Beyond the Farthest Star


Edgar Rice Burroughs

HARKAS YEN invited me to remain in his home until some disposition of my case was made. His place is reached by an underground motorway a hundred feet beneath the surface. Throughout the city many buildings were still lower, those more than a hundred feet high having entrances at this hundred-foot level as well as at ground level when they were raised. The smaller buildings were raised and lowered in shafts like our elevator shafts. Above them are thick slabs of armor plate which support the earth and top soil in which grow the trees, shrubbery, and grass which hide them when they are lowered. When these smaller buildings are raised they come in contact with their protecting slabs and carry them on up with them.

After we left the center of the city I noticed many buildings built permanently at the hundred-foot level; and when I asked Harkas Yen about this, he explained that when this underground city had first been planned it was with the expectation that the war would soon be over and that the city could return to normal life at the surface; that when all hope of the war’s end was abandoned, permanent underground construction was commenced.

“You can imagine,” he continued, “the staggering expense involved in building these underground cities. The Janhai of Unis ordered them commenced eighty years ago and they are nowhere near completed yet. Hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Unis live in inadequate shelters, or just in caves or in holes dug in the ground. It is because of this terrific expense that, among other things, we wear these. clothes we do. They are made of an indestructible plastic which resembles metal. No person, not even a member of the Janhai, may possess more than three suits, two for ordinary wear and one suit of working- clothes, for all productivity must go into the construction of our cities and the prosecution of the war. Our efforts cannot be wasted in making clothes to meet every change in style and every silly vanity, as was true a hundred years ago. About the only things we have conserved from the old days, which are not absolutely essential to the winning of the war or the construction of our cities, are cultural. We would not permit art, music, and literature to die.”

“It must be a hard life,” I suggested, “especially for the women. Do you have no entertainment nor recreation?”

“Oh, yes,” he replied, “but they are simple; we do not devote much time to them. Our forebears who lived a hundred years ago would think it a very dull life, for they devoted most of their time to the pursuit of pleasure, which was one of the reasons that the Kapars prosecuted the war so successfully at first, and why almost every nation on Poloda, with the exception of Unis, was either subjugated or exterminated by the Kapars.”

The motorcars of Unis are all identical, each one seating four people comfortably, or six uncomfortably. This standardization has effected a tremendous saving in labor and materials. Power is conducted to their motors by what we would call “radio” from central stations where the sun’s energy is stored. As this source of power is inexhaustible, it has not been necessary to curtail the use of motors because of war needs. This same power is also used for operating the enormous pumps which are necessary for draining this underground world, the mechanism for raising the buildings, and the numerous air-conditioning plants which are necessary.

I was simply appalled by contemplation of the cost of the excavating and constructing of a world beneath the surface of the ground, and when I mentioned this to Harkas Yen he said: “There never has been enough wealth in the world to accomplish what we have accomplished, other than the potential wealth which is inherent in the people themselves. By the brains of our scientists and our leaders, by the unity of our people, and by the sweat of our brows we have done what we have done.”

Harkas Yen’s son and daughter, Don and Yamoda, accompanied us from the Hall of Justice to their home. Yamoda wore the gold sequins and red boots that all unmarried women wear, while Don in the blue of the fighting forces. He and I have hit it off well together, both being flyers; and neither of us ever tire of hearing stories of the other’s world. He has promised to try to get me into the flying service; and Harkas Yen thinks that it may be possible, as there is a constant demand for flyers to replace casualties, of which there are sometimes as many as five hundred thousand in a month.

These figures staggered me when Harkas Don first mentioned them, and I asked him how it was the nation had not long since been exterminated.

“Well, you see,” he said, “they don’t average as high as that. I think the statistics show that we lose on an average of about a hundred thousand men a month. There are sixteen million adult women in Unis and something like ten million babies are born every year. Probably a little better than half of these are boys. At least five million of them grow to maturity, for we are a very healthy race. So, you see, we can afford to lose a million men a year.”

