MOON MAID AT THE EARTH'S CORE
Illustrated by Tangor
Copyright © 2001
It should be safe enough to tell this now. I am an old man, having lived far longer than the Biblical three score and ten. Perhaps it was in part to clean living, or perhaps to a synthesis of a pill given to me by a good friend of mine; nevertheless, as I approach the century mark, my mind remains as clear as ever, and it easily goes back to that time some fifty years ago, when I lived in Encino, California and was a good friend to the writer Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I am gratified that the world still knows his name, though my own has long been forgotten. Had I patented my discoveries, I suppose they would have marked me as one of the fathers not only of communication, but of lighter than air design, but for reasons of my own, I kept my discoveries secret. Airship construction was virtually non-existent after the Hindenburg disaster, and people became more interested in television than radio. Still, I tinkered with my set, upgrading it from a simple wireless with a sending key to one capable of transmitting sounds across the void.
Ed was kind enough to mention me in several of his stories, embellishing my abilities to fit the needs of his tale. Usually, he only referred to my radio, with which I had been able to communicate not only with the planet Barsoom, but also with Abner Perry at the Earth's Core. From time to time I communicated not only with such well-known characters as John Carter of Mars and Ulysses Paxton, but also Abner Perry and his friend David Innes, the Emperor of Pellucidar, as the world beneath our crust is known. Some time had passed since I last heard from Perry, when one day I returned from horseback riding with my wife to hear Perry's thin voice coming from the speaker of the radio.
I remember that day well. It was a lovely Saturday evening in March, the year being 1950. I rushed over to the radio and snatched up the microphone.
"Here I am, Perry," I said. "What's up? Nothing wrong, I hope."
"Nothing earth-shattering, my boy," came his voice, crackling through the ether. "I have just received a story from someone and it is so extraordinary, that I had to convey it to you and Ed. Are you ready to write?"
"Better than that," I told him. "We now have tape recorders up here so that I can record your message on magnetic tape and transcribe it later."
"I really must come back and take a look at your marvels topside," he said. "Well, here goes..."
Perry commenced broadcasting, either reading from a manuscript or re-telling the story as he heard it in first person. As the hours passed he paused only to drink some water, or if I had to stop him to change reels on the tape recorder. By the time Perry had finished it was late into the night. Jana had been kind enough to bring me a sandwich and some iced tea between tending to our children. I could only hope that someone had been as kind to Abner Perry. I later agreed with Perry that this story was so extraordinary it must to be told. I could think of no better person to do it than the Admiral himself, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Signing off from Perry, I snatched a few hours sleep, determined to lay the story in Ed's lap right after breakfast.
Sunday, March 19, 1950, was a pleasant day in California. I placed the tape recorder and the reels of tape on the front seat of my Willys Jeep and sped over to Ed's home on Zelzah. There was no answer to my knock, but the door was unlocked, and I nudged it open, calling Ed's name. There was still no answer. I found the living room empty, and thinking Ed asleep, I went into his bedroom. To my horror, he lay prostrate upon the bed, Sunday paper spread before him. Death had found him, and by the peaceful expression on his face, Ed had not put up a struggle. I took up his hand, finding it cool to my touch. Tears started, tracing down my cheeks as grief overcame me. I turned away from Ed, distraught in the knowledge that so great a heart had been stilled forever. A scrape of leather wrenched me from my anguish and I saw Ed's housekeeper before me, her face likewise a mask of pain.
"Oh, my God," she stumbled. "The family. I must call them."
I brushed past her, my plans aborted, turning to look back at him, lying so still, and voiced aloud the only fitting phrase that sprang to mind, that of Edwin Stanton over the death of Lincoln: "Now he belongs to the ages."
On the way back home, I pondered over what to do with this manuscript. Here would be evidence, on tape, that Pellucidar existed. The world at large would know that a vast, virtually unsullied world lay beneath their feet. The narrative would galvanize every explorer and fortune hunter in the world, every huckster and circus ringmaster. No, I could not let it out. Men such as the noble Admiral Byrd were one thing, but there were dozens more who would pillage and destroy one of the last untouched places on, or in, the earth.
Now, I am old, and I have decided that it is safe to release a transcript of the narrative. I destroyed the tapes some years ago, so that there no longer is even this shred of concrete evidence. The modern reader will no doubt consider it too fantastic to be believed, but I can vouch for the veracity of its sender, Abner Perry, who, at the ripe old age of one hundred and sixty, still calls me from time to time. I have discussed this long enough. Here is the story of Byron Wells, late of the United States Navy.
You will find within it a story that answers some questions that readers of the Inner World stories have long pondered, and I hope they please and entertain you.
CHAPTER ONE - HOW THE WAR ENDED FOR ME
My name is Byron Jasper Wells. I joined the U.S. Navy in December of 1941, right after Pearl Harbor. As a kid, I had devoured all those old pulp science fiction and adventure magazines, so when it came time to fight the Japanese, I felt that I was stepping into the shoes of my fictional heroes, Doc Savage, the Shadow, G-8, John Carter, and David Innes. I saw myself as a man of action, like them.
I saw the elephant right after training. I was not assigned to fight in the Pacific, but became a P-38J pilot operating from Canada, Greenland, and Iceland, protecting sub-hunters from what, I wasn't sure. The Nazis had no carriers, but you never knew when they were going to try to slip a battleship or cruiser out of Norway to get at the convoys. These heavy ships usually carried a couple of seaplanes, and I knew that my fighter could make short work of them.
For the most part, I circled around some of the most god-forsaken territory on the planet. Nothing but gray seas, frozen tundra and rocky coasts passed beneath my "forked tailed-devil" while I was on patrol. My fighter was a good plane, with two powerful engines, and I could stay up for 12 hours with wing tanks if I didn't get into combat. Otherwise, it was dependent on how much action. Of course up here in the icebox at the top of the world, there wasn't much of that. My greatest threat was the cold.
I did worry about that. Ice could form in my gas line, or on my wings, and it could spell disaster for me. Crash landing in Arctic regions meant certain death if help didn't arrive soon. I wore a heavy flying suit, but carried a lightweight paratroop carbine just in case I crashed. I knew that my standard issue .45 wouldn't help if I had to bring down a moose to stay alive. I stayed on patrol through the invasion of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. In the spring of '44, though, everything changed for me. My routine was pretty much the same. At the time, I was based in Reykjavik, Iceland, where I spent a lot of time making sure my plane wasn't freezing solid and reading old pulps that sailors dropped off when they brought in supplies.
I remember it was a normal patrol between Iceland and Greenland, when I got a flash traffic message instructing me to vector north where a distress call was coming in from a fishing trawler. The ice was starting to break up, so the fishermen were ranging farther and farther north. I checked my compass and headed for the location. I had only been up for less than 30 minutes, so I had plenty of fuel. I found the fishing trawler with no problem. It made a nice black spot amid the steel-colored waves.
She wasn't alone, though. Just a few hundred yards off her bow was a sleek black shape. I recognized it right away as a Nazi type XXI U-boat. I radioed base for a PBY Catalina to come out and get this baby when I saw her deck gun was unlimbering. I dove down for a closer look, seeing with horror a puff of smoke coming from her. The next second, a geyser of water erupted off the trawler's bow. I knew that the next shot would probably sink her.
I checked my guns and zoomed in. Lockheed gave the P-38 lots of teeth, and I had them all gnashing at the U-boat's deck. Fifty caliber slugs and 37mm cannon shells chewed up the area around the deck gun, sending its crew spinning from her slippery sides. I didn't know if I could penetrate the ship's hull with my guns, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. I swung up and then around for another pass. I wasn't sure how long it would be before the PBY showed up, so I thought I'd keep the Nazis busy until it did.
I sent another stream down at the deck gun, noticing that a crew was manning a pair of machine guns at the rear of the conning tower. I tried to angle and hose them, too, but my pass was too fast and I was over the ship and off almost before I saw them. They had a good look at me, though, and a staccato drumbeat rattled through my hull. I yanked back on the stick to get some altitude, then two slugs passed through my seat to smash into the instrument panel. How they missed me, I'll never know, but they scared me so bad, I forgot how fast I was pulling up and I started to black out. I leveled out at 10,000 feet, but the G-force was too much. My head felt like it was going to explode, and I went unconscious.
* * * * * * * *
I don't know how long I was out, but it must have been a while, because when I woke up, there was nothing below me but ice fields. I checked my compass, but it was shot, along with my fuel gauge. So, I had no idea which direction I was going, and couldn't tell how much fuel I had left. I checked my watch and tried to get some idea how long it had been. I figured that I had been out for nearly an hour, but the plane had stayed level with my hands still on the controls. I tried the radio, but all I got was static. I was in big trouble.
I checked behind me to see that my tail was chewed a little bit. I tried the controls and found them stiff. I wondered at the time if that hadn't helped me stay in the air while I was out. I had heard of people falling asleep or blacking out, but never for very long. The sky was nothing but a dome of mottled clouds, so I was without direction, flying a plane that would eventually run out of fuel. Since one direction seemed as good as another, I stayed my course.
After about another two hours, I noticed a strange phenomenon. My altimeter suddenly changed radically. It shot from 10,000 to 20,000 feet and kept climbing. The air pressure didn't differ, however. I looked down, and saw that the frozen waste seemed to be dipping, almost precipitously. What was I flying into? I remembered the stories of my youth, of Edgar Rice Burroughs land at the earth's core, but I had put it all down as just that, a story. There was no Iron Mole, no Pellucidar. If anything, the center of the earth should have been hot lava, or something like that. Inner worlds were for Jules Verne, Roy Rockwood, and Burroughs.
It wasn't much later that I saw another phenomenon. Bare ground appeared. It had the frozen look of Greenland's tundra, but it was unmistakably land. I wondered if I was making a semi-circle and was now heading south along Greenland's interior. I decided to be prudent and drop down to 10,000 feet in case the air pressure changed, but staying at that altitude meant constantly dropping, and dropping, until the gray sky above me became lost in a rising mist from below.
For a time, I flew by instrument, hoping the fog would lift, and it did, but what I saw when I came through that gauzy curtain was beyond my wildest imaginings. Open water again greeted me, but it was fanged with jutting rocks and chunks of ice. I saw several hulks of ships jammed in these shoals, but that was tame compared to the real shocker.
Ahead of me was a sun.
I knew it wasn't the sun of earth, because the clouds had covered that. This was another sun, and it was pulsing with heat enough to evaporate the ice from my wings. Below me I could see valleys fringed with green, and plains beyond that, and mountains beyond that. In fact, the horizon didn't curve down, but seemed to curve upward, lost in the distant haze and glare of the sun.
Had I been a cautious fellow, I would have turned around and flew back the way I came, but I was too fascinated by what I saw. Here was another world, a world nobody had ever seen from the surface, at least as far as I knew. I remembered Burroughs' tales of Pellucidar. He talked about a fellow named Jason Gridley who took a dirigible down through an opening in the North Pole, but I always figured it was hogwash. Dirigibles didn't fare too well in the arctic, and the Norge was lost with five people, never to be seen again.
So, here I was, a naval officer, flying a shot-up plane through what had to have been a hole in the arctic to - where? Were there any inhabitants? The shipwrecks I had passed indicated that humans had traveled this way before, but had any survivors penetrated this land? I flew on for perhaps two more precious hours, looking for a likely spot to land. I crossed a large bay, seeing something that looked like a city off to my right. I circled over, and was surprised to see a bustling metropolis, though it appeared to be one left over from two centuries ago, full of red tiled roofs and minaret spires. Ships like ancient wooden frigates and galleons plied the bay. I swung in closer, and I saw people in the streets running in fear and pointing up at me.
Their dress was something straight out of Treasure Island. When a group of men formed up carrying some muskets, I decided I wasn't welcome and went back out over the bay, which led into a sea that stretched for a considerable distance south. So, man had penetrated this land, and had not only settled, but prospered, after a fashion. This was something straight out of the pulps.
I found a nice flat grassy area to set the plane down some distance along the rim of the sea from the strange town. Since they were toting muskets that meant they knew something about chemistry and metal refining, so I was hoping that civilization here was at a level that, if I could make some friends, I could fix my plane and fly back out. The fact that these denizens still traveled in sailing ships did not bode well for gasoline production. For the time being, though, the war was over for me, and I had another battle to fight, this time for survival.
I opened the plane's cockpit after shutting her off and was immediately struck by the warmth of the air about me. It felt like summer time back home. I shucked off the heavy flying suit and got out my emergency supplies. In the kit was the usual stuff, including a compass and knife, a flare gun, and some medical items. I buckled on my .45 and slung the carbine over my back. I only had four spare clips for the carbine, so I was hoping that I could find some friendly natives soon. There were some emergency rations that I knew wouldn't last too long, either. I consumed a couple of tins while I surveyed my surroundings.
The grass came to my ankles, and fairly familiar bees tended it. Clumps of trees dotted the perimeter, looking not unlike trees from the surface. I decided that seeds from above must surely have come down the polar opening, since ships had done so. I was just finishing my hasty meal when a shadow fell over me.
CHAPTER TWO - AVOIDING BEING LUNCH
I looked up, shading my eyes against the bright, impossible sun of this inner world. Above me, wings beating the clear sky, was a vision right out of a J. Allen St. John painting for some pulp story. It was huge and bat-like, but with a head that looked like a stub pencil sharpened at both ends. As I watched, it folded it wings and dove right at me. I clawed the .45 from my holster and fired at the rocketing monstrosity. At the last second, it leveled off by extending its translucent wings and bringing up its hand-size paws.
I avoided the swooping razor-sharp clutches by rolling under my plane. I pulled the carbine from my shoulder and checked the mechanism. The creature, circling at renewed altitude, shrieked like a burst boiler. I was afraid it would damage my plane so I used the wing as cover to pop up and squeeze off some better-aimed shots. One struck the creature's narrow, keel-like chest. The other, by luck, pierced its snaky neck. The winged apparition whistled again as it flew away, but its wounds were too great. The creature half-fell to the ground some two hundred yards from my plane.
I decided to examine this monster, rushing forward, weapon at the ready. I found it in a broken, bloody tangle, the tooth-filled beak snapping uselessly as its tiny eyes rolled and glared.
The flying lizard-thing sure seemed to be something out of prehistoric times. I knew people caught prehistoric fish once in a while near Africa, but this creature was another matter. As far as I could tell it was a Pteranodon, with a wingspread of nearly forty feet! It took it a while to die, but finally it gave a shudder and lay still. I considered cutting it up for dinner, but decided that I wasn't that hungry.
My most immediate problem was fuel. I checked my P-38's tanks and decided that if I kept a lean mixture and flew at low speed, I had perhaps another two or three hours. I had to find another city, since the other didn't seem to care for people in airplanes. I figured something must have spooked them for airplanes in the past. I thought back then, remembering as best I could what stories I had read about the inner world.
The most prolific writer about them was Burroughs. David Innes, a Burroughs character, had carved out an empire in Pellucidar—the earth's core. Pellucidar was a lot like the place I found myself, right down to the city full of pirates and the central sun and the crazy horizon. Maybe Burroughs had read an account of somebody else who had stumbled onto the opening and later incorporated it into his fiction. I remembered that another character in these fantastic stories—Jason Gridley—had threatened to bomb a pirate city named Korsar from a dirigible if the pirates did not release David Innes. I read these stories as a kid and found them great entertainment, but it now appeared there was some truth to the stories, and that would explain why the city was shy of planes.
Pellucidar was just a story, though. I was in a real world at the center of the earth, even though a lot of the stuff I encountered matched Burroughs' stories. So, I decided to call up the terms I could remember from his stories to dub this world and its denizens. The city would be called Korsar in the book I would write when I got out. The world would be called Pellucidar, and the flying lizard I shot would be called a thipdar. Now, if coincidence could be stretched farther, then southward lay David Innes' empire of Sari, and the moon of Pellucidar.
Between that mythical place and me lay the sea of Korsar, the Mountains of the Thipdars, and some cities populated by some intelligent flying lizards called Mahars. Sure they were! I thought.
To the south was probably a beach resort full of Hawaiian beauties, or I'd wake up and find I had dozed off during the patrol. Either sounded pretty good, certainly a lot better than dealing with a bunch of cavemen and lizards!
The current experience (dream or reality) had made me weary. I needed sleep, but there was no way I was sleeping in the open. I chose to nap in the P-38's cockpit, the carbine cradled in my arms. The heat was unbearable, but I was too tired to care. I fell asleep, wondering when it got dark.
I was awakened by a cacophony of howls and shrieks. I looked around and saw another tableau from the pulps. Two large cats with heavy bodies and upper tusks the size of carving knives were attacking what looked like a dinosaur about ten feet in height. The saber-tooths, as they had to have been, were not coming off the best of the exchange. Apparently, the fight was over the carcass of the pteranodon, or thipdar, as I was beginning to think of it. The dinosaur looked like a hammered-down Allosaurus, with huge sickle-like fore-toes.
One of the cats went down after a raking slash from one of the lizard's hind feet laid it open from breast to groin. The other saber-tooth had sunk its formidable fangs into the dinosaur's throat, and forks of black blood ran down the creature's mottled scales. I knew that the winner would probably come sniffing for me eventually, so I got out of the plane and crept forward, carbine ready. This place was becoming too rowdy for me. I was going to finish this fight and take off for a more peaceful climate. I guess I should have stayed where I was at, but I was a little ticked off at being rudely awakened, and I was beginning to get a liking for the tigers because of their tenacity. Also there was the practical matter of them damaging the plane if the winner did find me hiding out in the Lightning.
The dinosaur had grasped the tiger with its small forearms, but could not dislodge its grip. The pair went down in a heap, and I saw the lizard draw its legs under the saber-tooth, and with a huge double kick, literally tore the cat to shreds. Blood and fur exploded everywhere, yet the tiger's head remained attached to the dinosaur. I decided at that point to avenge those brave creatures and fired three shots into the dinosaur's skull from fifty yards. All three struck home.
The effect was immediate. It staggered to its feet and charged at me. The monster was half again my size and was a horrific vision, plastered with the blood of the cat mingled with its own. I fired the rest of my clip into it as it came. Before I could throw down my carbine and draw my pistol, it crashed to the ground not twenty feet in front of me. This time there was no prolonged twitching. It was quite dead, but I had no idea whether it died of my bullets or the fangs of the tiger.
I thought about collecting the tiger's teeth as souvenirs when I heard a plaintive mewling from a clump of brush another hundred feet beyond the thipdar's carcass. I reloaded my carbine and went over to investigate. I peeled back the limbs of thick bushes to find a tawny ball of fur rolling about. The ball uncoiled, and it had four large paws and a head with big blue eyes and some sharp, white teeth. It mewled and hissed alternatively, looking for all the world like a big kitten. I knew better, though. It could only have been a baby saber-tooth tiger.
Obviously, its parents were the pitiful corpses forty yards from where this tyke was hidden. Orphaned by the cruel fate of Pellucidar, I knew the cub had no chance of surviving on its own in this savage world. This world, whether the real Pellucidar or not, would not inculcate in me its callous disregard for life. As quick as I could, I snatched the cub by the nape of its neck and held it up. It came to life with an outburst of spitting, twisting to give my hand a rake with its small, but still serviceable claws. I dropped it and examined my hand, which now showed three welts, one oozing blood in ruby droplets.
The tiger cub ran over to the still forms of its parents, attempting to alert them to my presence, but it was shocked when it found them so dismembered. It poked and prodded at them, trying to get a response, and became quite disconsolate when none was forthcoming. I was able to come upon it once more, and this time managed to get a more secure hold. The thing was too distraught to fight me now, and I carried it back to the plane. I found a tin of powdered milk in my supplies and mixed some up in my mess kit. The little saber tooth lapped up the milk readily, and I prepared a bed for it in the back of my cockpit by laying out my fleece-lined flying suit. It accepted its berth suspiciously, but finally settled down, and I put the milk beside it.
Meanwhile, I was determined to get away from this monstrous plain immediately. The sun was still at noon, and it seemed to me larger than my old sun on the surface. Knowing I had barely four hours fuel remaining, I decided to continue the direction I had been traveling in the hopes of coming upon another village, hiding my plane, and walking in. I started my engines, giving the cub a fright. It mewled and buried itself in the arm of my suit as I revved the motors. Then, I taxied off the plain, skirted the seacoast as it curved, and continued south, or the direction I believed to be south. I probably could have alternated engines and had enough fuel to return to the surface, but how far out could I have gotten. Flying the P-38 on one engine is tremendously hard with all the instruments working, and you have to constantly switch to avoid damaging either engine. One slip would wreck me in the arctic with no hope of rescue. At least here, there was a promise of some friendly humankind, and new adventure far from the routine of chasing down Nazi subs. The war was over for me when I found myself lost in the ice. Here was a land I had only dreamt about.
The plain gave way to gentle mountains, and flitting among them I could see more of the flying reptiles, or thipdars, as I had dubbed them. The mountains were fully as high as the Rockies back home, and I adjusted my altitude to get above them. This limited my ability to look for villages, but I reasoned that I would see any large villages, and they would be the ones worth landing at. Two hours brought me over the mountains, and I was determined to find a village and set down before my fuel ran out. Another plain presented itself, and dropping low, I saw a great forest to the east. I had nearly despaired when I saw what appeared to be a network of stone towers in a rough semicircle. I veered off, hoping that I wasn't spotted, and spent a few minutes looking for a place near the forest that I could land and camouflage my aircraft. A spot presented itself and I taxied in.
The trees were much like those on the surface in any of the great forests in Canada, save the weather was more pleasant. I found sufficient branches that I was able to cut down with my knife to cover the plane so that a curious person would not disturb it. There were some odd noises in the woods as I worked, but no denizen of the forest presented itself, and I was soon ready to depart for the ring of towers, which to my mind represented a high level of human technology. Not wishing to frighten the people, I left my carbine in the plane, but did take my knife and pistol, along with some odds and ends from my flight kit to use as barter. The cub was beginning to get used to me, but was still wary, so I devised a carrying sack from my flight suit, giving him a space to stick out his head without being able to wriggle free. I attached the sack to my kit and slung it over my back. Civilization waited.
I marched for nearly two hours. The time spent in my plane told on me, because my legs were pretty sore. Having a kit and a kitten weighing me down didn't help much, either. The sun remained at noon, even though my watch told me that it had been eight hours since I had entered the polar opening. When I approached the ring of towers, I wasn't challenged. This caused me to wonder, because I was used to being barked at by guards whenever I left the base. I decided not to investigate the towers, though. They could be waiting to ambush me, whoever they might be. I was also surprised that no dinosaurs were around, either. I figured that maybe I had left them on the other side of the mountain.
The towers, from a distance, seemed roughly constructed, but solid. They were made from odd-shaped blocks of stone in squat cylinder shapes, crenellated at the top. The way the horizon curved up, I was sure you could see a long way, maybe even to where I hid my plane, since I hadn't marched too fast. The little cub didn't make much fuss, so I assumed that he must have been getting used to me. I thought about naming him. David Innes had a pair of hyenaedons, I remembered, and gave them names from India. After some consideration, I decided to name my cub Lightning, after my plane. It seemed like a good name, especially after the way I saw his parents move. It was bad luck that the dinosaur moved faster.
I noticed that inside the towers were two tall obelisks, carved out of single pieces of stone. They looked like they had been smoothed carefully. The whole place was getting pretty spooky. I went up to the megaliths, and found that they flanked a set of steps, maybe fifty feet wide. I was trying to remember where I had read about something similar in Burroughs. He had written about this very type of thing. I smiled as I remember the cable he sent to Cogdon Nestor: Story True. I had to admit it. The story was true. Everything matched up: a city full of pirates, dinosaurs and other prehistoric monsters everywhere, and now this hole in the ground.
It represented intelligence, though. Looking down the steps, I could see that they went down a long way, but it didn't look especially dark down there. The steps were worn by untold centuries of feet. I could see they went down to a large room, held up by giant columns.
"Well, Lightning," I said over my shoulder to the tiger, "I guess we go down."
His reply was a surprising purr and he rubbed his head against my back. I guess he was letting me know that I was his daddy. Fishing out a spring-loaded flash from my kit just in case, I descended the steps. As I had seen from above, some two hundred feet below was a long, colonnaded hall, from which ran corridors like spokes of a wagon wheel. The light, as best I could tell, came from sets of holes in the ceiling. Peering up into one, I couldn't quite figure it out, but it seemed like there was a system of reflectors that enhanced the natural light of the sun to give this underground city a sort of dusky illumination.
The floor was thick with dust, but I could see ample evidence that there had been some recent habitation, because several sets of bare feet cris-crossed the hall. Spears and shields littered the floor, but they were dust covered as well. I saw nothing else of interest, except a musky, snake-like odor, which did nothing for my mood and caused Lightning to squirm. Not wishing to pause, we shared some water from my canteen and picked a corridor.
The way was broad enough, but I still felt more claustrophobic than in the hall. Perhaps it was because I was getting farther from the steps. Several rooms adjoined the corridor, most of them empty, save for some long stone benches. I was about to retrace my steps and try another corridor when I heard an unmistakable female scream. Immediately, I put away my flash and drew my pistol.
The scream was ahead of me, but I moved cautiously. Who knew what denizens lay ahead? My head was full of wild imaginings, culled from every pulp story I ever read. I wondered how Doc Savage or the Shadow maintained their cool in such situations. The scream was not repeated, but I continued on. As I passed the black rectangle of a doorway, a hand reached out and grabbed my arm.
CHAPTER THREE - LIFE IN THE CITY OF DEATH
I shook off the plucking grasp and whirled to meet whomever had accosted me. Pistol ready, I was surprised to see two humans in the room. One was female, and the other male. The female was tall and lovely, her over-the-shoulder garment of doeskin enhancing, rather than covering, her charms. Her face was heart-shaped, and her almond eyes glittered with a fiery emerald twinkle. She was armed with a stone knife, its chipped obsidian point waving slowly in my direction. Her companion was strangely shorter, and seemed more like a creature of leather-bound piano wire than a cave man. His spare form had not an inch of fat that I could tell, since all but a breechcloth of a soft, tawny hide and suede-appearing moccasins were his only vestments.
His hair was black, but curlier than the ebon locks of his companion. His eyes were small and dark, and his face was craggy, with a rather large nose. While the female was of a uniform tan in pigment, he was a dark bronze, almost olive in his tint. He, too was armed, but with a steel-shod spear and an iron hatchet. The two eyed me warily for a moment. The man spoke in a singsong language that seemed unnatural for his lips. I shook my head.
"I don't understand, I'm afraid," I said.
"English!" The man said in an accented tone.
"American," I corrected. "I am Byron Wells. Do you understand?"
"Buono!" The man replied, smiling broadly. "I am Giuseppe Rinaldo, of the Regia Aeronautica."
"An Italian!" I gasped. "We are at war."
"Dio Mio!" he exclaimed, in shock. "Us against you? This is impossible. Il Duce would never do such a thing."
"You have been down here a while," I smiled. "He was persuaded by Hitler that he had the blood of the Caesars in him."
"Who is this Hitler? He's not Italian, eh?"
"A Nazi. How did you get down here?"
"I was a crewman with the great Nobile. Our airship, the Italia, was exploring the pole, trusting the advice of Swedish meteorologists. We were trying to beat Byrd, your countryman. He arrived with great aircraft that would easily out-race our airship. The Italia was a sweet vessel. She was not truly rigid, like the German dirigibles, but had a rigid keel. We went up, trying to beat Byrd, and it was a disaster. We drove into clouds, and wind, and suddenly the ice began to fly everywhere. The noise was horrible.
"The propellers were specially strengthened to withstand ice storms, but not the cigar. The chunks of ice passed through the propellers and through the skin, piercing the gasbags. I was an engineer, and I had to help seal the bags when the ice went through. It was like the Dutch boy, eh? We tried to rise, and we actually broke through to the sunlight, but it was too late. The ice and wind drove us down, and we went onto the ice. The ship could not take the strain of the crash. The gondola and engines separated from the keel, and the next thing I knew, there was a lurch and we were flying off, a prisoner of the winds.
"I clung for my life to the struts and wires inside the envelope of the ship, while the wind shrieked and whistled through the rents in the skin. I was freezing and scared. The ship was now no more than a free balloon, and it was swept along. Soon the wind dropped, but there was another surge from below. I could not see what was happening, so I crawled forward along the spine of the keel until I could find a hatch. I looked down to see steam and racing water. It came closer, and I thought we would crash and all drown, but we drifted beyond that, over a sea covered with ice floes and wreathed in fog.
"I don't know how long we drifted. It may have been days. I was thirsty and hungry. I found five others of the crew, and scared like myself. Nobody was seriously injured, but we had no weapons, no food, and only a few tools. Finally, the ice ended and we were over plains full of fir trees and waving grasses. It was so beautiful, like the land below the Alps in my own country. We decided that we had to land the ship, so we waited until the land was fairly clear, then we released gas from the bags and settled onto the plain."
"Lost, just like myself," I said. "I was just a kid when Byrd flew over the Pole. He never mentioned an opening. I remember your ship crashing, too. I can't remember much else, though. I was pretty small. What happened then?"
"We made tents out of materials from the ship's skin," Giuseppe continued. "A pair went out to find water while the rest made camp. They came back and reported a city not far away on the slope of some hills. We drank what we could, then gathered up our tools, hoping we could sell them or trade for a way home. We didn't know where we were, so we figured we had flown over the Pole and were in Russia somewhere.
"The city, she looked so strange that we knew we were in Russia. Instead of taking all our stuff in there, we buried half the tools and some of our pocketknives in case things didn't work out. Being Bolshevik, the Russians might not be too friendly to outsiders and we might have to retreat, was our thinking. I wish now, that we had landed in Russia. The Bolsheviks would have been far nicer."
