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War Changes Everything: Wayback Wednesday

The stock market crash of October 24, 1929, heralded the beginning of the Great Depression. Worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to have fallen by 15% by the end of 1932. To put that in perspective, the worldwide Great Recession of 2008/2009 only saw approximately a 1% reduction in worldwide GDP. In the United States, unemployment hit a high of 23%.

The War of the Worlds Armed Services Edition cover
The War of the Worlds Armed Services Edition cover

However, the pulps were still affordable. They saw continued climbing sales during the Great Depression, the only print style besides newspapers to do so. By 1934, there were about 150 titles. But the economic crash worldwide had led to additional problems in Europe and eastern Asia. Warfare was beginning to sweep across the world, including the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1937), and border conflicts between the Soviet Union and Japan. Additionally, fascism was rising in Europe, starting with Benito Mussolini’s founding of the National Fascist Party in 1922. Other people, like Adolph Hitler, Francisco Franco, and Antonio de Oliveira Salazar followed with similar movements.


When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Second World War began. With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the United States found itself engaged in the fighting rather than only acting as support for the Allies.


Prices rose for everything. Paper. Ink. Machine parts. More and more of the bits needed to make the pulps were going toward the war effort. Even the writers were being conscripted and going off to fight. Pulp magazines, starting with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine shifted from the larger size to digests. These took less paper to produce and were thicker than the previous incarnations.


Pulps had been heavily aimed at young men in the 20-30 age range. Because of the war, many of those readers were no longer in the United States, and those that were had jobs with long hours. Readership declined. There was also the problem of shipping the pulps across the oceans. The thin paper didn’t usually survive the wet conditions. And those that did rapidly became unreadable out in the field due to rain and insects.


The U.S. Army’s Library Section chief, Raymond Trautman, helped create a new style of reading, the Armed Services Editions (ASE) books. The idea was to create books for the troops. These would include nonfiction (self-help and biographies) and fiction (classics, best-sellers, drama, and various genres). But they had to be small, robust, and cheap. Trautman ended up turning to the pulp magazine makers for assistance. The pulps could produce the ASEs at about six cents per copy. These were complete books, but digest sized. The production was a huge success.


What had started out as a downturn for the pulp magazine producers had turned around. And when the war was over, all those GIs would return to the United States and go back to reading the pulp magazines. At least that’s what the publishers hoped for.


But there was a new world waiting on the other side of the war, and a new way for genre fiction to be serialized.


Chapter V: The Girl in the Garden


Burroughs starts the chapter with a brief discussion of who Mintep really is. It turns out he is the Jong (Amortan version of king) of the tree city Vepaja. We also learn that the two men we have met, Olthar and Kamlot are his sons. It is interesting to note the names are similar to names from other famous works; with Olthar being reminiscent of Othello and Kamlot looking like a variation on Camelot. We saw this last week with Baum’s use of Shakespeare and the Bible in his stories.


We also discover that marriage doesn’t exist, but infidelity is rare. Burroughs takes a swipe at humans by mentioning how common infidelity is on Earth. Since the beginning was mainly information, Burroughs gives us an action scene. Carson gets to leap into a fight without thinking, as the heroes in the pulps often do. Of course, he’s able to overcome the five men who are bent on evildoing. He is so good at stealth that he removes the first man’s sword from his scabbard before anyone notices him. Then Carson proceeds to kill the man with his own sword with a thrust through the heart. Thank goodness he’d spent time in Germany learning to fence.


Carson escapes the battle without being seen when the guards arrive and silently kill the remaining men. Then they dump the bodies over the railing into the depths of the forest without ceremony. Carson finds this curious but does not ask anyone about it.


The rest of the chapter is basically on long infodump on the history of Vepaja, how the people came to live in the trees, and why listening to fascists and communists ends badly. Thorites, the followers of the main evil fascist leader Thor, took over the society several hundred years ago by promising the people of the four classes that they would have absolute freedom (including no masters, no taxes, and no laws) if they would just overthrow the current society.


This, of course, ended with the Thorites in charge and a massive brain drain. Now the Thorites spend resources trying to find and kidnap the people of Vepaja because of the skills and knowledge they possess, especially the longevity serum.


The serum is why the people all appear the same age. It also prevents diseases. Burroughs does a nice job of explaining the problems of longevity when coupled with unrestrained population growth, as well as a possible solution using birth control.


Finally, we get a new technology, the depilation salve for hair removal and learn that there are things Carson is not permitted to know yet. The chapter ends with Carson discovering the extent of his captivity.

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Chapter VI: Gathering Tarel


Once again, the chapter starts with a bit of an information dump. This time it is about how few doctors exist in Vepaja. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it has become very difficult to become a doctor. It takes a minimum of ten years of study, followed by a long apprenticeship, and capped by extremely difficult examinations. There is also a law that requires doctors to make public records of every case he has worked on, from the initial diagnosis to the final outcome, even when that is death. This law has done more to reduce the number of bad doctors than anything else.


Next Mintep calls Carson before him. The jong has determined that Carson is not a Thorist spy and explains how this was done. He then gives Carson his freedom with the requirement that he now find a way to become employed. Duran offers to take him under his wing and teach him how to gather tarel and hunt.


