Escape on Venus

Chapter V

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE SLAVES, other than the Myposans, were from various countries—mysterious lands with strange names; lands which lay east and west and north, but none that lay south. That was the terra incognita, the land of terror into which no one ever ventured.

Nearly all of the slaves had been captured after being shipwrecked on the shores of the great lake on which the city of Mypos lay, or on the coast of an ocean which they said lay about ten miles from the city.

Kandar told me that the lake was about five hundred miles long and that Mypos lay close to the lower end of it and Japal at the upper end.

“We of Japal,” he said, “trade with several friendly countries which lie along the coast of the great sea, and we have to pass Mypos on our voyages. Some times we are wrecked and sometimes a ship of Japal is attacked by the Myposans and captured. Most of the wrecks occur where the lake empties into the ocean through a narrow channel. Only at high tide can a ship pass through the channel from the ocean to the lake, for at low tide the waters of the lake rush madly into the ocean; and no ship can make headway against the current. When the tide is high the waters of the ocean flow into the lake, and then a passage can be made.”

Duare and I had a little cubicle to ourselves, and we only hoped that they would leave us together until I could perfect some plan of escape. We slaves were fed twice a day—a stew of something that looked a little like shrimp and which also contained chopped tubers and flour made from the ground seeds of a plant which grows in profusion with little or no cultivation.

Kandar said it might not be very palatable, but that it was nutritious and strength giving. Occasionally meat was added to the stew. “They want us to be strong,” Kandar explained, “so that we can do more work. We build their ships and their houses and row their galleys; till their fields, carry their burdens. No Myposan does any work if he has sufficient slaves.”

The day following our capture Vomer came into the compound with some warriors and selected a number of male slaves, whom he ordered to accompany him. Kandar and I were among them. We were marched down to the water front, where I had my first glimpse of Myposan ships. Some of them were quite large, being over a hundred feet in length. They were equipped with sails as well as oars. The largest, which lay at anchor, sheltered by a rude breakwater, I took to be warships: These were biremes, with large, flat overhanging decks above the upper bank of oars, capable of accommodating hundreds of warriors. There was a small deck house both fore and aft, upon the tops of which were mounted some sort of engine, the purpose of which I could not determine but which I was to learn later greatly to my discomfiture and sorrow.

I asked Kandar if the Myposans had any motor driven ships, but he did not know what I meant. This aroused my curiosity, and further questioning confirmed my suspicion that we had been carried far north of the Equator into what was, to the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere, the terra incognita of Venus, where an entirely different culture prevailed. Everything here was quite different, there being nothing to compare with the advanced civilization of Vepaja, Korva, or Havatoo, the countries with which I was most familiar.

There were signs of old age and disease here among both the Myposans and their prisoners, indicating that they knew nothing of the longevity serum of the south. Their weapons and customs differed widely. Their language, however, was similar, though not identical with that of the southern peoples.

Vomer put us to work loading a barge with rock that was to be used to strengthen the breakwater. He walked among us with a sort of bull whip, flicking first one and then another on bare legs and bodies. The act was purely sadistic, as the best workers received as many lashes as the shirkers. I saw that he had his eyes on me, and that he was slowly working his way toward me. I wondered if he would dare.

At last he came within striking distance of me. “Get to work, slave!” he growled, and swung his whip hand back for a terrific blow.

I dropped the rock I had lifted; and faced him, my hand upon the butt of my pistol. Vomer hesitated, his gills fluttering rapidly—a sign of rage or excitement in these strange creatures, who have no facial muscles with which to register emotion.

The warriors with us, and the other slaves, were watching. Vomer was on a spot, and I wondered what he would do. His reaction was quite typical of the petty tyrant and bully. “Get to work!” he blustered, and turned and struck another slave.

The warriors were staring at him with fishy eyes. One couldn’t tell what they were thinking, but the second-in-command didn’t leave me in doubt long.

“Give me your whip,” he said to Vomer. “If you are afraid to punish the slave, I am not.” The fellow had a most repulsive countenance, looking not at all unlike a sculpin with whiskers. His gills were palpitating, and I could see that he meant business.

“Who said I was afraid?” demanded Vomer.

“I do,” said the warrior.

“I am in command here,” blustered Vomer. “I can punish a slave, or not, as I please. If you are so anxious to punish him, take my whip.”

The fellow seized it, and came toward me.

“Hadn’t you better tell him about this?” I said to Vomer, tapping my pistol.

“What about it?” demanded the warrior.

“It kills,” I said. “It can kill you before you can strike me.”

The fellow’s protruding lips formed an O and he sucked air in noisily through his teeth. It was a Myposan laugh. When angry, they often reverse the operation and blow the air out with a whistling sound. He continued to advance upon me.

“I don’t want to kill you,” I said; “but if you attempt to strike me with that whip, I will.”

My only reason for not wishing to kill him was based upon the certainty of reprisal that might jeopardize Duare’s safety. Otherwise, I should have been glad to kill him and all his kind.

“You’d better use your trident on him,” cautioned another warrior.

“I’ve whipped slaves to death before,” boasted the fellow, “and I can whip this one to death;” then he rushed at me with upraised whip.

I whipped out my pistol, the r-ray pistol that destroys flesh and bone; and let him have it. There was no smoke, nothing visible; just a sharp, staccato buzz; then there was a great hole in the center of the fellow’s face; and he sprawled forward, dead.

All about me the slaves stood, wide eyed and terrified; and the gills of the fish-men opened and closed rapidly. The warrior who had advised the dead man to use his trident, raised his weapon to hurl it at me; and he went down too, with a hole in his heart.

I swung around then, so that I was facing them all. They looked at Vomer, as though awaiting orders. He hesitated. I let the muzzle of my pistol swing in his direction.

“Get to work, slaves,” he said, “we have wasted enough time.” Both his voice and his knees shook.

Kandar was working beside me. “One of us must always keep an eye on him,” he said; “otherwise he’ll get you when your back is turned. I’ll help you watch.”

I thanked him. I felt that I had a friend.

Escape on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter VI

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