Untitled MS. possibly 'Outbreak From Earth'
by S. Fowler Wright
Of the following MS (which may be 'OUTBREAK FROM EARTH') we only have a carbon copy of pages 13 to 61 and 64. The original was lent to Forest Ackerman. Who is understood to have lost it in his archives.
3 Disposal Of Mr. Prompeter.
4 It Was As Simple As That.
5 What A Tremor Would Surely Mean.
6 Sequel To Tremor.
8 Evelyn Faces Facts.
9 Evelyn Enters The Pen.
Start of page 13.
...... or female occupancy was too much to expect!
Evelyn looked at the silver watch on her wrist. It was four A.M. Sustained though they had been by the strangeness of the event, it was yet possible to yawn at this reminder, especially in an atmosphere of comfort and peace, however dubious might be the prospect ahead.
"If we're going to be shut up here for two days, it would be silly not to get some sleep." And saying this she withdrew into the room she choose, and was well content to find a good bolt on its inner side.
Disposal Of Mr. Prompeter.
The four strangers who were united, whether as guests or captives, in an intimacy of abrupt compulsion, emerged, one after another, from the retirement of their own rooms, the bookmaker, who had had little sleep during the previous night, being much later than the others.
Before his appearance, the other three, having refreshed themselves from the still-abundant food on the central table, and with minds alert and clarified by the hiatus of sleep, resumed discussion of where they were going, and in whose power they might be.
"Another planet," John Belden said, "if the whole thing be something more than an incredible hoax, is almost certainly either Venus or Mars, for two reasons. They are far the nearest, and I believe they are, I won't say suitable for the sustaining of human life, which could be no more than a guess at the most, but at least less impossibly illadapted than would be the case with Saturn, Neptune, or Jupiter - and I suppose Mercury must be more like a frying-pan than a place where anything could remain alive."
"You evidently know more about them than I do," Evelyn answered. "I knew Mars is comparatively near. I think most people do. But that's about all. I don't think I could give the names of more than you've mentioned."
Bob Sefton was less diffident. "I can go," he said, "a bit farther than that. There's Sirius and Orion, and the Great Bear, and I think there's a pair of Twins."
"No doubt there are," Mr Belden replied drily. "But they are generally supposed to be suns, not planets, and rather farther away."
"I expect you're right," the younger man agreed indifferently, "and it makes you one up on me. ...But I think our fat friend would give you long odds that we' re not going anywhere of the kind. I'm too fly to swallow that nonsense that's on the wall. But I'd give something to know what the game is. It's a show that must have cost a lot to put on."
It was a conclusion with which Miss Ditchfield agreed, but which led her to an opposite deduction. It was indeed, a show which must have cost a lot to put on - so much so that she rejected the idea that it could be a show in that sense at all. And if it were not - ? She needed all the courage she had to remain silent, with quiet eyes. But what use was there in frightening oneself with conjectures which must be almost certainly wrong?
John Belden took the same view - or was it said only to comfort her, for their eyes met as he spoke? He said: "Whether or not we accept what's on the wall, we can't form more than the wildest guess as to where were going, or what it will be like when we arrive. But there are two things which indicate that we're not in bad hands - the fact that they chose four people who were willing to come away, and the comfort that's round us now."
"All the same," Bob said, "I should like to know a bit more. I vote we have a try at one of the other doors. We might find something a lot more interesting than we've seen yet."
He spoke of two doors in one of the narrower walls of the cabin, which was oblong in shape, to which they had given little heed when they had found the four bedrooms open, and retired to their needed rest.
These doors were blank of knob or keyhole, but did not appear to be of great strength: probably not beyond their united capacity to force, especially if they could find anything appropriate to batter them down, and even a chair might be used in such a way as to be helpful for that.
"You must do what you like," Evelyn said, "and I dare say you wouldn't need any assistance from me; but you wouldn't get it, whether or not. There's a plain warning on the wall - a rather dreadful one, if you take it literally - and I think it would be foolhardy to disregard it. Anyway, till we know a lot more than we do now."
But, as she spoke, one of the doors opened. It gave a view of a long narrow passage showing how large must be the rocket on which they were. But they had no eyes for that. Their attention was held by the one who entered - one who looked as human as themselves but of a remoteness that was like freezing wind, in spite of a beauty that even hostility could not deny.
But was he - was she - was it woman or man?
The slim, breasted figure; the hareless face; the white tunic, with its deeply pinked collar, and the short white green-edged skirt, suggested a femininity which was challenged by aspect and manner in other ways.
She (if that were the right pronoun to use) surveyed them with a glance which was cold and hard. She asked: "Where is the one who is well-fed?" She looked at Bob, and added: "Fetch him," without waiting for a reply. He went to the bookmaker's cabin. He opened the door, and saw him, a monstrous somnolent heap on a bed which he made to appear narrower than it was. He shook him to a dazed wakefulness, so that he stumbled out in the underclothes with which he had lain down.
As the woman looked at him there was a change from indifference to satisfaction in the bleak contempt in her eyes. Her hand motioned imperiously toward the door by which she had entered. She said, in a tone of curt authority: "You will go that way, and through the third door on the right."
Still less than awake, he obeyed the imperious authority in her voice, and in a moment had disappeared.
She went on, as though she spoke to those, however low, who were of a somewhat less abject kind: "We may be somewhat delayed, and shall lack food. I came to see what you had left, that some may be taken. But we should not allow you to starve even though we be short ourselves. He was a most fortunate catch."