Kamlot shows Carson the various weapons and how to use them. They discuss guns and the fact that a version exists on Amtor. It uses two substances that produce a ray that is destructive to animal tissue but can be blocked by certain metals. The shields the people carry are made of this metal. Carson also learns the R-ray materials are only available deep in lands of the Thorists.


The next day Carson and Kamlot go tarel gathering. It turns out tarel is a spider web-like substance. The creature that weaves it is the same type that Carson encountered when he first arrived on Amtor. Kamlot refers to it as a great targo. The pair of gatherers are attacked. They manage to defeat the creature and kill it, but not before it kills Kamlot. In the end, Carson finds himself lost in the jungles of Amtor.




Pirates of Venus

Edgar Rice Burroughs


VII

BY KAMLOT’S GRAVE


Having set out to gather tarel, I finished the work that Kamlot and I had nearly completed when the targo attacked us; if I succeeded in finding the city, I should at least bring something to show for our efforts. But what about Kamlot? The idea of leaving the body here was repugnant to me. Even in the brief association I had had with the man I had come to like him and to look upon him as my friend. His people had befriended me; the least that I could do would be to take his body back to them. I realized, of course, that that was going to be something of a job, but it must be done. Fortunately, I am extraordinarily muscular, and then, too, the gravitational pull of Venus favored me more than would that of earth, giving me an advantage of over twenty pounds in the dead weight I should have to carry and even a little better than that in the amount of my own live weight, for I am heavier than Kamlot.


With less difficulty than I had anticipated I succeeded in getting Kamlot’s body onto my back and trussed there with the cord attached to his javelin. I had previously strapped his weapons to him with strands of the tarel that half filled my bag, for, being unfamiliar with all the customs of the country, I did not know precisely what would be expected of me in an emergency of this nature, and preferred to be on the safe side.


The experiences of the next ten or twelve hours are a nightmare that I should like to forget. Contact with the dead and naked body of my companion was sufficiently gruesome, but the sense of utter bewilderment and futility in this strange world was even more depressing. As the hours passed, during which I constantly descended, except for brief rests, the weight of the corpse seemed to increase. In life Kamlot would have weighed about one hundred eighty pounds on earth, nearly one hundred sixty on Venus, but by the time darkness enveloped the gloomy forest I could have sworn that he weighed a ton.


So fatigued was I that I had to move very slowly, testing each new hand- and foothold before trusting my tired muscles to support the burden they were carrying, for a weak hold or a misstep would have plunged me into eternity. Death was ever at my elbow.


It seemed to me that I descended thousands of feet and yet I had seen no sign of the city. Several times I heard creatures moving through the trees at a distance, and twice I heard the hideous scream of a targo. Should one of these monstrous spiders attack me—well, I tried not to think about that. Instead I tried to occupy my mind with recollections of my earthly friends; I visualized my childhood days in India as I studied under old Chand Kabi, I thought of dear old Jimmy Welsh, and I recalled a bevy of girls I had liked and with some of whom I had almost been serious. These recalled the gorgeous girl in the garden of the jong, and the visions of the others faded into oblivion. Who was she? What strange interdiction had forbidden her to see or to speak with me? She had said that she loathed me, but she had heard me tell her that I loved her. That sounded rather silly now that I gave it thought. How could I love a girl the first instant that I laid eyes upon her, a girl concerning whom I knew absolutely nothing, neither her age nor her name? It was preposterous, yet I knew that it was true. I loved the nameless beauty of the little garden.


Perhaps my preoccupation with these thoughts made me careless; I do not know, but my mind was filled with them when my foot slipped a little after night had fallen. I grasped for support, but the combined weights of myself and the corpse tore my hands loose, and with my dead companion I plunged downward into the darkness. I felt Death’s cold breath upon my cheek.


We did not fall far, being brought up suddenly by something soft that gave to our combined weights, then bounced up again, vibrating like a safety net such as we have all seen used by aerial performers. In the faint but all pervading light of the Amtorian night I could see what I had already guessed—I had fallen into the web of one of Amtor’s ferocious spiders!


I tried to crawl to an edge where I might seize hold of a branch and drag myself free, but each move but entangled me the more. The situation was horrible enough, but a moment later it became infinitely worse, as, glancing about me, I saw at the far edge of the web the huge, repulsive body of a targo.


I drew my sword and hacked at the entangling meshes of the web as the fierce arachnid crept slowly toward me. I recall wondering if a fly entangled in a spider’s web suffered the hopelessness and the mental anguish that seized me as I realized the futility of my puny efforts to escape this lethal trap and the ferocious monster advancing to devour me. But at least I had some advantages that no fly enjoys. I had my sword and a reasoning brain; I was not so entirely helpless as the poor fly.


The targo crept closer and closer. It uttered no sound. I presume that it was satisfied that I could not escape and saw no reason why it should seek to paralyze me with fright. From a distance of about ten feet it charged, moving with incredible swiftness upon its eight hairy legs. I met it with the point of my sword.


There was no skill in my thrust; it was just pure luck that my point penetrated the creature’s tiny brain. When it collapsed lifeless beside me, I could scarcely believe the testimony of my eyes. I was saved!


Instantly I fell to work severing the strands of tarel that enmeshed me, and in four or five minutes I was free and had lowered myself to a branch below. My heart was still pounding rapidly and I was weak from exhaustion. For a quarter of an hour I remained resting; then I continued the seemingly endless descent out of this hideous forest.


