Escape on Venus

Chapter LII

Edgar Rice Burroughs

I HAD murdered a guard and I could imagine what the penalty would be, but I hoped that I had hidden the evidence of my crime sufficiently well to prevent detection. Unless the body were discovered, they couldn’t very well establish the corpus delicti; in fact, they couldn’t even know that a crime had been committed. However, I will admit that I was a little bit nervous as I returned to the corral alone, and I was still more nervous when the other guard, who had accepted the wager, accosted me.

“Where is your guard?” he demanded.

“He followed you back,” I said. “He thought that you were having other guards’ slaves help your slave load his cart, and he wanted to catch you at it.”

“He’s a liar,” snapped the man, looking around. “Where is he?”

“He must be here,” I said, “for he is not with me;” and then I started loading my cart again.

The disappearance of my guard might have constituted an absorbing mystery if the other guard had told anybody about it, but he didn’t. He was too crooked and too greedy. Instead, he told me to slow down or he would beat the life out of me.

“If you will protect me from the other guards,” I said, “I will work so slow that you will be sure to win.”

“See that you do,” he said; and so I took it easy all the rest of the afternoon.

At quitting time the guard whose slave had been pitted against me was really worried. He had won his wager, but there was no one from whom to collect his winnings.

“Are you sure your guard came back to the corral?” he asked me.

“That’s where he said he was going when he left me,” I replied. “Of course, I was working so hard that I didn’t watch him.”

“It is very strange,” he said. “I can’t understand it.”

When the women slaves brought our food to us that evening Omat was not with them, but Duare was there and she brought my bowl to me. Ero Shan and Banat were with me. I had outlined a bold plan to them and they both had agreed to see it through or die in the attempt.

As Duare joined us we gathered around her, trying to hide her from the guards; and then we moved off into a far corner of the compound, in the shadow of one of the shelters beneath which the slaves slept.

Duare sat down on the ground and we crowded around her, effectually hiding her from view from any part of the compound. There were only two guards, and they were engrossed in conversation. One of them had come with the women, and when they left he would leave, returning only when they collected the empty bowls. The guards were always sleepy at night and they didn’t bother us unless some slave raised a disturbance, and night offered the only rest that we had from their cruelty.

As I ate I explained my plan to Duare, and presently I saw that she was crying. “Why the tears?” I asked. “What is the matter?”

“Your poor body,” she said; “it is covered with welts and blood. They must have beaten you horribly today.”

“It was worth it,” I said, “for the man who did it is dead, and I have his pistol hidden beneath my loincloth. Because of these welts, which will soon heal, we have a chance to escape.”

“I am glad you killed him,” she said. “I should have hated to live on, knowing that a man who had treated you so still lived.”

After a while the women slaves came back and collected the empty bowls, and we were fearful that one of the slave women might discover Duare and expose her; but if any of them saw her, they said nothing; and they were soon gone, and their guard with them.

We waited until nearly midnight, long after the compound had quieted down and the slaves had fallen asleep. The single guard sat with his back against the gate that opened out toward the corral where I had worked that day. Another gate opened into the city and a third into the compound of the female slaves; but these it was not necessary to guard, as no slaves could escape in either of these directions. I stood up and walked over toward him, and as he was dozing he did not notice me until I was quite near him; then he leaped to his feet.

“What are you doing here, slave?” he demanded.

“Sh!” I said. “I have just heard something that you ought to know.”

“What is it?” he asked.

“Not so loud,” I said in a whisper; “if they know that I am telling you, they will kill me.” He came closer to me, all attention now. “Well, what is it?”

“Four slaves are planning on escaping tonight,” I told him. “One of them is going to kill you first. Don’t say anything now, but look over there to your left.” And as he looked I drew the pistol from beneath my loincloth and placing it over his heart, pressed the button. Without a sound he died, falling forward upon his face.

I stooped and quickly lifted him into a sitting position, propped against the wall beside the gate; then I took his pistol from him, and looking back saw that Duare, Ero Shan, and Banat were tiptoeing toward me.

We spoke no word as I opened the gate and let them out. Following them, I closed it gently.

I handed the extra pistol to Ero Shan, and then led them down to the corral where the zorats were confined. Stealthily we stole among the brutes, speaking soothingly to them, for they are nervous and short-tempered. They milled a little and tried to move away from us, but finally we each captured one, seizing them by an ear, which is the way they are led and controlled.

We led them down to the gate, which I opened, and then we mounted. No saddles or bridles are used upon the creatures; one guides them and stops them by pulling on their long, pendulous ears. A pull on the right ear turns them to the right, a pull on the. left ear to the left, and by pulling on both ears they may be stopped. They are urged forward by kicking them with the heels, while a gentle pull on both ears slows them down.

As the zorats’ corral is outside the city wall, we were, for the time being at least, free; and as soon as we had left the city a short distance behind, we put heels to our weird mounts and sped up the broad valley at top speed. There was to be no rest for those zorats that night, nor for us either, for we must pass the camp of the herders before daylight, if we were to be reasonably safe from detection and pursuit.

It was a hard ride, but we felt that it would be a successful one. We had the hills on the left to guide us, and the big eyes of our mounts permitted them to see in the dim light of an Amtorian night.

Duare and I rode side by side, with Banat and Ero Shad directly behind us. The padded feet of the zorats gave forth no sound and we rode like ghosts through the darkness.

Presently Ero Shan moved up beside me. “We are being pursued,” he said. “I just happened to look back and I saw a number of mounted men following us, and they are gaining on us rapidly.”

“Give Banat your pistol,” I said, “and then you go ahead with Duare. You will find plenty of arms and ammunition on board the 975.”

“No,” said Duare decisively, “I shall not leave you. We will stay together until the end.”

I knew from her tone of voice that it was futile to argue, so I told them that we would have to ride faster; and I urged my zorat to even greater speed.

They may not be very beautiful, but they are really wonderful little saddle animals. They are almost as fast as a deer and have tremendous endurance, but they had come a long way and I didn’t know whether they would hold out or not.

Looking back, I saw what appeared to be quite a number of mounted men bearing down on us rapidly. “I guess we are going to have to fight,” I said to Ero Shan.

“We can get a few of them before they get us,” he replied.

“I won’t go back to Hangor,” said Duare; “I won’t! Kill me before they can get to me, Carson; promise me that you will.”

“If I fall,” I replied, “you ride on to the 975;” and then I told her how to start the motor, which was quite similar to that of the anotar with which she was so familiar. The fuel used in the motor is the same as that which we used in the anotar. The element 93 (vik-ro) is released upon a substance called lor, which contains a considerable proportion of the element yor-san (105). The action of the vik-ro upon the yor-san results in absolute annihilation of the lor, releasing all its energy. When you consider that there is 18,000,000,000 times as much energy liberated by the annihilation of a ton of coal as by its combustion, you will appreciate the inherent possibilities of this marvelous Amtorian scientific discovery. Fuel for the life of the 975 could be carried in a pint jar.

After a brief argument I persuaded Duare to promise me that if I fell she would try to reach the 975, and seek a passage through the southern mountains beyond which we were positive Korva lay. And then the pursuers were upon us.

Escape on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter LIII

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