A book collection containing several Ace Doubles
After fourteen weeks, we have finally arrived at the end of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pirates of Venus. A milestone. Yet the journey isn’t over. Burroughs wrote an additional four novels about Carson Napier and his unexpected visit to Venus. Additionally, Matt Betts wrote the novel Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., 2020) and Richard A. Lupoff wrote a short story, Scorpion Men of Venus, which is included in The Many Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs (Baen Publishing Enterprises, 2013).
Series have been very popular in speculative fiction, almost from the start. However, what constitutes a series? What types of series exist? Is chronological order necessary for a series?
A book series is, according to www.encylopedia.com, “…considered to be any number of similarly plotted novels involving the same characters, settings, or genre expectations.” This is different from a novel that is broken into several volumes. An example of both would be J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings form a series. These all take place in Middle Earth, and have a shared set of at least some characters, locations, and shared history, with later works referencing earlier ones. On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings itself was broken into three volumes. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King are not truly a series, but a single novel that was too large to print by itself.
Not all series follow this style of chronological directness. Sometimes a series shares characters and a general universe, but there is no requirement from a story perspective to read them in a particular order. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels are a good example of this style of writing. The books are numbered based on publication dates. The stories don’t normally reference any other works in the series. This means that a reader can pick up any book in the series and read it without feeling like they are missing something.
Other series, such as J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter, David Weber’s Honor Harrington, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, are expected to be read in chronological order. The books are written with direct major changes occurring in each novel. There is often, though not always, a major overarching plot to these series. Readers can find themselves lost if they haven’t read all the previous novels, as each takes place soon after the end of the last and references fictional history from the other books.
This kind of chronological writing in series doesn’t always put the reader in a situation where books have to be read in a particular order. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels occur in chronological order and share characters, but are written so that almost any novel in the series can be a starting point without the reader feeling horribly lost. The references to earlier events are explained enough to make them understandable and each novel is a complete storyline. While there may be an overarching plot line, it is often significantly less important than the individual novel’s plot.
Sometimes a shared universe is the primary factor of a series. The novels tend to be stand-alone or may have up to a trilogy embedded. This is often the case with media-based novel series. The universes of Battletech, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all have series of novels that follow this style. These novels can be read in any order without the reader feeling lost. Unlike the strictly chronological style of series writing, there isn’t the need to read every single work to understand what is going on in the fictional universe.
Finally, there is a series based on the publisher. These are sometimes referred to as thematic series. One of the most notable examples of this was the Ace Double. Each book was printed with two complete short novels and numbered to facilitate the buyer knowing which books they had. The novels were printed so that they were upside down to each other, making it easy to know where each one ended. These stories didn’t share universes or authors. They were a series only because the publisher stated they were, printed them in numerical order, and used a common font, color, and cover art theme. There was no need to read them in any particular order, making it easy for a reader to grab any one that caught their fancy.
One cannot get into a conversation about the history of speculative fiction without hearing about various important book series. Famous names inhabit those books. Names like Dune, Oz, Foundation, Middle Earth, Barsoom, Earthsea, Skylark, and many more. From the earliest days of the genre, series have been an important and beloved part of speculative fiction.
However, Wayback Wednesday started off talking about serial fiction and pulp magazines. As a nod back to that beginning, we’ll end this week on a cliffhanger. Tune-in in two weeks for the next science fiction book. The title is…
TO BE CONTINUED…
(You didn’t think there’d be a spoiler did you?)
Pirates of Venus
Edgar Rice Burroughs
At the same moment that the ongyan, Moosko, ordered his soldiers to repel any attempt to board his ship, her captain ordered full speed ahead and threw her helm to starboard. She veered away from us and leaped ahead in an effort to escape. Of course I could have sunk her, but her loot would have been of no value to me at the bottom of the sea; instead I directed the trumpeter at my side to sound full speed ahead to the officer in the tower, and the chase was on.
The Yan, whose name was now discernible across her stern, was much faster than Kiron had led me to believe; but the Sofal was exceptionally speedy, and it soon became obvious to all that the other ship could not escape her. Slowly we regained the distance that we had lost in the first, unexpected spurt of the Yan; slowly but surely we were closing up on her. Then the captain of the Yan did just what I should have done had I been in his place; he kept the Sofal always directly astern of him and opened fire on us with his after tower gun and with a gun similarly placed in the stern on the lower deck. The maneuver was tactically faultless, since it greatly reduced the number of guns that we could bring into play without changing our course, and was the only one that might offer him any hope of escape.
There was something eery in the sound of that first heavy Amtorian gun that I had heard. I saw nothing, neither smoke nor flame; there was only a loud staccato roar more reminiscent of machine gun fire than of any other sound. At first there was no other effect; then I saw a piece of our starboard rail go and two of my men fall to the deck.
By this time our bow gun was in action. We were in the swell of the Yan’s wake, which made accurate firing difficult. The two ships were racing ahead at full speed; the prow of the Sofal was throwing white water and spume far to either side; the sea in the wake of the Yan was boiling, and a heavy swell that we were quartering kept the ships rolling. The thrill of the chase and of battle was in our blood, and above all was the venomous rattle of the big guns.
I ran to the bow to direct the fire of the gun there, and a moment later we had the satisfaction of seeing the crew of one of the Yan’s guns crumple to the deck man by man, as our gunner got his sights on them and mowed them down.
The Sofal was gaining rapidly upon the Yan, and our guns were concentrating on the tower gun and the tower of the enemy. The ongyan had long since disappeared from the upper deck, having doubtlessly sought safety in a less exposed part of the ship, and in fact there were only two men left alive upon the tower deck where he had stood beside the captain; these were two of the crew of the gun that was giving us most trouble.
I did not understand at the time why the guns of neither ship were more effective. I knew that the T-ray was supposedly highly destructive, and so I could not understand why neither ship had been demolished or sunk; but that was because I had not yet learned that all the vital parts of the ships were protected by a thin armor of the same metal of which the large guns were composed, the only substance at all impervious to the T-ray. Had this not been true, our fire would have long since put the Yan out of commission, as our T-rays, directed upon her after tower gun, would have passed on through the tower, killing the men at the controls and destroying the controls themselves. Eventually this would have happened, but it would have been necessary first to have destroyed the protective armor of the tower.
