THIS is a very nice story, verging on the short, short order, and will be enjoyed by all of our readers. We have not had a story by Mr. Kline for some time and we are sure this one will be welcome. There is a love motif, but not of an order to excite opposition from our readers.—Ed
DR. MORGAN, scientist and psychologist, stared fixedly into the crystal globe before him, as he sat in the study of his strange mountain observatory. For many years, he had been communicating with people on Mars and Venus by means of telepathy, and recording these communications.
Just now, he had established rapport with Lotan, a young plant hunter for the Imperial Government of Olba, the only nation on Venus which had aircraft. He was seeing with Lotan's eyes, hearing with his ears, precisely as if this earthly scientist were Lotan the Olban. The electrodes of his audio-photo thought recorder were clamped to his temples, and every thought, every sense impression of Lotan's was, for the time, Dr. Morgan's.
Lotan's little one-man flier was behaving badly. He had just come through a terrific storm in which he had lost his bearings. His navigating instruments were out of commission and his power mechanism was growing weaker. It would be necessary for him to land and make repairs, soon.
For many months he had sought the kadkor, that rare and valuable food fungus which had once been cultivated in Olba, but had been wiped out by a parasite. His sovereign had offered him the purple of nobility and a thousand kantols of land, if he would but bring him as many kadkor spores as would cover his thumb nail. But so far his quest had been fruitless.
Far below him the Ropok Ocean stretched its blue-green waters for miles in all directions—a vast expanse of sea and sky that teemed with life of a thousand varieties. There were creatures of striking fantastic beauty and of terrifying ugliness. A number of large, white birds, with red-tipped wings and long, sharply curved beaks, skimmed the water in search of food. Hideous flying reptiles, some with wing-spreads of more than sixty feet, soared quite near the flier, eyeing it curiously as if half minded to attack. They would scan the water until they saw such quarry as suited them, then, folding their webbed wings and dropping head first with terrific speed, would plunge beneath the waves, to emerge with their struggling prey and leisurely flap away.
The sea itself was even more crowded with life. And mightiest of all its creatures was the great ordzook, so immense that it could easily crush a large battleship with a single crunch of its huge jaws.
But these sights were no novelty to Lotan, the botanist. What he hoped to see, and that quickly, was land. Failing in this, he knew by the way the power mechanism was acting, that he would soon be compelled to settle to the surface of the Ropok probably to be devoured, ship and all, by some fearful marine monster.
Presently he caught sight of a tiny islet, and toward this he directed his limping ship with all the force of his will. For his little craft, which looked much like a small metal duck boat with a glass globe over the cockpit, was raised, lowered, or moved in any direction by a mechanism which amplified the power of telekinesis, that mysterious force emanating from the subjective mind, which enables earthly mediums to levitate ponderable objects without physical contact. It had no wings, rudder, propeller or gas chambers, and its only flying equipment, other than this remarkable mechanism, were two fore-and-aft safety parachutes, which would lower it gently in case the telekinetic power failed.
Normally the little craft could travel at a speed of five hundred miles an hour in the upper atmosphere, but now it glided very slowly, and moreover was settling toward the water alarmingly. Lotan exerted every iota of his mind power, and barely made the sloping, sandy beach when the mechanism failed completely.
As he sprang out of his little craft, Lotan's first care was for his power- mechanism. Fortunately the splicing of a wire which had snapped repaired the damage.
He looked about him. At his feet the sea was casting up bits of wreckage. It was evident that a ship had gone to pieces on the reef—the work of the recent storm. The body of a drowned sailor came in on a comber. But it did not reach the shore, for a huge pair of jaws emerged from the water, snapped, and it was gone. In the brief interval he recognized the naval uniform of Tyrhana, the most powerful maritime nation of Venus.
Then his attention was attracted by something else—tracks freshly made, leading from a large piece of wreckage across the soft sand and into the riotous tangle of vegetation that clothed the interior. They were small— undoubtedly the tracks of a woman or boy.
Lotan followed, resolved to try to rescue this marooned fellow-being, before taking off.
He plunged into a jungle that would have appeared grotesque to earthly eyes. The primitive plants of Venus, which bear no fruits, flowers nor seeds, but reproduce solely by subdivision, spores or spawn, assume many strange and unusual forms and colors. Pushing through a fringe of jointed, reed-like growths that rattled like skeletons as he passed, he entered a dense fern- forest. Immense tree-ferns with rough trunks and palm-like leaf crowns, some of which were more than seventy feet in height, towered above many bushy varieties that were gigantic compared to the largest ferns of earthly jungles. Climbing ferns hung everywhere, like lianas. Creeping ferns made bright green patches on the ground. And dwarf, low-growing kinds barely raised their fronds above the violet-colored moss which carpeted the forest floor.
The trail was plain enough, as the little feet had sunk deeply into the moss and leaf-mould. It led over a fern-clothed rise to lower marshy ground, where fungus growths predominated. There were colossal toadstools, some of which reared their heads more than fifty feet above the ground, tremendous morels like titanic spear heads projecting from the earth, squat puff-balls that burst when touched, scattering clouds of tiny black spores, and grotesque funguses shaped like candelabra, corkscrews, organ pipes, stars, flued funnels and upraised human hands.
But Lotan gave no heed to these. To him they were quite commonplace.
As he hurried along the trail, there suddenly came from the tangle ahead a horrible peal of demoniacal laughter. It was quickly echoed by a dozen others coming from various points in the fungoid forest. He dashed forward, gripping his weapons, for he recognized the cry of the hahoe, that terrible carnivore of the Venerian jungles. It had discovered a victim and was summoning its fellows.