“I shouldn’t think the mothers would like that very well,” I said.

“Nobody does,” he replied, “but it is war; and war is our way of life.”

“In my country,” I said, “we have what are known as pacifists, and they have a song which is called, ‘I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.’”

Harkas Don laughed and then said what might be translated into English as: “If our women had a song, it would be, ‘I didn’t raise my son to be a slacker.’”

Harkas Yen’s wife greeted me most cordially when I returned. She has been very lovely to me and calls me her other boy. She is a sad-faced woman of about sixty, who was married at seventeen and has had twenty children, six girls and fourteen boys. Thirteen of the boys have been killed in the war. Most of the older women of Unis, and the older men, too, have sad faces; but they never complain nor do they ever weep. Harkas Yen’s wife told me that their tears were exhausted two generations ago.

I didn’t get into the flying service, I got into the Labor Corps—and it was labor spelled with all capitals, not just a capital L! I had wondered how they repaired the damage done by the continual bombing of the Kapars and I found out the first day I was inducted into the Corps. Immediately following the departure of the Kapar bombers we scurried out of holes in the ground like worker ants. There were literally thousands of us, and we were accompanied by trucks, motorized shovels, and scrapers, and an ingenious tool for lifting a tree out of the ground with the earth all nicely balled around the roots.

First, we filled the bomb craters, gathering up such plants and trees as might be saved. The trucks brought sod, trees, and plants that had been raised underground; and within a few hours all signs of the raid had been obliterated.

It seemed to me like a waste of energy; but one of my fellow workers explained to me that it had two important purposes—one was to maintain the morale of the Unisans, and the other was to lower the morale of the enemy.

We worked nine days and had one day off, the first day of their ten-day week. When we were not working on the surface we were working below-ground; and as I was an unskilled laborer, I did enough work in my first month in the Labor Corps to last an ordinary man a lifetime. On my third day of rest, which came at the end of my first month in the Labor Corps, Harkas Don, who was also off duty on that day, suggested that we go to the mountains. He and Yamoda got together a party of twelve.

Three of the men were from the Labor Corps, the other three were in the fighting service. One of the girls was the daughter of the Eljanhai, whose office is practically that of the President. Two of the others were daughters of members of the Labor Corps. There was the daughter of a university president, the daughter of an army officer, and Yamoda. The sorrow and suffering of perpetual war has developed a national unity which has wiped out all class distinction.

Orvis stands on a plateau entirely surrounded by mountains, the nearest of which are about a hundred miles from the city; and it was to these mountains that we took an underground train. Here rise the highest peaks in the range that surrounds Orvis; and as the mountains at the east end of the plateau are low and a wide pass breaks the range at the west end, the Kapars usually come and go either from the east or west; so it is considered reasonably safe to take an outing on the surface at this location. I tell you it was good to get out in the sun again without having to work like a donkey! The country there was beautiful; there were mountain streams and there was a little lake beside which we planned to picnic in a grove of trees. They had selected the grove because the trees would hide us from any chance enemy flyers who might pass overhead. For all of the lives of four generations they have had to think of this until it is second nature for them to seek shelter when in the open.

Someone suggested that we swim before we eat.

“I’d like nothing better,” I said, “but I didn’t bring any swimming things.”

“What do you mean?” asked Yamoda.

“Why, I mean clothes to swim in—a swimming-suit.”

That made them all laugh. “You have your swimming-suit on,” said Harkas Don, “you were born in it.”

I had lost most of my tan after living underground for a couple of months; but I was still very dark compared with these white-skinned people who have lived like moles for almost four generations, and my head of black hair contrasted strangely with the copper hair of the girls and the blond hair of the men.

The water was cold and refreshing and we came out with enormous appetites. After we had eaten we lay around on the grass and they sang the songs that they liked.

