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´╗┐Title: War-Gods of the Void
Author: Kuttner, Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "War-Gods of the Void" ***

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                          War-Gods of the Void

                            By HENRY KUTTNER


              Jerry Vanning trailed the fugitive Callahan
             into the swampy wastes of Venus, Hell-Kingdom
         of the fabled War-Gods. He reached his goal--walking
            with the robot-strides of a North-fever slave.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                        Planet Stories Fall 42.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


                                   I

Earth Consul, Goodenow, tossed a packet of microfilms to Vanning, and
said, "You're crazy. The man you're after isn't here. Only damn fools
ever come to Venus--and don't ask me why I'm here. You're crazy to
think you'll find a fugitive hiding on this planet."

Jerry Vanning, earth state investigator, moved his stocky body
uneasily. He had a headache. He had had it ever since the precarious
landing through the tremendous wind-maelstroms of the pea-soup Venusian
atmosphere. With an effort he focused his vision on the micro-projector
Goodenow handed him, and turned the tiny key. Inside the box, a face
sprang into view. He sighed and slid another of the passport-films into
place. He had never seen the man before.

"Routine check-up," he said patiently. "I got a tip Callahan was
heading here, and we can't afford to take chances."

The consul mopped his sweating, beefy face and cursed Venusian
air-conditioning units. "Who is this guy Callahan, anyway?" he asked.
"I've heard a little--but we don't get much news on the frontier."

"Political refugee," Vanning said, busy with the projector.
"Potentially, one of the most dangerous men in the System. Callahan
started his career as a diplomat, but there wasn't enough excitement
for him."

The consul fumbled with a cigar. "Can you tell me any more?"

"Well--Callahan got hold of a certain secret treaty that must be
destroyed. If he shows it in the right places, he might start a
revolution, particularly on Callisto. My idea is that he's hiding out
till the excitement dies down--and then he'll head for Callisto."

Goodenow pursed his lips. "I see. But you won't find him here."

Vanning jerked his thumb toward a window. "The jungle--"

"Hell, no!" the consul said decidedly. "Venus, Mr. Vanning, is _not_
Earth. We've got about two hundred settlements scattered here and
there; the rest is swamp and mountains. When a man gets lost, we wait
a few days and then write out a death certificate. Because once an
Earthman leaves a settlement, his number's up."

"So?"

"So Callahan isn't here. Nobody comes here," Goodenow said bitterly.

"Settlers do," Vanning remarked.

"Bloody fools. They raise herbs and _mola_. If they didn't come,
Venus would be uninhabited except by natives in a few years. The
North-Fever ... You'd better watch out for that, by the way. If you
start feeling rocky, see a doctor. Not that it'll help. But you can be
put under restraint till the fever passes."

Vanning looked up. "I've heard of that. Just what--"

"Nobody knows," Goodenow said, shrugging hopelessly. "A virus. A
filterable virus, presumably. Scientists have been working on it ever
since Venus was colonized. It hits the natives, too. Some get it,
some don't. It works the same way with Earthmen. You feel like you're
cracking up--and then, suddenly--you go North. Into the swamp. You
never come back. That's the end of you."

"Funny!"

"Sure it is. But--ever heard of the lemmings? Little animals that used
to make mass pilgrimages, millions of them. They'd head west till they
reached the ocean, and then keep going. Nobody knew the cause of that,
either."

"What lies north?"

"Swamp, I suppose. How should I know? We've got no facilities for
finding out. We can't fly, and expeditions say there's nothing there
but the usual Venusian hell. I wish--"

                 *        *        *        *        *

"Oh-oh!" Vanning sat up, peering into the projector. "Wait a minute,
Goodenow. I think--"

"Callahan? No!"

"He's disguised, but ... Lucky this is a three-dimensional movie. Let's
hear his voice." Vanning touched a button on the box. A low, musical
voice said:

"My name is Jerome Bentley, New York City, Earth. I'm an importer, and
am on Venus to investigate the possibilities of buying a steady supply
of herbs--"

"Yeah," Vanning said tonelessly. "That's it. Jerome Bentley--nuts!
That's Don Callahan! He's disguised so well his own mother wouldn't
know him--best make-up artist in the System. But I've studied his
records till I nearly went blind and deaf. I don't make mistakes about
Callahan any more."

Goodenow blinked. "I'll be blowed. I've seen the man a dozen times, and
I'd have sworn ... well! If you're sure--"

"I'm sure." Vanning referred to the records. "Staying at the Star
Palace, eh? Okay, I'll be pushing off."

"I'll go with you," the consul offered, and lifted his bulky body from
behind the gleaming desk. Together the two men went out into the muggy
Venusian day, which was now fading to a slow, blue dusk.

Venus did not revolve; it librated. There was no such thing as sunrise
and sunset. But there was a very regular thickening and fading of the
eternal cloudbanks that writhed overhead, approximating day and night.
Despite the continual frantic disturbance of the atmosphere, the clouds
were so thick that it was never possible to see the Sun.

Only the ragged, eye-straining movement of the grayness overhead, and
the warm, humid wind that gusted against your sweating skin. And the
sulphurous smells that drifted in from the jungle--odors of stagnant
water and rottenness and things that grew unhealthily white.

Frontier town, Vanning thought, as he glanced around. Chicago must
have looked like this, in the old days, when streets were unpaved and
business was the town's only reason for existence. But Venus Landing
would never grow into another Chicago. A few thousand souls, working
under terrible handicaps, always fearing the North-Fever that meant
death....

Muddy streets, wooden sidewalks already rotting, metal buildings, of
two stories at most, long, low hydroponic sheds, a dull, hot apathy
that hung over everything--that was Venus Landing. A few natives
shuffled past on their snowshoe feet, looking fat and wet, as though
made out of wax that had begun to run.

The Star Palace was a down-at-the-heels plastic building, stained and
discolored by the damp molds. Goodenow jerked his head at the clerk.

"Where's Leester?"

"North-Fever," the man said, worrying his lower lip. "This morning ...
we couldn't stop him."

"Oh, hell," the consul said hopelessly, turning to Vanning. "That's the
way it is. Once the fever hits you, you go crazy. Do everything and
anything to get away and head north. Leester was a nice kid. He was
going back to Earth, next Christmas."

Vanning looked at the clerk. "A man named Jerome Bentley's staying
here."

"He's somewhere around town. Dunno where."

"Okay," the consul said. "If he comes in, phone my office. But don't
tell him we were asking."

"Yup." The clerk resumed his vague scrutiny of the ceiling. Vanning and
Goodenow went out.

                 *        *        *        *        *

"Where now?"

"We'll just amble around. Hi!" The consul hailed a ricksha, drawn by
a native--the usual type of vehicle in Venus Landing's muddy streets.
"Hop in, Vanning."

The detective obeyed. His headache was getting worse.

They couldn't find Callahan. A few men said that they had seen him
earlier that day. Someone had glimpsed him on the outskirts of the
settlement.

"Heading for the jungle?" Goodenow asked quickly.

"He--yeah. He looked ... very bad."

The consul sucked in his breath. "I wonder. Let's go out that way,
Vanning."

"All right. What do you figure--"

"The fever, maybe," Goodenow grunted. "It strikes fast. Especially to
non-natives. If your friend Callahan's caught North-Fever, he just
started walking into the swamp and forgot to stop. You can mark the
case closed."

"Not till I get that treaty back," Vanning growled.

Goodenow shook his head doubtfully.

The buildings grew sparser and ceased at the edge of the pale forest.
Broad-leafed jungle growths sprang from moist black soil. The ricksha
stopped; the native chattered in his own tongue.

"Sure," Goodenow said, tossing him a coin. "Wait here. _Zan-t'kshan._"
His burly figure lumbered into the translucent twilight of the jungle.
Vanning was at his heels.

There were footprints--many of them. The detective ignored them, moving
in a straight line away from Venus Landing. Here and there were blazed
_mola_ trees, some with buckets hung to collect the dripping sap. The
footprints grew fainter. At last only one set remained visible.

"A man. Pretty heavy-set, too. Wearing Earth shoes, not sandals like
most of ours. Callahan, probably."

Vanning nodded. "He didn't come back by this route."

"He didn't come back," Goodenow said shortly. "This is a one-way trail."

"Well, I'm going after him."

"It's suicidal. But--I suppose I can't talk you out of it?"

"You can't."

"Well, come back to town and I'll find you an outfit. Supplies and a
hack-knife. Maybe I can find some men willing to go with you."