Like all Venerian gentlemen, Lotan wore a tork and scarbo belted to his waist. The tork was a rapid-fire weapon about two feet long, of blued steel. It was shaped much like a carpenter's level, and fired by means of explosive gas, discharging needle-like glass projectiles filled with a potent poison that would instantly paralyze man or beast. The scarbo was a cutting, thrusting weapon with a blade like that of a scimitar and basket hilt.
As he abruptly emerged into a little clearing, he saw a slender, golden- haired girl who wore the silver and purple of nobility, clinging to the cap of a tall fungus. Below her, snarling, snapping and leaping upward, were a half dozen hahoes, huge brutes somewhat like hyenas, but twice as large as any hyena that ever walked the earth, and far more hideous. They had no hair, but were covered with rough scales of black color, and mottled and spots of golden orange. Each beast had three horns, one projecting form either temple and one standing out between the eyes. Two of them were gnawing at the stem of the fungus, and had mad such headway that it seemed likely to topple at any moment.
With a reassuring shout to the frightened girl, Lotan whipped out his scarbo, and elevating the muzzle of his tork, pressed the firing button. Horrid death- yells from the hahoes followed the spitting of the tork, as the deadly glass projectiles did their work. In less than a minute four of the brutes lay dead at the foot of the fungus, and the other two had fled.
But during that time, brief as it was, another flesh-eater of Venus, far more fearful than the hahoes, had seen the girl and marked her for its prey.
As Lotan looked upward, about to speak to the girl, she screamed in deadly terror, for a man-eating gnarsh had suddenly swooped downward from the clouds. Seizing her in its huge talons, it flapped swiftly away.
Lotan raised his tork, then lowered it with a cry of despair. For even though he might succeed in killing the flying monster without striking the girl, a fall from that dizzy height would mean sure death for her.
There was a bare possibility, however, that the gnarsh would not eat her until it reached its eyrie, which would be situated on some inaccessible mountain crag. As there were no mountains on the island, the monster would probably head for the mainland, and he could follow in his flier.
He accordingly turned, and dashed back to where his airship lay. Leaping into the cabin, he slammed the door. The little craft shot swiftly upward to a height of more than two thousand feet. Already the gnarsh was more than a mile away, flapping swiftly westward with its victim dangling limply.
Like an avenging arrow, the tiny craft hurtled after the flying monster. As he came up behind it, Lotan drew his scarbo, and opening the cabin door, leaned out.
Almost before the gnarsh knew of his presence, the botanist had flung an arm around the girl's slender waist. With two deft slashes of his keen blade, he cut the tendons that controlled the mighty talons. They relaxed, and with a choking cry of relief, he dragged her into the cabin. Turning his craft, he aimed his tork and sent a stream of deadly projectiles into the flying monster. Its membraneous wings crumpled, and it fell into the sea.
Unconscious of what he was doing, the plant-hunter kept his arm around the girl's waist—held her close. He slammed the door, and turning, looked into her eyes. In them he read gratitude—and something more that thrilled him immeasureably. With that brief look went the heart of Lotan. He was drawing her nearer, crushing her to him, unresisting, while the ship hurtled forward, when he remembered that she was of the nobility, and he only a botanist. The jewels that glittered on her garments would have ransomed a rogo [King]. And he was a poor man. He released her.
"You are of Tyrhana?" he asked.
"I am Mirim, daughter of Zand, Romojak [Admiral] of the Fleets of Tyrhana," he replied. "And you, my brave rescuer?"
"Lotan, plant hunter for His Imperial Majesty, Zinlo of Olba," he replied. "My navigating instruments are out of commission, but when we strike the shore line, which we are sure to do by proceeding westward, I can find the way to Tyrhana and take you home." "Home," she said, and there was a sob in her voice. "I have no home, now. My mother died when I was born. My father went down with his ship in the great storm that cast me on that terrible island. Now I return to the loneliness of a great castle filled with slaves." Burying her face in her hands, she burst into tears.
His arm encircled her grief-shaken body, and his hand stroked her soft, golden hair.
"Mirim, I—" he began, then stopped resolutely. The gulf between them was too great. Now if he had but found the kadkor and won the reward, he would be her equal—could ask her hand in marriage. He gasped, as that which had been in the back of his mind, endeavoring to fight its way into his objective consciousness, suddenly occurred to him. He had seen the kadkor. It had been a kadkor that Mirim had climbed to escape from he hahoes. But in the excitement of the moment his mind had only registered the fact subjectively. Back there on that tiny islet, now several hundred kants away, was the object of his quest. but he did not know its bearings, and had not even a compass to guide him. He might search a lifetime and not find that islet again.
Presently the girl ceased her sobbing, sat up and began to adjust her disheveled garments. She detached her belt pouch and handed it to him.
"Will you empty this for me, please? she asked. "It came open and got filled with some horrid gray spores."
Lotan looked at the spores, and his heart gave a great leap of joy, for they were the spores of the kadkor, scraped from the gills of the fungus by her open belt pouch as the girl had been dragged aloft.
"I'll keep these, if you don't mind," he said, "for to me they are worth the purple, and a thousand kantols of land. Moreover, they give me the courage to say that which has lain in my heart since first I looked into your eyes. I love you, Mirim. Will you be my wife?"
"Take me, Lotan," was all she said, but her lips against his told him all.