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´╗┐Title: Engines of the Gods
Author: Fox, Gardner F. (Gardner Francis)
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 "Engines of the Gods" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          ENGINES of the GODS

                           By GARDNER F. FOX

           The engine was the wealth of Mars. With it Kortha
             could save his people ... or the evil Guantra
            could rule the Universe. But neither could use
              the machine until its secret was solved--so
            they fought and schemed for the knowledge, and
             their planet lay on the brink of destruction.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Spring 1946.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Kortha the smith brooded out over the great red waste of desert. Men
said Kortha was a genius. Men said he was the biggest man on Mars, and
strong as an anthropoid ape. But Kortha brooded, because Kortha was a
coward.

He was not afraid for himself. He was afraid _of_ himself.

He looked at his sun-bronzed, hamlike hands, and shuddered; glistening
beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. With those hands he had killed
men, and had crippled his best friend for life.

Behind him gleamed the red _utta_-brick smithy and his small shack,
and the tiny structure he called his laboratory. Swinging on his heel,
he went away from the desert and into the smithy. He made the bellows
leap, and the red flames spurt from the furnace. With the tongs he
lifted a white-hot strip of metal and pounded on it with a sledge that
an ordinary man would have found immovable.

In the clang and dance of hammer on anvil, he lost himself; listened
only to the mad symphony of beaten metal instead of the still,
small voices of his soul. The din of smitten steel jangling on the
sootblacked anvil was the music that helped the giant forget his heart.
His eyes gleamed red from the smarting flames, and he peered into their
depths with green eyes wide and angry as though he beheld a corner of
some lost hell.

He did not hear the muffled thunder of the 'copter that swung in a
circle above his shack and swooped downward to dig its tires into the
yielding sands. He did not see the door open, and who came out.

"Kortha," said a voice like a song.

He started then; looked up, brows furrowed. His eyes opened a trifle in
astonishment.

"Ilse!" he whispered. The hammer fell from his grasp and bounced on the
brick floor.

The girl with the hair like spun flax laughed softly and leaned against
the wooden door. A white cloak clasped with a fiery ruby draped her
shoulders. She wore gauze trousers with broad leather belt studded with
jewels, and a bolero of _arket_-fur. Her white midriff was bare.

"You ran away, Kortha," she accused, her dark eyes gleaming like uncut
sapphires from the tanned oval of her face. "You ran away from Hurlgut
when he needed you. It took me a long time to learn where you had
holed."

"Three years," said Kortha softly, wiping grimy hands on the white fur
that clasped his hard loins beneath the leathern apron.

The girl ran her eyes over his massive frame in approval; saw shoulders
a yard wide, and a chest and legs that were ridged in muscles. His long
arms, tanned by years of exposure to a desert sun, were those of a
king gorilla. She had seen Kortha snap an iron chain with those arms;
had seen him break a man's back, and other things. Well did Ilse know
the strength of Kortha, and the fact that she carried a heatgun in her
cloak was mute evidence that she had knowledge of his mad, flare-hot
temper.

Ilse sighed, "You could rule the Confederacy if you would."

"And own gems to garland your hair, and furs to swathe your body," he
said.

His green eyes belied his voice: they drank up the sight of Ilse and
her red mouth and her platinum hair as a miser drinks up the sight of
his yellow gold.

"You idiot," she whispered. "You man-killing, tempestuous idiot! Zut
forgive me, but I love you."

       *       *       *       *       *

She straightened; faced him fully, eyes unwavering.

"They sent me to you, knowing that you might kill another. They--we
need you, Kortha. Hurlgut lies on his back, unable to move. You put him
there; you and those terrible arms of yours. But Hurlgut forgave you
long ago. You know that! But you don't know--

"You don't know that Guantra keeps him there, with green _bessa_-mead
and white women to amuse him, to make him forget that he rules Mars!"

Kortha started, and his lips drew back from his large white teeth,
like the snarl of a hungry leopard. Deep in his corded throat a curse
rumbled.

"Guantra. I remember him. An evil smell of a thing!"

"Guantra aspires to power. He has had himself declared Premier of the
Council. He wants to turn Mars over to the victors in the Earth-Venus
war, with himself as sole power on Mars. He plays politics like a
master, does Guantra. Mars, with its rich ore-beds and mines--Mars,
the prize of a war that does not concern her. Under a united Mars,
she would take her place among the planets beside Earth and Venus as
members of the Council of the Trinity. Under the Confederacy, Mars
could have done this. Once it was almost accepted. Then--you ran away.
And the Earthmen and the Venusians who feared your brains and your
body, Kortha--they revoked their acceptance."

"They had agreed. I stayed that long."

"They refused to go through with it. They revoked their decision. They
said--they said Mars was a hotbed of trouble, that it had no competent
ruler to make its decisions, and enforce them!"

"Guantra," said Kortha bitterly, "wants to be that ruler. As Premier he
stands an excellent chance of fulfilling his ambition."

Ilse came close to him, touched his hands with hers and clung. Her blue
eyes stared anxiously up to his green ones.

"If you were to come back, and be that ruler," she breathed. "Kortha,
Kortha, don't you see Mars needs you?"

Kortha looked past Ilse, out toward the red desert. Far in the haze of
distance, against the black and jagged Mountains of Eternity, there was
something white that shook and eddied in the heat waves rising from
the sands. Kortha knew it for forgotten Yassa, the city beyond recall.
A dead city, that ate up travelers that went to it.

Kortha sighed, and looked at Ilse. Always had Kortha wanted to go to
Yassa. There was a mystery about Yassa, a mystery that Kortha meant to
solve. The time was now come when he could.

"Give me time," he said to Ilse. "I need time to think."

She looked at him and in the depths of her blue eyes there was an
infinite sadness, a yearning.

"You lie, Kortha," she whispered, tears in her eyes. "You do not ever
intend to return. Tell me why?"

He looked down at her and smiled. How could he tell _her_? The long
uncut blonde hair that hung to his naked brown shoulders swayed a bit
as he shook his head.

"I will, perhaps. But not yet."

Not yet you cannot tell her, Kortha. It is for her sake that you have
buried yourself alive. But she would not understand. She is turning now
and going away from you, perhaps forever.

Kortha walked across the sands behind her toward the 'copter. Once his
great hands went out hungrily, then fell listlessly at his sides. Ilse
was not for him. She was part of his brooding, the part that ached and
stabbed with loneliness. Ilse was what made him a coward.

In the shadows of the flier the girl faced him once again. She stood
perilously close, her eyes beseeching silently, and the fragrance of
her hair and her curving body steamed in his nostrils.

"You are no hermit, Kortha. You need life. You need a woman. You
need--me."

He nodded, staring at her face, drinking it in. He did not ever intend
to see Ilse again, Ilse whom he loved, Ilse of the fair hair and the
blue eyes and the body tanned brown by Sol.

Kortha stepped back and his shadow fell from hers. He lifted a hand,
saying softly, "Goodbye."

With arms hanging to his thighs, he stood on the desert, watching until
the dot that was the 'copter in the sky passed beyond the horizon.
Wearily he swung about and went back to his hut.

He yanked down a gigantic steel hammer from the wall, breaking the
thong that held it to its nail. Gripping the hammer in his great
hands, he swung it around his head, once, twice, in a flashing circle
of blue-white light.

The walls crumpled when he hit them. The roof caved in and became the
floor. Scraps of brick and metal fell to dance on the shuddering tiles.
Fire leaped from the forge, caught hold and grew in a red frenzy. Red
and huge in its crimson heat, Kortha battered and slammed his sledge,
buckling even the wrought metalwork of his dwelling. This was his past,
here before him. Sobbing, he fought it; and sobbing, watched as the
fire came to consume it.

When the place lay black and smouldering, Kortha lifted his head and
looked with his green eyes across the desert to Yassa.

       *       *       *       *       *

A rolling something on the red sands caught his alert gaze. He smiled
gently. A tumblie. Probably Xax, who liked him. He watched it roll
straight and fast over the desert, toward him.

Nature had made a perfect gyroscope in a tumblie: a round ball of
sharp, glistening spikes with a core of jelly that stayed level no
matter how fast the powerful spikes rotated. Two long feelers, like
skeletal arms, lay hidden in the spikes, but could stretch beyond them
to clutch food seeking to escape. In the heart of the jelly was a
strong brain.

Xax stopped, looking between his hard spikes at the blackened ruins.

"You leave the desert, Kortha?"

"I go to Yassa."

He felt the alarm of the tumblie, and sighed as Xax shrilled, "You go
to death! Only the tumblies have ever entered Yassa and--lived. There
is a part of Yassa that even a tumblie cannot penetrate. The white
tower. The temple of dead, forgotten Zut."

Kortha hefted his big hammer and eyed its gleaming length.

"Kortha has never gone to Yassa," he whispered grimly.

It was not a boast; it was a statement of fact, a realization that
there was only one Kortha.

Xax looked around him and saw the tire marks in the sand. He sat
silent, looking up at the man who towered more than six feet above him.

"Someone was here," Xax said at last. "Ilse, wasn't it? You've told me
enough of her! The Confederacy needs you, doesn't it? And you won't
go."

"I go to Yassa."

"Mad. Mad!"

"Not mad, Xax. So sane that I go to the one spot on Mars where I might
bring her freedom, and a place in the planetary sun."

Xax digested that, squatting there.

At last he said, "You have not dwelt out here three years for nothing.
You tried to hide from yourself at first, but you have learned things
here on the desert."

A pain tugged and tore at Kortha's heart, and his lips were bitter as
they smiled.

"You are clever, Xax. Smarter than Ilse."

"Ilse is a woman who loves you. Her love is inclined to blind her."

Kortha swung the hammer idly in his hand, eying the sunlight play
across it. He took a stride toward Yassa, and another.

"Come, Xax," he called. "It is easy to talk and walk at the same time."

The tumblie rolled along beside him. They went out into the hot red
sands, their shadows before them. Kortha fixed his eyes on the white
blot that was Yassa, and his long legs lengthened their stride. Sand
crunched faintly under his sandalled feet, releasing tiny clouds of red
dust at every step.

"Eons ago Mars was a cultured world, Xax. They had everything, our
ancestors. Even you tumblies possessed your own civilization. The
ancients had power, and weapons long since forgotten by the clans that
descended from the survivors of the Great War.

"Wars are useless things, but they must be fought as long as there are
men to quarrel. Who says otherwise is a fool. But the Great War--ahh,
that _was_ a war. They used things to fight with that we have long ago
lost, and that Earth and Venus have never known. Mars is older than
either and had more time to develop them. Our ancestors fought and
destroyed: men and machines and cities. They left little. Among the
things they did not leave was the knowledge of their arts and sciences.
Mars had to build again, from scratch."

Their shadows crept behind them as they walked.

"Today Mars is a weak Confederacy of clans, ruled by a prince I
crippled for life. Guantra hopes to rule that Confederacy, but Guantra
is a cautious man. He would never dare usurp the throne unless he were
sure of victory. So sure of such a complete victory that he need fear
neither Earth nor Venus.

"There is only one thing that would make Guantra so confident."

A pool of clear blue water lay in a little hollow ahead of them. Kortha
put his palms to the hard sand that packed its edge and lowered himself
to his belly. Immersing his lips in the cold spring water bubbling from
hidden streams, he drank deeply. Xax lay to one side, watching him.