"No," Vanning said. "I don't want to waste time. I'll start now." He
took a few steps, and was halted by Goodenow's restraining grip.

"Hold on," the consul said, a new note in his voice. He looked closely
into Vanning's face, and pursed his lips in a soundless whistle.

"You've got it," he said. "I should have noticed before."

"Got what?"

"The North-Fever, man! Now listen to me--"

Vanning's headache suddenly exploded in a fiery burst of white pain,
which washed away and was gone, leaving his brain cool and ...
different. It was like a--like a _cold_ fever. He found his thoughts
were moving with unusual clarity to a certain definite point.... North.
Of course he had to go north. That was what had been wrong with him all
day. He had been fighting against the urge. Now he realized that it
should be obeyed, instead.

He blinked at Goodenow's heavy, worried face. "I'm all right. No fever.
I want to find Callahan, that's all."

"Like hell it is," the consul said grimly. "I know the symptoms. You're
coming back with me till you're well."

"No."

Goodenow made a movement as though to pinion Vanning's hands behind his
back. The detective writhed free and sent a short-arm jab to Goodenow's
jaw. There was power behind that blow. The consul went over backwards,
his head thumping against a white tree-bole.

He lay still.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Vanning didn't look at the motionless body. He turned and began to
follow Callahan's trail. But he wasn't watching the footprints. Some
instinct seemed to guide him.

North ... North!

His head no longer hurt. It felt strangely cool, numb and stinging
almost pleasantly. The magnetic pull drew him on. Deeper and deeper
into the jungle....

Distantly he heard Goodenow's shout, but ignored it. The consul
couldn't stop him. But he might try. Vanning ran for a while, lightly
and easily, till the wilderness of Venus had swallowed him without
trace. Then he slowed down to a walk. He would have been grateful for a
brief rest, but he could not stop. Not Now....

The fog closed in. Silver mist veiled the strange, ghostly forest.
Then it was torn away as a gust of wind drove down from the upper air.
Above, the clouds twisted in tortured writhings; but Vanning did not
look up. Not once did he turn his head. He faced north ... he plodded
north ... he slogged through mushy, stinking swamp that rose at times
to his waist....

A sane man would have skirted the bog. Vanning floundered across, and
swam when he could no longer walk. Somewhere to the left he heard
the coughing mutter of a swamp-cat's engine, but he did not see the
machine. His vision was restricted to a narrow circle directly ahead.

Dimly he felt pain. The clinging, soft nettles of Venus ripped at his
clothing and his skin. Leeches clung to his legs till they fell off,
satiated. Vanning went on. He was a robot--an automaton.

In silence the pale forest slipped by in a fantastic procession. Lianas
often made a tangled snare where Vanning fought for minutes before
breaking through. Luckily, the vines had little tensile strength,
but soon the man was exhausted and aching in every limb. Far above,
the clouds had thickened and darkened into what passed for night on
fog-shrouded Venus. But the trees gave a phosphorescent light of their
own. Weird beyond imagination was the scene, with the bloody, reeling
figure of the man staggering on toward the north--

North. Ever north. Until overtaxed muscles refused to bear the burden
longer, and Vanning collapsed into exhausted unconsciousness.

He did not know when he awoke. Presently he found himself walking
again. Nothing had changed. The jungle was denser, and the cool light
from above filtered down once more. Only the light was cool. The air
itself was sticky and suffocating.

He went on into hell.

Days and nights merged into a fantastic pattern of dull torture. Some
distantly sane portion of his brain held back and watched, but could
not help. Days and nights. There was no food. There was water, for as
Vanning splashed through shallow pools he would bend his head to drink
of the foul liquid. Once his feet crunched on the green-moulded bones
of a human skeleton. Others had taken this way before him....

                 *        *        *        *        *

Toward the end, a fleshless, gaunt thing that had once been a man
dragged itself laboriously toward a range of mountains that lifted from
the swamp toward the north. They extended to left and right as far
as he could see, and seemed unscalable. But they were V-shaped, and
Vanning headed toward the point of the V--the inner point. The terrible
drive within him drove him on relentlessly.

That night a sulphurous crimson glow lit the sky beyond the mountains.
Vanning did not see it. He slept.

By morning he was on his way again, staggering into the funnel of the
peaks. They were bare rock, eroded by eons of trickling water from the
clouds. He could not climb them, even had he possessed the strength. He
went on, instead, into the narrowing valley....

It ended in a sheer cliff of weathered stone. Vanning reeled toward
the barrier. He could not return. The North-Fever drove him on
remorselessly. He had to climb that wall of rock, or die. And he could
not climb.

He fell, rose, and fell again. In the end he crawled. He crawled to
the foot of the cliff and dragged himself upright. He fell forward, as
though trying to press his body against the towering wall that lifted
to the writhing grey clouds--

Fell--through the stone!

He toppled through the rock curtain as though it were non-existent!
Instantly intense blackness closed around him. Hard stone was under him.

His mind was too dulled to wonder. He knew only that the way north was
still open. He crept on through darkness, leaving a trail of blood
behind him....

The ground dropped from under him. He crashed down on a mound of
moulded vegetation.

Before the shock had passed, the living dead man was moving again. He
crawled forward until his way was blocked by a perpendicular wall.
Gasping dry-throated sobs, he clawed at the barrier with broken,
bleeding finger-tips.

To left and right, an arm's length away, were other walls. He was in a
pit. The sane part of his brain thought: "Circle around! There may be
some way out!"

But Vanning could not circle. He could only move in one direction. That
was north. He fumbled blindly at the wall, until unconsciousness came
at last....

Twice again he awoke, each time weaker, and twice again he slept. The
fever, having passed its peak, dwindled swiftly.

At last Vanning awoke, and he was sane. No longer did he feel the
relentless urge to turn north. He lay for a little while staring into
the blackness, realizing that he was once more in full command of his
traitorous body.

There was little life left in him. His tongue was blackened and swollen
till it filled his mouth. He was a scarecrow, nearly naked, his bones
sharply defined through his skin.

It was an effort even to breathe. But death would not be long in
coming--now....

                                   II

Dying is an uncomfortable business, unless a man is drugged or
insensible. Vanning found it so. Moreover, he wasn't the sort of man
who would give up without good cause. Weak as he was, nevertheless he
was still too strong to lie in the dark, waiting.

Laboriously, he got to his hands and knees and commenced a circuit of
the pit. He expected nothing. But, at the southern end of his prison,
he was astounded to find a hole in the wall easily large enough to
admit his body.

Feeling into the blackness, he discovered the smooth floor of a
passage. Good Lord! It had been there all the time, during his tortured
imprisonment in the pit. If he had only searched before--

But he could not have done so, of course. Not with the North-Fever
flaming in his veins.

The tunnel might lead anywhere. All the chances were against its
leading to safety. Sooner or later, there would probably be a dead
end. Nevertheless, there _was_ a chance. That chance grew brighter as
Vanning's fingers discovered that the walls bore the marks of tools.

The tunnel had been made by--perhaps not humans, but at least by some
intelligent race!

It grew higher as he went on, but Vanning was too weak to rise. He
realized dimly that the passage made a sharp hairpin turn.

Through the dark the distant clangor of a bell roared.

Vanning hesitated, and then resumed his weak crawl. There was nothing
else to do.

The ground dropped from beneath him. He went rolling and slipping down
an inclined slide, to stop with a jolt against a softly padded surface.
The shock was too much for his exhausted mind and body. He felt
consciousness leaving him.

But he realized that it was no longer dark. Through a pale, luminous
twilight he caught a glimpse of a mask hovering over him--the mask of
no human thing. Noseless save for tiny slits, gap-mouthed, round-eyed,
the face was like that of a fish incredibly humanized--fantastically
evolved. A patina of green scales overlaid the skin.

The gong thundered from nearby. The monstrous mask dissolved into the
blackness that swept up and took Vanning to its heart. Nothing existed
but pain, and that, too, was wiped out by the encompassing dark....

                 *        *        *        *        *

He was very sick. Complete exhaustion had almost killed him. He was
lying on a soft pallet, and from time to time the stinging shock of a
needle in his arm told him that he was being fed by injection. Later,
water trickled down his throat. His swollen tongue resumed its normal
shape. Sleep came, tormented by dreams. The mask of the fish-like thing
swam at him from gray shimmering light. It gave place to a great bell
that roared deafeningly.

