Beyond the Farthest Star


Edgar Rice Burroughs

GURRUL WAS A gross man with a cruel mouth and close-set eyes. He scrutinized us in silence for a full minute, as though he were trying to read our in-most thoughts. He was really fixing in his mind every detail of our appearance, and he would know us again whenever or wherever he saw us and only the cleverest of disguises could deceive him. It is said of him that Gurrul knows a million people thus, but that seems to me like an exaggeration.

He took our credentials and examined them carefully; then he asked for the military secrets I had brought from Orvis, and when I turned them over to him he glanced through them hurriedly, giving no indication of any great interest in them.

“You flew for the enemy?” he demanded of me.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I knew no other country than Unis,” I explained.

“Why did you turn against the country of your birth?” he asked.

“Unis is not the country of my birth.”

“Where were you born?”

“On another planet in another solar system millions of miles from here.”

He scowled at me fiercely and pounded his desk until everything on it danced. “You dare stand there and tell me such a lie, you fool!” he cried; “you, a filthy Unisan, dare insult my intelligence thus. Possibly you have never heard of Gurrul, you idiot. If you had, you would have cut your own throat before you came to him with such a story.”

“Most high,” said Morga Sagra timidly, “I believe that he speaks the truth—everyone in Orvis believes him.”

He wheeled on her angrily. “Who told you to speak?” he snapped.

“Forgive me, most high,” she said. She was trembling all over, and I was afraid that her knees were going to give away beneath her.

Gurrul turned to one of his lieutenants. “Have them searched and then lock them up,” he ordered, and that was the end of our reception in Kapar, where they were going to receive us with open arms and load us with honors.

My gold and jewels were taken from me, and Morga Sagra and I were locked up in a cell in the basement of the Zabo headquarters. Our cell was nothing but an iron cage, and I could see corridor after corridor of them closely packed together, and all of them appeared to have occupants, sometimes six or eight people jammed into a cage scarcely large enough for two.

Most of our fellow prisoners whom I could see sat dejectedly on the stone floor of their cages, their heads bowed upon their chests; but there were others who jibbered and screamed, those whom torture and confinement had driven mad. When the screaming annoyed a guard too much, he would come down to the, cage and turn a hose upon the screaming inmate. From the first hour that we were there, for a solid hour, one of the poor creatures screamed incessantly. One guard after another turned the hose on him, but still he screamed. Finally the head keeper came in, an officer covered with gold braid, medals, and brass buttons. He walked up to the maniac’s cage and deliberately shot him through the heart. He did it as casually as one might swat a fly, and then he walked away without a backward glance.

“You must be very happy,” I said to Morga Sagra.

“What do you mean?” she whispered.

“You are in your beloved Kapara at last, surrounded by your dear friends.”

“Hush,” she cautioned, “someone will hear you.”

“Why should I hush?” I asked. “Don’t you want them to know how fond you are of them?”

“I am fond of them,” she said; “this is all a terrible mistake, but it is your fault—you never should have told that story to Gurrul.”

“You wouldn’t want me to lie to the most high, would you?”

“You must not use that tone of voice when you speak of anyone here,” she whispered; “the first thing you know, you’ll get us both beheaded.”

We were kept in that vile hole for a week, and almost every waking hour we expected to be taken out and destroyed. Morga Sagra was virtually a nervous wreck when, at last, they did come for us.

Sagra was so weak from fright that the guards had to support her as we were led along a corridor. Finally one of them said to her, “You have nothing to fear; you are going to be released.”

At that Sagra collapsed completely and sat down on the stone floor. The guards laughed and picked her up and practically carried her the rest of the way. They were still carrying her when I was hustled off down another corridor.

They took me from the building through a rear doorway and put me into what looked like a big green moving van. It was so filled with humanity that they had to push me in and then slammed the doors on me quickly before I fell out. There was an iron barred window in front, and a guard with a rifle in his hand sat facing it.

As soon as the doors were closed and locked, the truck started off, the human load swaying to and fro, trampling on each others toes and cursing beneath its breath. That was a ride to be long remembered for its discomforts. The heat from the men’s bodies became absolutely oppressive, and the air so foul that one could scarcely breathe.

The vehicle moved at a high rate of speed. How long we were in it, I do not know; but I should imagine about two hours, because it seemed like ten; but at last it stopped and turned around and was backed up to stop again. Then the doors were opened, and we were ordered out.

