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   Chapter 5 No.5

Tarrano the Conqueror By Ray Cummings Characters: 16666

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Outlawed Flight

Dr. Brende was dead. We knew it in the moment that followed our sudden assault and capture. Elza knelt there sobbing. Then she stood up, her tears checked; and on her face a look of pathetic determination to repress her grief. Now that we had yielded, the Venus men, searching us for our weapons, cast us loose. We bent over Dr. Brende, Georg and I. Dead. No power in this universe could bring him back to us.

Georg pressed his lips tightly together. His face, red from the exertion of his fight, went pale. But he showed no other emotion. And, as he leaned toward me, he whispered:

"Got us, Jac! Say nothing. Don't put up any show of fight."

Elza now was standing against the wall, a hand before her eyes. I went to her.

"Elza, dear--"

Her hand pressed mine.

Our captors stood curiously watching us. There seemed to be at least ten of them-men as tall as myself, though not so tall as Georg. Swarthy, gray-skinned fellows-one or two of them squat, ape-like with their heavy shoulders and dangling arms. Men of the Venus Cold Country. They were talking together in their queer, soft language. One of them I took to be the leader. Argo was his name, I afterward learned. He was somewhat taller than the rest, and slim. A man perhaps thirty. Paler of skin than most of his companions-gray skin with a bronze cast. Dressed like the others in fur. But his heavy jacket was open, disclosing a ruffled white shirt, with a low black stock about his throat.

A shifty-eyed fellow, this Argo. Smooth-shaven, with a mouth slack-lipped, and small black eyes. But his features were finely chiseled; and with that bronze cast to his skin, I guessed that he was from the Venus Central State. He seemed much perturbed that Dr. Brende was dead. Occasionally he burst into English as he rebuked one of the others for the killing.

No more than a moment had passed. Georg joined Elza and me. We stood waiting. Georg whispered: "They killed Robins and his helpers. In there--" He gestured. "I saw them lying in there. If only I had-"

Argo was standing before us. "This is a very pleasant surprise-" He spoke the careful English of the educated foreigner. His tone was ironical. "Very pleasant-"

Abruptly he turned away again. But in that instant, his eyes had roved Elza in a way that turned me cold.

They led us away, down a padded hallway into the instrument room. It was in full operation; our Inter-Allied news-tape was clicking; the low voice of the announcer droned through the silence. I started toward the tape, but Argo waved me away. He had volunteered us nothing, and again Georg advised silence.

Argo had given his orders. Through a window I saw men carrying apparatus from the house. A small metal frame of sun-mirrors, prisms and vacuum tubes. Georg whispered: "Father's model."

The man with it passed beyond my sight. Others came along, carrying the cylinders of books-Dr. Brende's notes-and a variety of other paraphernalia. Carrying it back from the shore toward the headlands of the Cape, where I realized now they had an aero secreted.

Argo was at a mirror; he had a head-piece on; he was talking into a disc-talking in a private code. I could see the surface of the small mirror. A room, with windows. Through one of the windows, by daylight, palms and huge banana leaves were visible. A room seemingly in the tropics of our own hemisphere.

Argo was triumphant-explaining, doubtless, that he had captured us. Mingled with his voice, the Inter-Allied announcer was saying:

"Greater-New York 10.32 Martian Helio, via Tokyohama: Little People Proclamation--"

A man standing near the tape switched off the droning voice. At the receiving table, every few seconds came the buzz of the laboratory's call. Wrangel Island again calling Robins; but no one paid any heed. Argo finished at the mirror. He glanced over the tape, smiling sardonically. Then, methodically, deliberately, he swept the instruments to the floor, jerked out the connections, turned out the current-wrecked it all with a few strokes. A moment later we were taken away.

Outside, from back by the low reaches of the Cape, we saw an aero rising. They had loaded it with Dr. Brende's effects, and in it half of the men were departing. It rose vertically until we could see it only as a speck in the blue of the morning sky-a speck vanishing to the north over the Pole.

With four or five of the men-all those remaining-Argo took us three to the Brende car. We did not pass Dr. Brende's body, lying there in the outer room. Elza and Georg gazed that way involuntarily; but they said nothing. The greatest grief is that which is hidden, and never once afterward did either of them show it by more than an affectionate word for that father whom they had loved so dearly.

Soon we were back in the Brende car in which we had landed no more than an hour before. It was a standard Byctin model-evidently Argo and his men knew how to operate it perfectly. We were herded into the pit, and in a moment more were in the air.

Argo seemed now rather anxious to make friends with us. He was in a high good humor. His eyes flashed at me sharply when I questioned him once or twice; but he offered us no indignities. To Elza he spoke commandingly, but with that deference to which every woman of birth and breeding is entitled from a man.

