Lost on Venus

Chapter 13 - To Live or Die

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS I turned at Nalte’s warning cry, I thought that I saw something dodge behind low bushes on the opposite bank.

“What was it, Nalte?” I demanded.

“Oh, it couldn’t be what I thought I saw,” she whispered excitedly. “I must be mistaken.”

“What did you think you saw?”

“There’s another—there—look!” she cried.

And then I saw it. It stepped from behind the bole of a large tree and stood eying us, its fangs bared in a snarl. It was a man that went on four feet like a beast. Its hind legs were short, and it walked on its hind toes, the heels corresponding to the hocks of animals. Its hands were more human, and it walked flat on the palms of them in front. Its nose was flat, its mouth broad, and its heavy, undershot jaws were armed with powerful teeth. Its eyes were small and close set and extremely savage. Its skin was white and almost hairless except upon its head and jowls. Another one appeared suddenly beside it.

“You don’t know what they are?” I asked Nalte.

“We have heard of them in Andoo, but no one ever believed that they existed. They are called zangans. If the stories I have heard are true they are terribly ferocious. They hunt in packs and devour men as well as beasts.”

Zangan means beast-man, and no better word could have been coined to describe the creature that faced us across that little stream in far Noobol. And now others came slinking into view from the shelter of bushes and from behind the boles of trees.

“I think we had better hunt elsewhere,” I said in a weak effort to be jocose.

“Let’s take to the boat again,” suggested Nalte.

We had already walked a little distance from the spot where I had moored our craft, and as we turned to retrace our steps I saw several of the zangans enter the water on the opposite side and approach the boat. They were much closer to it than we, and long before I could untie it and drag it into deeper water they could be upon us.

“It is too late!” cried Nalte.

“Let’s fall back slowly to that little rise of ground behind us,” I said. “Perhaps I can hold them off there.”

We retreated slowly, watching the zangans as they crossed the stream toward us. When they came out on shore they shook themselves as dogs do, and then they came slinking after us again. They reminded me of tigers—human tigers—and their gait was much that of a stalking tiger as they approached with flattened heads and snarling lips.

They growled and snapped at one another, revealing a viciousness greater than that of beasts. Momentarily I expected a charge, and I knew that when it came Nalte’s troubles and mire would be over forever. We wouldn’t have even a fighting chance against that savage pack.

There were about twenty of them, mostly males; but there were a couple of females and two or three half grown cubs. On the back of one of the females rode a baby, its arms tightly hugging the neck of its mother.

Savage as they appeared, they followed us warily as though they were half afraid of us; but their long, easy strides were constantly cutting down the distance between us.

When we reached the little mound toward which we had been retreating they were still fifty yards behind us. As we started to ascend the rise a large male trotted forward, voicing a low roar. It was as though it had just occurred to him that we might be trying to escape and that he ought to try to prevent it.

I stopped and faced him, fitting an arrow to my bow. Drawing the shaft back to the very tip I let him have it squarely in the chest. He stopped in his tracks, roared horribly, and clawed at the feathered end protruding from his body; then he came on again; but he was staggering, and presently he sank to the ground, struggled for a moment, and lay still.

The others had stopped and were watching him. Suddenly a young male ran up to him and bit him savagely about the head and neck; then raised his head and voiced a hideous roar. I guessed that it was a challenge as I saw him look about him at the other members of the pack. Here, perhaps, was a new leader usurping the powers of the one who had fallen

Apparently no one was prepared to question his authority, and now he turned his attention again to us. He did not advance directly toward us, but slunk off to one side. As he did so he turned and growled at his fellows. That he was communicating orders to them at once became evident, for immediately they spread out as though to surround us.

I loosed another arrow then, this time at the new leader. I struck him in the side and elicited such a roar of pain and rage as I hope I may never hear again—at least not under such circumstances.

Reaching back with one hand the beast man seized the shaft and tore it from his body, inflicting a far more serious hurt than the arrow had made in entering; and now his roars and screams fairly shook the ground.

The others paused to watch him, and I saw one large male slink slowly toward the wounded leader. The latter saw him, too; and with bared fangs and ferocious growls charged him. The ambitious one, evidently realizing that his hopes had been premature, wheeled and fled; and the new chief let him go and turned again toward us.

By this time we were three-quarters surrounded. There were nearly twenty ferocious beasts confronting us, and I had less than a dozen arrows.

Nalte touched me on the arm. “Good-bye, Carson,” she said, “Now, surely, the last is upon us.”

I shook my head. “I am saving the last second in which to die,” I replied. “Until then I shall not admit that there is ever to be a last second for me, and then it will be too late to matter.”

“I admire your courage if not your reasoning,” said Nalte, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “But at least it will be a quick death—did you see how that fellow tore at the throat of the first one you shot? It is better than what Skor would have done to us.”