"What about that scream I heard?" I asked, hating to interrupt him.
"Ah!" He said. "That was my companion here. Solame and I have been exploring this city. She seems quite deserted, but Solame heard something in a stairwell and screamed. She said she saw red eyes looking at her from below. She then ran, and I had to follow her. She ran in here, then you went by, and she wanted to warn you, I guess. Eh, Solame?"
The girl said something in her own language that seemed a bit cross by its tone.
"She was hoping that you were one of her kinsmen coming to rescue her," Giuseppe translated. "She says that it was not her fault that you were not."
"Do her kinsmen dress like this?" I demanded.
"I cannot say. I have never seen them. She says they are from the moon."
"The moon?" I started. "She is from the moon?"
"Not the outside moon, the inside one. I have not seen it myself, but they say it exists far to the south of here."
"Why not? There is a sun here, so why not a moon? Go on with your story, and we shall see what devil lurks in that stairwell. My guess is he is not immune to lead."
"In this world, one never knows," Giuseppe smiled. "To continue my tale, we approached the city, and a party of armed men streamed out. They carried muskets and blunderbusses. You would have thought they had come out of one of your Douglas Fairbanks movies. All of them were in gaily-colored outfits, with heavy leather boots and broad hats with feathers. Some carried cutlasses and looked like they needed a pirate ship to make them complete. The rest were naked to the waist, some in kilts, some in striped pants. I have not seen a more evil-looking bunch. Even the Black shirt guards of Il Duce were not so fearsome.
"We hailed them with hands raised and open. They did not shoot us, but we were taken prisoner and stripped of all our possessions. We were then taken to their leader, a giant of a man known as the Cid. He was in a bad temper. He could not speak our language, or we theirs, so we were thrown in the dungeon until we could properly speak to him. I do not know how long we dwelt in that dark, dank place. Snakes and all manner of vermin shared our cells. One man went mad and dashed his head against the floor, mercifully killing him. Slowly, we picked up their tongue."
"When we were able to tell our story, the Cid became very interested in our knowledge of dirigibles. He had some experience with one, apparently, not long before, and wanted his own version. He offered us much in the way of riches and women. Some accepted his offer readily, seeing it as the only way to survive. I was not one of them. I knew the man to be an evil brute and I wanted to be quits with him and his city of pirates. To make a long story short, I escaped. During my stay I had heard of an Empire of Sari, and having got vague directions by land, I endeavored to make my way around the Korsar Az, which is what they call their sea, and down to Sari. Along the way, I met Solame and her slave-girl handmaiden. Say! I forgot all about the maid, Solame."
He spoke again to the dark-haired woman in her own tongue. The girl shrugged with some indifference. She replied in what could be considered bored tone.
"She feels little concern," Giuseppe reported. "The handmaiden is on her own if she cannot keep up with her mistress. Solame would consider it good if the red-eyed thing devoured her, allowing us to escape unmolested."
"Another example of the cruelness of this world," I said sadly. "Let's go and see what this red-eyed monster is. I have a feeling that there is more to this place than dust and moon maidens."
Giuseppe led me back down the corridor to the stairwell. I stayed at his shoulder while the purported Moon inhabitant stayed a slight distance to the rear. When we rounded the corner, I faced a scene of horror. There, lumbering out of the darkness was a reptilian creature nearly eight feet tall. About it hung leathery wings so that it appeared to be wearing a dark olive shawl. The being's body glistened with some sort of gelid fungus, as if it had dwelt far into the depths. A serrated ridge of bone ran down the monster's spine, ending at the tip of its somewhat lengthy tail. This denizen from the Pit was towering over a girl, apparently the handmaiden.
How different she was from her mistress! Where the Moon woman was tall and raw-boned, this maiden looked to be barely out of childhood. She could not have been five feet tall, and was so slender that I felt that I could encircle her waist with my hands. She turned at our approach, and I could see, however, that she possessed all the curves of a mature woman, and they were enhanced by the combination of shimmering cloth and spotted hides than swathed her breasts and hips. It was her face, though, that entranced me more than her loathsome antagonist.
Framed by soft, waving hair the color of corn silk was a small face with huge, almost luminous blue eyes. She reminded me of some elf from a fairy tale. As the reptile slowly approached, she drew forth from her bosom a slim steel dagger. By her actions, I was afraid she would plunge it into her breast rather than become dinner for this fiend.
"Stand back, girl!" I cried. "I will save you from that thing."
The girl didn't understand me, so Giuseppe translated for me. During this exchange, the winged lizard finally noticed us, and I was at a loss to understand why it had not heard us approach, when the girl had plainly done so. I aimed my pistol as she drew back, and the creature raised itself up to its full height, seeming to understand the weapon I used. Slowly, it began to retreat to the stairwell.
"I think it's got some smarts," I told Giuseppe. "It's bigger than any of us, yet it backed down when it saw my gun. What kind of lizard is that, anyway?"
"I have never seen one like it," Giuseppe said. "It does seem to respect a gun. Maybe I can talk to it."
He said something to it in Pellucidarian, but the creature, while looking right at Giuseppe, gave no sign that it comprehended him. Without warning, the blonde maiden gave an anguished cry, and sank to the floor moaning. I rushed to her side, still training my pistol on the monster. I helped her to a sitting position against the stone wall of the corridor, but she continued to hold one hand to her head. Giuseppe asked her some questions, then turned to me.
"Ee-lah-na says that she feels the creature's thoughts in her head," he explained. "They are cold and lizard-like. The strain on her is bad."
Ee-lah-na! So, this girl had a name. It sounded musical, and I said it aloud. She turned to me as I did so, and a wan smile flitted across her full, pale lips. Her skin, in fact, seemed whiter than the tanned exteriors of Giuseppe and Solame. I turned to the thing again, cudgeling my brain for a memory from Burroughs of this thing.
Of course! It was a Mahar, one of that reptilian species that had once dominated a part of Pellucidar. Evolved, according to Abner Perry, from the ramphorynchus, these creatures possessed agile minds to go with their ability to fly. I then recalled their total deafness, and that their only means of communication was through their ape-men allies, the Sagoths, who could pick up their telepathic commands. Evidently, this girl could also feel their thoughts, though she was far removed from the brutal ape-men described by Burroughs. She was far removed from any other woman I had ever seen before.
"What did it want?" I asked.
"It wants to be left alone," was the reply. "It has lived in the dark for many sleeps, working to attain its goals, and just wants to be left alone to complete its task."
"To either re-create something called the Great Secret, or to create a male Mahar."
I seemed to remember that David Innes had hidden the Great Secret, the method that Mahars were able to reproduce without the male of their species. So, here, in the depths of one of its great cities, toiled one of the former dominant species of Pellucidar, working ceaselessly to regain what had been taken.
"Tell it we mean it no harm," I said. The thing was no threat to us, especially since I could easily dispatch it. I did not want it to make any rash decisions, however. Then, a thought came to me. If the creature was of an advanced race, especially one that could reproduce asexually, then it must have the equipment necessary to produce compounds and other items. If possible, I wondered if it could produce gasoline. I discussed this possibility with Giuseppe in English.
"Why not?" He shrugged. "I know something of the distillation of gasoline. If this thing has a laboratory, we could at least try. Would your plane hold us all?"
"I think that if we stripped it down of non-essential items, it could. I am hopeful that it could take us closer to the empire of Sari."
During this time, Lightning was whining in my improvised carrier. The musky odor of the Mahar was giving him a fit. I tickled him behind his ear while Giuseppe relayed our wishes to Ee-lah-na. She looked up at the Mahar intently, but did not get up. For a moment, both were motionless, then the Mahar turned its snout toward me, as if studying me with renewed interest. It turned again to the girl, who seemed to wilt as the reptile focused its gaze upon her. She stared at us with agonized eyes, and I confess that it broke my heart.
She spoke in the language of Pellucidar, and Giuseppe's eyes brightened.
"She says that the creature will help us in exchange for allowing it to accompany us to some place called Phutra," he reported.
"Another Mahar city, I believe," I stated. "I thought it was destroyed by David Innes during his campaign to liberate his part of Pellucidar from these soulless creatures, but perhaps this one believes that it may hold some key to its success. At any rate, it's a deal we can't afford to pass up. The other thing we have to do is develop some sort of sign language to communicate with it. The effect on this servant's mind must be tremendous. I think we might risk her very life if we continue to communicate with this reptile through her."
"Yes, yes, of course," Giuseppe agreed. "Solame tells me that the girl is very weak, that she allows her to serve her only out of pity."
"One last message," I said. "Tell the Mahar we accept these terms and that we must institute an alternative form of communication."
We conveyed this to the reptile, and it assented. After that came an intense period of work for us all, lasting for an unknown length of time. I could have counted sleeps, I supposed, which was the vague form of estimation that Solame used, but it seemed pointless. I would look up and it was noon, look up again, and it was still noon. It took some time to inventory the laboratory of the Mahars. Most of the equipment we found had been left to deteriorate. I speculated that the Mahars' view of evolution was to eventually become free of the need for sex. I found this amusing, since I had always regarded this need as being one of the more interesting aspects of reproduction.
Humans, at least those that swarmed over the surface, were always working on gadgets that made life easier, work simpler, or killing more efficient. Even in my short life, we had jumped from clumsy cars and airplanes to graceful engines of destruction. Tanks, flamethrowers, aircraft carriers, all these things had grown from fledglings in the last war to terrible death-dealers in this one. Of course, I saw things through the eyes of a soldier. Medicines, appliances, and other things had progressed as well.
These seemed to be the pinnacles for human achievement. I regarded what passed for a superior being in this hollow world with irony. While we scurried about in ever increasing complexity above, below this creature was attempting to simplify its existence by streamlining procreation. To what end, I wondered. Were males of the species vicious or repulsive? Or did the Mahars merely wish one sex to make their communal habitation easier and more regimented by being able to focus on the needs of a single sex? I felt incapable of delving too deep into these philosophical and scientific waters. Instead, I began to feel a certain pity for the thing. The joy of human intimacy was unknown to it, as foreign as the spoken word.
Though speechless, it possessed a logical, fertile mind, capable of grasping our intent as we attempted to find a simple sign language. I was saddled with a double duty, because I felt it necessary to learn the common language of Pellucidar, the language of the gilaks, as humans called themselves in conjunction with the sign language that Giuseppe and I developed to more readily communicate with our two female companions. While I found the larger Solame of little interest, the opposite was definitely the case for her handmaiden.
To be sure, the raven-haired Selenite kept her attendant busy gathering and preparing food, while Solame spent most of her time observing our work and stroking Giuseppe. I sometimes was a bit blushed by her attentions, but this was tempered by a sneaking distrust of her that had no real foundation. It was a hunch, but it nagged me. After initial success with our sign language, Giuseppe spent more time with the Mahar in the lab, and less talking with me. That left me more free time to work on my Pellucidarian vocabulary with Ee-lah-na. Since it became harder to forage for food near the Mahar city, I would accompany her as a body guard. Knowing that my supply of cartridges would run out, I used this time also to search out hardwoods that would make a sturdy bow and arrows. Lightning would usually ride along in my backpack, since he loathed the Mahar, but lately, he was almost too big to fit.
His rapid gain in size gave me pause. I again pondered a land without time. How fast would a saber-tooth tiger mature on the surface? Was the time period the same here? If so, did the tiger know how fast time passed? Of course, it probably didn't care. I was beginning to feel the same way. We might have been working on our projects for a few days, or a few months for all I knew. To worry about it would be maddening. I preferred to think about my lovely companion. She had a good eye for edible fruits and plants. I would be conservative and use my pistol only if I had a clear shot on something she assured me would be edible. During the trip out and back, we would talk. On one foray, we traveled to my P-38 and gathered the rest of my gear. I found the plane undisturbed, though the foliage I had used to conceal it was dried. I can only attribute it safety to some animal instinct to ignore man-made things that did not smell like food. As we returned, I heard a rustling in a thick patch of brush.
I swept Ee-lah-na behind me and leveled my carbine. Suddenly, an ungainly form scuttled forward out of the verdure. It was perhaps fifteen feet in length, with short, lizard-feet propelling it toward us as it hissed menacingly. I hurriedly noted a giant half-circle of spines projecting from its back that undulated beneath a layer of skin as it waddled out. The thing had a blunt lizard head full of sharp teeth. I aimed between the gaping jaws and fired two rounds, both penetrating the soft underside of its upper jaw.
I believed the thing to be a Dimetrodon, one of those strange pre-dinosaur lizards. The two shots caused its head to whip to one side in pain. I followed it with another shot behind its lower jaw at the base of the neck as its head turned. The low-power 30-caliber bullet punctured its scaly hide and caused the reptile to stumble in shock. A huge convulsion shook its greenish-black frame. The thing coughed up a quantity of blood and rolled onto its side, legs kicking feebly. At that point, I realized that I had not taken a breath since the thing erupted from its concealment and exhaled heavily.
Ee-lah-na clapped her small hands. I turned to find her looking up at me with the first smile I had even seen cross her lovely features. Before she had always seemed so sad. Now, I saw her differently. The smile seemed to suit her much better than her continual frown, enhancing her already considerable beauty. I was so entranced that for a moment, I couldn't speak. She took my silence for displeasure and her visage became downcast.
"You are displeased with Ee-lah-na," she said quietly.
"Why would you think that?" I blurted, coming out of my stupor.
"You said nothing after I was so happy you saved this unworthy slave," she said, not daring to look up at me. I slung my carbine and gently lifted her chin with my right hand until she was staring directly at my face.
"You did not displease me," I told her. "On the contrary, you threw me for a loop."
"I don't think so. I certainly could not lift you, let alone throw you."
I smiled at this, and she lost her sadness. "It's an expression. It means that I wasn't expecting you to be so happy, and when you were happy, you were even prettier than ever."
Her ivory features blushed at this. "I am only a slave. It is my mistress who is beautiful."
"Solame is pretty, that's true," I agreed. "However, you are beautiful."
Again she colored. "You must not say these things. Solame would beat me if she thought a man would think me lovelier than her."
"Not while I'm around. Where I come from we don't take to slavery and we sure don't take to bullies. My great-grandfather fought to free enslaved people back home. I'm not up on all the customs around here, but that's one I don't care for. As soon as we get clear of this mess, I'll see to it you're freed."
"Why, Byron? I am nobody, from nowhere. I have no friends or family here. Solame and Giuseppe are all I know. And," she added, coloring a bit more, "you, of course."
"First, you are not a nobody. You are a thinking, feeling, human being. You deserve to be free to do as you will. And everybody comes from somewhere. Where do you come from?"
We had continued back toward the great tower that would lead us below ground to the Mahar city. "I am not allowed by my mistress to discuss that," she said, unhappy once more. "I will definitely be beaten then."
"I told you nobody was going to beat you. Is she fleeing some sort of trouble? And what's this business about being from the moon?"
"I am not sure where she is from, but I am almost certain she is not from the moon."
"How can you be sure?"
She gripped my arm with her slender, strong fingers. "Promise me you will say nothing of this until we go to this place the Mahar wishes."
"Fine, I promise. That makes me more determined to get to this Phutra place. Sounds like something you say when you smell a rotten egg. And I sure smell one where this business of you and Solame come in. Okay, we're back anyway. Once we get enough gas to get to that place, then you'll come clean."
"I am clean, Byron Wells, I bathe daily in an area I found in a lower chamber. There is a pool there. It is very scary, though. There are skulls all about."
She looked so petulant when she said that, it was almost an effort to keep from laughing. "I am sure you are clean, Ee-lah-na. You smell great to me. It's just an expression from the surface. You say you found a pool? I've been washing in water dipped from a cistern I found."
"I will show you, Byron Wells, but you will not like it."
CHAPTER FOUR - THE POOL OF DEATH
When we returned, I checked in with Giuseppe. He was happy to report that the Mahar had located a tar pit not too far away from which we could find the raw materials to refine gasoline. It had taken whatever passed for time up to this point to assemble the materials from parts in the Mahars' laboratory and rig up the necessary distilling apparatus. We ate our usual Spartan meal, after which I insisted Ee-lah-na show me the pool she was talking about. Taking only my pistol, I followed her down a broad winding stairway that was off another spoke of the main hub at the center of the Mahars' city.
"How do you hear that thing's thoughts?" I asked her as we descended. It was a real novelty to be able to hold a conversation with somebody besides Giuseppe. Besides, I liked the diminutive Pellucidarian. The way she would look at me gave me a thrill. I tried to think of her just as another work-mate, but it was becoming more and more difficult.
"Where I am from, we can sometimes pick up the thoughts of others," she said, simply, a small smile on her equally small features. "Not word for word most of the time, but usually when they are tied to strong feelings, emotions."
"Wow," I said. "Can you read my mind?"
"I haven't tried. It's not something we consider polite where I am from. You wouldn't eavesdrop on Solame and Giuseppe would you?"
"Well, no, especially when they," I stopped short, still trying to get a handle on relationships. "I mean, are they, do they -"
"Are they mates? Not the way I am used to. One mates for life where I am from, but it usually is arranged by the families."
"That's the way I like it, too," I told her. "Where you come from sounds like a nice place, especially if they are all like you."
She blushed, which really stood out on her pale skin. "That is the problem. They are not all like me back home. I would not want to go back there."
We had reached the bottom of the steps and were now in a long passageway, still lit by the reflected sunlight arrangement. I could feel a dampness coming from ahead. Ee-lah-na's story was getting stranger by the moment, even considering the strange events I was already involved in.
"Well, it's got to better than being a handmaiden for Miss Round Heels of the Stone Age back there," I said.
"They are a people bored with what they have. Now, they want to make war."
"Sounds like the Nazis back home. Well, here we are, I guess."
Before us the passageway broadened into a vast amphitheater of rocks, leading down to a pool of black water. The rocks looked platform-like, set in tiers around the pool. I saw several pieces of debris littering the rocky ledges. Going over to examine one pile I found odd bones and two skulls. By the tooth marks on several of the bones, I had no doubt that the humans represented by these pitiful remains had been devoured, no doubt by either the Mahars or their servants. I wondered again at the devil's bargain we had made with the Mahar above us. Once we had given it what it wanted, would it try to destroy us, or go away and return with a renewed race bent on subjugating humanity once more?
"You are one brave lady," I said, looking at Ee-lah-na. She looked back at me with a strange intensity. I was about to say more when suddenly there was a shrieking above us, a growing screeching and rustling. I looked up, unsnapping my pistol, only to see a cloud of winged shapes bursting out of the ceiling. I took them at first to be bats, but when they drew closer, I could see that they were small flying lizards, some sort of dimorphodon. In all aspects, they mimicked their surface mammal counterparts, chattering and boiling around the room. Ee-lah-na screamed in response and clutched me closely. I put one hand over her head and held her tight, delighted at the feel of her small, luscious form against me. The lizards, while upset, did not attack, but formed into a cigar-shaped cloud and rushed out through an illumination port.
"I think I've seen enough," I commented, trying to break the tension.
She immediately wriggled loose from my embrace and stood back, flustered.
"I never knew they were here," she said. "Why do you suppose these people died here?"
"You don't know, do you?" I asked, wishing she had held on a little longer. "You are such a sweet, innocent lady. These bones here were gnawed on by the sisters of that oversized scaly stork up there. I learned that these Mahars were once the dominant race down here. They enslaved humans, and had these big ape-man brutes as servants. They also used thipdars as their personal bodyguards. You know what thipdars are, don't you?"
"Yes, the big flying lizards. We don't have such things at home." She reached out and touched my arm with her slender fingers. "Can we go back up now, Byron Jasper Wells? Now that you have told me about the nature of this place, I don't want to go back here ever."
"I'm sorry to spoil it for you," I said as we retraced our steps. "The Mahars used the same mental powers that allow you to read its thoughts to hypnotize humans. They would perform elaborate ceremonies down here. The queen, I am told, would lead one human out into the water and ritually dismember them while still alive. The hypnosis was so strong that the human would feel no pain, only stop functioning once its vital organs had been chewed off. It's horrible to contemplate, but that's how the Mahars got their kicks. I've shot several animals while I've been down here, but I never took any pleasure in killing a living thing. These Mahars aren't human, they have no ability to care, to feel sorry, to want to understand what they consider inferior beings, or to love." I stumbled the last out a little. I was still smiling inside after that bear hug she gave me.
"I sometimes think my people are like that," Ee-lah-na said. "They believed that all others are inferior, and that war is their only solution to relieve the overcrowded conditions of our land. Marriages were arranged, with only the thought of creating perfect offspring."
"A master race, selective breeding, and lebensraum - I'm sorry, living space," I barked with an ironic tone. "I've heard all those slogans back home. That's why my country went to war. We're fighting a dictator who believes that his people are superior to all other races, and that they should inherit the lands of the inferior humans, to the point of exterminating whole populations if necessary. No marriages outside the master race are allowed. They want blonde, blue-eyed children. Even though their dictator has coal-black hair. It's madness."
"My leaders would agree with this dictator perfectly," she said. "Even now they perfect their weapons of war. I ran away because the mate they were selecting for me was very cruel. He would even kick pets."
"Nice guy," I commented. "Well, we're back now. I think we need to have a word with the Mahar, if you're up to it."
"It depends on how forceful the thought waves are. The Mahar can be very intense, as when we first met her. I will try to ask it to keep its power low."
"Sounds like trying to send too much juice through too small an electric cable," I said. "Something's got to give. Ok, let me talk to Giuseppe first."
I found the wiry Italian examining a flask full of amber liquid at one end of the makeshift lab. The Mahar sat at the opposite end, still as a gargoyle statue.
"What's that stuff?" I asked. "You're distilling beer down here are you?"
Giuseppe smiled a face-splitting grin. "Not at all. If you want to drink this, you take a drink first, eh?" He unstopped the flask and held it under my nose.
"Gasoline!" I exclaimed. "You've got the real thing."
"With this, we can head south, find Sari," he said. I need to rig up some sort of cart to carry the stuff bubbling up out of that tar pit. It's going to take a while, but we should have enough to fuel your plane before we get old and gray."
"I didn't think anybody lived long enough down here to get old and gray. What about the flying newt over there? She didn't croak on us, did she?" I pointed to the immobile Mahar.
"She's a just sleeping, I guess." Giuseppe shrugged his shoulders. "I see her do that when she is done working and not eating. She never closes her eyes, just kind of goes into a trance for a while."
"Probably something to do with her cold-blooded physiology. Just as well. I've got something to discuss with you." I outlined my adventures at the pool with Ee-lah-na. "Who's to say that once she gets this Great Secret, she doesn't turn out enough sisters to start the party all over again? Humans fought hard enough before just to get 86'd again."
"Well, what do you propose?" Giuseppe scratched his curly head. "Do we go back on our promise and kill the thing before we leave? It hasn't offered to harm us."
"It needs us. I wonder what it eats now? Do we keep bargains made with monsters?"
"It's a thinking creature, like us. Do you want to start the whole superior being mess again? I have heard enough of your talk about this Hitler. Now you want to exterminate another intelligent being without cause."
"Without cause? Giuseppe, it eats humans."
He shrugged his shoulders. "It hasn't eaten us. We'll use the pale girl and talk to it before making any decisions. For now, help me run a tube to the storage tank over there. I am trying to keep the gas as refined as possible. After all, your plane is very sophisticated compared to the bi-planes I remember, yes?"
"Yes," I said, and we fell to work. After a period of time, during which we worked, the women brought us food, and then we worked some more
Later, the Mahar stirred itself. It seemed to shiver a bit all over, then it rose and looked over our work. I went and got Ee-lah-na and we formed a half circle around it. My hand was never far from my holster flap, uncertain of the thing's sincerity. I wondered what feelings existed within that scaly, reptilian body. To shorten this narrative, I am just giving the questions and answers, without the laborious translation by Ee-lah-na's mental telepathy.
"I went down and saw the pool while you slept," I told it. "Human bones were all about."
"That was many sleeps ago. Many of my sisters have left or died since then."
"You ate humans there, did you not?" I asked.
"Yes, and I am sure many more bones are beneath the waters of the pool. Shall we get to work?" The thing regarded me with its cold, remorseless gaze, and I could feel a hint of its hypnotic powers. Ee-lah-na did not seem overly stressed by the exchange, so I continued.
"Not just yet," I said. "You are now working with the same creatures you feasted on when you controlled the gilaks. Do you still look upon us as food?"
"The fact that you can communicate and make tools is supposed to change thousands of generations of Mahar thinking?" it asked, its unblinking gaze never leaving me. "For now, we understand the necessity of working toward a common goal. I wish to go to Phutra unmolested, and you wish to find advanced gilaks like yourselves. Have you found some reason to abrogate this agreement? You haven't, have you? What are a few old bones to you? Nothing."
I could suddenly feel a dizziness sweep me. The Mahar's eyes suddenly seemed huge, until they were about to swallow me. Giuseppe saw me swaying and shook me sharply.
"Wake up, Byron!" he shouted. "It's trying to control you."
I came to myself and held my pistol pointed at the creature's heart. I was amazed that my mind could have been subjugated so easily.
"You will never attempt to use your powers on any of us again." I told it. "You know that this weapon can kill you from a great distance. For now, we will keep our bargain because I come from a people that believe that their word is their bond. One slip from you, and I will splatter your insides from one end of this lab to the other. Do you understand?"
"Yes," it said, though, of course, its toothy beak never moved. "You will not speak of the past, and I will not speak of the fact that you are just as easily entranced and are just as violent as any of the other gilaks I have encountered. I wonder which one of us is the real monster?"
I refused to be baited further.
"Remember my words, and this shall be the end of our conversation," I said, feeling my jaw clench as I spoke, grinding out my speech. "We are both intelligent creatures. Your powers differ from mine, as do your feelings, or lack thereof. However violent we gilaks might be, we do not eat Mahars. The fact that David Innes did not exterminate you when he held the upper hand shows you how we of the surface feel about the rights of all sentient beings to exist. Don't make me reassess this on an individual basis. We work together, and when we arrive at Phutra, our relationship ends."
The creature vented a low hiss and clacked its long jaws, but otherwise made no comment, only to use our sign language to convey that it was ready to get to work. Ee-lah-na seemed relieved at this, and I led her back to Solame so that they could prepare food for our meals. Her luminous eyes never left the Mahar as we left and she shivered visibly.
"I have seen madness and cruelty," she whispered to me, "but never have I felt such a coldness. This creature's thoughts are like the chill of a mountain peak, where water is frozen. Blackness darker than the interior of a cave swirls around its mind. Byron Wells, I believe this thing is beyond our comprehension of evil. I never thought I could feel the thoughts of a monster, but that is what I have heard."
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," I said, taking her hand. "Look, I'm not going to put you through that again. We have the sign language. That'll be enough. I don't think we can relate to this thing anyway. As you say, it's a monster. Say, what do you know of frozen water? This place is one big Hawaii."
"I don't know what you mean by Hawaii," she said, "but where I come from, there are lots of places where nothing grows, and on the mountain tops are patches of white frozen water. Our leaders have it sent for to cool their drinks. Only the powerful can have such a privilege."
"The more I hear of your home, the worse it sounds," I said. "Is it such an unhappy place?"
"No, it is not. It is just that our leaders have used speeches to make the people long for more than what they have. They now want to move out, to attack."
"Sounds like Nazis to me," I sighed. "I am glad you aren't like that."
We arrived at the door to the sleeping quarters she shared with Solame. "Byron," she said, squeezing my hand, "promise me that you will not let them take me back if I am found."
"I promise," I said easily. "I will defend you with my life. Back home, there was a people called Texans, and another people that they wanted to be free from ruled them. They had a device called a cannon, like my pistol, only bigger. The other people, Mexicans, came to attack them, and the Texans made up a banner, a piece of cloth with words on it, that said: come and take it. Anybody wants you, they have to go through me, because I'm going to tell them the same thing: Come and take her."
She looked up at me, and I saw something different in her eyes. It was an intensity that up until that point I was unfamiliar with. The rest of existence seemed to retreat away that instant, leaving us alone, standing there oblivious to all. Her hand was suddenly warm in mine, and I realized that I was crossing into a territory just as unexplored as when I passed through the polar opening. There wasn't much reasoning beyond that. My heart began to pound and feelings erased any logical thought progression.
I can't remember if our embrace was gradual or quick. I gathered her up, lifting her off her tiny feet as her slender arms twined around my neck and my lips hungrily sought hers. This was real passion, not the pulp kind where feelings remain unrequited or stilted until the story could end in a tidy package. We had been thrown together in close contact for many sleeps, years perhaps on the outside world. Right now, though, time had stopped, and all I knew was the sweet softness of her lips and the rushing of my blood in my veins as I held her luscious body close to my own.
We said nothing, but in my mind I was beginning to half-form ideas, words, fragments of what to tell her. Any further movement in that direction, however, was squashed when the door to Ee-la-nah's quarters flew open to reveal the tall, rawboned Solame. Her eyes blazed beneath the black tangled mass of her hair.
"What is this?" She demanded. "My servant giving herself to a man on my very doorstep. He has more important things to do that waste his time with your dalliance, you little tramp. Tell him goodbye swiftly, and enjoy this memory. Perhaps it will comfort you while you are being beaten." She reached out a tanned hand and roughly yanked the girl toward her.
I snatched away the offending paw so hard that Solame stumbled a bit. She looked to me in anger. "You will not beat this girl," I said, my own passion energizing my voice. "She has done nothing worth beating and has been through a terrible ordeal communicating with the Mahar. Yes, I do have to work on our escape, but I tell you this. If I find one mark upon her body the next time I see her, you will receive a beating - from me."
Solame stiffened in terror. "You would not dare!" She shrieked. "Giuseppe would-"
"Would what?" came a voice behind me. I half turned to see the Italian engineer. "I was wondering what was keeping dinner and I find you three arguing."