What other dangers confronted me I could not guess. I knew that there were other creatures in this gigantic wood; those powerful webs, capable of sustaining the weight of an ox, had not been built for man alone. During the preceding day I had caught occasional glimpses of huge birds, which might themselves, if carnivorous, prove as deadly menaces as the targo; but it was not them that I feared now, but the nocturnal prowlers that haunt every forest by night.


Down and down I descended, feeling that each next moment must witness the final collapse of my endurance. The encounter with the targo had taken terrific toll of my great strength, already sapped by the arduous experiences of the day, yet I could not stop, I dared not. Yet how much longer could I drive exhausted nature on toward the brink of utter collapse?


I had about reached the end of my endurance when my feet struck solid ground. At first I could not believe the truth, but glancing down and about me I saw that I had indeed reached the floor of the forest; after a month on Venus I had at last placed foot upon her surface. I could see little or nothing—just the enormous boles of great trees in whatever direction I looked. Beneath my feet lay a thick matting of fallen leaves, turned white in death.


I cut the cords that bound the corpse of Kamlot to my back and lowered my poor comrade to the ground; then I threw myself down beside him and was asleep almost immediately.


When I awoke, it was daylight again. I looked about me, but could see nothing but the counterpane of whitened leaves spread between the boles of trees of such gargantuan girth that I almost hesitate to suggest the size of some of them, lest I discredit the veracity of this entire story of my experiences on Venus. But indeed they must needs be huge to support their extraordinary height, for many of them towered over six thousand feet above the surface of the ground, their lofty pinnacles enshrouded forever in the eternal fog of the inner cloud envelope.


To suggest an idea of the size of some of these monsters of the forest, I may say that I walked around the bole of one, counting over a thousand paces in the circuit, which gives, roughly, a diameter of a thousand feet, and there were many such. A tree ten feet in diameter appeared a frail and slender sapling—and there can be no vegetation upon Venus!


What little knowledge of physics I had and a very slight acquaintance with botany argued that trees of such height could not exist, but there must be some special, adaptive forces operating on Venus that permit the seemingly impossible. I have attempted to figure it out in terms of earthly conditions, and I have arrived at some conclusions that suggest possible explanations for the phenomenon. If vertical osmosis is affected by gravity, then the lesser gravity of Venus would favor the growth of taller trees, and the fact that their tops are forever in the clouds would permit them to build up an ample supply of carbohydrates from the abundant water vapor, provided there was the requisite amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus to promote this photosynthetic process.


I must admit, however, that at the time I was not greatly interested in these intriguing speculations; I had to think about myself and poor Kamlot. What was I to do with the corpse of my friend? I had done my best to return him to his people, and failed. I doubted now that I could ever find his people. There remained but a single alternative; I must bury him.


This decided, I started to scrape away the leaves beside him, that I might reach the ground beneath and dig a grave. There were about a foot of leaves and leaf mold and below that a soft, rich soil which I loosened easily with the point of my spear and scooped out with my hands. It did not take me long to excavate a nice grave; it was six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet deep. I gathered some freshly fallen leaves and carpeted its bottom with them, and then I gathered some more to place around and over Kamlot after I had lowered him to his final resting place.


While I worked I tried to recall the service for the dead; I wanted Kamlot to have as decent and orderly a burial as I could contrive. I wondered what God would think about it, but I had no doubt but that he would receive this first Amtorian soul to be launched into the unknown with a Christian burial and welcome him with open arms.


As I stooped and put my arms about the corpse to lower it into the grave, I was astounded to discover that it was quite warm. This put an entirely new aspect on the matter. A man dead for eighteen hours should be cold. Could it be that Kamlot was not dead? I pressed an ear to his chest; faintly I heard the beating of his heart. Never before had I experienced such an access of relief and joy. I felt as one reborn to new youth, to new hopes, to new aspirations. I had not realized until that instant the depth of my loneliness.


But why was Kamlot not dead? and how was I to resuscitate him? I felt that I should understand the former before I attempted the latter. I examined the wound again. There were two deep gashes on his chest just below the presternum. They had bled but little, and they were discolored, as I now noticed, by a greenish tint. It was this, meaningless though it may be, that suggested an explanation of Kamlot’s condition. Something about that greenish tint suggested poison to my mind, and at once I recalled that there were varieties of spiders that paralyzed their victims by injecting a poison into them that preserved them in a state of suspended animation until they were ready to devour them. The targo had paralyzed Kamlot!


My first thought was to stimulate circulation and respiration, and to this end I alternately massaged his body and applied the first aid measures adapted to the resuscitation of the drowned. Which of these accomplished the result I do not know (perhaps each helped a little), but at any rate I was rewarded after a long period of effort with evidences of returning animation. Kamlot sighed and his eyelids fluttered. After another considerable period, during which I nearly exhausted myself, he opened his eyes and looked at me.


At first his gaze was expressionless and I thought that perhaps his mind had been affected by the poison; then a puzzled, questioning look entered his eyes and eventually recognition. I was witnessing a resurrection.


“What happened?” he asked in a whisper, and then, “Oh, yes, I recall; the targo got me.” He sat up, with my assistance, and looked around. “Where are we?” he demanded.


“On the ground,” I replied, “but where on the ground I do not know.”


“You saved me from the targo,” he said. “Did you kill it? But you must have, or you never could have gotten me away from it. Tell me about it.”