With the back of his hand, Kortha wiped his mouth, his eyes on the
blood red sun dying in the desert a darker crimson on the horizon.

"We'll stay here for the night."

Kortha lay down and locked his hands behind his head. His golden hair
spilled in a flood across the red sand. Xax rolled close to him.

"Two hundred years ago," said Kortha slowly, "the first Earthmen set
foot on Mars. Those first colonists settled among us. Some of them
married Martian girls. One of them wedded my great-great-grandmother.
Mixed blood flows in my veins. I am brood of Earth and brood of Mars."

Xax said, "You keep me in suspense, Kortha. What one thing is there
that will make Guantra confident?"

"A weapon, Xax. He needs a weapon. I think I know where he can find it.
But to get back--

"They say that Earth ancestor of mine was a big man, and strong. He
must have been, for it was he who whipped the clans into semblance of
order, who established the Confederacy, who placed Hurlgut's ancestor
on the throne.

"Earth made Mars rich in those early days, with demands for the metals
of its mines and the stellus-ore to power their rocket ships. Earth
was not strong enough to conquer us, then. It extended friendship, and
traded. Fortunately, the Confederacy was ruled by wise men. They used
their new riches to make the Confederacy strong, too."

Kortha sighed and watched Phobos roll on upward into the vault of sky
above him.

"Those early leaders left the Confederacy strong. I made it weak."

Kortha rolled onto his stomach, his head buried in the crook of his
naked forearm. He heard Xax snort, "You were the greatest of the lot!"

"I crippled Hurlgut in a fit of rage. I left him prey to Guantra."
Kortha sighed, "I ran away. It has been bitter, being out here, Xax. I
had a long time to think. I hope my hermitdom has made me a wiser man.
But I am afraid."

They were silent for long moments. Xax stirred restlessly and the
clicking of his quills was like the rasping of many needles.

"Now Guantra will rule Mars," said Kortha hoarsely. "He will get his
weapon unless I can stop him. He will wait until Earth and Venus are
weakened by war. Then he will attack them. Ilse thinks he will turn
Mars over to them, but that is not so! He wants to rule the Trinity of
the three planets. In the end he will pull Mars down, for Mars is not
ripe to rule--not yet. Not under Guantra, at any time."

Kortha closed his eyes, whispering, "I must stop Guantra. I must stop
him without seeming to do so. For I cannot ever again take my place in
the Confederacy. I am too dangerous."

Xax said softly, "Guantra has the army and the air fleet tinder his
banner. You are one man against a world."

"I am Kortha," said the giant.

He rolled on his side and cuddled his head in his elbow.

An instant later, he was asleep.

Xax squatted, thinking.


                                  II

Five days later a giant of a man and a round thing that rolled straight
as a warlance beside him clambered up the sloping black rock side of
the Mountains of Eternity.

Sunlight glinted from the smooth, dark stone that was polished bright
as a mirror by the myriad dust storms that swept up from the desert,
year after year. Heat shimmered all about them, rising slowly from the
vast sand-bottom, reflected back from the igneous rock. Sweat wetted
the hairs on the man's chest and forearms. It dripped from his face in
tiny streams.

Kortha stood erect on a narrow footpath and looked above him. Upward
the trail wound to dizzy heights. Set on a shelf of massy ebon stone
beyond him lay Yassa, like a white bowl of cool water in a black
furnace.

Onward they climbed, and upward, their eyes fastened on the goal ahead
of them.

They came together to the greenish bronze gates that tilted off their
hinges and lay at grotesque angles. Down the street that stretched
behind the gates walked Kortha, and with him swept the tumblie.

Kortha stood still, nostrils distended.

"I smell danger."

Eyes alert, he walked on; but now he paced like the stalking cat, and
the muscles in his long legs humped and swelled beneath the bronzed
skin. His hammer hung loose in his hand, but then, the claws of a tiger
are often sheathed.

A shadow dropped from above, swiftly.

Kortha whirled, side-stepping.

A huge king gorilla slammed an arm at him and screeched in anger as
the smooth-skinned man eluded him. The gorilla gave his attention to
alighting on the hard stones, and that was his mistake, for this smooth
skin was on him like a charging buffalo, head lowered between his
tremendous shoulders, and arms long as the gorilla's own shooting at
him, hitting hard, like pistons.

Kortha was laughing harshly in his throat as he hit. He had not fought
in three years, and the taste of a battle was as old wine to his lips.
He needed this test, badly. He wanted to learn if his reflexes were as
they used to be. Kortha balled a fist and drove it into the gorilla's
ribs. He hit again, and again, and something snapped.

Blood flecked the wide, distorted mouth of the animal. His tiny eyes
glared beneath shaggy brows. His dark brown coat bristled.

The gorilla had got his balance by now, and Kortha darted beneath a
blow that could have ripped his head off. He swung low, then veered up
sharply, legs planted apart, arms pliant and big hands grasping. He
caught the gorilla by a wrist, whirled, taking the screaming animal on
his back. He humped his hips and flung the beast from him, into the
air. But he kept tight hold of its wrist, and snapped downward with all
the fury of his titanic strength.

The gorilla hit the stones on its back. It screamed as its spine burst.

Kortha stared down at the writhing, dying gorilla, saying, "So. This
is the secret of Yassa. The extinct king gorilla is not extinct. Only
an expedition in force could completely explore Yassa."

Xax shrilled, "They dare not touch a tumblie. That is why we can come
and go."

He proved his point an instant later when another gorilla dropped from
a low roof. Xax rolled beneath the falling beast who screeched in
agony as the tumblie's long quills ripped into the pads of his feet.
Chattering in pain, the gorilla ran off while Kortha laughed.

"You're a good companion to have at a time like this, Xax," he chuckled.

Xax clicked his needles. "We're coming to the Tower of Zut. A tumblie
can't fight what dwells in there."

Kortha said, "No living thing dwells there, Xax. And the dead cannot
harm you."

       *       *       *       *       *

The glory that was Yassa burst on them as they rounded a corner and
stood in the square of Zut. A massive building of translucent white
jadestone loomed solitary in the square. The face of the temple,
gleaming lucid in the sunlight, fronted toward them, broad and tall
and tapering to a triangular crown far above. From its base four
bulbous domes stretched backward, fanshaped, like blunted and misshapen
fingers. The symmetry of the building was awesome. The ancient
architect who designed it had been an artist as well as an engineer. It
was a thing of beauty, as well as a place of terror.

Like a dark mouth set in the white face of the windowless tower gloomed
a gate of shadows, open to the square. That yawning space was black
with emptiness. There were no doors hung on hinges; only that sombre
opening, silently menacing.

Kortha stood looking at it. The wind ruffled the white fur of his
mantle. It stirred his amber hair and cooled the naked skin of arms and
shoulders.

He lifted his hammer and shook it in the sunlight, and grinned.

He walked forward.

Xax spoke to him above the clicking of his needles on the broken
flagging of the square, "Are you walking into that thing like a _yavit_
to the trap?"

"Others have examined it before me, Xax. I have not heard that their
examinations saved them. Besides, if the death that lurks in the tower
of Zut still lives, I have no need to fear Guantra."

They were quite close to the doorway now, and looking in they glimpsed
something white and shining on the tiled floor. As they drew nearer,
the heaps of white stuff grew plainer.

They were bones. Human bones: what was left of the skeletons of many
men.

Kortha lifted his head to survey the doorway. His green eyes blazed
with challenge, but their fire was controlled, and alert. He saw the
entrance plain and severe in style, affording no clue as to the manner
of its deadliness. From the way in which the walls shone, so clearly
translucent with the hint of inner fires deep within them, he knew that
the tower was built of _transvaline_, that rare building material whose
secret was lost with so many others during the Great War.

In the walls two tall, faint strips of black shone dully: the doors of
this queer adit.

Kortha swung his hammer in his hand and tossed it through the opening.
The doors remained open, and the bolt of force that he half expected to
sweep from somewhere at the hammer, remained hidden.

He grunted to Xax, "Come on. No sense wasting time out here, like dogs
fretting before a bear's cave."

They passed the threshold together, and stood in a domed chamber,
circular in shape, with another doorway beyond and opposite the
entrance. There were words on the lintel above its arch.

"Science chamber," whispered Kortha, and started toward it.

Behind them was a metallic whisper, susurrating in the stillness.
Kortha whirled and cursed and leaped. The doors closed before his
shoulder struck their smooth black surface. He hit and bounced
slightly, jarred. Kortha swore slowly, fluently, looking at the doors.

"How long will the air last?" wondered Xax.

"Longer than our bellies will stand the lack of food and drink. So this
is the great tower of Zut. Sliding doors that imprison any who break a
secret electri-beam. Zut! I'd thought better of the Ancient Ones. This
is really too simple. Find the beam and send a current along it, and
the doors'll open again."

Kortha swung on his heel, going down the hall and into the Science
Chamber. Standing motionless on the threshold, he ran keen eyes into
the huge chamber.

He chuckled. He laughed. Head flung back, he roared hoarse laughter
to the trestled ceiling. He sobbed his delight, hands spread over his
muscled loins, helpless with his mirth.

Xax clicked a question at him, impatient.

"It's Guantra," said Kortha when he could. "The fool. The utter fool.
And he hopes to rule the Trinity. Look for yourself, Xax. Look at all
these machines spread out before your eyes. The wealth of a planet is
spread out for you. The greatest weapons the solar system has known are
here. And Guantra has left them all!"

"How do you know Guantra has been here?"

"Down there. Observe the blacker spaces against the grey dust inches
thick on the floor. Something rested there for ages, Xax. Gone now. Oh,
Guantra was here, all right, probably with his entire science staff.
They took two things away with them. Probably the simplest machines
of the lot. Why did he leave the rest? Because the fools who man his
science staff didn't know what in the world all these things are.
Didn't know how to use them. Didn't have the slightest idea of what
they are supposed to be. Zut, it's rich!"

"You may not know yourself," chided Xax.

"If I had the resources of a science staff, I'd damn soon find out,"
Kortha grunted, wiping moist eyes. "No wonder Guantra can come to
power--when Mars has idiots for a population."

       *       *       *       *       *

He was bitter and savage, thinking of Ilse and--himself.

"Men say you are a genius," Xax clicked. "It's not fair, comparing
others to yourself."

"Bah!" snorted Kortha. "A man makes himself what he is. But let's not
bandy words. I have work to do."

He walked down the aisles of this treasure house of metal machines.
His quick green eyes studied condensors and generators, pausing to
search the intricacy of bearings, or the purpose of bizarre couplings.
Inventions of forgotten ages lay before him, dim light shrouding
dusty cables, and plasticine casings. Here were bulbous globes and
straight, thin shanks of steel; there in shadowed niches rested wired
engines and bulbed machines, silent and mysterious.

"Guantra and his staff took the more obvious machines, perhaps the ones
that bore explanatory cards," said Kortha, walking softly in the dust.
"These are more complex."

He came to a halt before a queer tangle of rings and wires and
generator. Three metal bands floated in air between two looped
magnetizers. Kortha rubbed at his jaw, thoughtfully, scowling. The
pattern of the machine was utterly new, completely strange to him; yet
there was about it a faint air of familiarity. The thing had no obvious
purpose. It fired no missile. It had no in-take or out-let valves. It--

"Zut!" he whispered. "It only does one thing. It gives off vibrations!"

