"Jupiter! What's that?" Mado unslung his torpedo-projector.
As if in answer to his startled question, a weird object drifted over the treetops and poised directly above them, about fifty feet up. An egg-shaped thing, six or seven feet in length, and seemingly made of white metal. It swayed there gently, without visible means of support, and they could make out a transparent disk on its side, back of which there was a human head with eyes that regarded them curiously.
Mado raised his torpedo tube and took aim.
"Hold it!" Carr warned him. "This fellow's no savage. Probably he's one of those who tried to break our fall. Friendly, perhaps."
Two more of the ovoids drifted in from the woods and joined the first one, all three settling a few feet lower and their occupants staring intently at the intruders.
"I'll get the psycho-ray apparatus," Detis said excitedly. "We may be able to get thought contact with them." He dived through the Nomad's entrance-manhole as he spoke.
"Nothing so frightening about these creatures," Ora murmured, her eyes reproaching Carr. "Why, they seem anxious to know that we are not enemies."
And, indeed, this seemed to be the case, for the strange ovoids wafted still lower, dropping until a faint humming of the internal gravity mechanism came to their ears. These were a highly developed people of scientific attainment; civilized beings. But Mado kept firm hold of his torpedo tube, and Carr fingered the ray pistol at his belt.
The booming note from the hills came then, frightfully near this time, and the three ovoids moved with sudden roaring of their motors, literally hurling themselves skyward. But the menace they sought to escape was real, and not to be outdone in speed. A vast black something whirred out from beyond the treetops and flung itself upon them.
"A pterodactyl!" Mado gasped. "One of the prehistoric monsters of Terra!"
"Carr, there are men riding it!" Ora exclaimed. "Red men!"
It was true; the pteranodon, a horrid bat-like thing with a wing-spread of fully twenty feet, carried three of the bronzed savages clinging to a sort of harness that encircled its body just back of the crested head. The huge flying reptile whistled raucously as it flew and one of the savages was whirling a sling which held a stone as large as his own head. They watched in amazement as the swift aerial steed flapped its way after the rising ovoids. And then the savage let loose an end of his thong and released its missile, which crashed full against the transparent disk of an ovoid and tore its way through.
The damaged ovoid careened violently and then fell end over end, crashing in the forest. With a bellow of fury, Mado fired with the kalbite tube at his hip. There was the twang of the propelling ray, and the slender arrow-like torpedo sped forth on its message of death, singing spitefully as it cleaved the air of Titan.
It was a fair hit, catching the pteranodon just ahead of its trailing legs and exploding with the characteristic screaming roar of the deadly kalbite. The monstrous reptile and its crew of barbarians vanished in a blaze that lighted the clouds above them and brought a babble of excited shoutings from the depths of the forest on all sides. They were surrounded by the uncivilized ones of Titan! And those of the ovoids had run off at the first sign of danger.
The din from the forest was augmented by the whistlings of a second pteranodon which darted after the remaining ovoids, following swiftly as these retreated with ludicrous, wabbling haste.
Ora screamed and struck out at something with her fist. A naked arm had reached out from the underbrush and grasped her wrist. Carr wheeled and his ray pistol spat crackling flame. The savage, an undersized red man with an enormous head, rose unsteadily from his hiding place, a look of terrible hate in his contorted features. Then, like a punctured balloon, his body collapsed into the nothingness of complete disintegration.
"Back, back to the Nomad!" Carr roared, dragging Ora with him and leveling his pistol at a group of the bronze brutes who rushed into the space where the vessel lay amongst the trees.
Mado was busy with his torpedo tube and a vast explosion shook the ground beneath them as a trio of the savages were blasted out of existence. A great tree toppled and crashed across the nose of the Nomad, its roots ripped from the soil by the concussion.
Ora had whipped out her own pistol and was firing as they fell back. Game kid, she was! Carr gloated as he saw she was making each shot tell. But this couldn't last; there were hundreds of them now, long-armed and big-headed red devils swarming in from every direction. Carr dodged none too quickly to save his skull from a swift-flung stone, which clanged against the Nomad's hull. There was a perfect hail of the missiles now: one struck his left arm a numbing blow, and he heard a sickening thud and Ora's moan as she was hit. And there were winged darts, from blow-guns.