Then the face of a girl, pale, lovely, with auburn ringlets clustering
about her cheeks. Sympathetic blue eyes looked into his. And that, too,
was gone....

He awoke to find--something--standing above him. And it was no
nightmare. It was the thing of his dreams--a being that stood upright
on two stocky legs, and which wore clothing, a shining silver tunic
and kirtle. The head was fish-like, but the high cranium told of
intelligence.

It said something in a language Vanning did not know. Weakly he shook
his head. The fish-being launched into the Venusian dialect.

"You are recovered? You are strong again?"

Vanning sought for words. "I'm--all right. But where am I? Who--"

"Lysla will tell you." The creature clapped its huge hands together as
it turned. The door closed behind its malformed back, opening again to
reveal the auburn-haired girl Vanning recognized.

He sat up, discovering that he was in a bare room walled with gray
plastic, and that he was lying on a pallet of some elastic substance.
Under a metallic-looking but soft robe, he was naked. The girl, he
saw, bore over her arm a bundle of garments, crimson as the kirtle she
herself wore.

Her smile was wan. "Hello," she said, in English. "Feel better now?"

Vanning nodded. "Sure. But am I crazy? That thing that just went out--"

Horror darkened the girl's blue eyes. "That is one of the Swamja. They
rule here."

"Here? Where's here?"

Lysla knelt beside the bed. "The end of the world--for us, Jerry
Vanning."

"How do you know my name?"

"There were papers in your clothes--what was left of them. And--it'll
be hard to explain all this. I've only been here a month myself."

Vanning rubbed his stubbly beard. "We're on Venus?"

"Yes, of course. This is a--a valley. The Swamja have lived here for
ages, since before Earthmen colonized Venus."

"I never heard of them."

"None ever return from this place," Lysla said sombrely. "They become
slaves of the Swamja--and in the end they die. New slaves come, as you
did."

Vanning's eyes narrowed. "Hold on. I'm beginning to understand, a
little. The Swamja--those fish-headed people--have a secret city here,
eh? They're intelligent?"

She nodded. "They have great powers. They consider themselves the
gods of Venus. You see--Jerry Vanning--they evolved long before the
anthropoid stock did. Originally they were aquatic. I don't know much
about that. Legends ... Anyway, a very long time ago, they built this
city and have never left it since. But they need slaves. So they send
out the North-Fever--"

                 *        *        *        *        *

"_What?_" Vanning's face grayed. "Lysla--what did you say? The fever's
artificial?"

"Yes. The virus is carried by microscopic spores. The Swamja send it
out to the upper atmosphere, and the great winds carry it all over
Venus. The virus strikes very quickly. Once a man catches it, as you
did, he goes north. These mountains are a trap. They're shaped like a
funnel, so anyone with the fever inevitably heads into the pass, as
you did. They are drawn through the mirage, which looks like a wall of
rock. No one who wasn't--sick--would try to go through that cliff."

Vanning grunted, remembering. "Keep talking. I'm beginning--"

"There isn't much more. The victims fall into the pits, and stay there
till the fever has run its course. The Swamja run no risks of being
infected themselves. After the sickness has passed, it's easy to find
the way out of the pits--and all the tunnels lead to this place."

"God!" Vanning whispered. "And you say this has been going on for
centuries?"

"Very many centuries. First the natives, and now the Earthpeople as
well. The Swamja need slaves--none live long here. But there is always
a supply trickling in from outside."

Thousands of helpless victims, through the ages, drawn into this
horrible net, dragged northward to be the slaves of an inhuman race....
Vanning licked dry lips.

"Many die," the girl said. "The Swamja want only the strongest. And
only the strongest survive the trip north."

"You--" Vanning looked at Lysla questioningly.

She smiled sadly. "I'm stronger than I look, Jerry. But I almost
died.... I still haven't completely recovered. I--was much prettier
than I am now."

Vanning found that difficult to believe. He couldn't help grinning at
the girl's very feminine admission. She flushed a little.

"Well," he said at last, "you're not Venusian, I can see that. How did
you come to get sucked into this?"

"Just bad luck," Lysla told him. "A few months ago I was on top of the
world, in New York. I've no parents. My father left me a trust fund,
but it ran out unexpectedly. Bad investments, I suppose. So I found
myself broke and needed a job. There weren't any jobs for unskilled
labor, except a secretarial position in Venus Landing. I was lucky to
get that."

"You've got nerve," Vanning said.

"It didn't help. The North-Fever hit me, and the next thing I knew, I
was ... here. A slave."

"How many Earthmen are there here?"

"About a hundred. Not many are strong enough to reach the pass. And
about the same number of Venusian natives."

"How many Swamja?"

"A thousand, more or less," Lysla explained. "Only the highest classes
have slaves. Most of the Swamja are trained for the military."

"So? Who the devil do they fight?"

"Nobody. It's a tradition with them--part of their religion. They
believe they're gods, and the soldiers serve as the Valkyries did in
the Norse Valhalla."

"Two hundred slaves.... What weapons do the Swamja have?"

Lysla shook her head. "Not many. A paralysis hand-projector, a few
others. But they're invulnerable, or nearly so. Their muscles are much
tougher than ours. A different cellular construction."

Vanning pondered. He could understand that. The human heart-muscle is
much stronger and tougher than--say--the biceps.

The girl broke into his thoughts. "Rebellion is quite useless. You
won't believe that now, but you'll understand soon."

"Maybe," Vanning said tonelessly. "Anyhow--what's next on the program?"

"Slavery." Her voice was bitter. "Here are your clothes. When you're
dressed, you'll find a ramp leading down outside the door. I'll be
waiting." She detached a metal plaque from the wall and went out.
Vanning, after a scowling pause, dressed and followed.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The corridor in which he found himself was of bare plastic, covered
with a wavy bas-relief oddly reminiscent of water's ripples, and tinted
azure and gray. Here and there cold lamps, using a principle unfamiliar
to the man, were set in the walls. Radioactivity, he theorized, or the
Venusian equivalent. He saw a ramp, and descended it to enter a huge
low-ceilinged room, with doors at intervals set in the curving walls.
One of the doors was open, and Lysla's low voice called him.

He entered a cubicle, not large, with four crude bunks arranged here
and there. The girl was fitting the metal plaque into a frame over one.
She smiled at him.

"Your dog-license, Jerry. You're 57-R-Mel. It means something to the
Swamja, I suppose."

"Yeah?" Vanning saw a similar plaque over each of the cots. "What's
this place?"

"One of the dormitories. Four to an apartment is the rule. You'll be
lodged with three men who arrived a little while before you did--two
Earthmen and a Venusian."

"I see. What am I supposed to do?"

"Just wait here till you're summoned. And Jerry--" She came toward
him, placing her palms flat on his broad chest, her blue eyes looking
up into his appealingly. "Jerry, please don't do anything foolish. I
know it's hard at first. But--_they_--punish rebellious slaves rather
awfully."

Vanning smiled down at her. "Okay, Lysla. I'll look around before
I do anything. But, believe me, I intend to start a private little
revolution around here."

She shook her head hopelessly, auburn curls flying. "It isn't any use.
I've seen that already. You'll see it, too. I must go now. And be
careful, Jerry."

He squeezed her arm reassuringly. "Sure. I'll see you again?"

"Yes. But now--"

She was gone. Vanning whistled softly, and turned to examine the room.
Sight of his face in a mirror startled him. Under the stubbly growth of
beard, his familiar features had altered, grown haggard and strained.

A razor lay handy--or, rather, a sharp dagger with a razor-sharp edge.
There was a bar of gray substance that gave a great deal of lather when
Vanning moistened it in the metal bowl that served as a wash-basin. He
shaved, and felt much better.

His weakness had almost entirely gone. The medical science of the
Swamja, at least, was above reproach. Nevertheless, he tired easily....
That would pass.

Who were his bunk-mates in this cubicle? Idly Vanning scrutinized their
effects, strewn helter-skelter on the shelves. Nothing there to tell
him. There was a metal comb, however, and Vanning reached for it. It
slipped from his fingers and clattered to the plastic floor.

Vanning grunted and got down on his knees to recover the object, which
had skidded into a dark recess under the lowest shelf. His fumbling
fingers encountered something cold and hard, and he drew it out
wonderingly. It was a flat case, without ornament, and clicked open in
his hands.

It was a make-up kit. Small as it was, it contained an incredible
quantity of material for disguises. Tiny pellets were there, each
stamped with a number. Dyestuffs that would mix with water. There was
a package of _isoflex_, the transparent, extraordinary thin "rigid
cellophane" of the day. There were other things....

