Sira moved restlessly from place to place, feeling more deeply depressed with every moment. She felt as if she had been left entirely out of life, friendless, alone. Among all these thousands she had no friend. It seemed to her that never before had there been such a paucity of monarchists. Sharp-featured, with a wire-drawn manner of efficiency and resolution about them, they had constituted almost another race among this practically enslaved people, maintaining for themselves a tolerable position despite the opposition of the oligarchy. Now, however, they seemed to have vanished. All that morning Sira had not seen one. She would not have disclosed her identity, but it would have been comforting to see one of those friends of old.
She was stopped by a jam. Looking between the bodies of two large and sweaty men, she realized that someone was standing on a surveyor's marking block, delivering a speech.
"The great Pantheus has so decreed it," the speaker was shouting in a cracked voice that at times dribbled into a whine. "We must shake off forever this menace from the green planet--this planet dominated by wicked women.
"Oh, my friends, last night they came to me in dreams, these pale women of the green star. They tempted me and they mocked me. They laid their cold hands on my throbbing brow, and their cold hands burned me!
"Oh great Pantheus! How I have suffered! The creatress who in her malice created this wicked world beyond the gulf--"
The Martians were entertained by the quavering denunciation. Some grinned broadly at one another; others placed their thumbs in their ears and wiggled their fingers. But the old man continued. Finally, two of the foremost spectators, sensing the tiny body crowded between them, stepped aside.
"Don't miss this, my little man. Listen, and maybe you will laugh yourself a little bigger." He gave Sira a gentle shove, so that she almost stumbled over the block on which the speaker was standing.
And that old man suddenly stopped talking, so that his toothless mouth sucked in, then stood agape. The rheumy eyes rolled, and a wisp of dirty gray hair strayed across his gnarled face. He lifted a shaking hand, pointed a knotty finger.
"There she is!" he croaked. "There she is! I claim--"
"There she is!" guffawed a tipsy merclite chewer. "The creatress, come to punish you! Cut off his nose, O creatress, and stuff it into his mouth!"
There were shouts of laughter, a surge to see better.
"No! No! I, Deacon Homms, claim the reward!" the old man screamed. "She is the princess; I know her. She came out of the canal to tempt me! She is the Princess Sira. Now shall I at last enter the Palace of Joys! I claim the 100,000 dollars!"
But he still had to catch Sira. The crowd, suddenly sensing that this old fanatic might be telling the truth, rushed in savagely, each eager to seize the prize, or at least to establish some claim to a share of the award. Men and women went down, to be trampled mercilessly. Inevitably they got in one another's way, and soon swords were rising redly, falling again.
"Guards! Guards! A riot!" Some were fleeing the scene; others rushing in, grateful for the opportunity to expend excess pugnacity. A fresh platoon of soldiers tumbled out of a kiosk leading to an underground barracks like ants out of a disturbed nest. They deployed, holding their neuro-pistols before them, focalizers set for maximum dispersion, therefore non-fatal--merely of paralyzing intensity. Some of the rioters now turned to run, but others persisted, willing to be rendered unconscious, just so it would be near the valuable princess.
A few moments later the captain of the guard surveyed the mass of paralysed bodies and the sword-slashed corpses, all intermingled.
"What's this all about?" he demanded of a scarred, evil-looking fellow who was the first to rise to his elbow.
"The Princess Sira! I claim the reward. In there! She stood right there!"
"Get out, you galoon!" the captain growled, knocking the fellow unconscious with the heavy barrel of his neuro. "Sort 'em out there. Moggins, Schkamitch. On the double. You will share, according to rank."
But eagerly as they searched, they did not find Sira. Creeping between the legs of the maddened reward seekers, she had fought clear, had gained the shelter of a tall, red conical tree whose closely laced branches pressed her to the ground, clinging to the greasy trunk.