"Solame wants to beat Ee-la-nah because she found us embracing," I said, hesitating on the last part a bit. I could feel the heat in my cheeks. "I told her to lay off or I'd give her a licking."
"And she thought I would stop you," Giuseppe surmised. "She's a not so dumb. I don't believe in anybody getting a beating, but I got a this to say. If she touches the girl, I beat her myself and you can have anything that's left. Now, I a damn sight hungry and somebody better get some food going before I do get in a mood to spank somebody." He grinned and slapped my back. "Come on, Byron. Let's make some gas while they make something to give us gas, OK? Besides, I've got an idea about a special package for our trip."
"A package? What's the occasion? Without night and day, I can even begin to consider a calendar."
He chuckled briefly. "Well, this occasion is our leaving this place. The way you described your airplane, I don't think all of us will fit, even without the Mahar. Not to mention your not-so-little kitty."
Actually, Lightning had been my only gauge that a long time had passed. He was as long as I was tall, and probably outweighed me by a hundred pounds. In between sleeping and working, I had trained him much like I have seen guard dogs trained. He was highly intelligent, and his only drawback was that he was a cat, and had his own ideas about some things. He did have a sense of deferring to the family head, which was me, so he did listen most of the time. He was also pretty handy at finding antelope and bringing back enough for us all. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, he didn't like the Mahar at all.
When we got to our workshop, Giuseppe unrolled a sheet of parchment that the girls had produced for us to make notes on. This, however, was a complex diagram, complete with specifications. Giuseppe had written it down in Italian, which was unreadable. Still, it was easy to see that what he was working on looked a lot like a monoplane.
"Another airplane?" I asked him. "I don't see anything about an engine. Does the Mahar have a machine shop capable of turning out a Pratt and Whitney? A Rolls Royce Merlin, or a Hispano-Suiza, maybe?"
"We have two engines on your plane, Byron," he said, smiling. "They will be all we need. During our conversations, you told me how the Nazis used gliders towed behind transports to carry extra men and equipment. Without your bombs, you should have enough power to lift a light craft and its occupants, though you won't be able to do complex maneuvers. That's what this is. I designed it as a hollow shell with a wide wing to provide easy lift. Here you see how the tow cable attaches to the nose of the glider and the tail of your fighter. While duralumin would be the ideal material for the frame, we will have to do with local woods that will provide strength while being light."
"We will also need a loom to produce the fabric for the skin," I pointed out.
"Not necessarily. I believe that we could provide an adequate covering by using stretched hides, carefully sewn. It has taken me some time to perfect the design and work out the calculations by hand. Mahars don't use slide rules."
I noted his lapses in perfect English ended when he explained things carefully. "So, you get this thing built and then we get it airborne. What happens if it shakes apart?
"A chance we must risk. I think we can produce simple levers so that if it suffered damage, I could sever the cable and glide it to a landing."
"A controlled crash, you mean."
He rolled up the parchment and tied it with a piece of leather. "Let's just make every effort to ensure that doesn't happen. I calculate that we should be able to get the glider finished at approximately the same time as we finish refining the gasoline. The two girls should be able to help us with the hides and sewing. Lightning's hunting skills will get us the raw materials for the skin, and the Mahar can tell us which trees will provide the best wood for the frame. I also need to build a setup to draw wire so we can weave cables for the controls, even if it has to be copper."
We worked happily and steadily after that, but my mind was far from the painfully slow drip of the amber fuel from the filtration system into the storage containers. I was already considering bringing my airplane into the city's proximity and beginning to pour fuel into its tanks while we labored to construct a glider that would allow all of us to escape. Once in the kingdom of Sari, we would be free from having to work with the repellent Mahar. I would also ask David Innes to set Ee-la-nah free so that she could be with me, and not with that lunar loony Solame. At the end of our work period, I ate, but barely tasted my food as I gazed into Ee-la-nah's eyes. She smiled through the entire encounter, and I went to sleep dreaming of a happy future flying for the Emperor of Pellucidar.
EDITOR'S NOTE: July 15, 1942: 8 American aircraft landed on the icecap in Eastern Greenland. One of the planes tipped over but the pilot escaped with minor injury. The remaining aircraft, 5 P-38s and 2 B-17 Flying Fortresses, landed gear up after running out of fuel in bad weather. Pilots and crew were immediately rescued by a dogsled expedition. The planes were left intact on the ice...
The US Government has yet to reveal the total number of aircraft lost due to mysterious conditions near the North Pole. The Arctic environment claimed the lives of many military aircrews. As a last resort, The Wells family, after a 60 year effort to learn the fate of their son, successfully invoked the Freedom of Information Act. Byron James Wells apparently did not subcumb to enemy action or equipment failure, he and his aircraft simply disappeared. The Wells family has learned—as recently reported (2001) by Jason Gridley of California—their son did not perish by enemy action. The family has so far successfully pursued a lawsuit charging the US Government with concealing the death of their child and an egregious failure to pay GI insurance. The claim, if paid today with back interest, would be $267,000. Mother Wells says "He fought the good fight. I cannot replace my son. Bryon did his duty. But those bastards kept silent all these years. I still have a candle in the window. I still keep hoping there's a letter home. Tell me Bry is dead by enemy action and show me his body or pay my grief! I've waited sixty years and more!"
The US Congressional House agrees. The US Senate has expressed an opposing response which fears attempts to make Bryon James Well's death an Every Soldier Lost Mysteriously requires a government payback monetary to the families.
Gridley, long recognized a master in the field of wireless communication and the inventor of the Gridely Wave, released an archived transcript of a communication with long believed dead explorer Abner Perry, circa 1951. Perry, an aging hot-shot geologist of 1913 embarked on a crack-pot descent into Earth's mantle with protege David Innes. Officially, both Perry and Innes were considered lost or dead by the US Government despite popular reports to the contrary by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Jana Gridley, who married husband Jason in 1930 and astonishingly appears to be mid-thirties in her regal appearance, responded last month to news media outside their modest Encino, California home. She cited Perry as the source of the Byron James Wells report which has gained so much attention in recent months in the public mind as well as the legislature. All requests by this editor to directly interview Jason Gridley have been refused, nor has Gridley made any public statements regarding the Wells Release.
"Leave him alone," Jana Gridley has said to reporters and microphones over the last twenty years. Specifically, as regards the loss of WWII aircraft near the North Pole: "The Wells transcript was released after long litigation. We have nothing further to say. My husband is currently involved in matters more important than this."
National news services notes that Jana Gridley adamantly declines to express which "matters" are more important to her husband's research. Jason Gridley remains incommunicado.
The Editor is faced with a dilemma similar to that which Edgar Rice Burroughs faced when reporting Barsoom and Va-nah events. Is this radio transcript by Byron Wells real or fiction? Mr. Gridley has also provided sufficient information that a topological map of the area was produced by cartologist David Bruce Bozarth. This editor has determined through ancillary sources that the story of Byron Wells should be told. I leave it to others to disprove the facts which herein follow!
CHAPTER FIVE — RETURN TO THE SKIES
Pulp adventure novels always seem so exciting to me. They teem with non-stop action. Real life is much more tedious. There was a difference, though, to the monotony at work in that dead city of the Mahars. For the first time since becoming stranded in Pellucidar, the world beneath Earth's surface, I had hope for a future, a life with a beautiful woman who loved me as deeply as I loved *her. Love does strange things to a man, and I am the first to admit I was giddy with the blush of romance. I seemed superhuman in my abilities, and worked tirelessly toward my goal of taking my small band of companions to the seat of the Empire of Sari and meeting with David Innes, the Emperor of civilized Pellucidar.
Of course, it wasn't all smooth sailing. When I went to retrieve my P-38, I found that little rodents had chewed some of the wiring and it had to be replaced. Others had destroyed the leather and padding inside the cockpit, so that had to be replaced also. Luckily, the damage was minor and I was able to bring the plane next to the city where we kept it covered with a lean-to made of woven branches and grasses. Everything we did had to be made nearly from scratch. The tools and equipment in the Mahar's lab were mainly geared toward biological chemistry, but Giuseppe was able to devise the most ingenious things with them.
Lightning brought in fresh meat and hides. The girls scraped and sewed. I used my survival knife to cut hides into strips so that they could join large pieces of hide across the wooden frame of our glider. We used primitive methods to shape the frame, but Giuseppe had an excellent eye, and the glider began to take an elegant shape. I drew pictures of transport planes and gliders from memory, and Giuseppe chose his design from them, refining the shape he originally had shown me.
Cables and fittings proved to be a small problem, but Giuseppe adapted some sort of furnace that the Mahars used to incinerate hazardous chemicals and refuse into a reasonable forge. We experimented with copper zinc, and tin, found in quantity within a mile of the city. Bronze was too brittle, but brass made for nice fittings. Producing glass capable of holding up to flight was beyond us; so Giuseppe designed a series of sliding panels that he could close to keep the wind off, yet open during takeoff so he could see. He also forged a set of brass mirrors that he could project from the side to see with, but even the high polish he gave them made them barely reliable.
Salome, consequently, could not understand why she had to make sets of furs, but Ee-la-nah seemed unruffled by the idea. Even in the tropics of Pellucidar, the air at several thousand feet would be a trifle chilly at three hundred miles per hour or so. Eventually, after whatever time passed back on the surface, we had everything ready. Giuseppe's glider looked like something from a pulp artist's imagination. The brass fittings were strange to me after all the nickel and chrome that coated most modern planes' parts. Giuseppe's carefully sewn wing fabric was based on his experience with the Norge, and he included an uncoupling device in case he needed to disconnect from my plane. He rigged a retractable tether to my tail boom and we were set.
We used my plane to drag the glider into position. It was tricky business, but finally we had them lined up with a long flat stretch. The glider rested on skids and would be tricky to land if the ground were rough. Of course, I considered any landing we could all walk away from to be a good one. We loaded food and tools in my tail boom compartments and our distillery equipment in the back of the glider. We worked out the weight so that Salome, Lightning and I would ride in the P-38, and Giuseppe, Ee-la-nah, and the Mahar would ride in the glider. I didn't like the idea of her not riding with me, but she was needed to communicate with the Mahar in case Giuseppe was too busy to use sign language.
Giuseppe and I checked over each plane carefully, making sure all the controls worked and that the lubricant levels were fine. We then topped off my fuel and prepared to board. I made a series of gestures to the Mahar to indicate that I would tolerate no interference from her during the flight, though inwardly I was at a loss to figure out how to enforce such a statement. She gave me a direct bearing to Phutra, and had even laboriously sketched a map of salient features that would guide me if we got off course. I shook Giuseppe's hand.
"I guess you never counted on this when you signed on with Nobile," I said.
"Adventure is adventure, and this is greater than anything on the top, eh?" he said, grinning. I go now and load the Mahar. You just fly this thing without any funny stuff."
"We're fine as long as the thipdars leave us alone. After all, the last things we have to worry about are enemy interceptors here."
Then, I was facing Ee-la-nah. She smiled much more that it gave her such an appealing look along with her big blue eyes. Unheeding, I squeezed her to me and gave her a kiss that would have been considered shameful in polite company where I came from. However, where I came from might as well had been on the moon.
"I hope this is a short trip," I said. "I miss you already. Don't be scared. Flying is fun when you get used to it."
"I will be fine. Besides, I have flown before."
I started to question her on this, when Salome spoke up. "Let us go. I am ready to see more people, and get me a new servant other than this insolent slut who throws herself at any man."
I turned on her in cold fury. "With you as a mistress, she would be hard put not to be insolent. I better not hear any more insults, or I will tie you to the bomb rack and you can travel to Sari that way." She started, but said nothing, probably because she didn't know what a bomb rack was.
Without further exchange, we got in the planes. Lightning was a bit skittish, but obeyed me as well as a trained Shepherd and found the extreme back of the cockpit to curl up in. Giuseppe came out after securing the Mahar and Ee-la-nah to make sure my engines started. They fired like I was back in Greenland. He climbed back into the glider and secured the door. Here was the big test. If the glider became airborne we were on our way, if it showed the least bit of problems I was going to land before I got too much altitude to make a crash fatal. One thing we hadn't made was a parachute, and even if I had done so there was no way to train my companions in bailout procedures.
I slowly revved up the motors and eased the plane forward. The P-38 rolled along the grass, gaining speed as the tether played out. There was a slight tug as the cable pulled taut, then glider began to follow. I gave the plane more throttle and brought it up to takeoff speed. The fighter lifted off the grass and the glider followed! With one hand on the throttle, the other on the stick, my head swiveled like a dashboard hula doll as I looked back through the canopy. The P-38 felt a little wobbly, but gave me few problems. The main concern was torque and—
It worked! The glider steadied and I gained what I thought would be an altitude too great for thipdars, yet low enough so that the air wouldn't be too thin. Of course, I had no idea if the atmosphere down here got thin. I looked ahead and the landscape melted into a jumble in the rising distance, giving the sensation one was flying in to a wall and at the same time making far landmarks almost impossible to distinguish. It was going to be a long flight, but I was confident we could reach the border of Pellucidar's only known Empire.
I trusted the Mahar's mapmaking skills to the same degree that I trusted her not to ever eat another human being, so I stayed along the jagged spine of mountains that led in the direction I considered south. I took it easy and flew straight so I could gauge how dragging the glider would affect the P-38's performance, and to listen to see if our crudely distilled aviation fuel would run smoothly. Both worked well. I waggled my wings to show how happy I was and upset Lightning. He got over it. Salome said nothing, but her face turned green whenever turbulence made the plane buck a little.
"I thought you came down here from the moon," I observed. "You had to have flown down, unless you used a parachute."
"On the moon, we have methods you can't comprehend," she said crossly.
I wanted to press Salome, but she was still pretty sore at me from the time I stopped her from beating Ee-la-nah, so I gave it up. I was going to get a decent view of the moon, though not as close as I'd like. I intended to fly to a landmark called the Great Peak and turn left, or eastward, toward the knob of land which contained Sari and Phutra. I estimated I would approach no closer than 400 miles from Pellucidar's moon, which was nearer than anybody from the surface had come to the outer moon. I considered offering Salome to drop her off on the way, but suppressed the petulant emotion. When we got to Sari, and I got Ee-la-nah out of her bondage, Salome could thumb back to the moon for all I cared.
All went smoothly for a long stretch of time. I had no compass, but Giuseppe was able to repair my altimeter and airspeed indicator. This, along with my rewound wristwatch that for a long time I merely stowed away as useless, gave me some sense of how far I was going and how much fuel I was consuming. I knew that I could not fly all the way to Sari, so we had constructed two sheet metal containers and placed an extra hundred pounds of fuel in the glider. This would allow me to reach Phutra for sure, by estimates, and hopefully back to Sari in a short hop. I intended to use my flyby of the Empire's capital to spot a safe place to land where I wouldn't be shot up by their soldiers since they possessed rifled muskets as last I understood.
Comparing a rifled musket to the smooth-bores of Korsar was like comparing rifled muskets to modern machine guns. Ulysses S. Grant remarked that a man with a musket might stand 200 yards from you and shoot at you all day without you ever knowing that you were the target. David Innes' weapons were certainly on a par with those of the last century. For all I knew, he had machine guns and tanks.
At last I saw the Great Peak. It jutted skyward far beyond the serrated tops of the rest of the range. Beyond the Great Peak, as I gently made my turn, I saw the dark sphere of Pellucidar's moon. It had none of the reflected luminosity of the outer world's moon. Instead, it appeared like a small planet, brilliantly highlighted on top and deep-shadowed on the bottom, complete with its own blotches of green and blue as pulp artists have imagine earth to be like. At four hundred miles distance it seemed tiny and its features barely visible. I hoped someday to take a closer examination. For the time being, it hovered over the surface of Pellucidar like an ominous specter, casting its gloomy shadow over the land beneath it.
I turned to remark to Salome that her home was in view to find her snoring, flabby lips rippling with each exhalation. I supposed some men would find her appealing, but I was not one of them. I longed for Ee-la-nah, to hold her in my arms, and to do more than that. My passionate imaginings were cut short, however, when I saw a black shape in the distance heading on a course guaranteed to intersect my own. I thought at first it was one of the giant thipdars, mistaking me as a rival for its territory. My speed had been great enough to avoid such encounters previously. I noted with alarm, however, that this thing was closing on me rapidly.
The object closed too rapidly for a flying reptile. To my horror, I realized that it was another aircraft, sleek and black. A single engine cowling bloomed from its nose, and from two nacelles beneath its wings came winking bursts of flame and the flat crack of gunfire!
CHAPTER SIX — DOGFIGHT DOWN BELOW
I felt helpless. If not a sitting duck, I was at least a barely maneuverable one. I gave the aircraft a quick glance as it dove below me. It looked like a madman's redesign of a Focke-Wulf FW-190 fighter, something I had only seen in drawings and photos. It had the same blunt, rounded nose with a bullet-shaped cover for its propeller hub. The lines of its canopy were more angular, and its wings were ribbed so that the trailing edges almost had a scalloped look to them. The tail section was much more rounded, again with the bat-wing feel to its outline. I had no more than this impression as I fought to gain altitude.
At first, I feared it belonged to the Empire of Pellucidar, and that we were going to be shot down by the very people that we were trying to reach, but I shoved that thought aside. From all that I had read, Pellucidarian science took one step forward and two steps back. Whoever this black craft belonged to it was going to chew me to pieces because I certainly was not going to be able to dogfight with the glider attached.
A glance showed that the black craft was looping upward and there was no way for me to turn to meet it. Lightning was snarling at the sudden shift in the plane's flight. Salome was oblivious for the time being. I looked around for a flat place to hand, in the frail hope that I could set us down before the enemy fighter could destroy us. As I swung in an arc to try to keep my plane toward the enemy, I suddenly felt a surge through the plane's frame.
Looking back, I saw that the glider was free. Giuseppe had guessed the situation correctly and had used the release mechanism he had installed. I twisted sharply, causing Salome to scream. I got a quick glimpse of the glider winging over and heading for a narrow plain beyond some trees, and then the enemy tried another burst. I felt a sharp slap or two along the frame as bullets struck, then he was past me again. His weapons seemed to fire at a very slow rate, otherwise I would have been stitched pretty well.
This time, I was ready to fight back. I shoved the stick forward, sending the P-38 into a steep dive toward the green mass of treetops. Salome's face was beet red. I checked my guns.
"What is happening?" Salome demanded. "You are going to kill us."
"Do me a favor and shut up," I snapped back. "Better yet, say nice things to Lightning back there, or he might just get so upset that he'll throw up on you. Worse, he might decide on a last meal and it would be you."
Salome's eyes grew large and she turned to Lightning's savage visage. "Nice kitty," she said somberly, "Nice kitty!"
A quick look showed that the enemy was right on my tail. I revved up my engines, flattened out my dive and pulled back on the stick. The P-38 clawed upward in a circular maneuver perfected by Max Immelman. When I snapped out of it, I was behind the enemy ship, lining up on his tail section. This was what I had signed on for, only I was trained to expect a Nazi Swastika or Japanese rising sun to be on the tail of my opponent.
My thumb stabbed the firing button and a stream of machine gun bullets hosed out. I didn't use the 20mm since the plane wasn't that big. The .50 caliber slugs tore the aft section of the plane apart as if it was a Japanese paper lantern. The damage was way out of proportion, I could only imagine that the plane was made out of some lightweight wood and fabric rather than the metal fame of my P-38. The enemy fighter didn't catch fire as it tumbled toward the ground like a broken kite, but I circled the area until it crashed on the opposite side of the forest where Giuseppe's glider had landed.
I would have liked to have seen further results but my first thought was of Ee-la-nah's safety. I turned the stick at near full-power and swung around toward where the glider had gone down. Keeping a sharp eye out for more mystery planes, I throttled back and circled the area. The sliver of unforested area was easy to pick out from the upward curving surface, though I found details to be flatter-looking as I lost altitude and details blended in easier. I saw a deep gash in the amber texture of the plain that ended in a mix of brush and trees. The tall trees threw down enough shadow to deny me a view of the glider.
I made one more pass and had no choice but to land. I brought the P-38 in for what turned out to be a harrowing landing because the grasses in the field were knee-height, tall enough to clog my props and damn near flipping the fighter nose over as the vegetation dragged on the landing gear. We didn't flip, but I couldn't taxi after we came to a halt—I wasn't sure if I could take off again, let alone with the glider attached. I killed the engines, unhappy I was not closer to the glider's crash site.
"I am going to find them," I told Salome. "You will stay in the plane and scream if anybody bothers you."
She cast a horrified look at Lightning. "What about the tarag?" She asked.
I had a thought, swiftly contained, then said: "He comes with me." Salome was relieved.
I grabbed the M-1 carbine and deplaned. Lightning followed close behind, happy to get out of the cockpit. The tarag paused to answer the call of nature then coursed ahead, bounding in leaps through the tall grass with a swiftness I wished I could emulate. Near the forest edge I found the glider, in the shadow of trees I judged to be at least two hundred feet tall. The glider was wedged between two giant tree boles, its wings snapped off, crumpled masses which lay to either side of the rude fuselage. The door was open, but there was no answer to my frantic call. Inspecting the inside of the glider, I found a large splash of blood but at the same time I found no bodies.
Unfortunately, I am no Tarzan. Wilderness tracking was not one of my skills so any hope of following the erratic blood trail leading away from the glider was limited. My mind raced at the prospect of the scaly Mahar having devouring my beloved and Giuseppe. I made a thorough search of the surrounding area, but to no avail. Lightning seemed unsure what was going on, and then I realized that his sense of smell was probably sufficient to hunt for them. My hopes rose steadily as I returned to the plane. Salome was sweating when I pushed back the Plexiglas canopy to retrieve supplies, food, and water.
"At last," Salome rapidly breathed, fanning her face. "This clear ceiling," she smacked the canopy with irritation, "makes it very hot on Salome. You did not find them?" She didn't seem very distressed by that possibility.
"No, but Lightning can track them," I said. I rapidly filled a pack with necessaries, ignoring Lightning making a rodent kill near the tail section. The beast could feed himself. "What are you doing?" Salome asked?" "I'm going after Giuseppe and Ee-la-nah." "What about the black flyer?" she asked. "His tough luck, but I suspect he's got problems of his own if he isn't dead. You have a choice. You can stay with the plane or come with me." She did not seem happy with either thought. At the moment I had other things on my mind and was not interested in Salome's feelings.
"There's enough food and water left for a short spell." I said, hoisting the pack to my shoulder. I checked the carbine and looked to Lightning licking the kill's blood off his paws. The tarag's ears pricked smartly when I whistled. The great cat came to heel, bumping my thigh, surprising me since cats are as alien creatures, that is, they are not dogs. Lightning rubbed against me, eyes fixed on the forest and seeming to partner with my desires.
I was no more than twenty steps away from the aircraft before Salome dropped to the ground. She hurried forward. "Let us hope we don't have to walk far." She piled on as much disdain as any human voice could muster, while at the same time desperately clutching my elbow.
I shook her off, gently, and struggled to keep an even temper. "If we do, we do, but I hope not."
Were moon women a lazy, pampered bunch?
I carried all my ammunition and both guns, plus my survival knife. Salome had a stone knife, but I had never seen her draw it except to hack off huge pieces of meat that Lightning had brought home. I remembered how skillful she was at that, gobbling down extra meal portions before anybody could guess exactly how greedy she was.
We went back to the glider. I waved Salome to wait as I approached the craft filled with greedy little lizards and possum-like mammals fighting over the food stored in the glider. Lesser creatures chewed on the hide coverings and anything else that seemed edible. I could not get close enough to the craft to find the trail start so I fired a round from the rifle. Almost instantly the fuselage was vacated by Pellucidar's scavengers. I knew this would not last-in fact the scavengers might become impatient and attack us-so I investigated immediately.
The spare fuel cans were intact. The P-38 could be refueled, but that was not the most important thing on my mind. Looking down at the dirt around the plane I picked out a slim footprint that had to belong to Ee-la-nah. I whistled to Lightning. Pointing to the spoor, I said: "Go find her, boy!"
The big cat's great head bent down until the points of his down-curving fangs almost impaled his tawny breast. He glanced up at me with a rumbling meow. I nodded and pointed again. He got the idea and started off, glancing back only to make sure I followed. Motioning to Salome, I followed, trotting as best I could.
The privations of life in Pellucidar had toughened me beyond the limits of my combat experiences on the surface. The way through the trees was fairly clear, since their interlacing trees kept out the sun except in dazzling shafts at intervals. Otherwise, the forest was dark and gloomy, and our footfalls seemed unnaturally loud through the colonnade of trunks.
I saw few creatures, but heard their passing rustling in the forest as lesser beasts ran at our not-too-subtle approach. It was only by God's grace that we encountered no giant carnivores either reptile or mammal. Salome shrank so close to me that I could feel the trim of her clothing and the warmth of her body. It gave me little pleasure, though. My mind was almost wholly focused on finding Ee-la-nah. Lightning gave a warning growl. I was sure that we had closed on them and brought my carbine bear, then I heard a groan from behind a rubbery tangle of roots.
Leaping around the trunk, weapon ready, I discovered not my beloved but Giuseppe prostrate and filthy. Blood lay in brown streaks across his abdomen. He was so covered with grime that he looked more like one of his country's former Ethiopian colonists. Putting away my rifle, I bent to examine him. As I did, a cloud of flies and other insects rose to circle in annoyance. He suffered from several deep lacerations along his stomach and ribs, but none so deep as to reach his vitals.
I washed Giuseppe's wounds with water from our supplies. This ministration caused him some discomfort. He awakened with a grimace of pain. "It's me," I said as he weakly struggled.
Giuseppe subsided, though he was not clearly focused until he managed to take some water. "My friend," he said as I bandaged his wounds with the meager supplies that I had brought with me from the P-38's first aid kit. He fainted as I bound his wounds, then revived moments later. The Italian's eyes focused on mine. "Giuseppe?" I asked. "I am living," he said, clutching his side with a wry smile that was neither wry or a smile. It was a grimace. "What happened?" I asked.
"That plane came a giant bat from Hell," he said, pausing with an occasional wince as I ministered to him. "I knew you couldn't fight him dragging us, so the release cable. I let her go. I tried to land on the grass, but glider pilot I damn good dirigible engineer." The Italian's laugh was caught mid humor by a pain spasm.
Giuseppe caught his breath Closing his eyes, the small man continued. "She went in the trees. We throw around. The Mahar, she get cut a little. Make her mad. She whistle like Mt. Etna. Then, she stare at the girl. Girl-she holds head like it hurts worse than after a three-day drunk.
"I get up and yell at the Mahar but it kicks me good and out the plane I go. Then, she grabs girl and go into the woods. Well, I got these marks on me and they hurt like I been in a knife fight with a consigliore, but I am not going to let that overgrown newt with wings get away, so I jump up and run after them. After a while, I start to hurt worse, and then I lose them, so I faint, then got up, then drag myself to...I do not remember...and here are you."
"You're lucky you aren't dead," I said, finishing up. "We'll get some food in you and see if you can travel. Did Ee-la-nah say anything before you lost sight of her?"
"Sure, sure," Giuseppe licked his lips looking anguished. I gave him another drink. "She said 'Phutra!'" the little Italian said. Softer, more privately, he added: "Tell Byron-Jasper-Wells I love him'."
Blinking twice, stunned by the words, yet thrilled like any Burroughs hero, which I am not, the expression made me dizzy. Several moments passed before I could speak. "Plain enough," I said. "They're headed for Phutra. We'll get back to the plane and beat them there. Salome can help me load the extra fuel and we'll fly there. If I had just one thousand pounder, I'd threaten to blow that city to kingdom come if that refugee from a King Kong movie wouldn't let her go."
"Well, we don't got that," Giuseppe said. "We have a crazy American, a cut-up Italian mechanic, a saber-tooth tiger and a girl from the moon. That makes the odds about even, I guess."
I laughed as we sat down for some food. Later, Giuseppe said that he felt well enough to get back to the plane, so I helped him to stand. He wobbled unsteadily and I grabbed him around the waist.
"Give me a hand, Salome!" I growled when she did not bounce up to give me a hand with the Italian.
The woman frowned petulantly, but acquiesced, lending a soft shoulder on Giuseppe's opposite side. We half-carried the small man back to the plane and though he said nothing, I realized he felt worse than he let on. By the time we got to the P-38, he was in constant pain and his wounds were beginning to stain the bandages. I knew we had to let him rest a while, so I made camp just inside the trees amid the wreckage of the glider. While Giuseppe slept, I loaded the extra fuel in the glider and stripped what useable items from it that I could.
The enemy plane had punched a couple of holes in my crate, but I patched them up after making sure no serious damage was done. I figured I could cram Giuseppe in with the rest of us and still have plenty of power to take off if the grass didn't slow me down too much. Giuseppe slept on, so I took the time to mash down the grass as best I could in a path that I though I would use on take-off. When I returned, I found that he was still asleep, so I decided to rest myself. I chafed at not being able to fly up and go to Phutra, but Giuseppe had been a loyal friend, and I had risked his life enough on the trek back to the plane. He had to rest and heal before I put him on a bumpy plane ride.
I gathered dead wood and made a large fire using parts of the glider for tinder. I figured this would keep away all but the largest predators, and even they would think twice. Once the fire was going, I made another one on the opposite side of us and hoped it would conceal us. I threw down a fur from the glider and prepared for a short snooze. Lightning looked hungry, or so I thought.
"Hunt," I told him. "I think we'll be fine for awhile."
I waved at the surrounding woods and the great cat cavorted with glee and charged into the brush. Fatigue began to creep on me and I lay down. No sooner had my eyes closed, though, than I felt a warm form press itself against me. Opening my eyes, I found Salome, her nose nearly touching mine. I was too stunned to move. I stole a glance at Giuseppe, but he was blithely snoring.
