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   Chapter 6 No.6

Tarrano the Conqueror By Ray Cummings Characters: 13854

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Man of Destiny

Tarrano! He rose slowly to his feet, his gaze on us for an instant, then turning to Argo.

"So! You took them? Well done, Argo!"

His gesture dismissed his subordinate; Argo backed from the room. From a disc, an announcer was detailing dispatches. Tarrano frowned slightly. He advanced to us as we three stood together. I had heard Elza give a low, surprised cry as we entered. She stood with a hand upon my arm. I could feel her trembling, but her face now was impassive.

Georg whispered to me: "This Tarrano--"

But our captor's voice checked him. "Come this way, please." He signalled, and three men came forward. To them he issued short commands; they took their places at the instrument tables. Then he led us from the room through an arch, over a small trestle, into a tiny inner courtyard. A tropical garden, surrounded by blank circular walls of the building. A patch of blue sky showed above it. A garden secluded from prying eyes, with only a single spider bridge crossing overhead. Vivid flowers and foliage made it a bower. Brown bark paths laced it; a tiny fountain splashed in the center.

Tarrano sat on the rim of the fountain; he gestured to a white stone bench where we three sat in a row, Elza between us. It made me feel like a child.

"Your father is dead." He was addressing Elza; and then Georg. "That is unfortunate. He was a good man. I'm sorry."

His voice was soft and musical. He sat there on the fountain rim, an elbow on his crossed knees, chin resting in his hand, his eyes studying us. A small, slight figure of a man, no more than thirty-five. Simply dressed; white trousers of the tropics, with a strip of narrow black down the leg-fronts; a girdle of gold; ruffled white shirt, with sleeves that flared a trifle, and a neck-piece of black. From his belt dangled a few instruments and several personal weapons-beautifully wrought, small-almost miniatures-yet deadly-looking for all that.

He was bareheaded; black hair closely clipped. A face smooth-shaven. Thin, with a nose hawk-like, and black eyes and heavy brows. His mouth was thin-lipped, though smiling now, disclosing even, white teeth. Yet a cruel mouth, with the firm jaw of determination and power under it. The familiar gray Venus skin, but with that bronze cast of the people of the Central State.

At first glance, not an unusual or particularly commanding figure. Yet the man's power of personality, the sheer dominant force of him, radiated like a tower code-beam. No one could be in his presence an instant without feeling it. A power that enwrapped you; made you feel like a child. Helpless. Anxious to placate a possible wrath that would be devastating; anxious-absurdly-for a smile. It was a radiation of genius, humbling every mediocre mortal it touched.

I felt it-felt all this from the moment I came into his presence. Felt like a child, sitting there on that bench. Vaguely frightened; sullen, with childish resentment at my superior. And over it all, my man's mentality made me angry at myself for such emotions; angry at the consciousness of my own inferiority, forced upon me now more strongly than ever anything or any one had made me feel it before.

Tarrano was smiling gently. "... killed your father. I would not have had it so. Yet-perhaps it was necessary. The Lady Elza--"

I could feel Elza trembling again. Georg burst out: "What do you want of us? Who are you?"

Tarrano's slim gray-brown hand came up.

"The Lady Elza remembers me--" He seemed waiting with his gentle smile for her to speak.

"They called you Taro then," she said. Her voice was the small, scared, diffident voice of a child.

"Yes. Taro. A mere sub-officer of the Central State. But destined for bigger things than that, as you see. They did not like what they called my ambitious ways-and so they sent me to the Cold Country. That was soon after I had met you and your father, Lady Elza. You hardly remarked me then-I was so insignificant a personage. But you-I remembered you--"

Still there was in his voice and on his face nothing but kindness and a queer whimsical look of reminiscence. He broke off at the buzz of a disc that hung from his belt by a golden chain. He jerked it loose from its snap, and to his ear clasped a small receiver. Like a mask his gentleness dropped from him. His voice rasped:

"Yes?..." The receiver murmured into his ear. He said: "Connect him-I'll listen to what he has to say."