She realized that her sanctuary was none too secure. There would surely be a methodical search after the first excitement, and she would be discovered. She had lost her sun-helmet, but nevertheless she must risk making a break. A large proportion of the people were wearing such helmets. Perhaps she could snatch one.
But before such an opportunity came, she saw a chance to dash to a nearby clump of shrubbery. On the other side was a long hedge, leading to an alley back of a group of warehouses. If she could gain this alley, she felt sure she would be safe for the time being.
All over the park, which was thirty or forty acres in extent, there were minor riots, as some unfortunate was mistaken for the princess and blindly struggled for.
Sira lost no time. She scuttered along the hedge like a frightened kangrat. But as she crossed a small open space, a stentorian voice shouted: "There she is! That's her! The princess!"
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him, running toward her lumberingly, his great arms outspread. Tuman had been wrong in saying that on all of Mars there was no man as big as Tolto. This one was, and he looked more formidable. Instead of Tolto's normally good-natured face, this one looked like an enraged terrestrial gorilla, although at the moment it was really expressing joy and eagerness.
Several other men joined the chase, and then scores. They were fleeter of foot than the ape-man, but as they passed him in the narrow alley he smashed them to the pavement with casual blows of his terrifying hands. Thereafter he was undisputedly in the lead; the others content to follow in his rear, although many were armed, and the giant was not.
This was an advantage to Sira. The whole mob was slowed by the lumbering pace of the ape-man, and she was able to keep in the lead without difficulty. Several times some of her pursuers ran ahead by other routes, intent on snatching her into some doorway. But each time she slashed at them with her sword, springing past.
She had not run very far when her fear of another danger was realized. There was a high, keen whistle overhead, and a scouting police car flashed near. Under the neuro-pistols both hounds and hare would be paralyzed, and she would be easily taken. Sira longed for one of these handy weapons herself, but they were too expensive: she had been unable to secure one.
Now the police car was coming back. The sliding forward door was drawn back, and a man was leaning out, neuro alert. Judging the distance expertly, he pulled the trigger, and a hundred men fell unconscious.
"Got 'em!" he snapped over his shoulder. "The princess as well. Down quick!"
Sira, spared because of the officer's unwillingness to take a chance on injuring her, leaped through a gap in a wall and sprinted through a garden smothered with thick, leathery-leaved weeds, some of them higher than her head. She almost laughed with relief, but as she flitted around the corner of a house toward the street she saw the gorilla faced giant again in pursuit, and beyond the garden wall the police ship was just settling to the ground.
It just seemed to be raining giants that day. Sira ran out of a narrow gate at the front of the house into the street, to be stopped by a tremendous human framework as solid and unyielding as a mountain. She stepped back, drew her sword-- "Softly! Softly!" a rumbling bass implored. "Doesn't the Princess Sira recognize her servant, Tolto?"
"Tolto!" All at once the tautness went out of her, and Sira leaned against the wall, divided between laughing and crying.
"Tolto and his good friends were looking for you," the big man rumbled anxiously. "The teletabloids said there was a riot coming--"
He got no further. The gorilla-faced pursuer catapulted himself sideways through the portal, being too wide to go through in the regular way. He emitted a raucous shout of triumph: "I got her! It's her, all right! I claim--"
As he reached out his enormous sun-blackened arm there was a thud that seemed to shake the ground. Instantly enraged, the man's little red-rimmed eyes jerked quietly to the dealer of that shocking blow. Then the conical little head sank between the bulging shoulders, the long, thick arms bowed outward, and the ape-man launched himself at Tolto.
That was a battle! On the one side devotion, simple-minded loyalty and a fighting heart in a body of such mechanical perfection as Mars had never seen before or since. On the other side a primal beast, just as huge, rage-driven, atavistic, savage.
Fists as large as an average man's head, or larger, crashed against unprotected face and body. Gigantic muscles rippled and crackled. Blows echoed from wall to house and seemed to thud against the hearts of the spectators.