"What are you doing?" I whispered. "Your man is there, hurt. Snuggle up to him."
"He may die," she said, dark eyes studying me. "The Mahar will eat the slave girl. I have watched you. You are strong, and brave, and handsome. You tame this metal thipdar, and you tame Salome. There is no man like you, either on Pellucidar, or above it, on my home. Mate with me, and I will give you all you desire in a she. You will have many strong children."
"I love Ee-la-nah," I told her. "Go to Giuseppe."
"How can you love that which is no more? As for him, he is short and makes much foul air. You are for me, and I am for you."
At that she dragged my head down to meet her waiting lips. Her unvarnished desire had no effect on me except to make me angry. No sooner had our mouths touched than I thrust her roughly from me. She rolled so far that the hem of her skirt touched the bonfire and began to catch. She jumped up quickly and beat it out with her hands.
"I am not for you," I told her. "You are Giuseppe's, and if you continue to act this way, I will leave you at the first tribe of Neanderthals I find."
Fire blazed in her eyes and her face turned purple. "You spurn Salome!" She shrieked. "I hate you! You will never have that pale little thing! The Mahar has eaten her! The Mahar will eat you too."
"Shut up," I told her, "or I will take you over my knee and give you a spanking."
"I hate you!" She screamed again, and ran into the forest.
My anger cooled as she disappeared. I was sure that she would come back after she calmed down. Armed only with that little stone knife, she wouldn't last a New York minute in this world. I lay down and don't remember falling asleep, but I must have. I awoke to something hard poking me in the back.
"Those teeth hurt, Lightning," I said. The prodding did not stop, so I turned over.
Facing me was a half-circle of men in black leather clothes. The foremost was holding what appeared to be a long barreled pistol, now pointed directly between my eyes. The most remarkable thing about this group, however, was that they were all a head shorter than average and were pale with big luminous eyes just like Ee-la-nah!
CHAPTER SEVEN - THE BLACK ACES OF DOOM
I was at a lost to figure how I had been so surprised. Lightning was nowhere to be found and Giuseppe lay still, his chest barely moving. I knew that I must have been exhausted, so deeply asleep that I had not heard the enemy's approach. I sat up slowly, and the pistol never wavered from my head. I noted that its wielder had the same corn silk-type hair as Ee-la-nah, save that his was closely cropped with a short, comma-shaped forelock. Pale blue eyes drilled into me as steady as the black steel of the pistol. I noticed that it was slender, probably no more than .30 caliber.
Glancing past him, I saw an odd object next to my aircraft. I suddenly wished that Giuseppe was awake, because the thing looked like a pocket dirigible. It was a plump torpedo, painted black like the mystery aircraft I had shot down. Below the rigid gas cells was a cabin that ran the length of the ship, tapering in the rear until it melded into a framework of rudder and elevators. Two engines powered the ship, jutting from the rear half of the cabin. For all its complexity, I doubt the ship was a hundred feet long. Slowly, I held up my hands in surrender.
As I did so, Salome arose from behind my captors and pointed me out over the shoulder of the one who held the pistol.
"There," she hissed. "He is the one who tried to assault me."
"That's a lie!" I said, purpling. "I don't know who you fellows are, but this woman is a lying tramp. As soon as her mate here was incapacitated, she threw herself at the first available man, which was me. I guess she helped you sneak up on me."
"We ask the questions here, if you don't mind," the man said. "Take that pistol."
One of his men grabbed my gun. At that point, I did not have a Pellucidarian word for "pistol". The leader used a word, his lackey grabbed my pistol, so I learned it by inference. Another man snatched up my carbine. They were all armed with the tiny machine pistols. One fellow did have another weapon slung over his shoulder by a strap that had several clips attached to it in a bandolier fashion. They were not what I expected of the population of Pellucidar. With their fairly modern weapons, they seemed as alien as I.
"Now," the leader continued. "We can conduct this in a reasonable manner. The woman claims you assaulted her. She intercepted us upon landing and told us her story, claiming you were asleep. She was a great deal of help."
"She claims she is from the moon, also," I said. "I don't love her, and don't want her. I love another, a slave girl named Ee-la-nah."
If the leader could have grown paler, he would have. His luminous eyes widened. "Ee-la-nah is alive?" He demanded.
"I don't know," I said. "She was kidnaped by a Mahar and it took her to Phutra. This woman treated her like dirt."
"You have served the cause well," the leader said to Salome. "You delivered this enemy of the people to me. Here is your reward."
He whirled on her and his pistol spoke once. A small crimson hole appeared in Salome's forehead and she collapsed to the sward. The leader returned to face me without further regard to her corpse.
"She was a liar and a traitor," he stated, face as calm as if he had changed records on a Victrola. "You can't trust that sort of woman. I believe your story."
"Well, you didn't have to kill her," I said. "Shooing her off to fend for herself would have been good enough."
"I suppose it would be more merciful to have her try to escape being torn apart by some creature," he smirked. "You will take me to Phutra. You will also show me how to fly your ship. It is much better than those we possess. If you cooperate, and Ee-la-nah is rescued, then you shall live to serve the Race. Failure will result in a fate similar to that offal behind me."
"Where are you from?" I demanded. "What do you want with Ee-la-nah?"
He smiled at me, bringing the barrel of his pistol so close to my nose that I could feel its heat. "Remember, I ask the questions. It can do no harm to tell you, since you will not escape. We are males of the Race. Unlike that lying wench I dispatched, we are actually from the moon. For untold sleeps we have labored, taming the herds that roam our world, using up any available space when our population increased. We have had to be clever, far cleverer than these half-wits down here. We thought of machines to dig into our world, to light underground living chambers, to allow the Race to expand.
"We have grown until we threaten the grazing lands of the herds that sustain us. We must find new living space. We have chosen the lush forests and plains here. As for Ee-la-nah, she is to be my mate."
I was stunned by this revelation. Salome had lied from the start. She was not from the moon, but Ee-la-nah! My anger for the pasty little man before me grew until I felt I could break him and his companions into little pieces. If I twitched the wrong way, though, I knew he would not hesitate to shoot me. "A last question, since you have been gracious. What is your name, man of the moon?"
"Jehoida, if you must know. Now, we must hurry to save my mate."
No sooner did he speak these words than a savage growl split the warm air of Pellucidar. I looked to see Lightning break from the trees in an express train charge. Four of the moon men turned toward him, and Jehoida pointed his little pistol. It was the break I was looking for. I slugged him right across the back of his blonde head and his pistol went flying. The guy who grabbed my carbine turned on me and gave me a swat. I have to say one thing for these moon men. They might be short but they sure are fast. He clipped me good and I went backward over Giuseppe, who groaned loudly and reached up his hands to grapple with me.
The action got pretty confusing, and when I got to my feet, three of the moon men were dead, the rest gone, including Jehoida. The guy with my carbine was still screaming until Lightning closed his fangs through his throat. I slung on my carbine, found my pistol and three of the slender machine pistols of the moon men. The reminded me of those broom-handle Mausers that the Nazis used. Giuseppe had come to enough to figure out what was going on. He looked around and despaired.
"Dio Mio!" he exclaimed. "What has happened? Salome!" He crawled to her and cradled her to his chest. "Oh, my dolce amore, what have they done to you? You know, Byron, we never spoke of love, but we were like mates, yes. Who are these beasts, that they shoot innocent women?"
It was hard for me to bite off a remark about Salome's innocence, but for Giuseppe's sake, I did so. Without revealing her vile betrayal, I told him what had happened. "Are you strong enough to stand?" I asked.
"Yes, I think so. We must bury Salome." He tried to pick her up, but his strength failed.
"No time," I explained. "I'll carry her into the glider and we can wrap her up there. We've got to get out of here before that bunch regroups and comes back shooting."
I wrapped Salome in furs and carried her body to the shattered glider. I laid her down in the rear section as gently as I could. I tried to think of some words to say over her, but all I could say was something about her not deserving to be shot in cold blood. I went back to Giuseppe, who had composed himself enough to stand. I handed him one of the little pistols and we got to the plane. Beside it was moored the little dirigible from the moon. Giuseppe examined its design quickly and checked its fuel tanks. He felt that its fuel would probably burn in the p-38, so we topped off with it. Briefly we considered making off with the dirigible, but Giuseppe was in no shape to fly it, so I took several clips of ammunition and some loose instruments, then set it on fire.
We got the P-38 going and I revved the engines good before trying to get through the tall grass. It snatched at the wheels and the props sent up blizzards of cut grass, but we got off the ground. Lightning used the time to lick the blood from his paws. I examined the map. Phutra and Sari lay in opposite directions. I immediately thought of going to Phutra and told Giuseppe.
"I know you want to save her," he said, "but there is something bigger here. These moon men, the Race, they call themselves, are planning mischief. A settlement, and invasion, something. This Emperor of Pellucidar in Sari, David Innes, he must know what is going to happen. You have said he has guns, yes?"
"Yes, but they are simple muskets. He has no airplanes."
"Even more so that we must tell him, so he can prepare. But, he does have one airplane, si?"
"Not that I know of. He had one that flew backwards, I think."
"He has yours."
Behind us, the dirigible's gasbags blew up in a spectacular fireball. Obviously, helium was hard to find on Pellucidar's moon. My emotions battled with my good sense, and I finally yielded to the latter. Turning the nose of the P-38, I headed back toward Sari, the capital of David Innes' empire. It was tougher for me to put distance between myself and my beloved than anything I had previously gone through. All the untold weeks building the distillery and refining the aviation fuel was nothing in comparison. I had to remind myself that I was at war again, and that my needs were outweighed by the needs of people I had never met. Still, I felt a kinship with them, a solidarity to their cause.
The map was crudely drawn, but it took little effort for me to spot Sari. It was unlike either Korsar or the Mahar city. The majority of buildings were still huts, but through them ran the black ribbon of a railroad. Several large buildings lay in an orderly design of streets, and they looked much like those of an American city. Farther beyond I saw factories trailing plumes of smoke into Pellucidar's previously unsoiled air. Korsar had its Old World Charm, the Mahar city is monolithic underground splendor, but Sari was a hodgepodge of culture spanning millennia.
I took one circle around the city, watching people scurry around as I passed over. I took note of one building that reminded me of one of those Norman Rockwell country schoolhouses, complete with a large playing field beside it. The playing field was what really drew my interest. It was the flattest surface I had encountered since entering the earth's core, and I made another pass to line up with it. Giuseppe pointed and I saw that the initially surprised residents were coming together in clumps. As I dropped lower to make my landing. I saw that some clumps were dressed in heavier clothing and carried what looked like long-barreled rifles.
I came in level, and almost had to abort when the landing gear had trouble deploying. I assumed it was from grass stuck in the wheel wells. They went down at the last second and I taxied in, making the smoothest landing since that U-boat shot me up. The hard-packed earth was a perfect runway. I turned the plane to face the city and switched off the motors. As the blades stopped turning, I threw back the canopy.
"Wave and smile," I suggested. "Those rifles look pretty deadly."
"I can barely stand and you want me to smile, much less wave?" Giuseppe sighed. "What about Lightning? His smile is frightening."
"We'll have to hope he isn't hungry," I said. "Come on. They might start shooting if we don't hurry."
I climbed out slowly, hands high when I wasn't holding on to the plane, and moved slowly, yet easily. I smiled the whole time. By now, a cordon of muscular warriors who carried rifles similar in pattern to British Enfields from the last century surrounded the plane. They wore armor that looked like it was made of jointed pieces of thick hide and carried iron axes at their hips.
"I am here to see David Innes," I said in a clear voice, still smiling. The cordon blinked as Lightning slinked down and rubbed his tawny flank against my leg.
One man, several inches taller than me, stepped from behind the ring of warriors. He was older and more thickly built than the others, and dark hair swirled across every exposed part of his body. He carried no rifle, but instead hefted a double-headed iron axe whose blades were wider than the size of my hand from wrist to fingertips. His face was stern, but no angry.
"Are you Jason Gridley?" the man rumbled. "He is the only man to fly one of these things and know David Innes."
"No, I am not," I admitted. "My name is Byron Jasper Wells. I am an American, like David Innes, and I have grave news for him. This is my friend Giuseppe, and my pet tarag Lightning."
"Truly you must be from the same place as David Innes, to have such a machine and command a tarag. I am Ghak, called by some the Hairy One. I will take you and your friend to David Innes. He is currently meeting with a delegation from Thuria, and also has a guest from Zoram. Come!"
I did as he bade, confident that after my meeting, we would find a way to defeat the invaders from the moon and rescue my love from the clutches of the Mahar.
CHAPTER EIGHT - WAR OF THE WORLDS
None of my training in the Army Air Corps prepared me for the things I had experienced in Pellucidar, the world at the Earth's center. Nothing I had gone through in Pellucidar up to this point prepared me for my visit with David Innes, the Emperor of Pellucidar (though, in fact, his empire encompassed but a fraction of the Inner World). I accompanied the huge warrior king Ghak the Hairy one, while Lightning followed at my heel. Giuseppe was being taken to a hospital. I still smile when I think of the sight we made. Even in the savage world of Pellucidar, the natives of Sari gave Lightning a wide berth. For his part, the tarag growled menacingly, but I could tell by the look in his eye that he was enjoying himself making the gilaks cringe.
As I have said, the city of Sari is a hodgepodge of buildings seemingly from various eras, but I was to learn that different styles of buildings were produced as builders and architects gained knowledge of new techniques. Stucco and brick buildings crowded mud huts. The broad ribbon of the railroad bisected the town, and cobblestone roads radiated from its bustling railroad yard. On a small rise dominating the city was a tall building of roughly dressed stone. By its grandeur and the number of fur-clad guards who marched around carrying their incongruous muskets, I knew it had to be the palace of David Innes.
Barbaric as they were, the guards saluted smartly as Ghak approached. He was admitted through large doors of polished wood, and there met a runner who went ahead to alert the Emperor. Presently, this worthy returned to inform Ghak that David Innes would see us immediately. I was pleased, but felt self-conscious and tried to straighten my soiled and tattered uniform as best I could. Admonishing Lightning to be on his best behavior, we followed Ghak through another set of brass-valved polished doors.
I expected the furnishings of an Emperor's throne room to be elaborate and gaudy, full of tapestries, with lots of ornaments and valuable items jammed into various corners, but the court of David Innes was unlike anything I would have imagined. It was more like a study, or vast library, than a royal throne room. The walls were covered with a dark, cherry wood paneling. Long side tables were sandwiched between tall bookcases. The tables were neatly piled with charts and drawings, or instruments and writing materials. The bookcases were full of hide-bound manuscripts, except for one very near the throne, which contained a set of books in cloth and leather bindings that must have come from the surface. David Innes' throne appeared to be the only sop to grandeur. Its back was some six feet, padded by thick and wonderfully marked furs, and from it erupted arms and legs carved to look like the claws of some beast. Two warriors dressed in polished leather, carrying steel-shod spears and pistols flanked their Emperor, who was discussing matters with a muscular warrior seated on a stool and the Emperor's left hand.
My first glimpse of David Innes as his head came up gave me little sense of the man who had conquered territory the size of the United States in less than 40 years. As he sat back to surmise me, though, I could see in his carriage and keenly intelligent face that rare combination of brains and determination, a combination that could forge an empire from scattered tribes of cavemen. Age had not lightened his hair, though I knew him to be over sixty, and he seemed no older than myself. He was dressed in leather, but with cloth undergarments. On a tray beside his throne sat a pitcher and cups and in their shadow was a small pistol more advanced than the flintlocks of his guards.
"So this is the man from above," he said to Ghak in the language of Pellucidar.
I bowed. "I am Byron Jasper Wells, your Majesty, late of the United States Army Air Force." I switched to the common tongue. "I have come here on a matter of grave urgency."
"You have my attention," Innes said. "You may also drop the formal stuff. I never liked the high-falutin' mummery that I am forced to employ to visiting chiefs - my friend Thoar of Zoram excepted, that is." He winked at his companion who grinned wolfishly. "Thoar is familiar with men from the surface, especially Americans, since his brother-in-law is of our breed."
"Jason Gridley, I presume," I said.
Thoar nodded. "A brave warrior. I fought at his side against monster and monstrous men. I would have no less to wed my sister. I hope you have better luck with flying machines than he."
"So far, so good," I told him. I turned to David Innes. "What can I get away with calling you, then?"
"David will be fine, amongst fellow Americans," he said. "Thoar is an honorary one by marriage."
"Very well," I continued. "Let me brief you on how I got here and what your immediate problem will be." I gave a short account from my advent in Pellucidar to the present, giving more detail as regards the men from the moon and their plans. David asked no questions, but listened closely. When I finished, he sat back and took a drink from his cup. He poured a cup for me, which I gratefully accepted, finding it to be a too-sweet fruit juice of some sort.
"One thing that I have always been able to count on is superior technology," David Innes said. "Against the pirates of Korsar my muskets were longer-ranged and more accurate, my rail system allows rapid troop movements to any part of the Empire to meet incursions; though, gladly, the necessity of same has been minor during recent days." Innes actually said "sleeps many" which appears to be a Pellucidarian term for "a long time."
Emperor Innes concluded, "Abner Perry's aircraft experiments were unsuccessful, but I believe he will succeed eventually."
"Time, however it is measured here, is not on his side," I pointed out. "The Race, as they call themselves, have planes that work very well. They also have airships and automatic weapons. While inferior to the weapons currently being used in the outer world, these machines and armament could bomb and strafe any army you could field and do so beyond your weapons' range."
Innes frowned for a moment, digesting the information. Almost as an aside he revealed, "Perry is designing a submarine, but it wouldn't sink. From what you have told me I believe Abner should speak to you and Giuseppe. He is at his workshop now, I suppose." Innes revealed something more in his next question. "How is your friend?"
"He will live, but he will take a while to heal. He is an engineer and, if I may say so, makes excellent technical drawings."
"Let him rest for now. Come, take a walk with me." The Emperor rose, as did Thoar of Zoram. David Innes led the way, with Ghak and the two guards included, following behind. He motioned for me to walk at his side.
"Tell me what's going on up there," he nodded up toward the sky. "It's been many sleeps since I heard from Gridley and Ed. I know that many outer world years have passed. Time means little in Pellucidar, no matter how ardently Perry and I have tried to introduce the concept. But what I have heard as rumors from various parts of the empire where those like you have entered the Inner World is there's a war on the surface."
"That's an understatement, sir. The Germans are intent on conquering the world and are allied with the Italians and Japanese. The Axis hurt us badly the last two years, both in Europe and the Pacific, but we've stopped their expansion. God willing, we will have them licked in a couple of years. This is a new kind of war, David. Ships and submarines and airplanes doing a lot of damage."
"The same thing could happen here." Innes indicated my P-38 as we passed close. "What could that thing do to Sari?"
"Fully fueled and with full ammmunition I could smash your palace flat with 200 rounds," I stated. "With the remaining ammunition, I could kill multiple dozens of your men. If I had bombs on the aircraft's hard points I could level a block or two. In seconds."
Innes frowned a second time. Rubbing his chin, the emperor said, "It sounds terrible, like some of the Barsoomian reports of aerial battle that Ed wrote about. Jason had some Burroughs' reports on his dirigible that he left with me. I have them back at the palace with the books I brought with me on my return trip. I confess these reports always sounded like fantasy."
"Believe me, sir, whatever you might think, on the surface we have tens of thousands planes fighting and bombing. Millions have died so far in this war. Even in your time the bow and arrow had been surpassed. The Crimean War in 1854 was a simple school-yard brawl compared to the American Civil War or World War I. The surface world is engaged in World War II, with the unhappy aspect of thirty years of advanced technology included. Killing 20 at a blow was considered excellent in 1850, killing 12,000 in an action was general in WWI, but today, sir, killing 35,000 to 50,000 or more in a single air attack is routine."
I had Innes' attention. We spoke no more before arriving at Perry's workshop, which was a large ramshackle building about the length of two football fields. Smoke issued from every crack and clanks and bangs filled the air. There was a sharp explosion, then silence, then I could hear a high-pitched stream of American expletive that went on for some seconds without a word repeated. David put his hand on the knob of a small door in the front of the building.
"Perry is a gentle soul, and very religious," David said. "However, he does get perturbed occasionally."
Inside the building was a combination of wizard's lair and Dante's inferno. Worktables lay at odd angles, piled with parts and drawings. Large sections of works in progress lay in rows along the walls. At the rear of the complex was a giant steam engine that ran a set of pulleys which animated various apparatus, a confusing complex of equipment, saws, lathes, drills, etc. A burst pipe was the cause of the explosion and the breakdown. Haranguing two burly workmen stripped down to loincloths because of the heat was the diminutive figure of Abner Perry, an almost trite example of a man who was endowed with a shock of snowy white hair.
"Perry!" David called. "We have a visitor."
The scrawny little man turned. I saw that his wizened face was black with soot from the explosion, which gave him a comical appearance. Perry smiled as he recognized his friend. "David, my boy!" Abner Perry exclaimed. "I have something to show you." His teeth gleamed in his sun-bronzed countenance.
Perry led us to a table which contained a humped shape under a woven covering. With a jubliant flourish Perry removed the covering to reveal a long rifle on a stout bipod support. The barrel curved sharply left, and included a mirror that was positioned on the curve.
"Looks like it warped during cooling," David said.
"Humph!" Perry snorted. "The shape is intentional, gentlemen. What you see before you will be a revolution in warfare. A gun that shoots around corners. A warrior no longer has to expose himself needlessly. He can use the mirror to see what is around the corner, then fire from cover."
"I see," David said, giving the weapon a dubious look. "We do experience a little fighting around buildings from time to time, Perry. Does it work?"
"Of course it works!" Perry said. "Though, I haven't tested it, it should work - in theory, that is. I have placed a target on the left wall." He indicated a scraped skin with a large circle drawn on its surface. "I simply line up my target in the mirror." He bent down, placed a cartridge in the breech (Besides David's pistol, this was the first breech loading weapon I had seen). "Then I pull the trigger." He squinted at the mirror while we all made sure that we were crouched a bit also. Perry squeezed the trigger and the rifle bucked. It bucked pretty hard, tilting the weapon off its bipod. The bullet missed the target and ricocheted off the wall to graze a dark line across one his assistant's posterior. We all hit the floor until the bullet's energy was spent.
David got up and dusted off his outfit. "Powerful, Perry," he admonished. "Too powerful. It looks like a good theory, but way too heavy. Perhaps a smaller version. I want to introduce you to Byron Wells. He is from America and comes with news, good and bad." Innes gave a short account of my encounter with the Race.
"How do you defend against air attacks up there?" Perry asked, brushing off a table to find some writing materials.
"Well, attack fighters are the best defense," I said. "Shooting down the enemy bombers before the aircraft reaches the target is the primary goal. We do use high-velocity cannons and machine guns in static positions around important installations, as well as fighter aircraft designed to hunt the bombers, but heavy bombers can avoid the ack-ack and can, occasionally, neuteralize the fighter aircraft."
Perry was about to launch into a thousand questions when Innes spoke. "What about this contraption of yours, Perry?" Innes gestured toward Perry's latest "wonder weapon" to fail. "The shell looks heavy enough to damage a plane. Can you speed up the rate of fire? What range?"
I, too, was interested in the inventor's answer as I examined one of the cartridges. The shell was over five inches in length and the more than a half-pound projectile was as thick as my little finger, very close to the .50 calibre rounds in my P-38.
Perry rubbed his chin, his brow in a contemplative frown. "I would have to keep the barrel straight. We'd have to test it, my boy, but I would not be surprised if the rifle has and effective range of two miles—maybe more." Perry paused, digging through a stack of drawings on his work bench.
Perry spread two diagrams on the desk for our view. "I started working on a design like the 1862 Gatling gun which is a gravity fed rack of 20 bullets with a two man fire rate of up to 300 rounds per minute, but this was with six revolving barrels. A weapon like this would be too much for even two men to transport. When I figured out a recoil ejection system a single barrel weapon made more sense, much like the 1908 Maxim machine gun, but I must confess, lad, I have not figured out how to feed a quantity of shells rapidly enough. I can, of course, use a gravity fed rack, but gravity will not keep up with the rifle's potential firing rate."
I grinned. "You're on the right track, Mr. Perry. May I suggest two possibilities? The first would be a 'rack'—we call them 'magazines' or 'clips' on the surface world. The clip is fed by a compressed spring and does not depend on gravity to feed the next round. The second suggestion is a link belt advanced by rotary action from the shell exhaust."
For a moment Abner Perry's eyes grew round as saucers, then narrowed with concentration as soon as his agile brain grasped the vague concepts. "A spring! Brilliant. Good for small arms and..."
David grinned, affectionately gripping the older man's shoulder. "Can it be done?"
Perry, so excited by the possibilities, had to take a deep breath to calm himself. "Yes."
"Then do it," David laughed.
Nodding, I continued. "My friend Giuseppe is an engineer. He's not an inventor, but he's damn good with his hands and making things happen. I am sure he will be a great help to you, when he recovers. I captured some pistols from the Race. I will give you one to disassemble and copy. The weapons are either semi-automatic or full automatic, I am not sure which. Giuseppe can design aircraft and airships for you, as well as machinery. He developed a method of refining crude oil into gasoline. He can also tell you about the other weapons we use on the surface to kill each other, like tanks and flame-throwers and poison gas."
"What about you, my boy," Perry said, "I am sure you have a lot of knowledge also."
"I'm no slouch," I admitted without embarrassment, "but I have always been a man of action rather than a builder. Perhaps one day you can pick my brain, but for now I must go, Mr. Perry." My thoughts turned grim. "My mate is a prisoner of the Mahars."
This utterance was the first time I clearly realized Ee-na-lah was my mate, if she would have me! To say those words thrilled me beyond belief, yet I maintained a pleasant poker face as I took Perry's hand in mine. "I am going to Phutra to get her back, sir, even if I must tear through the rubble stone by stone. When I am done I will come back to help you and David fight the Race."
David Innes clapped a sun-bronzed hand to my shoulder. "Well said, Bryon!"
Innes threw an arm about my shoulder and Perry's and led us out of the workshop. "Just like the old days, eh, Abner? Bryon off to rescue his Dian, Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!"
Abner Perry offered a polite chuckle. "David, my boy, there are no old days, just today," and the old man jerked his thumb toward the Pellucidarian zenith. "You are an incorrigible romantic. I have only one question to ask, are you going to let Mr. Wells undertake this rescue alone? You do remember what it was like when you had to rescue Dian, don't you?"
Innes did not lose his smile. "I love you, Abner. I have not forgotten a thing. In fact, I believe I might have learned a thing or two over the last day," the last word was expressed in such a manner that we all knew the eternal noon of Pellucidar was referenced. In a softer tone, as he released us as we walked through the street back to the palace, Innes explained his comment. "Abner, these are different winds and I fear we are ill-equipped to deal with them. Bryon brings a warning and he also brings some practical technology—whatever he knows or his Italian friend knows. Bryon, I pray you will allow us time to get answers to questions before you depart. Perry, make the best of this time because Mr. Wells will not long wait. He has a ship that can make his rescue possible, yet, in the meantime we have to maximize every concept he can express if we are to deal with this new threat. I'll reveal a truth, which I believe both of you can instantly grasp: I am Emperor of Pellucidar by the skin of my teeth. I'm not so vain to believe this rank was acquired because of my good looks or my military accumein. I'm not an idiot, but I'm not a god-in-earth with all the answers."
I nearly bent double when Innes slapped my back with a laugh. I had to grip the thick fur of Lightning's nape to squash the growl the sabertooth uttered believing I had been attacked.
Abner sputtered. "But you are the Emperor, my boy! I am as proud of you as if you were my own son! I—"
Innes gripped the older man's shoulder, almost painfully. In a low voice, David grinned. "Just ask Dian how wonderful or emperorly is her husband."
Abner's face split with a huge grin. "Yes, sir, your majesty, your hen-pecked." To me Perry said with sincerity, "We will not delay you, but if you find it possible to share information, we would be most pleased."
Innes strong hand gripped the back of my neck and shook gently. "What about it, Bryon?"
"One sleep," I replied, how could I refuse? "One sleep for me and the kitty cat."
David smiled, shaking me again with enthusiasim. "I will have the royal cartographer get you a set of maps for your journey while we talk. And the royal cook will fill your belly with delights gastronomical."
"Very well," I assented, "but I think we might accomplish more if we include my friend Giuseppe."
"The honor is mine," David said. He turned to Ghak, who had been with us all along, courteously in the background. "Ghak, have plenty of food brought for us, and some raw meat for this tarag, and join us with your captains. On second thought, feed this tarag first." Innes looked at Lightning brushing close against my leg, my free hand caressing the great beast's head. "Bryon's pet looks hungry and I fear we cannot spare a single body with a war coming."
"This 'war' sounds dishonorable," Ghak snorted. I stepped aside as the burly figure approached Innes, his large fist wrapped about the hilt of a pistol.
Ghak, primitive he might have once been, was not without intelligence. "Flying machines that kill us from so high up we cannot fight them. Rifles that fire at high rates. Invaders from the Pendant Moon. This is no kind of war for us, David. We only have his word that such a war is coming."
Innes calculated amusement did not completely vanish, but when he spoke to the King of Sari he spoke directly without obfuscation. "We must find a way, though, old friend, for I do not doubt the report of danger." David laid a firm hand on Ghak's hairy shoulder. "The question is simple. We ignore the warning, and are conquered, or we embrace the warning and are merely ready for something which might not materialize. We cannot be hurt with the latter, and with the latter we can minimize the former if that happens. I'd rather be ready too much than not ready at all. What do you think, Ghak?"
A heartbeat only passed before the King of Sari departed through the palace corridors calling for cooks and mapmakers.
