The creature rose to his feet, strode springily toward Murphy. He carried a crossbow and a sword, like those of Murphy's fleet-footed guards. But he wore no space-suit. Could there be breathable traces of an atmosphere? Murphy glanced at his gauge. Outside pressure: zero.
Two other men appeared, moving with long elastic steps. Their eyes were bright, their faces flushed. They came up to Murphy, took his arm. They were solid, corporeal. They had no invisible force fields around their heads.
Murphy jerked his arm free. "Let go of me, damn it!" But they certainly couldn't hear him through the vacuum.
He glanced over his shoulder. The first man held his naked blade a foot or two behind Murphy's bulging space-suit. Murphy made no further resistance. He punched the button on his camera to automatic. It would now run for several hours, recording one hundred pictures per second, a thousand to the inch.
The sjambaks led Murphy two hundred yards to a metal door. They opened it, pushed Murphy inside, banged it shut. Murphy felt the vibration through his shoes, heard a gradually waxing hum. His gauge showed an outside pressure of 5, 10, 12, 14, 14.5. An inner door opened. Hands pulled Murphy in, unclamped his dome.
"Just what's going on here?" demanded Murphy angrily.
Prince Ali-Tomas pointed to a table. Murphy saw a flashlight battery, aluminum foil, wire, a transistor kit, metal tubing, tools, a few other odds and ends.
"There it is," said Prince Ali-Tomas. "Get to work. Let's see one of these paralysis weapons you boast of."
"Just like that, eh?"
"Just like that."
"What do you want 'em for?"
"Does it matter?"
"I'd like to know." Murphy was conscious of his camera, recording sight, sound, odor.
"I lead an army," said Ali-Tomas, "but they march without weapons. Give me weapons! I will carry the word to Hadra, to New Batavia, to Sundaman, to Boeng-Bohot!"
"It is enough that I will it. Again, I beg of you ..." He indicated the table.
Murphy laughed. "I've got myself in a fine mess. Suppose I don't make this weapon for you?"
"You'll remain until you do, under increasingly difficult conditions."
"I'll be here a long time."
"If such is the case," said Ali-Tomas, "we must make our arrangements for your care on a long-term basis."
Ali made a gesture. Hands seized Murphy's shoulders. A respirator was held to his nostrils. He thought of his camera, and he could have laughed. Mystery! Excitement! Thrills! Dramatic sequence for Know Your Universe! Staff-man murdered by fanatics! The crime recorded on his own camera! See the blood, hear his death-rattle, smell the poison!
The vapor choked him. What a break! What a sequence!
"Sirgamesk," said Howard Frayberg, "bigger and brighter every minute."
"It must've been just about in here," said Catlin, "that Wilbur's horseback rider appeared."
"That's right! Steward!"
"We're about twenty thousand miles out, aren't we?"
"About fifteen thousand, sir."
"Sidereal Cavalry! What an idea! I wonder how Wilbur's making out on his superstition angle?"
Sam Catlin, watching out the window, said in a tight voice, "Why not ask him yourself?"
"Ask him for yourself! There he is--outside, riding some kind of critter...."
"It's a ghost," whispered Frayberg. "A man without a space-suit.... There's no such thing!"
"He sees us.... Look...."
Murphy was staring at them, and his surprise seemed equal to their own. He waved his hand. Catlin gingerly waved back.
Said Frayberg, "That's not a horse he's riding. It's a combination ram-jet and kiddie car with stirrups!"
"He's coming aboard the ship," said Catlin. "That's the entrance port down there...."
Wilbur Murphy sat in the captain's stateroom, taking careful breaths of air.
"How are you now?" asked Frayberg.
"Fine. A little sore in the lungs."
"I shouldn't wonder," the ship's doctor growled. "I never saw anything like it."
"How does it feel out there, Wilbur?" Catlin asked.
"It feels awful lonesome and empty. And the breath seeping up out of your lungs, never going in--that's a funny feeling. And you miss the air blowing on your skin. I never realized it before. Air feels like--like silk, like whipped cream--it's got texture...."
"But aren't you cold? Space is supposed to be absolute zero!"
"Space is nothing. It's not hot and it's not cold. When you're in the sunlight you get warm. It's better in the shade. You don't lose any heat by air convection, but radiation and sweat evaporation keep you comfortably cool."
"I still can't understand it," said Frayberg. "This Prince Ali, he's a kind of a rebel, eh?"