At last we succeeded in silencing the remaining gun, but if we were to draw up alongside the Yan we must expose ourselves to the fire of other guns located on her main deck and the forward end of the tower. We had already suffered some losses, and I knew that we must certainly expect a great many more if we put ourselves in range of those other guns; but there seemed no other alternative than to abandon the chase entirely, and that I had no mind to do.
Giving orders to draw up along her port side, I directed the fire of the bow gun along her rail where it would rake her port guns one by one as we moved up on her, and gave orders that each of our starboard guns in succession should open fire similarly as they came within range of the Yan’s guns. Thus we kept a steady and continuous fire streaming upon the unhappy craft as we drew alongside her and closed up the distance between us.
We had suffered a number of casualties, but our losses were nothing compared to those of the Yan, whose decks were now strewn with dead and dying men. Her plight was hopeless, and her commander must at last have realized it, for now he gave the signal of surrender and stopped his engines. A few minutes later we were alongside and our boarding party had clambered over her rail.
As Kamlot and I stood watching these men who were being led by Kiron to take possession of the prize and bring certain prisoners aboard the Sofal, I could not but speculate upon what their answer was to be to my challenge for leadership. I knew that their freedom from the constant menace of their tyrannical masters was so new to them that they might well be expected to commit excesses, and I dreaded the result, for I had determined to make an example of any men who disobeyed me, though I fell in the attempt. I saw the majority of them spread over the deck under the command of the great Zog, while Kiron led a smaller detachment to the upper decks in search of the captain and the ongyan.
Fully five minutes must have elapsed before I saw my lieutenant emerge from the tower of the Yan with his two prisoners. He conducted them down the companionway and across the main deck toward the Sofal, while a hundred members of my pirate band watched them in silence. Not a hand was raised against them as they passed.
Kamlot breathed a sigh of relief as the two men clambered over the rail of the Sofal and approached us. “I think that our lives hung in the balance then, quite as much as theirs,” he said, and I agreed with him, for if my men had started killing aboard the Yan in defiance of my orders, they would have had to kill me and those loyal to me to protect their own lives.
The ongyan was still blustering when they were halted in front of me, but the captain was awed. There was something about the whole incident that mystified him, and when he got close enough to me to see the color of my hair and eyes, I could see that he was dumfounded.
“This is an outrage,” shouted Moosko, the ongyan. “I will see that every last man of you is destroyed for this.” He was trembling, and purple with rage.
“See that he does not speak again unless he is spoken to,” I instructed Kiron, and then I turned to the captain. “As soon as we have taken what we wish from your ship,” I told him, “you will be free to continue your voyage. I am sorry that you did not see fit to obey me when I ordered you to stop for boarding; it would have saved many lives. The next time you are ordered to lay to by the Sofal, do so; and when you return to your country, advise other shipmasters that the Sofal is abroad and that she is to be obeyed.”
“Do you mind telling me,” he asked, “who you are and under what flag you sail?”
“For the moment I am a Vepajan,” I replied, “but we sail under our own flag. No country is responsible for what we do, nor are we responsible to any country.”
Pressing the crew of the Yan into service, Kamlot, Kiron, Gamfor, and Zog had all her weapons, such of her provisions as we wished, and the most valuable and least bulky portion of her cargo transferred to the Sofal before dark. We then threw her guns overboard and let her proceed upon her way.
Moosko I retained as a hostage in the event that we should ever need one; he was being held under guard on the main deck until I could determine just what to do with him.
The Vepajan women captives we had rescued from the Sovong, together with our own officers who were also quartered on the second deck, left me no vacant cabin in which to put Moosko, and I did not wish to confine him below deck in the hole reserved for common prisoners.
I chanced to mention the matter to Kamlot in the presence of Vilor, when the latter immediately suggested that he would share his own small cabin with Moosko and be responsible for him. As this seemed an easy solution of the problem, I ordered Moosko turned over to Vilor, who took him at once to his cabin.
The pursuit of the Yan had taken us off our course, and now, as we headed once more toward Vepaja, a dark land mass was dimly visible to starboard. I could not but wonder what mysteries lay beyond that shadowy coast line, what strange beasts and men inhabited that terra incognita that stretched away into Strabol and the unexplored equatorial regions of Venus. To partially satisfy my curiosity, I went to the chart room, and after determining our position as accurately as I could by dead reckoning, I discovered that we were off the shore of Noobol. I remembered having heard Danus mention this country, but I could not recall what he had told me about it.
Lured by imaginings, I went out onto the tower deck and stood alone, looking out across the faintly illuminated nocturnal waters of Amtor toward mysterious Noobol. The wind had risen to almost the proportions of a gale, the first that I had encountered since my coming to the Shepherd’s Star; heavy seas were commencing to run, but I had every confidence in the ship and in the ability of my officers to navigate her under any circumstances; so I was not perturbed by the increasing violence of the storm. It occurred to me though that the women aboard might be frightened, and my thoughts, which were seldom absent from her for long, returned to Duare. Perhaps she was frightened!
Even no excuse is a good excuse to the man who wishes to see the object of his infatuation; but now I prided myself that I had a real reason for seeing her and one that she herself must appreciate, since it was prompted by solicitude for her welfare. And so I went down the companionway to the second deck with the intention of whistling before the door of Duare; but as I had to pass directly by Vilor’s cabin, I thought that I would take the opportunity to look in on my prisoner.
There was a moment’s silence following my signal, and then Vilor bade me enter. As I stepped into the cabin, I was surprised to see an angan sitting there with Moosko and Vilor. Vilor’s embarrassment was obvious; Moosko appeared ill at ease and the birdman frightened. That they were disconcerted did not surprise me, for it is not customary for members of the superior race to fraternize with klangan socially. But if they were embarrassed, I was not. I was more inclined to be angry. The position of the Vepajans aboard the Sofal was a delicate one. We were few in numbers, and our ascendency depended wholly upon the respect we engendered and maintained in the minds of the Thorans, who constituted the majority of our company, and who looked up to the Vepajans as their superiors despite the efforts of their leaders to convince them of the equality of all men.
“Your quarters are forward,” I said to the angan; “you do not belong here.”
“It is not his fault,” said Vilor, as the birdman rose to leave the cabin. “Moosko, strange as it may seem, had never seen an angan; and I fetched this fellow here merely to satisfy his curiosity. I am sorry if I did wrong.”