Evelyn said, with an instant perception of what was meant, and a courage she would not have supposed herself to have had: "You don't mean you're going to kill that poor man, so that you may be better fed?"
The woman gave her a glance which was hard to endure, though it seemed to be curiosity rather than anger that the question had roused.
"I kill him?" she echoed. "Even you wouldn't do anything like that, unless I make a mistake as to what you are. Do you suppose that I have no butcher to do my will?"
"Then you do mean - "
The woman interrupted her in a voice which was as decisive as before, but, strangely enough, had a less contemptuous tone. "He will be put to the best possible use, for our rocket may be delayed. But he will not be food for you, nor for me." She looked at the three in silent consideration. Then she said: "There is much you will have to learn, if you aim to endure, as I think you may. I will tell you now."
Bob answered, truculence fighting with fear: "That's what we want to know. We want to know what the racket is."
He met a glance before which his own fell.
"It is quite simple, even for the comprehension of such as you. But you appear to be one for whom I could promise nothing, unless you be claimed as a mate."
She sat down, and motioned them to do the same.
It Was As Simple As That.
When they were seated, their captor, if such she were, remained silent for a time, looking at them in turn with an intensity hard to endure, as though deciding what they were worth, and, perhaps, what it might be worth while for her to say.
Then she began: "I may waste words, but I will tell you facts, and this first. I am descended from men of Earth. I am of your own blood in a distant way. I was born of those who left Earth when Nimrod assailed the skies. But I am not as you, for, since then, we have lived in a better place, and among those who excel ourselves.
"Nimrod was foiled by One from a Distant Place, for it was not the High Will that there should then be intercourse through the wastes of space, which are expressly intended for the frustration of such designs, should they have birth in presumptuous minds.
"But, by Divine clemency, and at the petition of the Venutians themselves, some who had reached Venus were permitted to live and breed, so that we are there now, though the rockets of Nimrod did not return, and those of Prometheus were laden with dying men.
"And we have learnt much, and been transformed by the examples of those who are much higher than we.
"We have been allowed also to visit Earth in a secret way, as I have done now, to bring away those whom we may select, to be exhibited in ways which your own practices will explain, and, if they be observed to be of a good kind to be released ultimately to freer life"
John Belden asked quietly: "Do you tell us that it is your doing that we are here?"
"Yes. It was I who chose you, if you mean that."
"Then I think ," he said, in the same quiet tone, "that it was a damnable thing to do."
She showed no resentment at this remark, nor concern for the charge it made. She said: "On the contrary, I am at ease that I did well, and especially so when I chose you, which your words confirm. But you must not deflect me from what I intend to say. . . You must understand that the notice upon the wall is exactly true, both as to the information and the warning it gives."
John Belden interrupted again: "Do you tell us you are in sole control of this rocket?"
"Yes. At least, there is only I here, and those who are docile to me."
"Then you can take us back to Earth if you will?"
"I am not the rocket. I do not control it, but what it contains. Have you not heard of remote control?"
He did not reply, and she looked at him with considering eyes. Then she said: "I do not wish to lose my best catch. Must I warn you twice?"
He still said nothing, and after a longer pause she went on: "When you reach Venus, which should be within forty hours of your time - apart from a doubt, concerning which I shall learn more almost at once - you will be segregated with those of your own sex, but by a division through which you will be able to talk and see, and there will be release and union for those who unite to ask. They will be allowed to dwell apart in a separate pen."
Evelyn interjected, with a contempt which equalled anything she had endured: "And if we should have children, you would be likely to eat them at any time? And so you say you are much better than we!"
"You are strangely foolish. Few creatures eat those of their own kind. As a fact, I do not eat flesh."
"But the bookmaker - "
"You do not heed what I say. Have I not told you that the Venutians are of a much higher kind than we? He will be provision for them."
"But if they be of a higher kind - "
"You have a clear mind. You can think if you will. He is to them as a pig to you. All must eat who live."
"You say you are human yourself. And yet you may be taking us to the same fate?"
"I have not said that. You are in no danger at all." She looked at John Belden. "Neither is he I will not say beyond that."
"You mean that Mr Sefton - "
"I do not know what may be thought of his worth. But there is no cause for you to fret. He can be secure, if you will."
"Will you say what you mean by that?"
"You can claim him as your own mate."
"But I do not wish to do that?"
"Then he must be one about whom you are not greatly concerned."
"Then what I asked you is true?"
"Not at all. I prefer that all should survive. But there may be restriction of choice. If I catch two who survive, I feel that I have done well. And I have given great advantage to them."
"And you mean that is what you have done now?"
"You ask questions twice. I have told you that I am unsure." She looked at Bob, whose eyes were on Evelyn now, in panic, and frantic plea. "Others must decide that. . . Unless you claim him as mate. You have the choice. Can you want more?"
Shirking an unwelcome issue, to which she had not expected her questions to lead, Evelyn went on: "So we are to understand that we are to be put in pens like beasts, and may be eaten at any time?"
"Why will you refuse to believe what you are told? I have said that the Venutians are much higher than men. Would they kill their pets? Even many men - and some women - would not be as base as that."
"But it is not good to know that we may be treated as beasts, even by those who may be more powerful than we. You may have had long practice in that, but it is stranger to us."