A dusky moon-face leered into his own, horribly close, and he yelled his rage as he drove it back with a swift uppercut. But the horde of savages came on in ever increasing numbers and with renewed vigor.
"Quick--inside!" Carr hissed in Ora's ear as his fingers found the rim of the manhole. He'd have her safely within in a moment.
Detis clambered out with the thought machine in his arms, and a singing dart from one of the blow-guns pierced him through and through. A look of astonishment spread over his kindly features, and he fell forward, dying.
And then Carr looked up into a grinning face behind a huge club that was swinging downward. He threw up his arm to break the force of the blow, but the club fell too swiftly; the enormous weight of it crashed down on his skull, and he knew no more.
When he awakened it was to stare for a dazed moment into a pair of blue eyes that looked down upon him in a place of dim light and stuffy atmosphere. The eyes were only vaguely familiar in his befuddled memory. Beautiful eyes, though, and incredibly dear....
"Ora!" he exclaimed, in wondering remembrance, trying to sit up as he grasped her hand.
"Hush!" she warned him, placing a finger-tip to his lips. "Be quiet now and perhaps they'll leave us alone for a while."
"They! Did they capture us?" he whispered. "Are you hurt?"
"We're prisoners, all right, excepting poor father. But they didn't harm me much, outside of the rough handling."
"The devils. What of Detis?" He was growing stronger by the minute and now saw that they were in an open-mouthed cave and that Mado was sitting hunched dejectedly in a corner, his massive shoulders drooping and his proud head bowed on his chest.
"Father--they killed him," Ora sighed almost inaudibly. "Have you forgotten? We saw the dart strike him and I--I saw it sticking from his chest. Oh, Carr!" A dry sob caught in her throat.
"Yes--yes. Lord!" Carr groaned, sick at heart with the sudden recollection and full of compassion for the stricken girl.
He patted her hand with clumsy tenderness as she turned her head and gazed out through the cave mouth in silence that was fraught with intense pain. She would take it like that: with little to say but with much inward suffering.
And then he noticed a fourth occupant of the cavern, a young lad of Titan. Like one of the savages in his small stature and in the large size of his head, he was much lighter in color and his body was encased in a snug one-piece garment of shimmering material of silky texture. And there was a different light in his eyes, the light of intelligence and culture.
"Who is that?" Carr whispered.
Ora stared when she saw that the stranger was on his feet. "Oh," she exclaimed, "I'm glad he has recovered. He's one of the civilized ones; they captured him with his ovoid when the second pteranodon went out after them."
Mado was standing now, endeavoring to communicate with the lad by means of signs and the drawing of crude pictures in the red sand of the cavern floor. The graceful little fellow watched him with understanding and with a smile of amused tolerance. Then he halted the big Martian with an imperious motion, addressing him in velvety voice.
"Nazu," he said simply, placing a forefinger on his breast and bowing before the astonished Mado.
"Imps of the canals!" the Martian exclaimed, grinning delightedly as he cast a swift look at Carr and Ora. "He's telling me his name." "Mine's Mado," he said, turning his eyes to the keen gray ones that smiled up at him. "Mado," he repeated, placing a huge fist against his own chest and bending his body in awkward imitation of the lad's courtly gesture.
They made no attempt to converse in tongues that would convey no meaning, but there was no mistaking the quick friendship that sprang up between the incongruous pair. Mado was the boy's slave from that moment, and Nazu looked up to the Martian with all of youth's admiration for his vast bulk and rippling muscles.
Suddenly they were without light and Carr saw that a curtain of woven rushes had been dropped over the mouth of the cave. There were soft padding footsteps on every side and he drew back against the rock wall with Ora clasped in his arms. A sinewy hand grasped his wrist and twisted his right arm free. He lashed out in the darkness and was rewarded by a grunt of pain as his fist contacted with an unseen face. Nazu's voice rose in anguish, and Mado's wrathful bellow was followed by a frightful commotion as he tore into his assailants.
They were everywhere in the blackness, these slippery little savages of Titan, their half naked bodies crowding him and stifling him with their sweaty nearness. Again and again Carr struck out, but it was like fighting a horde of squirming and clawing feline creatures that swarmed over him and bore him down by sheer weight of numbers. They dragged Ora from his arms and quickly overpowered him. Thongs of rawhide twisted deeply into the flesh of his wrists and he was hauled forth into the daylight.