                 *        *        *        *        *

Vanning's eyes widened. Two and two made an unmistakable four. Only
one man on Venus would have reason to possess such a kit. That man was
Don Callahan, whom Vanning had vainly pursued from Mars to Earth, and
thence to Venus.

Callahan here!

But why not? He, too, had fallen victim to North-Fever. He had simply
preceded Vanning in his drugged trip to this hidden kingdom.

"Who the hell are you?"

The harsh question brought Vanning to his feet, instinctively
concealing the make-up kit in his garments. He stared at the man
standing on the threshold--a husky, broad-shouldered specimen with
flaming red hair and a scarred, ugly face. Squinting, keen eyes watched
Vanning.

"I'm--your new room-mate, I guess," the detective said tentatively.
"Jerry Vanning's my name."

"Mine's Sanderson. Kenesaw Sanderson." The other rubbed a broken nose
thoughtfully. "So you're new. Well, get this straight. Don't try any
tricks with the Swamja or get any ideas."

Vanning tilted his head to one side. "I don't get it."

"New guys," Sanderson said scornfully. "They're always figuring it'll
be easy to escape. They try it, and we all suffer. The Swamja are tough
babies. Take it easy, do what you're told, and everything's okay. See?"

"Not quite." There was a roughness in Vanning's tone. "How long have
you been here?"

"A few weeks, about. I don't recall exactly. What of it?"

"You don't look yellow. It just seems funny that you'd give up so
easily. You look pretty tough."

Sanderson snarled deep in his throat. "I am tough! I'm also smart.
Listen, Mr. Jerry Vanning, two days after I got here I saw the Swamja
punish a guy who tried to escape. They skinned him alive! You hear
that? And his bunk-mates--they weren't killed, but one of 'em went
crazy. Those Swamja--it's crazy to try and buck them."

"They've got you out-bluffed already, eh?"

Sanderson strode forward and gripped Vanning's shoulder in a bruising
clutch. "You talk too much. Trouble-makers don't go here. Get that
through your head."

Vanning said gently, "Let go of me, quick. Or--"

"Let him go, Kenesaw," a new voice broke in. Sanderson grunted, but
released the detective. He nodded toward the door.

"Got off early, eh, Hobbs?"

"A little." The man in the doorway was as big as Sanderson, but his
face was benevolent, gentle, and seamed with care. White hair bristled
in a ruff above his broad forehead. "A little," he repeated. "Zeeth and
I must go back tonight for the festival."

"_Sta._ We must go back tonight," said Zeeth, in the Venusian dialect.
He appeared from behind Hobbs, a native of Venus, with the familiar
soft plumpness and huge feet of the race. His dog-like eyes examined
Vanning. "New?"

The detective introduced himself. He was secretly puzzled. One of
these three men, apparently, was Callahan--but which one? None of them
resembled the man Vanning had seen on the micro-projector back at Venus
Landing. But, still--

                                  III

On impulse, Vanning took out the make-up kit and held it up. "I found
this under the shelves. Yours, Hobbs? Or Sanderson?"

Both men shook their heads, frowning. Vanning glanced at the Venusian.

"Yours, Zeeth?"

"_Esta_, it is not mine. What is it?"

"Just a case." Vanning stowed it away, and sat down on one of the cots,
wondering. As he saw it, he had two objectives to reach. First--escape.
Second--bring in Callahan.

Not merely escape, though. He thought of Lysla. A slave ... _damn_! And
the other two hundred slaves of the Swamja ... He couldn't leave them
here.

But what could he do? Conquer the Swamja? The thought was
melodramatically crazy. Perhaps alone he might contrive to escape, and
bring a troop of Space Patrolmen to wipe out the Swamja. An army, if
necessary.

The others, he saw, had seated themselves on the cots. Hobbs kicked off
his sandals and sighed. "Wish I had a smoke. Oh, well."

Vanning said sharply, "Callahan!" His eyes flicked from one to another,
and found nothing but surprise in the faces turned to him. Sanderson
rumbled,

"What the devil are you jabbering about?"

Vanning sighed. "I'm wondering something. When did you boys get here?"

It was the mild-faced Hobbs who answered. "A couple of weeks ago, I
believe. Within a few days of each other. Just before you arrived, in
fact. But we recovered long before you did. It was only a miracle that
saved your life, Vanning."

"And before you three got here--any others come from outside? Lately, I
mean."

"Not for months," Hobbs answered. "So I heard. Why?"

"Why? It proves that one of you is the man I'm after--Don Callahan.
I'm a detective; I came to Venus to find Callahan, and--by accident--I
followed him here. It stands to reason that one of you is the man I
want."

Sanderson grinned. "Don't you know what the guy looks like?"

"No," Vanning admitted. "I've recognized him before by certain tricks
he's got--the way he walks, the way he jerks his head around suddenly.
Before he came to Venus, I found out, he went to an anthro-surgeon and
got remodeled. A complete new chassis, face and body complete. Even got
skin-grafts on his finger-tips. In time the old prints will grow back,
but not for months. Meantime, Callahan's pretty well disguised."

"Good Lord!" Hobbs said. "One of us--"

Vanning nodded. "When he came to Venus, he put a disguise over his
new, remodeled face. That's gone now, of course. One of you three is
Callahan."

Zeeth, the Venusian native, said softly, "I do not think the usual laws
hold good here."

Sanderson roared with laughter. "Damn right! You expect to arrest your
man and ask the Swamja to imprison him for you?"

Vanning shook his head, smiling crookedly. "Scarcely. I'm getting out
of this place sooner or later, and Callahan's going with me. Later,
I'll bring back troops and clean out the Swamja. But I'm not forgetting
about Callahan."

Hobbs shrugged. "It isn't me."

"Nor me," Zeeth said. Sanderson only grinned.

Vanning grunted. "It's one of you. I'm pretty sure of that. And I'm
talking to you now, Callahan. You'll be able to disguise your walk and
your mannerisms, and I can't recognize your new face or fingerprints.
But sooner or later you'll forget and betray yourself. Then I'll have
to take you back to Earth."

"You will forget," Zeeth said. "In a year--five, if you live, you will
forget. Our people have legends of this land, where the gods live. Our
priests taught that the North-Fever is sent by the gods. We did not
know how true that teaching was...." His bulbous face was grotesque in
its solemnity.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Vanning didn't answer. His hope of tricking an admission from Callahan
had failed. Well, there would be time enough. Yet obviously one of
these three was the fugitive. Hobbs? Sanderson? Certainly not Zeeth--

Wait a bit! Suppose Callahan had disguised himself as a Venusian
native? That would be a perfect masquerade. And the diabolical skill of
the anthro-surgeon could have transformed Callahan into a Venusian.

Vanning looked at Zeeth with new interest. The native met his glance
with stolid calm.

"One cannot argue with fate. Those who died on the way here are
luckier. We must live and serve."

"I've got other ideas," the detective growled.

Zeeth gestured vividly. "Your race does not accept destiny, as ours
does. We have from birth a struggle for existence. Venus is a hard
mistress. But some of us live. Yet even then there is the shadow of
the North-Fever. At any time, we know, the sickness may fall upon us.
If it does, and we are not kept close prisoners, we go into the jungle
and either die or--come here. My brother was very lucky. He had the
fever three years ago, but I held him and called for help. My tribesmen
came running and tied Gharza tightly, so that he could not escape. For
ten days and nights the fever made him mad. Then it passed. The threat
had left him forever. The North-Fever only strikes once, so Gharza was
immune. I, too, am immune--but I consider myself dead, of course."

"Aw, shut up," Sanderson snapped. "You give me the leapin' creeps.
Let's get some sleep. We've got to attend the festival tonight."

"What's that?" Vanning asked.

The mild-faced Hobbs answered him. "A religious ceremony. Just do what
you're told, and you'll be all right."

"Just that, eh?"

"Our people have learned to bow our heads to Fate," Zeeth murmured. "We
are not fighters. Pain is horrible to us. You call us cowards. From
your standards, that is true. Only by bowing to the great winds have we
managed to survive."

"Shut up and let me sleep," Sanderson ordered, and relaxed his heavy
body on a bunk. The others followed his example, all but Vanning, who
sat silently thinking as hour after hour dragged past.

The door opened at last, and a Swamja stood on the threshold. He wore
the familiar costume of the race, but there was an oddly-shaped gun in
a holster at his side.