Briefly, I told him. “I tried to get you back to the city, but I became lost and missed it. I have no idea where it lies.”


“What is this?” he asked, glancing at the excavation beside him.


“Your grave,” I replied. “I thought that you were dead.”


“And you carried a corpse half a day and half a night! But why?”


“I do not know all the customs of your people,” I replied; “but your family has been kind to me, and the least that I could do was to bring your body back to them, nor could I leave a friend up there to be devoured by birds and beasts.”


“I shall not forget,” he said quietly. He tried to rise then, but I had to assist him. “I shall be all right presently,” he assured me, “after I have exercised a little. The effects of the targo’s poison wear off in about twenty-four hours even without treatment. What you have done for me has helped to dissipate them sooner, and a little exercise will quickly eradicate the last vestiges of them.” He stood looking about as though in an effort to orient himself, and as he did so his eyes fell upon his weapons, which I had intended burying with him and which lay on the ground beside the grave. “You even brought these!” he exclaimed. “You are a jong among friends!”


After he had buckled his sword belt about his hips, he picked up his spear, and together we walked through the forest, searching for some sign that would indicate that we had reached a point beneath the city, Kamlot having explained that trees along the important trails leading to the location of the city were marked in an inconspicuous and secret manner, as were certain trees leading upward to the hanging city.


“We come to the surface of Amtor but seldom,” he said, “though occasionally trading parties descend and go to the coast to meet vessels from the few nations with which we carry on a surreptitious commerce. The curse of Thorism has spread far, however, and there are few nations of which we have knowledge that are not subject to its cruel and selfish domination. Once in a while we descend to hunt the basto for its hide and flesh.”


“What is a basto?” I inquired.


“It is a large, omnivorous animal with powerful jaws armed with four great fangs in addition to its other teeth. On its head grow two heavy horns. At the shoulder it is as tall as a tall man. I have killed them that weighed thirty-six hundred tob.”


A tob is the Amtorian unit of weight, and is the equivalent of one third of an English pound; all weights are computed in tobs or decimals thereof, as they use the decimal system exclusively in their tables of weights and measures. It seems to me much more practical than the confusing earthly collection of grains, grams, ounces, pounds, tons, and the other designations in common use among the various nations of our planet.


From Kamlot’s description I visualized the basto as an enormous boar with horns, or a buffalo with the jaws and teeth of a carnivore, and judged that its twelve hundred pounds of weight would render it a most formidable beast. I asked him with what weapons they hunted the animal.


“Some prefer arrows, others spears,” he explained, “and it is always handy to have a low branched tree near by,” he added with a grin.


“They are bellicose?” I asked.


“Very. When a basto appears upon the scene, man is as often the hunted as the hunter, but we are not hunting bastos now. What I should most like to find is a sign that would tell me where we are.”


We moved on through the forest, searching for the tiny road signs of the Vepajans, which Kamlot had described to me as well as explaining the location in which they are always placed. The sign consists of a long, sharp nail with a flat head bearing a number in relief. These nails are driven into trees at a uniform height from the ground. They are difficult to find, but it is necessary to have them so, lest the enemies of the Vepajans find and remove them, or utilize them in their search for the cities of the latter.</p>



<p>The method of the application of these signs to the requirements of the Vepajans is clever. They would really be of little value to any but a Vepajan as guide posts, yet each nail tells a remarkable story to the initiated; briefly it tells him precisely where he is on the island that comprises the kingdom of Mintep, the jong. Each nail is placed in position by a surveying party and its exact location is indicated on a map of the island, together with the number on the head of the nail. Before a Vepajan is permitted to descend to the ground alone, or to lead others there, he must memorize the location of every sign nail in Vepaja. Kamlot had done so. He told me that if we could find but a single nail he would immediately know the direction of and distance to those on either side of it, our exact position upon the island, and the location of the city; but he admitted that we might wander a long time before we discovered a single nail.


The forest was monotonously changeless. There were trees of several species, some with branches that trailed the ground, others bare of branches for hundreds of feet from their bases. There were boles as smooth as glass and as straight as a ship’s mast, without a single branch as far up as the eye could see. Kamlot told me that the foliage of these grew in a single enormous tuft far up among the clouds.


I asked him if he had ever been up there, and he said he had climbed, he believed, to the top of the tallest tree, but that he had nearly frozen to death in the attempt. “We get our water supply from these trees,” he remarked. “They drink in the water vapor among the clouds and carry it down to their roots. They are unlike any other tree. A central, porous core carries the water from the clouds to the roots, from whence it rises again in the form of sap that carries the tree’s food upward from the ground. By tapping one of these trees anywhere you may obtain a copious supply of clear, cool water—a fortunate provision of—”


“Something is coming, Kamlot,” I interrupted. “Do you hear it?”


He listened intently for a moment. “Yes,” he replied. “We had better take to a tree, at least until we see what it is.”</p>



<p>As he climbed into the branches of a near-by tree, I followed him; and there we waited. Distinctly I could hear something moving through the forest as it approached us. The soft carpet of leaves beneath its feet gave forth but little sound—just a rustling of the dry leaves. Nearer and nearer it came, apparently moving leisurely; then, suddenly, its great head came into view from behind the bole of a tree a short distance from us.


“A basto,” whispered Kamlot, but from his previous description of the beast I had already guessed its identity.