Perry commenced picking my brain as we drank sweet fruit juices on a veranda. The old man, however inept he initially appeared, was sharp as a tack and had a good hand for drawing plans as we chatted. We were all empty of belly when Ghak returned.
"The physician says the Etalan should not be moved. Shall I have lunch sent to his quarters?"
"By all means," Innes said, rising.
We made our way to the large hut inside the palace grounds where Giuseppe lay on a bed of furs where three young females tended his wounds. He tried to rise as we entered, but one girl held him back with a slim hand.
"Hey, mi amici," Giuseppe said upon recognizing me. "This is not so bad, eh? Pretty girls running their hands all over me. This is everyman's dream, eh? To regret is, I cannot do anything about it!"
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"Bene, bene," Giuseppe waved a neglient hand, but stoically grimaced as the attentive girls ministered to him. "My wounds they say are clean. They stitch and sew and put some native matter to supposed is to pass for anti-septic. Who are your friends?"
I made introductions and brought Giuseppe up to date. "I leave you in good hands," I said. "Behave yourself, amico. These Belladona are maidens of mercy and not angels to sate your desire of mercy of woman," I winked.
"Che cosa 衱uesto? What is this?" Giuseppe asked as servants arrived with trays of meat and fruits.
"Ciun pranzo con la sovranitଠil mio amico. Imperatore Innes, Inventore Perry and Re Ghak. Lunch with royals, Giuseppe. Your langage has invaded my speach these last days."
Giuseppe laughed, and the laughter caused him pain from his wounds, but his eyes were bright a clear and highly amused. "There is only one day, amico. You must be the—what you say?—il idiot savant imparare cos존anto in un giorno."
We brought Giuseppe up to speed during the meal. After appetites were sated my Italian friend said, "Well, that's okay, but you must be careful. You cannot dimiss with the Mahar. You see him reptile you shoot first then ask the questions, eh? Well, down to business. You, Signore Perry, tell me about the airplane design you got going."
Perry gave the Italian a detailed report of how the project had worked. The esoteric aspects were lost on me because my concept of aerodynamics is too recent, and too unnessary as a prerequiste to fly a fighter aircraft in battle, but Giuseppe laughed so hard upon hearing Abner's ardent presentation that he had to cough and the girls fussed at him, fearing he would bust a stitch.
"You better stick to stuff that stays on the ground, Professore," Giuseppe laughed. You the thing construct it will probably fly backwards."
"Well - er - well, it did," Perry said with embarrassment.
"Do not worry," Giuseppe said with a wink to me. "I make it soar like the eagle. However, we need to have how they say, mass production. Byron describes these craft as lightweight, made of wood or fabric like in the war of my youth. I have an idea or two of things we can do if they attack before we build planes."
I finished eating and lingered over a juice drink which had a kick, perhaps a crude wine or a fermented beer or mead I had never encountered before. I left as Perry, taking notes, and Giuseppe seemed to hit full stride. A moment later David, Thoar, and Ghak joined me in light of the eternal sun. Each of them smiled regarding the intensity of the two still inside the hut.
Before I could say a word about my eagerness to depart, Innes said, "You need a sleep. I have private quarters prepared for you. By the time you wake, you will have maps and provisions. Please do not be as stupid as I have been in my past—embark rested. You will have a better chance of success than flying of semi-delirious from lack of sleep."
I was showed to a dark appartment with an inviting set of furs. I was fagged out. I was stumbling on my feet. I—shook their hands and the head honchos of Pellucidar departed. No sooner had they left did the combination of good food and exhaustion began to overwhelm me. Lightning stretched himself before the entrance of the hut. I fell asleep as soon as I lay down on the furs.
CHAPTER NINE — FLIGHT TO PHUTRA
I don't know how long I slept, the sun was still in the same place it had been when I lay down inside the hut. I woke up refreshed and looked outside. While I slept, a human guard had been added. He took off when I awoke, presumably to tell the Emperor that I was up and about. The hut was furnished with plenty of fresh water, so I cleaned up as best I could. Lightning growled a warning, and I turned to find a large delegation approaching. Several men carried bundles. I went to the door and greeted them before Lightning had time to decide whether to eat them or not.
The foremost bowed and indicated the bearers.
"His Majesty the Emperor bids you accept these small tokens of his appreciation for having warned us of the threat to our kingdom," he said.
Some carried platters of fruit, cheese and breads, while others carried packages of clothing. No doubt David Innes had taken pity on my sorry rags. I untied the bundles to find an assortment of cloth shirts and trousers. At least I would not be forced to wear furs. I picked out some items that I believed would fit and ducked back inside to try them on. I was satisfied with a comfortable cotton shirt and pants. One package contained a leather vest and a belt. The vest had pockets, something that the shirt lacked, so I donned it, and looped the belt in my trousers. The belt had snaps and loops of its own, so I could hang my pistol, plus one of the fancy automatics I had acquired, and my survival knife. I stuffed my pockets with cartridges for my carbine and the pistols, then sat down beside Lightning and ate a decent breakfast. Lightning was brought a carcass of some kind of primitive deer to feast on. The clothes and meal perked me up considerably, so I sent word by this delegation how much I appreciated these gifts, and that I was preparing to depart.
Lightning and I walked to my P-38, and found another set of men with small charts of what was known of Pellucidar. These maps emphasized landmarks and distance, since time and direction had no meaning here. Also, there were some dried provisions and some canteens. While I was checking over the plane and trying to calculate if I had enough fuel, I heard my name and turned to find Giuseppe walking slowly toward me, aided by a stick and wearing some lightweight clothing.
"You clean up pretty good," I told him. "First time I have seen you in something other than skins. "But say, shouldn't you be in bed? When I left you, you couldn't even sit up."
"Ha!" He snorted. "Since I last saw you, I dwelled in paradise, eating from the hands of my lovely nurses, and having my wounds cleaned and treated continuously. I slept several times, and, while sore, I feel pretty good. They gave me these clothes, and I started working on things for this Abner Perry. He's pretty crazy, you know, but it's a good crazy. I look at some of his plans, and Dio Mio! They don't make much sense sometimes. He had this formula for poison gas, and I think he could sell it to Air-Wick. It smelled pretty good, anyway. They sent word you are going for the girl."
"I should have left before sleeping. Sounds like a week went by."
"Who knows? This is Pellucidar. While you nap, I could have gone to Korsar and back. Time makes no sense here. I came to get one of those peashooters. I figure if one bunch can make it down here, then I can make it. I also got some ideas for air defense. I am glad you told me about how this war up top is fought. You come back, maybe I surprise you."
"Finding Ee-la-nah is the only thing I am worried about now," I said. "I've got to go. Here is one of the Race's pistols. It's loaded, so be careful. Look, do you think we could fly to the moon?"
"It's only a mile from the surface. I don't know how thin the air is, but Ee-la-nah breathes down here fine, so it should be OK. Even one plane like yours can't fight all they must have, though. You be careful."
"I will. Now go and design a flying battleship or something that will sweep the Race from the sky."
He grinned and we shook hands.
I opened up the canopy and Lightning jumped in, taking his place behind me. I stowed some of the food in one of the booms, keeping the water and a snack for us both up front. I made sure everything was fine and climbed aboard. With a last word to Giuseppe about synthesizing motor oil and lubricants in addition to fuel, I closed the canopy and checked my instruments. The engines fired beautifully.
I knew, though, as I taxied along, that without a complete overhaul, my plane would not work perfectly forever. It still had bullet holes and brass parts machined on lathes made by the Mahars. I thought back on what I knew of the Mahars. Once, they dominated this part of Pellucidar, dwelling in many cities. Phutra, however, seemed to be their capitol, and it was there that David Innes stole their Great Secret. He had been forced to return it in exchange for Dian the Beautiful. Later, the Mahars had been defeated by Emperor Innes human armies and most of the Mahar cities were wrecked by dropping kegs of black powder into their entrances. The intelligent giant flying reptiles had promised to head for wilder parts of the continent and leave humans in peace. Whether the Great Secret was destroyed with Phutra was unknown. David Innes last encountered them when they sought his protection from the Korsars.
Phutra lay some 375 miles or so east of Sari by the map I was given. It was, in fact the easternmost point of reference on the lumpy peninsula that also contained Sari and Greenwich. Beyond it was the Lural Az and its chains of islands. Phutra was just north of the tip of the Mountains of the Clouds, and South of a large lake or inland sea. I flew in a straight line, constantly watching the skies. I kept the mixture lean, flying high and taking every advantage to save fuel. I knew what amount of fuel was needed to make the return leg back to Sari with Ee-la-nah. It was going to be close.
It was over an hour before I saw the inland sea. Beyond it I could see the great wheel shape of Phutra, which, like the other Mahar city I had visited, looked more like an inlaid pattern than a city, since it was mostly underground. From the air, I easily saw the destruction wrought by David Innes. Whole sections of the city were collapsed downward in soft heaps reclaimed by the jungle. Amid the radiating paths that led to the ancient watchtowers that bespoke mightier times for the flying reptiles, I was chagrined to see two black cross shapes of Race aircraft. Worse, three more were taking off!
I had a definite height advantage, and hoped that they did not see me. Three to one odds were bad enough, but five to one could have only one outcome. I waited for the black craft to pass beneath me, and then I did a wing over and curved down to the planes still on the ground. The pilots were just climbing in when I buzzed down. A short burst from the machine guns sent them spinning away. The impact on one craft broke it in half. I didn't waste further ammunition since the planes were useless without their pilots. I looked up, expecting to see the others turn to attack me, but, to my surprise, they continued on in a southwesterly directly, by my best guess.
It would take a lot of fuel to catch them, so I reluctantly let them escape and continued on my primary mission. I found the area near the Race's planes to be flat enough, so I set my own crate down. Lightning was out almost before I could finish pushing back the canopy. I snatched up my carbine and followed closely. The big cat checked the two enemy pilots, but my bullets had done their work. One of the planes actually looked flyable, but the other was wrecked. I marveled at how the Race handled these flimsy things, little more substantial than Japanese lanterns. My Japanese analogy reminded me of the nimble A6M Zero fighter that had given our heavier Brewster fighters fits until we could match the Nipon aircraft with newer models.
However, I felt the real analogy was the more ancient planes that were used in the Great War. The Race was still experimenting, and I hoped we could defeat them before they could perfect their war machines. I spent no more time, other than to grab a couple of clips for the little automatic from the nearest pilot's belt and stuffed them in my vest. I pointed at the body to Lightning.
"Find where they went!" I told him. "Find Ee-la-nah!"
Lightning almost nodded as if he understood, and leaped away, bounding toward an intact tunnel entrance. I followed as best I could, hoping that the Mahar's illumination system had not been wrecked. I was somewhat reward by a dim half-light when I got to the bottom of the ramp. I looked around, seeing the same neglect that I found in the other city. Dust told a tale, though, and I could see the new booted prints of the Race clearly. They overlaid, though, older tracks, the splayed talons of the Mahar, and the smaller, softer spoor that could only have been Ee-la-nah's.
The tracks went through a vast arena, where I could picture David Innes' struggle with the wild Beasts of Pellucidar, and the surging crowds when chaos broke loose in the stands. The light was better here, and I could see a shaft of real light across the arena, where the prints went. I found the passageway half-clogged, but I could clamber over after slinging my carbine. In this close area I found the tiny automatic of the Race to be easy to handle. The prints became sparse amid the rubble, and I made a couple of wrong turns, even with Lightning, before we got back on track.
The way grew narrower, and Lightning stopped abruptly before a pile of brass cartridges and a great splash of blood. The stench sickened me, but I pressed on, pistol ready. Farther down, I found the corpse of one of the race, uniform ripped by diagonal marks. It appeared that he had been smashed against the wall, killed by the force of impact, to lie in a heap. Blood and cartridges trailed on until I came to a larger room. It was dimmer here, full of tables and cabinets. Strange devices littered the room, and Lightning growled as a scraping sound came from one corner. Pistol ready, I crept forward.
I made out a large, bulky shape amid a smear of blood. It had propped itself beside a low table, and I could see its red eyes faintly shining. I approached slowly, now hearing a soughing wheeze. Black blood speckled its form, rivulets traveling down its leathery wings. Though all Mahars appear similar, I needed no better light to realize that this was the Mahar from the north, who had escaped with Ee-la-nah. He hissed when I approached, but I put away the pistol and held up my hands. He raised his head slightly, as if acknowledging who I was, and snaked one wing-caped forearm across the table. It snatched up a device which it placed over its head and put some part of it near its throat. For all the world, it looked like a complex version of an operator's headset. The Mahar depressed a stud and a soft glow emanated from some parts of this bizarre headgear. It moved its mouth, and suddenly, I could hear the common tongue of Pellucidar emanate from its device!
"The scientists of Phutra were working on this before they were bombed," it croaked in sepulchral tones. "They recognized after David Innes that humans did possess an intelligence. What irony! After untold generations, we learn that the gilaks have brains as quick as our own. Their weapons, I fear, are certainly much deadlier."
"Where is Ee-la-nah?" I demanded.
The thing let out a mournful whistle, and its eyes blazed. "The she? I took her with me, so that you would not molest me while I searched the ruins here. I had no intention of eating her. She could translate my thoughts, too valuable a tool to be devoured. I found other things to satisfy my hunger, and shared them with her. The other gilak, he tried to stop me. I could not permit this."
"Now I know what Ee-la-nah meant when she told me how cold your thoughts were," I said. "You are like a machine, with no feeling, only logical decisions."
"Trust me, this is not the lubricant of a machine spilling from me," It said, leaving me with a strong impression it released a sigh of regret. "We Mahars have our emotions, and our pleasures, but you would not understand."
"I have seen the heaps of skulls. I understand too well. Where is she?"
"I was looking for the One Book, the Great Secret. You understand that the book is sacred to all Mahars. I believe it was lost in the bombing. She helped me, and promised not to run away. No hard decision, since I could have caused her unbearable mental anguish. I located this room, and saw that the others of my race were trying to figure out how to communicate with humans without benefit of Sagoths. This trinket was one such experiment. I found these other records" - it indicated a pile of leather bound books on the table beside it," - and they told me of the history of our race, about the discovery of the Great Secret, and the Schism from Males. We were investigating when the small gilaks appeared. Ee-la-nah, as much as she hated me, did not want to go with them. She recognized their leader."
"Jehoida!" I snarled. "Go on."
"I found that they could communicate their thoughts to me," it revealed. "They demanded the she, in return for my life. They wondered about the machines, and offered to allow me to live on the moon. I found the idea of being subservient to gilaks absurd, and decided that they were tastier than thags. You often warned me about the power of your weapons. I should have paid them more respect. I did manage to kill one, and wound another. The power of those things of yours! I feel my life ebbing away, to join the river of beings to the End of Things."
"It was a noble act, to try to protect her," I said.
"It was purely in my self-interest," it replied. "I needed her. Do not overlay your gilak ways on me. Its all for naught, anyway. The Great Secret is buried. The only hope is to return to the beginning, to the land of Mahar'ktari, where we left the males of our kind. It was a primitive existence, compared to the later achievements. We were little better than thipdars, dominated by the males. The Secret and the Schism changed all that forever."
"For what its worth, I'm sorry," I said.
It slumped and the pile of books fell, one sliding open in a cloud of dust. I saw a drawing on one vellum-like sheet, a map. It showed the great Peninsula that contained all the Empire of Pellucidar, but the indications were in the writing of the Mahars. Beyond a sea to the west, beyond mountains and jungles, there was another country, marked in the Mahar script. The dying creature noted my interest.
"Mahar'ktari," it whispered. "Lend me the air of your wings, my ancestors, as I rush to join you! Farewell, gilak. After all this, I am still unsure who the real monster is, I and my ways, or those of you who use these terrible weapons."
With that, the light died from its eyes, and its head fell forward. I stood and regarded the corpse for a moment, and the small pile of books for which it had kidnaped the woman I loved. I felt a small trace of pity for the strange creature as I knelt down to lift one of the small books. Examining the pages in the dim light I wondered what knowledge might these volumes contain. With thought came action. I began stuffing the books inside my shirt and made a quick tour of the chamber, finding three others, including one of great age by its appearance. My search had brought me full circle around the room and I again looked down on the strange creature which had been the cause of so much trouble and anguish; yet, where once I completely loathed the reptile master as a presence of evil incarnate, I sensed a little of the creature's motivation and desire for life. Though the Mahar life will forever be alien to humanity, I could not suppress a brief gesture of admiration to this being who, regardless of selfish purpose, had protected my Ee-na-lah and had given me the information I needed to find the girl. I solemnly saluted the crumpled Mahar and exited the chamber.
Retracing my path at a dead run, Lightning leading the way, there was now no other course. Upon emerging from the ruined underground city I went to my plane, delayed only by the necessity of shooting two reptiles about the size of an Airdale equipped with more teeth than a shark. The bipedal beasts were trying to claw their way to the food stored in the fighter's starboard boom. Though the access hatch was badly scratched and dented, it was secure. I stowed the books in the boom as I contemplated what came next.
My fuel reserves would not take me to the moon of Pellucidar and back to Sari, a trip of some two thousand miles. I studied the two black aircraft which were relatively intact. In fact, the fuel tanks of both aircraft were undamaged. I confirmed, by smell, feel, and taste that the fluid in the black ships was similar, if not better, than Guissepi's crude brew in the P-38. I removed the cylindrical tanks which were about twice the size of oxy-acetane bottles, that is, about as long as I am tall and thicker than my upper thigh.
Drenched with sweat from the effort of extracting the tanks, I taxied the P-38 as near to the wrecks as possible to reduce the distance I must move the fuel tanks to my aircraft. I am a strong man, and I was a man with a purpose which added more strength to my muscles, but rolling that first cylinder across the rough ground was almost beyond my power. Then, like a playful kitten amused that round things roll when pushed with a paw, Lightning was at my side, his large, powerful paw shoving against the tank. I knew my feline companion was strong, I had felt the restrained power when we occasionally engaged in physical play, but exactly how strong the beast had become was evident in the ease Lightning amused himself in this new game. Moments later the tank was beside the P-38 and I had a moment of worry persuading Lightning that we had played with this tank long enough. With what appeared to be a pout on his savage contenence, Lightning turned away to seek the shade of a nearby tree. The big cat commenced cleaning his mottled fur with a large, raspy tongue.
I had a short period of frustration attaching the hand pump kept in the P-38's aft locker to the fuel tank because the fittings were dissimilar in size, but eventually solved the problem with strips of cloth, mud, and a tight fist about the collar as I pumped with the other hand. When the P-38 was completely refueled there was at least a third capacity left in the black aircraft tank. With the distance I expected to travel I was loathe to leave any fuel behind.
Sitting in the shade of my aircraft's wing I leaned back to take a moment of rest. My eyes traveled upward, inspecting the wing as would any conscientious pilot, and almost slapped my forehead for being dense. If a P-38 could carry bombs and external fuel tanks why couldn't I take these tanks with me?
I worked at fashioning slings from jungle lianas until I was hungry. As I ate I saw that Lightning had already fended for himself, the sabertooth was lazily gnawing the bones of something he had killed earlier.
Beginning to ache in every muscle, I snugged the partly empty tank inboard on the left side. Satisfied the tank was well clear of the ground and securely attached, I called to Lightning as I went to the second tank. "Want to play? Give me a hand, Lightning!"
The big cat yawned. Licking his blood-spattered paw, the sabertooth did not seem interested in rolling the tank. But a moment later Lightning regally paced closer. I started the game, pushing against the tank. After the third push I scowled at the feline. "You're some help!"
Lightning snorted then leisurely batted the tank, sending it five feet in the right direction! Lightning was again disappointed when I shoved him away when the tank was properly positioned, but I had a new game for the cat...if only he understood!
I played tug-o-war with a short piece of liana like we had done when Lightning was a cub. Once reminded of the game and still willing to play, I quickly wrapped the long liana beneath the tank and gave the sabertooth the other end. "Pull, boy! Pull!"
The tank whammed up to the underside of the wing. "Pull! Pull!" I urged as I swiftly secured the fuel tank. "Okay, you can let go. Let go!" I pleaded as Lightning was beginning to turn the P-38 on its tricycle carriage. Lightning was thoroughly amused and would not cease, so I used my knife to cut the vine. Lightning rolled head over heels when the liana parted, then sulked as I knelt to rough his stiff neck fur. When that rasp-like tongue near removed the beard on the side of my face I knew I had been forgiven.
Rough-housing with Lightning I looked at the "drop tanks," which were not a thing of beauty but, by my most pessimistic estimate, I believed I could now travel some 2500 miles if I encountered no problems.
Lightning curled up beside me, eyes closed, his fearsome incisors draped over a sturdy leg as I thought out my strategy. I examined the map Innes' people had provided. If the distances were reasonably accurate, my best route would be a straight flight across the bay west of the knot of land that I was currently on, using some island named Indiana (a joke name by Perry, I later discovered) as a reference, and right to the moon. How I expected to land on the moon unmolested I did not know, but I knew one thing: Jehoida had taken Ee-la-nah to the moon of Pellucidar and I would never rest until she was safe. I opened the cockpit and called to Lightning.
I took off, determined to be the first man to ever visit Earth's moon, even if it was the one at the Earth's Core. My love was there, so I could do no less.
CHAPTER TEN - MOON BOUND
I was tired. I had already flown nearly four hundred miles from Sari to Phutra, and now need to fly twice that distance to the Land of the Awful Shadow. I don't know how long the flight took. It was noon when I left Phutra, and it was noon as I passed over the sea on my way to Thuria, above which hung Pellucidar's moon. Either the aircraft of the Race—the inhabitants of the moon—had a tremendous range for their size or they had some gasoline stocks positioned at various points to allow refueling.
I found the later likely since Jehoida was carrying two people in his bat-winged fighter, twice the normal passenger weight. I flew high once more, to conserve fuel. The overview of the vast expanse of the Lural Az was spectacular, but I was too far up to see any of the great sea monsters that teemed in the oceans of Pellucidar.
Making land, my map indicated I was crossing onto the Lidi Plains, noted for its herds of tamable diplodicus. Ahead of me, growing larger by the minute, was the odd sphere of Pellucidar's moon.
My first impression reminded me of a schoolroom globe except that the features were not the continents of earth's surface. Like Pellucidar itself the moon seemed more land than water, but the orb was veined with rivers and clotted with large lakes, proportionate to the seas on Pellucidar proper. Soon the moon loomed before me, casting its dark cloak across Thuria's landscape. I noted on my approach that it rotated slowly in an exact parallel to the surface below. With night and day, it was a question whether the inhabitants were constrained by time as on the outer surface, and so aged normally, or was it as meaningless there as it was below?
A million questions entered my mind while I looked at my destination. As it grew, I pondered a plan of action. At the same time I examined, as I did every few seconds (and those seconds were based on the instincts every pilot uses), the P-38's fuel guage. Descending from 1,000 feet, I selected a vast open and treeless area far from the immense dark shapes of grazing diplodicus. The grass was short, perhaps five inches thick. The tires touched down and rolled as smoothly as if tarmac.
Lightning stepped on my shoulder and leapt out before the electric canopy fully opened. Like a tawny streak the big cat raced toward one of the herds of giant reptiles. I fully appreciated the cat's desire to get out of the plane because I was stiff from hours of flying.
After stretching a bit, I cut the half-empty fuel tank from the wing and began refueling the fighter. I wanted the P-38 fully fueled before making the ascent to the moon. I also did not want to have any extra weight as expressed in the cylinder itself. There might be a need to be agile as I entered the Race's airspace.
When the first tank was empty and the hand pump stowed. I ate some of the food in the starboard boom. At the same time I looked at two of the books I'd brought out of the Mahar city. The maps interested me, and I had no difficulty reading those, but the rows of ciphers of strange shape and appearance were completely baffling. I was not, however, unaware of where I was or the dangers of the land and its inhabitants. Quick surveys, both short and distant, scanned the area and my hand was never far from a weapon.
The meal over, I soon gave up making heads or tails of the Mahar books and put them back in the boom. Plane and body refueled, I was ready to go, yet Lightning had not returned. Where was the sabertooth?
While waiting, I recalled David Innes' descriptions of the pendant world's surface as having plain, but easily identifiable features. I saw them, from a distance of perhaps 75 miles, and wondered where the civilization of the Race was hidden, since it was never talked about in any of the pulp stories I read as a youth.
"Lightning!" My patience, and I am generally considered a patient man, had worn thin. Grabbing the rifle, I double-timed in the direction the cat had taken. "Lightning! Here, boy! Time to go!"
A quarter-mile later I started hearing something, something like beasts in battle. The double-time dropped into a wary approach as the sounds grew louder, yet I still could see nothing but a vast plain of grass and—
In a low basin perhaps 50 yards across and little more than 5 feet below ground level, Lightning was in mortal combat with four prehistoric dogs near half again his size! The cat had given good account if the bleeding, ragged flesh of two of the dogs was token, but so too, had Lightning been ripped because there was blood at his neck and chest.
"That's my cat!" I shouted. Running forward, raising the rifle, I felt stupid for exposing myself to such danger. But as I could not abandon Ee-la-nah I could not abandon the sabertooth.
My shout changed the dynamics. The dogs looked at me and in that instant Lightning ripped out the throat of the nearest. The beast's dying howl caused the others to rush on the cat. The sharp report of my rifle froze all but Lightning, who raced to my side. The slug bowled one of the dogs over. I fired three more times at the others, missing two, but the surprise, the deaths, and the cat beyond their range made the remainder of the pack run away.
Lightning pressed against my leg, teeth bared to the pack, but the creature trembled so violently that I knew the cat had faced death for the first time.
"That's a crock!" I said to myself, kneeling to both caress the animal and examine its wounds. "You don't think, do you boy?" I said as the great head turned toward me. "You're just a dumb animal. Right?"
Lightning's affectionate head butt knocked me off-balance. Laughing, I scratched behind his ears. The sabertooth's eyes closed momentarily with pleasure, then commenced to clean his small wounds and fur. I waited until the cat was again calm. Then waited a while longer when Lightning went down to one of the two dead canines and commenced to feed.
I started back to the P-38, taking my time. I did the usual pre-flight walk around the aircraft then settled into the pilot's seat. I must have dozed because the next thing I remember was a vibration from the wing as Lightning eased himself behind me.
Feeling rested and ready, I cranked the engines and took off. Soon, I was nearer than any inhabitant of Pellucidar or the surface had ever come to the moon. I began to perceive glints of metal at various locations, and smudges issuing from the ground itself. Then, from the top of the moon's sphere, one of those black painted dirigibles lifted, seemingly from nowhere, and began to sail in my direction.
I had learned to fly near to the ground in combat, to watch out for other planes and obstacles, but never had I been trained to dogfight next to a celestial object. However, as I approached to within a few miles of the moon, its subtle gravity began to play with my sense of balance, I began to grow dizzy. All the while, the evil looking airship drew near me. I checked my guns, and began to veer toward it, shaking my head to clear it. Lightning complained from the rear area, and I knew the strain was affecting him as well.
As I turned, gunfire erupted from the black craft. At least half a dozen weapons were trained on me, but their aim was poor, and I only heard a couple of shots whine off the wings. I fired a short burst at the rigid cigar shape, ignoring the continuing stream of bullets from its gondola. My attack bore fruit, and the ballonets inside the dirigible's cells ignited in a chain reaction, sending a series of fireballs erupting along its surface. The gondola fell away from the burning wreckage and tumbled toward Thuria's surface. It was certain death for its occupants, and I saw some leap out. Parachutes blossomed for a few, but some either had defective ones, or none at all.
I felt like I had replayed a bizarre scene from G-8 and his Battle Aces, or some other pulp aviation warrior. I looped over and decided to fly along the curve of the moon, as close to its surface as possible. This proved to be a smart thing, because when I came to within a thousand feet or so of the surface, my dizziness ceased because I was no longer in conflict between two competing gravities. I stayed on the lighted side of the moon, and looked for a flat, yet secluded place to land. I had no idea where on the moon Ee-la-nah was, so I was hoping to find a rural area where the Race's grip was lessened and make inquiries among the locals. The fact that Jehoida spoke the common tongue of Pellucidar meant that the Race did also, which meant a common beginning for all those of the Inner World.
How, I wondered, if all races had a common origin, did the Race come to the moon from the surface? Had they once been surface dwellers and migrated upward? Or, did humankind in Pellucidar start on the moon and filtered downward through the ages? I had little time to ponder this conundrum.
I watched the ground, and saw what appeared to be vents and chimneys springing up with a startling preciseness to their order. My observations, however, blinded me to danger.
I became aware that I was being intercepted when I noted a line of at least six of the black winged aircraft coming dead at me. I checked my guns, ready to knock them from the sky, when I glanced back to see three other groups of similar size converging on me from other directions. I felt that my ship could out-duel one group, but twenty-four to one odds were long even for me. Still, I throttled up my engines and prepared to go down fighting. Ee-la-nah would be avenged as best I could.
Then, I noted that the enemy craft were boxing me in, but not firing. I had a new sense that I was being herded. I felt little relief at this, for it meant that they wanted to capture my ship and me. I considered attacking anyway, but this would bring certain death without knowing the whereabouts of Ee-la-nah. I decided to let me direct me in the hopes that I would not be killed out of hand. We flew onward, though there was little sense of direction on this world, and I knew that I would be lost trying to find any location on its surface. Finally, one group soared over me, coming so close to me from above, that I knew they wanted me to land.
The problem was that I could see no landing field. All was verdant grassland and hills, where herds of cattle-like creatures and plodding dinosaurs roamed aimlessly. Suddenly, I saw a rectangle of bushy plain fall away at an angle, to reveal a dark opening barely wide enough for my P-38 to enter. It was plainly made for the stubbier wingspans of the Race's fighters. As the hidden runway opened up, lights sprang up and outlined a long concrete pad. Lightning seemed pleased we were descending. Like the cat, I wanted to land, but unlike the cat I knew we were headed for trouble.