Xax merely looked at him. Kortha was saying excitedly, running hands
over metal sides and rounded knobs, over cables and rings, "But don't
you see? If a thing can be made to give off the proper vibrations, it
can affect matter. It can cause a change in the electronic structure
of a substance, by speeding up or slowing down the rate of electronic
revolution around the atom.

"Remember the old legend about the beggar who had a queer machine
strapped to his back? Everywhere he wandered he met harshness and ill
treatment, until one night a woodchopper took him into his hut and fed
and clothed him. The woodchopper kept him with him until the beggar was
healthy again. As a reward, the beggar turned everything in the hut
_into gold_!"

"Pfah," muttered Xax. "A myth."

"Myths are simply memories carried down from generation to generation.
No, no, Xax. Where mankind has a myth, there is usually _some_ truth
behind it, no matter how distorted by time and innumerable retellings.
It is the smoke that hints of the fire. I just wonder if this machine
is the one that began that particular myth."

Kortha squatted and ran exploring fingers over wires and coils, making
positive attachments and strengthening connections. He squinted up at
the rings, motionless, rigid in the air, between the magnetizers. He
grunted.

"Must get its power from the air. Maybe it feeds on oxygen or hydrogen.
Or argon. Hell, I'm just guessing at this point. See if it works first.
Then analyze it."

He looked around for an object; found a loose panel of carven wood on a
perilously old table. Ripping off a section of the wood, he placed it
before the machine. His fingers turned a knob.

A beam of shivering green light pulsed from the coils and hung
motionless to a yard outward. Kortha kicked the block of wood into the
beam.

"Zut!" he breathed softly.

The wood changed: grew red and warm, shimmering a brilliant crimson,
pulsating as though from inner fires. It became opalescent, almost
fluid in scarlet brilliance. Slowly the red became green, and then
yellow. The bar hardened, the liquidity of its structure tensing into
solidity.

Kortha stared with wide eyes at the bar, whispering, "Gold!"

"Gold," echoed Xax, awed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha grinned broadly, hefting the thing in his palm. "Pure gold.
Heavy, but somewhat soft, Xax. I was right. Blessed be the mythmaker,
for he shall help us find truth!"

"It can't be true," protested Xax, his faceted eyes glued to the amber
bar in the giant's hand. "You don't turn one thing into another, not by
just a--a color!"

"Of course not by a color. That green light was something that got
down to rock bottom, affecting the very nature of the wood. What's so
odd about it? All matter is composed of electrons. Those electrons
move in certain orbits within the atom. If it is possible to alter the
vibratory rate of those electrons--why, then your substance itself is
changed. It is something else. In this case, it's gold."

The voice interrupted him. It came from the outer chamber: harshly
gloating, unrelievedly triumphant.

It called: "Kortha. Come where I can see you, Kortha. I want to talk to
you."

"Guantra," whispered Kortha, and ran.

He found the quartz-crystal televisi-screen finally, perched in a niche
in the hall, where it could command a view of the closed doors. Kortha
went and stood before it. He drew back his lips, and spat.

       *       *       *       *       *

The image of the man in the screen recoiled slightly, then thrust
forward again, pushing the lean hawk's face with jutting, black-bearded
chin and hooked nose and slightly bald forehead almost to the limits
of the screen. The thin lips twisted in a savage smile. The dark eyes
glittered under thin brows.

"I have you, Kortha. At last, I have you where I want you. I have
searched for a long time without success. Where did you hide yourself?
Ah, well--it makes no difference. You are to die, Kortha, and
I--Guantra!--am to be your executioner.

"Did you suspect that I learned the secret of Yassa, Kortha? If you
did, and I think as much, you are right. It cost ten men's lives, but I
learned it. It was a lethal ray that blasted whoever passed those black
doors. We smashed it out of existence, reluctantly. It was a hellish
thing. I would have given much to have saved it, but," sighing, "it
could not be done. But I found other articles to take its place."

"Two of them," assented Kortha dryly.

Guantra seemed startled, then nodded. "Two, yes. A lightning-blaster
and a--no, I'll not tell you the other. That is _my_ secret.... I see
the lightning-blaster surprises you."

"Another myth," whispered Xax, looking up at Kortha.

"Myth?" puzzled Guantra, brows meeting over its hooked nose. "Oh. You
mean the one concerning the weapons of the Great War. The rhyme that
goes--

    "They culled the lightnings from the sky,
    "And summoned all who were to die--"

"A neat bit of doggerel, but let's talk of living men. Kortha, I know
you for my enemy. If you were my friend, now--"

Guantra jerked suddenly, drawing back. His lean face looked tense,
thoughtful. His thin lips drew down at the corners, and slowly curved
into a smile. It was not a nice smile to see.

He whispered, "If you were my friend."

Kortha lifted his big hammer and showed it to Guantra.

"Talk no more of friendship between us, _yavit_," he said clearly.

But Guantra leaned forward and smiled again. His dark eyes were steady
on the big man in the white fur harness, whose sun-browned skin seemed
like smooth bronze against the bearskin.

"Zut love me, but you _will_ be my friend, Kortha. Wait! I am sending
men for you. You cannot fight me, for all Mars is at my beck. My men
will bring you to me, and I will _make_ you my friend!"

He flung back his head and laughed, and his mirth rang loud and harsh
in wild, eerie peals. Listening to it, Kortha bared his teeth in a
soundless snarl and shook his hammer, and said, "I would sooner be
friends with a canalhound. Send your men, but they'll not find me. I'll
be away, looking for the shortest route to your throat!"

Guantra grinned, "I'll forgive you that when you're my friend, Kortha.
Don't think you can get free of the tower. The controls for those doors
are under my fingers. A trusted guard watches the screen here, night
and day. He summons me when any enter the tower. He was quite excited
upon seeing you. Mars has not forgotten Kortha who reunited the clans.

"How Mars will worship a Kortha come to life! Mars will also worship
Guantra who found you and gave you back to her. The crowds will go for
you. Kortha the genius. Kortha the man-gorilla. Kortha the great.

"And Kortha will be--my friend!"

It was then that the giant swung the massive hammer against the
quartz-crystal screen. It shattered into fragments that sounded like
musical glass as they fell to the floor.

Kortha looked at Xax, and rested the hammer by a sandalled foot. His
green eyes glittered, and his long yellow hair shook as he moved
abruptly, turning on his heel.

"Guantra has his weapon now. He needed that weapon before he dared
declare himself. So! A lightning-blaster. Now when Earth and Venus
learn that Mars is a power to be reckoned with, they will seek
Guantra's favor. Each will hasten to make peace and bid for his
friendship. And Guantra will sell Mars for the highest offer. In a
polite way, of course.

"If I can't stop him, he will. And Guantra has an army. And an air
fleet."

Kortha laughed harshly, "I have two hands and a brain, and a hate for
Guantra. Maybe that will even up the odds. Come, Xax. Stop talking to
me."

Xax shrilled a chuckle and rolled along with the fur-clad giant, back
into the science hall. Kortha worked with his deft fingers, examining
coils and rings, delving into the secrets of ages-ancient generators
and condensors. He grunted and swore, and his brow was furrowed in
thought. One engine he completely dismantled, but could make nothing of
its function. Others he merely glanced at, passing them by.

"I'd need a laboratory to test them all," he said at last. "I just
don't have the equipment. You can't determine uses or strengths or
purposes with your naked fingertips."

He went and patted the ringed machine with his palms.

"We have no weapon but this, Xax. It will have to do."

"That?" choked the tumblie. "That's no weapon. It's just a--a luxury!"

Kortha knelt and began fastening wheels to the base of the machine.
He said, "In our hands it will be a weapon. It will have to be, for
Guantra is sending men and ships to capture us. When those doors roll
open, his men are coming in for me."

The wheels screeched as they bore the weight of the big engine across
the marble floor. Kortha's leg-muscles bunched and writhed under the
pressure he exerted. His naked arms bulged, tightening under the smooth
skin. Up the ramp went the machine to grate to a halt opposite the
entrance doors.

Kortha lengthened the distance level of the beam, and wiped a forearm
across his wet brow. He smiled mirthlessly, "Let them come, now. We're
ready for them."

Xax shrilled, "You said we could escape by throwing a beam of light on
the mechanism of the doors. Then why do we stay here?"

"Guantra has sent men to overcome me. If we escape, we'll be out in the
open where they can overcome us at will. Here we have a chance. They
have to come in that door. I'll have them all in front of me. I have to
kill them all, Xax. Otherwise Guantra may learn where I've gone."

"He may still find out," the tumblie grumbled.

"I know. It's a chance I have to take."

       *       *       *       *       *

The drone of the fliers sounded sooner than Kortha had anticipated. He
could imagine them circling above the ancient city, swooping in to a
landing in the square. A moment later he heard the drumming of feet on
stone.

The doors rolled open effortlessly. Guantra's guards came in yelling,
with guns in their hands, leaping for him; shouting loudly at sight of
him.

Kortha put a hand on a lever, threw it down.

A beam lanced out at the doorway. It splashed its pale green color over
the scarlet tunics and naked legs of the guards.

The guards changed color.

They glittered yellow, metallic. One or two of them were off balance.
They fell with a ringing clangour on the marble floor.

Xax gasped, "Gold. They're all solid gold statues!"

"I told you it was a weapon," rasped Kortha, shoving the machine in
front of him, wheeling it toward the square.

There were a few guards left, in front of the fliers. When they saw
Kortha, they came running. One by one he picked them off; watched them
fall harshly, bouncing a little on the cobblestones. They did not fire.
Kortha realized Guantra must have been very explicit about wanting him
taken alive.

When he stood alone in the square, Kortha lifted his hammer and brought
it down on the glistening orifact. Metal danced and shattered under
his blows. Casings split. Magnetizers fell apart. Bolts and shards of
metallic rings jangled on the paving, clattering and rolling among the
lichen-lifted flaggings.

"Guantra will never use that," said Kortha grimly.

He walked toward the fliers. One after the other, he smashed their
radios; and the controls of every ship but one. Holding open the door
of the last plane, he said to Xax, "Get in."

"Where are we going?"

"To find Ilse," answered Kortha, settling his big frame in the
plasticine seat. His hands went forth to punch buttons and twist dials.
The tubes behind him roared their power, shaking the entire ship.
He taxied the flier across the square and yanked back hard on the
repellever. The nose went up sharply, and riding the air currents on
blunt wings, the flier rose above the ruins of white Yassa and aimed
its prow at the desert.

Kortha slipped in the automatic controller, and ran fingers through his
fur jacket.

"Ilse will know the politics I've missed in living on the desert for
three years. She will know if we can raise a force strong enough to
fight Guantra. We'll need men and money and ships. Guantra has cornered
the market on those, right now."

"You wouldn't go to Ilse before. Why will you now?"

"Three years ago I crippled a man, Xax. Hurlgut, who was my best
friend. It was in a fit of rage. I couldn't control my temper. And--I
was afraid that some day I'd do something like that to Ilse. I couldn't
afford to let that happen. I love her too much. There was only one
thing to do, since I couldn't master my own emotions.

"I ran away. I came here across Syrtis Major to the Yassan desert
because it is so far from life. Nothing exists away out here. If
Hurlgut or Ilse were to send searching parties, it would be like
looking for a sword out in the asteroid belt.