For the first time, Evelyn's protagonist showed annoyance. But whatever resentment she may have felt was very quickly controlled. She said: "Do you not profess to worship those who are higher than you?"
"Yes, but - "
"I think yes is enough. Or, at least, from you. I have more to say. I have had no practice in being treated like any beast, not having been mastered by men. I am in no fear that bonds of affection will be forgotten, or those of honour transgressed. But we waste words, because you will not regard the logic of what I say. You have a proverb about the casting of pearls, as to which you are too good for the part you play. You need say no more than one thing, which I need to know. Do you claim this man?"
Evelyn opened her lips to say that he was not even an acquaintance of hers, and she did not claim him at all, but he caught her eyes with a glance of frantic appeal. Should she speak the word which might consign him to ghastly death? Or that which would unite her to one from whom she would recoil in a sickening way? It was an impossible choice. And yet she knew what it must be. Could she deny hope to one whom only she was able to save? Was it to be 'worse than death' by her own choice, by her spoken word? She was not in the mood to see any humour in that. But surely even that cad (so she thought, using a word which was less than fair) would not take advantage of that which would only be done to secure his life?
She said: "Yes, I do."
She met probing eyes, before which her own fell. "You will wed him, knowing that we do not observe divorce?"
The answer was hard to give, but she had gone too far for honourable retreat. "Yes, I will do that."
She heard a sigh of relief.
But her ordeal was not yet complete. "It must be more than in words. The Venutians are not fooled. There must be children to come."
She heard herself repeat mechanically: "Yes, there must be children to come," and was then aware that an order was being given to Bob, which he did not like. "You will go at once into the fourth room on the right."
He rose, hesitant. The relief he had shown when she had claimed him was now replaced by an expression of anxious doubt. . . But it was the third room into which the bookie had disappeared. And he had been plainly warned of the fate of those who would not obey. He went on reluctant feet.
When he had gone, their captor said: "You have done well. You will not be troubled by him again."
Evelyn was conscious of an overwhelming relief, and then confused by a puzzled doubt. She said: "If I claimed him, you said that - "
"You did not claim him with a true will. But you did well. I made a good catch."
What A Tremor Would Surely Mean.
Left alone, the two who had survived the deadly ordeal looked at each other in a new intimacy, and a silence pregnant with thought.
John said: "Well, we know where we are now. You were right from the first. There's no hoax about this."
"No. . . I wonder what she's doing to him?"
"To him? You mean Sefton? It's no use speculating about that. You'd be worrying about something that hasn't happened, more likely than not. We've got to face the fact that we're coming to a place where new customs rule, and new values apply. We can't fight a planet. We bend or break. But, if we're pliant, we may find a tolerable way to win through."
"Yes. I see that. But how far to bend - I don't think I did Bob any good."
"Perhaps you didn't bend far enough. But you did all you could, and more than anyone could require. And what you did was approved. There should be some satisfaction in that."
"Yes. I think we shall both be allowed to live - while we toe the line. But I'm feeling tired out. I think I'll lie down for a time."
"You couldn't do better. I may do the same."
She withdrew to her own room. Her hand hesitated on the bolt, and then shot it. Next moment she was aware of the pause, and its implications were clear.
She would not have hesitated had the two others been without. But it did not mean that she would be indifferent to disturbance from the one who remained.
Not in the least. It was the certainty that such a thing would not occur which had given the laxity to her hand. And what was the one who remained? What to her? Certainly not romance. But he was one to trust. One on whom to rely. Which was good fortune for her. And who could tell that they would not encounter a further menace, in which she might be actually glad to claim him, if such a choice should be hers? - And even one in which he would be glad to be claimed? But she could not visualise that. He was not one to be pushed about. Yet he had talked of bending: it was by pliancy that they might hope to survive. Well, they were not doing. They were being done to. They must wait to see what would occur.
And then, unconscious of the time she had slept, she was aware that he had opened her door.
"Evelyn," he said, using her name for the for the first time, "I couldn't make you hear when I knocked." (So she hadn't shot the bolt, after all? But she knew she had. Probably not far enough.) "Our visitor's here again, and there's something urgent for us to know."
She rose quickly, her mind adjusting itself to the strange environment from which it had retired to its fortress of self-made dreams, and came out to meet the one who was as human as herself, as alien as the inhabitant of another planet must surely be.
Their slender, daunting, white-clad visitor (how was it she had not noticed the glint of that sea-green stone at her throat before?) gave her no greeting, but spoke at once, as one who issued orders to purchased slaves.
"There is something which it has become necessary for your own safety for you to hear. The Mercurians, with whom we are at war, are attacking Venus, and are - I hope - being repulsed. But against their war rockets we have no speed, nor means of defence, should they be encountered as we approach. It would be folly for us to attempt to land till it will be light on the side of the planet at which we aim to arrive; or, indeed, to approach within a thousand miles when the darkness lies.
"But we shall know from our own instruments should they become conscious of us, in which case we must escape within four minutes of your time, for we shall become white-hot as we dissolve.
"If this occur, there will be no time to attend to you. But your door will be open, and if you feel a tremor, however slight it may be, you will move at once, for that will be the sure and only sign that we have been located by them.
"In that event, you will come quickly along the passage, and through the fifth door on the right. When you are there, the way of escape will be clear ahead.
"But there is hope that a safe landing may still be made. We have slowed down to eight hundred miles an hour, if not less. We are scarcely moving at all."