It looked like a basto, only more so. From the eyes up its head resembled that of an American bison, with the same short, powerful horns. Its poll and forehead were covered with thick, curly hair, its eyes were small and red-rimmed. Its hide was blue and of about the same texture as that of an elephant, with sparsely growing hairs except upon the head and at the tip of the tail. It stood highest at the shoulders and sloped rapidly to its rump. Its front legs were short and stocky and ended in broad, three-toed feet; its hind legs were longer and the hind feet smaller, a difference necessitated by the fact that the forelegs and feet carried fully three quarters of the beast’s weight. Its muzzle was similar to that of a boar, except that it was broader, and carried heavy, curved tusks.


“Here comes our next meal,” remarked Kamlot in an ordinary tone of voice. The basto stopped and looked about as he heard my companion’s voice. “They are mighty good eating,” added Kamlot, “and we have not eaten for a long while. There is nothing like a basto steak grilled over a wood fire.”


My mouth commenced to water. “Come on,” I said, and started to climb down from the tree, my spear ready in my hand.


“Come back!” called Kamlot. “You don’t know what you are doing.”</p>



<p>The basto had located us and was advancing, uttering a sound that would have put to shame the best efforts of a full-grown lion. I do not know whether to describe it as a bellow or a roar. It started with a series of grunts and then rose in volume until it shook the ground.


“He seems to be angry,” I remarked; “but if we are going to eat him we must kill him first, and how are we to kill him if we remain in the tree?”


“I am not going to remain in the tree,” replied Kamlot, “but you are. You know nothing about hunting these beasts, and you would probably not only get yourself killed but me into the bargain. You stay where you are. I will attend to the basto.”


This plan did not suit me at all, but I was forced to admit Kamlot’s superior knowledge of things Amtorian and his greater experience and defer to his wishes; but nevertheless I held myself ready to go to his assistance should occasion require.


To my surprise, he dropped his spear to the ground and carried in its stead a slender leafy branch which he cut from the tree before descending to engage the bellowing basto. He did not come down to the floor of the forest directly in front of the beast, but made his way part way around the tree before descending, after asking me to keep the basto’s attention diverted, which I did by shouting and shaking a branch of the tree.


Presently, to my horror, I saw Kamlot out in the open a dozen paces in rear of the animal, armed only with his sword and the leafy branch which he carried in his left hand. His spear lay on the ground not far from the enraged beast and his position appeared utterly hopeless should the basto discover him before he could reach the safety of another tree. Realizing this, I redoubled my efforts to engage the creature’s attention, until Kamlot shouted to me to desist.</p>




<p>I thought that he must have gone crazy and should not have heeded him had not his voice attracted the attention of the basto and frustrated any attempt that I might have made to keep the beast’s eyes upon me. The instant that Kamlot called to me the great head turned ponderously in his direction and the savage eyes discovered him. The creature wheeled and stood for a moment eyeing the rash but puny man-thing; then it trotted toward him.


I waited no longer but dropped to the ground with the intention of attacking the thing from the rear. What happened thereafter happened so quickly that it was over almost in the time it takes to tell it. As I started in pursuit, I saw the mighty basto lower its head and charge straight for my companion, who stood there motionless with his puny sword and the leafy branch grasped one in either hand. Suddenly, at the very instant that I thought the creature was about to impale him on those mighty horns, he waved the leaf covered branch in its face and leaped lightly to one side, simultaneously driving the keen point of his blade downward from a point in front of the left shoulder until the steel was buried to the hilt in the great carcass.


The basto stopped, its four legs spread wide; for an instant it swayed, and then it crashed to the ground at the feet of Kamlot. A shout of admiration was on my lips when I chanced to glance upward. What attracted my attention I do not know, perhaps the warning of that inaudible voice which we sometimes call a sixth sense. What I saw drove the basto and the feat of Kamlot from my thoughts.


“My God!” I cried in English, and then in Amtorian, “Look, Kamlot! What are those?”


VIII

ON BOARD THE SOFAL


Hovering just above us, I saw what at first appeared to be five enormous birds; but which I soon recognized, despite my incredulity, as winged men. They were armed with swords and daggers, and each carried a long rope at the end of which dangled a wire noose.</p>




<p>“Voo klangan!” shouted Kamlot. (The bird-men!)


Even as he spoke a couple of wire nooses settled around each of us. We struggled to free ourselves, striking at the snares with our swords, but our blades made no impression upon the wires, and the ropes to which they were attached were beyond our reach. As we battled futilely to disengage ourselves, the klangan settled to the ground, each pair upon opposite sides of the victim they had snared. Thus they held us so that we were helpless, as two cowboys hold a roped steer, while the fifth angan approached us with drawn sword and disarmed us. (Perhaps I should explain that angan is singular, klangan plural, plurals of Amtorian words being formed by prefixing kloo to words commencing with a consonant and kl to those commencing with a vowel.)


Our capture had been accomplished so quickly and so deftly that it was over, with little or no effort on the part of the birdmen, before I had had time to recover from the astonishment that their weird appearance induced. I now recalled having heard Danus speak of <i>voo klanagan</i> upon one or two occasions, but I had thought that he referred to poultry breeders or something of that sort. How little could I have dreamed of the reality!


“I guess we are in for it,” remarked Kamlot gloomily.