"Time!" he barked in the Venusian dialect. "Hasten! You--" He pointed
to Vanning. "Follow me. The others know where to go."

The detective silently rose and followed the Swamja into the huge room.
It was filled now, he saw, with natives and with Earthmen, hurrying
here and there like disturbed ants. There were no other Swamja, however.

One of the Venusians stumbled and fell. He was a thin, haggard specimen
of his species, and how he had ever survived the trip north Vanning
could not guess. Perhaps he had been in this lost city for years, and
had been drained of his vitality by weeks of arduous servitude. He
fell....

The Swamja barked a harsh command. The native gasped a response, tried
to rise--and failed.

Instantly the Swamja drew his gun and fired. The Venusian collapsed and
lay still. Vanning took a step forward, hot with fury, to find himself
drawn back by Hobbs' restraining hand.

"Easy!" the other whispered. "He's dead. No use--"

"Dead? I didn't hear any explosion."

"You wouldn't. That gun fires a charge of pure force that disrupts the
nervous system. It was set to kill just now."

The Swamja turned. "I must attend to this carcass. My report must be
made. You, Zeeth--take the new slave to Ombara."

"I obey." The native bowed and touched Vanning's arm. "Come with me."

                 *        *        *        *        *

Followed by Sanderson's sardonic grin, Vanning accompanied the Venusian
into a corridor, and up a winding spiral ramp. He found it difficult to
contain himself.

"Good God!" he burst out finally. "Do those devils do that all the
time? Plain cold-blooded murder?"

Zeeth nodded. "They have no emotions, you see. They are what you call
hedonists. And they are gods. We are like animals to them. The moment
we make a mistake, or are no longer useful, we are killed."

"And you submit to it!"

"There was a rebellion two years ago, I heard. Twenty slaves died to
every Swamja. They are like reptiles--nearly invulnerable. And we have
no weapons, of course."

"Can't you get any?"

"No. Nor would I try. Venusians cannot endure pain, you understand. To
us, pain is worse than death."

Vanning grunted, and was silent as they passed through a curtained
arch. Never would he forget his first sight of the Swamja city. It was
like--

Like an ocean world!

He stood upon a balcony high over the city, and looked out at a vast
valley three miles in diameter, scooped out of the heart of the
mountains as though by a cosmic cup. Overhead was no sky. A shell of
transparent substance made a ceiling above the city, a tremendous dome
that couched on the mountain peaks all around.

Gray-green light filtered through it. An emerald twilight hazed the
fantastic city, where twisted buildings like grottos of coral rose in
strange patterns. It was a labyrinth. And it was--lovely beyond all
imagination.

"Those--things--built this?" Vanning breathed.

"They knew beauty," Zeeth said. "They have certain senses we do not
have. You will see...."

From the exact center of the city a tower rose, smooth and shining as
metal. It reached to the transparent dome and seemed to rise above it,
into the clouds of Venus.

"What's that?" Vanning asked, pointing. "Their temple?"

Zeeth's voice held irony. "Not a temple--a trap. It is the tube through
which they blast the spores of the North-Fever into the sky. Day and
night without pause the virus is blown upward through that tube, far
into the air, where it is carried all over the planet."

The air was darkening, thickening. Here and there rainbow lights sprang
into view. Elfin fires in an enchanted world, Vanning thought.

Through the grotesque city equally grotesque figures moved, to be lost
in the shadows. The monsters who ruled here--ruled like soulless devils
rather than gods.

"Come. We must hurry." Zeeth tugged at Vanning's arm.

Together they went down the ramp into one of the winding avenues. It
grew darker, and more lights came on. Once Vanning paused at sight of a
corroded metal structure in the center of a well-lighted park.

"Zeeth! That's a space-ship! A light life-boat--"

The Venusian nodded. "And it is well guarded, too. It crashed through
the dome a century ago, I was told. All the men in it were killed. A
space-wreck, I suppose."

Vanning was silent as they went on. He was visualizing what had
happened in that distant past. A wreck in space, a few survivors
taking to this life-boat and setting out, hopelessly, for the nearest
world--believing, perhaps, that if they reached Venus, they would be
saved. And then the tremendous atmospheric tides and whirlpools of the
clouded planet, in which no aircraft but the hugest could survive....

Vanning whistled softly. Suppose he managed to get into that
space-boat? Suppose there was still rocket-fuel in the tanks, and
suppose it hadn't deteriorated? Couldn't he blast up through the dome
to freedom?

Sure--to freedom and death! No ship could survive in the Venusian
atmosphere, certainly not this light space-tub, of an antiquated and
obsolete design.

                 *        *        *        *        *

At one of the twisted buildings, Zeeth paused. The structure was larger
than Vanning had imagined from above, and his eyes widened as he
followed the Venusian up winding ramps, past curtained arches, till at
last they stepped into a luxurious chamber at the top. Seated on a low
tussock was a Swamja, fat and hideous, his bulging eyes glaring at the
intruders.

"You are late," he said. "Why is that?"

Zeeth bowed. "We came as swiftly as possible."

"That may be. And this slave is new. Yet errors are not permitted. For
your mistake, this--" A malformed hand rose, clutching a gun. "And
this."

Instinctively Vanning tensed to leap forward, but a blast of searing
fire seemed to explode in his body. He dropped in a boneless huddle,
gasping for breath. Beside him he saw Zeeth, similarly helpless, fat
face twisted in agony. Venusians, Vanning remembered, were horribly
sensitive to pain; and even through his own torture he felt anger at
the Swamja for meting out such ruthless justice.

But it was over in a moment, though that moment seemed to last for
eternities. Zeeth stood up, bowed again, and slipped from the room,
with a warning glance at Vanning, who also rose.

The Swamja raised his gross body. "Carry this tray. This flask and
goblet--for my thirst. This atomizer--to spray on my face when I demand
it. This fan for the heat."

Vanning silently picked up the heavy metal tray and followed the
lumbering, monstrous figure out. He had an impulse to bring the tray
down on the Swamja's head. But that wouldn't solve anything. He'd have
to wait--for a while, anyway. A show of temper might cost him his life.

Along the twisting avenue they went, and to a many-tiered amphitheatre,
where the Swamja found a seat in a cushioned throne. Already the place
was filled with the monsters. Many of them were attended by human or
Venusian slaves, Vanning saw. He stood behind the Swamja, ready for
anything, and looked down.

In the center of the pit was a pool. It was perhaps ten feet square,
and blackly opaque. That was all.

"The spray."

Vanning used the atomizer on the scaly face of his master. Then he
looked around once more.

Not far away, standing behind another Swamja, was Sanderson. The
red-haired man met his eye and grinned mockingly.

Neither Hobbs nor Zeeth was visible. But Vanning could not repress a
feeling of pleasure as he saw, several tiers down, the slim figure of
Lysla, her auburn curls bare in the cool night air, a tray similar to
his own held strapped to her slender neck.

Vanning's pleasure was lost in resentment. Damn these fish-headed
Swamja!

"Fool!" a croaking voice said. "Twice I have had to demand the spray.
Put down your tray."

Vanning caught himself and obeyed. The Swamja turned and leveled his
gun. Again the blazing, brief agony whirled sickeningly through the
detective's body.

It passed; silently he resumed his task. From time to time, he tended
to the Swamja's wants. But he also found time to glance at Lysla
occasionally.

                 *        *        *        *        *

When the ceremony began, Vanning could not tell. He sensed that the
assembly had grown tenser, and noticed that the eye of every Swamja was
focused on the black pool. But there was nothing else. Silence, and the
deformed figures staring at the jet square in the center.

Was this all? It seemed so, after half an hour had passed. Not once
had the Swamja he tended demanded attention. What the devil were the
creatures seeing in that pool?

For they saw something, Vanning was certain of that. Once a shiver of
pure ecstasy rippled through the Swamja's gross body. And once Vanning
thought he heard a musical note, almost above the pitch of audibility.
It was gone instantly.

Zeeth had said that the Swamja possessed other senses than those of
humans. Perhaps those strange senses were being used now. He did not
know then, nor was he ever to know, the non-human psychology of the
Swamja, or the purpose of the black pool. Yet Vanning unmistakably
sensed that here was something above and beyond the limitations of his
own humanity.

He grew tired, shifting from foot to foot, but it seemed the ceremony
would never end. He watched Lysla. Thus he saw her bend forward with a
filled goblet--and, losing her balance, spill the liquid contents into
the lap of the Swamja she tended.