"I don't blame him in a way. A normal man living under those domes has to let off steam somehow. Prince Ali decided to go out crusading. I think he would have made it too--at least on Cirgamesc."
"Certainly there are many more men inside the domes...."
"When it comes to fighting," said Murphy, "a sjambak can lick twenty men in space-suits. A little nick doesn't hurt him, but a little nick bursts open a space-suit, and the man inside comes apart."
"Well," said the Captain. "I imagine the Peace Office will send out a team to put things in order now."
Catlin asked, "What happened when you woke up from the chloroform?"
"Well, nothing very much. I felt this attachment on my chest, but didn't think much about it. Still kinda woozy. I was halfway through decompression. They keep a man there eight hours, drop pressure on him two pounds an hour, nice and slow so he don't get the bends."
"Was this the same place they took you, when you met Ali?"
"Yeah, that was their decompression chamber. They had to make a sjambak out of me; there wasn't anywhere else they could keep me. Well, pretty soon my head cleared, and I saw this apparatus stuck to my chest." He poked at the mechanism on the table. "I saw the oxygen tank, I saw the blood running through the plastic pipes--blue from me to that carburetor arrangement, red on the way back in--and I figured out the whole arrangement. Carbon dioxide still exhales up through your lungs, but the vein back to the left auricle is routed through the carburetor and supercharged with oxygen. A man doesn't need to breathe. The carburetor flushes his blood with oxygen, the decompression tank adjusts him to the lack of air-pressure. There's only one thing to look out for; that's not to touch anything with your naked flesh. If it's in the sunshine it's blazing hot; if it's in the shade it's cold enough to cut. Otherwise you're free as a bird."
"But--how did you get away?"
"I saw those little rocket-bikes, and began figuring. I couldn't go back to Singhalut; I'd be lynched on sight as a sjambak. I couldn't fly to another planet--the bikes don't carry enough fuel.
"I knew when the ship would be coming in, so I figured I'd fly up to meet it. I told the guard I was going outside a minute, and I got on one of the rocket-bikes. There was nothing much to it."
"Well," said Frayberg, "it's a great feature, Wilbur--a great film! Maybe we can stretch it into two hours."
"There's one thing bothering me," said Catlin. "Who did the steward see up here the first time?"
Murphy shrugged. "It might have been somebody up here skylarking. A little too much oxygen and you start cutting all kinds of capers. Or it might have been someone who decided he had enough crusading.
"There's a sjambak in a cage, right in the middle of Singhalut. Prince Ali walks past; they look at each other eye to eye. Ali smiles a little and walks on. Suppose this sjambak tried to escape to the ship. He's taken aboard, turned over to the Sultan and the Sultan makes an example of him...."
"What'll the Sultan do to Ali?"
Murphy shook his head. "If I were Ali I'd disappear."
A loudspeaker turned on. "Attention all passengers. We have just passed through quarantine. Passengers may now disembark. Important: no weapons or explosives allowed on Singhalut!"
"This is where I came in," said Murphy.
VALLEY OF DREAMS.
By Stanley G. Weinbaum
Captain Harrison of the Ares expedition turned away from the little telescope in the bow of the rocket. "Two weeks more, at the most," he remarked. "Mars only retrogrades for seventy days in all, relative to the earth, and we've got to be homeward bound during that period, or wait a year and a half for old Mother Earth to go around the sun and catch up with us again. How'd you like to spend a winter here?"
Dick Jarvis, chemist of the party, shivered as he looked up from his notebook. "I'd just as soon spend it in a liquid air tank!" he averred. "These eighty-below zero summer nights are plenty for me."
"Well," mused the captain, "the first successful Martian expedition ought to be home long before then."
"Successful if we get home," corrected Jarvis. "I don't trust these cranky rockets--not since the auxiliary dumped me in the middle of Thyle last week. Walking back from a rocket ride is a new sensation to me."
"Which reminds me," returned Harrison, "that we've got to recover your films. They're important if we're to pull this trip out of the red. Remember how the public mobbed the first moon pictures? Our shots ought to pack 'em to the doors. And the broadcast rights, too; we might show a profit for the Academy."
"What interests me," countered Jarvis, "is a personal profit. A book, for instance; exploration books are always popular. Martian Deserts--how's that for a title?"