“What will they do with us?” I inquired.


“Ask them,” he replied.


“Who are you?” demanded one of our captors.


For some reason I was astonished to hear him speak, although I do not know why anything should have astonished me now. “I am a stranger from another world,” I told him. “My friend and I have no quarrel with you. Let us go.”


“You are wasting your breath,” Kamlot advised me.


“Yes, he is wasting his breath,” agreed the angan. “You are Vepajans, and we have orders to bring Vepajans to the ship. You do not look like a Vepajan,” he added, surveying me from head to feet, “but the other does.”</p>



<p>“Anyway, you are not a Thorist, and therefore you must be an enemy,” interjected another.


They removed the nooses from about us and tied ropes around our necks and other ropes about our bodies beneath our arms; then two klangan seized the ropes attached to Kamlot and two more those attached to me, and, spreading their wings, rose into the air, carrying us with them. Our weight was supported by the ropes beneath our arms, but the other ropes were a constant suggestion to us of what might happen if we did not behave ourselves.


As they flew, winding their way among the trees, our bodies were suspended but a few feet above the ground, for the forest lanes were often low ceiled by overhanging branches. The klangan talked a great deal among themselves, shouting to one another and laughing and singing, seemingly well satisfied with themselves and their exploit. Their voices were soft and mellow, and their songs were vaguely reminiscent of Negro spirituals, a similarity which may have been enhanced by the color of their skins, which were very dark.


As Kamlot was carried in front of me, I had an opportunity to observe the physical characteristics of these strange creatures into whose hands we had fallen. They had low, receding foreheads, huge, beaklike noses, and undershot jaws; their eyes were small and close set, their ears flat and slightly pointed. Their chests were large and shaped like those of birds, and their arms were very long, ending in long-fingered, heavy-nailed hands. The lower part of the torso was small, the hips narrow, the legs very short and stocky, ending in three-toed feet equipped with long, curved talons. Feathers grew upon their heads instead of hair. When they were excited, as when they attacked us, these feathers stand erect, but ordinarily they lie flat. They are all alike; commencing near the root they are marked with a band of white, next comes a band of black, then another of white, and the tip is red. Similar feathers also grow at the lower extremity of the torso in front, and there is another, quite large bunch just above the buttocks—a gorgeous tail which they open into a huge pompon when they wish to show off.</p>



<p>Their wings, which consist of a very thin membrane supported on a light framework, are similar in shape to those of a bat and do not appear adequate to the support of the apparent weight of the creatures’ bodies, but I was to learn later that this apparent weight is deceptive, since their bones, like the bones of true birds, are hollow.


The creatures carried us a considerable distance, though how far I do not know. We were in the air fully eight hours; and, where the forest permitted, they flew quite rapidly. They seemed utterly tireless, though Kamlot and I were all but exhausted long before they reached their destination. The ropes beneath our arms cut into our flesh, and this contributed to our exhaustion as did our efforts to relieve the agony by seizing the ropes above us and supporting the weight of our bodies with our hands.


But, as all things must, this hideous journey ended at last Suddenly we broke from the forest and winged out across a magnificent land-locked harbor, and for the first time I looked upon the waters of a Venusan sea. Between two points that formed the harbor’s entrance I could see it stretching away as far as the eye could reach—mysterious, intriguing, provocative. What strange lands and stranger people lay off there beyond the beyond? Would I ever know?


Suddenly now my attention and my thoughts were attracted to something in the left foreground that I had not before noticed; a ship lay at anchor on the quiet waters of the harbor and just beyond it a second ship. Toward one of them our captors were winging. As we approached the nearer and smaller, I saw a craft that differed but little in the lines of its hull from earthly ships. It had a very high bow, its prow was sharp and sloped forward in a scimitarlike curve; the ship was long and narrow of beam. It looked as though it might have been built for speed. But what was its motive power? It had no masts, sails, stacks, nor funnels. Aft were two oval houses—a smaller one resting upon the top of a larger; on top of the upper house was an oval tower surmounted by a small crow’s nest. There were doors and windows in the two houses and the tower. As we came closer, I could see a number of open hatches in the deck and people standing on the walkways that surrounded the tower and the upper house and also upon the main deck. They were watching our approach.</p>



<p>As our captors deposited us upon the deck, we were immediately surrounded by a horde of jabbering men. A man whom I took to be an officer ordered the ropes removed from us, and while this was being done he questioned the klangan who had brought us.


All the men that I saw were similar in color and physique to the Vepajans, but their countenances were heavy and unintelligent; very few of them were good-looking, and only one or two might have been called handsome. I saw evidences of age among them and of disease—the first I had seen on Amtor.


After the ropes had been removed, the officer ordered us to follow him, after detailing four villainous-looking fellows to guard us, and conducted us aft and up to the tower that surmounted the smaller house. Here he left us outside the tower, which he entered.


The four men guarding us eyed us with surly disfavor. “Vepajans, eh!” sneered one. “Think you’re better than ordinary men, don’t you? But you’ll find out you ain’t, not in The Free Land of Thora; there everybody’s equal. I don’t see no good in bringing your kind into the country anyway. If I had my way you’d get a dose of this,” and he tapped a weapon that hung in a holster at his belt.