Instantly she shrank back, her tray clattering to the floor. Stark
panic fear was in her posture as she cowered there. There was reason.
The Swamja was rising, turning, and in his huge hand was a gun....

He was going to kill Lysla. Vanning knew that. Already he was familiar
with the Swamja code that did not forgive errors. And as he saw the
stubby finger tightening on the trigger-button, Vanning acted with
swift, unthinking accuracy.

His hand closed over the flask on his tray, and he threw it unerringly.
The fragile substance crashed into the face of the Swamja menacing
Lysla, shattering into glittering shards. The being blinked and pawed
at its eyes. In a moment--

Vanning jumped clear over his own Swamja and hurtled down the steps.
His shoulder drove into the blinking monster beneath Lysla, and sent
the creature head-over-heels into the lap of another of its race below.
Vanning caught up the gun the Swamja had dropped. He turned to look
into Lysla's frightened eyes.

"Jerry--" Her voice was choked. "Oh, no!"

Abruptly a crash sounded from above. Vanning looked up to see Sanderson
swinging his metal tray like a maniac. The man's red hair was like a
beacon in the strange light. He drove his weapon into the snarling face
of a Swamja and yelled down at Vanning:

"Amscray! There's an oorday on your eftlay!"

Pig-Latin! A door on the left? Vanning saw it. With one hand he caught
Lysla's arm, and with the other smashed the gun-butt viciously into the
mask of a Swamja that rose up before him.

The creature did not go down. Its arms closed about Vanning. He
reversed the gun and squeezed the trigger-button, but without result.
Apparently the things were immune to their own weapons.

The amphitheatre was in an uproar. In a flashing glance Vanning noticed
that the black pool far below was curiously disturbed. That didn't
matter. What mattered was the devil that was seeking to break his back--

Lysla tore the gun from Vanning's hand, firing it twice. The gnarled
arms relaxed. But the two humans were almost hemmed in by the aroused
Swamjas.

A burly body dived into the mob, followed by another one. Hobbs yelled,
"Come on, kid! Fast!"

Hobbs and Zeeth! They, too, had come to the rescue. And none too soon!

The unexpected assault broke the ranks of the Swamja for an instant,
and then the Earth-people were through, racing down a slanting
corridor. They emerged outside the amphitheatre. Lysla gave them no
time to rest. Footsteps were thudding behind them.

"This way. They'll kill us now if they catch us."

She sped into an alleyway that gaped nearby. Vanning saw Hobbs and
Sanderson racing in pursuit. So Sanderson had got through, too. Good!

Zeeth?

The Venusian reeled against Vanning, his fat face contorted. "I'm--hit.
Go on--don't mind me--"

"Nuts," the detective growled, and hoisted the flabby body to his
shoulder. Zeeth had more courage than any of them, he thought. Weak of
physique, hating pain, yet he had not hesitated to join his companions
in a hopeless battle....

                                   IV

Vanning sped after the others, who had waited for him. After that it
was a desperate hare-and-hounds chase, with Lysla leading them through
the labyrinth of the city, her slender legs flying.

"You okay?" Vanning gasped as he ran shoulder to shoulder with the girl
for a moment.

Her white teeth were fixed in her lower lip. "I ... I shot at that
Swamja's eyes. Blinded him. It's the only way ... _ugh_!"

"Where now?" Hobbs panted, his white hair rippling with the wind of his
racing. Sanderson echoed the question.

"Lysla? Can we--"

"I don't know. We've been heading north. Never been there before. Can't
go south--gates are always guarded."

Hobbs panted, "There are only two ways out. The way we came
in--guarded, eh?--and another gate at the north."

"We'll try it," Vanning said. "Unless we can get to that space-ship--"

Zeeth wriggled free. "Put me down. I'm all right now. The
space-ship--that's guarded too. But there aren't any soldiers at the
north gate. I don't know why."

Through the city a rising tumult was growing. Lights were blazing here
and there, but the party kept to the shadows. Twice they flattened
themselves against walls as Swamja hurried past. Luck was with them;
but how long it would last there was no way of knowing.

Suddenly a great voice boomed out, carrying to every corner of the
city. It seemed to come from the dome high above.

"Attention! No slaves will be permitted on the streets unless
accompanied by a Swamja master! No quarter is to be given to the
fugitives who blinded a guard! Capture them alive if possible--they
must serve as an example. But show them no quarter!"

Lysla's face had paled. Vanning glanced at her, but said nothing.
Things were bad enough as they were. Only Sanderson chuckled
sardonically.

"Nice going, Vanning. How about Callahan now?"

The detective grunted. Zeeth panted, "I would--have preferred
a--peaceful death. I do not--like torture."

Vanning felt a pang of sympathy for the fat little native. But he
couldn't help him. Escape was the only chance.

"Here," Lysla gasped, pausing in the shadow of a tall building. "These
outer houses are all deserted. There's the gate."

Across a dim expanse of bare soil it loomed, a wall of metal rising
high above their heads. Vanning stared.

"No guards. Maybe it's locked. Still ... I'm going out there. If there
are any Swamja, they'll jump me. Then run like hell. Don't try to help."

Without waiting for an answer he sprinted across the clearing. At the
door he paused, staring around. Nothing stirred. He heard nothing but
the distant tumult from within the city. Looking back, he could see the
faint elfin-lights glowing here and there, and the shining tube rising
to the dome--the tube that was pouring out the North-Fever virus into
the atmosphere of tortured, enslaved Venus.

And these were the gods of Venus, Vanning thought bitterly. Devils,
rather!

He turned to the door. The locks were in plain sight, and yielded after
a minute or two to his trained hands. The door swung open automatically.

Beyond was an empty, lighted tunnel, stretching bare and silent for
perhaps fifty yards. At its end was another door.

Vanning held up his hand. "Wait a bit!" he called softly. "I'll open
the other one. Then come running!"

"Right!" Sanderson's voice called back.

An eternity later the second door swung open. Vanning gave the signal,
and heard the thud of racing feet. He didn't turn. He was staring out
across the threshold, a sick hopelessness tugging at his stomach.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The door to freedom had opened--mockingly. Ahead of him was the floor
of a canyon, widening as it ran on. But the solid ground existed for
only a quarter of a mile beyond the threshold.

Beyond that was flame.

Red, crawling fire carpeted the valley from unscalable wall to granite
scarp. Lava, restless, seething, boiled hotly down the slope, reddening
the low-hanging fog into scarlet, twisting veils. Nothing alive could
pass that terrible barrier. That was obvious.

Zeeth said softly, "It will be a quicker death than the Swamja will
give us."

"No!" Vanning's response was instinctive. "Damned if I'll go out that
way. Or let--" He stopped, glancing at Lysla. Her blue eyes were
curiously calm.

"The cliffs?" she suggested.

Vanning scanned them. "No use. They can't be climbed. No wonder the
Swamja left this door unguarded!"

"Wonder why they had it in the first place?" Hobbs asked.

"Maybe there was a way out here once. Then the lava burst through ...
I've seen lava pits like this on Venus," Sanderson grunted. "They're
pure hell. This isn't an exit--except for a salamander."

"Then there's no way?" Lysla asked.

Vanning's jaw set. "There's a way. A crazy way--but I can't see any
other, unless we can get out by the south gate."

"Impossible," Hobbs said flatly.

"Yeah. They'll have plenty of guards there now ... I mean the
space-ship."

There was a momentary silence. Zeeth shook his head.

"No ship can live in the air of Venus."

"I said it was a crazy way. But we might get through. We just might.
And it's the only chance we have."

Sanderson scratched his red head. "I'm for it. I don't want to be
skinned alive ... I'm with you, Vanning. You a pilot?"

"Yeah."

"You'll have to be the best damned pilot in the System to get us
through alive."

Lysla said, "Okay. What are we waiting for?" An indomitable grin
flashed in her grimy, lovely face.

"Good girl," Hobbs encouraged. "We'd better get out of here, anyway.
Back to the city."

They returned through the valve, without troubling to close the doors.
"The Swamja might think we tried to get through the lava," Vanning
explained. "We need all the false trails we can lay. Now--we'd better
hide out for a bit till the riot dies down."

"Good idea," Sanderson nodded.

"These outer buildings are deserted--I told you that. We can find a
hiding-place--"

Lysla led them into one of the structures, and into a room below the
level of the street. "They'll search, but it'll take a while. Now I
suppose we just wait."

