Chapter 14 Escape on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The myposans have little or no sense of the artistic. They seem to be form and line blind. Their streets are crooked; their houses are crooked. The only harmony that abounds is that of disharmony. The palace of Tyros was no exception. The throne room was a shapeless, polyangular space somewhere near the center of the palace. In some places the ceiling was twenty feet high, in others not much more than four. It was supported by columns of different sizes, irregularly spaced. It might have been designed by a drunken surrealist afflicted with a hebephrenic type of dementia praecox; which, of course, is not normal, because surrealists are not always drunk.

The dais upon which Tyros sat on a wooden bench might have been rolled out of a giant dice box and left where it came to rest. Nobody could possibly have placed it where it was, for the major portion of the room was behind it; and Tyros' back was toward the main entrance.

I was led around in front of the dais, where I had my first sight of Tyros. It was not a pleasant sight. Tyros was very fat—the only Myposan I had seen whose physique was not beautiful. He had pop eyes and a huge mouth, and his eyes were so far apart that you could see them bend inward to focus. His great gills were terribly inflamed, appearing diseased. On the whole, he was not a pretty sight.

The room was full of nobles and warriors, and among the first that I saw was Yron. His gills were palpitating and he was blowing softly. I knew by these signs that he was distraught. When his eyes alighted on me, his gills flapped angrily.

"How is the noble Yron this morning?" I inquired.

"Silence, slave!" ordered one of my guard.

"But Yron is an old friend of mine," I objected. "I am sure that he is glad to see me."

Yron just stood there and flapped and blew. I saw some of the nobles near him sucking air through their teeth; and I guessed that they were laughing at his discomfiture, for that is as near as they can come to laughing.

I saw Vomer there, too. I had almost forgotten him. He stared at me with his dull, fishy eyes. He hated me, too. In all the room full of people, I had no friend.

When I was halted below the dais, Tyros focused his eyes upon me. "Yellow hair!" he commented. "A strange-looking creature. Yron says that he is a very valuable slave. What makes him so valuable—his yellow hair? I have heard many things about you, slave. I have heard that you are insubordinate and disrespectful and that you carry a weapon that kills people if you merely point it at them. What foolishness is that? They've been lying to me, haven't they?"

"Yron probably has," I said. "Did he tell you that I was a valuable slave?"

"Silence!" cried a noble at my side. "Slaves do not question the great jong."

Tyros waved the man to silence. "Let him speak. I asked him a question. His answer interests me. Yes, slave, Yron said that you were very valuable."

"Did he tell you what he paid for me?" I asked.

"It was some very large amount. I do not recall that he stated it exactly, but I know that he gave me the impression that you had cost him quite a fortune."

"He paid just ten kloovol for me," I said. "I didn't cost him much and he was afraid of me; those are the reasons that he presented me to you."

"Why was he afraid of you?" demanded Tyros.

"Because he knew that I could kill him any time I wished; so he gave me to you. Perhaps Yron wanted you killed."

All gills were flapping by this time, and there was a great blowing. Every eye was upon Yron. "He lies," he screamed. "I gave him to you, Tyros, to guard your children. Twice he saved mine from guypals."

"But he cost you only ten kloovol?" demanded Tyros.

"I got a very good bargain. I—"

"But he cost only ten kloovol and you were afraid of him; so you gave him to me." Tyros was screaming by this time. Suddenly he focused his popeyes on me, as though struck by a new idea. "How do I know that that thing can kill anybody?" he demanded.

"The noble Yron has told you so," I reminded him.

"The noble Yron is a liar and the son of a liar," snapped Tyros. "Fetch a slave!" he shouted at a warrior standing near him.

While he was waiting for the slave to be brought, he returned his attentions to the unhappy Yron. He vilified and insulted him and his ancestors back for some ten generations; then he started in on Yron's wife, her ancestors, and her progeny; nor did he desist until the slave was brought.

"Stand him up with his back to that pillar," ordered Tyros; then he turned to me. "Now kill him with that thing, if you can," he said.

"Why should I kill a fellow slave when there are so many of my enemies about me?" I demanded.

"Do as I tell you, slave!" ordered Tyros.

"I kill only in self-defense," I said. "I will not kill this man."

"You can't kill him; that is the reason," fumed Tyros. "That thing wouldn't kill anybody. You are a great liar; and you have frightened others with your lies, but you can't frighten Tyros."

"But I can easily prove that it will kill," I said, "without killing this defenseless man."

"How?" demanded the jong.

"By killing you," I told him.

Figuratively, Tyros went straight through the ceiling. His gills flapped wildly, and he blew so hard that he couldn't speak for a full minute.

"Seize him!" he cried to the members of his bodyguard. "Seize him and take that thing from him."

"Wait!" I ordered, pointing the pistol at him. "If anyone comes nearer me or threatens me, I'll kill you, Tyros. I can kill every one in this room if I wish. I do not wish to kill any one unless I am forced to. All I ask is that you set free my mate, Duare, myself, and my two friends, Kandar and Artol. If you do that, we will go away; and you will be safe. As long as I am in Mypos no one is safe. What do you say, Tyros?"

His warriors hesitated, turning toward him. Tyros was on a spot. If he showed fear of me, he would lose face. If he insisted on his bodyguard carrying out his orders, he might lose his life. He decided to hedge. He turned on Yron.

"Traitor!" he screamed. "Assassin! You sent this man here to kill me. Because he has refused to do your bidding, I forgive him what he has said to me. After all he is only an ignorant creature of a lower order. He knows no better. But you, knave! You shall die! For high treason I condemn you to death, and this man shall be your executioner.

"Send that other slave back to his quarters and place Yron against the pillar in his place," he ordered; then he turned again to me. "Now let's see what that thing will do. Kill Yron!"

"I told you once that I kill only in self-defense. If you want some one killed, come and attack me yourself, or shut up."

Like most tyrannical despots, Tyros was half mad. He had little or no control of his temper, and now he was frantic. He fumed and bellowed and flapped and blew and tore at his beard; but I saw that he feared me, for he made no move to attack me himself, nor did he order others to do so.

"Listen," I said. I had to shout to be heard above the racket he was making. "Free us, as I suggested, and let us go away in peace. If you don't I may be forced to kill you in order to effect our escape."

"You would be well rid of him at any price," said one of his nobles.

This was all Tyros required to give him a slender out. "If that is the wish of my people," he said, "I will consider it. In the meantime return this slave to the slaves' quarters, and let me see no more of him."