A moment; then on the tiny mirror fastened to his wrist with a strap, I saw a face appear-a face known throughout our Earth-the face of the War-Director of Great London. Tarrano listened impassively. When the voice ceased, he said without an instant's hesitation: "No!"

A decision irrevocable; the power almost of a deity seemed behind its finality. "No! I-will-not-do-it!" Careful, slow enunciation as though to make sure an inferior mentality could not mistake his words. And with a click, Tarrano broke connection. The mirror went dark; he hung his little disc and ear-piece back on his belt. Again he was smiling at us gently, the incident forgotten already-dismissed from his mind until the need to consider it should again arise.

"I remember you, Lady Elza, very well." A vague wistfulness came into his voice. "I wish to speak with you alone-now-for a moment." He touched two of the metal buttons of his shirt-front together. A man appeared in the narrow tunnel-entrance to the garden. A small man, no more than four and a half feet tall; a trim, but powerfully made little figure, in the black and white linen uniform worn also by Tarrano. Yet more pretentiously dressed than his superior. A broad belt of dangling weapons; under it, a sash of red, encircling his waist and flowing down one side. Over his white ruffled shirt, a short sleeveless vest of black silk. A circular hat, with a vivid plume. A smooth-shaven face; black hair long to the base of the neck; a deep, red-brown complexion. A native of the Little People of Mars, here in the service of Tarrano. He stood stiff and respectful in the tunnel entrance.

Tarrano said crisply: "Wolfgar, take these two men to the fourth tower. Make them comfortable."

I met Georg's eyes. Leave Elza here alone with this man? Georg burst out: "My sister goes with me!"

"So?" Tarrano's heavy brows went up inquiringly. A quizzical smile plucked at his lips. "You need have no fear. The Lady Elza--" He swung to her. "Not-afraid, are you?"

"I-no," she stammered.

"She'll come with us," I declared; but the stoutness of my words could not hide my fear. Tarrano was still smiling; but as I took a protecting step toward Elza, his smile died.

"You-will go-with Wolfgar-both of you." That same slow finality. His face was impassive; but under his frowning bushy brows, his eyes transfixed me. It was as though with his paralyzing ray he had rooted me to the spot. And Georg beside me. Yet h

e had not moved from his careless attitude of ease on the fountain-rim; the little conical golden weapon dangled untouched at his belt.

Elza was frightened. "Jac! You must do what he says. I'm-not afraid."

Again Tarrano was smiling. "No-of course not." His gaze went to Georg. "You are her brother-your fear is very natural. So I give you my word-the honorable word of Tarrano-that she shall come to no harm."

Elza murmured: "Go, Georg." Afraid for us, and doubtless she had good reason to be. It struck me then as queer that Tarrano should waste these words with us; but I realized, as did Elza and Georg, that we were treading very dangerous ground. Georg said, with a sudden dignity at which I marveled:

"Your word is quite enough." He gestured to me. With a last glance at Elza, standing there frightened, but for our sakes striving not to show it, we let this Wolfgar lead us away.

Elza later told us what occurred. With her father, she had been twice to the Venus Central State-the visit of two years ago Dr. Brende had mentioned to me, and a former one. It was upon this first trip Elza had met Tarrano. He was an under-officer then, in the Army of the Central State-his name then was Taro. She-herself no more than a slip of a girl at that time-remembered him as a queerly silent young man-insignificant in physique and manner. He had escorted her once to a Venus festival; in a strange, brooding, humble, yet dignified fashion, he had spoken of love. She had laughed, and soon forgot the incident. But Tarrano had not forgotten. The daughter of the great Dr. Brende had fired his youthful imagination. Who knows what dreams even then-born of the genius as yet merely latent-were within him? He had never crossed Elza's mind from that time, until today she saw and recognized him.

When they were alone, still without moving from his seat, he signed her to come to him, to sit on the carpet of grass at his feet. She was frightened, but she would not show it. He made no move to touch her; he gazed down to meet her upturned, fascinated stare, still with his gentle, whimsical smile.

"Queer that I should meet you again, Lady Elza. Yet, I must admit, it comes not by chance, for I contrived it. My prisoner! Dr. Brende's daughter, held captive by little Taro!"

