Read 1 - Warriors of Mars Online

Authors: Edward P. Bradbury

1 - Warriors of Mars (2 page)

I shrugged, took her hand and went
along with her.

So that was how, hand in hand with
its loveliest resident, I came to Varnal, City of the Green Mists—most splendid
of the splendid Martian cities.

Oh, how many thousands upon
thousands of years ago!

 

 

Chapter Two
 
THE ASTOUNDING TRUTH

 

VARNAL is more real to me, even in my memories, than ever
Chicago
or
New York
can be. It lies in a
gentle valley in the hills, which the Martians term the Calling Hills. Green
and golden, they are covered with slender trees and, when the wind passes
through them, they sound like sweet, distant, calling voices as one walks past.

The valley itself is wide and
shallow and contains a fairly large, hot lake. The city is built around the
lake, from which rises a greenish steam, a delicate green that sends tendrils
curling around the spires of Varnal. Most of Varnal's graceful buildings are
tall and white, though some are built of the unique blue marble which is mined
close by. Others have traceries of gold in them, making them glitter in the
sunlight. The city is walled by the same blue marble, which also has golden
traceries in it. From its towers fly pennants, gay and multicolored, and its
terraces are crowded with its handsome inhabitants, the plainest of whom would
be a sought-after beau or belle in Wynnsville, Ohio—or, indeed, Chicago or any
other great city of our world.

When I first came upon the city of
Varnal
, led by that wonderful girl,
I gasped in awed admiration. She seemed to accept my gasp as the compliment it
was and she smiled proudly, saying something in her then incomprehensible
language.

I decided that I could not be
dreaming, for my own imagination was simply not capable of creating such a
vision of splendor and loveliness.

But where was I? I did not know
then. How had I got there? That I still cannot answer fully.

I puzzled over the second
question. Evidently the matter transmitter had had a fault. Instead of sending
me
to the receiver on the other side of the lab building it
had sent me hurtling through space—perhaps through time, too—to another world.
It could not be Earth—not, at least, the Earth of my own age. Somehow I could
not believe it was any Earth, of the past or the future. Yet it could not be
the only other obvious planet in our solar system—Mars—for Mars was a dead,
arid planet of red dust and lichen. Yet the size of the Sun and the fact that
gravity was less here than on Earth seemed to indicate Mars.

It was in a daze of speculation
that I allowed the girl to lead me through the golden gates of the city,
through its tree-lined streets, towards a palace of shining white stone.
People, men and women dressed—if dressed is the word—similarly to the girl,
glanced in polite curiosity at my white lab coat and grey pants which I was
still wearing.

We mounted the steps of the palace
and entered a great hall, hung with banners of many colors, on which were
embroidered strange emblems, mythical beasts and words traced out in a peculiar
script which also reminded me of Sanskrit.

Five galleries rose around the
hall and in the centre a fountain played. The few simply-dressed people who
stood conversing in the hall waved cheerfully to the girl and gave me that same
look of polite curiosity I had received in the streets.

We walked through the hall,
through another doorway and up a spiral staircase of white marble. Here she
paused on the landing and opened a door that at first looked like metal but on
closer observation proved to be wood of incredible hardness and polish.

The room in which I found myself
was quite small. It was barely furnished, with a few rugs of brightly dyed
animal skins scattered about and a series of cupboards around the walls.

The girl went to one of these
cupboards, opened it and took out two metal circlets in which were set radiant
gems of a kind completely unknown to me. She placed one of these on her head
and indicated that I should imitate her with the second. I took the circlet and
fitted it over my own head.

Suddenly a voice spoke inside my
skull. I was astonished for a second, until I realized that here was some kind
of telepathic communicator which we physicists had only speculated about.

"Greetings, stranger,"
said the voice, and I could see the girl's lips move, framing those lovely,
alien syllables. "From where do you come?"

"I come from
Chicago
,
Illinois
," I said, more to test the
device than to convey information which I guessed would be meaningless to her.

She frowned. "Soft sounds and
very pleasant, but I do not know that place. Where in Vashu is that?"