It was as if time and memory had come to a standstill. The present was not, nor present ambitions and duties. The soldiers came plunging out into the street, swords in their hands, but they stopped to watch. Sime, Murray and Tuman, used to instant and automatic battle, watched. A struggle so titanic, by tacit, by unconsidered consent, must be left to decide its own course.
Tolto seemed to be slowly gaining an advantage. During his novitiate as a palace guard the other men had instructed him in the science of their pastime-fighting. Although he scorned to guard against the blows of his savage antagonist, he placed his own punches more shrewdly, more effectively. The ape-faced one, through a red film, sensed that he was being beaten, and that this fight would end in death.
Suddenly he changed his tactics. Rushing in, he threw his arms around Tolto's great torso. He opened his jaws, and his long yellow fangs bit into the flesh of Tolto's shoulder.
Tolto, taken slightly by surprise, met this new menace promptly. Placing his powerful forearm against the battered, hairy face, he attempted to bend the head back. But it was so small, in proportion, and so slippery with blood, that he was unable to dislodge it.
So Tolto matched brute strength against brute strength. His arms encircled his enemy's body, and the tremendous muscles of his shoulders and body began to arch.
So they stood poised for a few seconds, as if on the brink of eternity.
"Go-o-o-wie!" exclaimed one of the soldiers, awed.
Slowly, like the agonizingly slow plastic creep of metal under great pressure, the gorilla-faced giant was yielding. His dark skin became mottled. His breath came gaspingly. His rope-knotted arms slipped a little.
But it was not in him to surrender, which might still have saved his life. With a vicious twisting motion of his head he tried to drag his fangs through the thick muscles of Tolto's shoulder. The wound began to bleed more freely, choking the savage at each labored breath.
Now Tolto began to walk forward. Always his antagonist had to yield a little, unwillingly, grudgingly, just enough to keep the paralyzing pressure on his spine from becoming unbearable. And slowly, inexorably, Tolto followed. His arms tightened. His leg slipped suddenly between the ape-faced man's supports. Tolto grunted. The sound seemed to labor upward from his innermost being, his body's protest as he called upon it for its last reserve of strength.
Like an echo, there was a dull crack, a brief, agonized moan from the ape-faced one; and the savage, unknown giant slumped to the pavement, dead with a broken back. Tolto staggered to the wall, breathing deeply.
"Man, what a fight! What a fight!" The young Martian captain passed a shaking hand over his face. The battle had stirred him more deeply than he wanted to admit. But in a few seconds he came out of his mental maze.
"Attention! All right, men, you're under arrest. As for the girl--"
"As for the girl," came a clear feminine voice, as Sira stepped out from the shelter of a buttress some dozen feet away, "--the girl took advantage of your preoccupation to relieve you of your neuros. As you see I have two of them in my hand. The rest of them are over by that wall. No! Don't try to rush! You are welcome to your swords, but they are useless here."
"He Must Be a Man of Earth"
Friend and foe looked stupefied. But they were used to the give and take of battle. That this girl should disarm a detachment of soldiers while they and their own men were absorbed in such a common thing as a fight struck them as humorous. They laughed.
"This is a better break then we deserve," Sime said, grinning with a trace of sheepishness. "Captain, you take your men across the street and hold 'em there. We're going to borrow your car. No funny stuff!" Civilians were flooding into the streets. There would soon be a mob.
"We will not," replied the captain, "try any funny stuff. Some day, my friend, I hope to open you up with my sword," he added.
"By all means," Sime agreed pleasantly. "My time is pretty well occupied, but there's no telling when I may meet you again, in my business. Good day, Captain!"
Tuman stayed at the front gate with his neuro while the others struggled through the weedy garden to the police ship in the alley, rejoining them as they were ready to rise.
A crowd had gathered. If they wondered at the appearance of these ragged, scarred and bewhiskered men; at sweat and blood-covered giant Tolto; the obviously high-bred girl in the laboring man's garments, they wisely refrained from comment or action, in deference to the neuros with which the party was bristling.
