,
private cruiser and were soon far out in space, making for Earth.

"In a way, I'm glad the formula was lost," Augie said reflectively. "I
can't reconstruct it from memory, you know. Too complicated. I don't
think I would, anyway, seeing what havoc it can cause."

I nodded, setting the automatic control and relaxing in the bucket
seat. "Tod Mulhane" had pulled through one more scrape.

"Too," Augie continued, "there would be no need of it now. Our enemies
will be practically helpless now their leaders are dead, and we can
easily force them to capitulate. The Jovians and their allies should
welcome a democratic government after so many years of tyranny.
Incidentally, Tod, where do you go from here?"

I grinned at Augie and lit a _Tobac-tube_.

"I haven't any plans, Augie, but you can bet I'll not sit home
knitting!"





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