I put down the landing gear and set my plane down as quickly as possible, fearing the runway might be too short for my larger craft. Reversing props at full thottle and riding the brakes hard I rolled to a stop and saw barely fifty feet remaining, terminating in a concrete and steel barrier at the runway's end. However, the end of the runway opened onto a circular area where several of the black planes waited in stalls. I used this space to turn my plane around so that it would be headed out. I felt no reason to be pessimistic, but caution made sure that if I were successful in finding my mate and escaping, no matter what the odds, the P-38 was ready to roll.
I threw back the canopy and gripped Lightning's neck fur to keep the beast from bolting. A squad of men armed with rifles approached. I stroked Lightning's fur and spoke soothingly to him.
"Look, boy," I said, "there are just too many to eat." There wasn't much time before the men arrived. I tore open some packaged food and tossed it back. It was ignored, the cat had eatten too soon before. Water, on the other hand, was — I emptied my canteen into my leather flight helmet, which I had not worn since arriving in Pellucidar, and knotted on strap to the back of the seat.
"Guard the plane. Stay here and guard the plane. If anybody opens the cockpit, I want you to tear their heads off. OK? And stay out of sight!"
I unbuckled my ammo belt and left my weapons in the pilot's seat, but I did stick one of the little Race automatics in my pants pocket. I scrambled out on to the wing and slammed the canopy shut before Lightning could change his mind or I could get orders to the contrary. It might get a little stuffy, but the cockpit was vented enough to keep him from suffocating.
I stood on the wing and raised both hands high. Behind me, I heard motors and saw a shadow fall over the entrance as its lid was replaced. The warmth of Pellucidar's son was replaced by a cool dampness that reminded me of bunkers or subway stations. The squad stood off about ten feet; rifles raised, but seemed uncertain. We remained thus until my arms were almost ready to drop from the strain when I heard a humming whine. From a wide corridor rolled a small vehicle not much bigger than a roller-coaster car. There was a driver and I could see through the windshield that its passenger was Jehoida.
Before going on, I want to add a note on translation. Pellucidarian, as a technical language has a lot of shortcomings, and the terms used by the Race take longer to translate than the equivalents I am about to use, but suffice it say that their units of measurement closely conform to the metric system, though their standard unit, or their meter, is about 37 inches, oddly enough.
"My arms are getting tired," I snapped to Jehoida as he approached the line of guards. "I'd like to put them down, but I'm afraid your goons will shoot me."
"Well, you do make them nervous," he said with that same combination of graciousness and sarcasm that had irritated me previously. "This is more excitement than they have had in many deka-days. You may put down your arms, but no tricks. While our weapons do not have the rate of fire of yours, they do kill."
"As you can see I am unarmed," I said, lowering my arms. "I saw your handiwork at Phutra. A sad creature, dreaming of past glory for her kind."
"A pathetic beast, true," he replied. "Soon, there will be only the Race. All the rest will be our servants. Come down, if you please. You will see that we are not the barbarians you find sullying the below world."
I leaped from the wing to land so close to the guards that they stepped back. I saw their arms trembling, but then again, how could I blame them? I was a head taller than their tallest while the latter barely came to the bottom of my sternum. Had we all been matched fists for fists or tooth and nail I could have beaten them all, Jehoida included.
While they hesitated, I was able examine their accoutrements more carefully. They wore a black uniform made from a cotton-like material. The jacket came down to mid thigh and polished leather boots tightly encased the calf from ankle to below the knee. The shirt beneath their jackets was gray and without collar. Various emblems of brass and silver adorned their jackets and all carried rifles of a caliber similar to that .22 a father might give a son for his first sporting weapon. Knives or bayonets hung at their hips from leather belts that also held pouches for cartridges and other items. The majority were bare-headed, but some wore an oval cap with a silver three-legged triangular blazon above its wide bill.
"With these you are going to conquer a world so huge that your entire moon would barely make a decent-sized county?" I demanded, smiling a little sarcastically. "Maybe you had better think again."
"The Race will conquer!" Jehoida insisted. "After all, you with the aircraft and weapons are now in our custody." Jehoida seemed amused at the turn of events, and because of that amusement, and having the upper-hand, he lapsed into a fake graciousness.
"Come with me. I am sure you would like to freshen up before your interrogation."
"What could I possibly know that could help you?" I asked. I played along, ever watchful for opportunity, but always watching Jehoida because he was my only link to finding Ee-na-lah!
The line of guards parted then followed in two rows behind us as we advanced to the little car. Jehoida insisted I cram myself into the rear compartment, which was as comfortable as a barrel going over Niagara Falls. He settled into the forward seat beside the driver while the guards entered a larger conveyance and followed us down the wide corridor.
"Escape is impossible," Jehoiba stated. "We are traveling to one of our military headquarters." Glancing over his shoulder he added, "You are surrounded by over a thousand elite troops."
"Well, I'll keep that in mind," I said.
Looking around I saw various side corridors leading away from this main artery. There was enough room for about three of these cars to travel abreast in the corridor I was in. Recessed lights overhead gave the area a clear but artificial illumination. "So, tell me more about your Race. Have you always lived underground like moles?"
"I don't understand your reference," he said. I had used the English word. But the implied insult irritated Jehoiba and he answered with the truth. "For many mega-days it has been this way. Before, we were on the surface, perhaps much like the beast-men below. There was once a great interest in the past, but most of our science now is concerned with making ready to expand to the below-world. Quite simply, we have expanded all we can, and are in danger of destabilizing our world."
"So, why did you come down here?" I asked. "Why not stay on the surface. It's sure warmer up there."
"We did so for most of the Race's history. However, there came a time when our population grew to the point where we were expanding beyond our resources. Grazing land and forests were being consumed by housing, and there was only one way to go, inward. These things happened in the Age of Salvation, as we call those kilo-days. It was our need to build downward that drove our need for machines, for ways to build and excavate living spaces and methods to heat and illuminate them."
"I have always wondered what would happen if the population of my world grew beyond the limits of farmlands to feed it," I admitted, suddenly fascinated with the concept. "So, you burrowed into the ground."
"We did, and for all these mega-days, we have tunneled and built, stoking our machinery with the resources we uncovered during our digging. The surface was returned to its original state, save that it was regulated for farming and grazing. Our ability to feed our Race is not the question. We can feed ten times our number now. What we cannot do is dig any further, or gravity may pull our world apart."
"You have built amazing things," I said. "But, again, what information could I provide to you?"
"By your weapons, you are obviously from Sari, the only kingdom we know to have firearms, though we have heard of another land far away that also has them. We originally did not have these things until we developed airships that could leave our gravity and fall down to the below-world. Our spies reported warriors using firearms, so we captured the weapons and had them analyzed. Our scientists immediately were able to make advanced models, but now I see that you of Sari have outstripped us."
I did not disagree with him. Even had I told him the truth at that point, he probably would not have believed me.
"So you want me to tell you how to make better machine guns and airplanes?" I asked.
"We hope you would cooperate willingly," Jehoida said. "You cannot escape, so resistance is really useless. We also need to know how many aircraft like yours exist, since our latest reports did not reveal Sari possessed any, and certainly none of your sophistication."
"Well, it's not inconceivable Sari has hidden facilities also," I said, hoping to unnerve him with such a thought. "By the way, where is Ee-la-nah?"
"She is safe," Jehoida growled, losing his supercilious tone. "She has an apartment adjoining my own, just off the base nexus. You have bewitched her in some way, because she does little but shower me with epithets and cry for you. Have no fear, however, I shall change her mind, or she shall be given to the re-educators for further convincing."
I was chilled by the thought of her being brainwashed by these pint-sized Nazis. "So if you can't have her willingly, you'll settle for a mentally crippled version?"
"A compliant mate is always desirable, for the Race needs such to expand in order to breed new warriors to subjugate the below-world. What does it matter to you? In a few minutes, we shall be at the base nexus and you will be taken to the questioners and if you are sufficiently compliant a niche will be found for you as well, though in a different location far from here. Your reward might also include a sterilized mate deemed undesirable for breeding purposes, since you seem to have a predilection for women of the Race."
The guards poked their gun barrels into my back a little too much for my liking, but a pattern of lead stitching would have been a reply to any complaint that I made, so I kept silent, stumbling forward down the sterile hallway to the Leader's office. They paused before a large black-painted metal door that bore a silver bas-relief of the Race's symbol, a triangle with a tripod base. One of them pushed a red button over a small grille. A strangled voice emitted from the grille. The guard spoke back, and the door slowly slid open into a recess in the wall.
I wish I could say that I was impressed by the Leader's office. However, having seen the throne room of David Innes, this clinically antiseptic room was the very antithesis of a ruler's ambience. The walls were all dull metal colors, gray, chrome, tan, like filing cabinet makers had designed the architecture. The floor was of black, marbled tile that reminded me of some bathrooms back home. There were paintings on the walls, occupying space between cabinets and bookcases, but they were as bland as the room, mostly studies of weapons and life underground.
Before me, under a huge picture of some sort of amphitheater where a figure addressed a packed house, was a desk as forbidding as the rest of the room, a squat black brick of furniture that appeared to be made of metal. The papers on it were neatly stacked and a row of writing devices was in precise order. The man behind the imposing desk only enhanced the impression of lifelessness that the room exuded.
He was slightly shorter than the rest of the Race I had seen, and his uniform hung on his spindly frame. His face was so colorless it had the appearance of a drowned corpse, and his hair was equally hueless, nearly the color of an albino. He looked at me with a pinched face, only slightly resembling Jehoida's more open, if equally cruel, features. His sallow eyes regarded me with little interest, and no hint of animation went through his small frame until his thin lips moved.
"You are the man from below," he stated in a snarling, raspy voice.
"I am Byron Jasper Wells," I informed him. "I demand not only my release, but the release of Ee-la-nah, who is held against her will by your son."
The Leader's lips curled in a death's head rictus. "Are all of you down there so addle-brained?" he questioned. "You were mad to come here, totally illogical. It is enough that you killed several of the Race and destroyed a large number of aircraft, but to come here, in my own office and demand of me! You are mad, and your people are mad to resist us."
It was my turn to smile. "You are mad to invade us, mein Führer," I allowed. "You could have come down by negotiation, openly, and you would have had an accommodation made, perhaps, but to attack us, no, that's too much. And where would such attacks stop? Would Sari be your last territorial demand?"
"I do not understand your terms, and think you insult the Leader of the Race," he glowered. "I shall have Jehoida summoned, and this woman also, and you will have your justice here and now, with the Leader as your judge. Make this occur." He snapped his fingers at a guard with a machine pistol who leaped to obey, falling upon a telephone as if it were a dissident and making calls.
"What do you want with Sari?" I demanded. "It is a peaceful country. And besides, Thuria is much closer."
"You think us fools?" He eyed me with his dead eyes, and I could see a pale glow building in them, like witch fire on treetops. "You need to be inculcated in the ways of the Race, to understand the glorious struggle of the Race, to hear the future of this world, a future belonging to the Race and to those who serve the Race."
"By all means, enlighten me, you sawed-off Hitler," I yawned. I suppose I should have been more polite, but I was in no mood to deal with a bunch just as nasty as the ones I was fighting back home.
"That will be your last insult," he gnashed. "Keep your tongue civil or it will be cut out. Who is this Hitler that you insult me with his name?"
"I don't know who got the worst insult," I commented. "He has killed millions based on the same theory that one race is superior to the other. You only are thinking about it."
"We do not wish to kill any who will willingly serve," the Leader spluttered defensively. "You have no doubt heard of the age-old struggle for survival upon this world. Once, the entire Race lived on the surface, and hunted and fished much as you do below, but our numbers grew until we threatened not only to crowd each other, but also to kill off all game and build on all farmland. Those who came before wisely knew that unless we could find a way to the below world, we would begin to starve. No way at that time could be devised to travel off our world, but there were those who proposed to dig into the world's interior, to build downward villages.
"The first attempts were crude, merely burrows and many-chambered caves. Our people were principally hunters and gatherers, crude farmers, and not engineers. We learned by doing. Legend says that it was by chance that a rare lightning storm struck a pile of raw iron ore that had been dug out of the ground, melting it and showing to the elders that it could be smelted and refined. Whatever the truth, our ancestors developed iron working, and began making devices for its production while improving digging tools and expanding the caves into vast underground chambers. Discovery followed discovery, and we evolved into a society of builders and miners. Soon, miles and miles of caves were realized, all carefully laid out in regular patterns, while the surface was returned to a natural state where the animals could multiply. We even grew food underground until the animal population stabilized, and then we planted fields again, this time also in regular patterns.
"To the Race, all was becoming an exercise in order and precision. We refined our passages until we have all that we need underground, living apartments, shops, factories, hospitals, whatever is required. However, the day has now dawned that we are running out of room again. There are those who fear, also, that if we dig too deeply, the gravitational forces will pull the moon apart. These pressures have combined to create unrest. Overcrowding is raising tempers, causing shortages. The central planners knew only how to perpetuate a system formed after countless mega-days. Something had to be done.
"There were numerous men like myself, who knew that the future of the Race lay not just on this world, but the below-world. Experiments were conducted with lighter-than-air-craft, but the central planners feared the world below, for our observations indicated huge creatures and men there. By their inactions, thousands would starve. My comrades and I formed the Tri-base. I am sure you have seen the three-legged symbol of our foundation. Two others and myself formed groups of men who were ready to seize power. During the height of unrest, we acted, toppling the central planners in a coup, the first act of violence in heka-days. Thousands died, but Tri-base controlled the Race."
"What of your two companions, the other Ҭegs' of the base?" I asked.
"Unfortunately, they proved to be disloyal and unreliable, so they were later liquidated." The leader spread his hands and sounded disappointed. "We knew that we must be prepared to fight for our place in the below-world, so we persuaded our inventors to come up with weapons and better aircraft to conquer the world below. We used our airships to scout and capture specimens. The human specimens captured were used to show that they were vastly inferior to the Race in intelligence and culture, fit only for menial tasks."
"The term we use back home is ҳcapegoat'," I remarked. "Something used to make the perpetrators feel good about their acts. You used gilaks to show that they didn't deserve the below world. Let me guess, you told the Race that all labor was for the good of the State, and that the inferior gilaks must be exterminated. All those who didn't agree were either imprisoned or liquidated."
"That makes it a little blunt," the Leader admitted. "We asked to exterminate no-one, but some individuals could not be re-educated, and so they were a parasite on the body of the Race. We merely wish the inferior races to submit. We have chosen Sari because our spies indicate it is the most advanced, therefore the biggest threat. Once we demonstrate our superior ability by destroying Sari, the rest of the countries will fall into line easily."
He was interrupted from speaking further by the appearance of Jehoida from a sliding side panel. Next followed a guard holding Ee-la-nah. Upon spying me, she struggled to free herself, stamping on her guard's foot. He howled and released her. She would have run to my arms, but Jehoida snatched one of her arms and swung her around. She lost her balance and fell to the floor. I rushed to her, but three men with drawn pistols intercepted me. My temper flared, but I remained still, hands twitching to circle Jehoida's throat. I turned instead to the Leader.
"This is your superiority?" I roared. "To abuse women, to punish those weaker than yourself?"
"Were you a member of the Race, you would understand," he snapped.
"Have your storm troopers put away their toys, and there would be a lot of understanding," I promised. "Are you OK, Ee-la-nah?"
"Yes," she answered. "It takes more than what this ill-bred thing can accomplish to harm me."
"Silence!" Jehoida commanded, and gave her a ferocious backhand that sent her over backward.
That was all I needed. Pistols or not, I waded in. It took the two guards that brought me in, the Leader's two guards, Ee-la-nah's guard, and Jehoida, plus five more that were out in the hall and heard the ruckus before they had pinned me down enough to tie me to a chair. Four guards would not be fit for combat for some time and one of them never. Jehoida paced before me, between his father's desk and myself. I had only managed to give him a small cut on his lip.
"We are through toying with you," he screamed at me, making me blink from a shower of saliva and blood. "You have knowledge of how weapons like your aircraft are built. You know the size of your air forces and your army. You will give us this information, or you will regret it."
"I will give you nothing," I told him.
He slapped hard, but I had been hit a lot worse, so I just glared at him. His father cleared his throat.
"Why don't you cut off one of Ee-la-nah's fingers?" the Leader suggested. "If he doesn't care for himself, he evidently cares for her."
"Father!" Jehoida protested. "She is to me mine! Please do not mutilate her."
"She is only worth her value to the Race," the leader pointed out. "If, through her, we gain knowledge to conquer Sari, I would whittle her down to a sliver. You will obey me. You have disgraced me once, you will not do so again."
Jehoida's face purpled under its mushroom hue. "I am loyal!" he protested. "So be it." He turned to a guard. "Draw your knife and remove the first joint of her little finger."
"This from the man who claims to love you," I said to her as the guard fumbled for his dagger.
I tested the chair to which I was bound. It was wooden, and built for a member of the Race. I managed to rear up and hop backward. The chair, beneath me, shattered, but I felt bruised. Jehoida rushed to me and I gave him a boot in a place no self-respecting Edgar Rice Burroughs hero would strike. He went down in a bawling, red-faced heap. I couldn't get out of the ropes, so I was collared and a pistol barrel put in my ear. The Leader was furious. He leaped to his feat and went around the side of his desk.
"Fools!" he bellowed. "Can none of you quiet this inferior creature? Take him to the mines and break him there!"
I looked to Ee-la-nah. "I'll be back for you, my love," I said as they began to drag me out. "Don't kill that little bastard. I'll do it for you."
She screamed out her love for me. The last I heard before I was removed and the door shut was the Leader as he stood over his son's writhing form.
"Get up you sniveling worm," he ordered. "Obviously your mother was not a fit vessel for a member of the ruling elite of the Race. You are fortunate that I did not liquidate you when I liquidated her."
Back in the little car, this time with a driver and one guard since I was bound, the idiots put me in the back where, unobserved, I worked free of the ropes. The vehicle sped through corridors, descending deeper into the underground complex. Here and there the lighting failed, either because of lack of maintainence or power outages. With the knowledge that I had mere moments to escape before reaching the mines, I acted.
We rounded a corner and entered a section without lighting. In that instant, I drew the tiny automatic from my pocket and collared the guard, pulling him across my jammed knees. He squalled in shock, pale face losing any further hue it contained. I stuck the barrel of the automatic under his nose.
"Tell him to stop this thing!" I commanded.
He gave a strangled command and the car stopped. I untangled myself and dragged him along with me as I got out opposite the now alerted driver. He fumbled for his pistol.
"Tell him to drop his gun, or I will ventilate you," I said. "Lose your pistol also."
"Put it down!" He shrieked, unsnapping his holster and casting away his pistol. So much for the bravery of the Master Race! I stole a backward glance and saw a side corridor not ten feet away. I slowly backed toward it, keeping the officer between the driver and me though I had to crouch to effectively use him as a shield.
"You're mad!" the officer hissed. "You will never get away with this."
"We shall see," I returned. "Stay back! If you follow, you are both dead men."
I backed into the corridor and glanced about, seeing driver paralyzed, either with fear, or with some ingrained sense of following orders without question. Once over the sill, the corridor, though narrower than the concourse I exited, was much taller, its ceiling soaring sixty feet above my head. Along the sides were patterns of windows, and some of the higher levels had small balconies with black metal railings. Double glass and metal doors flanked me at regular intervals, but the street was empty. Then, there came a voice that caused me to stop dead in my tracks.
"Byron!" Ee-la-nah! "Look out!"
Before I could turn, I heard the scrape of leather on stone and a heavy blow struck the back of my head, staggering me. I let go of the officer, and was trying to clear my head, thinking that someone had come from one of the doorways. More blows rained upon me, however, and I could do little except flail with both fists. I impacted on several occasions, but the force of the blows on me indicated some weapon or bludgeon, and I sank into unconsciousness.
CHAPTER ELEVEN - PRISONER OF THE RACE
Of course, I have no idea how long I was out.
I later learned that the Race has clocks, again on some decimal system of seconds and minutes, and hours, matching the rotation of the moon on its axis. However, I never learned to read them in my brief stay, so I can't give you a good idea of time. I only knew that above me was night and day, but in the depths of the anthill complexes of the Race, it was always light, no different than Pellucidar's surface. I was awakened by something rubbing the back of my head, causing a throbbing pain. My eyes opened, and I found a pale, emaciated man apparently working on my skull.
I jumped back, not trusting a stranger. As I did, I noted that he was not only in poor shape, but that he was as tall as I was. He did not have the luminous eyes of the Race, either. He was bearded, and his full head of brown hair ran down and merged with his beard, giving him a leonine aspect. While thin, his muscles looked taut. He wore a filthy loincloth and some fur boots of some sort.
I looked past him to see that we were in a dank cubicle no more than eight feet on either side. A door marred one wall with a slit in the top and bottom. By the bottom was an empty metal dish. Piles of old straw occupied the corners, and I saw the floor was slightly slanted to an open drain. Light came from a dim circle in the ceiling some twelve feet above me. The man held a battered metal pitcher and a bloody piece of cloth.
"Where am I?" I asked, though the question was foolish.
"In a cell near the base," said my companion in a hoarse voice. He coughed, and I saw that the hoarseness was probably from lack of use of his speech capabilities.
"Who are you?" I demanded. "I did not know there were any gilaks on the moon."
"I am Ko-lor of Thuria," he said. "I was hunting with a musket when this strange ship came from the sky. It did not look like one of the Emperor's ships that float on the water. Ten little men in black came out and surrounded me. I knew that I could not fight them or run from their ship, so I surrender. They took my musket and asked me about how it was made, but I did not know, which made them angry. I was taken up here and have been a slave ever since. For many sleeps I have dug in their mines for the metal to make more weapons."
"We must escape. I came here to get my mate and return before these midgets can invade Sari and then take over all of Pellucidar, including Thuria. I wish there were more of us."
"Who are you that can say so much about Sari and Thuria?" Ko-lor inquired. "Tell me while I wash the blood from your hair."
"I am Byron Jasper Wells. I came from the surface, like David Innes. Oww ֠that smarts! Take it easy. Look, I have an airship that can outfight any of theirs. There is a tarag in there. We can use it to escape."
"You have a tarag in your ship? Does he help you to fly or does he fend off thipdars? I think perhaps you were hit too hard."
"Look," I said, after he finished and wound another strip of cloth around my head, "what I have said is no more fantastic than where you are now. These fellows are so small that one hundred of us could probably take over the base if we had weapons."
"We are not so many," Ko-lor allowed. "However, there are ten more that they have captured to question and all work the mine. Since you are here, you will work the mine also."
"Well, we've got to get away, then. Have you ever seen the base? Are there any ships there like the one that captured you?"
"Yes, because I was taken away through the base after I was captured. I think I can find my way there again."
"Great," I said. "I guess we'll talk to the rest and see if they will go along with the idea."
"That must wait until the shift begins," Ko-lor revealed. "First, we must rest. Your wound needs to heal, and that will happen best with sleep."
"Some food would be nice. I am worried about my tarag. They will probably shoot him, or he will destroy my ship trying to get out if I am gone too long."
"Let's hope that he doesn't think it's been too long," Ko-lor said dubiously.
"Tell me what you know of this place," I urged. "It will probably help me relax."
"My captors have not given me the proper tour, seeing I am a person of great dignity," he said with a smile. "I will tell you what I can. Occasionally, we have Race workers as well. Usually, they are the kind who fails re-education. A few shifts with us and they are only too happy to go back and do their duty. Here is what I know. This moon is divided into sections, like some fruits I have eaten. Each section has a city that rules it. Their cities, though, are underground, and roads connect everything under the surface like a buried spider's web. I have been to Sari to see the wonders of the Emperor, but they are nothing compared to this world.
"They have machines that do so many things. I believe that because they are in the ground, they need these machines to live, since they cannot benefit from air and sunshine, as we do. I was told that there are vast pumping stations that clean the air we breathe, drawing in new air and expelling the old. They use water to make some sort of fire that they run through wires. I was told that once they burned wood and some black rock to do this, but it became to hard to clean the air, so they run all by water power."
"What about their armies, their weapons?" I asked, since that was the immediate concern. The throbbing in the back of my head was receding, and I was feeling tired. The long day and the recent trauma were taking their toll.
"That is the odd thing," Ko-lor admitted. "Apparently, they had no army until they decided to leave the moon. They first developed airships that had big bags of hot air, and there was a big scandal when the intended of one of their big chiefs escaped in one." — I smiled, because I assumed that he meant Ee-la-nah ֠"Then, they worked on other airships that looked like thipdars, with wings. I have been told that they have many of these ships of both types, and that they are working on machines that run along the ground like beetles. Everything is controlled from command centers and they are training thousands of their males to become warriors. Some do well, others, I am told, cannot hit a lidi at 100 paces. These were a people used to hardship, but their struggle was against nature, not other tribes, as has been our way on the surface. Still, they have many weapons."
"It does sound bad," I offered. "You have described things that are common where I come from, but will cause terrible harm here. I think I am going to try to get some sleep. We cannot wait for a good opportunity. With what you have told me, we must escape on the next shift, or it might be too late."
Ko-lor grunted his assent. With that, I fluffed up a pile of dusty straw, lay down, and fell asleep before my mind could consider all the implications of the coming invasion.
CHAPTER TWELVE - IN THE MINES OF THE MOON
A harsh clanging brought me awake with a start. I immediately looked around for my locker, to get my flight gear on for the scramble alert. Lifting my head, however, sent a shot of pain right to my eyes, reminding me that I was a prisoner deep inside the moon of Pellucidar. I got to my feet in time to see the bottom slot in the door open and two trays of food slide in. Ko-lor was also awake. He went over and got the trays, giving me one.
"This is the last meal until we get back at the end of the shift," he said. "Eat what you can. You see what dietary wonders it has wrought on me."
I looked at the tray. There was some dubious looking chunks of half-cooked meat and an assortment of stalks and tubers that would have made Bugs Bunny's eyes light up. Nobody had bothered to wash them very carefully, either. I knew that I would need my strength, so I ate what I could force down. Ko-lor told me that there would be water at the mine site, as long as you didn't mind it tasting a little funny. After a couple of hours hacking at rocks, he added that most people didn't.
There was a second bell about ten minutes after the first.
"Stand back from the door," Ko-lor said. "It's time to go to work."
We waited near the rear of the cell. There was a grinding sound, and the cell door slid sideways. Outside, I could see an identical cell opening and another full size human inside. There was a third bell. Ko-lor started forward, motioning me to follow. We went out into the hall, to join a troop of about twenty prisoners, about half a dozen of who were of the Race. Most were dressed as Ko-lor, with filthy breechcloths and fur boots. Suddenly, there was a squawking sound above us. I looked up to see uniformed members of the Race on catwalks, all armed with rifles. It reminded me of one of those prison movies.
"Move forward toward the door," came an amplified voice. "Failure to comply will mean execution."
We moved as we were bid. When we reached the door at the end of the hall, it slid open to reveal a dimly lit tunnel. On tracks was a series of cars similar to the one in which I had been escorted away from my P-38. My P-38, I thought, what had become of Lightning? I saw no guards and no driver for the cars. The prisoners ahead of me took their seats, so I followed. As soon as we all had climbed aboard, the cars went on by themselves.
"So, they built the prison right next to the mine," I said as we zipped between domes of yellow light from the ceiling. "How do these cars move, I wonder?"
"The hidden fire in the wires," Ko-lor said. "Once, a prisoner jumped out, and he was burned to death when his foot touched one of the metal strips in the floor. Nobody has jumped out since."
"Great," I said. "Not only is there no exit besides this one going right back to the cells, but the floor is charged with electricity. These guys think of everything. How do the guards get in?"
"They have another exit," someone ahead of me said, turning to look at me. "You are new. By your clothes, you look to be from Sari. I am from Amoz. My uncle is Dacor the Strong One. My name is Larz."
I introduced myself quickly. "We must escape," I whispered so that the Race members in the front would not hear. "I have an aircraft that will take me to Sari so that we can warn the Emperor. I need only rescue my mate before she weds Jehoida of the Race."
"By the Great Peak!" he swore. "Your mate is Ee-la-nah of the Race? Her theft of an airship and escape to the surface many sleeps ago was the talk of the entire place. Jehoida was reduced to a squadron leader in the aftermath. He, who was once a favorite of the Leader of the Race, is now in disgrace. It would be easier for you to try to jump down to the surface."
"I must rescue her. If we can escape, I may be able to find an airship for you all."
"So what?" snarled Larz. "We cannot fly the thing."
"I saw the inside of one. I can teach you the basics if you will listen."
"I will listen," said Ko-lor. "I will also do anything to escape from here. Death is better than digging this brown stone from this black rock."
"What about the Race prisoners?" I asked. "Won't they turn us in?"
"Depends. Some of them are loyal, despite their problems, which are mainly mental. Others are diehard. They think that invading a place that has done them no harm is wrong and that they should come down and have a parley with us."
"I guess they are in the minority."
"Not really. It seems that most of these moon people are not killers, but thinkers and planners. I can't understand that sort of person, since I hunt and kill all the time. Such stuff as thinking is best left to the chief and then only in emergencies. They are far too soft for me, making things instead of lying on your belly in the grass until your prey comes by, then jumping up and killing it with spear or bow. That's the life."
Many agreed with the Thurian. The Race members became curious over our conversation, so we decided to start our plot in the tunnel by telling the Race members that we planned to escape. Some were shocked and said they would tell the guards as soon as we came to the mine until we threatened to throw them on to the tracks where they would be electrocuted. The rest, as Ko-lor believed, actually sided with us. One of them, a bit taller than the others, seemed to lead the dissenters.
