Escape on Venus


Edgar Rice Burroughs

BY the time morning came, and Vik-yor could look down and see the world passing slowly beneath them, it had lost much of its fear of the strange situation in which it found itself. It now had almost complete confidence in Duare’s ability to keep the thing up in the air, and with returning confidence it commenced to think of other things than the hazards of flying.

“You kept pressing your lips to his hands,” it said. “Why did you do that?”

Duare’s thoughts were far away. “Eh?” she said. “Oh, because I love him.”

“What is love?” asked Vik-yor.

“You would not understand; it cannot be explained to one who cannot know love. It is what one feels for one’s mate.”

“Did he like to have you press your lips to his hand?”

“I am sure he did; I certainly hope so.”

Vik-yor held out a hand. “Do it to me,” it directed.

Duare struck the hand away, and shuddered. “You disgust me,” she said.

“You belong to me,” said Vik-yor. “You are going to teach me what love is.”

“Don’t talk about love to me,” snapped Duare; “you defile the very name.”

“Why don’t you like me?” asked Vik-yor.

“It is not alone because you are not a human being,” replied the girl; “I have liked many of the lower animals. It is because you are cruel and cowardly; because you made me come away and leave my mate in that horrible place; because you haven’t one of the finer characteristics of a man; because you are not a man. Have I answered your question?”

Vik-yor shrugged. “Well,” it said, “it doesn’t make much difference whether you like me or not. The thing is that I like you; what you like or don’t like affects you, not me. Of course, if you liked me, it might be much more pleasant. Anyway, you belong to me. I can look at you; I can touch you. As long as I live you will be always with me. I never liked anyone before. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as liking another creature. We Vooyorgans don’t like anyone; nor do we dislike anyone. A person is with us today and gone tomorrow—it makes no difference to us. Before I commenced to change, I used to divide like the others. Even after being with one of my halves for years, I never missed it after we divided; nor did I ever have any feeling whatever for the new half that grew. Once I was half of Vik-vik-vik, the jong; I was the left half. It is the right half that retains the name and identity. I have always been a left half until now; now I am a whole; I am like you and Carson and Ero Shan—I am a man! After studying the ways of other forms of life, some of the wise ones among us think that our right halves are analogous to the females of the other species, and the left halves to the males; so, you see, I have always been a male.”

“I am not interested,” said Duare.

“But I am,” said Vik-yor. “It makes no difference whether you are interested or not, if I am. I like to talk about myself.”

“I can almost believe that you are a man,” said Duare.

Vik-yor was silent for some time. It was occupied by gazing at this new world over which it was flying like a bird. Duare was trying to plan some way of getting hold of the vial and the pistol; her whole life, now, revolved about that one desire.

“I am hungry,” said Vik-yor.

“So am I,” agreed Duare, “but I don’t dare land unless I have my pistol; we might be attacked.”

“I can kill things with it,” said Vik-yor. “Didn’t you see me last night? I must have killed fifty.”

“Firing into a crowd of hundreds is not the same as firing at a charging basto,” said Duare; “where there were so many, you couldn’t miss them all.”

“Perhaps not,” said Vik-yor, “but I shall keep the pistol. If you had it, you would kill me. What are you doing?” Duare was spiralling down above a large lake. “Look out!” cried Vik-yor. “We shall be drowned, if you go into the water.”

“All right,” said Duare; “it is better to drown than starve to death. Will you give me the pistol?”

“No,” said Vik-yor; “I would rather drown.” As a matter of fact, it had suddenly concluded that this was just another attempt of the woman to frighten it into giving up the pistol. Vik-yor was far from being a fool. However, it was thoroughly shaken when Duare failed to bring the anotar up and it settled upon the surface of the lake; for Vik-yor could not swim.

Duare took a drinking vessel from one of the compartments; and, going out upon the wing, dipped up some water. She took a long, satisfying drink; then she lay down on the wing and washed her hands and face. “Give me some water,” said Vik-yor, when she arose.

Duare dumped the remaining water from the vessel, and came back into the cockpit.

“Didn’t you hear me?” demanded Vik-yor. “I told you to give me some water.”