"I picked a good spot, all right. It took them three years to find
me. They wouldn't have found me yet if I hadn't helped an occasional
unfortunate who'd come to try his luck at mining in the Yassan sands."

"Mining?" puzzled Xax. "In the desert?"

"There's a lot of copper mixed into that sand. Some day I hope to learn
why. Cliffs of metal abound on Mars. The cliffs around Ruuzol, for
instance. But enough of that. Let me explain about myself. I came to
the desert and lived alone. High hopes were mine that the silence and
loneliness and my work would teach me control. I don't know how well I
succeeded in that, but in another thing I did have success.

"On the long winter nights, I saw lights in Yassa, Xax. Man-made
lights. Electritorches and solar-beams. Now everyone on Mars knows
that Yassa is a deserted city, and deadly. Lights didn't belong there.
I wanted to go to Yassa to see who walked its dead streets. But as a
test, I curbed myself, fought my yearning. I mastered it. I wondered
and puzzled, but I stayed on the desert. Some day I would go, but not
yet. Finally the lights went away, and did not return.

"I know now that those lights were carried by Guantra's science staff,
who discovered the secret of the tower of Zut, and used it. They took
away the weapons they could use and left the others, thinking no one
could fathom their use. They thought me dead. Bah, the fools!

"Then when Ilse came for me, I realized the truth. Guantra had sent men
to Yassa. But if I went to Yassa, I might prevent their taking anything
of value from the city. I was too late!"

Xax shuddered at the glitter in the green eyes of this big giant.

"I did not think Guantra had taken anything. I know better now. Without
a weapon, Guantra would not dare strike for power. By smashing every
weapon in that Tower, I could have stopped him cold at one stroke. Then
I could have returned to my smithy, in the desert, and lived out my
life."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha sighed, and surveyed the craggy ground below. They were flying
low over a barren plain where rocks lay yellow in the sun as far as
they could see, like golden pebbles. Jagged red cliffs rose off to the
right, shining dully like copper; to the left, a mesa of red-green
stone lifted a flat top toward the sky. Between the mesa and the
cliffs, the golden floor of the plain went on and on, endlessly.

Kortha increased the speed of the little flier, and sighed, "But now
all that is changed. Guantra has his weapon, and I must find Ilse. We
must raise a fleet to oppose him. I'm still afraid of myself, Xax. I
may yet hurt Ilse, but I'll have to chance it. Mars is bigger than both
of us!"

A dot in the sky to sunward of them grew bigger, loomed into a small
flier. Kortha swore happily, seeing the emblazoned dragon on its prow.

"Ilse. She's come back to talk to me again."

He swung the ship toward her, anathematizing himself for having smashed
its radio. He had meant it as a protective measure, to prevent Guantra
from triangulating his position. It boomeranged, now. Ilse would see
Guantra's rippled black star pennon on his own prow.

She fled from him like a startled fawn, but Guantra built good ships.
Kortha overhauled her slowly, ducking her gun-blasts, swallow-darting.
When she dove for a cliffside, Kortha followed; and only expert
piloting prevented them both from slamming the hulls of their ships
against those coppery walls.

A shell from her rear electrogun ripped away a section of his fuselage
before she saw him, big and white-furred, in the glass cabin. He saw
her face go white, looking back at him. Ilse fought her controls,
dropping toward the plain. Grinning wryly, fighting his ship that
bucked with a hole in her side, Kortha followed her down.

She came running to him across the stones, her loose white bolero
jacket blowing back, her straight long legs flashing brown in the
sunlight, making shadowy grotesques ahead of her on the jagged rocks.
Her red mouth shouted laughter at him, mixed with sobs.

He caught her up against him; bent to memorize her blue eyes, the soft
cheeks that were moist with tears, the full scarlet mouth. Her platinum
hair blew wild in the breeze.

Kortha drank a kiss from her wet mouth, and kept her crushed to him for
moment after moment. Three years on the desert is a long time.

"Whew!" whispered Ilse, laughing up at him with lips and eyes, her nose
crinkling a little.

She sobered suddenly; put soft hands to his cheeks, stroking them.

"You fly Guantra's ship. What happened?"

He told her, looking down into her eyes, moving his gaze from hair to
lips, to cheeks and throat. She shuddered, listening, and he held her
tighter.

"It's no use, Kortha," she said at last. "We can't fight the fleet that
Guantra can muster. The fact that he has those weapons makes a lot of
difference. I knew when I came for you that we were nearly beaten. You
were our only hope. If Kortha could come back from the grave--there
would be a psychological value to the thing. We might aim at strikes,
at seducing men from Guantra's navy. Build ships on the sly, from Mare
Cimmerium to Sinus Gomer. But now--"

Her shoulders drooped. Kortha scowled across at the red cliff
crimson in the sunlight. It was true. The fleet that Guantra owned
was the fleet that Kortha had built. Battleship and air-cruiser,
he had blue-printed their models, seen them swung into their
launching-cradles. He had manned it with picked men. Nothing on Mars
could match it, certainly; possibly nothing on Earth or Venus, either,
with the exception of their vast space fleets. He sighed.

Xax shrilled a warning, clicking his needles.

From the south a huge grey battleflier rose grim and massive above the
flat mesa. Sunlight disclosed its rippled black star pennon, and the
gleaming guns, and the swarms of fighters covering its decks. Towering
masts brooded down across the plains, giving the ship an aetherial look
that its dark bulk belied.

Kortha laughed bitterly, "What use to talk of fleets now? That's
Guantra's own flagship. He's come in person for me now. By some black
magic, he's learned of what took place at Yassa. Probably took alarm
when his radio calls went unanswered."

They ran across the stones for the small cruiser, kicking pebbles into
life, making them roll and bounce. With big hands, Kortha tossed Ilse
into the open door of the flier; swept in after her with a hard, swift
leap. The door clanged behind them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ship shuddered under a direct hit on her rear rockets. Kortha went
flying, clutching at Ilse, dragging her down on him. His back met the
far wall, and he cushioned her against his chest.

Kortha was on his feet, eyes blazing. His hand went to his hammer,
hefting it, lifting it up and down, very slowly. He snarled a little,
deep in his throat.

"He knows we're here. He's playing with us. He wants us alive."

"There's my plane. If we hurry--"

Across the stone-bottom, they saw the silvered hull of the little flier
cave inward. Metal sides slivered, and splinters flew through the air.

"Guantra has good gunners," said Kortha drily. "Let's learn if his
combat units are as good."

He drove the massy head of his hammer against the door, breaking it
open. With Ilse in one arm he dropped to the rocks and walked away from
the flier. Side by side, they stood and looked up at the gigantic ship
that hovered yards above the plains. Men came swarming over its sides,
dropping like ants from ropes, leaping toward them.

Kortha saw they were unarmed. He tossed his hammer aside and grinned
mercilessly, lips writhing back from strong white teeth.

Ilse looked up at him and shuddered. She had seen Kortha fight before.

He sprang to meet them, hamlike fists balled into twin maces. He broke
a man's jaw with his first blow. With his second he snapped three
ribs of an officer in a short green cloak. He hit again, and again,
and everytime that his fists struck, bones cracked or splintered. Men
shrieked there on the stones, trying to stand up to him.

Occasionally he unclasped his hands to grasp; and when his grip fell,
clutching, the victim dropped with shredded limbs.

They were all around him now, grunting under his blows, screaming when
he wrenched. Kortha danced like a temple harlot, twisting on his toes,
slamming his long arms out, dropping his fists where they hurt the
most: on jaw, on belly, on ribs. He laughed harshly as he fought; his
eyes flared, and his nostrils quivered. The soft thudding of fists on
flesh, and the sobs of air-hungry lungs orchestrated the battle.

It looked as though he would beat them all, for a moment. His great
form was untouched, and men lay sprawled on the rocks all around him.

Then someone flung sand from a pouch. Kortha knew its bitter burn as it
bit into his eyes. They welled with tears, but Kortha held them open,
fighting the smart with all the surging energy of his will. To close
them would make him helpless; yet the tears blinded him, too, and those
he could not help.

The guards raged into him, goaded to desperation, hitting hard.
Buffeted, blinded, swept off his feet, Kortha was hurled backward onto
the stones. For long minutes he was the core of a shifting, sobbing,
maddened group. A hand dug at his face, shoving it into sharp rocks.

Kortha arched his loins, thrusting hard, upwards, heaving men off. He
came to his feet, blind, striking out, shouting as he felt flesh pulp
beneath his fists.

Something slammed across his temple, bouncing off.

Kortha pitched face downward, hearing Ilse screaming.


                                  III

Kortha floated in clouds, bodiless. Fragrance drifted past in tendrils
of white mist, curling and crawling with scented life. Through the
mist came a battleship with Guantra seated on it, laughing at him. A
silken garment dyed with scarlet and magenta flickered past, obscuring
Guantra. Wrapped in the silk was Ilse, dancing for him, trailing a
cape of moonlight behind her white shoulders, above the multicolored
scarves. The clouds shifted beneath him, causing him to fall. He
dropped, faster and faster.

Golden men caught him, carried him on their shoulders. They led him to
a wall and chained his wrist to a red-hot manacle--

It was Ilse who held his wrist in her hand; Ilse bending above him,
crystal tears quivering on her long amber lashes.

"Kortha! Thank Zut. You've lain so still."

He was in a bed. He grunted as he sat up. Ilse fought him, tried to
force him down, saying, "The doctor said you had the constitution of
a desert boar. What you went through would have killed ten ordinary
men. But lie still, lie still. The wards are filled with the men you've
wrecked--"

She laughed and sobbed, fighting him. But Kortha put her aside easily,
asking, "Where is he? Where is the smell?"

"I am here, Kortha," said Guantra from the doorway where he stood, a
gun steady in his hand.

The gun was aimed at Ilse. Kortha was a little too far away to jump,
but the muscles on his legs and arms writhed like snakes with the fury
that pounded in his blood.

Guantra was saying, "Stand away from him, Ilse. A bullet won't stop
Kortha, but he won't risk your chances with hot lead."

"What do you want of me?" snarled the giant, mastering his red rage,
fingers opening and closing.

"You will be my friend, Kortha. That is all I seek of you. Just your
friendship."

Ilse gasped in her throat and whirled around, blue eyes wide. She
stood rigid, bent a little forward. She choked, "No, no. Guantra, you
wouldn't--not to Kortha. Not that!"

"Not what?" rasped Kortha, scowling in puzzlement.

"The Blue Grotto! It changes men. It makes them different. They aren't
the same after they come out of there."

Kortha stared at Ilse, noting the wide ashen eyelashes, the red mouth
twisted in pain, the white forehead riven with furrows. Torture! So. It
was what he had expected of Guantra: to torture a man until he became a
broken thing begging for friendship. Suddenly he looked at Guantra and
found the man lost in admiration of Ilse's tanned loveliness.

Kortha leaped like an uncoiling spring. He caught Guantra about the
waist and flipped him across a thigh, sending him into a wall. The
Premier thudded into the oak and steel, hitting hard. He crouched for
long moments on hands and knees, shaking his head. Then he crawled to
his feet and looked into his own gun held in Kortha's hand.

"You'll let Ilse and Xax go, Guantra. I remain."

Guantra rubbed his hip, smiling grimly. He nodded.

"Gladly, Kortha. It will be guarantee of our future friendship."

"No," sobbed Ilse, long fingernails biting into Kortha's hairy forearm.
"He'll change you. He'll do to you what he did to those--others."