It seemed to amuse him, this whimsical reminiscence of those days when he was struggling unknown. "I want to confess something to you, Lady Elza. You were so far above me then-daughter of the famous Dr. Brende. Yet, as you remember, I aspired to you. And now-I have not changed. I never change. I still-aspire to you."

He said it very softly, slowly. She flushed; but for that moment fear of him dropped from her.

"Oh," she said. "I-I thank you for such a compliment--"

"A compliment? Yes, I suppose it is that now. You wondered, didn't you, why I was so lenient with your brother and that Jac Hallen when they would have refused me obedience? That is not my way-to be lenient." He said it with a sudden snap of crispness, but his eyes were twinkling. "It was because of you, Lady Elza."

"Me?" she murmured.

"You-of course. Because I-want you to like me." His fingers involuntarily touched a stray lock of her hair as she sat there at his feet, but when she moved her head away he withdrew his hand. His slow voice went on:

"Back in those other days, Lady Elza, the little Taro had strange dreams. A power within him-he could feel it-here--" His gaze was far away; his fist struck his breast. "He could feel it-the urge to fulfill his destiny-feel it within him, and no one else knew it was there.

"Then-you came. A shy, rather pretty little girl, he realizes now, is all you were. But then-you seemed a goddess. A new dream arose-a dream of you ... I frighten you, child?" His tone was contrite. "I do not mean to do that. I am too hasty. Queer, isn't it, that I can make men, nations, worlds, obey me-but I have to bide my time with a fragile little woman?"

His mood changed; he stirred. "I could bend you to my will-break you-like that!" His lean fingers snapped. Then his hand dropped, and again he relaxed. "But of what use?... Your respect? I have it now. Respect and fear come to me from everyone. It is something more than that I want from you."

She would have spoken, but his gesture stopped her. "Queer that I should want it? Yes, I think perhaps it is. The little Taro was very queer, perhaps very impressionable. He knew he had nations and worlds to conquer-a destiny to fulfill. Not alone because of you, little Elza. I would not make you think that. But for you to share. The great Tarrano, master of the universe, and his Lady Elza! Worlds for you to toy with, like gems on a thread adorning your white throat--"

He must have swayed her, the sheer power of him. Impulsively she touched his knee. "I am not worth--"

His face clouded with a frown. "I would not try to buy your love--"

"Oh," she said. "No, I did not mean--"

"I would not try to buy you. I want to share with you-these worlds-as your due. To make myself master of everything, so that you will look to me and say, 'He is the greatest of all men-I love him'.... Soon I will be the greatest of all men throughout the ages. And very gentle always, with you, Lady Elza--"

A buzz came from the disc at his belt. He answered the call-listened to a voice.

"So? Bring him here." He disconnected. "...very gentle with you, my Elza--"

His voice drifted away. He seemed waiting; and Elza, her head whirling with the confusion of it all, sat silent. A moment; then Argo appeared, driving a half-nude man before him. A native official of Venia, stripped of his uniform. Argo flung him down in the garden path, where he cowered, his face ashen, his eyes wild, lips mumbling with terror.

Tarrano barely moved. "So? You tell me he was asleep at the mirrors, Argo?"

"Master, I could not help it! Since first you made your move in Greater New York at Park Sixty, I have sat there. Two nights and a day--"

"And you fell asleep without asking for a relief?"

"Master, I--"

"Did you?"

"Yes. I did not realize I was sleeping--"

A gesture to Argo, and the man was flung closer to Tarrano's feet. Elza shrank away.

"Left a mirror unattended. So?... The wire, Argo." He took the length of wire, gleaming white-hot, as the leering, gloating Argo turned the current into it-Tarrano took it, lashed it upon the poor wretch's naked back and legs. Welts arose, and the stench of burning flesh. A measured score of the passionless strokes made him writhe and scream in agony.

It turned Elza sick and faint. Shuddering, she crouched there, hiding her face until the punishment was over and the half-unconscious culprit was carried away.

"Very gentle with you, my Elza...."

She looked up to find Tarrano smiling at her; looked up and stared, and wondered what might be her fate with such a man as this.

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