The weapon, or the grip of it, suggested a pistol of some kind, and I supposed that it was one of those curious firearms discharging deadly rays, that Kamlot had described to me. I was about to ask the fellow to let me see it when the officer emerged from the tower and ordered the guard to bring us in.


We were escorted into a room in which sat a scowling man with a most unprepossessing countenance. There was a sneer on his face as he appraised us, the sneer of the inferior man for his superior, that tries to hide but only reveals the inferiority complex that prompts it. I knew that I was not going to like him.</p>



<p>“Two more klooganfal!” he exclaimed. (A ganfal is a criminal.) “Two more of the beasts that tried to grind down the workers; but you didn’t succeed, did you? Now we are the masters. You’ll find that out even before we reach Thora. Is either of you a doctor?”


Kamlot shook his head. “Not I,” he said.


The fellow, whom I took to be the captain of the ship, eyed me closely. “You are no Vepajan,” he said. “What are you, anyway? No one ever saw a man with yellow hair and blue eyes before.”


“As far as you are concerned,” I replied, “I am a Vepajan. I have never been in any other country in Amtor.”


“What do you mean by saying as far as I am concerned?” he demanded.


“Because it doesn’t make any difference what you think about it,” I snapped. I did not like the fellow, and when I do not like people I have difficulty in hiding the fact. In this case I did not try to hide it.


He flushed and half rose from his chair. “It doesn’t, eh?” he cried.


“Sit down,” I advised him. “You’re here under orders to bring back Vepajans. Nobody cares what you think about them, but you’ll get into trouble if you don’t bring them back.”


Diplomacy would have curbed my tongue, but I am not particularly diplomatic, especially when I am angry, and now I was both angry and disgusted, for there had been something in the attitude of all these people toward us that bespoke ignorant prejudice and bitterness. Furthermore, I surmised from scraps of information I had picked up from Danus, as well as from the remarks of the sailor who had announced that he would like to kill us, that I was not far wrong in my assumption that the officer I had thus addressed would be exceeding his authority if he harmed us. However, I realized that I was taking chances, and awaited with interest the effect of my words.</p>




<p>The fellow took them like a whipped cur and subsided after a single weakly blustering, “We’ll see about that.” He turned to a book that lay open before him. “What is your name?” he asked, nodding in Kamlot’s direction. Even his nod was obnoxious.


“Kamlot of Zar,” replied my companion.


“What is your profession?”


“Hunter and wood carver.”


“You are a Vepajan?”


“Yes.”


“From what city of Vepaja?”


“From Kooaad,” replied Kamlot.


“And you?” demanded the officer, addressing me.


“I am Carson of Napier,” I replied, using the Amtorian form; “I am a Vepajan from Kooaad.”


“What is your profession?”


“I am an <i>aviator</i>,” I replied, using the English word and English pronunciation.


“A what?” he demanded. “I never heard of such a thing.” He tried to write the word in his book and then he tried to pronounce it, but he could do neither, as the Amtorians have no equivalents for many of our vowel sounds and seem unable even to pronounce them. Had I written the word for him in Amtorian he would have pronounced it ah-vy-ah-tore, as they cannot form the long <i>a</i> and short <i>o</i> sounds, and their <i>i</i> is always long.


Finally, to cover his ignorance, he wrote something in his book, but what it was I did not know; then he looked up at me again. “Are you a doctor?”


“Yes,” I replied, and as the officer made the notation in his book, I glanced at Kamlot out of the corner of an eye and winked.


“Take them away,” the man now directed, “and be careful of this one,” he added, indicating me; “he is a doctor.”</p>




<p>We were taken to the main deck and led forward to the accompaniment of jeers and jibes from the sailors congregated on the deck. I saw the klangan strutting around, their tail feathers erect. When they saw us, they pointed at Kamlot, and I heard them telling some of the sailors that he was the one who had slain the basto with a single sword thrust, a feat which appeared to force their admiration, as well it might have.


We were escorted to an open hatch and ordered below into a dark, poorly ventilated hole, where we found several other prisoners. Some of them were Thorans undergoing punishment for infractions of discipline; others were Vepajan captives like ourselves, and among the latter was one who recognized Kamlot and hailed him as we descended into their midst.


“Jodades, Kamlot!” he cried, voicing the Amtorian greeting “luck-to-you.”


“Ra jodades,” replied Kamlot; “what ill fortune brings Honan here?”


“‘Ill fortune’ does not describe it,” replied Honan; “catastrophe would be a better word. The klangan were seeking women as well as men; they saw Duare” (pronounced Doo-ah-ree) “and pursued her; as I sought to protect her they captured me.”


“Your sacrifice was not in vain,” said Kamlot; “had you died in the performance of such a duty it would not have been in vain.”


“But it was in vain; that is the catastrophe.”


“What do you mean?” demanded Kamlot.


“I mean that they got her,” replied Honan dejectedly.


“They captured Duare!” exclaimed Kamlot in tones of horror. “By the life of the jong, it cannot be.”


“I wish it were not,” said Honan.


“Where is she? on this ship?” demanded Kamlot.


“No; they took her to the other, the larger one.”