"Lousy!" grunted the captain. "Sounds like a cook-book for desserts. You'd have to call it 'Love Life of a Martian,' or something like that."
Jarvis chuckled. "Anyway," he said, "if we once get back home, I'm going to grab what profit there is, and never, never, get any farther from the earth than a good stratosphere plane'll take me. I've learned to appreciate the planet after plowing over this dried-up pill we're on now."
"I'll lay you odds you'll be back here year after next," grinned the Captain. "You'll want to visit your pal--that trick ostrich."
"Tweel?" The other's tone sobered. "I wish I hadn't lost him, at that. He was a good scout. I'd never have survived the dream-beast but for him. And that battle with the push-cart things--I never even had a chance to thank him."
"A pair of lunatics, you two," observed Harrison. He squinted through the port at the gray gloom of the Mare Cimmerium. "There comes the sun." He paused. "Listen, Dick--you and Leroy take the other auxiliary rocket and go out and salvage those films."
Jarvis stared. "Me and Leroy?" he echoed ungrammatically. "Why not me and Putz? An engineer would have some chance of getting us there and back if the rocket goes bad on us."
The captain nodded toward the stern, whence issued at that moment a medley of blows and guttural expletives. "Putz is going over the insides of the Ares," he announced. "He'll have his hands full until we leave, because I want every bolt inspected. It's too late for repairs once we cast off."
"And if Leroy and I crack up? That's our last auxiliary."
"Pick up another ostrich and walk back," suggested Harrison gruffly. Then he smiled. "If you have trouble, we'll hunt you out in the Ares," he finished. "Those films are important." He turned. "Leroy!"
The dapper little biologist appeared, his face questioning.
"You and Jarvis are off to salvage the auxiliary," the Captain said. "Everything's ready and you'd better start now. Call back at half-hour intervals; I'll be listening."
Leroy's eyes glistened. "Perhaps we land for specimens--no?" he queried.
"Land if you want to. This golf ball seems safe enough."
"Except for the dream-beast," muttered Jarvis with a faint shudder. He frowned suddenly. "Say, as long as we're going that way, suppose I have a look for Tweel's home! He must live off there somewhere, and he's the most important thing we've seen on Mars."
Harrison hesitated. "If I thought you could keep out of trouble," he muttered. "All right," he decided. "Have a look. There's food and water aboard the auxiliary; you can take a couple of days. But keep in touch with me, you saps!"
Jarvis and Leroy went through the airlock out to the grey plain. The thin air, still scarcely warmed by the rising sun, bit flesh and lung like needles, and they gasped with a sense of suffocation. They dropped to a sitting posture, waiting for their bodies, trained by months in acclimatization chambers back on earth, to accommodate themselves to the tenuous air. Leroy's face, as always, turned a smothered blue, and Jarvis heard his own breath rasping and rattling in his throat. But in five minutes, the discomfort passed; they rose and entered the little auxiliary rocket that rested beside the black hull of the Ares.
The under-jets roared out their fiery atomic blast; dirt and bits of shattered biopods spun away in a cloud as the rocket rose. Harrison watched the projectile trail its flaming way into the south, then turned back to his work.
It was four days before he saw the rocket again. Just at evening, as the sun dropped behind the horizon with the suddenness of a candle falling into the sea, the auxiliary flashed out of the southern heavens, easing gently down on the flaming wings of the under-jets. Jarvis and Leroy emerged, passed through the swiftly gathering dusk, and faced him in the light of the Ares. He surveyed the two; Jarvis was tattered and scratched, but apparently in better condition than Leroy, whose dapperness was completely lost. The little biologist was pale as the nearer moon that glowed outside; one arm was bandaged in thermo-skin and his clothes hung in veritable rags. But it was his eyes that struck Harrison most strangely; to one who lived these many weary days with the diminutive Frenchman, there was something queer about them. They were frightened, plainly enough, and that was odd, since Leroy was no coward or he'd never have been one of the four chosen by the Academy for the first Martian expedition. But the fear in his eyes was more understandable than that other expression, that queer fixity of gaze like one in a trance, or like a person in an ecstasy. "Like a chap who's seen Heaven and Hell together," Harrison expressed it to himself. He was yet to discover how right he was.
He assumed a gruffness as the weary pair sat down. "You're a fine looking couple!" he growled. "I should've known better than to let you wander off alone." He paused. "Is your arm all right, Leroy? Need any treatment?"