Securely tied, hand and foot, Carr was propped sitting with his back to a huge boulder. He saw they had been carried to the place they had viewed in the disk of the rulden. A dozen paces away, Ora and Mado sat similarly bound. The Martian had been gagged as well and Carr was forced to smile despite the seriousness of the situation. His mad bellowings must have proved as painful to the ears of the red dwarfs as had his fists to their bodies.
Nazu, unbound and walking proudly erect, was being marched to the edge of a smoking fissure by two of the savages. No others of the red men were in sight.
Carr shuddered. It was the place of sacrifice they had seen in the rulden, and the natives were in hiding as before. Nazu would be first to go; then Ora, most likely. He strained desperately at his bonds when he realized the awful significance of their position. It was incredible that Ora was here and in the hands of these unspeakable monsters. Why, she'd be thrown into the incandescent folds of the flapping fire-god, along with the rest of them! He groaned in an agony of self-recrimination; he should not have allowed her to come on this mad voyage.
Then came that roaring column of flame from out the crater, and the weird fluttering thing whose intense heat radiated across the intervening space like the breath of a blast furnace. The rumble of drums commenced, and thousands of the red men dashed over the rocky area to worship at the shrine of their pitiless god.
As their monotonous chant rose high, Nazu was rushed to the edge of the pit. The ghastly, shimmering heat-ghost drifted hungrily to await the flinging of the slight form into its consuming embrace. Carr was glad to see that Ora had turned her head.
And then there came a sucking noise from the depths of the crater, and the pillar of blue flame vanished abruptly, the incandescent ghost-shape flapping disconsolately in its wake. The chant of the savages trailed off into a chorus of disgruntled murmurings and the booming of the drums died down in disappointment. The worshippers had been cheated of their sadistic pleasure. There was something wrong with the timing of the rite; their mysterious fire-god had granted the captives a reprieve.
But the prisoners were not deceived by the solicitous treatment accorded them by their captors when they were returned to the cave and their bonds were severed. For well they knew that at the next appearance of the phenomenon of the pit they would be dragged off to the sacrifice. Sooner or later all of them were to meet the fate of those given into the embrace of the heat-demon.
A guard of fifty or more of the savages, armed with blow-guns and stone hatchets, paraded continuously before the mouth of the cave as one of their number returned with a huge woven container of fruits and nuts of strange form and color. This was set before them and the bearer withdrew.
"Humph!" Mado grunted. "Seems like they want to fatten us up for this heated sheet of theirs. Like hogs fattened for the market."
But he reached for the striped yellow melon atop the heap, and, at a bright nod of approval from Nazu, bit into its smooth skin.
Carr's stomach rebelled when he looked at the food. He could not bear the sight of the stuff, sitting there in the damp cavern with Ora's blue eyes regarding him in the dim light. Those wide eyes held a gleam of hope and trust that would not be discouraged.
He gazed out through the cave mouth and calculated their chances. There were none. Not against that horde of barbarians; there were too many of the devils to fight with their bare hands. If only they had their ray pistols, or a torpedo projector. At least they could sell their lives dearly. His eyes narrowed speculatively when they came to rest on a peculiar egg-shaped object that stood out there in the open. It was Nazu's ovoid. Here was an idea!
But he saw that its entrance door was open and that the space inside was too small for any of them excepting one of the small stature of the Titanese. It was crammed with machinery. Nazu was the only one of their number who could squeeze into the thing; in fact he alone knew how to operate the queer flying machine. There must be others of his kind, plenty of them; another country, or a city full of them at least. Perhaps he might obtain aid if only he could be made to understand, and if they could get him out there safely somehow.
"Mado," he called, pointing, "do you suppose we could dope out a way of getting Nazu aboard his sky vehicle to go for help?"
The Martian stared, his mouth stuffed with food and his jaws in full action. He strained suddenly to swallow the huge mouthful so he could make reply.
"Not a chance," he grunted. "Why, there's a million of them out there. You won't catch them napping."
