“Where are you from?” he asked.
“From California,” I replied.
At that he leaped up and seized the whip. “Don’t lie to me,” he shouted; “you are Pangans.”
I shrugged. “All right; have it your own way,” I said. “What you or any of the rest of your filthy tribe think doesn’t interest me.”
At that he came around the desk, the whip in his hand.
“What you need is a lesson, slave,” he growled.
I looked him straight in the eye. “If you strike me with that, I’ll kill you,” I said; “and if you don’t think I can, just try it.”
The yellow cur backed down. “Who said I was going to strike you?” he said. “I told you I was going to teach you a lesson, and I am—but I haven’t got the time to bother with you two now. Get on into the compound;” and he unlocked a gate in the outer wall, beyond which was a large enclosure crowded with men, nearly all of whom were prisoners taken from the Pangan fleet.
One of the first men I saw was Banat, the Pangan officer who had befriended us. He looked terribly dejected; but when he saw us, he came up and spoke to us.
“I thought you had escaped,” he said.
“We thought so, too,” I replied.
“My men on your ship told me that you had gotten away safely into the hills.”
“We did, but we came down to the 975 again for food, and we were captured by a band of Hangorian herders. How are they treating you here?”
He turned his back toward me, revealing a dozen raw welts. “That is how they treat us,” he said. “They are building an addition to the city, and trying to speed it up with whips.”
“I don’t think I can take it,” I said.
“You had better take it,” he replied. “I saw two men resist yesterday, and they were both shot dead on the spot.”
“That might be the easiest way out,” I said.
“I have thought of that,” he said, “but one clings to life. There is always hope.”
“Maybe Carson can get away with it,” said Ero Shan; “he just got away with murder with the jong and with the fellow called Stalar; and they both backed down.”
“Some of these slave-drivers they have over us won’t back down,” said Banat; “they haven’t the mentality of a nobargan.”
After a while some women entered the compound carrying food to us. it was a filthy mess, in filthy vessels; and not enough to give each man half a meal.
“Who are the women?” I asked Banat.
“They are slaves that have been captured in raids; their fate is even worse than ours.”
“I can imagine so,” I said, thinking of the bestial creatures who passed for men in Hangor.
The next morning we were given another similar meal, and taken out to work; and when I say work, I mean work. We were set to cutting and carrying the lava rock with which they were building the wall around the new part of the city. Twenty-five or thirty slave-drivers with r-ray pistols and whips stood over us; and if they saw a man stop even to wipe the sweat from his face, they struck him.
I was set to cutting rock at some distance from the new wall, but I could see that there were women slaves working there, mixing and laying the mortar in which the rocks were set. After a while Stalar came out among us. He seemed to be looking for someone, and I had a rough idea that he was looking for me. At last he found me.
“How is this slave working?” he asked the slave-driver, who was standing over us.
“All right so far,” said the man; “he is very strong. He can lift rocks easily that any two other slaves have to strain to lift.”
“Watch him,” said Stalar, “and beat him until he screams for mercy if he shirks his work or gives you any trouble; for I can tell you that he is a trouble-maker.” Then he walked away.
“What has Stalar got against you?” asked the guard, after the chief slave-driver was out of hearing.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” I said, “unless it is that he thinks I am a Pangan.”
“Aren’t you?” asked the guard.
“No,” I replied; but I was careful to keep on working diligently all the time, for fear the man was looking for an excuse for whipping me. I had decided that it was foolish to antagonize them up to a point where they would kill me; for there must always be the hope of escape and eventual reunion with Duare if she still lived.
“Stalar’s a mean one,” said the guard.
“Is he?” I asked. “He has never harmed me.”
“Wait,” said the man; “he’ll get you. I can tell by the way he spoke that he has something against you.”
“He wanted you to take it out on me,” I said.
“I guess that’s right,” assented the guard; “but you go on doing your work and I won’t bother you. I don’t get pleasure out of beating the men the way some of the others do.”