We rose straight up and, at 18,000 feet, headed northward by a point or two west. We would pass the Pole on our right-too far to sight it with the naked eye, I realized; but I knew, too, that the Director there would see the distant image of us on his finder, even though we refused connection should he call us. And we had no right to be up here in the 18,000-foot lane. They'd order us down-shut off our power, if necessary.

We could not escape observation on this daylight flight. Heading this way, it would take us past the Pole and on southward, down the Western Hemisphere over the Americas. We could not refuse connection for long. We would be challenged, then brought down. Or, if Argo answered a call, some Director would examine our pit with his finder-would see Elza, Georg and me as prisoners. We could gesture surreptitiously to him....

My thoughts ran on. Argo's soft, ironic voice brought me out of them.

"We will answer the first call that comes," he said smilingly. "You understand? We are the Inter-Allied News on Official Dispatch." He was addressing me, his glance going to the insignia on my cap. "You are of the Inter-Allied?"

"Yes," I said.

"What's your name?"

I did not like his tone. "None of your-"

"Quiet, Jac," Georg warned.

"Jac Hallen," I amended.

"Yes. Division 8, Manhattan," he read from my cap. "Well, when the first Director calls-from the Pole perhaps-you will tell him we are Inter-Allied Officials. He will see us here-I do not believe, the way we are sitting, that he will think anything is wrong. He will see us of Venus. There are Venus men employed by the Inter-Allied. Is it not so?"

I had to admit that it was. He nodded. "You will fool the Directors, Jac Hallen. You understand? You will get the reports on weather today down the 67th Meridian West. And ask if we can have power to the Equator and below." His eyes flashed. "And if you attempt any trickery-you will die. You understand?"

I did, indeed. And I knew that his plans were well laid-that I would be helpless to give us over without paying for it with my life-with the lives of Elza and Georg as well.

From up here in the 18th lane, the Polar ocean lay a glittering white and purple expanse beneath us. Then, again, a fog rolled out down there like a blanket. We passed the Pole, a hundred miles or more to one side, and headed Southward. No challenge. Under us, occasional local cars swept by; but up here we were clear of traffic.

Elza prepared our lunch, in the little electric galley forward of the observation pit. The Great London-East Indies Mail Flyer crossed us, coming along this same level. It was headed toward the Pole from the British Isles. Its pilot challenged us before it had come up over the horizon. A crusty fellow. His face in the mirror glared at me as I accepted connection. He ordered me down, Inter-Allied or no.

Argo was at my elbow. His pencil-ray dug into my ribs. Had I made a false move i

t would have drilled me clean with its tiny burning light. I told the pilot we would descend. It placated him; but he saw Argo's face, mumbled something about damned foreigners-general orders probably coming tomorrow to clean out Venia-damned well rid of the traitors. Then he disconnected. Venia, Georg and I were sure, was where Argo was now taking us. But the rest of his comments I did not clearly understand until later.

We descended, and the flyer came up over the horizon and passed us overhead. We were pointing southward now, had picked up the 67th West Meridian and were following it down. The Hays station[8] challenged us; but they were satisfied with my explanation. Argo had us up in speed around four hundred miles per hour. We went down Davis Strait, over Newfoundland, avoiding the congested cross-traffic of mid-afternoon in the lowest lanes, and out over the main Atlantic. Night closed down upon us. It was safer for Argo now. We flew without lights. Outlawed. Had they caught us at it, we would have been brought down, captured by the patrol and imprisoned. Yet Argo doubtless considered the chance of that less dangerous than a reliance upon my ability to trick the succeeding directors.

With darkness we ascended again to the upper mail lanes. Over the main Eastern Atlantic now, and out here this night, there was little local traffic. The mail and passenger liners went by at intervals-the spreading beams of their lurid headlights giving us warning enough so that we could dive down and avoid being caught in their light. I prayed that one of their lights might pick us up, but none did.

North of Bermuda, a division of the North Atlantic patrol circled over us. The ocean was calm. Argo dropped us to the surface. We floated there like a derelict-dark, silent, save for the lapping of the water against our aluminite pontoons. The patrol's searching beams swept within a hundred feet of us-missed us by a miracle. And as the patrol passed on, we rose again to our course.

Argo gave us one of the small cabins to ourselves that night. He was still deferential to Elza, but in his manner and in the glitter of those little black eyes, there was irony, and an open, though unexpressed, admiration for her beauty.

We slept little. Georg and I-one or the other of us-was awake all night. We talked occasionally-not much, for speculation was of no avail. We wondered what could be transpiring abroad through all these hours. Hours of unprecedented turmoil on Earth, and on our neighboring worlds. We wondered how the Central State of Venus might be faring with the revolution. Would they ask aid of the Earth? This Tarrano-merely a name to us as yet, but a name already full of dread. Where was he? Had he been responsible for all this? Dr. Brende's secret was in his hands now, we were sure. What would he do next?