But he turned his attention from the basket of fruit and made a desperate effort to convey the idea to Nazu, whose bright eyes took in his every significant motion and whose sensitive fingers traced images in the sand that conveyed his own thoughts to the mind of the Martian in rapid succession.
"He's got it!" Mado gloated. "The game little cuss would go in a minute if we could get him to the ovoid. He's got a picture of a big island here, so help me! An island covered with circular dwellings, made of metal like the ovoids, he indicates. Look here."
Carr and Ora moved over to watch the swift sketching of the Titanese lad. By means of pantomime and his carefully drawn pictures, he told them of his people, making it clear that they were forced to live in insulated dwellings and travel only in the ovoids, which likewise were insulated against the devastating vibrations that emanated from Saturn's rings. He sketched those rings, illustrating the vibrations and tapping his own forehead in explanation of the effect on the brain; pointing to the savages to indicate the ultimate fate of his kind. The protective insulation, it appeared, was not permanent; sooner or later, all of them would become barbarians like the others.
The savages out there were their fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, gone mad; their skins darkened by continued action of the vibrations after they fled their insulated homes. His pictures of the family life were meticulously drawn. His people never warred upon these savage kin of theirs--naturally--though the reverse was not always true. However, Nazu pointed to the ovoid and showed his willingness to help the strangers. But he shook his head sadly as he counted the barbarians on his fingers, multiplying the number endlessly by clapping his hands. There were too many of them; the thing was impossible.
"Good Lord!" Carr exclaimed. "He's a marvel at communicating his thoughts without words. But I'd think his people would beat it for the hills without waiting. Might as well have it over with."
"But, they're still working on the problem," Ora objected. "With their wisdom, they'll finally get the thing under control. And they probably hope to discover a way of restoring their maddened relatives."
She was doing something with the red sand; wetting her fingers in a trickle of water that oozed from the wall and making a red paste which she smeared on her white forearm and then rubbed off.
"I guess you're right," Carr admitted. Then, watching her strange performance, he asked, "What are you doing?"
She looked up with sparkling eyes and stretched forth her arm. "It stains, Carr, see!" she exclaimed excitedly. "We can fix up Nazu to resemble one of the savages. It is the exact color of their skin."
"Mado!" he called, sensing at once the possibilities of her discovery. They could make up Nazu to perfection. Mingling with the barbarians unsuspected, he might get possession of the ovoid.
The Titanese lad fell in with the idea at once and the two men started work on him with water and the powdery stuff they had taken for red sand. They stripped him of his silken garment and smeared him from head to foot, Carr taking especial care to see that his upper body and face were thoroughly covered. Then, after using his own clothing to swab off the coating, they stepped back to view the result. He was exactly like one of the red men in color now, and he stood there twisting his face in a wicked grin to heighten the similarity.
"The little devil!" Mado chuckled. "He gets the idea perfectly. We'll have to muss his hair now and fix him up with a kirtle like theirs."
Removing his suede jacket and turning it inside out, he draped it about the slim hips of Nazu, then slapped his chest approvingly. "There you are, lad," he told the grinning youngster. "A tough-looking kid we've made of you, too."
The words were lost on the young Titanese, but his bright eyes showed that he fully comprehended the humor as well as the gravity of the situation. The improvised covering would pass without question as one of the untanned hides the barbarians wore dangling from their waists. The disguise was faultless.
Ora had been watching at the mouth of the cave. Now she called out in low-voiced warning, "Hurry! One of them is coming."
Carr moved forward swiftly to face the opening, while Mado stood with his great bulk hiding the now unrecognizable Nazu. The savage entered, proceeding directly to where Carr was standing. He bent over the fruit basket and then the Earth-man was upon him.
The wiry red man struggled furiously, but Carr had a grip on his windpipe that stopped his attempts to cry out and quickly reduced him to a state of flabby subjection. Then he bound and gagged his captive, tearing strips of linen from his own shirt to provide the necessary material. In a moment they had bundled the trussed-up dwarf into a dark corner of the cavern, and Nazu stepped forth blithely to lift the basket to his shoulder.
Everything seemed to happen at once after that. Nazu stalked boldly out among the savages, who paid him no attention whatsoever. He passed out of their field of vision for a moment, and then they saw him at the circular door of the ovoid. In a flash he was inside and the thing soared speedily into the air and out of sight. The red men broke forth in a babel of excited jabbering and then they were crowding into the cave, hundreds of them it seemed, shrieking their rage as they attacked the hapless prisoners.