Kortha shook her off. Torture he hated, but he could stand up to it.
But if they did anything to Ilse--he wasn't that sure of himself. He
had to get rid of her, send her away to Hurlgut. Maybe they could
somehow contact Earth or Venus; get help.

Ilse hit his furred chest with tiny fists, whimpering.

"Idiot! Can't you see? Guantra will make you his friend. You'll do what
he says. You'll be a figurehead. All the Confederacy will hail the
union of Guantra and Kortha. It won't know that only Guantra gives the
orders, that you're just a puppet."

Kortha shoved her away.

"Get moving," he snapped. "I'll hold off Guantra until you're safely
gone."

Ilse fought and raged, but she was helpless with her bare arm in one of
Kortha's hands. She went sideways in front of him as he pushed her. Her
red mouth whimpered.

Kortha stood and watched the fleet little scout ship fade into the
south. When it had disappeared, he waited for minutes, calculating
Ilse's speed against possibility of pursuit. Satisfied, he handed his
gun to Guantra.

He growled, "Bring on your torturers, Guantra. Let's get this over
with."

But Guantra laughed softly, sheathing the gun.

"Torture? Oh, no. That's a bit--ah--antiquated, isn't it? Besides, I
know men, Kortha. Torture would never make me your friend."

"Not torture?"

"Come with me into my stateroom. Oh, be my enemy, if you will. But
you'll be needing food, and a bit of Sharasta wine. I have both."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha realized that if he leaped on Guantra now, he could break his
neck or snap his spine. But there would be other Guantras. Better to
fight this one, than the others who might arise. He smiled to himself.
Apparently those years in the desert had aided him to control his mad
temper. In olden days he would have been on Guantra, slaying without
thought to a possible future.

He shrugged broad shoulders, aware that his stomach was empty. There
was no need to starve to death. He had done a lot without food. He
walked after Guantra slowly, thoughtful.

A dull black plasticine screen formed one wall of the hexagonal
stateroom. Before it a curved desk glittered dully, littered with
charts and papers. Chrystolite chairs and benches gleamed in myriad
colors over the thickly woven black rug. Kortha stared around him,
nodding. He remembered the ship. It was one he had himself planned.

But the screen was new. He stood in front of it, frowning. Guantra came
to his side, gesturing.

"Since you turned hermit, things have happened on Mars, Kortha. This
screen is a by-product of researches by my science division. With it, I
can detect scenes at certain distances in the open air. Essentially the
same as television, we can focus an unlimited field by using cosmic ray
amplifiers."

Guantra went to the wall, pressed a button.

"We use radio waves though, throughout the ship, in order to prepare
our food."

Kortha looked through the transparent shield in the wall; saw a frozen
steak thaw suddenly, cook before his eyes in a matter of seconds.

"High frequency waves," Kortha said. "That's old."

"True, but I've found it saves time to install them in every room. In
time of battle, my men need not desert their posts for food. The food
is there frozen; needs only six to eight seconds to cook, and be taken
out, ready to eat."

A steward came and lifted out the steak, setting it on a table before
Kortha. He served chilled Sharasta wine and freshly baked bread.
Chilled sugar sauce over bitter fruits brought a hard grin to the
giant's mouth. He had not realized before just how hungry he was.

He began to eat.

When he was done, he went and stood at Guantra's side in front of the
starboard windows. Outside, sunlight blazed on the quartz-veined cliffs
over which the _Varadium_ was passing. Hollow depressions glittered as
though filled with sparkling gems, while huge stalagmites lifted jagged
edges, shot forth scintillating hues that etched color madness on the
dun cliffsides.

The sheer cliffs fell away, exposing a massive gap in the mighty
mountains. The _Varadium_ poked its dull grey nose downward and sank
between the ledges.

Staring from the darkened starboard windows, Kortha beheld the
iridescent gleam of the mountain-walls turn to yellow and red and
green. The colors deepened as the ship lowered on the air currents:
grew lavender, then purple. Shadows from the tall cliffsides gave the
canyon into which they sank a dark sombreness.

"The Blue Grotto is far below the surface," whispered Guantra. "A young
lieutenant discovered and told me about it. I checked his findings; had
my engineers pay it a visit. Their work resulted in something that will
make your eyes shine."

With her keel scraping dry red sand, the _Varadium_ edged along the
bed of the canyon. Ahead lay a great black orifice in the side of
the cliff: a gigantic cave, vast as Mars' mightiest hangar. Even by
straining his keen eyes, Kortha could make out nothing beyond that
ebon darkness.

But when the flier poked its prow into the cave, a battery of
tremendous mercury floodlamps leaped to bluish-white life. Blinking
in their glare, Kortha looked down at the floor of the cave; found it
fitted with great steel cradle, with benches and lathes and tools. The
battleflier sank into the cradle with a lurch and a swift righting of
its bulk. Springs sighed softly under its weight, cushioning it on a
blanket of compressed air.

Guantra led Kortha from the stateroom out along the grey deck, toward
the gang-plank, saying, "This place has been useful to me. Extremely
so. I've found that it paid to spend the money to equip it."

Kortha looked around him, gauging his chances for fight. Men stepped to
benches, swung down ladders, with an air of deft sureness. They paid
him the insult of inattention. His hands knotted, then relaxed. Suppose
he did fight? It would do him no good. Even Kortha could not overcome
the entire crew of a battleflier. Not without a weapon.

Guantra motioned him to a tiny monorail car.

"The journey is not far, but we must avoid some--ah--rather terrifying
precipices in this. The rail cost fifty lives to install. A misstep
above an abyss--"

He shrugged, pressing buttons. The car lurched forward, gathered speed.

"Personally, I think some of them are bottomless. We could take no
soundings."

They caught glimpses of black depths to their left as the car slid
along on its ribbonlike rail. A string of lights fastened to the cliff
cast eerie shadows into the gulf. The car slowed to round a curve.

It halted in a chamber whose walls were sculped with vividly stained
statuary. Their colors were faded now, but here and there were spots of
red sunset, or blue ocean, or the white of a ship's sail.

Kortha muffled a curse of surprise in his throat.

"I thought you'd like it," Guantra laughed. "That lieutenant of mine
found it. He swears it's a lost museum of some very early Martian race.
The ones who lorded it when there were oceans on the planet."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha did not fight the drag of curiosity. He walked along the wall,
intent on the friezes. Here were the tall-prowed water-ships, sails
bellying before the wind, cleaving foaming, blue-green ocean. He saw
men in mail and helmets battling on green grass. There were boudoir
scenes, too, with tall and lovely blonde women reclining on soft
cushions, fanned by strangely shaped slaves.

How had this forgotten clue to a past civilization come to be buried
under tons of mountains? Perhaps a planetary catastrophe in the past
had shifted an entire mountain-range, to bury a city beneath its rock
foundations. Then again, the Old Ones might have carved out niches in
the stone itself, hollowing chambers the better to preserve traces of
their culture.

Kortha hastened his steps, found Guantra waiting for him in a room hung
completely with expensive blue-and-gold draperies. Even the ceiling
was muffled in bands of rich silk. The floor was a thick fur rug that
would have cost a million _kofuls_ on the open market. And in the
mathematical center of the room was a couch of incredible softness
draped with a spotted black-and-silver _ocemar_ pelt.

"Lie down and rest, Kortha. I shall leave you to your thoughts."

Kortha came up swiftly in front of Guantra and grasped him by his arms
above the elbows. He swung the Premier off his feet, held him inches
above the ground, glaring at him.

"I could kill you, Guantra. I could snap your spine as a king gorilla
could a twig. You would die."

Guantra paled and licked him lips. Then he managed to laugh.

"No need for that. All I ask is that you spend the night here. In this
room, sleeping on that couch. After that, you are free to leave."

Kortha dropped the man in his bewilderment, saying, "Is that all? Is
the place haunted? Ought I start at ghosts? Or do you gas the lungs out
of me?"

"Neither. Just stay here. No harm will come to you."

Kortha grinned and surveyed the drapes. He ran fingers through his
thick yellow hair. He chuckled, "I'll stay. In the morning, I'll leave."

He watched Guantra close the door behind him. He heard the bolt snick
into place. He went and sank on the couch. It was soft, enticing.
Putting up his tanned legs, he crossed them at the ankles.

Kortha tried to think, to reason out the danger of the room. But even
his giant body knew the lassitude of fatigue. He closed his eyes,
trying to sort out facts and interpret them; shaking his head a little,
muttering at his tiredness. Guantra had the whiphand, with Hurlgut a
cripple and Ilse and Xax no help at all. And he, Kortha! Of what use
was he, sleeping like a perfumed harlot on this couch? If he could
raise an army, now--

His eyelids blinked against the tiredness beating up from deep within
him. Wave upon wave of languor swept to his brain, wrapping it in soft
and gentle folds. He closed his eyes. Just for a minute, just until he
was refreshed--

Kortha slept. His big body lay utterly relaxed, every muscle inert,
like a lazing panther. The room was drugging in its silence. The thick
draping seemed to enfold, to cradle.

"_Kortha!_"

It was a voice like a wind whispering in pines. It soughed across the
room, making the man turn lazily in his slumber, uneasy.

"Kortha, speak to me. Tell me of yourself. Who are you, Kortha?"

The man slept, but his lips spoke, sighing, "I am Kortha the strong.
The hard, the cruel."

"Ahhh, no. You must forget that, Kortha. True, you are heavily muscled,
but so are many men."

"I crippled Hurlgut my best friend, in a fit of rage. I am not to be
trusted. My temper is the red heart of the living volcano. It can spew
destruction."

"Forget that you are Kortha. He never existed. You are not that Kortha,
but another. Tell me about this best friend, Kortha. Tell me. Tell me."

Kortha whispered the tale, shuddering even as he slept.

The voice spoke to him, and its softness was the purl of a wave lapping
at the shore.

"You are wrong. It happened thus--"

Kortha half-rose, listening, though his eyes were closed and his breath
came evenly.

"Repeat after me--Repeat--

"I saw Hurlgut in his tower room. We did not quarrel over politics with
Earth. Hurlgut did not call me names, denounce me as 'war-mad' and
'enhanced with my own powers.' The sun formed a pool at his feet, true.
But it was the guard--not I!--who leaped, struck swift and sure. I slew
the guard, but the damage had been done.

"Hurlgut slandered me. He said _I_ did it. I did not. Hurlgut was
jealous of my strength on Mars. He thinks I want power on Mars. I do
not. Guantra is the one true leader of Mars. It was the guard who
crippled Hurlgut, the guard who did it.

"The guard did it.

"The guard."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha lay back in his cushions, muttering. The room grew silent once
again. Then--

"Kortha!"

"I hear."

"Tell me of your life, Kortha. All of it. All the deeds of childhood,
all the incidents. Tell me of your youth and manhood. Speak to me and
tell me."

Kortha spoke for hours while the voice listened. When he had done,
the voice whispered once again, and its sound flitted through the
arras-hung room, susurrating eerily.

"Your childhood pattern fits into section j-2364-k7. Therefore the
treatment will be relayed over into that pattern, with emphasis on
friendship."

If Kortha had been awake, he would have heard the click of tiny wheels,
the metallic rustle of machinery, the flick of a needle of compressed
air on a metal filament. The drapes helped deaden those sounds, and
Kortha slept on.