“Of course,” I said, “that puts a slightly different aspect on the matter, but I think it will be better if the prisoner inspects the klangan on deck where they belong. He has my permission to do so tomorrow.”
The angan departed, I exchanged a few more words with Vilor, and then I left him with his prisoner and turned toward the after cabin where Duare was quartered, the episode that had just occurred fading from my mind almost immediately, to be replaced by far more pleasant thoughts.
There was a light in Duare’s cabin as I whistled before her door, wondering if she would invite me in or ignore my presence. For a time there was no response to my signal, and I had about determined that she would not see me, when I heard her soft, low voice inviting me to enter.
“You are persistent,” she said, but there was less anger in her voice than when last she had spoken to me.
“I came to ask if the storm has frightened you and to assure you that there is no danger.”
“I am not afraid,” she replied. “Was that all that you wished to say?”
It sounded very much like a dismissal. “No,” I assured her, “nor did I come solely for the purpose of saying it.”
She raised her eyebrows. “What else could you have to say to me—that you have not already said?”
“Perhaps I wished to repeat,” I suggested.
“You must not!” she cried.
I came closer to her. “Look at me, Duare; look me in the eyes and tell me that you do not like to hear me tell you that I love you!”
Her eyes fell. “I must not listen!” she whispered and rose as though to leave the room.
I was mad with love for her; her near presence sent the hot blood boiling through my veins; I seized her in my arms and drew her to me; before she could prevent it, I covered her lips with mine. Then she partially tore away from me, and I saw a dagger gleaming in her hand.
“You are right,” I said. “Strike! I have done an unforgivable thing. My only excuse is my great love for you; it swept away reason and honor.”
Her dagger hand dropped to her side. “I cannot,” she sobbed, and, turning, fled from the room.
I went back to my own cabin, cursing myself for a beast and a cad. I could not understand how it had been possible for me to have committed such an unpardonable act. I reviled myself, and at the same time the memory of that soft body crushed against mine and those perfect lips against my lips suffused me with a warm glow of contentment that seemed far removed from repentance.
I lay awake for a long time after I went to bed, thinking of Duare, recalling all that had ever passed between us. I found a hidden meaning in her cry, “I must not listen!” I rejoiced in the facts that once she had refused to consign me to death at the hands of others and that again she had refused to kill me herself. Her “I cannot” rang in my ears almost like an avowal of love. My better judgment told that I was quite mad, but I found joy in hugging my madness to me.
The storm increased to such terrific fury during the night that the screeching of the wind and the wild plunging of the Sofal awakened me just before dawn. Arising immediately, I went on deck, where the wind almost carried me away. Great waves lifted the Sofal on high, only to plunge her the next moment into watery abysses. The ship was pitching violently; occasionally a huge wave broke across her bow and flooded the main deck; across her starboard quarter loomed a great land mass that seemed perilously close. The situation appeared fraught with danger.
I entered the control room and found both Honan and Gamfor with the helmsman. They were worried because of our proximity to land. Should either the engines or the steering device fail, we must inevitably be driven ashore. I told them to remain where they were, and then I went down to the second deck house to arouse Kiron, Kamlot, and Zog.
As I turned aft from the foot of the companionway on the second deck, I noticed that the door of Vilor’s cabin was swinging open and closing again with each roll of the vessel; but I gave the matter no particular thought at the time and passed on to awaken my other lieutenants. Having done so, I kept on to Duare’s cabin, fearing that, if awake, she might be frightened by the rolling of the ship and the shrieking of the wind. To my surprise, I found her door swinging on its hinges.
Something, I do not know what, aroused my suspicion that all was not right far more definitely than the rather unimportant fact that the door to her outer cabin was unlatched. Stepping quickly inside, I uncovered the light and glanced quickly about the room. There was nothing amiss except, perhaps, the fact that the door to the inner cabin where she slept was also open and swinging on its hinges. I was sure that no one could be sleeping in there while both those doors were swinging and banging. It was possible, of course, that Duare was too frightened to get up and close them.
I stepped to the inner doorway and called her name aloud. There was no reply. I called again, louder; again, silence was my only answer. Now I was definitely perturbed. Stepping into the room, I uncovered the light and looked at the bed. It was empty—Duare was not there! But in the far corner of the cabin lay the body of the man who had stood guard outside her door.
Throwing conventions overboard, I hastened to each of the adjoining cabins where the rest of the Vepajan women were quartered. All were there except Duare. They had not seen her; they did not know where she was. Frantic from apprehension, I ran back to Kamlot’s cabin and acquainted him with my tragic discovery. He was stunned.
“She must be on board,” he cried. “Where else can she be?”
“I know she must be,” I replied, “but something tells me she is not. We must search the ship at once—from stem to stern.”
Zog and Kiron were emerging from their cabins as I came from Kamlot’s. I told them of my discovery and ordered the search commenced; then I hailed a member of the watch and sent him to the crow’s nest to question the lookout. I wanted to know whether he had seen anything unusual transpiring on the ship during his watch, for from his lofty perch he could overlook the entire vessel.
“Muster every man,” I told Kamlot; “account for every human being on board; search every inch of the ship.”
As the men left to obey my instructions, I recalled the coincidence of the two cabin doors swinging wide—Duare’s and Vilor’s. I could not imagine what relation either fact had to the other, but I was investigating everything, whether it was of a suspicious nature or not; so I ran quickly to Vilor’s cabin, and the moment that I uncovered the light I saw that both Vilor and Moosko were missing. But where were they? No man could have left the Sofal in that storm and lived, even could he have launched a boat, which would have been impossible of accomplishment, even in fair weather, without detection.
Coming from Vilor’s cabin, I summoned a sailor and dispatched him to inform Kamlot that Vilor and Moosko were missing from their cabin and direct him to send them to me as soon as he located them; then I returned to the quarters of the Vepajan women for the purpose of questioning them more carefully.
