"Back from your vacation early, aintcha, Mr. Kent?" the lobby newsdealer said.
"Just a few days. Thought I'd take the rest of this week off later in the year, Jack."
"Well, you're back none too soon. Your friends been actin' awful weird all day."
"Well, like that Lombard guy. Y'know, the one with all the girlfriends?"
"I know which one you mean."
"He come in this morning, bought a paper, said 'good morning,' and went on up the elevator."
"What's weird about that?"
"Well, every morning since he got his job here he's walked in, said 'Hi, Jack, how's tricks' and tried to pass me a nickel for a quarter paper. Then he laughs like it's a big joke and goes off. Every morning like clockwork."
"Hi, Jack, how's tricks?"
"At first I said something like, 'She's fine, how's Agnes' but he didn't notice. He'd just laugh and go off...
"Yep. 'Hi, Jack, how's tricks' Rest of the TV people were a little screwy, too. Like that nice Miss Lane who's all go-get-em all the time? She walked in prim and proper as can be, says 'good morning' just like Lombard, and walks to the elevator like nothing's wrong."
"So? Miss Lane don't come in till four in the afternoon, that's so. She always knew what time it was before. Everybody said 'good morning,' and that's all. No matter what time of day it was."
"Thanks, Jack," Clark said, walking to the elevators. "I'm sure it's nothing, just nerves."
"Nerves. I dunno, Mr. Kent, I always said of all those screwy TV guys you were the only normal one."
The twentieth floor was naked as a ghost town. Even the wire service machines were silent. Clark walked into the hall, past the receptionist.
"Good morning," the girl said.
Clark strode down the hall to his office, passing open doors with a person at a desk behind each one, hands clasped, eyes front, faces pleasantly blank. Clark was the most animated, interesting person in the entire television operation. He greeted the faces behind the open office doors as he passed them. "Good morning," each one said.
The Master was surely on Earth somewhere. Or near it. Every television and radio station would be like this by now, every telegraph and telephone office, its personnel somehow mesmerized. Waiting. Clark ambled into Steve Lombard's office, sat down, and put his feet up on the desk.
"Good morning, Clark," Lombard said pleasantly.
"Hi, you dumb jock," Clark answered. "How's tricks?"
"Fine, thank you, and yourself?"
"Nothing new. Had a pretty good vacation, just flew in from Vega. Fought off an army of rocket-powered robots and saved a planet from blowing up this morning before breakfast."
"Tell me, Steve, you overblown fool, what's everybody waiting around for?"
"Six P.M. eastern time."
"Am I correct in assuming that he has managed to tie in all media on the planet to some broadcast facility of his own?"
"I don't know."
"Has he allowed for simultaneous translation over the airwaves using those language devices everyone on his home planet wears?"
"I don't know."
"Don't know much, do you, Grizzly? Tell me, when he got you all under his power, did you get to see what he looked like, this mysterious Master? Did he show you his face on a monitor screen of some sort?"
"He has four arms and a large mustache," Lombard said in a monotone. "'Gainst his rule need for freedom sure will fade."
"I thought so." Clark leaned back. "By the way, Stevieboy, while I've got you here, and since we have nearly an hour before the broadcast, there are some things I've been meaning to tell you."
"For example, did you know you were a conceited jerk with delusions of self-worth?"
"And that you are quite incapable of feeling much of anything for anyone but yourself, and so you compensate by being aggressive and obnoxious?"
"And that bet we've got going, about the relative appeal of your Bloody Mary and my mother's special soft drink formula, remember that?"
"Well, the fix is in. It's rigged, you see, and you're going to be awfully embarrassed when you can't have enough of my soft drink."
"Let's see now. What did I leave out ... ?"
In a synchronized orbit 22 thousand miles over the Atlantic Ocean the Master and his slaves made a final check of the content of the Master's broadcast. It would do the job, the Master concluded.
At precisely 6 P.M. Eastern Time the Master was poised in his warp vehicle before a sophisticated broadcast camera. He began to speak.
In San Francisco a young woman named Linda Fentiman was watching television. The picture rolled momentarily as an unfamiliar face came on the screen and said,
"This is Clark Kent with the WGBS News from Metropolis . . ."
In the Chinese province of Kwangtung a boy named Hua Lo-Feng rode a bicycle and listened to a small radio strapped to the handlebar as he heard an unfamiliar voice speak in fluent Cantonese, ". . . today's lead story concerns the apparent takeover by an alien financier of all mass communications facilities on Earth . . ."
Over the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Charles Belleville, a French pilot, and Kwame Niiga, a fight controller, were interrupted on their shortwave communication by a voice they heard speaking respectively French and Afrikaans, ". . . the alien is a native of the Vega star system and is reputedly known to Superman, who made this broadcast possible . . ."
And in telephone conversations all over the world, in languages and dialects uncounted, conversations were interrupted by ". . . details later in the show. . . ."
A thunderous crack of sound interrupted Clark Kent's broadcast, and several feet in front of the reporter, among three dazed technical workers who were the only people in Studio B with Clark, lights and smoke of all colors began to swirl.
The colors collected and hardened into the form of Towbee, the minstrel from space, his once elfin face twisted with determination and rage.
"I am the Master," Towbee said, "and I assume you are prepared to die." He had no disguise to drop but his madness.
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