“At least we shall be dead,” I observed.

“Here they come!” cried Nalte.

They were closing in on us now from three sides. Arrow after arrow I drove into them, nor once did I miss my mark; but they only stopped those that I hit—the others slunk steadily forward.

They were almost upon us as I loosed my last arrow. Nalte was standing close beside me. I put an arm about her.

“Hold me close,” she said. “I am not afraid to die, but I do not want to be alone—even for an instant.”

“You are not dead yet, Nalte.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It must have sounded foolish at such a time, but Nalte ignored it.

“You have been very good to me, Carson,” she said.

“And you have been a regular brick, Nalte, if you know what that means—which you don’t.”

“Good-by, Carson! It is the last second.”

“I guess it is, Nalte.” I stooped and kissed her. “Good-bye!”

From above us and behind us on the mound came a sudden crackling hum that was like the noise that an X-ray machine makes, but I knew that it was not an X-ray machine. I knew what it was even without the evidence of the crumpling bodies of the zangans dropping to the ground before us—it was the hum of the r-ray rifle of Amtor!

I wheeled and looked up toward the summit of the mound. There stood a dozen men pouring streams of the destructive rays upon the pack. It lasted for but a few seconds, but not one of the ferocious beasts escaped death. Then one of our rescuers (or were they our captors) came toward us.

He, like his companions, was a man of almost perfect physique, with a handsome, intelligent face. My first impression was that if these were fair examples of the citizens of that white city from which I assumed they had come, we must have stumbled upon an Olympus inhabited solely by gods.

In every company of men we are accustomed to seeing some whose proportions or features are ungainly or uncouth; but here, though no two men exactly resembled one another, all were singularly handsome and symmetrically proportioned.

He who approached us wore the customary gee-string and military harness of the men of Amtor. His trappings were handsome without being ornate, and I guess from the insigne on the fillet that encircled his brow that he was an officer.

“You had a close call,” he said pleasantly.

“Rather too close for comfort,” I replied. “We have you to thank for our lives.”

“I am glad that I arrived in time. I happened to be on the river wall as you drifted past, and saw your encounter with the men from Kormor. My interest was aroused; and, knowing that you were headed for trouble down river on account of the falls, I hurried down to try to warn you.”

“A rather unusual interest in strangers for a man of Amtor,” I commented, “but I can assure you that I appreciate it even if I do not understand it.”

He laughed shortly. “It was the way you handled those three creatures of Skor,” he explained. “I saw possibilities in such a man; and we are always looking for better qualities to infuse into the blood of Havatoo. But come, let me introduce myself. I am Ero Shan.”

“And this is Nalte of Andoo,” I replied, “and I am Carson Napier of California.”

“I have heard of Andoo,” he acknowledged. “They raise an exceptionally fine breed of people there, but I never heard of your country. In fact I have never seen a man before with blue eyes and yellow hair. Are all the people of Cal—”

“California,” I prompted.

“—of California like you?”

“Oh, no! There are all colors among us, of hair and eyes and skin.”

“But how can you breed true to type then?” he demanded.

“We don’t,” I had to admit.

“Rather shocking,” he said, half to himself. “Immoral—racially immoral. Well, be that as it may, your system seems to have produced a rather fine type at that; and now, if you will come with me, we shall return to Havatoo.

“May I ask,” I inquired, “if we return as guests or as prisoners?”

He smiled, just the shadow of a smile. “Will that make any difference—as to whether you return with me or not?”

I glanced up at the armed men behind him and grinned. “None,” I replied.

“Let us be friends,” he said. “You will find justice it Havatoo. If you deserve to remain as a guest, you will be treated as a guest—if not—” he shrugged.

As we reached the top of the little hillock we saw, just behind it, a long, low car with transverse seats and no top. It was the first motor car that I had seen on Venus. The severity of its streamlines and its lack of ornamentation suggested that it was a military car.

As we entered the rear seat with Ero Shan his men took their places in the forward seats. Ero Shan spoke a word of command and the car moved forward. The driver was too far from me, and hidden by the men between us, to permit me to see how he controled the car, which moved forward over the uneven ground smoothly and swiftly.

Presently as we topped a rise of ground we saw the city of Havatoo lying white and beautiful before us. From our elevation I could see that it was built in the shape of a half circle with the flat side lying along the water front, and it was entirely walled.

The river curves to the right below the city, and the direct route that we followed returning to it brought us to a gate several miles from the river. The gate itself was of magnificent proportions and an architectural gem, bespeaking a high order of civilization and culture. The city wall, of white limestone, was beautifully carved with scenes that I took to portray the history of the city or of the race that inhabited it, the work having apparently been conceived and executed with the rarest taste; and these carvings extended as far as I could see.