About three o'clock in the morning-a fair, calm night-our power died abruptly. We were in the Caribbean Sea not far above the Northern coast of South America, at 15° North latitude, 67° West longitude. Our power died. Elza was fast asleep, but the sudden quiet brought Georg and me to alertness. We joined Argo in the pit. He was perturbed, and cursing. We dropped, gliding down, for there was no need of picking a landing with the emergency heliocopter batteries-glided down to the calm surface. For a moment we lay there, rocking-a dark blob on the water. I heard a sudden sharp swish. An under-surface freight vessel, plowing from Venezuelan ports to the West Indian Islands, came suddenly to the surface. Its headlight flashed on, but missed us. It sped past. I could see the sleek black outline of its wet back, and the lines of foam as it sheered the water. We lay rocking in its wake as it disappeared northward.

Then, without warning, our power came on again. An inadvertent break perhaps; or maybe some local or general orders. We did not know. Argo was picking from the air occasional news, but he said nothing of it to us; and he was sending out nothing, of course.

Dawn found us over the mountains. The Director at Caracas challenged us. Argo kept me by his side constantly now. Dutifully we answered every call. The local morning traffic was beginning to pick up; but we mingled with it, at 8,000 feet and more, to clear the mountains comfortably.

Elza again cooked and, with Argo joining us, we had breakfast. Argo's good nature continued, as we successfully approached the end of our flight. But still he volunteered nothing to us. We asked him no questions. Elza was grave-faced, solemn. But she did not bother Georg and me with woman's fears. Bravely she kept her own counsel, anxious only to be of help to us.

We passed over the Venezuelan Province, over the mountains and into Amazonia, headwaters of the great river-still on the 67th Meridian West. The jungles here were sparsely settled; there were, I knew, no more than a dozen standard cities of a million population, or over, in the whole region of Western Brazilana. As we advanced, I noticed an unusual number of the armed government flyers above us. Many were hovering, almost motionless, as though waiting for orders. But none of them molested us.

Near the 10th parallel South latitude, we passed under a fleet of the white official vessels, with a division of the Brazilana patrol joined with them. A hundred vessels hovering up there in an east and west line-a line a hundred miles long it must have been.

Hovering there, for what? We did not know; but Argo, leering up at them insolently, may have guessed. They challenged us, but let us through.

"You are the last one in," this sub-director of the patrol told us. I could see him in our mirror as his gaze examined our pit-a dapper, jaunty fellow with the up-tilted mustache affected in Latina. "Last one in-you Inter-Allied are a nuisance."

He was more particular than those directors we had passed before. My badge and my verbal explanation were not enough. He made me show him the Inter-Allied seal which I always carried, and I gave him the pass-code of the current week.

"Last one in," he reiterated. "And you wouldn't get in now without those refugees with you. Venia's closed after noon of today. Didn't you know it?"

"No," I said.

"Well, it is. They shut off the power early this morning for all low vibrations-yours and under. Brought 'em all down for a general traffic inspection. Then changed their minds and threw it on again. But if you're coming out north again, you've got to get out by noon. And you go in at your own peril."

He assumed that Argo and his men were Venus refugees going with me into Venia! I only vaguely understood what might be afoot, but I did not dare question him. Argo's side glance at me was menacing. I agreed with this director obediently and broke connection.

We seemed now to have passed within the patrol line. There were no more official vessels to be seen. We clung low, and at 12° South, 60° 2O' West, at 10:16 that morning we descended in Venia, capital of the Central Latina Province, largest immigrant colony of the Western Hemisphere.[9]

We landed on a stage of one of the upper crescent terraces. A crowd of Venus people surrounded us. Even in the turmoil of our debarkation, I wondered where the official landing director might be. None of the governing officials were in sight. The place was in confusion. Crowds were on the spider bridges; the terraces and the sloping steps were jammed. Milling, excited people. The foreign police, pompous Venus men in gaudy uniforms, were herding the people about.

But none of our Earth officials! Where were they, who should have been in charge of all this confusion?

My heart sank. Something drastic, sinister, had occurred. We had no time to guess what it might be. Argo drove us forward, with scant courtesy now, down in a vertical car, through a tunnel on foot to what they called here in Venia the Lower Plaza. We crossed it, and entered one of their queerly flat buildings at the ground level; entered through an archway, passed through several rooms and came at last into a room whirring with instruments.

Argo said triumphantly, yet humbly: "Tarrano, Master-we are here."

A man at a table of helio-sending instruments turned and faced us. We were in the presence of the dread Tarrano!

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