“I heard you,” said Duare, starting the engine.

“Well, go and get me some,” ordered the Vooyorgan.

“When you give me my pistol,” said Duare, taxiing for a take off.

“I will not give you the pistol,” said Vik-yor.

“All right,” said Duare, as she swept down the lake for the take off. “That was very good water, and we may not find fresh water again for days.”

Vik-yor said nothing, but it was doing a lot of thinking; maybe having a woman was not such a good thing after all; if it could learn to fly this thing, it could kill the woman and—well, what? That stumped Vik-yor. It couldn’t go back to Voo-ad after what it had done, for Vik-vik-vik would surely have it killed; it couldn’t live in this savage world full of terrible beasts and men.

Vik-yor was not the first to get hold of something and not be able to let go—the Vooyorgan was certainly in a fix; possibly as bad a fix as any amoeba had been in since the dawn of life on Amtor.

Duare continued to fly south, as she couldn’t carry out the plan she had in mind until she recovered the r-ray pistol. In the meantime she might find Sanara, in which event she would be among friends who would take the pistol away from Vik-yor. Presently there loomed ahead an obstacle that barred further flight toward the south—a forest that induced within her a little surge of nostalgia. Only in her native Vepaja had she ever seen another such forest. The tops of its trees were lost in the inner cloud envelope five thousand feet above the ground; the enormous boles of some of its giants were a thousand feet in diameter. In Vepaja the homes of her people were carved in living trees a thousand feet above the floor of the forest. One could not fly above such a forest, and threading one’s way through its mazes was hazardous in the extreme. Carson might have ventured it, were it necessary; but not Duare. She turned toward the east, seeking a way around it.

She was becoming very hungry, but these mighty forests bore their fruits too high. The forest extended for perhaps a hundred miles, ending at the foot of a mountain range which presented an equally insurmountable obstacle to further southward flight, as its towering peaks were lost in the eternal clouds. Down its canyons roared mountain torrents, fed by the perpetual rains that fell upon its upper slopes. The torrents joined to form rivers which cut the alluvial plain that stretched eastward as far as the eye could reach, and these rivers united to swell a mighty waterway that rolled on toward the horizon and some distant, nameless sea.

Nowhere in all this vast and lonely wilderness had Duare seen a sign of human habitation; but there were grazing herds and prowling carnivores, and forests of small trees where edible fruits and nuts might be expected to abound.

It might be all right to try to starve Vik-yor into submission, thought Duare, did that not also presuppose her own starvation; so the Vooyorgan won a moral victory, and Duare searched for a safe landing place near a forest. A herd of grazing herbivores galloped away as she dropped down and circled to reconnoiter before landing. Seeing no sign of dangerous beast, Duare brought the ship down close to the forest.

“What are you going to do?” demanded Vik-yor.

“Find something to eat,” replied Duare.

“Bring me something, too,” ordered the Vooyorgan.

“If you eat,” said Duare, “you will get it yourself.”

“I do not wish to go into the forest; some dangerous beast might attack me.”

“Then you’ll go hungry.”

“I am starving,” said Vik-yor.

Duare climbed from the cockpit and dropped to the ground. She would have felt safer had she had the pistol, but she had learned that it was useless to ask for it.

“Wait for me!” called Vik-yor. Hunger had finally bested its cowardice, and it was climbing from the anotar. Duare did not wait, but continued on toward the forest. Vik-yor ran after her, and when it caught up with her it was out of breath. “Why didn’t you wait for me?” it demanded. “You belong to me; you should do as I tell you.”

Duare looked at it disgustedly. “I belong to a man,” she said.

“I am a man,” said Vik-yor.

“You wouldn’t be a man in thirty million years; I am surprised that you even had nerve enough to crawl out of a stagnant pool.”

They had entered the forest; and Duare was looking up at the trees in search of food, when Vik-yor suddenly dashed past her and scrambled up a tree; then a hideous roar shattered the silence of the wood. Duare wheeled about. A tharban was creeping toward her. Vik-yor had seen it, and fled without warning her. He was now safely ensconced in a near-by tree, shaking as with palsy.

Escape on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter XXXIX

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