Time passed rapidly and we were all startled when one of the men stood up and announced that we had better leave for home. He had scarcely finished speaking when we heard the report of a pistol-shot and saw him pitch forward upon his face, dead.

The three soldiers with us were the only ones who bore arms. They ordered us to lie flat on our faces, and then they crept forward in the direction from which the sound of the pistol-shot had come. They disappeared in the underbrush and shortly afterward we heard a fusillade of shots. This was more than I could stand, lying there like a scared rabbit while Harkas Don and his companions were out there fighting; so I crawled after them.

I came up to them on the edge of a little depression in which were perhaps a dozen men behind an out-cropping of rock which gave them excellent protection. Harkas Don and his companions were concealed from the enemy by shrubbery, but not protected by it. Every time an enemy showed any part of his body one of the three would fire. Finally the man behind the extreme right end of the barrier exposed himself for too long; and we were so close that I could see the hole the bullet made in his forehead before he fell back behind the barrier. Beyond the point where he fell thick trees and underbrush concealed the continuation of the outcropping, if there was more, and this gave me an idea which I immediately set to work to put into execution.

I slipped backward a few yards into the under-brush and then crawled cautiously to the right. Taking advantage of this excellent cover, I circled around until I was opposite the left flank of the enemy; then I wormed myself forward on my belly inch by inch until through a tiny opening in theunderbrush I saw the body of the dead man and, beyond it, his companions behind their rocky barrier. They were all dressed in drab, gray uniforms that looked like coveralls, and they wore gray metal helmets that covered their entire heads and the backs of their necks, leaving only their faces exposed. They had crossed shoulder belts and a waist-belt filled with cartridges in clips of about fifteen. Their complexions were sallow and unwholesome; and though I knew that they must be young men, they looked old; and the faces of all of them seemed set in sullen scowls. They were the first Kapars that I had seen, but I recognized them instantly from descriptions that Harkas Don and others had given me.

The pistol of the dead man (it was really a small machine-gun) lay at his side, and there was almost a full clip of cartridges in it. I could see them plainly from where I lay. I pushed forward another inch or two and then one of the Kapars turned and looked in my direction. At first I thought that he had discovered me, but’ l presently saw that he was looking at his dead comrade. Then he turned and spoke to his companions in a language I could not understand; it sounded to me something like the noise that pigs make when they eat. One of them nodded to him, evidently in assent, and he turned and started to walk toward the dead man.

That looked like the end of my little scheme, and I was just about to take a desperate chance and make a lunge for the pistol when the Kapar foolishly permitted his head to show above the top of the barrier, and down he went with a bullet in his head. The other Kapars looked at him and jabbered angrily to one another; and while they were jabbering I took the chance, extended my arm through the underbrush, grasped the pistol and dragged it slowly toward me.

The Kapars were still arguing, or scolding, or whatever they were doing, when I took careful aim at the nearest of them and commenced firing. Four of the ten went down before the others realized from what direction the attack was coming. Two of them started firing at the underbrush where I was hidden, but I brought them down, and then the other four broke and ran. In doing so they were exposed to the fire of Harkas Don and his companions, as well as of mine, and we got every one of them.

I had crawled out from the underbrush in order to take better aim and now I did not dare stand up for fear my friends would get me before they recognized me; so I called Harkas Don by name and presently he answered.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“Tangor,” I replied. “I’m coming out; don’t shoot.”

They came over to me then, and we went in search of the Kapar ship, which we knew must be near by. We found it in a little natural clearing, half a mile back from the place where we had shot them. It was unguarded; so we were sure that we had got them all.

“We are ahead twelve pistols, a lot of ammunition, and one ship,” I said.

“We will take the pistols and ammunition back,” said Harkas Don, “but no one can fly this ship back to Orvis without being killed.”

He found a heavy tool in the ship and demolished the motor.

Our little outing was over; and we went home, carrying our one dead with us.

Beyond the Farthest Star - Contents    |     Five

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