"Kortha, listen. When you came from Fraysia to be a student at the
Academy. You remember that first day when you met--Guantra?"

No, it had not been Guantra. It had been Hurlgut whom he'd met, there
on the white walk. Or had it really been Guantra? Was his memory that
bad? Guantra standing before him, smiling at him, putting a friendly
hand on his big arm and saying, "You look like officer material. Come
with me. I'd like to see you fence. You have the build for it."

And it was Guantra, not Hurlgut, who stood with him, awed at the magic
in the lightning parry and thrust of the sword in his hand. He had
defeated Mayram the champion that afternoon as Guantra looked on.
Beaten him with a glittering sword in his hand and a fire in his green
eyes and dancing joy in his heart.

He told Hurlgut--no, Guantra! about it afterward in his rooms; how
his father had had him taught by Eric MacCormac the American, who was
tri-planet champion in all three weapons: foil, sabre and epee. And
Guantra listened, pleased.

The voice went on, whispering softly, speaking to him, lifting from
his memory the threads of recollection, removing the very fibre of
his character, as a mason lifts old tile to lay the new. Bit after
glittering bit of fact was slipped in to take the place of memory. Fact
that was so plausible it became the truth.

It was Guantra who had given him his first engineering chance,
in letting him charge and electrolize the bastion of cliffworks
surrounding radio-city Ruuzol. With cables and generators, he had made
those mountain ridges of solid metals the sounding board for a spacevox
system that was first in the solar system. Kortha had done a great job
on that, thanks to Guantra. Later, there were other triumphs. Then--

"You fled to the desert to escape Ilse. She sought after you, trying to
enmesh you in her charms. All the time you knew she was the chosen of
Guantra. Guantra loves her.

"Guantra is your friend. You would not steal the woman of a friend.

"You gave her up. You ran from her, hoping to lose yourself in the
desert, thinking Ilse would forget...."

Kortha stirred restlessly, but relaxed. He listened, absorbed.

"Ilse found you in your smithy. You wanted to find Guantra to get his
advice, so you went to Yassa. Hurlgut sent men to kill you. You slew
them instead, and fled again. Ilse came to tempt you, but you were
saved by Guantra. He sent Ilse away, and brought you to safety."

Kortha sighed softly.

"Guantra is your friend, Kortha. The two of you might easily rule Mars.
Two friends to lead Mars to its rightful place among the planets. You
and Guantra. True friends...."

Kortha whispered, "Guantra is my friend. Ilse is a wanton seeking my
love. Hurlgut hates me, for Hurlgut is jealous."

"That is correct. Now repeat all that I have told you, after me."

Their voices susurrated in the draped room. Their voices fled from wall
to wall, and sank into oblivion. The candle that marked the hours and
the days burned lower. Only the voices lived, and the teeming brain of
Kortha that was taught by an unsleeping, patient, mechanical teacher.


                                  IV

It was still in the room when Kortha woke. He stared around, wondering.
Of course! Guantra had brought him here to seek repose. He chuckled.
You'd think he was a baby, the way Guantra humored him. Always giving
him the best. Well, that was the way of a friend for you. He clambered
to his feet and rubbed his arms with his big, brown hands. The candle
was spluttering in its golden socket. Kortha frowned. That candle had
burned for three days!

He must have been tired. He recalled it had been a new candle when
Guantra had shown him into this room. There had been some question
of his sleeping and leaving? No, that could not be. He would have no
reason to leave Guantra, now. But he must have been very tired. Three
days asleep!

Kortha searched among the drapes, seeking an exit. He found a tiny,
moon-shaped door opposite his couch. It opened creakily under his palm,
and he stepped into a tunnel. Lights switched on as though by the heat
of his body. He walked slowly, frowning. He did not remember this
passageway at all.

Water lapped at rock ahead of him. He was puzzled. There were no large
bodies of water on Mars, unless there were subterranean seas that
topographers knew nothing of!

He hurried forward; came to an abrupt stop, staring.

An underground cave widened before his eyes. Throughout its shadowy
length, the haze that filled it was tinted blue, and the waters of
this undersurface ocean blazed like blue fire in its reflection. Azure
stalagmites thrust up gnarled arms and heads in eerie grotesqueries.
Ahead of him for mile after mile stretched that limpid sea. Here and
there a rock rose, wet and clammy, above its blue surface. Shadows
gloomed in the distance.

Kortha fell to his knees at the edge of the stone floor, fascinated by
the water. He dipped a hand into it: felt it cool and soothing on his
flesh.

Startled, he stared into its depths. There was something moving down
among those bluish fires, something white and strange. Something was
flashing through the water, swooping up toward his kneeling figure.
He saw white flesh and tossing hair. He saw flanks and breasts, and
churning legs.

Her white hands and wrists broke water first. Then Ilse lifted her wet,
platinum hair and shook it, spraying drops. She put hands to his and
let him lift her to the ledge.

"Xax showed me a way through the mountains that the tumblies used to
know, long ago. I hurried here, Kortha, to get you away before--"

His green eyes were sullen, looking down at her. Ilse stopped her flow
of words, listening to him say, "Guantra will be glad to see you."

Kortha thought: this is the wanton in all her seductive flesh. See how
the silver hair brushes her smooth shoulders, look how her legs are
straight and shapely; that red mouth is ripe for kisses, and those eyes
of blue are looking at me with love and affection.

He turned his face away from her, staring down the long emptiness of
the sea cavern.

Ilse put her hand to her open mouth, staring in horror at the big
man's averted face. Her throat quivered uncontrollably, but she choked
back the cry rising to utterance. Her wet hands found his and squeezed
desperately.

"Oh, my darling! He's done it to you as I knew he would unless I
hurried. I thought I would be in time, but it was a hard trail up the
mountains. We had to go on foot. I'm too late, too late!"

Kortha shoved her away from him roughly, snarling, "Save your
blandishments, Ilse. You won't find them helpful with me. You belong
to Guantra. I do not find you attractive."

He lied, and he knew he lied. This white witch of a woman with the red
mouth and the blue eyes and the platinum hair was a draught to make
a statue hunger. Yet she was for Guantra. Well, Guantra deserved the
best. And yet....

"You must come with me, Kortha. Hurlgut--"

"Hurlgut is jealous of me. He slanders me. I have never given him cause
to do that. He claims I broke his back, but he does not tell the truth.
It was the guard, not I. The guard did it."

Eyes closed, Ilse bowed her head. Her heart was a thing of lead in her
bosom. This mewling, complaining thing was Kortha! Kortha, who would
spit in the face of a living Zut if he angered him. She bit her lip
hard, and tasted the drops of blood that welled to the surface.

She looked up. She said slowly, "We are going to surprise Guantra. You
see, if Guantra could learn that with you all Mars would be his friend,
he would like it. If he heard from your lips that you would back him as
Premier against Earth and Venus--"

"Is there any doubt of that?"

Ilse knew she had to feel her way here. Not knowing what Kortha had
been told, been made to believe in as truth, she must be wary; step
lightly in her speech, explore his knowledge with words.

"Yes. When you ran away to the desert," she looked at him curiously and
breathed again when she saw him nod curtly, "there were some who said
that you and Guantra had a falling out. That you ran from him as a sort
of protest."

Kortha laughed, looking at the girl, "That is ridiculous. _You_ know
why I ran away. Because you wantoned after me. I ran away from you,
Ilse."

       *       *       *       *       *

So that was the reason Kortha had been given! Ilse held her eyes shut
tightly. Her left hand bit its long fingernails into the naked skin of
her flank. Pain! Pain would help to cancel the sodden ache in her heart.

"Yes," she whispered. "I know. But Mars doesn't know that, and Mars has
to be told. If Mars could hear the truth from your lips--

"Come with me to radio-city Ruuzol, Kortha. Broadcast to Mars. Be the
first to let the planet know you and Guantra are friends. You be the
first; you, his friend."

Kortha nodded slowly. He felt Ilse's hands squeezing his.

"It must be a secret, though. We can't let Guantra know, or the
surprise would be spoiled. You have to come with me."

She saw his eyes light after a moment, and she knew she had won;
that he would go with her away from the Blue Grotto and its magical
machine that could steal men's minds from them and give them something
different in exchange. She turned, dove for the water.

Kortha was beside her, sinking into the blue fire of water, dropping
down and down past coral growths and bannery weeds that slithered in
ripples as the currents wafted them to and fro. Following her threshing
legs, clinging to coral branches as did she, pulling himself along,
Kortha went under a ledge and rose swiftly in a tiny cave.

Ilse said as she treaded water, "My 'copter is outside. It will take us
to Ruuzol."

Ruuzol was the communication center of all Mars. A vast glassite
paraboloid was built on a flat mesa against a cliffside. It housed
vast turbines and generators, and the central controls, as well
as laboratories and rows of dwellings, where the men lived. A
fountain-dotted park gave the small city an air of leisure.

Their 'copter swooped in over the flat plains surrounding the mesa,
casting its shadow from the high cliffs all around the plain out across
the flatlands, up onto the mesa sides.

Flanking the great transparent paraboloid were the twin tubes, taller
than the dome itself, thrusting their glass-and-steel structures two
thousand feet into the air. At their tops, three metal planes were
inserted into their trunks; planes that were the secret of the Martian
radio beams, planes that sent the spacevox rocketing to Earth and
Venus, and the direct broadcasts out over the sandy wastes of Mars.

Ilse flashed her 'copter past a tube and spiralled gracefully to one of
the white landing strips beyond the dome.

They walked toward the paraboloid. Ilse showed credentials to the
guards at the entrance; then they were through and into the cool,
pleasant air of the paraboloid, moving on one of the glass walks.

The harsh tones of the communicator sprang to speech around them: "The
princess Ilse. The princess Ilse. The Emperor desires speech. The
Emperor desires speech."

Kortha muttered something under his breath, but Ilse pretended not to
hear him, saying, "It will only be a moment."

They found Hurlgut propped in cushions, flushed and worried. His eyes
opened wide at sight of Kortha, and the worry fled.

"Kortha!" he cried, putting out both hands, lifting a little where he
sat. "So Ilse did find you!"

Ilse stepped to one side, offering prayers to Zut.

Kortha looked at Hurlgut, saw him lying white and broken among the
striped pillows. He wanted to rage at this liar, at this mongerer
of scandal. He learned with a little surprise that he could not. If
Hurlgut wanted to blame him, let him. Kortha had never fought cripples
before. He would not begin now.

"--so good to see you, man. Give me your hand. Give it to me, man!
There! Let me look at you. The same, the same. Big. Strong. Unbending.
Mars' only hope. I need you, Kortha. Guantra has but now concluded
speaking on the radio beams. He knows you fled from him, came here. He
traced you in that cosmiclarifier of his."

Kortha remembered the black screen in the flagship stateroom.

"Guantra will be surprised when I broadcast. Eh, Ilse?"

"Yes," whispered Ilse.

Hurlgut looked surprised, exclaiming, "Why, Guantra will not let you
broadcast, Kortha. He will destroy Ruuzol first. He threatened to, in
fact."

"But he can't. Not until I've made my speech to Mars, told them how he
and I will unite--"

Ilse touched her temple and her heart, looking at Hurlgut, nodding
toward Kortha. Then Kortha was whirling on her, saying, "Get me to a
magnifone. I'll speak to Guantra's ship, tell him what I intend to do.
The surprise is off, Ilse--but the speech can still be made!"

