Escape on Venus

Chapter XXXI

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE PROPELLER was the one that Kandar had made and fitted to the engine while I was a prisoner in Brokol. Evidently, he hadn’t fitted it properly.

“I think you are going to get your wish, Duare,” I said. “We haven’t enough elevation to clear the city; so I guess I’ll have to bring her down in that plaza.”

As I spiralled to a landing, the people fled from the plaza giving me plenty of room; but the moment the anotar came to a stop, they swarmed out again forming a circle about it. They danced around the anotar, singing and laughing. Others, behind them, had gathered handfuls of flowers with which they showered us. The songs they sang were songs of welcome. Such a reception of strangers in an Amtorian city was without parallel in my experience; it was remarkable; it was amazing. And it certainly reassured us.

Presently three of them approached us; and the dancing and singing stopped, as the others gathered around to listen. All were smiling. Somehow they reminded me of the acrobats I used to see on the old vaudeville circuits, with their set smiles—mugging, I think it was called.

One of the three bowed and said, “Welcome to Voo-ad, if you come in peace.” Voo-ad means First City.

“We landed because of an accident to our anotar,” I replied; “but we come in peace and we are appreciative of your friendly reception. “

“My name is Ata-voo-med-ro,” he said. I say ‘he’ because I couldn’t tell whether the speaker was a man or a woman. Like all the others, he looked like both or neither; and as ata-voo-med-ro means A-One million three it gave me no clew to the speaker’s sex.

“My mate is Duare of Vepaja,” I replied, “and I am Carson of Venus.”

“You are both very welcome here,” he said, “and I hope that you will descend from that strange creature which flies through the air like a bird and come with me to pay your respects to Vik-vik-vik, our jong.”

Just then I saw one of the people pick up my propeller and run off with it. I called Ata-voo-med-ro’s attention to this, and asked him to have the prop brought back to me. It had fallen into a bed of flowers; so I hoped it had not been greatly injured.

“You shall have it when you need it,” he assure me.

Duare and I climbed down from the anotar, and accompanied Ata-voo-med-ro and his two companions across the plaza toward one of the larger buildings which face it. A large crowd followed us to the door of this building, which proved to be the jong’s palace.

There were neither old people nor children in the crowd, and they all looked more or less alike—plump and rather soft looking. Although they wore weapons—a sword and dagger—they did not look like a race of fighters. Each of them wore a single, skirt-like garment, which I later discovered is not a garment at all; just a number of long pouches or pockets strapped about their waists and falling almost to their knees, but they are so close together that they resemble a pleated skirt. Running down the exact center of their face and body, both front and back, is a well defined reddish line that looks like a birth-mark.

As you know, the two halves of our faces and bodies are not identical. In these people the lack of identicalness is more marked, though not to the extent of being a deformity. Perhaps the fine red line bisecting their faces adds to the apparent difference between the two halves.

We were ushered into the presence of Vik-vik-vik, which in English means 999. He smiled at us most benignly, and said, “The Vooyorgans welcome you to Voo-ad,” or, the First People welcome you to the First City.

He asked us many questions about the countries from which we came, and told us that we were to consider ourselves his guests during our stay in Voo-ad. I told him that I should like very much to make the necessary repairs on our anotar and depart as quickly as possible, if he would have the propeller returned to me.

“You see, we have been away from home for a long time; and we are anxious to return.”

“I can very well understand that,” he replied, “but we shall all be very much disappointed if you do not remain with us at least a couple of days. This portion of Anlap is almost a wilderness, and we have no neighbors who are friendly and very few visitors; so you can see that you would be doing us a great favor if you would remain a short time—we hear so little of the outside world of Amtor.”

“We are really in Anlap?” I asked; “then perhaps you can tell us the general direction of Korva.”

“I have heard of Korva,” he replied, “but I do not know where it lies. Now please tell me that you will remain at least two days, as I wish to arrange a banquet and entertainment for you before you depart.”