John asked: "How long must we remain alert? How shall we know when we land?"
"You will be told. you must be sleepless till then."
"There is nothing we can do that will help?"
"Nothing at all."
As she said this, she went.
John said ungratefully - for why need she have warned them at all? - "Well, it's something to know that she isn't everyone's boss."
Evelyn asked: "Suppose one of us feels a tremor, and the other doesn't?"
John was amused. "If I feel a tremor, and you don't, in two seconds I shall have gone. But you can stay to find out whether I've been wrong."
"I don't think I should be silly enough to do that."
"So you only meant it for me?"
Sequel To Tremor.
For the next three hours they remained monotonously alert, waiting for a tremor which did not come. They shared a meal, and noticed that most of the food had gone. "While you were lying down, I did the same for a short time," John said, "it must have been taken then."
"Well, it was theirs to take," Evelyn said, "and as we're to be landed or melted down almost at once, it doesn't seem worth while to make a worry of that. But - what was that?"
"If it were a tremor, it was very slight."
"You say if - you must have felt it as well as I."
"I thought I did, but was not sure. Surely she would have warned us that it would be so very slight."
"She may not have known. She hasn't been feeling them herself every few hours. Probably never did in her life before, And we may be less sensitive to them than these creatures are. Anyway, I'm not going to risk being roasted whole."
They were agreed about that, and, having nothing to bring away, were already out of the room while these exchanges were made, though not without a disconcerting fear that if they had manufactured their own alarm there might be a different danger to overcome. For the consequences of disobedience (and might it not be so construed?) were too drastic to be ignored.
They hurried along a narrow passage, counting the doors, and with little heed to what could be seen through the transparent shell on their other hand, where the sun showed, twice the size that was familiar to them, in a star-strewn sky.
Passing through the fifth door, they found themselves in a narrower passage, which must have crossed the rocket's breadth, for there was an opening ahead, and she who was the only living creature they had seen was already there.
She said urgently, as they reached her side: "Follow me. There is not a second to lose."
She stepped off into empty space.
Evelyn hesitated, but for a second only. Where one stood, another could surely stand. She stepped boldly to a solid invisible floor.
John may be excused that he hesitated for a longer moment, for which he would afterwards blame himself, with contempt, and which brought him as near to death as he was ever likely to be. Whether he would have delayed for more than that instant of time cannot be known, for Evelyn's hand caught him, and dragged him forward, as he heard the insistent command: "Instant! I cannot wait," and as he left visible support he was struck by a sliding door that closed, bruising his back.
As the door closed, and they lost contact with the great rocket, they became invisible to each other, as that on which they were was unseen. But he felt Evelyn's hand grasping his, and heard the voice of her who had been their captor, and was surely their saviour now. It said: "You may stand or lie as you will. Gravity is controlled. But do not exert yourself in avoidable ways. We have little air."
There was a strange blackness without, in which stars showed. There was the great sun, which could be seen, but was unable, in that vacancy, to give any arrested light.
For one moment, as it receded, they had seen the flare of the shrivelling rocket.
Then she spoke again: "We have such limited air that we must be careless of other risks, and we shall be visible when we strike atmosphere, where we must check speed also. But they will disregard us now, thinking us to be entirely destroyed."
Evelyn wondered what Bob Sefton's fate could have been. But it might be unwise to ask. She asked instead: "Are your crew with us, or are they dead?"
"Our enemies would have perceived that they were not there, had they come with us. There would have been search. It was necessary that they should die."
"I wonder you saved us rather than them."
The voice that replied was cold. "It was you that I went to fetch. I am not accustomed to fail."
It was not a friendly reason, though it had been satisfactory in its results. But Evelyn felt that the conversation must be sustained. She could not endure silence in that vacancy. Nor could she speak freely to John, not being alone. She went on: "It was fortunate that you can speak our language so well."
"It was necessary to do."
She could make what she liked of that, which was not much. But she must talk, even though it should be to no satisfaction at all. She went on: "You are so thoughtful for us, that it is hard to understand how you could have sent others to death with so little cause."
"You think that, because you cannot endure that emotion should stand aside, and reason control. It is a consequence of the precarious lives and base habits of men that they are alert to suspect low motives and evil deeds. To give you the help I can is no virtue to me, and does not imply that I care for you. I should consign you to death without scruple or pause if it were equitable or advantageous to do. . . . And, with more wisdom, you would see that it is futile to forecast evil or good. No Venutian will find nourishment in the meat on the fat man's bones, and his butcher has gone by the same road."
"You mean: 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.'"
"So I did. But you have said it in fewer words."
"Well they were not mine. . . . But may I ask what you will do with us when we land, which is not going beyond today?"
"You will be taken to your allocations at once. We should land in the early hours of a day which is somewhat shorter than that of Earth. As the sun gains power the heat will become intense, but, before that, you should be housed, and able to lie naked and quiet, as all do till the evening hours. . . You will find life much as you have known it to be, for you will be among the dwellings of men of Assyrian blood, and the gardens where you will be confined might have been laid out by Babylonian kings, had they dwelt in so dry and torrid a land."
"It sounds as though it might have been worse. Shall I understand what they say?"
"No. But you may listen and learn."
"You mean I shall be able to hear them talk outside the bars?"
"That is how it will be."
"If I learn their language will they be pleased?"
"The men will not care. The Venutians will be surprised."