Kamlot appeared crushed, and I could only attribute his dejection to the hopelessness of a lover who has irretrievably lost his beloved. Our association had not been either sufficiently close nor long to promote confidences, and so I was not surprised that I had never heard him mention the girl, Duare, and, naturally, under the circumstances, I could not question him concerning her. I therefore respected his grief and his silence, and left him to his own sad thoughts.</p>



<p>Shortly after dawn the following morning the ship got under way. I wished that I might have been on deck to view the fascinating sights of this strange world, and my precarious situation as a prisoner of the hated Thorists engendered less regret than the fact that I, the first earth man to sail the seas of Venus, was doomed to be cooped up in a stuffy hole below deck where I could see nothing. But if I had feared being kept below for the duration of the voyage, I was soon disillusioned, for shortly after the ship got under way we were all ordered on deck and set to scrubbing and polishing.


As we came up from below, the ship was just passing between the two headlands that formed the entrance to the harbor, in the wake of the larger vessel; and I obtained an excellent view of the adjacent land, the shore that we were leaving, and the wide expanse of ocean stretching away to the horizon.


The headlands were rocky promontories clothed with verdure of delicate hues and supporting comparatively few trees, which were of a smaller variety than the giants upon the mainland. These latter presented a truly awe inspiring spectacle from the open sea to the eyes of an earth man, their mighty boles rearing their weirdly colored foliage straight up for five thousand feet, where they were lost to view among the clouds. But I was not permitted to gaze for long upon the wonders of the scene. I had not been ordered above for the purpose of satisfying the aesthetic longings of my soul.


Kamlot and I were set to cleaning and polishing guns. There were a number of these on either side of the deck, one at the stern, and two on the tower deck. I was surprised when I saw them, for there had been no sign of armament when I came on board the preceding day; but I was not long in discovering the explanation—the guns were mounted on disappearing carriages, and when lowered, a sliding hatch, flush with the deck, concealed them.</p>



<p>The barrels of these pieces were about eight inches in diameter, while the bore was scarcely larger than my little finger; the sights were ingenious and complicated, but there was no breech block in evidence nor any opening into a breech, unless there was one hidden beneath a hoop that encircled the breech, to which it was heavily bolted. The only thing that I could discover that might have been a firing device projected from the rear of the breech and resembled the rotating crank that is used to revolve the breech block in some types of earthly guns.


The barrels of the guns were about fifteen feet long and of the same diameter from breech to muzzle. When in action they can be extended beyond the rail of the ship about two thirds of their length, thus affording a wider horizontal range and more deck room, which would be of value on a ship such as that on which I was a captive, which was of narrow beam.


“What do these guns fire?” I asked Kamlot, who was working at my side.


“T-rays,” he replied.


“Do those differ materially from the R-rays you described when you were telling me about the small arms used by the Thorans?”


“The R-ray destroys only animal tissue,” he replied, “while there is nothing that the T-ray may not dissipate. It is a most dangerous ray to work with because even the material of the gun barrel itself is not wholly impervious to it, and the only reason that it can be used at all is that its greatest force is expended along the line of least resistance, which in this case naturally is the bore of the gun. But eventually it destroys the gun itself.”


“How is it fired?” I asked.


He touched the crank at the end of the breech. “By turning this, a shutter is raised that permits radiations from element 93 to impinge on the charge, which consists of element 97, thus releasing the deadly T-ray.”


“Why couldn’t we turn this gun about and rake the ship above deck,” I suggested, “thus wiping out the Thorans and giving us our freedom?”</p>



<p>He pointed to a small, irregular hole in the end of the crank shaft. “Because we haven’t the key that fits this,” he replied.


“Who has the key?”


“The officers have keys to the guns they command,” he replied. “In the captain’s cabin are keys to all the guns, and he carries a master key that will unlock any of them. At least that was the system in the ancient Vepajan navy, and it is doubtless the same today in the Thoran navy.”


“I wish we could get hold of the master key,” I said.


“So do I,” he agreed, “but that is impossible.”


“Nothing is impossible,” I retorted.


He made no answer, and I did not pursue the subject, but I certainly gave it a lot of thought.


As I worked, I noted the easy, noiseless propulsion of the ship and asked Kamlot what drove it. His explanation was long and rather technical; suffice it to say that the very useful element 93 (vik-ro) is here again employed upon a substance called lor, which contains a considerable proportion of the element yor-san (105). The action of vik-ro upon yor-san results in absolute annihilation of the lor, releasing all its energy. When you consider that there is eighteen thousand million times as much energy liberated by the annihilation of a ton of coal than by its combustion you will appreciate the inherent possibilities of this marvellous Venusan scientific discovery. Fuel for the life of the ship could be carried in a pint jar.


I noticed as the day progressed that we cruised parallel to a coast line, after crossing one stretch of ocean where no land was in sight, and thereafter for several days I noted the same fact—land was almost always in sight. This suggested that the land area of Venus might be much greater in proportion to its seas; but I had no opportunity to satisfy my curiosity on that point, and of course I took no stock in the maps that Danus had shown me, since the Amtorians’ conception of the shape of their world precluded the existence of any dependable maps.</p>



<p>Kamlot and I had been separated, he having been detailed to duty in the ship’s galley, which was located in the forward part of the main deck house aft. I struck up a friendship with Honan; but we did not work together, and at night we were usually so tired that we conversed but little before falling asleep on the hard floor of our prison. One night, however, the sorrow of Kamlot having been brought to my mind by my own regretful recollections of the nameless girl of the garden, I asked Honan who Duare was.


“She is the hope of Vepaja,” he replied, “perhaps the hope of a world.”

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