"There are many members of the Race that do not agree with this mad scheme of conquest. Your fellow prisoners from the below-world know that I have been here many deka-days. I will help you because I wish Ee-la-nah to escape also. My name is Othniel."
I was immediately suspicious. "Why do you wish this?"
"She is my sister, you big ugly below-worlder," he stated. I was at once relieved. Had this been an actual Burroughs tale, I might have gone for a long time thinking he was a rival lover. It seemed enough coincidence to me that I was in the same car with him. Of course, if he held views similar to his sister, then it was not unrealistic. "So, I will help you, and I will fly the airship if you capture it. First, we must overpower the guards. I don't think we can wait, because these true believers in here will inform on us the moment our back is turned. That is how it is with this new way of the Race. They rule through terror and fear. They inform on each other and get rewarded. The unfortunate victims are usually innocent of all but the mildest nonconformities, but by being fingered, they must go through re-education, which includes having electricity run through your brain. My memory is still fuzzy after the number of treatments I have had."
"Well, then, we must try, even if the odds are against us," I said. "Are there any alarm signals?"
"There is a button on the wall by the door leading to the guard's exit," Othniel said. Most guards carry sidearms, and there is a rack of rifles by the door. If we could get to them, we might stand a chance. There are usually six guards, but at the sound of the alarm, a hundred could arrive."
"We are approaching the mine entrance," Ko-lor warned. "What do we do?"
"Grab those of the Race who will not join us and keep them from speaking."
Fortunately, only two were found to be non-compliant. I suggested that both be given a punch in the stomach just before the guards could see us. Larz and Ko-lor were only too happy to comply. When the car stopped, I could see we were in a domed area laid out similar to pictures of mining operations I had seen up top. There were carts for ore, and large cars for transporting it away. Tools were stacked neatly near the ragged mine entrance. Opposite the entrance was a semi-circular redoubt where six guards were stationed. I could see a large red button in the wall by a steel door. I also saw that there was a rack of rifles nearby with a metal bar keeping them in place. That last part didn't look so good, but we had to try. They were six and we were twenty.
We alighted the cars and dragged the assaulted members of the Race forward. The guards came forward, pistols ready. Just to be sure, Ko-lor and Larz gave them an elbow in the slats, just to keep them howling. Both of them looked pretty green.
"What is going on here?" demanded one of the guards.
"Your boys here are sick," I said. "That top cut meat you dished up didn't agree with them. You ought to see the mess they left back in the car." I jerked my thumb towards the cars and held my nose with the other hand.
"Leave them," the guard commanded. "We will see to them. Go and dig."
"They're all yours, sweetheart," I said. "Let the man have his buddies, fellows."
At my signal, Ko-lor and Larz propelled the two men of the Race at the nearest guards. They tangled, one of them going down in a heap, and we rushed them, trampling two more. We leaped over the barrier, and tried to keep the rest at bay. They were poor shots, but a couple of our men were down already. I checked out the rack of rifles. The bar was locked.
"No good here," I said to Ko-lor as bullets spanged overhead.
"This is moon man stuff," said Larz. "I told you my uncle was Dacor. He is not called the Strong One for nothing."
He grabbed the iron bar and with a grunt and a wrench tore it from the rack. Othniel, Ko-lor, and myself grabbed rifles. Larz merely flung himself across the redoubt at the nearest attack, cudgeling him with the iron bar. We found the rifles loaded and proceeded to unload them at the remaining members of the race. Within a minute, it was all over. The six guards were dead, along with four of our number. Two others had light wounds. Lars waved his bloody cudgel in triumph.
"We have shown them how we make war!" he crowed. "Well, what next? How do we get out of here?"
"Through this door, I imagine," I said. "One of the guards should have a key."
"We will need more than a key," Othniel said. "Those of us from the moon need to don their uniforms. We might be able to say we are transporting prisoners to a new location."
"Hmmm, it might work," I said. "We have to get to Ee-la-nah's and to the airbase."
"One will lead to the other," Othniel assured me. "You will see."
Othniel, now in one of the forbidding ebony uniforms of a soldier of the Race, led the way. The other three remaining members that were with us took positions around us normal sized humans, each carrying a rifle. We had the six pistols of the guards hidden on our persons. Larz insisted on retaining his iron bar, so he stayed in the center where it was less noticeable. Some of the Race looked in the equipment storage and procured what looked to me like explosives and their attendant detonators. Othniel found some transfer records, made them out, stamped them at the guard station, and took some time signing them.
"We are moving you to clean-up duty near Ee-la-nah's apartments," he explained. "This is an official order, signed by Jehoida himself. I have seen his signature enough, so imitating it is rather simple."
I am not sure he will appreciate the irony," I said. "Lead on."
He produced the key and unlocked the iron door. Beyond was a series of ramps that led ever upward. We marched in good order so as not to arouse suspicion, though we were not met on our path.
"Tell me about the Race," I urged Othniel as we walked. His luminous eyes took a note of sadness as he looked back at me.
"We should have been those who brought enlightenment to all of Pellucidar," he sadly glumly. "Except for Sari, we have developed in an orderly fashion since the earliest days. Everything has been done carefully and cautiously. We learned that we had to maintain strict order and discipline to survive. The animals here are much as they are on the surface, though smaller in size. We have no large sea creatures or flying reptiles, but all else abounds here. As our population grew, we threatened to destroy the food animals here, plus use up all the land for homes, so at the dawn of this present Age, we decided to keep the surface as lush and alive as possible and instead go within our world for the good of all.
"It was a wise decision. We still were able to visit the surface to tend farms and animals, but our underground existence forced us to develop new and clever ways to burrow and mine, then to ventilate our cities, and new machines to do all this better, and so on. Our underground civilization, while dull in some ways, is a logical progression of our orderly existence. Everything is laid out in mathematical precision, all nexuses are interconnected, and each nexus is self-sufficient, having all the centers necessary for it to function independent of the central nexus. Our machines run mostly by electricity" ֠the word he used here is too complicated to put down ֠"because to burn coal or oil stinks up our tunnels too much."
"You said you could have brought enlightenment," I noted. "Is that not the aim of your Leader?"
"A perverted sort," Othniel lamented. "We were running out of room, so some heka-days past we developed balloons to visit the surface. There we found a plenty of room, but some parts were occupied by people like Ko-lor. We brought back reports, and the Race was divided on whether to appear openly bearing our gifts of knowledge and trade them for living space, or whether to go in force and take the land, subduing the inhabitants. When spies discovered the firearms down there, the militant faction won. There was a new thrust to unify the minds of the people, first by education, then by re-education. Those wanting war gained control through the passivity and acceptance of the majority, who merely wanted peaceful expansion and coexistence. Now, we have an obedient majority ruled by an aggressive and xenophobic minority. They have built many weapons of war beside aircraft. They are designing giant airship transports to send down fighting machines that roll along the ground firing machine guns and cannons. They are working on light artillery also, and a variety of ground transport vehicles."
"They must be stopped," I said. "Well, we are at the top. Here comes our first test."
At the top was another guard station, flanked by two of the Race armed with rifles. They drew aside and kept their weapons trained on us. An officer appeared from a nearby doorway. I looked about. Here was a wide concourse, wider than any I had seen so far. Electric vehicles purred back and forth. People scurried along also. It was as if ants had been turned to people and the people had redesigned the anthill to look like something out of an issue of Astounding stories. I could see open areas at different levels, shops, garages, where more of the Race worked on vehicles and did other mechanical things. Bright flares from arc welders blossomed here and there. I saw low, lumbering black vehicles with the ugly snouts of cannons protruding from rounded turrets.
Flat cars loaded with crates and machine parts traveled in all directions. Lifts took people to different floors. Squads of soldiers marched in orderly fashion at regular intervals. I focused on the officer. He seemed older than most, a sign that the regimen of time took its toll on the inhabitants of the moon.
"You look as if you have been digging in the mines, yourself, guard," the officer noted, staring with displeasure at Othniel's rumpled uniform. Luckily, the blood had mostly been rinsed out. Othniel saluted and removed his "orders" from his breast pocket.
"I have been instructed to move these prisoners to do clean up at the airship nexus," he told the officer.
"Signed by Jehoida himself!" the man breathed. "I would recognize his signature anywhere. Very well, this signature could get you in to empty the Leader's trashcan if need be. Carry on."
"It may just yet," said Othniel after he had passed the man. I smiled. Othniel noted it and whispered, "Careful that you do not look too happy, prisoner. We are subject to random questionings by any enforcement squads that are in a foul mood. If one of them should call Jehoida for verification. . . ."
"Jehoida must have been something before the scandal," I said. "I thought the officer was going to have a conniption fit when he saw that forgery."
"I am not sure what sort of ailment a conniption fit is, but I get the meaning," Othniel said. "Jehoida's name is still one to conjure with here."
"Because he is the son of the Leader himself," Othniel admitted.
"Yet he was broken in rank."
Othniel shrugged. "So as not to show favoritism. The loyalty of those siding with the Leader was at stake. If he would spare his own son humiliation, then that would be weakness, and he would be deposed. For the elite of the Race, there is always an itching between the shoulders where they feel the knife waiting for them if they misstep."
"I see," I nodded shortly, so as not to draw attention. "Where to now?"
"It is a good march to the airship nexus. We pass close enough to Jehoida's apartments to rescue my sister. Then, we part company. I will send one of my men with you; the rest of us will procure an airship and escape."
"Sounds like a plan," I said. "I am no good at deviousness, so I am glad you are with me. I prefer a stand up fight."
"You wound me." It was Othniel's turn to smile. "Besides, all methods have a time and a place. Trying to kidnap Jehoida while alone was the wrong tactic at the wrong time."
We marched for what seemed a good mile. Othniel knew exactly which way he was going. Along the way, we got several stares, but only one accosting, which again was quickly settled by the supposed signature of Jehoida. All the while I pondered the things I had been told. Othniel obviously had not told me the entire story. He and Ee-la-nah were certainly from a family of some prominence in the elite of the Race, or she would not have attracted the attention of one as high as Jehoida. Jehoida's rage was the more understandable because of the height he had plunged after his beloved not only spurned him, but also stole government property and left the moon. I again saw parallels in the ascendancy of the ruling elite of the Race to the domination of the Nazis over German society. Like the world above, I was determined that Pellucidar would stamp out fascism also. The thought made me wonder how the war was going on the outer crust, but I had too much happening in the present to give it serious consideration. We had arrived at the same crossroads where I had attempted to take Jehoida hostage.
"Here is our first real test," Othniel said, leading us to the very street where I had been subdued. "You and I will rush up the steps while the rest wait down below. At the first sign of trouble, they will come to our aid. Do you agree fellows?"
They all nodded somberly, Larz looking especially glum. "I was hoping to break a few more heads," he complained.
"Plenty of time for that later, big nose," Othniel grinned. "Just keep that bar of yours out of sight. Come with me, Byron."
We took off at a run toward a set of glass doors. Beyond them was a set of steps leading upwards. At the top of the first landing, Jehoida turned in, counted the doors, and then pointed to one bearing a gold plate with an engraving in an unknown script.
"This is Jehoida's," he said. "We will have a better chance if we take care of him first."
"Fine by me," I agreed. "Shall I take the door down? It doesn't look too substantial."
"Too noisy," he said. "Up here, we are gentlemen. Let us knock."
He rapped his knuckles on the door below the plate, pistol ready in his other hand. The door opened about a third of the way, to reveal an annoyed Jehoida. One look at us and his eyes widened, then he tried to back away and slam the door shut. I lashed out and caught the edge of the panel with my left hand and shoved it open. The force took Jehoida off balance and he staggered back, arms flailing. I dove in after him, clipping him on the jaw before he could say a word. My fist blew out his lights and he dropped like a deflated balloon. Othniel stepped in behind me and quickly shut the door.
"Well, there is something to be said for impulsiveness," he said once the panel was shut. "We'd better truss him up and find my sister."
We used some belts and cloth decorations to tie his hands and feet, stuffing a wad of cloth into his mouth. An ugly bruise rose up on his chin, but otherwise he seemed no worse for the wear. I suppose I should have broken his neck, but it didn't seem very sporting to kill a defenseless man, even though he would probably have no qualms about doing me in if the situation was reversed. At the least, he would be out for a long time. Once we were done, we pocketed as many weapons and other useful items as we could.
"I'd say this would be the door to Ee-la-nah's suite," Othniel said, indicating a door inset on the left. "Let's see what we have among Jehoida's effects." He emptied the unconscious man's pockets and found a set of keys.
Othniel went over and tried the keys until one fit. Without knocking, he went inside. Suddenly, something long and white crashed into his skull, shattering into dozens of tiny fragments. Othniel fell to his knees.
"I told you that you will not enter this room without knocking, tarag-breath!" came a voice I knew all too well. "Get out before I scream."
"I wish you would not," I said. "We are trying to keep a low profile."
Ee-la-nah came into view from her position of ambush. Her shock was obvious, tears starting at her luminous eyes. Not bothering to examine her handiwork, she leaped over her prostrate brother and rushed to my embrace. I was so excited that I lifted her off her tiny feet and pressed my lips to hers; swinging her around in a circle several times with joy. Then, I gently released her and bent to see about Othniel.
"You OK, buddy?" I asked.
"I hope his skull is fractured," Ee-la-nah spat. "He is forever trying to wheedle his way into my boudoir."
"You better hope its not, because he's our ticket out of here," I said, brushing ceramic fragments out of Othniel's hair. I could see no blood. "What did you hit him with?"
"One of his cheap vases," she answered. "To thin, I guess to kill him."
"And this is how you treat your own brother," Othniel groaned.
"Othniel!" She gasped. "I did not know! How did you escape? I thought both you and Byron were dead."
"I just feel like I am dead," Othniel said. "I am not seeing double right now, anyway. We have got to get out of here."
"Let's go," she agreed.
She was dressed in a fur trimmed two-piece outfit, a pocketed black blouse with a calf-length skirt, meeting a dainty set of boots. I thought she looked so good she could knock out a whole row of Hollywood starlets, right down to Veronica Lake and Simone Simon. Taking her by the hand, we rushed back down to the street. When we got to the double doors, we saw our companions fanning out, weapons ready. Faintly now, I could hear a wail like sirens.
I poked my head out the doors. Ko-lor saw me and waved me back with a free hand, while he readied his pistol in the other.
"Somebody must have found the bodies at the mine, or double checked the orders," he yelled. "These little fellows say that this screeching noise is a signal that guards are coming. You stay out of sight, and we'll lead them toward the airfield. One of Othniel's friends here has a plan to buy some time and cause confusion. Keep low. You'll know when to head out."
"Good luck!" I called, and then backed into the hallway.
I turned to the others. "Ko-lor is creating a diversion of some sort. Stay back until we can go."
We retreated until we were not obvious. I saw our friends retreat in the direction opposite the one we had arrived by. The wailing stopped, and I heard feet running, then shots. The shooting intensified and I heard screams, but it was too confusing to make out who was screaming. We then saw at least twenty black-shirted members of the Race rush past, firing as they advanced. Less than a minute later, I heard a tremendous explosion. Smoke billowed past, and the building we were in shook so hard that pieces of the ceiling came down.
"That's our cue," I advised. "Let's move along."
We rushed outside. To the left, all I could see was smoke and rubble. Bodies lay all along the street. I noted a couple were too big to belong to the Race, but could not identify them. We turned right and ran. Smoke and dust choked the hallway. People were rushing from adjoining buildings, crying and screaming in panic.
"One of the fellows had taken some explosives and detonators," Othniel remembered. "I guess he decided to block the passage. The result is creating a real panic. There hasn't been a cave in for heka-days. People don't know what to do and I that's just fine. Maybe they'll be too busy to look for a big-nose like you."
"Just watch it with the big-nose stuff, future brother-in-law," I said, grinning. "We've got to get to a round hangar for pursuit planes. You know where it's at?"
"I trained there," he said. "But, why walk, when we can ride?"
"Huh?" I said.
He indicated several of the electric cars. These had sirens and flashing lights on them. "We can keep you low, and it looks like we are on official business," he outlined.
This we did. I was uncomfortable crammed in the back, but it worked. I kept two pistols ready, while even Ee-la-nah was armed. People were rushing everywhere, and a haze of smoke curled over our heads from the cave-in. We were basically ignored, and people refused to get out of our way even with the siren and lights going. We got to the entrance to the hangar to find only two guards at the entrance. They crossed their rifles as we approached.
"What has happened?" one cried.
"There has been a riot in the mines," Othniel explained. "I am here to make sure the airfield is secure, by verbal order of Jehoida himself."
"The prisoners have done this?" the other guard wondered.
"Yes," Othniel snapped. "Now, let me pass. The prisoners got hold of explosives and tried to destroy Jehoida's personal quarters. There has been a massive cave-in. Hundreds may be dead."
Both guards seemed visibly shook by this revelation. The opened their stance and we passed through into the vast underground airdrome. Ten black planes were lined up, and there, exactly where I left it, was my P-38. We jumped out of the car and looked around. There were half a dozen mechanics, so I stayed crouched behind the car while Othniel went over to them. I couldn't hear what he said, but they took off like the Devil was after them. He returned to me with a big grin on his pale face.
"I told them that the prisoners were raiding the mechanic's apartments and molesting their mates," he said. "They grabbed wrenches and hammers and went to the rescue. We have ten minutes perhaps. I will open the door to the outside. You get your plane ready."
"Fine," I said. "There's a tarag in there, but don't worry. He only eats people I tell him to. It's a shame we have to leave all these planes here untouched."
"Start yours," Othniel said. "I'll handle the other planes."
I took Ee-la-nah and climbed on the P-38's wing. Looking inside the canopy, instead of a frantic Lightning, I found the big cat fast asleep behind my seat. He jumped up when I slid the cover back and gave me a big lap of his rough tongue. I felt like he took two layers of skin off, but I was glad to see him. I did some quick pre-flight checks and started the motors. They hummed normally, and the gauges looked good. Othniel hit the airdrome door switch, and huge hydraulic arms pulled the door back. Once he had accomplished that, he went over to what looked like a gas pump and cranked it on. Fuel began spilling everywhere. Not looking back, he raced to the plane and clambered aboard. He looked askance at Lightning, but I told the tarag to heel and Othniel climbed in with us. I was counting on the odd pull of the moon's gravity to offset the extra weight. Luckily, both Ee-la-nah and Othniel were pretty light.
Othniel pulled his pistol before jumping in and fired off a clip at the river of fuel that was spewing over the concrete floor of the airdrome. The bullets struck sparks and the fuel blossomed into flames. He sat down and I shoved the canopy shut. No sooner had I done so than a wave of heat washed over us. Not waiting around for more, I gunned the motors and shot the Lightning up the incline to the surface. Knowing the runway was short, I gave her full flaps and the P-38 nearly leaped upward at the end of the ramp. Explosions were going off behind me as the plane's fuel tanks ignited. After getting about a thousand feet up, I looked back to see a black-tinged yellow tongue of flame vomit out of the airdrome's opening.
I flew with the moon's curve, staying within its gravity well until I was solidly on its dark side. Below me, I saw Thuria and the Lidi plain. Having a good reference, I headed straight for them, leveling off about two thousand feet above the surface. This time there was only a momentary wave of dizziness, and then I was out of the moon's pull. I saw the group of huts that must have been Thuria's capital before I changed course. Ocean soon passed under me, and the moon dropped farther behind.
"Safe," sighed Ee-la-nah. "I knew that you would come for me, Byron. Jehoida told me he had killed you, but I know how he lies. If I had not seen him gun down the Mahar, I would not have believed that."
"He's one nasty S-O-B, that's for sure," I agreed.
"What is essobee?" she asked. "Some little rodent from your home?"
"Something like that," I said. "I guess it was stupid of me to come after you by myself, but well, I just couldn't stand the thought of living without you. When we get back to Sari, I am not going to let anybody hurt you again."
"I wish it were so," she murmured, leaning against me, "but Jehoida is coming there with all the army of the Race."
"He'll need it," was all I said.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - WORLD WAR PELLUCIDAR
The trip to Sari was one of the most uneventful parts of my entire tenure in Pellucidar up to that point. I flew high, but fast, not worrying about gas conservation in case pursuit appeared. However, no black planes rose to follow, so as soon as I calculated that it was impossible for the Race's lighter planes to catch up, I eased off the throttle and took my time, that is, if time was really there for the taking. To Lightning, my absence for a long time merely encompassed a short nap. Soon, the coast was beneath me, and I steered by the distant Great Peak and angled for Sari.
I knew that the capital of Pellucidar had gone to a war footing immediately. The city was ringed with round emplacements. Above the palace hung a series of what appeared to be barrage balloons, giant gasbags first used in the last world war. Troops were drilling, and I could also see groups of cannon. I circled the city once, wagged my wings, and then set the P-38 down in the same spot as before. I noted that a large, hastily put together building now sat nearby, also bracketed by emplacements. I shut off the plane and rolled her near the building. Pushing back the canopy, I was almost trampled by Lightning. He knew he was back where he belonged. I clambered out next and lifted Ee-la-nah from the cockpit, sitting her down on the wing. I dropped down to the field next, and then lifted her by the waist. She wrapped her arms and legs around my torso and gave me a kiss that curled my toes. When this cruel war is over, I thought.
Othniel appeared next, and acted nimbly in getting down on his own. While we were so engaged, a knot of men came out of the new building, some pushing carts of equipment. At their head, I recognized Giuseppe. He was dressed in hand-made greasy coveralls. His white teeth shone in his dark, smudged face as he stepped forward to shake my hand.
"Byron, mi amici," he greeted. "I was beginning to worry about you. You been gone a long time, you know."
"No, I don't know," I said. "It took as long as it took. I have got a lot to go over with you, but first, I need to report to the Emperor."
"He will probably come to you," Giuseppe said. "The whole city is talking about how you circled around. Look who is here! Ee-la-nah, cara mia! Give you old comrade a hug."
She let go me and accepted his bear hug, ignoring the oil stains. She introduced her brother Othniel.
"Byron told me of your abilities on the trip here," Othniel said. "I am at your service. I know the aircraft of the Race as well as anyone, since I was once in Jehoida's own squadron. That was before I understood how mad his father's schemes were."
"I can always use another hand," Giuseppe agreed. "You and I will meet with Abner Perry, and we will go over preparations. You may be able to give us insights."
"You have already come a long way," I observed. "I saw gun emplacements and barrage balloons."
"Well, the balloons are to keep low flying planes from strafing the palace," Giuseppe revealed. "We have emplacements, si, but not so many guns. The big gun that Abner invented, well, she is good for shooting down planes, but it takes time to turn them out."
Horns sounded beyond us. I saw a bodyguard of finely dressed warriors with the Emperor at their center. As predicted, he was on his way. I turned once more to Giuseppe.
"What is this building, your own palace?" I asked.
"I decided that you needed a hanger," he explained. "One side of this building opens wide enough for your plane to fit in. Less conspicuous from the air, eh? I trained these fellows to service your plane. We will have it fixed up in no time. Fuel will be distilled, and I would say that you will be ready to take to the air when the attack begins."
"And probably find out what happened to Custer at Little Big Horn," I chuckled. "Well, here is the Emperor. Time to report."
David Innes came forward and shook hands. I introduced him to Ee-la-nah and Othniel, then sent the latter off with Giuseppe to meet with Abner Perry and further defensive preparations. Meanwhile, Giuseppe's "mechanics" cleaned the grass out of my wheels and rolled my P-38 into its new home.
"I see that you were successful," David Innes said, nodding at Ee-la-nah.
"Beyond my imagination," I admitted. "We can scratch at least a dozen planes of the Race, between my leaving for Phutra and returning here. One of their airdromes was destroyed and numerous personnel killed or injured. I only wish I knew if Ko-lor and Larz escaped."
"My brother in law will be anxious," the Emperor stated. "He has all but given up hope of finding Larz. I will send a runner. Well, what do you think of our preparations so far?"
"From the air, it's a mixed bag. The antiaircraft emplacements look well situated, and the ring of balloons is fine, but your troops and cannons are too bunched up. You need to disperse them, or one bomb may wipe out whole batteries."
"I am used to the massed batteries I read about in Napoleon and the Civil War. My cannons, like my tactics are far behind the times."
"They still kill, sir. Like any invasion, the most vulnerable part is establishing a beachhead." I knew that I had got him out of his depth militarily when he shook his head. "What I mean, sir, is that when they come down initially, they will be at their most disorganized. The time to strike would be then, but we don't know where."
"From what I remember of my history, another vulnerable point would be their line of supply," David Innes said, rubbing his chin. "How do we disrupt that?"
"Well, unlike a land invasion, there are no supply trains or truck convoys. It will all be in the air. I'll talk the matter over with Giuseppe and Abner Perry. Right now, I'd like to make a request."
David Innes smiled. "You shall have whatever is in my power to give."
"A hot bath, a good meal and some change of clothes, both for me and my soon to be mate," I continued. "I have been shot at, nearly blown up, and jammed in a car made for children. I need to unwind a little, and then start planning. I bought us a little time, but we will need it all, whatever it amounts to."
"You shall have it all. My Empress' own clothiers will outfit Ee-la-nah, and you and Othniel may have your pick from the market. I will expect a report as soon as you are ready."
"You shall have it. My thanks." I shook his hand once more and he marched off, leaving me holding Ee-la-nah's tiny ivory hands in my own and gazing down into the opalescent depths of her eyes."
"God, how I love you," I said.
"I love you also," she whispered, giving my hands a gentle swing with her own. "Right now, though, we cannot stand out here gazing at each other like we are dumbstruck. If we are to defeat the Race, we must work quickly."
I sighed. "You are right, of course. Let's freshen up and eat, then find your brother and Giuseppe."
We walked toward the palace, and were met along the way by another procession of servants bearing flats of clothes for the both of us, while others bore folding tables and chairs or trays of refreshments. I picked out another set of clothes similar to my own over fruit juice, bread, and cheese, while Ee-la-nah found a practical outfit that was a loose fitting one piece dress, again with pockets. Having made our choices, we were led to bathhouses for the opposite sexes where we bathed in huge tubs of steaming water before changing. When we emerged, we found another table arranged, this time piled with a variety of meats and vegetables, along with a pitcher of the ubiquitous fruit juice. After dining, I felt like a new man, and we marched off to find Abner Perry's lab.
When I arrived, the front sliding door was half ajar. I thought I smelled something burning. Suddenly, there was a sharp bang from within, and I heard Perry shrieking.
"Duck!" He hollered.
There was a whooshing sound. We threw ourselves flat as something black shot out of the building and flashed only three feet above our heads, leaving a trail of sparks. It struck an unfortunate tree with a small explosion. Seeing that no more objects were being fired, we picked ourselves up and brushed off dry grass and dirt. Abner Perry, Giuseppe, and Othniel appeared, their faces and clothing smoke blackened.
"Bravissimo!" Giuseppe crowed. "It worked."
"Well, it was supposed to angle up more," Abner pointed out.
"I told you that you had the tail fins on backwards," the Italian engineer replied. "We try again, and this time put them on the way I say. We need to see how far it flies and how high."
"What was it?" I asked. "Celebrating Chinese New Year, perhaps?"
"Oh, it's a gonna be fireworks, OK, but for the shrimps from a the Moon," Giuseppe stated. "I got to thinking about these airships, and how Nobile always was worried about the hydrogen catching fire. These big rifles that Abner designed can punch through two inches of steel, but they would pass right on through the airships of the Race. We don't have time to develop incendiary rounds, so I thought, maybe rockets."
"Not bad, though they would be inaccurate," I pointed out. "We use them up top, firing from racks under the wings, but you have to have a dead bead on the target, or it has to be pretty big. Also, how fast can you turn them out."
"They use gunpowder, and we can make them out of wood and paper, just like you make the fireworks. One man can carry several and set them up in no time."
"I'll check with the Emperor, but it actually sounds like a good idea, if we can turn them out by the hundreds. How are you doing on the big guns?"
"They are much trickier," Abner said. "The machine stampings were made quickly, and need hand filing and adjustments. We have fifty of them, and can turn out another hundred if we have time. The problem is as much the people as the technology. These are cavemen, not factory workers, and they take a notion to go out and kill something, then they just walk away from the assembly line, or when they get the urge, they come and grab their mate and you don't see them for a while."
"Do your best," I said. "We'll all pitch in. We don't know exactly where they will land, but I can guess it is somewhere near where we found and destroyed that airship. They drop down there, clear a base, and then march on us from there. We need observers with some sort of telephone system."
"Fat chance," Giuseppe grunted. "They have heliographs, and a limited telegraph, but still most of the work is done with runners. Not even carrier pterodactyls."
I laughed. "Well, a larger network needs to be set up. You fellows draw up your plans. I have been thinking of how we hit them at home. Their moon is a honeycomb of passages, all fed through air pumps and vents to the surface. If that gets all gummed up, then they either come up to the surface or suffocate. Any thoughts?"
"Si, but they are very nasty ones," Giuseppe barked. "We would need to send Thuria some hot air balloons filled with inflammables. The balloons go up to the moon, explode, and the smoke is sucked down. The other alternative is to develop poison gas that is actually poisonous." He shot Perry a cunning grin.
"Sounds like nasty weapons either way," I said. "Work on the balloon idea, get the materials together, and we can ship them by sea to Thuria. I'll go see the Emperor now so we can get his seal of approval, but don't wait for me. Come on, Sweetheart."
Outside, we picked up a couple of bodyguards. The Emperor had dispatched them for our protection, according to one, but I assumed they were most likely to protect the populace against Lightning. The big cat followed behind me like a surface tabby, getting my attention by occasionally batting at my leg or hand with a paw. While such antics are considered cute by his smaller cousins above, being whacked by a tarag, even with claws retracted, can be disconcerting. My advice is to rub their heads after the first whack. They get progressively forceful after that one, and I had a bruise to prove it for several sleeps.