"When you have heard them talk you will understand."
"Is the heat very great?"
"Yes. It may be intense. But it is dry, and can be endured. It is the absence of water which has been hardest to overcome. The Venutians do not need it as we, having skins which do not perspire, and other internal differences. You will be supplied with that which is artificially made. You will get used to the taste. You should not drink it during the hotter hours, both because it may scald your throat, and that you will be able to endure the heat best if you have none."
"I thought water - "
"You must adjust your mind. There are chemical differences in everything. In the air and ground, and in water itself; and they produce different results."
"It sounds fascinating."
"It is a wise mood of approach. But I will warn you of this. The atmosphere is such that at first you will find breathing hard. But this will pass. There is no free oxygen, but there is another gas of a better kind, which Earth does not possess."
As the conversation went on, Evelyn became aware that she was regaining sight. But it was dim and very gradual in its advance. She asked: "Am I beginning to see you because we are in atmosphere now?"
"You guess well."
"But I thought, at the pace we go, we should land in the next moment."
"You would have been right, though the atmosphere, which is very thin, extends to a great height. But it is because we hover to take it in, to mix with our own air, that we may get gradually used to what we must breathe from now. When you see me clearly, we shall be settling to land."
"We are in the clouds now?"
"There are no clouds here. There is never rain."
John Belden had said nothing while this conversation went on. He had been content to listen and learn, as he had heard his companion instructed to do. He thought that she was taking the deadly hazard of what they might have to face in a characteristically confident spirit, which he admired, but to which he could not attain. At the best, he had understood that they were to be separated, and he surprised himself by the strength of his reluctance to that. But it might be a feeling she did not share. He said, as their surroundings became visible, as well as themselves: "We seem to be very much where we were before."
John had looked round on a cabin which might have been that in which they had been before, could it have been possible for it to shrink to half its size, and lose its doors except one.
He saw that Evelyn lay on the floor, which he had not had the sense to do. Their nameless captor sat with drawn-up knees, which her hands clasped. He thought suddenly that nameless was not an adjective that should endure, especially if parting should be imminent now. It was evidence of the dread which she had roused, even in his aloof critical mind, that it required an effort of courage to say: "You know our names. You may be careless of that. But we should be glad to have yours, or the title by which you are known where we shall be."
She showed no offence, nor reaction of any kind, as she replied, in a neutral tone: "I must be Shamna to you."
It might be a form of address which would exhibit them as of inferior degree, or one which only her closest familiars would dare to use. There was no means of judging. He said, in toneless response: "It would be hard to forget that," of which she took no notice at all.
She rose, and went to the door, saying: "We have landed now. You must follow me."
She led along a passage which was similar to that they had known before, but much shorter. She drew back metal bars, with effortless strength. The door, being released, slid open. They looked out on level brick-red dust, and a group of white-clad approaching men.
She said to the one who led, but in a language which had no meaning to them: "Hamel, they scorched us as we approached, but I have saved these. How goes it above?"
"Lady, they do not prevail. But I think we have lost more than will be proclaimed."
"Then, if you believe that, you must know that you should not think. Proclamations are for belief." She added, to an abashed man: "Here are two. If they be docile, they are worth all they have cost. You will be patient and slow."
She turned to her captives to say, in their own tongue: "You will be taken to quarters which are furnished for such as you. They know your needs, which will be supplied. You will have no more occasion for words. You will separate at the gates, where you" - looking at Evelyn - "will follow the man with the blue staff. . . Those who are easy to drive avoid blows."
She had spoken as though the gates were near, which they were not, unless nearness be a relative term. They were not as distant as Earth. But they were more than two miles away. They walked slowly, to which their guards did not object, for the dry heat was intense, though they were not conscious of the thirst they might have been expected to feel, and did not become moist. The air was hard to breathe.
The sun was just clear of the horizon, rising in a sky of darker blue than they were accustomed to see, and cloudless from rim to rim. There were white stone houses scattered about, of strange design, but no more so than if they had been on Earth, and come to a foreign land which had not been pictured to them before.
But as the men closed round them, with short staves in hand which were a menace beyond mistake, but leading them as indifferently as farmers take cattle from field to field, they became, for the first time, fully conscious of their isolation, and of the degradation of what they were.
To those who had heard boast of how high the inhabitants of the planet were, the men seemed to be of a poor type, but they might be judged to be of the lowest of their kind, by the occupation they had.
There were six of them, strangely alike, squatly formed, black-eyed, with short blue-black beards quaintly trimmed. John thought that he could have outrun them with ease. - That was, if he could break away, which might not be easy to do, for when Evelyn merely looked back, with a natural curiosity concerning the place where the rocket had come to ground, and been so instantly met, a club was swung in a threatening way.
But he spoke his thought, in confidence that it would not be understood, which their indifference confirmed, and met the reception he might have guessed.
"Outrun them? You could bet on that, if I gave them a yard in ten. But it would be a daft thing to try. How long should we hope to remain free? And how could we get back if we were? We've got to play this game in a different way; but I'm not going to give up hope till I know a lot more than I do now. . . I hope we shan't be too far apart."
"I shall try to get in touch with you somehow. You can be certain of that."
"Then I should be certain you would be trying a silly thing. What was your own word? We must be pliant. Pliant, and wait our chance. I've got an idea that we shall be treated quite well, if they think they can push us about, and we shan't kick."