Suddenly Kortha swayed a little. He put a hand to his forehead. This
was all wrong! Ilse and Hurlgut were his friends! No, no. It was
Guantra who was his friend. Guantra has always befriended me. He gave
me my start. It is with him that my fortune lies. I must tell him so.

_But Ilse?_

Look at her, man. Look at her blue eyes again. They are so serious, so
sad, as she watches you. There is naught of the wanton there. A wanton
would laugh and giggle and be gay. Instead there is yearning and sorrow
and love in her eyes as she regards you.

_And Hurlgut?_

He lay helpless in his cushions, unable to move below the waist. He
looked at Kortha, too, and there was pity in his eyes. Kortha did not
fight with men who could not walk to meet him. Did Guantra? He had the
sharp, hard conviction that he must know the answer to that. It might
help him decide incongruities.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha sighed. He wished that he could solve this enigma that turned
him inside-out in puzzlement. He found himself liking Ilse and Hurlgut,
even knowing what he did to them; and learned he was close to hating
Guantra. Guantra had the power. Hurlgut was a cripple, and Ilse a girl.
Could Guantra fight them with the armies and the fleets of Mars, and
still hold his head high? Could--he?

Ilse stood at the open door, watching him. Kortha realized she had
been standing there for minutes, as he had thought. He scowled, and
muttered, "Get me to the magnifone. I'll speak to Guantra."

Following Ilse to the lift, Kortha brooded at her.

Zut, but she was lovely! If only she were not the wanton he knew her
for. And yet--always that ... and yet! And yet, there was nothing of
the wanton about her. The perfume from her fur bolero floated around
them in the lift. It reminded him of things, that perfume: of memories
that were stored so deeply in his subconscious that he had completely
forgotten them. Kisses over the canals in a drifting 'coptondola. An
Academy dance with Ilse wearing a black, filmy thing that made the blue
of her eyes and the silver hair weirdly beautiful. And those nights
when they had eaten cold fruit and drank of iced _bessa_-mead in the
palace gardens near colored-water fountains, before he had--before the
guard had crippled Hurlgut.

He could not square remembered happiness with other memories. There was
a leak somewhere. He had to learn more--

"Ilse," he said.

The lift was opening and the girl was going down the corridor. Kortha
shrugged and followed her. He was probably mistaken. Those memories
were the overflow from a forgotten dream.

In the big control room he stood watching Ilse punch buttons. A
beam-man stared at him from a corner panel-slot. Let him look. The
name of Kortha was legendary on Mars. He heard Ilse saying, "Guantra.
Guantra!" into a fine-meshed magnifone.

The screen above the panelling came alive with the Premier's sneering,
point-bearded face; and his voice was harsh, cold.

"So. You got to Kortha before me, Ilse. It is too bad. I would like to
know whether--let me speak to him."

Kortha stared up at Guantra's scowling face. The man was worried. The
way his tongue licked unceasingly at his thin lips, the hands tugging
at the crested metal buckle of his belt, the creases around his
narrowed eyes: they were signal flares pointing his anxiety. There was
something bothering Guantra, too, even as it bothered him.

What was it? Kortha had to know. Kortha sucked in his breath, realizing
that the duel was between him and Guantra. Each had knowledge, and
they had to trade to know where they stood. Guantra wanted to be sure
of what? Of his friendship? But--why? He himself sought to test that
elusive memory of his. It told him Ilse was wanton and Hurlgut a
danger; but his senses belittled that memory.

Perhaps Guantra could be persuaded to give him the knowledge he sought.
He put Ilse aside, placed mouth to the magnifone.

"Kortha on the beam, Guantra. Tell me something. Am I your friend,
Guantra?"

The man with the jutting beard licked at his lips for a split second,
but it was long enough. Kortha knew now that Guantra _did not know_!
That meant that his senses might be right, after all; that his memory
was wrong. And if his memory were wrong, then Ilse and Hurlgut were not
what he thought them.

He listened to Guantra bluster, calling out to him to recall and act on
their old friendship. Smiling grimly, he leaned closer to the image on
the screen. Test him, Kortha!

"Let me broadcast to all Mars, Guantra. Let me tell Mars that we are
friends."

"No," said Guantra swiftly. "That would not be politic right now.
Better that you and I should meet, Kortha. Come aboard my flagship."

Afraid of what he might say, the Premier would not let him speak to
Mars. Kortha wanted to know the reason why Guantra doubted their
friendship. Looking at the cold austerity, the pride and ambition
of the man as marked in the lines of his face and the manner of his
bearing, Kortha rather thought the reason was not Ilse. A man like
Guantra would not bother so about a woman.

"I will broadcast, Guantra," Kortha said slowly.

"No. I will have to stop that, my friend. I cannot allow it, until I
have seen and spoken with you, face to face. I am coming in for you
now."

They saw the Premier reach out and break connection.

Kortha looked at the blank screen; he whirled on Ilse, and his big
hands went out to catch her by the shoulders and bring her up close to
him.

He said savagely, "Tell me! Tell me what I don't know. Why has Guantra
turned against me? Why does he doubt my friendship? It can't be over
you. He is not the man to endanger his power for a woman. What is his
reason?"

Her blue eyes were unafraid. She said, "Guantra was never your friend.
I dared not tell you before, but I can now because you have doubts of
what your memory tells you. You saw how indecisive he was. He does not
know whether his psychoanalyser in the Blue Grotto had time to change
you. I got you out of there before he knew, before he had seen and
spoken with you."

The giant released her; ran fingers that shook a little through the
thick mop of his yellow hair, frowning.

"I don't understand. What psychoanalyser? What Blue Grotto? Wait--I
remember the grotto, with the blue sea. But the rest is strange to me."

"And the room fitted with drapes? The couch with the ocemar pelts?"

"I slept there."

       *       *       *       *       *

She told him then, hurriedly: of how the psychoanalyser was one of the
machines Guantra had taken from the tower of Zut in Yassa and set it up
in his hidden lair, and how he used it to turn key men into his friends
by giving them new memories that were so closely linked with their
old that rarely were they so much as hesitant about them. Only Kortha
doubted, and that was because Ilse had come to him before Guantra. She
picked up the thread of his life at the smithy in the desert and went
on with it.

Once he interrupted, with, "But it was Hurlgut who sent men to kill me
in the tower of Zut?"

Ilse scorned that, "Hurlgut send men? Who on Mars would serve a cripple
when Guantra rules the fleets? Would Hurlgut hide in Ruuzol if he could
put his banners in the air?"

When she was through, he whispered through stiff lips, "This
psychoanalyser. It changes men, then?"

"Guantra changed several men in council positions with it. He needed
their support. He got it. It can make a brave man a craven; or a
coward, a hero. It was built by the Ancients, who understood the mind
as well as other sciences. They realized that the memory cells that
govern many of our habits and thoughts could be altered by hypnotically
suggested alterations. They built a machine that would do that. We
learned of it, but could never do anything about it. People would have
laughed, said we fought Guantra with myths."

Kortha growled, "I'm still not sure. But I'll fight Guantra until I can
make up my own mind!"

Ilse's lips twitched wryly. Her shoulders sagged a little as she leaned
against a table, looking up at him.

"Fight Guantra? Here in Ruuzol? You are mad, Kortha. There isn't a
single gun in Ruuzol. No weaponry of any sort. It can't defend itself;
was never intended to. This mesa is one mass of radio laboratories and
generators, tubes and condensors."

No weapon. No gun. Just a lot of magnifones, and words never killed
anybody yet. Kortha bared his teeth in a silent snarl.

"I'll broadcast before he can stop me. Let him fire on us, then!"

"No. He won't fire, not yet. Have you forgotten the lightning guns?
They will cripple all our power. We couldn't broadcast past those metal
mountains without power."

The lightning guns. Kortha came up short on that. He cursed softly,
brows furrowed. Aye, he remembered the lightning guns, psychoanalyser
or no psychoanalyser! With them it would be as Ilse said. Guantra would
break their power; land men, and take over the city.

"The laboratories," he grated. "Get me to your laboratories. There may
still be a way to stop those lightning guns."

Ilse looked at him; gasped suddenly at the old, flaring lights in his
green eyes. She laughed softly, gladly, and turned and ran ahead of him.

The ceiling lights were blue and bright, flooding the long laboratory
chambers where chrome and steelite glistened and glass fittings
refracted rainbows of color against the scalloped walls. Black, short
shadows flickered where men stood at their places, staring.

"This is Kortha," said Ilse, head flung back, eyes blazing with azure
fire. "If anyone can stop Guantra, he can."

A sullen giant hulked forward from a bench, arms dangling, scowling,
"Surrender to him, _I_ say. We have no chance against the fleet. The
rest of you--Guantra has no fight with us. Why do we do what one girl
and one man tell us?"

Kortha uncoiled, springing. His fist shot out like a flatheaded piston,
cracking the sullen man on the jaw. The _splat_ of the blow was loud in
the silence broken only by the brrring of the ceiling reflectors lazily
rotating.

Over the body of the unconscious man, Kortha snarled, "Anyone else
advise surrender?"

They looked at him, and dropped their eyes. Heads shook.

"Good. Get me blueprint papers, and diagrams of your ultraviolet
radiator batteries. I want relayed batteries set up, and I must know
how many I have to work with."

Ilse saw hope struggling for place in the eyes of the men as they
looked at Kortha. She laughed gaily, putting a hand on the big man's
arm, saying loudly, "This is Kortha. I told you. He can pull miracles
out of a hole in space!"

Feet pounded on the linoleotile flooring. Drawers opened, banged shut;
glass cabinets clinked faintly, and papers rustled. Ilse stood against
Kortha, touching him, smiling wryly.

"Only your name could make them hop like that against the power that
is Guantra. They're all loyal, but practical. They know to an iotagram
what chance Hurlgut has!"

"He has a good chance," growled Kortha. He did not look at her. He did
not dare: she was too lovely, with her blue eyes and platinum hair, and
the kissable mouth. He had not decided yet, and wanted his reason to
figure this out, not his emotions.

       *       *       *       *       *

The men came and spread their diagrams and date-sheets and charts
before him. His keen eyes flicked back and forth, ran down columns,
studied hook-ups and relays.

"These batteries," he said suddenly, pointing. "Shift them there. These
others, over to this spot. Move those back, arrange them in arcs. They
must be distributed evenly around Ruuzol. Here, I'll work it out for
you."

He sketched quickly. With T-square and calipers he strove for
arrangements on the blueprints, and succeeded. The engineers and
physicists looked at his work and up at him, puzzled. Kortha snorted.

"The batteries will furnish ultraviolet rays, won't they? In the
patterns we set by grouping them like this?"

A young engineer nodded dubiously.

"Yes, but--"

Kortha rasped an oath, stood up.

"Do what I say. I'll explain to you later, when I bring the final
distribution sheets to you. You'll have to follow my instructions to
the letter. The radiator batteries must be set so, to make a pattern
thus. Any deviation will result in disaster. Hurry!"

Up in the control tower the red light was flickering. Kortha allowed
himself a smile. The ultraviolet batteries were in place, needing only
a fingerpress on a button beneath his hand to fire them. He looked up
at the flagship maneuvering in circles above the dome. They were ready
up there now.

Kortha depressed the button, and laughed.

