Escape on Venus

Chapter X

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS we three talked, the major domo came sinuously toward us, more shark-like than ever. “You stand here and talk, slaves,” he accused, “when you should be watching for guypals. For this you should be beaten.. Separate! Patrol the pool. If a child is harmed you all die—most unpleasantly.”

So we fell to walking around the pool with the other two guards, and some of us were always looking up at the sky; though for what, I hadn’t the remotest idea.

After the major domo left the patio, I fell in beside Kandar. “What are guypals?” I asked.

“They are large birds of prey,” he said— “really very dangerous. If it were not for the guards they would come down and carry off the children. As it is, guards or no guards, you never can tell when they will come. If they do, some of us may be killed. They are terrific fighters and absolutely without fear.”

It seemed to me a lot of foolishness, guarding children against birds, when there weren’t any children nor any birds. At least I hadn’t seen any. It would have been much more sensible, I thought, to let us sit down and rest until the children came out into the patio.

As guypals don’t fly at night, we were dismissed as soon as it got dark, and taken to the slaves’ compound, where we were fed a nasty mess and herded into a shed to sleep on filthy grass mats. Yron’s slaves evidently didn’t fare any too well.

I wondered about Duare. Was she being well treated? Was she safe? Would I ever see her again? I fell into a fitful sleep worrying about her.

At dawn the next day, after a vile breakfast, we were taken to the patio again and told to look out for guypals and guard the children. “If the guypals are as dangerous as you say,” I remarked to Kandar, “why do they give us wooden tridents? What can we do with a piece of wood against such fierce birds?”

“All we can do is the best we can,” he said. “They are afraid to arm us with metal tridents—we might turn on them. You know, these Myposans are at heart arrant cowards.”

“Well, I hope I see a guypal today,” I said— “anything to break the monotony. I’d even like to see one of their children —it might attract a guypal or two. Where do they keep these children of theirs, anyway?”

Kandar laughed and pointed into the pool. “There,” he said. “There are the children.”

I looked into the pool, but saw nothing but the few strange looking fishes I had occasionally seen the previous day. “I see nothing in there,” I said, “but a few weird looking fishes.”

“Those are the children,” said Kandar.

I looked at him in surprise for a moment, until I got the idea.

“I see,” I said. “We have people like that in my own world; being childless, they lavish their affection on dogs and cats. These people have adopted fishes.”

Kandar shook his head. “You are quite wrong on both scores,” he said. “In the first place these people have no affection to lavish on anything; and, in the second, these are their children,” and he pointed to the fishes swimming playfully about the pool.

“You are very amusing,” I said.

“I didn’t intend being. I am really quite serious. You see, these fishlike creatures are really the children of Yron and his mate.”

“It is incredible,” I said.

“But a fact. Human beings, such as we, bring forth young that somewhat resemble themselves. Many of the beasts do likewise. Some creatures lay eggs in which the embryo develops. The Myposan females bring fish into the world—fish that eventually develop into Myposans.

“If you look closely you will see that the largest of these creatures is already developing hands and feet. Later it will slough its tail; then it will become an amphibian and crawl out on land. Slowly its head and face will change, becoming more human; it will walk erect, and it will become a Myposan; but it will still have gills as well as lungs and be partially amphibious.”

I looked closely at one of the darting fishes, and plainly saw rudimentary hands and feet. Somehow it seemed shockingly obscene.

“I owe you an apology,” I said to Kandar, “but I really thought that you were joking. So these are the ‘children’ we are guarding! The little darlings. Papa seems quite solicitous about their safety, but he and Mamma don’t pay much attention to them otherwise.”

“The Myposans are absolutely devoid of affection. They have no word for love. Their protective instinct is strong, however—a purely biological reaction against racial extinction. They will protect these little monstrosities with their lives.”

“These are very young, I suppose,” I said.

“They are more than a year old. The females come into their pools to spawn once a year, and give birth to thousands of tiny fishlike creatures—some say as many as a million. These almost immediately find their way out into the lake through the subterranean channels which connect all these pools with the Lake of Japal. Where they go is not definitely known; but probably out into the ocean, where those that survive remain for a year, of course most of them are devoured by the larger denizens of the sea. In the case of Yron’s mate only three survived from last year’s spawning.”

“These may not even be hers,” I suggested.

“Oh, yes they are,” Kandar assured me. “Some instinct always guides the little rascals back to the pool in which they were spawned.”

“I don’t see how anyone can tell,” I demurred.

“Instinct again,” said Kandar. “These creatures are endowed with a congenital antipathy for similar creatures devoid of identical genes. If one of another spawning should blunder into this pool in search of his own, these creatures would set upon it and either drive it out or kill it.

“The parents, especially the females, have the same instinctive power of recognition of their own. Myposan slaves have told me that it is not uncommon for none of a female’s own spawning to return, all having been devoured at sea. If, in such a case, the young of another female blunders into her pool, she immediately recognizes that it is not hers and destroys it.”

“I presume that is a provision of Nature to prevent inbreeding,” I suggested.

“On the contrary it is a provision of Nature to insure inbreeding,” said Kandar. “The Myposans never mate with offspring outside their own families. After you have been here a little longer, you will be struck by the startling family resemblances and characteristics. You still see that Yron and his mate look and act alike; and if you ever witness a gathering of the clan, you will be struck by the remarkable resemblances.”

I was about to ask some further question; what, I do not now recall, when I heard a shrill scream from overhead and the whir of wings.

“The guypals!” cried Artol.

Escape on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter XI

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