Once inside and safely in the air, they had time to breathe. Murray, with a gallantry that sat ill on the scarecrow figure he was, cleared matters up a trifle.
"Princess Sira? As I thought. Princess, or Your Highness, to be formal, I am your humble and disreputable servant, Lige Murray, of the Interplanetary Flying Police. Likewise this gentleman behind the brush--Sime Hemingway. You know Tuman? You've missed something, Your Highness! And Tolto! Lucky man!"
Sira recovered quickly from her reaction following the fight. She found a first-aid kit, bandaged Tolto's wounded shoulder skilfully and quickly. She had given no sign of recognition as Sime awkwardly bowed, during Murray's introduction, but now, as Sime held a roll of bandage for her, she gave him a sidewise look, agleam with mischief.
"But I have decided to remit the punishment--the sentence I passed on you, Mr. Hemingway," she said, her sweet, child-like face innocent.
"What punishment?" Sime gasped.
"Why, the punishment of death! For kissing me that night!" she laughed, turning her back.
Murray was heading back for the government park. It was a short distance with the police car. Soon the broad grounds, with their scattered, magnificent buildings, lay below them. But the parks were strangely bare of living creatures. Here and there lay the bodies of men or women.
"Something's happened!" Murray shouted excitedly. "Look out!"
He swerved the ship sharply. They escaped damage as an atomic bomb, unskilfully aimed, exploded far to one side.
"Funny thing, firing on a police car," Sime puzzled. "They might have got news from that detachment we grounded, but how do they know this isn't some other police or military car?"
"Those aren't soldiers," Murray decided. "There's been a riot, and some civilian's got hold of an ato-projector."
"I know what's happened!" Sira exclaimed suddenly. "Wasil--a technie--has managed to broadcast the secret session! That upset their psychology. Oh!" Her face was alight, and she threw up her arms in ecstasy. As quickly she subsided, and tears came to her eyes.
"Wasil!" she cried. "If he is dead, Mellie will never forgive me!"
"Where is this technie?" Sime asked bruskly.
"In the broadcast room. But they have probably killed him."
"Never can be sure. Head her smack for the main entrance, Murray!"
Murray threw the car into a steep dive, and the hall portal rushed up to meet them. A soldier came partially out of concealment, waved a signal. Murray paid him no heed.
They struck with a crash. The stout car crushed through the glittering doors of metal and glass, and before the fragments fell the four men were in the thick of short, sharp and decisive battle. Their neuros hissed venomously, spanged as they met opposing beams. And the princess, struggling through the wreckage, wept tears of rage as the coarse fabric of her clothing caught, entangled hopelessly, and held her.
"Something queer!" Murray said, as they halted for breath after routing what little opposition they had encountered. "Maybe it's a trap. But what an expensive trap for somebody! Where's this broadcasting plant?"
"This way!" Tuman called eagerly. "Maybe we can still save the poor fellow who turned the trick. Broadcast the secret sessions! Don't tell me that little girl isn't fit to rule!"
The heavy metal doors were open, and they hurried in. But Tolto, noting that the princess had not followed, hurried out in search for her.
Sime stumbled over a body. It had been a dark, sleek, youngish man. A jagged burn on his throat told of the needle-ray. "Who's this fellow, Murray?"
Murray glanced at the body. He smiled a brief smile of satisfaction.
"That's Scar Balta. Got what's coming to him at last. Help me with this bird: he's still alive. Cold, though!"
"Got a shot of neuro. Could this be the technie?"
Sime found a fountain of water. He filled a cup, dashed it over the still face. The shock made the man's lips move.
"Mellie, I did it!" he whispered.
"Who's Mellie?" Sime asked.
"Mellie? Seems to me the princess mentioned her name, This is her brother. He's the right guy! Take it easy, brother!"
But Wasil was able to sit up.