"Well, if that's how you want it to be - "
"I want either to get back to Earth, or to make life endurable here; and I think there may be lots to learn before we can do either. - And I don't want to hear that you've followed Prompter and Bob-"
"I can second that. And I'll try to play the game your way, if it's not too tough. . . And I suppose those are the gates."
The houses they had been passing had no gardens, nor sign of greenery. They rose abruptly from the red level sun-baked dust, white and square, and each standing alone. It seemed that no growth could endure under rainless skies, and the merciless scorching sun. But ahead, on the left hand side, there were tall shining gates, perhaps of some silver alloy, and beyond their corner position, leftward and ahead, a palisade of the same metal, and above it, at more places than one, huge plantain-like leaves of a vivid green.
The gates were of sheet metal, denying sight of that which was within, but they slid right and left as the procession halted before them, disclosing a park-like expanse of well-ordered grounds, of sub-tropical luxuriance, such as might have been part of an Earthly scene, at which (as they might not be slow to guess) there was little cause to wonder, for seeds of Earth had been used, and synthetic water nourished the roots of familiar trees.
Evelyn saw a blue staff in a beckoning hand, and was quick to recall the order and the warning she had received. She followed it, with whatever reluctance, aware that the guards had closed behind her to prevent her companion from coming the same way. She went through a door which was more transparent than Earthly glass, and was aware that her guide had closed it behind her, but did not follow. She was left alone to do as she would - for what was there that she could do?
But she felt relieved, with consciousness that she was breathing familiar air, giving her the feeling of one who walks out from a crowded unventilated room to cool breezes without. But it was not cool. Heat was intense, and intensely dry, even in the huge cage which contained her now, invisibly walled and roofed, within which it seemed that she was free to walk as she would.
But she found next moment that there were limits to that freedom which might not be quickly assessed, as she collided with an invisible wall, too soft to bruise her, but effectual to turn her aside. As a fly is foiled by a pane of glass which it cannot see, she was thwarted now by obstruction to right and left, so that she must remain still or go by an alley which was of the width of a dozen feet.
So she went on, as she must, until she saw the sideward approach of two strange creatures, whose thoughts - of which she was aware, though not in a verbal form - were fixed upon her.
They were about three feet high when their heads were raised, moving on two pairs of feet of unequal length, and vaguely resembling small giraffes, with skins of smooth lizard-like iridescent green, and with one prominent luminous eye on the top of their heads, where a giraffe would have had its small ornamental horns.
Their long flexible necks were now stretched straight forward, making them of no more than two feet of apparent height, their eyes were directed upon her, and their thoughts, which were as identical as though they had but one mind, were directed, in casual curiosity, upon the points on which she differed from other bipeds which their enclosures contained.
She was provoked to a vain resentment by consciousness that their eyes could see her even more nakedly than if she had been unclothed in the sight of men, for their gaze went through clothes and skin, making her, by reflected thought, strangely aware of her interior anatomy, and its
currents of pulsing blood; but they were most interested in the bronze hue of her hair, and the intention that she should mate with a man who would cause her to produce something new in hair colour, such as their gardens did not contain. . . Would the selection of a red-headed mate, or one of black or yellow, have the more exciting possibilities?
They were of strange aspects to her, but the real wonder was less in that than in their fundamental likeness to creatures of Earth, showing that kindred needs must result in similarities of organic construction. For their limbs were like those of most Earthly mammals, if not of men, being five, of which four were legs, and the fifth was a long flexible tail, ending with three prehensile tentacles, which were an effectual hand.
She had a further resentment in realising that they were indifferent to, and oblivious of her thoughts, though she was so conscious of the stronger emanation of theirs. That was reasonable enough, though her own perverse imagination would have supposed, and feared, that superior minds would be closed to hers, which they would be competent to explore.
The contrary fact should have been consolation, but she was more conscious of the implied contempt for her inferiority which this aloofness displayed.
As to the fact of this inferiority, she knew that they had no more doubt than would have been hers had she been regarding a squirrel which she had captured and caged.
Having given her that brief comprehensive inspection, they turned away, their thoughts upon the fact that Shamna would always bring back a good catch, and approval of her action in rescuing those she had trapped, even in preference to the crew, who, as Evelyn became wordlessly aware, had been of an inferior degree of their own kind, and might have been considered the more suitable for survival by claim of race. But she saw that she was in the hands of those who were morally and intellectually superior to illogical sentiment. Shamna was preferable in character or ability to some of their own kind, and it was axiomatic to them that the preferable must be preferred. She had gone to fetch new specimens for their Zoo, and it was plain sense to bring them back, even at the cost of a few inferior members of the race to whose service she had been born.
As they withdrew, Evelyn became conscious that she was not alone. There was a sound of steps behind her, and she looked round to see a broad grin on the freckled, blunt-featured face of a girl much shorter than herself, who greeted her with. "So Shamna's been at it again! And a good pick as usual. . . You'll find it isn't so bad, even for those who don't click, but we mostly do. That is, if you toe the line If you don't, she'll just give her bosses a good meal. . . But you'll leave Brown-face to me. He'll come round, if he finds there's nothing else doing, and be grateful for what he gets."
"I think," Evelyn said, "you may suppose that I know more than I do."
"Then it's no more than you soon will. We're caged up by ourselves, and the men are in the next pen. Have you seen hens walking up and down, trying to get out of a wire run? Well, you can do that, but you won't get to the men in a hundred years. Not unless you pick one who's feeling the same, and you stand opposite one another like two stuffed dummies till you both find you're being led away. And after that you're put in a small pen where they can see everything that you do.