"Vashu?
Is this city in a land called Vashu?"

"No—Vashu is the whole
planet. This city is called Varnal, capital of the nation of the Karnala, my
people."

"Do you have astronomy?"
I asked. "Do you study the stars?"

"We do. Why do you ask?"

"Which planet is this in
relation to the sun?"

"It is the fourth from the
sun."

"Mars!
It is Mars!" I cried.

"I do not follow you."

"I am sorry. Somehow I have
arrived here from the third planet, which we call Earth. That is where
Chicago
is!"

"But there are no men on
Negalu, the third planet.
Only steamy jungles and monstrous
beasts!"

"How do you know so much
about the planet?"

"Our ethercraft have visited
it and brought back pictures."

"You have space-ships—but
..." I was at a loss. This was too incredible for me to accept all at
once. I questioned her more closely and soon learned that the Earth her people
knew was not the Earth I bad left. It seemed to be an Earth that had existed
millions of years ago, during the Age of Reptiles. Somehow both space and time
had been crossed. That matter transmitter had more to it than we'd guessed!

Another thing puzzled me. The
people did not appear to have a great deal of technology visible in the
city—yet they had space-ships.

"How could this be?" I
asked her.

"We did not build the
ethercraft. They were a gift from the Sheev—as were these mind-crowns. We have
a science of our own but it cannot compare to the great wisdom and knowledge of
the Sheev."

"Who are the Sheev?"

"They are very great and few
of them still live. They are remote and of an older race than any on Vashu. Our
philosophers speculate on their origin, but we know little about them."

I let that go for the time being
and decided it was about the moment to introduce myself.

"I am called Michael
Kane," I said.

"I am Shizala, Bradhinaka of
the Kanala, and ruler in the absence of the Bradhi."

I learned that the Bradhi was
about the equivalent of our 'kang', although the title did not suggest that the
man who held it possessed absolute power.

Perhaps Guide would be a better
one—or Protector? Bradhinaka meant, roughly, Princess—daughter of the King.

"And where is the
Bradhi?" I asked.

I saw her face become sad and she
glanced at the ground.

"My father disappeared two
years ago—on a punitive expedition against the Argzoon. He must have been
killed or, if he was captured, killed himself. It is better to die than become
a prisoner of the Blue Giants."

I expressed my sympathy and did
not feel the time right to ask what the Argzoon or Blue Giants were. She was
evidently deeply moved by the memory of the loss of her father, but showed
great self-control in refusing to burden someone else with her grief.

I felt immediately like trying to
offer her some comfort. But, considering I knew nothing of the moral code and
customs of her
people, that
might perhaps have been
disastrous.

She touched her circlet. "We
only need to wear these for the time being. The Sheev have given us another
machine which should be able to teach you our spoken language."

We conversed a little longer and I
learned much of Mars—or Vashu, as I was already beginning to think of it.

There were many nations on Mars,
some friendly towards the Kanala, some not. They all spoke recognizable
versions of the same root language. This is supposedly true of Earth—that our
language was originally a common one; but in our case the changes have been
extreme. This was not the case, I learned, on Vashu.

Mars's seas still existed, Shizala
told me, though apparently they were not
so
vast as
Earth's. Varnal, capital of the Karnala
nation,
was
one of a number of countries, with rather hazily defined borders, which existed
on a large land-mass bigger, but in roughly the same geographical position,
than the whole of the American continent.

Travel was
effected
in two main ways. Most ordinary travel relied on the dahara, a riding and
carriage beast of great strength and endurance. But many nations had a few
aircraft. As far as I could make out, these relied on atomics—which none of the
Vashu peoples understood. These had not been gifts of the Sheev, I learned, but
must once have belonged to the Sheev. They were incredibly ancient by all
accounts and could not be replaced when destroyed. Thus they were only used in
emergencies. There were also ships incorporating some sort of atomic engine,
and sailing ships of various kinds. These plied the few rivers of Vashu—rivers
which were shrinking with almost every year that passed.

