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Chapter Six
The Purple
Warning!

THE MAN-THING threw himself on Jeffrey, keeping him from running up to investigate. "You can't go!" the monster gutturaled. "We know what they're doing—we heard them planning it!"

A deafening detonation roared through the chamber, rocked the walls. For a breathless second, the fore-wall cracked and swayed, and then the quake was over, with all walls in a jagged ungeometric pattern, but they were still standing.

The man-thing kept his broad fingers clutched on Jeffrey's coat. "I saved your life," he rasped. "Remember that. And unless you help us, we will claim that life, as we claimed his—" his malformed thumb, gestured awkwardly toward the drained corpse on the floor. "We will find you, wherever you are. They will help us find you, if we go back to them. We don't care—we're not afraid of anything—not even of them. That's why we were made like this—nothing worse can happen, and there's nothing left for us to fear. That's why they expected us to be good tools for them. But they made a mistake—when they brought us here."

These monsters, even with their desperate threats, gave Jeffrey more hope than anything else he had encountered. They seemed to know more about the Octopus than anyone else was willing to admit. . . .

"Do you know anything about the new purple search-light?" he asked. "There's one over Manhattan tonight, and I think it's theirs."

The monsters looked at one another, and shook their great heads. "No. And you'd—better go soon," said the woman, "We—must have our own light on again."

Jeffrey turned toward the door.

"You can work for us in peace, Dr. Skull," said the man. "They think you're dead, now. When one of their men disappeared—the one who found us—they were sure you were somewhere—in the building. We heard them say so. That's why they blew up the building. They think now that you died in the explosion. . . . Remember us. . . . And we shall not forget you!"

The woman busied herself with the light-bulb. "I'll remember," Jeffrey promised.

He could not lock the door again, for that first intruder had smashed the lock. But he was sure the man and woman would await him peaceably enough, secluded both from their enemies and cruel public scrutiny if he came back within a reasonable time.

He wanted to stop at the office, to see if there was anything he could salvage, but debris blocked the way. He couldn't even get past the coal-bin into the basement. Then growing louder above him, he heard the hungry crackle and roar of flames, i

Through that voracious sound of destruction came the approaching clang and whine of the fire-trucks. . . . But Jeffrey knew that before those raging flames could be tamed, the whole building and everything in it would be lost beyond redemption.

For an instant a pang of heart-ache assailed him as he thought of the associations which that humble edifice had for him during the past six years. . . . For Dr. Skull had made it a haven for the poor and the ailing of this downtrodden neighborhood.

Then, after a few minutes, he emerged out on the street, the flaming structure blocks away. He entered a drug store, stepped swiftly into a phone booth, and dialed the number of his garage.

* * *

Excepting for the powerful Diesel motor which he had designed and installed himself, there was nothing to mark Jeffrey's car as different from a thousand other sedans on the streets. He nodded to the garage mechanic as the car was brought up to the drug store, then, alone behind the wheel, he headed southward, toward the Holland tunnel to New Jersey, while the purple beacon sprayed its light into the heavens above Manhattan . . .

A hundred miles out at sea that night, sleepless navigators stared with marvelling eyes at a harbor-light no sailor had seen before. On Long Island, and in the Westchester and Connecticut suburbs to the north of the city, residents wondered at the new splendor of New York's nightlife reflected in the skies.

And in Manhattan itself, people stared—as Manhattanites will at each new marvel their city produces—and some wondered if the glaring ray would not blind aviators rather than guide them. . . . And if there shouldn't be a law, or an ordinance. . . .

Jeffrey headed under the Hudson, and on the Jersey shore he hit for the Newark airport. Occasionally, he had found use for a trim little two-seater kept there. It had a lofty wing-spread, which gave it some of the qualities of a glider, and powerful little motor. At the airport he was known as a wealthy and idle young man, with a penchant for playing with air currents and the scientific side of flying.

The little ship took to the heavens like a bird, and in ten minutes he was circling above the heart of Manhattan, with the jewelled crest of the Victory building glowing below him. He dared not fly through the beacon itself; if its nature were what he feared, such an attempt might mean suicide.

He cut his motor, doused his riding lights, and silently circled in the upward air currents caused by the canyon streets. As he neared the column of purple glare, he felt an almost unbearable heat in his open cockpit.

Holding the stick between his knees, he reached into his pocket for a piece of cloth, which he smeared thickly with a heavy, tar-like substance from a long, narrow flask. After waiting for the cloth to dry, he wrapped it around his hand.

Despite the upward air current, the weight of his little plane carried him lower and lower. The heat intensified momentarily as he dipped into the purple glare, and he felt his hands and face almost blistering—all but that part of his right hand which had been covered with the saturated cloth.

A grim look of satisfaction on his face, he pulled back on the stick, and soared skyward. The beam of light trembled beneath him, then swung slightly, seeking him out. He threw the plane into a steep bank, barely avoiding that purple radiance, and momentarily the little craft, not built for such quick maneuvering, fluttered like a leaf. He steadied her in a long glide, and again nosed up. . . .

Then he knew! The ray on the Victory Building was the purple arm of death—an ultra-violet ray!

Now he was sure that the new building in midtown Manhattan was his enemy's citadel. From the air, it was impregnable. No craft could hope to remain aloft above that death-dealing flare.

By land. . . . Jeffrey frowned, guessing that the light could be deflected downward as well as up. No army in the world could march through a street swept by the purple beam.

Excitedly, Jeffrey tried to imagine the purpose of the citadel, and its connection with the monsters that the Octopus had created. It was important now for him to warn all aircraft in the vicinity about the light.

 

His plane was equipped with a two-way transmitter. As he switched it on, he heard a loud spluttering that ran through all wave lengths, as though an important political speech were being broadcast over every station.