"It's said that after a time they make up their minds that, as the creatures aren't human, it doesn't matter, and go on as though nobody's there. But I don't know how anyone can have found that out, as their cages are about half a mile away."
Evelyn considered this, which she did not like, though she did not see that it need have any immediate application to her. She saw that it was no worse than that which men considered good enough for other creatures in their own Zoos, and it crossed her mind that it might be the explanation of why some animals are so reluctant to breed in captivity.
She began: "But we're not obliged - " and was interrupted by: "We're not obliged to do anything. They don't try to make us. They like to watch what we do of ourselves."
While they spoke, Evelyn had been observing a slatternly form, with neglected hair, and a green one-piece frock which was stained and torn. She said: "What about clothes? Is there any way you can get them?"
"Not that I know of. They don't care. They can see through us, and it's a warm place. We wear what we have till there's nothing left, which doesn't happen in a short time. And if someone falls ill, or does anything wrong, and they fetch her out to be killed, they always throw the clothes back, and there's a fine scramble, which would be a life-and-death fight if they weren't looking on, and ready to hook anyone out who got badly hurt, and finish her off in their own way."
They had moved on as they talked, and now came to that which had been concealed before by a slope of ground.
Evelyn saw that which was strange and repugnant to her, though to her companion it was familiar routine.
She saw over a dozen women scattered about, most of whom lay or sat on the ground, at a place where they were protected from the sun (now high in the sky, and of twice the size which is familiar to human eyes) by a metal screen which rose straightly for a few feet, and then curved over their heads.
There she saw also a metal stand, loaded with slabs of pink bread-like food; and a tank of that which must in future be water to her, unless, or she would have said until, she could find means of escape, as she was desperately determined to do.
Two other women were at what must have been another of the invisible barriers, at right angles to those beside which she had come (of which that on the right had ceased where the ground level changed.) One of them stood still, beckoning to a man on the further side who seemed hesitant to respond, while the other paced up and down, as though inviting attentions she did not get.
The men in sight were less numerous than the women. She counted six. But there was a sun-screen upon their side also, behind which some might be hidden. They were a nondescript lot, and her thought may have been right that those of a better sort from both pens had been mated and moved, leaving only those who had been scorned by them, but who might yet be reluctant to admit their unfitness for anything better than those who were still left for mutual choice.
Her appearance caused an immediate excited stir in both pens. The men ran to observe the quality of the new arrival, coming as close as their barrier would allow.
The women, being able to come more closely, and with very different feelings, mobbed her in a jostling garrulous crowd, from which she might not have been quickly relieved, had not a counter excitement arisen, of even more interest to the women, in the advent of a new occupant of the other pen.
Led by a different route, John Belden had arrived at almost the same moment as she, and the sight gave her a heart-beat of life which was near to joy, even amidst the extremity of horror and degradation which had been stunning her mind, though it had not broken her fighting will.
The women left her at once, to gaze on one who was of so much greater promise to them, and she, loth to be one of that eager unseemly crowd, stood backward, conscious of exhaustion and thirst and heat. Such contact as she might be able to make with the one friend she had must be left to a better time. Now she sought shade from the blazing sun; and to taste strange food; and drink, from a common tank, such liquid as would have sickened her a few hours - a few hours! - before.
Evelyn Faces Facts.
Being substantially refreshed, though in an ill-tasting way, Evelyn lay in the shade, finding some physical comfort in that, and reviewed the events of the last twenty-four incredible hours in a mind which could not avoid recognition of the extremity of her position, but would yet meet it in a fighting, exploring mood.
She saw the irony of the event which had caught her up. Men had talked much in recent years of the invasion of other planets They regarded the moon as already accessible, and to be reached as soon as the rocket should be completed which was building in Arizona.
They had regarded the matter as one of transit only. If they could reach Venus or Mars, or perhaps Mercury's cooler side, they had not doubted that they could establish themselves. Or, if they had discussed difficulties, they had been those of physical forces or deficiencies, which scientific ingenuity should be sufficient to overcome.
It had been only in the most childish forms of science-fiction that the possibility of intelligent living creatures on Mars had been imagined, and they had usually been in the form of men, whether of metal or flesh, in which no adult intellect could seriously believe. Such crude imaginations had actually made it more difficult to assess the possibilities of the problem in a sober rational way.
But no one had seriously thought that the inhabitants of other planets might be invading the Earth as a planet containing inferior forms of life for their pleasure or food. . . . And now she had learned the truth in a dreadful, personal way.
Courage could not alter fact. She did not know how distant Venus might be from Earth, but she knew that the figure must be one of many millions of miles. . . Say fifty millions. (It was inaccurate, but good enough, for a guess.) It could be traversed within a reasonable time only by such rockets as the Venutians clearly possessed. Was it possible that she could gain possession of one? It was a wild hope. That she could navigate it to Earth? She knew that it would be utterly beyond her capacity.
Could she hide away on one, and escape when it should arrive at Earth, reversing what had been done to her? It was an idea almost as wild as those she had already dismissed, and, if it should ultimately prove to be any way possible, it could only be after she had established some assured position, or become a disregarded specimen of little interest to those by whom she would be continually in view.
But such thoughts must be put aside for the time for more immediate concerns.