I was puzzled by the disappearance of Moosko and Vilor, which, taken in conjunction with the absence of Duare from her cabin, constituted a mystery of major proportions; and I was trying to discover some link of circumstance that might point a connection between the two occurrences, when I suddenly recalled Vilor’s insistence that he be permitted to guard Duare. Here was the first, faint suggestion of a connecting link. However, it seemed to lead nowhere. These three people had disappeared from their cabins, yet reason assured me that they would be found in a short time, since it was impossible for them to leave the ship, unless—
It was that little word “unless” that terrified me most of all. Since I had discovered that Duare was not in her cabin, a numbing fear had assailed me that, considering herself dishonored by my avowal of love, she had hurled herself overboard. Of what value now the fact that I constantly upbraided myself for my lack of consideration and control? Of what weight my vain regrets?
Yet now I saw a tiny ray of hope. If the absence of Vilor and Moosko from their cabin and Duare from hers were more than a coincidence, then it were safe to assume that they were together and ridiculous to believe that all three had leaped overboard.
With these conflicting fears and hopes whirling through my brain, I came to the quarters of the Vepajan women, which I was about to enter when the sailor I had sent to question the lookout in the crow’s nest came running toward me in a state of evident excitement.
“Well,” I demanded, as, breathless, he halted before me, “what did the lookout have to say?”
“Nothing, my captain,” replied the man, his speech retarded by excitement and exertion.
“Nothing! and why not?” I snapped.
“The lookout is dead, my captain,” gasped the sailor.
“How?” I asked.
“A sword had been run through his body—from behind, I think. He lay upon his face.”
“Go at once and inform Kamlot; tell him to replace the lookout and investigate his death, then to report to me.”
Shaken by this ominous news, I entered the quarters of the women. They were huddled together in one cabin, pale and frightened, but outwardly calm.
“Have you found Duare?” one of them asked immediately.
“No,” I replied, “but I have discovered another mystery—the ongyan, Moosko, is missing and with him the Vepajan, Vilor.”
“Vepajan!” exclaimed Byea, the woman who had questioned me concerning Duare. “Vilor is no Vepajan.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “If he is not a Vepajan, what is he?”
“He is a Thoran spy,” she replied. “He was sent to Vepaja long ago to steal the secret of the longevity serum, and when we were captured the klangan took him, also, by mistake. We learned this, little by little, aboard the Sovong.”
“But why was I not informed when he was brought aboard?” I demanded.
“We supposed that everyone knew it,” explained Byea, “and thought that Vilor was transferred to the Sofal as a prisoner.”
Another link in the chain of accumulating evidence! Yet I was as far as ever from knowing where either end of the chain lay.
After questioning the women, I went to the main deck, too impatient to await the reports of my lieutenants in the tower where I belonged. I found that they had searched the ship and were just coming to me with their report. None of those previously discovered missing had been found, but the search had revealed another astounding fact—the five klangan also were missing!
Searching certain portions of the ship had been rather dangerous work, as she was rolling heavily, and the deck was still occasionally swept by the larger seas; but it had been accomplished without mishap, and the men were now congregated in a large room in the main deck house. Kamlot, Gamfor, Kiron, Zog, and I had also entered this same room, where we were discussing the whole mysterious affair. Honan was in the control room of the tower.
I told them that I had just discovered that Vilor was not Vepajan but a Thoran spy, and had reminded Kamlot of the man’s request that he be allowed to guard the janjong. “I learned something else from Byea while I was questioning the women,” I added. “During their captivity aboard the Sovong, Vilor persisted in annoying Duare with his attentions; he was infatuated with her.”
“I think that gives us the last bit of evidence we need to enable us to reconstruct the hitherto seemingly inexplicable happenings of the past night,” said Gamfor. “Vilor wished to possess Duare; Moosko wished to escape from captivity. The former had fraternized with the klangan and made friends of them; that was known to everyone aboard the Sofal. Moosko was an ongyan; during all their lives, doubtless, the klangan have looked upon the klongyan as the fountain heads of supreme authority. They would believe his promises, and they would obey his commands.
“Doubtless Vilor and Moosko worked out the details of the plot together. They dispatched an angan to kill the lookout, lest their movements arouse suspicion and be reported before they could carry their plan to a successful conclusion. The lookout disposed of, the other klangan congregated in Vilor’s cabin; then Vilor, probably accompanied by Moosko, went to the cabin of Duare, where they killed the guard and seized her in her sleep, silenced her with a gag, and carried her to the gangway outside, where the klangan were waiting.
“A gale was blowing, it is true, but it was blowing toward land which lay but a short distance to starboard; and the klangan are powerful fliers.
“There you have what I believe to be a true picture of what happened aboard the Sofal while we slept.”
“And you believe that the klangan carried these three people to the shores of Noobol?” I asked.
“I think there can be no question but that such is the fact,” replied Gamfor.
“I quite agree with him,” interjected Kamlot.
“Then there is but one thing to do,” I announced. “We must turn back and land a searching party on Noobol.”
“No boat could live in this sea,” objected Kiron.
“The storm will not last forever,” I reminded him. “We shall lie off the shore until it abates. I am going up to the tower; I wish you men would remain here and question the crew; it is possible that there may be some one among them who has overheard something that will cast new light on the subject. The klangan are great talkers, and they may have dropped some remark that will suggest the ultimate destination Vilor and Moosko had in mind.”
As I stepped out onto the main deck, the Sofal rose upon the crest of a great wave and then plunged nose downward into the watery abyss beyond, tilting the deck forward at an angle of almost forty-five degrees. The wet and slippery boards beneath my feet gave them no hold, and I slid helplessly forward almost fifty feet before I could check my descent. Then the ship buried her nose in a mountainous wave and a great wall of water swept the deck from stem to stern, picking me up and whirling me helplessly upon its crest.
For a moment I was submerged, and then a vagary of the Titan that had seized me brought my head above the water, and I saw the Sofal rolling and pitching fifty feet away.
Even in the immensity of interstellar space I had never felt more helpless nor more hopeless than I did at that moment on the storm-lashed sea of an unknown world, surrounded by darkness and chaos and what terrible creatures of this mysterious deep I could not even guess. I was lost! Even if my comrades knew of the disaster that had overwhelmed me, they were helpless to give me aid. No boat could live in that sea, as Kiron had truly reminded us, and no swimmer could breast the terrific onslaught of those racing, wind-driven mountains of water that might no longer be described by so puny a word as wave.
Hopeless! I should not have said that; I am never without hope. If I could not swim against the sea, perhaps I might swim with it; and at no great distance lay land. I am an experienced distance swimmer and a powerful man. If any man could survive in such a sea, I knew that I could; but if I could not, I was determined that I should at least have the satisfaction of dying fighting.
