Chapter 33 Escape on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I tured to look. The voice came from a man hanging on the wall beside me. I recognized him immediately. "Ero Shan!" I cried.

"And Duare is here, too," he said; "my poor friends! When did they bring you here?"

"This afternoon," I told him.

"I have been asleep," he said; "I try to sleep as much as I can; it is one way of passing away a lifetime hanging on a wall;" he laughed, a little wryly. "But what ill luck brings you here?"

I told him briefly, and then asked how he had ever come to leave beautiful Havatoo and get into such a predicament as this.

"After you and Duare escaped from Havatoo," he commenced, "the Sanjong (rulers of Havatoo) commissioned me to attempt to build an aeroplane from your plans. I discovered that some of the essential features you must have carried in your head, for they were not on your drawings."

"That is too bad," I said; "they were not on the drawings that I left in Havatoo; because I had become accustomed to keeping the final drawings in the anotar after it had neared completion. I really don't know why I did so."

"Well, I finally achieved an anotar that would fly," he continued; "though I nearly killed myself half a dozen times in the attempt. Some of the best minds in Havatoo were working with me, and finally we designed and built a plane that would really fly. I was never so delighted with anything in my life; I wanted to be up all the time, and I kept going farther and farther from Havatoo. I flew Nalte to Andoo to see her parents and her people, and what a sensation the anotar was there!"

"Oh, tell us about Nalte," exclaimed Duare. "How is she?"

"She was well and happy the last time I saw her," said Ero Shan; "I hope she still is."

"Possibly well; but not happy, with you gone," said Duare.

"And to think that we shall never see one another again," he said, sadly; "but then," he exclaimed more brightly, "I have you two now; what is your misfortune is my good luck; though I'd forfeit it to have you safely out of here."

"Go on with your story," I urged; "tell us how you got into this fix—an exhibit in a museum of natural history!"

"Well, I had flown some distance from Havatoo one day into an unexplored district to the southwest, when I ran into the worst storm I have ever encountered in my life; it was of a violence that beggars description and was accompanied by clouds of hot steam."

"The same storm that drove us north to Mypos," I suggested. "The Sun broke through rifts in the cloud envelopes, causing terrific winds; and making the ocean boil."

"It must have been the same storm," agreed Ero Shan. "Anyway, it carried me across a sea to this land; and when I was close to Voo-ad, my engine quit; and I had to come down. People came running from the city—"

"And danced around you and threw flowers at you," I interrupted.

Ero Shan laughed. "And fooled me completely. Did Vik-vik-vik give a banquet for you?" he asked.

"This afternoon," I said. "We seem to come to grief wherever we go—even in beautiful Havatoo."

"I must tell you," said Ero Shan; "after you two escaped, the Sanjong reviewed their findings on Duare and discovered that they had erred in condemning her to death. You are both now free to return to Havatoo."

"That is splendid!" I exclaimed, laughing. "Won't you please tell Vik-vik-vik?"

"At least," said Duare, "if we can retain our sense of humor we shall not be entirely miserable—if I could only forget the horrible thing we just witnessed while you were asleep."

"What was that?" asked Ero Shan.

"One of these creatures had an epileptic fit, and fell apart," I explained. "Have you ever seen anything like that?"

"Often," he said.

"The halves seemed to be still alive when they carried them away," said Duare.

"They were," Ero Shan told her. "You see, these creatures are amoebic neuters; and their dividing is the physiological phenomenon of reproduction. There are neither males nor females among them; but more or less periodically, usually after enjoying an orgy of eating and drinking, they divide into two parts, like the amoeba and other of the Rhizopada. Each of these parts grows another half during a period of several months, and the process continues. Eventually, the older halves wear out and die; sometimes immediately after the division and sometimes while still attached, in which case the dead half merely falls away, and the remaining half is carted off to make itself whole. I understand that this division occurs about nine times during the life of a half.

"They are without sentiments of love, friendship, or any of the finer characteristics of normal human beings; and because they cannot create their kind, they have no creative genius in art or letters; they can copy beautifully, but are without imagination, except of the lowest order.

"Their reception of you was typical. Being weaklings, averse to physical combat, they use hypocrisy as a weapon. Their singing, their dancing, their flower throwing are all instruments of deception; while they were feting you, they were having your placards lettered; duplicity is their outstanding characteristic."

"Is there no escape?" asked Duare.

"There is a man near me who comes from a city called Amlot, somewhere in Anlap, who tells me he has been here fully a hundred years and that in all that time no one has escaped."

"Oh, why couldn't they have killed us!" exclaimed Duare; "it would have been much kinder."

"The Vooyorgans are not kind," Ero Shan reminded her.

We slept. A new day came, bringing its string of sightseers. The creature that had shown an interest in Duare came early, and stood staring at her—whether in admiration or dislike, I could not tell. Unlike the others, it did not smile. Finally it came close and touched her leg.

"Get away from there!" I shouted.

It shrank back, startled; then it looked at me, and said, "I would not harm the woman."

"Who are you, anyway?" I demanded, "and why are you hanging around my mate? She is not for you; no woman is for you."

The creature sighed; it really looked unhappy. "I am Vik-yor," it said. "I am not like my fellows. I am different. I do not know why. I do not enjoy what they enjoy—eating and drinking until they fall apart. I shall never fall apart; I shall never divide; I am no good to myself nor to anyone else. If I could be always with such as she, I would be happy."

After a while Vik-yor went away. His name, or number, indicated that he was of the royal caste. "How did he happen?" I asked Ero Shan.

"He is a sport," he explained; "they occur occasionally, especially in the older, or royal caste. This one may have been part of a division of Vik-vik-vik; when it grew its other half, it was identical with the original half, and there was no line of demarcation between the two halves—no line of cleavage. I suppose that, like the first amoebae which must have had a tendency to develop into some higher form of life, these creatures show the same tendency by not dividing; possibly it is a step toward a form of human being like ourselves."

"It will take several million years and nothing short of a miracle," said Duare.

"The fact that he is so definitely attracted to you," said Ero Shan, "would indicate that he is groping for something better and nobler than just being an amoeba. Why don't you encourage him a little?—I mean be kind to him. A friend here might be a very valuable asset."

Duare shuddered. "They are all so repulsive to me," she said. "I am always expecting them to fall apart."

"Vik-yor can't fall apart," Ero Shan reminded her.

"Well, that is at least something in his favor. Perhaps I'll try what you suggest, Ero Shan. It can't do any harm. I might even try being what Carson calls a vamp and make Vik-yor fall in love with me," she said, laughing.

"I think he already has," I said.

"Jealous?" demanded Duare.

"Of an amoeba? Scarcely."

"I think he is a male amoeba," teased Duare; "he has already learned to paw."