The dominant question which vexed her mind was that of making contact with John, exchanging ideas with him, and perhaps uniting in some common plan. The mere thought of joint action was encouragement, showing where her confidence lay. But she was less sure that she would wish to go beyond that. The idea of intimate association - of the most intimate association of all - would not, under more normal conditions, have entered her mind. But what were normal conditions now?
She saw clearly that they were now among the lowest residue of those who had been captured from Earth. And of those men she had seen - even the one she had recognised as Brownface, who might be the least obnoxious - there was not one with whom she would have expected even congenial conversation to be a possibility. She looked at the women round her, and saw them to be of the same type. Mentally, she christened them "Shamna's mistakes", and found satisfaction in the thought that that self-confident young woman could blunder like one of Earth.
She looked toward the man who had become her only possible friend, and, though they were some distance away, their eyes met. She rose, and with a common impulse they approached each other to the dividing barrier. The invisible screen was little obstruction to sound, and he heard her readily when she told him what she had learnt.
She said: "I have found out something that may be of great advantage to us. We can read their thoughts, but they take no notice of ours. We are too low for anything beyond use and contempt."
"That," he said, "might be no advantage to us, should we learn that they will our deaths."
"Oh, it might," she replied more buoyantly, "even then."
"Or you may be fundamentally wrong. They may have means of reading them even now."
"What a Job's comforter you can be! . . . Don't you see that Shamna may do the same, and that it may account for the position the Babylonians gained?"
"So it may. But it doesn't seem to have lessened her respect for them - or allegiance might be a more adequate word. Even we of her own kind are mere cattle for them to herd."
"You don't know what may be at the back of her mind."
"I haven't seen any sign that it's love for you."
"No. But it might be for you."
"Try not to be utterly loony."
"I don't think I am. When you're in a cage, you test every bar. . ."
"Then we must hope you'll find one weaker than that."
"There are two lizard-skins looking at us from the other side. Why not go across and find out what their thoughts are?"
"You won't move?"
"I'll stay till you come back."
He went at once, and was soon back, having learnt things which might not be pleasant for her to hear, and observed the importance of not telling them in an order which might lead to her abrupt withdrawal.
He said: "They're considering what remains in the two pens, and what's best to be done. As to our being Shamna's mistakes, they agree with you."
"Well, generally what remains. You might give your slatternly friend a hint to click, as she calls it, with Brownface at express speed, and I'll do the same to him. We can be back here in half a minute, and compare notes on how we got on."
"What's the hurry for that?"
"Only that the drovers are coming into the pens."
"So they do continually to take away those who mate."
"But it's to be a bigger invasion now. . . The beasts seem to think that those who remain will be just what their larders need."
"You mean including us?"
"I think that's for you to say."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Don't be absurd. I'll tell Brownface now, and if you're not here when I get back I shall know that you prefer the pot."
"You mean that - "
"You've seen what's been happening up to now."
"But we should be put into the same pen. You wouldn't like that. Nor should I."
"I should survive. . . That's just the point. We should survive. Of course, if you think you'd appreciate the drovers' ways better than mine - "
"Don't be absurd yourself. But you'd have to promise to leave me alone."
"I don't think you've got quite the right word. But you should have matters you're own way."
"I suppose," she said reasonably, "there's nothing else to be done. I'll tell that young woman now."
It was not exactly an enthusiastic response, but he observed that her tone scarcely suggested despair. She had at least preferred the unseemly intimacy of the showpen to the destruction to which the drovers would take the unmated residue of their companions. He thought of the small curved mouths of their captors - the blue-green lips, and the needle teeth - and was glad that she would not be immediately destined for them.
He said: "There's no time to lose. I'll tell Brownface now."
Evelyn Enters The Pen.
As John hurried back to the proximity on which he thought, with good reason, that the lives of both of them might depend, he saw Shamna approach, having come, as he must, suppose, through the invisible wall, by an opening he had not found.
Her eyes were still coldly aloof, but, her words were good. She said: "You are to live, if you will. If you desire that, you will be exact to obey. You will be taken together to the best pen in the Earth-Dwellers' House, for which you have me to thank, for it has a privacy which you will greatly prefer. But, if you are wise, you will reflect, that the best cages are for those exhibits which are esteemed, and you will do your antics in the front pen, and so that your masters will be amused. . . If you act thus, you may meet with thoughts which will be pleasure to learn. . . . And I will tell you this they will enjoy seeing you eat, which you should do at once when you are fed. And you should take whatever may be passed to you through the bars by a friendly tail."
Evelyn said: "It is kind of you to take so much trouble for us."
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timber-built, as they were glad to see, having had a fear of transparent walls.
They came to a row of these, all of which were no more than a single den with a barred front, so that the privacy of three wooden walls was not much, excepting that there was one at the end of a better kind.
To reach it, they must pass along the front of the other dens, and could observe their contents, who were of all races and colours of men, one or two single, but, most in pairs, if not more. Some were naked, and some wholly or partly clothed. They showed no interest in those who passed before them. They seemed to have realised that, for such life as might still be theirs, their part was not to see but to be seen.
There was a negress in one den, with a new-born baby against her breast. The sides of the den had been so cunningly painted that, it seemed that she sat at the door of her own hut in a Zulu kraal, but, they were in no mood to admire the skill that their captors showed... The door was opening now, and they were driven into their cage.
End of page 64.