“I guess you’re a pretty decent fellow,” I said.
After I had cut a number of building blocks to the correct size, the guard told me to carry them over to the walls. The guard at the walls told me where to put them down, and I deposited them beside a woman slave who was laying mortar. As I did so, she turned and looked at me, and my heart leaped to my mouth—it was Duare.
I was about to speak, but she silenced me with a finger to her lips; and then she whispered out of the corner of her mouth, “They will beat us both if we speak.”
I felt a stinging lash across my back, and turned to face the guard who was overseeing the work at this part of the wall. “What do you mean by loafing around here?” he demanded.
My first impulse was to kill him, and then I thought of Duare. I knew I must suffer anything, for now I must live. I turned and walked away to bring more rock. The fellow struck me again as I was going, the lash wrapping around my body and bringing blood.
When I got back to my rock pile the guard there saw the welts on my body. “Why did you get those?” he asked.
“The guard at the wall said that I was loafing,” I replied.
“Were you?” he asked.
“You know that I do not loaf,” I answered.
“That’s right,” he said; “I’ll go with you the next load you carry.”
I picked up two more of the building stones, which was one more than any of the other slaves could carry, and started back toward the wall, my guard accompanying me.
When I put the rocks down by Duare, I stooped close to her and brushed my arm against her body. “Courage,” I whispered. “I will find a way.”
As I stood up the wall guard came up, swinging his whip.
“Loafing around here again, hey?” he demanded, carrying his whip hand back.
“He was not loafing,” said my guard. “Leave him alone; he belongs to me.”
“I’ll whip any lazy slave I want to,” said the wall guard; “and you, too, as far as that’s concerned;” and he started to lay the lash on my guard. I jumped him then and seized his whip. It was a foolish thing to do, but I was seeing red. I took the whip away from him as easily as though he had been a baby; and when he drew an r-ray pistol I took that from him, too.
Now Stalar came charging up. “What’s going on here?” he demanded.
“This slave just tried to kill me,” said the wall guard; “he should be beaten to death.”
Duare was looking on, her eyes wide with terror—terror for what might be going to happen to me. I must say that I was considerably concerned myself, for my brief experience with these cruel, sadistic guards suggested that Stalar might order the wall guard’s suggestion put into execution. Then my guard intervened.
“If I were you, Stalar,” he said, “I’d do nothing of the sort. This guard was attacking me when the slave came to my rescue. He did nothing more than disarm the man. He offered him no harm.”
I could see that Stalar was furious, but he only said, “Get back to your work, all of you; and see that there is no more of this.” And then his eyes fell upon Duare. “Get to work, slave,” he snapped, and raised his whip to strike her. I stepped between them. “Don’t!” I said. Stalar hesitated. He will never know how near death he was then, but he was yellow all the way through, and he was afraid of me.
“Get to work,” he repeated, and turned on his heel and walked away.
I went back to my rock pile then with my guard. “That was very decent of you,” I said, “and I thank you, but won’t you get into trouble?”
“No,” he said. “Jeft, the jong is my uncle.”
I looked at him in surprise. “I must say,” I blurted carelessly, “you don’t take after your uncle.”
To my relief the guard grinned. “My mother was a Pangan slave woman,” he said. “I think I must take after her. The Pangans are not a cruel people.”
This guard, whose name was Omat, had revealed such a surprisingly sympathetic nature that I felt that I might with safety ask a favor of him, and I was about to broach the matter when he, himself, gave me an opening.
“Why did you risk your life to protect that slave girl from Stalar?” he asked. “It seems to me that you have already stirred up enough trouble for yourself without doing that.”
“She is my mate,” I said. “We were captured by the Falsans and separated. I had no idea what had become of her until I saw her laying mortar at that wall. I wish that I might talk with her.”
He thought this over for a moment and then he said, “Perhaps I can arrange it for you. You are a good worker, and I don’t think you would ever make any trouble if they left you alone. You have done twice the work for me of any other slave, and you have done it without grumbling.”