I was hampered by no clothes, as one could scarcely dignify the Amtorian loincloth with the name of clothing; my only impediment was my weapons; and these I hesitated to discard, knowing that my chances for survival on that unfriendly shore would be slight were I unarmed. Neither the belt, nor the pistol, nor the dagger inconvenienced me, and their weight was negligible; but the sword was a different matter. If you have never tried swimming with a sword dangling from your middle, do not attempt it in a heavy sea. You might think that it would hang straight down and not get in the way, but mine did not. The great waves hurled me about mercilessly, twisting and turning me; and now my sword was buffeting me in some tender spot, and now it was getting between my legs, and once, when a wave turned me completely over, it came down on top of me and struck me on the head; yet I would not discard it.
After the first few minutes of battling with the sea, I concluded that I was in no immediate danger of being drowned. I could keep my head above the waves often enough and long enough to insure sufficient air for my lungs; and, the water being warm, I was in no danger of being chilled to exhaustion, as so often occurs when men are thrown into cold seas. Therefore, as closely as I could anticipate any contingency in this unfamiliar world, there remained but two major and immediate threats against my life. The first lay in the possibility of attack by some ferocious monster of the Amtorian deeps; the second, and by far the more serious, the storm-lashed shore upon which I must presently attempt to make a safe landing.
This in itself should have been sufficient to dishearten me, for I had seen seas breaking upon too many shores to lightly ignore the menace of those incalculable tons of hurtling waters pounding, crashing, crushing, tearing their way even into the rocky heart of the eternal hills.
I swam slowly in the direction of the shore, which, fortunately for me, was in the direction that the storm was carrying me. I had no mind to sap my strength by unnecessarily overexerting myself; and so, as I took it easily, content to keep afloat as I moved slowly shoreward, daylight came; and as each succeeding wave lifted me to its summit, I saw the shore with increasing clearness. It lay about a mile from me, and its aspect was most forbidding. Huge combers were breaking upon a rocky coast line, throwing boiling fountains of white spume high in air; above the howling of the tempest, the thunder of the surf rolled menacingly across that mile of angry sea to warn me that death lay waiting to embrace me at the threshold of safety.
I was in a quandary. Death lay all about me; it remained but for me to choose the place and manner of the assignation; I could drown where I was, or I could permit myself to be dashed to pieces on the rocks. Neither eventuality aroused any considerable enthusiasm in my breast. As a mistress, death seemed sadly lacking in many essentials. Therefore, I decided not to die.
Thoughts may be, as has been said, things; but they are not everything. No matter how favorably I thought of living, I knew that I must also do something about it. My present situation offered me no chance of salvation; the shore alone could give me life; so I struck out for the shore. As I drew nearer it, many things, some of them quite irrelevant, passed through my mind; but some were relevant, among them the Burial Service. It was not a nice time to think of this, but then we cannot always control our thoughts; however, “In the midst of life we are in death” seemed wholly appropriate to my situation. By twisting it a bit, I achieved something that contained the germ of hope—in the midst of death there is life. Perhaps—
The tall waves, lifting me high, afforded me for brief instants vantage points from which I could view the death ahead in the midst of which I sought for life. The shore line was becoming, at closer range, something more than an unbroken line of jagged rocks and white water; but details were yet lacking, for each time I was allowed but a brief glimpse before being dropped once more to the bottom of a watery chasm.
My own efforts, coupled with the fury of the gale driving me shoreward, brought me rapidly to the point where I should presently be seized by the infuriated seas and hurled upon the bombarded rocks that reared their jagged heads bleakly above the swirling waters of each receding comber.
A great wave lifted me upon its crest and carried me forward—the end had come! With the speed of a race horse it swept me toward my doom; a welter of spume engulfed my head; I was twisted and turned as a cork in a whirlpool; yet I struggled to lift my mouth above the surface for an occasional gasp of air; I fought to live for a brief moment longer, that I might not be dead when I was dashed by the merciless sea against the merciless rocks—thus dominating is the urge to live.
I was carried on; moments seemed an eternity! Where were the rocks? I almost yearned for them now to end the bitterness of my futile struggle. I thought of my mother and of Duare. I even contemplated, with something akin to philosophic calm, the strangeness of my end. In that other world that I had left forever no creature would ever have knowledge of my fate. Thus spoke the eternal egotism of man, who, even in death, desires an audience.
Now I caught a brief glimpse of rocks. They were upon my left! when they should have been in front of me. It was incomprehensible. The wave tore on, carrying me with it; and still I lived, and there was only water against my naked flesh.
Now the fury of the sea abated, I rose to the crest of a diminishing comber to look with astonishment upon the comparatively still waters of an inlet. I had been carried through the rocky gateway of a landlocked cove, and before me I saw a sandy crescent beach. I had escaped the black fingers of death; I had been the beneficiary of a miracle!
The sea gave me a final filip that rolled me high upon the sands to mingle with the wrack and flotsam she had discarded. I stood up and looked about me. A more devout man would have given thanks, but I felt that as yet I had been spared temporarily, but Duare was still in peril.
The cove into which I had been swept was formed by the mouth of a canyon that ran inland between low hills, the sides and summits of which were dotted with small trees. Nowhere did I see any such giants as grow in Vepaja; but perhaps, I mused, what I see here are not trees on Venus but only underbrush. However, I shall call them trees, since many of them were from fifty to eighty feet in height.
A little river tumbled down the canyon’s bottom to empty into the cove; pale violet grass, starred with blue and purple flowers, bordered it and clothed the hills. There were trees with red boles, smooth and glossy as lacquer. There were trees with azure boles. Whipping in the gale was the same weird foliage of heliotrope and lavender and violet that had rendered the forests of Vepaja so unearthly to my eyes. But beautiful and unusual as was the scene, it could not claim my undivided attention. A strange freak of fate had thrown me upon this shore to which, I had reason to believe, Duare must undoubtedly have been carried; and now my only thought was to take advantage of this fortunate circumstance and attempt to find and succor her.
I could only assume that in the event her abductors had brought her to this shore their landing must have been made farther along the coast to my right, which was the direction from which the Sofal had been moving. With only this slight and unsatisfactory clue, I started immediately to scale the side of the canyon and commence my search.