Under the circumstances the only decent thing we could do, in view of his generous hospitality, was to remain; so we told him it would be a pleasure to accept his invitation. He seemed genuinely pleased, and directed Ata-voo-med-ro to show us about the city and see that we wanted for nothing which might enhance the pleasure of our visit in Voo-ad.

Across from the jong’s palace was a very large building—it must have been fully two hundred feet in diameter—that attracted our immediate attention when we left the palace with Ata-voo-med-ro. The building was an enormous dome at least a hundred feet high. It dwarfed everything around it. Naturally, it intrigued our curiosity; and I asked Ata-voo-med-ro what it was.

“You shall see it before you leave Voo-ad,” he replied. “I shall leave it until the very last, as the supreme moment of your visit to our city. I can guarantee that you will find it extremely interesting.”

He led us about the city, showing us the shops, the flowers and shrubbery that grow in profusion, and calling our attention to the carvings on the buildings. He also took us into an art shop where the work of the best artists of Voo-ad was on exhibition. These people show remarkable aptitude in reproducing natural objects with almost photographic fidelity, but there was not the slightest indication of creative genius in any of the work we saw.

While all the people looked and dressed much alike, we saw many doing menial work; and I asked Ata-voo-med-ro if there were different castes among them.

“Oh, yes,” he replied; “all the kloo-meds and above are servants; voo-meds who have no du are in the next higher class; they are the artisans; then come the voo-meds with a du—that is the class I am in. We are just below the nobles, who run from voo-yor-yorko to voo-med; royalty is always under yorko. There are other caste divisions, but it is all rather complicated and I am sure would not interest you.”

Perhaps the above has not interested you; but in English it is a little more interesting, as it gives some meaning to their strange numerical names. What he said was that all the 2,000,000’s and above were servants; the 1,000,000’s with no prefix letter (du) were in the artisan class; then came his class, the 1,000,000’s with a letter; the nobles run from 100,000 to 1,000,000; and royalty is always under 1000. Vik-vik-vik’s 999 is always the jong’s name or number.

These high numbers do not mean that there are that many people in Voo-ad; it is merely a naming system, and just another indication to me of their total lack of creative genius.

Duare and I spent two very dull days in Voo-ad, and in the afternoon of the second day we were summoned to attend the banquet being given by the jong. The table, built in the form of a hollow ring with people sitting on both sides of it, was in a circular room. There were about two hundred guests, all apparently of the same sex; for all were similarly garbed and looked more or less alike. They had plenty of hair on their heads, but none on their faces. There was a great deal of chattering and laughter, and those perpetual, frozen smiles when they were not laughing. I overheard a great deal of the conversation which elicited laughter, but could find nothing to laugh at.

Duare, who sat between Vik-vik-vik and me, remarked that some article of food she was eating was delicious, whereat Vik-vik-vik and others within hearing broke into laughter. It didn’t make sense. I like to see people happy, but I also like to feel that it is because they have something to be happy about.

The food was really delicious, as were the wines; and the guests ate and drank what seemed to Duare and me enormous amounts. They seemed to derive far more pleasure and gratification from eating and drinking than the act warranted; some even swooned with rapture. I found it rather disgusting, and heartily wished that the banquet was over, so that Duare and I might take our leave. We both wanted a good night’s rest, as we expected to leave the next day; and I still had the propeller to adjust—after it was returned to me. I asked the jong if he had arranged to have it returned to me immediately.

“You shall have it in plenty of time before you leave,” he replied, with that kindly smile of his.

“We should like to leave as early tomorrow as possible,” I said, glancing at Duare.

I was immediately concerned by her appearance; there was a startled, almost frightened look in her eyes. “Something is happening to me, Carson,” she said.

I started to rise. A strange sensation pervaded me. I could not move. I was paralyzed from the neck down!

Escape on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter XXXII

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