WHEN the sky is not overcast, the Polodan nights are gorgeous in the extreme. There is a constant procession of planets passing across the heavens, following each other in stately procession throughout the night; and thus clear nights are quite well lighted, especially by the nearer planets.
It was on such a clear night, about three weeks after I had been brought to the prison camp, that a fellow prisoner came close to me and whispered, “I am Handon Gar.”
I scrutinized him very closely to see if I could recognize him from the description given me by the Commissioner for War.
This man was terribly emaciated and looked like an old man, but gradually I recognized him. He must have been subjected to the cruellest of treatment during the two years that he had been here.
“Yes,” I said presently, “I recognize you.”
“How can you recognize me?” he demanded, instantly suspicious; “I do not know you, and you never knew me. Who are you, and what do you want?”
“I recognized you from the description given me by the Commissioner for War,” I explained. “I know that you are Handon Gar, and that I can trust you. My name is Tangor; I am known here as Korvan Don. I was sent here on a mission by the Eljanhai and the Commissioner of War,” I continued in a low whisper, “and was instructed to ascertain what your fate had been.”
He smiled sourly. “And now you are in the same boat as I; I’m afraid they’ll never learn what became of either of us.”
“Is Tunzo Bor all right?” I asked.
“Yes, but he suspected you. However, I did too, but I couldn’t see how I could be any worse off if I told you my name. I do not recall ever having heard yours. Where did you live in Unis, and what did you do?”
“I lived in Orvis and was a pilot in the fighting service.”
“It is strange that I never met you,” he said, and I could see that he was becoming suspicious again.
“It is not so strange,” I said; “I am sure that I know only a very few of the thousands of pilots in the service; one could not know them all. Do you know Harkas Don?”
“Yes, indeed, very well,” he replied.
“He is my best friend,” I said.
He was silent for some time, and then he said, “How are Don’s brothers?”
“He hasn’t any,” I replied; “they have all been killed in the war.”
“And his sisters?” he asked.
“He only has one sister,” I replied; “Yamoda. I saw her the night before I left. She had had an accident, but she is all right now.”
“Well,” he said, “if you know these people so intimately, you must be all right. You know we have to be careful here.”
“Yes, I understand,” I replied.
Again he was silent for a few moments, and then he leaned closer to me and whispered, “We are going to make a break in a few days; Tunzo Bor and I and a couple of others. We have it all planned: Do you want to come along?”
“I can’t,” I replied; “I haven’t fulfilled my mission yet.”
“You can’t fulfill it while you’re in a work camp,” he said, “and you’ll never get out. You might just as well make a break with us. If we get back to Orvis, I’ll explain to the Eljanhai that I advised you to escape while there was a chance.”
“No, thanks,” I replied, “I shall get out of here.”
“You seem very sure,” he said, and I noticed that he looked at me peculiarly, and I had a feeling that he already regretted telling me what he had. I was about to try to reassure him, when a guard ordered us to stop talking.
A couple of days later, which was a rest day, a guard called to me to come over to the wire fence, and there I found Morga Sagra awaiting me. It was quite unusual for prisoners to be allowed to have visitors, and I could see that it aroused a great deal of interest and comment in the compound.
“I have been working hard for your release,” she told me in a whisper, “but Gurrul is still unconvinced. If you have heard of anything suspicious here—anything the Zabo would like to know—if you will report it, it will prove that you are all right, and it will be much easier to get you out.”
“I have heard nothing,” I said; “we are not allowed to do much talking, and anyway, everyone here is suspicious of everyone else.”
“Well, keep your ears open, though I think that I’ll soon have you out anyway. The thing that has Gurrul guessing is your appearance; you know, you don’t look much like a native of any Polodan country; andso he is commencing to think that your story of your origin may be true.”
“How are you getting along?” I asked her.
“All right,” she said. “I have a nice apartment, and they are treating me all right, but I am always being watched; however, it is a grand place to live: these are real people; they live for war—a great race, a noble race.”
“And a very hospitable people,” I said.
Her eyes narrowed. “Be careful, Korvan Don,” she said. “You can go too far even with me. Remember that I am a Kapar now.”
I laughed. “You always insist on putting the wrong interpretation on things I say, Sagra.”
“I hope so,” she snapped.
Shortly after she left, Handon Gar approached me. “You’ll get out all right, you damn cur,” he whispered under his breath. “I know that woman, I always thought that she was a traitor. I suppose that you told her all about the plan Tunzo Bor and I have to escape.”
Once again a guard interrupted and made us stop talking before I could explain. But could I explain? I was sorry that he believed as he did; but there was nothing that I could do about it, for I could not tell even him all the details of my mission.
And then, the very next day, his suspicions must have been definitely confirmed, as a messenger came from Gurrul with an order for my immediate release; and to make it appear all the worse, Morga Sagra accompanied the messenger and threw her arms around me.
I was taken by underground railway to Ergos and immediately to Gurrul’s office in the headquarter’s building of the Zabo. He talked to me for about half an hour, asking me many questions concerning the other world and solar system from which I said I came.
“You certainly are no Polodan,” he said, “there never was a human being like you, but I don’t see how you could have been transported from another solar system.”
“Neither do I,” I admitted, “but there are many things in the universe that none of us understand.”
“Well, Morga Sagra has vouched for you, and I am taking her word for it,” he said; then he told me that quarters had been reserved for me, and that he would send a man with me to show me where they were located. “I think I can use you later on,” he said; “so hold yourself in readiness. Do not leave your quarters without leaving word where you are going and never leave the city without my permission”; then he called into the room the man who was to show me to my quarters and dismissed me.
I knew that he was still suspicious of me, but that was not at all surprising as the secret police are always suspicious of everybody and everything. However, when I whispered to him some of the military secrets I had been ordered by the Eljanhai to give him orally, his attitude changed a little; and he was almost amiable as he bid me good-bye.
When I reached my new quarters, the door was opened by a rather nice looking chap in the livery of a servant.
“This is your master, Korvan Don,” said the green-uniformed Zabo agent who accompanied me.
The man bowed. “My name is Lotar Canl, sir,” he said; “I hope that I shall be able to satisfy you.”
Morga Sagra’s apartment was in the same building as mine; and almost immediately we commenced to be invited out and entertained, but I had the feeling that we were being constantly watched. Well, so is everyone in Kapara. The entire nation lives in an atmosphere of intrigue and suspicion. The army fears the Zabo, the Zabo hates the army; everyone fears the five top men of the regime, each of whom fears the others. The head of the nation is called the Pom Da, literally the Great I. The present Pom Da has ruled for ten years. I suppose he had a name once, but it is never used; he is just the Great I, a cruel and cunning monster who has ordered many of his best friends and closest relatives destroyed.
Morga Sagra is a most sagacious girl; she was cut out by nature for intrigue, treason, and espionage. She thinks far ahead and lays her plans accordingly.
Everywhere that she went, she told people that I was from another world. She did this not so much to attract attention to me, but to help convince the Kapars that I had no ties in Unis and no reason to be loyal to that country. She wanted them to understand that I would be no traitor to Kapara, and eventually her plan bore fruit—the Great I sent for me.
Lotar Canl, my man, was evidently greatly impressed when he gave me the message. “You can go very far in Kapara, sir,” he said, “if the Pom Da becomes interested in you; I am very proud to serve you, sir.”
I already knew that I might go far if the Pom Da noticed me, but in what direction I was not certain—the paths of glory sometimes lead but to the grave.