I saw before me a very large enclosure, surrounded by a high wire fence. There were open sheds along two sides. There were several hundred men in the enclosure, and they were all dressed alike in black clothes with big white numbers across the front and back. I didn’t have to be told that I was in a prison camp.

There was sort of an office by the gate where we were taken from the truck, and here our names were entered in a book and we were given prison uniforms and numbers. Then we were ordered into the enclosure with the other prisoners. They were a filthy, emaciated lot with the most hopeless expressions I have ever seen on human faces. When I had been taken from my cell, I had felt that I was going to be beheaded, but I could conceive that this was infinitely worse.

I had asked the officer who had checked us in why I was being imprisoned and for how long, but he had just told me to shut up and speak only when I was spoken to.

This was a work camp, and when I say work that doesn’t half describe it. We were usually employed on the hardest kind of manual labor for sixteen hours a day. There was one day of rest in every ten; it had been upon one of the rest days that I had arrived. There were both men and women in the camp, and they came from nearly every country of Poloda. We were treated just like animals, the prison clothes they gave us had to last a year; and we only had the one suit in which we worked and slept. Most of the men, and women too, were in nothing but rags. The food that was given us was indescribable. It was thrown into troughs twice a day just as food is given to hogs. Men and women both were insulted, beaten, kicked, often killed. We were not allowed to use names even among ourselves—just our numbers.

Day and night, guards patrolled just outside the wire fence; and if they saw prisoners talking, they yelled at them to stop and sometimes they came inside and beat them. Nevertheless we did talk, for it was hard to stop us after dark; and finally I made a few friends.

There was one who said that he came from Orvis, with whom I became quite friendly, although I knew it was dangerous, as the Kapars planted many spies in these camps. Finally, however, I came to the conclusion that this Tunzo Bor was all right, and so I asked him if he knew a man named Handon Gar.

Immediately he was all suspicion. “No,” he said, “I don’t know anyone by that name. Why do you ask?”

“I have a message for him,” I replied.

“From whom?” he asked.

“From a friend in Orvis.”

“Well, I don’t know any Handon Gar,” he insisted, “and if he is here you may rest assured he is not known by that name.”

“I suppose not,” I said, “but I certainly wish that I could find him, as I should like to deliver my message.”

I was sure that he was lying and that he did know Handon Gar and that it was quite possible that the man might be in this very camp, but I saw that it was useless to pursue the question further as it would only make Tunzo Bor all the more suspicious of me.

We were worked very hard and were underfed. It seemed to me that the Kapars were very stupid; they need labor, yet they treat the men in labor camps so badly that the mortality rate is much higher than necessary. I noticed that the Kapars are always pressed for food, but they are extremely short-sighted to beat men to death for nothing or overwork them so they drop in their tracks, when these same men might be producing more food for them.

The lot of the free workers is a little better, but not much; they are serfs, but they are not locked up in prison camps. However, they are overworked and treated cruelly, although many of them are native Kapars as well as peoples of conquered countries. The soldiers fare much better than the workers, and the members of the Zabo live well, for everyone is afraid of them; even the army officers and those highly placed politically live little better, though they live off the fat of the land, if there is any fat in Kapara.

After a week of hard labor and poor food, I was given an easy job, working in the garden of the officer in charge of the camp. An armed guard always accompanied me and remained with me while I worked. He did not abuse me, nor did any of the guards in the prison compound. I was even given good food occasionally from the officer’s kitchen. I could not understand it, but I was afraid to ask any questions, but finally the guard himself volunteered some information.

“Who are you, anyway?” he demanded.

“I am No. 267M9436,” I replied.

“No,” he said; “I mean what is your name?”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to use any names,” I reminded him.

“If I tell you to, you can,” he said.

“Well, my name is Korvan Don,” I replied.

“Where are you from?”


He shook his head. “I can’t understand it,” he said.

“Understand what?” I asked.

“Why orders have been given that you shall be treated so much better than the other prisoners,” he explained; “and they come straight from Gurrul, too.”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” I replied, but I had an idea that it might be because Gurrul was still investigating me and might be coming to the conclusion that I could be of value to the Kapars. I knew perfectly well that I wasn’t being treated this way because of any humanitarian reasons.

Beyond the Farthest Star - Contents    |     Four

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