As he tried to clear it, he ran into the broadcast itself. It was the most bizarre and unholy announcement, Jeffrey realized, that had ever gone through ether:

Station WVI, on top of the Victory Building, New York City. We bring you our half-hourly announcement again. All other stations please sign off. The life of every man, woman and child in New York City is at stake.

A short, spluttering pause. And then a deep, indefinably sinister voice that sent the nerve-ends in Jeffrey's spine into a dizzy jig.

Citizens of New York! You are in the grip of an epi

demic with which your ordinary health facilities cannot

and will not deal. Even more than your lives are at stake.

Tonight there will walk among you the patients of your

hospitals. They have been hospitalized for the ordinary diseases, but now they come from the hospitals unrecog

nisable as human beings. They are monsters.

Another pause. Jeffrey's plane stirred southward for seconds, poised above Radio City, and circled there during the broadcast.

Not one of you is immune to this spreading plague. Do not trust your doctors! Do not trust your hospitals! They are the chief agents of this unnamable disease! In their hands, you too may become unfit to bear the name of man.

There is one way, and one way only, to keep the plague from torturing your' selves and your families. We have gathered here, in the offices of the Victory Building, all those doctors who are still worthy of the name—men of national and international reputation, who will co-operate with you to stamp out this plague. They have come together under the name of The Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee.

Tomorrow, all citizens employed in gainful occupation, whether by private or government enterprise, are requested to send one day's pay to the Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee, address, the Victory Building, New York City, as the only safe form of health insurance for yourselves and your families. Thus insured, you will receive medical treatment by New York's only safe doctors in the event that disease strikes.

To outlying territories, we broadcast this warning: Do not permit trains, busses, pleasure cars, boats or aircraft to cross your borders from metropolitan New York, lest you bring the epidemic on yourselves. Warning especially the State of New Jersey, Westchester County, and the City of Yonkers in particular. Since all of Long Island has been stricken also, we warn the State of Connecticut to prohibit ferry traffic across Long Island Sound to and from the counties of Nassau and Suffolk.

Do not hesitate to comply. This is for your own good. Do not attempt to enter the Victory Building until you require the services of a physician. Send all insurance money by mail, and you will receive your receipt-cards the following day. To those cranks and fanatics who are always ready to attack a new development, we broadcast a warning: By attacking the Victory Building, you cut New York completely off from medical salvation. You doom three millions of innocent human beings! We welcome an investigation by proper authorities, peaceably conducted.

We will bring you another broadcast within the half hour.

Jeffrey stared at the silent transmitter as the broadcast ended, almost wishing it were alive, so that he might throttle the thing that had uttered those words. Extortion—with the stakes not mere loss of reputation, nor even life itself, but a warping in body and mind of great sections of the population!

He was almost directly above Radio City, then he switched on his own shortwave transmitter, and spoke into it. "This is the Skull Killer, calling Radio City. Please rebroadcast over your regular wave length. Reply when ready."

There was no answer. . . .

"Skull Killer, still calling Radio City. This is in relation to the broadcast by the Citizen's Emergency Medical Committee, which you have just heard. Please reply."

For silent seconds, Jeffrey despaired of receiving any response. They must have taken the first broadcast as a practical joke, as they might be taking his own plea. And then, faintly and uncertainly, a voice said, "Ready. Go ahead, Skull Killer. . . ."

And so that night, the voice of the Skull Killer, whose face no man could describe, was heard through the length and breadth of a thousand square miles through the City of New York.

"Citizens of New York!" he began fervently. "This is the Skull Killer. . . . I wish to advise you about this so-called Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee. It is not a joke. Neither is it to be taken at face value.

"I have only this to go by: The purple light seen over the Victory Building tonight is an ultra-violet ray of hitherto unknown strength. All aircraft are warned not to venture near or through the light. The motives of the new medical committee seem bent more toward destruction than conservation of human life.

"They have invited the investigation of authorities; see to it that your authorities really do investigate. And in the meanwhile, on my own part, I tell you that there will be a thorough private investigation. That is all."

As Jeffrey flew southward from Radio City, there was a fresh broadcast from the Victory Building:

Tonight we are submitting to the authorities undeniable proof of the Skull Killer's identity, and of the fact that he himself, in the guise of a doctor, is responsible for several of the monstrosities which you see on the streets tonight.

What would New York's streets be like, during the remainder of the night, Jeffrey wondered as he headed again toward Newark. As he had expected, no emergency measures had as yet been adopted; no cordon of official planes were quaranteeing Manhattan. Most people who had heard that early morning broadcast from the Victory Building would have taken it as a practical joke—gruesome, perhaps, but a joke still.

And that broadcast of the Skull Killer? Didn't the very fact that the Skull Killer had been granted a use of popular airwaves bespeak the fact that the Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee's speech had made some impression. He wondered how many people he had reached, and what they thought—or had they really given him a wavelength at all?

They must have, for the Medical Committee's last words had been an oblique answer to his message! Jeffrey Fairchild felt a thrill of elation. He was starting his greatest battle; already he had made some progress and must make more if he hoped to save the nation's greatest metropolis from ghastly destruction!

He was allowed to land at the airport without interference, and to drive back to the City through the tunnel.

He wondered at the ability of his enemy to make broadcasts at regular half-hour intervals without interference from the authorities. WVI must be a newly-licensed station—and the threat in those announcements of the Citizens' Medical Committee had been so cunningly veiled, that outside their definite disquieting influence, even those who took them seriously might never recognize them for the sinister demands they were. Unless the true nature of that purple beacon was known, listeners would not even look upon those announcements as threats.

That much he had accomplished, but even now some sort of account must be had from the City authorities regarding the Committee. . . . And that account he knew, it was his responsibility to get at once.

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Framed