At the summit I paused a moment to survey the surrounding country and get my bearings. Before me stretched a rolling table-land, tree-dotted and lush with grass, and beyond that, inland, rose a range of mountains, vague and mysterious along the distant horizon. My course lay to the east, along the coast (I shall use the earthly references to points of compass); the mountains were northward, toward the equator. I am assuming of course that I am in the southern hemisphere of the planet. The sea was south of me. I glanced in that direction, looking for the Sofal; there she was, far out and moving toward the east. Evidently my orders were being carried out, and the Sofal was lying off shore waiting for calm weather that would permit a landing.
Now I turned my steps toward the east. At each elevation I stopped and scanned the tableland in all directions, searching for some sign of those I sought. I saw signs of life, but not of human life. Herbivorous animals grazed in large numbers upon the flower-starred violet plain. Many that were close enough to be seen plainly appeared similar in form to earthly animals, but there was none exactly like anything I had ever seen on earth. Their extreme wariness and the suggestion of speed and agility in their conformations suggested that they had enemies; the wariness, that among these enemies was man; the speed and agility, that swift and ferocious carnivores preyed upon them.
These observations served to warn me that I must be constantly on the alert for similar dangers that might threaten me, and I was glad that the table-land was well supplied with trees growing at convenient intervals. I had not forgotten the ferocious basto that Kamlot and I had encountered in Vepaja, and, though I had seen nothing quite so formidable as yet among the nearer beasts, there were some creatures grazing at a considerable distance from me whose lines suggested a too great similarity to those bisonlike omnivores to insure ease of mind.
I moved rather rapidly, as I was beset by fears for Duare’s safety and felt that if I did not come upon some clue this first day my search might prove fruitless. The klangan, I believed, must have alighted near the coast, where they would have remained at least until daylight, and my hope was that they might have tarried longer. If they had winged away immediately, my chances of locating them were slight; and now my only hope lay in the slender possibility that I might come across them before they took up their flight for the day.
The table-land was cut by gullies and ravines running down to the sea. Nearly all of these carried streams varying in size from tiny rivulets to those which might be dignified by the appellation of river, but none that I encountered offered any serious obstacle to my advance, though upon one or two occasions I was forced to swim the deeper channels. If these rivers were inhabited by dangerous reptiles, I saw nothing of them, though I admit that they were constantly on my mind as I made my way from bank to bank.
Once, upon the table-land, I saw a large, cat-like creature at a distance, apparently stalking a herd of what appeared to be a species of antelope; but either it did not see me or was more interested in its natural prey, for although I was in plain sight, it paid no attention to me.
Shortly thereafter I dropped into a small gully, and when I had regained the higher ground upon the opposite side the beast was no longer in sight; but even had it been, it would have been driven from my thoughts by faint sounds that came to me out of the distance far ahead. There were what sounded like the shouts of men and the unmistakable hum of Amtorian pistol fire.
Though I searched diligently with my eyes to the far horizon, I could see no sign of the authors of these noises; but it was enough for me to know that there were human beings ahead and that there was fighting there. Being only human, I naturally pictured the woman I loved in the center of overwhelming dangers, even though my better judgment told me that the encounter reverberating in the distance might have no connection with her or her abductors.
Reason aside, however, I broke into a run; and as I advanced the sounds waxed louder. They led me finally to the rim of a considerable canyon, the bottom of which formed a level valley of entrancing loveliness, through which wound a river far larger than any I had yet encountered.
But neither the beauty of the valley nor the magnitude of the river held my attention for but an instant. Down there upon the floor of that nameless canyon was a scene that gripped my undivided interest and left me cold with apprehension. Partially protected by an outcropping of rock at the river’s edge, six figures crouched or lay. Five of them were klangan, the sixth a woman. It was Duare!
Facing them, hiding behind trees and rocks, were a dozen hairy, manlike creatures hurling rocks from slings at the beleaguered six or loosing crude arrows from still cruder bows. The savages and the klangan were hurling taunts and insults at one another, as well as missiles; it was these sounds that I had heard from a distance blending with the staccato hum of the klangan’s pistols.
Three of the klangan lay motionless upon the turf behind their barrier, apparently dead. The remaining klangan and Duare crouched with pistols in their hands, defending their position and their lives. The savages cast their stone missiles directly at the three whenever one of them showed any part of his body above the rocky breastwork, but the arrows they discharged into the air so that they fell behind the barrier.
Scattered about among the trees and behind rocks were the bodies of fully a dozen hairy savages who had fallen before the fire of the klangan, but, while Duare’s defenders had taken heavy toll of the enemy, the outcome of the unequal battle could have been only the total destruction of the klangan and Duare had it lasted much longer.
The details which have taken long in the telling I took in at a single glance, nor did I waste precious time in pondering the best course of action. At any moment one of those crude arrows might pierce the girl I loved; and so my first thought was to divert the attention of the savages, and perhaps their fire, from their intended victims to me.
I was slightly behind their position, which gave me an advantage, as also did the fact that I was above them. Yelling like a Comanche, I leaped down the steep side of the canyon, firing my pistol as I charged. Instantly the scene below me changed. The savages, taken partially from the rear and unexpectedly menaced by a new enemy, leaped to their feet in momentary bewilderment; and simultaneously the two remaining klangan, recognizing me and realizing that succor was at hand, sprang from the shelter of their barrier and ran forward to complete the demoralization of the savages.
Together we shot down six of the enemy before the rest finally turned and fled, but they were not routed before one of the klangan was struck full between the eyes by a jagged bit of rock. I saw him fall, and when we were no longer menaced by a foe I went to him, thinking that he was only stunned; but at that time I had no conception of the force with which these primitive, apelike men cast the missiles from their slings. The fellow’s skull was crushed, and a portion of the missile had punctured his brain. He was quite dead when I reached him.
Then I hastened to Duare. She was standing with a pistol in her hand, tired and dishevelled, but otherwise apparently little worse for the harrowing experiences through which she had passed. I think that she was glad to see me, for she certainly must have preferred me to the hairy apemen from which I had been instrumental in rescuing her; yet a trace of fear was reflected in her eyes, as though she were not quite sure of the nature of the treatment she might expect from me. To my shame, her fears were justified by my past behavior; but I was determined that she should never again have cause to complain of me. I would win her confidence and trust, hoping that love might follow in their wake.