Since there were no windows, the light Lysla turned on would not
attract attention. Nevertheless, Vanning subconsciously felt the urge
to remain in darkness.

He grinned mirthlessly. "I'm beginning to know how you feel, Callahan.
Being a fugitive must be pretty tough."

Nobody answered.

The silence ran on and on interminably. Finally Sanderson broke it.

"We forgot one thing. No slaves are allowed on the streets tonight
without a Swamja along."

"I didn't forget," Lysla said in a low voice. "There wasn't any other
way."

"But we haven't a chance in the world to get through."

"I know that, too," the girl whispered. "But--" Abruptly she collapsed
in a heap, her auburn curls shrouding her face. Under the red tunic her
slim shoulders shook convulsively.

Sanderson took a deep breath. A wry smile twisted his mouth.

"Okay, Vanning," he said. "Let's have that make-up kit."

                 *        *        *        *        *

The detective stared. Curiously, he felt no exultation. Instead, there
was a sick depression at the thought that Sanderson--the man who had
fought at his side--was Callahan.

"I don't--"

Sanderson--or Callahan--shrugged impatiently. "Let's have it. This is
the only way left. I wouldn't have given myself away if it hadn't been
necessary. You'd never have suspected me ... let's have it!"

Silently Vanning handed over the make-up kit. Lysla had lifted her
head to watch Callahan out of wondering eyes. Hobbs was chewing his
lip, scowling in amazement. Zeeth was the only one who did not look
surprised.

But even he lost his impassivity when Callahan began to use the make-up
kit. It was a Pandora's box, and it seemed incredible that a complete
disguise could issue from that small container. And yet--

Callahan used the polished back of it as a mirror. He sent Lysla for
water and containers, easily procurable elsewhere in the building, and
mixed a greenish paste which he applied to his skin. Tiny wire gadgets
expanded his mouth to a gaping slit. Artificial tissue built up his
face till his nose had vanished. _Isoflex_ was cut and moulded into
duplicates of the Swamja's bulging, glassy eyes. Callahan's fingers
flew. He mixed, painted, worked unerringly. He even altered the color
of his garments by dousing them in a dye-solution, till they had lost
the betraying red tint that betokened a slave.

In the end--a Swamja stood facing Vanning!

"All right," Callahan said tiredly. "I'll pass--if we keep out of
bright lights. Now go out and help Lysla do guard duty. I'm going to
disguise you all. That'll help."

Vanning didn't move as the others left. Callahan took an oilskin packet
from his belt and held it out. "Here's the treaty. I suppose you came
after that."

The detective opened the bundle and checked its contents. He nodded. It
was the vital treaty, which would have caused revolution on Callisto.
Slowly Vanning tore it into tiny shreds, his eyes on Callahan. It was
difficult, somehow, for him to find words.

The other man shrugged. "That's that. And I suppose you'll be taking me
back to Earth--if we get out of this alive."

"Yeah," Vanning said tonelessly.

"Okay." Callahan's voice was tired. "Let's go. We haven't time to
disguise everybody--that was just an excuse to give you the treaty. A
private matter--"

He shuffled to the door, with the lumbering tread of the Swamja, and
Vanning followed close at his heels.

The others were waiting.

Vanning said, "Okay. Let's start. No time to disguise ourselves. Stay
behind--"

                 *        *        *        *        *

In a close group the five moved along the avenue, Callahan in the lead.

The outlaw's disguise was almost perfect, but nevertheless he did not
trust to it entirely. When possible, he moved along dimly-lighted
streets, the four others keeping close to his heels. Once a patrol of
Swamja guards passed, but at a distance.

"I'm worried," Callahan whispered to Vanning. "Those creatures
have--different senses from ours. I've a hunch they communicate partly
by telepathy. If they try that on me--"

"Hurry," the detective urged, with a sidewise glance at Lysla. "And for
God's sake don't get lost."

"I won't. I'm heading for the left of the tube-tower. That's right,
isn't it?"

Zeeth nodded. "That's it. I'll tell you if I go wrong. Careful!"

A Swamja was waddling toward them. Callahan hastily turned into a side
street, making a detour to avoid the monster. For a while they were
safe....

Lysla pressed close to Vanning, and he squeezed her arm reassuringly,
with a confidence he could not feel. Not until now had he realized
the vital importance of environment. On Mars or barren Callisto he
had never felt this helplessness in the face of tremendous, inhuman
powers--against which it was impossible to fight. Hopeless odds!

But luck incredibly favored them. They reached their destination
without an alarm being raised. Crouching in the shadows by the square
where the space-ship lay, they peered at the three guards who paced
about, armed and ready.

"Only three," Lysla said.

Vanning chewed at his lip. "Callahan, you know more about locks than I
do. When we rush, get around to the other side of the ship and unlock
the port. It may not be easy. The rest of us--we'll keep the Swamja
busy."

Callahan nodded. "I suppose that's best. We've only one gun."

"Well--that can't be helped. Lysla, you go with Callahan."

The blue eyes blazed. "No! It'll take all of us to manage the guards.
I'm fighting with you."

Vanning grunted. "Well--here. Take the gun. Use it when you get a
chance, but be careful. Zeeth? Hobbs? Ready?"

The two men nodded silently. With a hard grin on his tired face,
Vanning gave the signal and followed the disguised Callahan as he
walked toward the ship. Maybe the guards wouldn't take alarm at sight
of one of their own race, as they thought. But the masquerade couldn't
keep up indefinitely.

The sentries looked toward the newcomers, but made no hostile move. One
of them barked a question. Callahan didn't answer. He kept lumbering
toward the ship, his masked face hideous and impassive. Vanning, at
his heels, was tense as wire. Beside him, he heard Zeeth breathing in
little gasps.

Twenty paces separated the two parties--fifteen--ten. A guard croaked
warning. His hand lifted, a gun gripped in the malformed fingers.

Simultaneously Lysla whipped up her weapon and fired. Once--twice--and
the Swamja cried out and dropped his gun, pawing at his eyes. Then--

"Let 'em have it!" Vanning snarled--and sprang forward. "Callahan! Get
that port open!"

                 *        *        *        *        *

The masked figure hesitated, gave a whispered sound that might have
been a curse, and then sprinted around the side of the space-ship.
Vanning didn't see him. His shoulder caromed into the middle of the
second guard, and the two went down together, slugging, clawing,
kicking.

The Swamja was incredibly strong. His mouth gaped at Vanning's throat.
With an agile twist, the detective wrenched himself away, but by that
time there was a gun leveled at his head. A wave of blazing agony
blasted through Vanning's body--and was instantly gone. The weapon had
not been turned up to the killing power.

The Swamja twisted the barrel with one finger, making the necessary
adjustment. But Vanning hadn't been idle. His hands crossed over the
gun, wrenched savagely. There was a crack of breaking bone, and the
Swamja croaked in agony, his fingers broken.

He wasn't conquered--no! Ignoring what must have been sickening
pain, he threw his arms around Vanning and squeezed till the breath
rushed from the human's lungs. The detective felt himself losing
consciousness. It was impossible to break that steel grip--

Once more the fangs gaped at his throat. Vanning summoned his waning
strength. His left hand gripped the monster's lower jaw, his right hand
the upper. Sharp teeth ripped his fingers. He did not feel them, nor
the foul, gusting breath that blew hot on his sweating face.

He wrenched viciously, dragging the creature's mouth wide open--and
wider yet!

A hoarse roar bubbled from the Swamja's throat. There was a sharp
crack, and the malformed body twisted convulsively. The mighty arms
tightened, nearly breaking Vanning's back. Then--they relaxed.

The Swamja lay still, his spine snapped.

Vanning staggered up, hearing a roaring in his ears. It wasn't
imagination. Across the square, monstrous figures came racing, shouting
harshly--Swamja, dozens of them!

"Vanning!" Hobbs' voice croaked.

On the ground, three figures were wrestling in a contorted mass--Zeeth
and Hobbs and the remaining Swamja. The monster was conquering. His
bulging eyes glared with mad fury. Great muscles stood out on his
gnarled arms as he tore at his opponents.

With a choking curse Vanning snatched up the gun his late enemy had
dropped and sprang forward. His aim was good. The Swamja's eyes went
dull as the destroying charge short-circuited his nerves.

The racing Swamja were dangerously close as Vanning bent, tearing at
the monster's mighty hands. Useless!

He pressed his gun-muzzle into the Swamja's arm-pit and fired and fired
again. Presently one arm writhed free. Vanning seized the two men,
literally tore them from the creature's grip.