For arms, the Vashu warriors
relied primarily on the sword. They had guns—Shizala showed me hers. It was a
long-barreled, finely made weapon with a comfortable grip. I could not quite
see what it fired or on what principle it worked, but as Shizala tried to
explain haltingly I concluded that it was some sort of laser gun. What an
incredible amount of power, I thought, was packed into its chambers, for we
scientists had always argued that a laser hand-gun was out of the question,
since the power required to produce the laser ray—tightly focused light which
could cut through steel—relied on a very big generator. Wonderingly, I handed
the gun back to her. These guns, not gifts of the Sheev but probably looted
from their now lost or completely ruined cities by Shizala's remote ancestors,
were also used infrequently, since once the charge was finally expended it
could not be replaced. Their akashasard—or ethercraft—apparently numbered five
in all. Three of these belonged to the Karnala and one each to friendly,
neighbouring nations—the Iridala and the Walavala. Although there were pilots
who could operate them, none of the folk of Vashu had any idea how they worked.

Other benefits which a few chosen
nations had received from the mysterious Sheev included a longevity serum
which, once taken, did not need to be taken again. Everyone was allowed to use
it and it gave up to two thousand years of life! Because of this very few
children were born, so the population of Vashu remained comparatively small. No
bad thing, I reflected. I could have listened to Shizala for hours, but at
length she stopped my questions with a smile.

"First we must eat. The
evening meal will be served soon. Come."

I followed Shizala as she led me
from the little room and down into the main hall, which was now furnished with
several large tables at which sat men and women of Kanala, all handsome and
beautiful and chatting gaily.

They all rose politely, though not
servilely, as Shizala took her place at the head of one of the tables. She
indicated the chair on her left and I sat down. The food looked strange but
smelled good. Opposite me, on Shizala's right, sat a dark-haired young man,
superbly muscled. He wore a simple gold bangle on his right wrist and he put
his arm on the table in such a way as to show it off.

Evidently he was proud of it for
he wanted me to see it. I guessed it to be a decoration of some kind and
thought no more of it.

Shizala introduced the man as
Bradhinak—or Prince Telem Fas Ogdai. The name did not sound like a Karnala name,
and it soon transpired that Bradhinak Telem Fas Ogdai was from the city of
Mishim
Tep
, a friendly nation some two thousand miles to the
south. He was, so it seemed, a witty talker though, of course, I could not
understand what he said. Only a person wearing a circlet could communicate with
me.

On my left was a pleasant-faced
young man with long, almost white, fair hair. He seemed to be making a special
effort to make me feel at home, offering food and drink, asking polite
questions through Shizala, who translated for us. This was Darnad, Shizala's
younger brother. Apparently the succession to the throne of Varnal was
determined by sex and not by age.

Darnad was apparently chief
Pukan-Nara of Varnal. A Pukan, I learned, was a warrior, and a Pukan-Nara a
warrior leader. The chief PukanNara was elected by popular vote—by civilians
and warriors alike. I assumed from this that Darnad's position was therefore no
honorary one, and that he had earned it through prowess and intelligence.
Though he was personable and charming, the people of Varnal did not judge a man
merely on his appearance but on his merit and record.

I was already beginning to pick up
a few words of the Vashu tongue by the time the meal was over, and we adjourned
into an ante-room to drink a beverage called basu, a sweetish drink I found
quite palatable but which, frankly, did not at that time seem as good to me as
good, old-fashioned coffee. Later I was to discover that basu grew on one and
then I preferred it to coffee. Like coffee, it is a mild stimulant.

In spite of the basu, I began to
feel quite sleepy and, always alert to her guests' needs, Shizala sensed this.

"I have had a room prepared
for you," she telepathed. "Perhaps you would like to retire
now."

I admitted that the day's
surprising experiences had taken a lot out of me. A servant was called and
Shizala went with us up the stairs to the second floor of the palace. A dim
bulb burned in the room, giving adequate light, Shizala showed me a bell-rope
very like old-fashioned bell-ropes on Earth. It was close to the bed and was
used to summon a servant. She left her circlet behind when she left. Before she
did so she told me that anyone could use the circlet and the servant would know
how.

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