There was no light of welcome in her eyes as I approached her, and that hurt me more than I can express. Her countenance reflected more a pathetic resignation to whatever new trials my presence might portend.
“You have not been harmed?” I asked. “You are all right?”
“Quite,” she replied. Her eyes passed beyond me, searching the summit of the canyon wall down which I had charged upon the savages. “Where are the others?” she asked in puzzled and slightly troubled tones.
“What others?” I inquired.
“Those who came with you from the Sofal to search for me.”
“There were no others; I am quite alone.”
Her countenance assumed an even deeper gloom at this announcement. “Why did you come alone?” she asked fearfully.
“To be honest with you, it was through no fault of my own that I came at all at this time,” I explained. “After we missed you from the Sofal, I gave orders to stand by off the coast until the storm abated and we could land a searching party. Immediately thereafter I was swept overboard, a most fortunate circumstance as it turned out; and naturally when I found myself safely ashore my first thought was of you. I was searching for you when I heard the shouts of the savages and the sound of pistol fire.”
“You came in time to save me from them,” she said, “but for what? What are you going to do with me now?”
“I am going to take you to the coast as quickly as possible,” I replied, “and there we will signal the Sofal. She will send a boat to take us off.”
Duare appeared slightly relieved at this recital of my plans. “You will win the undying gratitude of the jong, my father, if you return me to Vepaja unharmed,” she said.
“To have served his daughter shall be reward enough for me,” I replied, “even though I succeed in winning not even her gratitude.”
“That you already have for what you have just done at the risk of your life,” she assured me, and there was more graciousness in her voice than before.
“What became of Vilor and Moosko?” I asked.
Her lip curled in scorn. “When the kloonobargan attacked us, they fled.”
“Where did they go?” I asked.
“They swam the river and ran away in that direction.” She pointed toward the east.
“Why did the klangan not desert you also?”
“They were told to protect me. They know little else than to obey their superiors, and, too, they like to fight. Having little intelligence and no imagination, they are splendid fighters.”
“I cannot understand why they did not fly away from danger and take you with them when they saw that defeat was certain. That would have insured the safety of all.”
“By the time they were assured of that, it was too late,” she explained. “They could not have risen from behind our protection without being destroyed by the missiles of the kloonobargan.”
This word, by way of parenthesis, is an interesting example of the derivation of an Amtorian substantive. Broadly, it means savages; literally, it means hairy men. In the singular, it is nobargan. Gan is man; bar is hair. No is a contraction of not (with), and is used as a prefix with the same value that the suffix y has in English; therefore nobar means hairy, nobargan, hairy man. The prefix kloo forms the plural, and we have kloonobargan (hairy men), savages.
After determining that the four klangan were dead, Duare, the remaining angan, and I started down the river toward the ocean. On the way Duare told me what had occurred on board the Sofal the preceding night, and I discovered that it had been almost precisely as Gamfor had pictured it.
“What was their object in taking you with them?” I asked.
“Vilor wanted me,” she replied.
“And Moosko merely wished to escape?”
“Yes. He thought that he would be killed when the ship reached Vepaja.”
“How did they expect to survive in a wild country like this?” I asked. “Did they know where they were?”
“They said that they thought that the country was Noobol,” she replied, “but they were not positive. The Thorans have agents in Noobol who are fomenting discord in an attempt to overthrow the government. There are several of these in a city on the coast, and it was Moosko’s intention to search for this city, where he was certain that he would find friends who would be able to arrange transportation for himself, Vilor, and me to Thora.”
We walked on in silence for some time. I was just ahead of Duare, and the angan brought up the rear. He was crestfallen and dejected. His head and tail feathers drooped. The klangan are ordinarily so vociferous that this preternatural silence attracted my attention, and, thinking that he might have been injured in the fight, I questioned him.
“I was not wounded, my captain,” he replied.
“Then what is the matter with you? Are you sad because of the deaths of your comrades?”
“It is not that,” he replied; “there are plenty more where they came from. It is because of my own death that I am sad.”
“But you are not dead!”
“I shall be soon,” he averred.
“What makes you think so?” I demanded.
“When I return to the ship, they will kill me for what I did last night. If I do not return, I shall be killed here. No one could live alone for long in such a country as this.”
“If you serve me well and obey me, you will not be killed if we succeed in the reaching the Sofal again,” I assured him.
At that he brightened perceptibly. “I shall serve you well and obey you, my captain,” he promised, and presently he was smiling and singing again as though he had not a single care in the world and there was no such thing as death.
On several occasions, when I had glanced back at my companions, I had discovered Duare’s eyes upon me, and in each instance she had turned them away quickly, as though I had surprised and embarrassed her in some questionable act. I had spoken to her only when necessary, for I had determined to atone for my previous conduct by maintaining a purely official attitude toward her that would reassure her and give her no cause for apprehension as to my intentions.
This was a difficult rôle for me to play while I yearned to take her into my arms and tell her again of the great love that was consuming me; but I had succeeded so far in controlling myself and saw no reason to believe that I should not be able to continue to do so, at least as long as Duare continued to give me no encouragement. The very idea that she might give me encouragement caused me to smile in spite of myself.
Presently, much to my surprise, she said, “You are very quiet. What is the matter?”
It was the first time that Duare had ever opened a conversation with me or given me any reason to believe that I existed for her as a personality; I might have been a clod of earth or a piece of furniture, for all the interest she had seemed to take in me since those two occasions upon which I had surprised her as she watched me from the concealing foliage of her garden.
“There is nothing the matter with me,” I assured her. “I am only concerned with your welfare and the necessity for getting you back to the Sofal as quickly as possible.”
“You do not talk any more,” she complained. “Formerly, when I saw you, you used to talk a great deal.”
“Probably altogether too much,” I admitted, “but you see, now I am trying not to annoy you.”
Her eyes fell to the ground. “It would not annoy me,” she said almost inaudibly, but now that I was invited to do the very thing that I had been longing to do, I became dumb; I could think of nothing to say. “You see,” she continued in her normal voice, “conditions are very different now from any that I have ever before encountered. The rules and restrictions under which I have lived among my own people cannot, I now realize, be expected to apply to situations so unusual or to people and places so foreign to those whose lives they were intended to govern.