"The port!" Vanning gasped. "Get into--the ship!"

Hobbs lifted Zeeth and staggered around the bow. As Vanning turned to
follow, he saw the slim body of Lysla lying motionless on the ground,
in the path of the racing Swamja.

He sprinted forward, scooped up the girl in one motion, and swerved
back, running as though all hell were at his heels. A croaking yell
went up. Sickening pain lanced through Vanning, and he nearly fell.
But the shock, though agonizing, wasn't permanent. Legs afire, the
detective rounded the ship's bow and saw a circular hole gaping in the
corroded hull.

[Illustration: _Vanning sprinted forward, scooped up the girl, swerved
back, and fired the full blast of his gun into the screaming face of
the first Swamja._]

He flung himself toward it. Through a crimson mist the masked face of
Callahan swam into view. The man leaped out of the ship, caught up
Lysla from Vanning's arms, and scrambled with her back through the port.

As Vanning tried to follow, he saw Callahan crouching on the threshold
of the valve, an odd hesitancy in his manner. One of Callahan's hands
was on the lever that would close and seal the ship. For a brief
eternity the eyes of the two men met and clashed.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Vanning read what was clear to read. If Callahan closed the port now,
leaving Vanning outside--he would be safe from the law. No doubt the
man knew how to pilot a space-ship--

A shout roared out from behind Vanning. Callahan snarled an oath,
seized the detective's hand, and yanked him into the ship. As a Swamja
tried to scramble through the valve, Callahan's foot drove viciously
into the monster's hideous face, sending him reeling back among his
fellows.

Then the port clanged shut!

The port clanged shut, and the sudden silence of the ship was
nerve-shattering in its instant cessation of sound.

Vanning managed to get to his feet. He didn't look at Callahan. Lysla,
he saw, was still motionless. Hobbs was kneeling beside her.

"Lysla--she all right?" the detective rasped.

"Yes." Hobbs managed a weak grin. "She got in the way of a paralyzing
charge--but she'll be all right."

"Okay." Vanning turned to the controls. They were archaic--in fact,
the whole design of the ship was strange to him. It had been built a
century ago, and rust and yellow corrosion was everywhere.

"Think it'll blast off?" Callahan asked as Vanning dropped into the
pilot's seat.

"We'll pray! Let's see how much fuel--" He touched a button, his gaze
riveted on a gauge.

The needle quivered slightly--that was all.

Callahan didn't say anything. Vanning's face went gray.

"No fuel," he got out.

There was a clanging tumult at the port, resounding from the outer hull.

"They can't get in," Callahan said slowly.

"We can't raise the ship," Vanning countered. "When we've used up all
the air in here, we'll suffocate. Unless we surrender to the Swamja."

Hobbs gave a croaking laugh. "Not likely. There aren't any weapons
here. The ship's been stripped clean."

Callahan said, "If we could break through the dome--"

"There might be enough fuel for that--if it hasn't deteriorated. But
then what? We'd crash. Certain death. You know that."

Vanning clicked another button into its socket. "Let's see if the
visi-plate works."

It did. On a panel before him a dim light glowed. It gave place to a
picture, clouded and cracked across the middle. They could see the
square, with the Swamja swarming into it in ever-increasing numbers,
with the twisted buildings rising in the background, and the tower-tube
shining far away.

Vanning caught his breath. "Listen," he said. "There's still a chance.
A damned slim one--"

"What?"

The detective hesitated. If he took time to weigh this mad scheme, he
knew it would seem utterly impossible. Instead, he snapped, "Brace
yourselves! We're taking off for a crash landing!"

Callahan looked at Vanning's set, haggard face, and whirled. He picked
up Lysla's limp body and braced himself in a corner. Zeeth and Hobbs
did the same. Before any of them could speak, Vanning had swung the
power switch.

He was praying silently that there was still a little fuel left in
the chambers, just a little, and that it would still work. His prayer
was answered instantly. With a roaring thunder of rocket-tubes the
life-boat bulleted up from the ground!

The bellow died. There was no more fuel.

Vanning stared at the visi-plate. Beneath him the city of the Swamja
was spread, the elfin lights glimmering, the coral palaces twisted like
strange fungus growths. Automatically his hands worked at the corroded
guide-levers that controlled the wind-vanes on the ship's hull.

The space-boat circles--swept around--

The shining tower-tube loomed directly ahead. Jaws aching, teeth
clenched, Vanning held steady on his course. The ship thundered down
with wind screaming madly in its wake.

The tube loomed larger--larger still. It blotted out the city. One
glimpse Vanning had of the metal surface rising like a wall before him--

And the ship struck!

Rending, ripping, tearing, the space-boat crashed through the tube,
bringing it down in thundering ruin. Briefly the visi-plate was a
maelstrom of whirling shards. Then the glare of an elf-light raced up
to meet the ship.

It exploded in flaming suns within Vanning's brain. He never knew when
the ship struck.

                                   V

He looked up into Zeeth's eyes. Blood smeared the Venusian's fat face,
but he was smiling wanly.

"Hello," Vanning said, sitting up.

Zeeth nodded. "The others are all right. Still unconscious."

"The crash--"

"Hobbs has a broken arm, and I cracked a rib, I think. But the ship's
hull was tough."

Vanning stood up. His eyes was caught by the movement on the
visi-plate, which had incredibly survived the shock of landing. He
moved forward, bracing himself against the back of the pilot's chair.

The city of the Swamja lay spread beneath him. The ship had lodged
itself high on one of the towers, smashing its way into a sort of
cradle, and then rolling down till its bow faced north. In the distance
the jagged metal of the tube stood up forty feet above ground level.
The rest of it wasn't there, though gleaming, twisted plates of metal
lay here and there in the streets.

And through the avenues shapes were moving. They were the Swamja, and
they moved like automatons. They moved in one direction only--away from
the ship.

As far as Vanning could see the Swamja were pouring through their city.

Zeeth said softly, "You are very clever. I still do not understand--"

Vanning shrugged, and his voice was tired. "The only way, Zeeth. I
broke the tube that shot the North-Fever virus into the upper air. The
virus was released within the city, in tremendous quantity. You know
how fast it works. And in this strength--"

"Yes. It strikes quickly."

"Once you've had the fever, you're immune to it ever afterward. So the
slaves won't suffer. Only the Swamja. They're getting a dose of their
own medicine."

"They go north," Zeeth said. "Out of the city."

It was true. Far in the distance, the Swamja were pouring toward the
north gate, and vanishing through the open valves there. Nothing could
halt them. The deadly virus they had created was flaming in their
veins, and--they went north.

The did not walk; they ran, as though anxious to meet their doom.
Through the city they raced, grotesque, hideous figures, unconscious
of anything but the terrible, resistless drive that drew them blindly
north. Through the north gate, into the pass--

Through the pass--to the lava pits!

Vanning's shoulders slumped. "It's nasty. But--I suppose--"

"Even the gods must die," Zeeth said.

"Yeah.... Well, we've work to do. We'll get food, water, and supplies,
and head south for Venus Landing to get help. A small party will do.
Then we can commandeer troops and swamp-cats to rescue the slaves from
this corner of hell. We can get through to Venus Landing all right--"

"Yes, that will be possible--though difficult. Vanning--" Zeeth's eyes
hooded.

"Yeah?"

"Callahan is not here."

"What?"

The Venusian made a quick gesture. "He awoke when I did. He told me to
say that he had no wish to go to prison--so he was leaving."

"Where to?" Vanning asked quietly.

"Venus landing. He left the ship an hour ago to get food and weapons,
and by this time he is in the southern swamps, well on his way. At the
Landing, he said, he would embark on a space-ship heading--somewhere."

"I see. He'll reach the Landing before we do, then. Before we leave,
we'll have to get things in some sort of order."

                 *        *        *        *        *

Both Hobbs and the girl were moving slightly. Presently they would
awaken--and then the work would begin. With the city emptied of the
Swamja, it would be easy to organize the slaves, get up a party to
march to Venus Landing--

Vanning's mouth twisted in a wry smile. So Callahan was gone. He
wasn't surprised. Callahan would never know that the detective had
awakened from the crash before any of the others--and had shammed
unconsciousness till the fugitive had had time to make good his escape.

Vanning shrugged. Maybe he was a damn fool. Getting soft-hearted....

"Okay," he said to Zeeth. "Let's get busy. We've got a job ahead of us!"





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