The major domo at the palace informed us that David Innes was in a conference with several prominent chiefs and visitors, so that we had to wait. I instructed him to make sure we didn't wait too long, because my tarag hadn't eaten lately, and he was not likely to be too choosy when he got hungry. The man blanched despite his gruff approach and hurried off. Shortly there came two fellows with the haunch of thag, the Bos Primigenus of our prehistoric past. Lightning fell upon this treat with unfeigned delight.
Luckily, our wait was short. Lightning was gnawing at the bone of his meal when the major domo reappeared and informed us that we could go in. He preceded us and opened the double doors. This time, the audience chamber was nearly half full. There were many men of all types and colors, every one armed to the teeth. David Innes smiled as we approached and motioned for the circle around him to part and admit us. Some appeared in awe of us, probably because my dress was similar to clothes David Innes preferred, the pale beauty of Ee-la-nah, or most likely Lightning dragging in a thag bone and falling on his stomach to crack it between his great fangs.
"Here is the man to whom we owe our good fortune," David Innes announced. "This is Byron Wells, who is also from the surface. Byron, these are chiefs from various parts of the Empire, such as Ja of Anoroc, Ho-don the Fleet One, Dacor the Strong One of Amoz and Tanar, son of Ghak. I summoned them here while you were gone to coordinate our defense. Also, at great pain, I have brought one from a far journey by sea and land. That he arrived so soon can only be attributed to the strange ways of time in Pellucidar. This is another flyer from above, a Lieutenant Von Horst, of Germany."
"My mate is not happy with my traveling so far from her," said the indicated one, a strapping blonde giant. "Still, I came here to aid David Innes at the side of Jason Gridley, so I feel my duty unfulfilled as long as there is a threat to the peace he has established with his empire."
I shook the man's hand, feeling a little funny since I was recently machine-gunning his countrymen back on the surface. The trip that he took was over ten years past, before the Nazis took power. He had no idea what had become of his nation and his people. "I am pleased to meet you," I said. "Things are not well in your country back home. Your country has been taken over by a dictator, a man named Hitler came to power, and has led your nation into a ruinous war."
"That is bitter news indeed," he replied. "I remember this Hitler who tried to take power with Ludendorf in Munich, while we were building the 0-220. There were many who supported him among the military, including the war ace, Goering, but I knew that his way would lead us to another world war. Tell me that your country is not against us, also."
"I am afraid it is," I admitted, suddenly sad that I had broached the subject. "The war will soon be over. We will have a just peace this time, though, not like before."
"Let us pray so," he said, lifting his head and looking me straight in the eye. "As much as I despise the swaggering of those Nazis, even I admit that the war reparations and the occupation of our industrial heartland would only cause hard feelings, much as Germany's seizure of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871 caused the last Great War."
"Well, both of us are helpless to do anything about what is going on up there," I reminded him. "Our war is here, and we are comrades in arms. We are against a foe with aircraft and airships, smaller than your zeppelins, but still heavily armed."
"Which means my navy will have no role," grumbled the bronze Ja of Anoroc. "We cannot sail the skies, after all."
"Don't be so sure," I told him. "There is a large role for you. Your navy can form a ring to watch for the invaders approach. You already use heliographs and telegraphs to transmit information. I suggest you form chains to cover an area near Thuria, by an island that I saw on a map." I went to one of the Emperor's side tables where a good map of the area was sitting unrolled. I brought it over. It looked to me that a navy could sit on the river that ran up to Sari from the south, and that there was a bay to the north where another fleet could sit. I started working on a plan. "Here, this island called Indiana. A line of picket boats could start here and stay at regular intervals, then an inner line of ships could cross the bay to the river, here, where a large squadron of your ships could act as a floating battery to protect Sari by sea. A similar flotilla could anchor on the bay to the north and do the same. The ability to bring a large amount of firepower to bear on an advancing enemy will make a difference."
"My ships will be easy prey for flying machines that can drop bombs while our cannons cannot hit them," Ja argued. "Still, the effort must be made."
"I'll try to come up with some sort of protection," I said. "I'll take Von Horst here with me and meet with Abner Perry, Giuseppe, and Othniel. Maybe we can set up a couple of these large rifles on the shore. For that matter, your men with regular rifles could try to hit the planes if they came in low enough." I turned to David Innes. "Abner Perry and Giuseppe have come up with an idea to make wooden and parchment rockets to be fired en mass, hoping that the barrage would bring down a plane if lucky, or an airship."
"Could these rockets be installed on Ja's ships?" David Innes asked, a smile coming to his grim face.
"Of course," I said. "You have solved the coverage problem. Each one of Ja's ships could hold a good-sized block of rockets. We use them for shore bombardment on the surface. We put them in racks, and the firing of one ignites the next in sequence until the whole rack is expended. Also, we need to send materials to Thuria to build balloons or rockets to fire at the moon in the hopes of igniting fires and clogging their air filtration systems."
"That would be a horrible weapon," David Innes said. "Innocents would suffocate. I will agree to assembling the material, but to use only as a last resort. The problem will be transporting it and instructing the Thurians in its use before the attack."
"All these things depend on how much time we have, and without a clock, we have no idea when it will happen," I fretted. Before I could say more, a messenger burst into the audience chamber, eyes wide in fear.
"My Emperor!" he called. "A black airship approaches from the direction of Thuria. Shall we destroy it?"
"I doubt even the haughty leaders of the Race would believe that we could be destroyed with but a single airship." David Innes stated. "Watch it and pass the word that no one shall fire without the Emperor's word. Come, gentlemen, let's go to one of the gun emplacements, so if it does attack, we can witness whether our new weapon will bring it down."
He rose and strode past us to the door, pausing only to grab his pistol and cartridge belt. We followed into the eternal noon of Pellucidar, to find an honor guard of twenty men, all armed with fairly modern looking rifles and cartridge bandoliers. We looked skyward and saw the black cigar shape of a dirigible of the Race approaching. It was traveling at a measured pace, and when it arrived over the city, it halted above the palace. I was stunned by the amplified voice that issued from it.
"Byron Wells!" It called.
"Here I am!" I hollered up at it. "Who wants to know?"
"It is I, Ko-lor of Thuria," the voice announced. "With me is Larz of Amoz, and others who escaped with us. We wish to land if it is permitted."
I glanced at David Innes, who nodded his assent. "It is," I called. "Land and be welcome."
There was a coughing as dirigible's engines throttled down and it swung to land nearby at the same field I used for the P-38. We rushed over to meet it, and arrived to see its occupants leaping out to tie the dirigible's nose down. They hammered long pitons into the ground and secured the nose via a cable attached to a ring in its blunt nose. Once this was done, whoever was in control turned off the engines and the airship settled calmly on the field, its massive tail propped up by a long rib that ran its length and had a tripod strut attached to keep it from dragging. Once quiet, a member of the Race exited the command gondola. In all, six cavemen and two members of the Race made its crew. I was happy to see that both Larz and Ko-lor were among them. Larz still carried his iron bar.
"Hail, friends," I greeted as they approached our party. "Welcome to Sari. This is the Emperor, David Innes." I indicated their hosts, who shook their hands in turn.
"Our air fleet grows," David Innes observed. "While this ship is not as formidable as Jason Gridley's, I am sure it is capable of much mischief."
"More than that," I said. "It is fast enough to transport material and men to Thuria, where we can prepare to strike hard at the Race's homeland if necessary."
"Then let us waste no more time," the Emperor commanded. "All know their tasks. Ja, you will disposition the Imperial Navy. I shall instruct our artisans to make the rockets as described. They must be easier to produce than the big rifles. Ghak, you will disperse the army, and send teams with heliographs in a wide arc around Sari. We must be ready to march quickly to wherever they land and stop their approach. The rest of you chiefs must go and prepare your warriors to come to Sari. Even if you do not have guns, your men will have a use, I promise."
People began to hurry to their tasks. Dacor the Strong one embraced his nephew fondly.
"My brother has been worried sick about you, and so has your aunt Dian," he told the club-wielding warrior. "How did you escape these little devils?"
"With Byron's help," Larz explained. "We were enslaved to mine for the Race, but we escaped and caused a cave-in. During the confusion, we got into the airship hangar and the little fellows helped us steal an airship. We flew first to Thuria to warn the king, then here to warn you. The men from the moon have many of these ships, and they will be loading them soon, by the look of the supplies we found. Had we more time, we would have tried to sabotage them, but we barely escaped before being fired on."
"You have done enough," Dacor said. "Now, you must rest and eat, while we load your ship."
Von Horst looked to the Emperor. "If you don't mind, sir, I'd like to go along," he said. "It's been a while since I have been on an airship, but I was a good junior officer. Of course, back home, I am married to La-ja, daughter of Brun, chief of Lo-har, where I am treated like a god, but I think I can humble myself for the good of all." His grin was so good-natured, I forgot about his Nazi countrymen. It was hard for me to divorce him from the enemy I fought above, but my experience in Pellucidar taught me to judge by deeds, not by association.
"I see nothing wrong with that," David Innes said, then turned to me. "You will report this to Perry?"
"Right away," I agreed. "If we are to prevent another Pearl Harbor, we have to really shake a leg."
"I am not sure of the reference, but if it means were are in peril, you're right. Go along, then."
Taking Ee-la-nah's hand, I rushed over to Perry's workshop, where I found a steady stream of both males and females passing from his lab to various points of the city. Hammers rang, and I could hear saws, steam whistles, and all the noise of modern industry. My time in the dank ruins of the Mahar city where all about me roamed savage prehistoric beasts was over. Even though the citizens of Sari still dressed in furs and skins, they used all the tools that David Innes could provide for them, and the thirty-odd years he had been down here in Pellucidar was transforming tribes of hunters and gatherers into a modern society whose industrial might was still blossoming. I felt sad for them, for all the good civilization brought, because it also brought ills that probably would not be evident for some time, such as dirty air and water, and the ills of modern society, including lawyers.
Perry, Giuseppe, and Othniel were directing Perry's assistants, who were in turn keeping order to the various artisans that were making the weapons. By now, they were all black with soot and grease. Othniel was stripped to the waist, his pale body hidden by grime. The heat and fumes inside the workshop were much worse than I remembered. I reported the news, and all were glad. Othniel was happy to hear about the airship.
"That's our best stroke of luck," he said. "It's no match for the fighters, but can be useful for rapid transport and scouting. I suggest that we whitewash the exterior, so that we know which one is ours. This Von Horst is reliable?"
"The best," Giuseppe spoke up. "Them Germans, they can make the airships. I think if we had time, he could design a fleet that could bomb the moon and make it fall from the sky."
"Next war," I said. "We have to fight this one with what we can make rapidly."
We worked like madmen, and drove the citizens of Sari to do the same. Some could not understand, but the older ones, who remembered the yoke of the Mahars, understood only too well, and kept the younger ones in line. Time could not be measured, but we managed to send two shiploads of inflammables and balloon materials to Thuria. We had workers build emplacements in an arc where the peninsula narrowed, to seal it from land approach, while scouts and light infantry watched the direction of Phutra, in case a landing was made there.
The rockets were surprisingly easy to mass-produce, and we soon had hundreds available, which we parceled out in boxes of thirty, each in its own compartment, with a single fuse to light them in sequence. Ja's fleet got them first, then we set them around Sari, to supplement the big guns. Heliograph stations were erected in a wide network on land, and in a supporting pattern at sea. We were still turning out material when finally got the bad news. A swarm of black planes had erupted from the moon, followed by at least thirty airships. They were arcing around the bay from Thuria, coming toward Sari. We had less than two hours, if time meant anything, I reasoned.
David Innes summoned his warriors, bringing in the non-rifle armed infantry from watching Phutra and hiding them in the woods. His riflemen he put around the emplacements built for such an approach. Cannons were dispersed, but able to coordinate their fire. Word came that the black planes were approaching the narrow part of the peninsula. The battle was about to start.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - BATTLE IS JOINED
No war is truly glorious. The days of knights in armor, or the splendid uniforms of Napoleon are long past. This was a war of conquest, and it was fought with all the ferocity that Mars of the Romans could ever hope for. Telegraph wires had been strung as far as our "front" in the narrow neck, and reports were clicking in. The black planes of the Race had strafed the emplacements, and several had been downed by our handful of big rifles and a barrage of rockets, but the rest had swept on toward Sari. I went to an observation post to find Othniel already there.
"They're on their way," I told him. Our post was near the palace, and sat on a knoll that could allow us to see all the way to the front with binoculars, due to Pellucidar's upward curve. I could see black dots like flies coming in V formations.
"It's a question now, whether we can surprise them," he said. "They know we have the rockets and anti-aircraft rifles now, but the big balloons up there might distract them.
It was as he said. The V-formations of planes tried to come in low, but had to pull up because of the networks of wire around the balloons. While they endeavored to shoot down the balloons, our guns opened up on them. Rocket batteries tried to score also, but there just weren't enough of them. They did cause an awful racket that distracted the Race's planes. Several of them dropped their bombs prematurely, or inaccurately, so that nothing sustained heavy damage. I was happy to see several planes drop from the sky. Their ammunition expended, the enemy flew back, presumably to re-arm. I figured that they would be most vulnerable at this time.
"Have more balloons put up," I told Othniel. "I am going hunting."
"You're still outnumbered!" Othniel snapped. "And watch out for Jehoida. His plane has large skulls instead of the Race's tripod insignia."
"Thanks!" I shouted, running for my hangar.
I found it to be largely untouched. I left Ee-la-nah with Lightning, so I knew she would be safe. The mechanics helped get the plane ready, and wheeled her out. I got in and started her up without bothering with pre-flight checks. I had to swerve to avoid a crater, but I took off in what I thought was record time; something that would have made my old flight leader proud. I noted that the Race planes were following the curve of land around the bay, so I went straight across, and caught up with them halfway to their homeland.
I dove in with guns blazing; setting three on fire before they realized what was going on. Then, they went into a frenzied scatter pattern, a huge fur ball. I shot down two more, then used my superior speed to race away before they could catch me. I went back across the front, seeing that the enemy airships were landing and disgorging troops and vehicles. I fired at them as I passed, setting two airships ablaze. Sparing no more time, I rushed back to refuel and re-arm. My next target was the ground attack.
I landed without incident. While there, I heard reports. Our airship had landed and was plugged into our telegraph system by a special hookup that Abner Perry had set up. They reported a thousand enemy troops and half a dozen vehicles, all of them with eight wheels and double turrets. I dared not wait for further news and got back in the air. What I saw when I arrived at the front was an amazing tableau.
The black-clad soldiers of the Race spread across the green landscape like a mold, with their vehicles scuttling like beetles. Their airships had gone back for another load, I assumed, except for two which went ahead and dropped bombs on our troops. I dove for those and dropped them both, so that their wreckage formed barriers for the Race to go around. The cannons of Sari, spoke, but lack of practice made their aim mediocre at best. From the woods, arrows erupted like flights of angry hornets. The Race stopped and fired back, including shelling the woods with the cannons in their vehicles. The most incongruous sight I saw was a herd of about fifty brontosauruses behind the woods. They milled around, some jumping from the sound of explosions.
I prepared for a pass against the armored fighting vehicles. I fired one burst with my cannon, ripping one of them open. My concentration on breaking up their assault was nearly my undoing. Bullets slammed into my wing and fuselage like gremlins with hammers. I slewed away and up, fighting for altitude as I twisted my head around to look for my attacker. Above me, diving from the sun, were three bat-planes of the Race. Their height advantage meant that they had speed as well as maneuverability on me. I was too low.
They got on my tail immediately, and I felt more slugs hit me. If they had the rate of fire of Focke-Wulfs, I would have already been a flaming wreck on the ground. As it was, I could feel my rudder stiffen, and knew that if I didn't get out of their sights, I was doomed. I went for an Immelman, a risky maneuver under any circumstances, especially if you are too low because if you don't get your arc just right, you loop right into the dirt. I shot upward in the beginning of the circle, hoping the enemy had never seen such a maneuver. They tried to close, but this time, their speed was bleeding off as they attempted to describe the same arc, and I was pulling away.
Looking back, this time, I could see the planes clearly. On the wings and fuselage of the middle plane, I could see grinning white skulls emblazoned. Jehoida himself was after me! My worry became replaced with grim determination, and I finished my loop with textbook perfection, skimming treetops and coming up behind the trio of fighters. I lined up on the left one and let him have it. The crate slammed to one side as if a giant hand had struck it, and corkscrewed into the ground.
The remaining two scattered. I went after the other wingman, meeting him at the wrong end of a split-S. His plane broke in half just behind the cockpit and fell in two pieces. I swung sideways to find Jehoida, only to have him diving at me again. Bullets hit the left engine, sending oil and smoke trailing. I knew that it would be only moments before it seized. Jehoida passed under me, and I could see his pasty face grinning inside his bubble cockpit. I nosed down, and shot after him, now below treetop height, scattering little dinosaurs everywhere.
He wheeled to meet me and we approached each other at full speed. I gave him the full range of my guns, turning his wings and engine to rippling sheets of flame and smoke. I was close enough to see his face twisted in terror, its pallor glowing from the inferno around him, then he passed over me, to arrow straight into the jungle behind me. A huge ball of flame erupted in my rear-view mirror. I had little time to savor my victory, though, because with a cough and shudder, my left engine stopped. I fought the already sluggish controls and managed to keep the plane level. I passed over my own lines once more, but was too engaged to shoot at the attackers. I found a reasonably flat spot and set the P-38 down. It was a nasty landing, and one of the gear collapsed, sending the ship in a half-circle, but she didn't flip. I grabbed my carbine and pistols and leaped out, heading for the front lines. I was determined to keep up the fight on land, but without my plane, I knew that another wave of Race fighters would devastate us.
I got to the men and located Ghak. He was calmly going up and down the front, encouraging his men, then alternately shooting and cursing the enemy. The remaining five vehicles were chugging to the front. I now had little idea how to defeat them.
"Your cannons must concentrate on the machines," I told him. "Your rifles will not penetrate their armor."
"Our cannon fire round shot," he said. "I will try. Ho-don!"
A young warrior appeared, fit and lithe. He was carrying a rifle and had a cartridge belt holding up his loincloth. "I am here, Ghak. Do we charge them?"
"Not yet," he said, grinning savagely. "Go to Dacor. Tell him now is the moment."
The young warrior returned the grin and rushed off. Ghak turned to me. "We do not call him the Fleet One for nothing. I am not ready to give up to these iron beasts. If we do not stop them here, then the city will be in range of their guns." He signaled to his gunners.
They let off a thunderous cannonade that blanketed the approaching vehicles. One of them was stopped, and smoke issued from it, but otherwise it still functioned, and its turret rotated, firing explosive rounds at the cannons to silence them. The others still advanced. Ghak tried shooting their wheels with some of the big rifles designed to shoot down airplanes, but the tires were made of some hard rubber that deflected the bullets. Within moments, the vehicles would be among our troops, and our defense would be broken.
From the woods where I had seen them skulking burst the fifty brontosauruses. They charged straight at the armored vehicles. I could now see that each of the sixty-foot dinosaurs carried a man upon its back. They bore down on the enemy swiftly, and the Race's infantry made little impression as they tried to shoot down the giant reptiles.
"What is this?" I asked Ghak.
"Dacor the strong one of Amoz is master of the lidi riders," he told me. His tribe captures the lidi that roam the vast Lidi Plain near Thuria and trains them for transportation. They are formidable weapons in their own right."
His view was an understatement. As I watched, the herd of brontosauruses overran the vehicles. The horde of slate-colored dinosaurs milled around like a herd of gigantic turkeys or maybe swans, from the undulations of their long necks. Their riders commanded the vast reptiles to kick the machines, or to use their powerful necks to turn them on their sides. The most effective tactic was for a lidi to smash the vehicles with their muscular tails. One was struck so hard that it went out of control and collided with another, disabling both.
A dozen of the thunder lizards were put out of action, but the rest turned the Race's armored attack to so much junk. This done, they proceeded to trample their way through the remnants of the Race infantry, then rumbled on to their landing area, where they either destroyed or carted off their supplies in a fashion that would have made Jeb Stuart or Joe Wheeler proud. They paid for the booty with another ten or so of their splendid mounts left for the carrion eaters, which in this world could be as large as a house and not particular whether its meal was still breathing or not.
I was standing there gaping like an idiot when Ho-don returned. He was coated in a fine sheen of sweat, but otherwise was not even breathing hard.
"Well," he said as he approached Ghak. "The lidi riders got all the glory. Can we attack now?"
Ghak gave a short nod and his hirsute features took on a wolfish look. "Yes, we attack now. Remember young one, that war is not glory, it is necessary to maintain a lasting peace. Go, and lead the charge."
Ho-don shook his head, grinned all the same, and ran off to tell the rest. They came out of their emplacements in ragged clumps, not bothering to form into units. Overhead, round shot from the artillery screamed their approach, joining with their hoarse, savage screams as they closed with their black-clad foes. The attackers were suddenly on the defensive. They took time to reform into units and got off several volleys. As the troops from Sari got within bayonet range, though, they wavered. Some threw down their rifles and fled. Some of their officers berated them; others shot them in the back as they fled.
Those who did not retreat were either shot down or bayoneted by the ferocious cave men who seemed more adept at using their rifles as cumbersome spears instead of the longer-ranged weapons they were supposed to be. I stayed beside Ghak, watching for any foe that tried to shoot him and dispatching them with my carbine. Those who ran passed the woods where the non-rifle armed troops had been lurking. A surprising number of these had not been killed, and now swarmed out, firing arrows and throwing spears. Surrounded, the surviving members of the Race raised their hands in capitulation.
They were carted off in good order, and Ghak's men inventoried any of the Race's supplies that were not taken or destroyed by the lidi riders from Amoz. Weapons were appropriated from the fallen members of the Race, and Dacor and his men dragged any of their vehicles that still had enough wheels to roll off to Sari. Larz rode up to me, his iron bar now improved with a wound leather grip and a rifle in a boot on his saddle.
"The fight was good, but too short," he said. "These little fellows from the Moon are worthless without their weapons. I guess that settles them."
"I doubt that," I told him. Our only airplane will not be flying for a while, if ever, and they still have plenty more. I guess we will have to bluff them with our scheme about floating balloons to the moon from Thuria."
"Oh, yes," Larz hollered down. "Goork the chief was tickled to get all that stuff. I told him that it was not to be used except as a last resort, but the old devil wasn't listening very well to that part. You know, he is Dacor's father-in-law and probably wants to be the one to defeat the men from the moon, if only to tweak David Innes' nose. He only joined the Empire because he knew what would happen if he didn't."
"That's not good," I said, "but at this point, it may not matter. We can't stop another attack like that without air cover, and most of the rockets were used up."
"Wait," Ghak warned. "Look above. Here comes our ship."
Dazzling in the noonday sun came the Empire's remaining air asset. Her white cigar shape traveled serenely over the smoking carnage. We had not decided on a name for the ship, but Othniel had favored Jehoida's Bane. As it approached, heliograph signals flashed out in flashbulb pulses. Ghak called for his own personal operator, who set up a small unit on a tripod and returned signals.
"It's Othniel," the man said. "He reports that the airships returning to the moon flew over Thuria. Goork used the materials we sent him and constructed a number of balloons that he sent off in the midst of the airships. A dozen of them were destroyed. The rest escaped, but he unleashed another set of balloons and reports several severe fires on the moon's surface. He says that some of the balloons went into orbit around the moon, but their flames soon destroyed their rigging and flaming masses fell over a large area."
"I knew it was a good plan," I said. "The British used fire ships to stop the Spanish Armada, and we used incendiaries on many Japanese and German cities. It's a horrific weapon that kills indiscriminately."
"I don't know half of what you said," Ghak pointed out. He turned to his operator. "Tell them to continue to monitor the situation." He addressed me once more. "You had better get back to Sari and report all this. I will hold here, but the element of surprise will be lost."
I left him to reorganize his warriors and caught a ride with Larz on his lidi. This was an experience unlike flying and a good deal bumpier. Still, the massive brontosaurus lumbered in a rolling gait that made it easier to stay in the saddle. It was not long until Sari came into view. Larz' massive steed gave forth a booming call, and citizens streamed from the city in wonder. He dropped me off near Perry's lab and returned to the front. The wrecked armored vehicles had been deposited in various heaps nearby. I found Perry and Giuseppe and gave them a report. They immediately fell to arguing over what to do next, so I expressed a desire to visit the Emperor right away and they agreed to accompany me.
The palace was ringed with guards and men with binoculars scanned the skies. The sight of these earnest fellows with their modern equipment and sleek fur coverings again gave me pause to question reality. I shrugged it off, because it didn't matter. This was reality for me. We were ushered in to the Emperor, who was pacing in frustration.
"I hope you have some good news," he said. "I am used to being in the thick of fighting, and this ruling stuff is getting on my nerves."
"We have excellent news," I said, and gave him a full report. He smiled at once, then turned pensive.
"If they come again, can we defeat them?" he asked.
"We are low on rockets and ammunition for the big rifles," I said. "My plane is out of the fight, so at best we could probably only bring down a handful of planes. The rest would bomb us until Sari was flat and then they could land anywhere and just march in."
"Perry, you are the religious one, I suggest you pray," David Innes said. Before much could pass Perry's lips beyond invective, a messenger rushed in.
"You are wanted in the telegraph room, my Emperor," the man reported. "The airship, Jehoida's Bane, has hooked up to its mast near the shore."
"I guess its got a name now," David grinned. "I wanted to call it Dian, but we have a sea-going vessel by that name. Let's go."
We crammed in the tiny telegraph room amid a steady stream of clicks. One operator transcribed while another sent. He handed a note to David Innes.
"Othniel says that a single airship has left the moon and is approaching Sari," he read. "He wants orders to engage."
"One airship is not an attack," I cautioned.
"My thoughts exactly," he agreed. "Let's tell them to shadow the ship, but do not fire."
In an hour, the ominous black lozenge of an airship of the Race appeared. A white dot behind it showed that Othniel was keeping a discreet distance. The black dirigible circled the city, then an object on a small parachute floated down. When it did not explode, a runner inspected it and brought it the palace. By then, we were on the palace steps surrounded by the obligatory bodyguard. Perry and Giuseppe had gone back to try to get more rockets ready and trying to work out a scheme for digging ditches and filling them with burning pitch. David Innes found the item to be a long brass cylinder that unscrewed at one end. The Emperor unscrewed the cylinder and a roll of parchment came out, full of little markings.
"It's a note of some sort," he said. "However, I can't read it."
"Ee-la-nah can," I stated. "They probably know by now that somebody from the Race is nearby. We can also flash a message to Othniel to come in."
Ee-la-nah was summoned and she arrived quickly, Lightning at her heels. The big tarag almost bowled me over and removed all the skin from my face, he was so happy to see me. She examined the note and a sly smile came to her face.
"You have won," she told David Innes. "The news of the first wave's defeat, coupled with the unchecked forest fires on the moon has caused an uprising against the ruling elite. The captain of this airship is a squadron mate of Othniel. He is asking that Othniel return with him to the moon and lead the revolt."
"This is beyond our wildest hopes," David Innes said. "You said that Jehoida feared we had overtaken the Race in weapons. Apparently, this fear was communicated to his father and leaked somehow. Goork's refusal to obey my orders has this time worked to our advantage."
From here, the results were anticlimactic. Othniel left Jehoida's Bane under Von Horst's command and took his fellow members to board the black airship. He briefly told David Innes that, should he succeed, he would agree to a lasting peace that would allow members of his Race to settle uninhabited parts of Pellucidar near Thuria. His first priority, he said, was overthrowing the Leader and his henchmen, then putting out the fires that were spreading over the surface of his world. In return, David Innes promised not to fire on any craft of the Race unless they fired first, and that he would send whatever help Othniel required to put out the fires.
David Innes called his troops back to Sari. Perry and Giuseppe met with Von Horst and decided to use the design of the captured airship to build a dirigible the size of the O-220. Giuseppe wanted to travel to the land of the Korsars and look for any surviving members of his crew. I wanted to go to Phutra to learn more of the devices of the Mahars, and to gather more of their books, so I could translate the one volume I had appropriated from the wreckage. I also wanted Perry to examine the strange helmet that allowed Mahars to speak with humans in the hopes that real dialogue could take place between humans and Mahars to the benefit of both.
My P-38 was brought back to Sari. It was mostly intact, but its engine would need a lot of work if it were to ever fly again. For the time being, I was stuck five hundred miles below the world I grew up in. Having good friends, and a woman of such unearthly beauty as Ee-la-nah, however, made the situation bearable, though I chafed to know the results of the war that I had left behind.
David Innes brought me to the present, and to the reality of what was in front of me, when he met with us over dinner.
"We must have a victory celebration," he declared. "We have defeated a technologically superior foe, and the dead must be memorialized. Perry is turning some of our rockets into Fourth of July fireworks, and it will give everybody a chance to forget the past rigors that we have had to put forth to defend ourselves. Of course, we must build our forces up to prepare to fight any other foes we encounter than are as clever as the Race, but for now, its time to party."
"I agree," I said, taking Ee-la-nah's hand. "I ask only one boon, Emperor."
"Name it," he said. "You shall have anything in Sari that I can provide."
"I ask that you marry Ee-la-nah and myself," I said, then turned to Ee-la-nah, "that is, if you will do marry me."
She threw her arms around my neck and dragged my lips to hers. "To the man who traveled alone across this world and to another to find me and rescue me, I can deny nothing. My love is yours forever. I am honored to be the wife of one so brave."
"Then we shall make it a wedding ceremony along with a victory celebration," David Innes agreed. "Now, let us continue ֠and say ֠have morals changed so much that you show so little decorum?"
I ignored him, though, lost in the liquid loveliness of lips that had no equal, and drawn inexorably by eyes that seemed to hold boundless wonder.