“I have been thinking a great deal about many things—and you. I commenced to think these strange thoughts after I saw you the first time in the garden at Kooaad. I have thought that perhaps it might be nice to talk to other men than those I am permitted to see in the house of my father, the jong. I became tired of talking to these same men and to my women, but custom had made a slave and a coward of me. I did not dare do the things I most wished to do. I always wanted to talk to you, and now for the brief time before we shall be again aboard the Sofal, where I must again be governed by the laws of Vepaja, I am going to be free; I am going to do what I wish; I am going to talk to you.”
This naïve declaration revealed a new Duare, one in the presence of whom it was going to be most difficult to maintain an austere Platonicism; yet I continued to steel myself to the carrying out of my resolve.
“Why do you not talk to me?” she demanded when I made no immediate comment on her confession.
“I do not know what to talk about,” I admitted, “unless I talk about the one thing that is uppermost in my mind.”
She was silent for a moment, her brows knit in thought, and then she asked with seeming innocence, “What is that?”
“Love,” I said, looking into her eyes.
Her lids dropped and her lips trembled. “No!” she exclaimed. “We must not talk of that; it is wrong; it is wicked.”
“Is love wicked on Amtor?” I asked.
“No, no; I do not mean that,” she hastened to deny; “but it is wrong to speak to me of love until after I am twenty.”
“May I then, Duare?” I asked.
She shook her head, a little sadly I thought. “No, not even then,” she answered. “You may never speak to me of love, without sinning, nor may I listen without sinning, for I am the daughter of a jong.”
“Perhaps it would be safer were we not to talk at all,” I said glumly.
“Oh, yes, let us talk,” she begged. “Tell me about the strange world you are supposed to come from.”
To amuse her, I did as she requested; and walking beside her I devoured her with my eyes until at last we came to the ocean. Far out I saw the Sofal, and now came the necessity for devising a scheme by which we might signal her.
On either side of the canyon, through which the river emptied into the ocean, were lofty cliffs. That on the west side, and nearer us, was the higher, and to this I made my way, accompanied by Duare and the angan. The ascent was steep, and most of the way I found it, or made it, necessary to assist Duare, so that often I had my arm about her as I half carried her upward.
At first I feared that she might object to this close contact; but she did not, and in some places where it was quite level and she needed no help, though I still kept my arm about her, she did not draw away nor seem to resent the familiarity.
At the summit of the cliff I hastily gathered dead wood and leaves with the assistance of the angan, and presently we had a signal fire sending a smoke column into the air. The wind had abated, and the smoke rose far above the cliff before it was dissipated. I was positive that it would be seen aboard the Sofal, but whether it would be correctly interpreted, I could not know.
A high sea was still running that would have precluded the landing of a small boat, but we had the angan, and if the Sofal were to draw in more closely to shore, he could easily transport us to her deck one at a time. However, I hesitated to risk Duare in the attempt while the ship was at its present considerable distance from shore, as what wind there was would have been directly in the face of the angan.
From the summit of this cliff we could overlook the cliff on the east side of the canyon, and presently the angan called my attention to something in that direction. “Men are coming,” he said.
I saw them immediately, but they were still too far away for me to be able to identify them, though even at a distance I was sure that they were not of the same race as the savages which had attacked Duare and the klangan.
Now indeed it became imperative that we attract the attention of the Sofal immediately, and to that end I built two more fires at intervals from the first, so that it might be obvious to anyone aboard the ship that this was in fact a signal rather than an accidental fire or a camp fire.
Whether or not the Sofal had seen our signal, it was evident that the party of men approaching must have; and I could not but believe that, attracted by it, they were coming to investigate. Constantly they were drawing nearer, and as the minutes passed we saw that they were armed men of the same race as the Vepajans.
They were still some distance away when we saw the Sofal change her course and point her bow toward shore. Our signal had been seen, and our comrades were coming to investigate; but would they be in time? For us it was a thrilling race. The wind had sprung up again and the sea was rising once more. I asked the angan if he could breast the gale, for I had determined to send Duare off at once if I received a favorable reply.
“I could alone,” he said, “but I doubt that I could if I were carrying another.”
We watched the Sofal plunging and wallowing in the rising sea as it forged steadily closer, and we watched the men drawing near with equal certainty. There was no doubt in my mind as to which would reach us first; my only hope now was that the Sofal could lessen the distance in the meantime sufficiently so that it would be safe for the angan to attempt to carry Duare to her.
Now the men had reached the summit of the cliff on the opposite side of the canyon, and here they halted and observed us while carrying on a discussion of some nature.
“Vilor is with them!” exclaimed Duare suddenly.
“And Moosko,” I added. “I see them both now.”
“What shall we do?” cried Duare. “Oh, they must not get me again!”
“They shall not,” I promised her.
Down the canyon side they came now. We watched them swim the river and cross to the foot of the cliff where we were standing. We watched the Sofal creeping slowly shoreward. I went to the edge of the cliff and looked down upon the ascending men. They were half way up now. Then I returned to Duare and the angan.
“We can wait no longer,” I said, and then to the angan, “Take the janjong and fly to the ship. She is closer now; you can make it; you must make it!”
He started to obey, but Duare drew away from him. “I will not go,” she said quietly. “I will not leave you here alone!”
For those words I would gladly have laid down my life. Here again was still another Duare. I had expected nothing like this, for I did not feel that she owed me any such loyalty. It was not as though she had loved me; one might expect such self-sacrifice on the part of a woman for the man she loves. I was swept completely from my feet, but only for an instant. The enemy, if such it were, must by now be almost to the summit of the cliff, in a moment they would be upon us, and even as the thought touched my mind, I saw the first of them running toward us.
“Take her!” I cried to the angan. “There is no time to waste now.”
He reached for her, but she attempted to elude him; and then I caught her, and as I touched her, all my good resolutions were swept away, as I felt her in my arms. I pressed her to me for an instant; I kissed her, and then I gave her over to the birdman.
“Hurry!” I cried. “They come!”
Spreading his powerful wings, he rose from the ground, while Duare stretched her hands toward me. “Do not send me away from you, Carson! Do not send me away! I love you!”
But it was too late; I would not have called her back could I have done so, for the armed men were upon me.
Thus I went into captivity in the land of Noobol, an adventure that is no part of this story; but I went with the knowledge that the woman I loved, loved me, and I was happy.