When one considers the fact that the wall on the land side is about eight miles long and on the river side about five miles, and that all of it is elaborately carved, one may understand the vast labor and the time required to complete such an undertaking along both faces of a twenty foot wall.

As we were halted at the gate by the soldiers on guard I saw emblazoned above the portal, in the characters of the universal Amtorian language, “TAG KUNI VOO KLAMBAD,” Gate of the Psychologists.

Beyond the gate we entered a broad, straight avenue that ran directly toward the center of the water front. It was filled with traffic—cars of various sizes and shapes, running swiftly and quietly in both directions. There was nothing but vehicular traffic on this level, pedestrians being accommodated on walkways at the level of the second stories of the buildings, which were connected by viaducts at all intersections.

There was practically no noise—no tooting of horns, no screeching of brakes—traffic seemed to regulate itself. I asked Ero Shan about it.

“It is very simple,” he said. “All vehicles are energized from a central power station from which power emanates in three frequencies; on the control board of each vehicle is a dial that permits the operator to pick up any frequency he desires. One is for avenues running from the outer wall to the center of the city, another is for transverse avenues, and the third for all traffic outside the city. The first two are cut off and on alternately; when one is on all traffic moving in the opposite direction is stopped at intersections automatically.”

“But why doesn’t the traffic between intersections stop at the same time?” I asked.

“That is regulated by the third frequency, which is always operative,” he explained. “A hundred feet before a vehicle reaches an intersection a photo-electric current moves the dial on the control board to the proper frequency for that lane.”

Nalte was thrilled by all that she saw. She was a mountain girl from a small kingdom, and this was the first large city that she had ever seen.

“It is marvelous,” she said. “And how beautiful the people are!”

I had noticed that fact myself. Both the men and the women in the cars that passed us were of extraordinary perfection of form and feature.

Ambad Lat. Psychologist Avenue, led us directly to a semicircular civic center at the water front, from which the principal avenues radiated toward the outer wall like the spokes of a wheel from the hub toward the felloe. Here were magnificent buildings set in a gorgeous park, and here Ero Shan escorted us from the car toward a splendid palace. There were many people in the park, going to or coming from the various buildings. There was no hurry, no bustle, no confusion; nor was there idling or loitering. All suggested well considered, unhurried efficiency. The voices of those who conversed were pleasant, well modulated. Like the people I had seen elsewhere in the city, these were all handsome and well formed.

We followed Ero Shan through an entrance into a wide corridor. Many of those we passed spoke pleasant greetings to our companion, and all of them looked at us with seemingly friendly interest, but without rudeness.

“Beautiful people in a beautiful city,” murmured Nalte.

Ero Shan turned toward her with a quick smile. “I am glad that you like us and Havatoo,” he said. “I hope that nothing will ever alter this first impression.”

“You think that something may?” asked Nalte.

Ero Shan shrugged. “That all depends upon you,” he replied, “or rather upon your ancestors.”

“I do not understand,” said Nalte.

“You will presently.”

He stopped before a door and, swinging it open, bade us enter. We were in a small anteroom in which several clerks were employed.

“Please inform Korgan Kantum Mohar that I wish to see him,” said Ero Shan to one of the clerks.

The man pressed one of several buttons on his desk and said, “Korgan Sentar Ero Shan wishes to see you.” Apparently from the desktop a deep voice replied, “Send him in.”

“Come with me,” directed Ero Shan, and we crossed the anteroom to another door which a clerk opened. In the room beyond a man faced us from a desk behind which he was seated. He looked up at us with the same friendly interest that had been manifested by the people we had passed in the park and the corridor.

As we were introduced to Korgan Kantum Mohar he arose and acknowledged the introduction with a bow then he invited us to be seated.

“You are strangers in Havatoo,” he remakred.”It is not often that strangers enter our gates.” He turned to Ero Shan. “Tell me, how did it happen?”

Ero Shan told of witnessing my encounter with the three men from Kormor. “I hated to see a man like this go over the falls,” he continued, and I felt that it was worth while bringing them into Havatoo for an examination. Therefore I have brought them directly to you, hoping that you will agree with me.”

“It can do no harm,” admitted Mohar. “The examining board is in session now. Take them over. I will advise the board that I have authorized the examination.”

“What is the examination, and what is its purpose?” I asked. “Perhaps we do not care to take it.”

Korgan Kantum Mohar smiled. “It is not for you to say,” he said.

“You mean that we are prisoners?”

“Let us say rather guests by command.”

“Do you mind telling me the purpose of this examination?” I asked.

“Not at all. It is to determine whether or not you shall be permitted to live.”

Lost on Venus - Contents    |     Chapter 14 - Havatoo

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