Carr went down fighting madly but to no avail. He hadn't counted on this; he should have known better. A crushing weight of them was upon him, clawing and beating at him as he struggled to rise. They were suffocating him with their rank animal odors.
And then he was dragged into the open air. Battered and dazed, he saw they had found their fellow, the one he had bound and gagged. Ora was considerably mussed up, but unharmed, he observed with relief; but Mado lay there inert. This was the first time Carr had ever seen him take the count at the hands of man.
When they had untied the one whose place had been taken by Nazu, he came straight for the Earth-man and would have brained him with a huge stone had not his fellows interfered. He objected strenuously, his eyes red with hate and a torrent of harsh gutturals pouring from his lips. But the others held him off; this strange white giant from the machine of the skies was to be saved for the embrace of the fire-god.
With the entire blame for Nazu's escape thus placed upon the Terrestrial, Ora and Mado were returned to the cavern and left unmolested. But Carr was prodded into moving over against a boulder and was surrounded by a semi-circle of the dwarfs who squatted calmly to watch him, blow-guns in their hands and stone hatchets on the ground within easy reach. They were taking no more chances with this one.
The long day of Titan dragged interminably but the watchful eyes of his guards never strayed from their prisoner. At any moment the fire-god might make an appearance and the rite of sacrifice take place. Carr supposed that the thing made more or less regular appearances, like a geyser of Earth. And, next time, there would be no escape.
Night fell, and still those eyes watched intently in the light reflected against the low-flung clouds from the seething crater nearby. Nothing had been seen of Nazu or any of the ovoids. Probably it was useless to expect them; they could not bring themselves to do battle against these savage kin of theirs. Anyway, he was glad the little fellow had gotten away; he hoped he was safely in bed--if they had beds in those insulated dwellings.
He could not sleep. All through the night he sat with bowed head, alternately planning rescue attempts and cursing himself for bringing Ora to this horrible end. Detis was dead; the Nomad was hopelessly beyond repair for many days, even if they could make their escape and locate it; Nazu had saved his own skin, and they were left to the mercy of these vibration-crazed brutes who waited there in the flickering red twilight all around him. It was a revolting ending for an adventure that had started so auspiciously.
With the first faint light of dawn came the roaring of the pillar of flame from out the crater. Instantly there rose the hollow booming of the drums and the chanting of thousands of the barbarous worshippers. The place was swarming with them almost instantly, and Carr's guards closed in on him with evil glee.
Ora was brought out into the open, her arms held fast by two of the red devils who yanked her roughly along between them. Carr roared out in blind rage and in awful fear for the girl. He struck out viciously into the first grinning face that pressed near. Something in his brain seemed to snap then, and he became a snarling, fighting animal, battling against overwhelming odds in defence of his mate. A dart buried itself in his arm and a stone hatchet bit into his shoulder, but he scarcely felt the hurts. All that mattered now was Ora; they were taking her away--taking her to the folds of that incredible hot thing that flapped there at the crater's rim. An arm snapped like a pipestem in his fingers and he heard the squeal of pain from somewhere in the tangled mass of savages around him.
And then they were falling back; easing up on him. The din was increasing, but it seemed that a note of fear had crept in to replace the exultant frenzy of those chanting voices. The drums were stilled.
Wiping the blood from his eyes with the back of his hand, he saw the barbarians running everywhere; they were screaming in superstitious terror and fighting one another in their desperate anxiety to escape the vicinity of their precious fire-god. A tremendous voice boomed out over the hubbub, a voice that came from the crater in vast commanding gutturals that struck terror into the souls of the panicky barbarians. Yet somehow that mightily sonorous voice carried a familiar ring.
Carr raised astonished eyes to the pillar of blue flame and was seized with a well-nigh uncontrollable impulse to flee with the red men. For a monstrous image of Detis swayed there in the hot vapors, a massive arm raised menacingly and an equally Brobdingnagian voice issuing from his lips in fierce syllables of the red man's tongue!
"Detis!" Carr shouted. "Detis! Ora--Mado!"