An instant later, white fires burst from the guns of the flagship,
flaring zigzags that darted toward the upright tubes on either side of
the paraboloid. The metal planes would draw that lightning; it would
sear them, crack them, erupt into thunderous cascades of escaping
power--

The lightnings never touched their target.

As though an invisible mantle of veins were spread above the radio
city, the lightnings sprayed away, following the veins, grounding in
showers of tiny sparks on the plains below. They made eerie traceries
of light over the city as the guns spouted lightning again and again.
The glassite dome was bathed in a white, luminescent glow from the nets
of meshed zigzags in the air above it, that ran in streaks of jagged
white fire all around the city.

And always the lightnings grounded on the plains. The city lay
untouched.

Kortha chuckled. He laughed aloud. He bellowed his mirth, slapping a
thigh with his big hand, yelping, "A million _kofuls_ to see Guantra's
face I'd give right now. He must be swallowing his tongue in rage.
I'll bet he's hopping. He doesn't know what I've done. He thinks I'm a
magician!"

"A lot of other people think the same thing," said Ilse dryly.
"Including myself. And those engineers! They'll be sweating their
curiosity, now that they see how your diagrams are working. They
pestered me with questions, but I couldn't answer them."

"Summon them," grinned Kortha.

When they stood silent before him, he laughed them into smiles. One of
them echoed his laughter, and then they all were bellowing.

Kortha said when they were wiping tears of delight from their eyes,
"Lightning follows a pattern through the air, doesn't it? It follows
beams of ionized air that are everywhere. Those ionized air beams flow
down to Ruuzol, too. The only way to stop lightning from hitting us was
to form other ionized air currents that lead it away from us."

A man with beaming face shouted, "Ultraviolet rays ionize air!"

"All we needed to do was set the batteries of radiators up in such
a sequence that the lightning followed the ionized air beams they
created. We made our own air currents and naturally the lightning had
to follow them. It couldn't get past them!"

The cheer that rang in the room dropped to a hush as the screen glowed
with Guantra's snarling face.

"You've won this round, Kortha. But I'm bringing the fleet here. We'll
see if you can work magic against belching guns. However, your evil
genius can plan, it can't work miracles all the time. You--you imp of
Zut's black brother, you!"

Kortha laughed in his face.

The screen went dead.

The engineers went dead, too, until Kortha sent his booming laugh out
at them, shouting, "Let him bring his fleet. It's the showdown fight
we want. Let him come to us. I've an ace up my sleeve that I haven't
played yet. Why, if Earth and Venus were to send their space fleets
here with Guantra, we'd still win!"

The men did not believe that, but they shuffled their feet, uncertain.
It is hard to doubt a man who has just performed a miracle that your
own eyes have seen. There is always that lurking thought that he might
pull another, too.

Ilse said, "We have no guns on Ruuzol."

"This whole city is a gun," said Kortha, and laughed again.

His mirth was infectious. The engineers grinned and looked at each
other and laughed a little. They hadn't the slightest notion of why
Kortha laughed, or why they grinned, but no one could resist such a
magnificent confidence in a city that was without a weapon, and yet a
gun all by itself.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kortha spread his hands, asking, "This is a radio-city, isn't it? It
has every science necessary to perfect radio technique, hasn't it? Get
me Xax! He and I have work to do."

The tumblie shrilled a greeting, passing the engineers leaving the
room. He rolled across to the bronzed giant, clicking his needles,
eager, curious. Kortha grinned at him, dropped to a knee to speak to
him.

"You are the only one in all Ruuzol who can do this job, Xax. Any other
who left here would be shot by the guards Guantra will post before he
goes. It's up to you. Will you help me fight Guantra? I won't blame you
if you refuse."

"Tell me what you want me to do," said Xax simply. "You waste time,
talking nonsense."

Kortha took Xax to the tower window and showed him the red cliffs that
rose all around Ruuzol, towering toward the sky.

"Years ago, when I first came to Ruuzol from the Academy, I sank cables
into the metal of those cliffs. I laid them underground to the mesa,
here. I connected their vast bulk with the generators and tube relays
of the city. I have to know if those cables are still attached. You can
tell me. I shall let you know what tests to apply in the tiny caves
where the cable-controls are sunk. You can perform those tests with you
feelers, Xax."

"What tests, Kortha?"

The giant told him, repeating himself for emphasis. But the tumblie
understood, and said so. Kortha watched him click-roll out of the
tower, and rose, sighing.

To Ilse he said, "Let's go back to the laboratories again. I'll need
to make more diagrams. Get the engineers to meet me. They'll have to
change cable terminals and install them on a different hookup."

Down in the laboratories, Ilse sat for hours, watching Kortha as he
labored over charts and graphs, often without moving more than hands
and eyes for an hour at a stretch. When he was done, he stood up and
stretched like a waking tiger. He grinned, and handed the graphs to her.

Her eyes widened, looking down.

"Why, this is just--" she looked up, startled, beginning to smile.

"Something any modern housewife knows," he agreed. He laughed and said,
"Guantra will call it more magic."

"It is magic," Ilse said softly. "It is the magic of your brain that
can think of something like this at a time like this."

"Bah," chuckled Kortha, but he tingled meeting her eyes.

Hours later, the western sky grew dark with warships.

Kortha and Ilse stood once more in the tower over the paraboloid city,
their arms touching. Before Kortha lay a white metal box with a red
enamel switch disappearing inside it.

They watched the mighty battlefliers loom sullen and black above the
coppery cliffs, pointing their blunt noses downward, dropping one after
the other from the blue sky into the reddish plains below. They came
swiftly, in perfect echelon, masts flying the black panther banner of
Guantra. Their gunports lay open, the lean metal nozzles of their guns
glistening in the sunlight.

"Zut," whispered Ilse. "Guantra compliments you. He has stripped all of
Mars to capture you."

Xax said dryly, "The legend of Kortha is more than a legend, it seems."

"To destroy that fleet would cripple Mars for a decade," Kortha
whispered. "I couldn't do it, unless I was sure that the stakes we
fight for are worth it."

"We fight for Mars," said Ilse.

"Yes. Yes, I begin to believe that. When one man is so powerful he
can do with a warfleet what he will, to achieve his own personal
ambitions--"

They stood silent, watching the fleets come black across the skies.

"I can give them a taste of what they're going to get unless Guantra
surrenders," said Kortha. "I needn't kill them all. Just cause a
few--ah--explosions."

"Guantra will never surrender."

"His men will make him. They will realize I hold the trump cards in
this little game."

The fleets came in unhurriedly, majestically.

Aboard each flier was purposeful order as men ran across clean decks,
stood warily at battle-stations, swarmed into the upper shrouds with
small-arms. A few broadsides from those cannon would reduce Ruuzol to
smoldering ruins.

"Now?" whispered Ilse through wet lips.

"No. Not yet. I want them all within range."

Minutes eked along, slowly. Now the ships were prow to bow, circling
the mesa. Ilse shuddered, looking at the empty holes in the
gun-muzzles. She licked her lips and found her tongue dry as the dust
of the Yassan Desert.

"Now!" said Kortha, and his hand flashed out, and the red lever swung
over, hard.

It stayed over for short seconds....

       *       *       *       *       *

Ships and guns exploded in the air as they wheeled around Ruuzol. Vast
red flares sprang to life amid deafening detonations. Metal buckled
and split. Powder charges sloughed upward and outward, carrying men
and equipment with it in a crimson spray of destruction. The exploding
magazines burst open the fliers, twisting and rending the metal hulls,
ripping jagged holes, lifting off entire deck sections, sending men and
railings into the air.

Crimson ruin rained on the red plains.

Ilse whimpered, watching.

Kortha swung the red lever back, panting harshly.

"There goes the Mars you built," sobbed Ilse.

"We can rebuild ships," said Kortha. "Some men will die, but not all,
as would happen had I let the switch stay on a while longer. Those men
will build and man new ships, for a new Mars. Had I left the switch
on too long, not a living thing would exist between Ruuzol and those
cliffs."

Kortha chuckled a little, seeing distress and surrender flags break
from the masts of every ship in the vast flotilla. Even Guantra's
flagship fluttered the white pennon.

"Send Guantra to us in unconditional surrender. Radio every flier that
unless Guantra yields, we'll kill them all. We won't have to make good
that pledge, though. The men and the commanders out there are limp
with amazement, and fright of the unknown. They don't know what weapon
we use. They thought themselves so secure from reprisal, you see. The
unexpected will make cravens of them, for the moment. Oh, yes. And tell
Guantra and his men to come unarmed. We in Ruuzol don't own a single
gun."

Minutes later a tiny flier broke from the flagship and dropped toward
the landing strips on the mesa. Kortha still had his hand on the red
lever, watching every vessel that hung motionless in the air above the
plain. But there was no fight in any of them. Kortha was right. The
sudden destruction that had leaped from the very silence around them
had sapped aggressiveness.

Kortha had made his name spell magic once again.

Guantra was a beaten man. As he stepped into the glassite tower, his
cheeks were sunken, his eyes hollow above blackish rings. He stumbled
over the threshold, and kept licking his lips helplessly. When Ilse saw
his eyes, she knew suddenly what an enemy Kortha was. From the eyes of
Guantra came the look that a slave might cast to an adored idol that
came to life, and thundered curses on him. Guantra looked at Kortha as
though he expected fire to shoot from his mouth and devour him.

Kortha grinned, "I told you you would never beat me, Guantra. Are we
friends again?"

"Friends?" screamed the Premier, a white froth at the corners of his
thin mouth. "You and I were never friends. We were always enemies. We
were destined by fate to fight. And you--by some unknown magic you
always win. You turn defeat to overwhelming victory. Always. It isn't
fair to other men. Are you Zut himself? But now--now that you have
won--taste what it feels like to--lose!"

From the depths of his despair, Guantra acted. His hand went to his
tunic, lifted out with a heatgun in it.

His officers cried out at his treachery.

Kortha came in low, ducking under the sizzling blast that burnt black
splotches on the white fur of his jacket. His left fist arced up,
sending the heatgun from the numbed hand of the Premier. His right hand
came across in a blur of motion: struck like a piston against Guantra's
jaw. His fist whipped the man's head up and back, making the hair fly
like seafoam striking a rock.

The crack of the neck breaking under the titanic power of the blow was
etched against a frightened stillness.

Ilse and the officers stared at the crumpling form of the Premier whose
knees sagged, lowering his body gently to the floor. His head hung at a
sick angle from his limp neck.

Across the fallen body, Kortha looked at the white-faced officers. One
of them extended his hands, palms down, saying, "Search us, Kortha. We
came in peace."

Kortha grinned again and waved a brown hand.

"My fight was with Guantra. I thought he was my friend. Perhaps one of
you can tell me about--the Blue Grotto?"

They were all of them men from Guantra's flagship. Eagerly their mouths
spilled words, reciting the tale Ilse already had told him. Kortha
stared down at Guantra, grim-faced, silent. He sighed once when they
were finished, and looked at Ilse.

"And I never knew," he said to her softly.

He spoke to the officers, "It was true, then. Guantra is and has been
my enemy, and the enemy of all Mars. I am glad to know that." And he
rubbed his right fist thoughtfully.

"Can you find it in your heart to forgive a fool?" he asked of Ilse.

There were tears in her eyes. She stumbled forward, was caught and
crushed tight against him. His lips drank from hers, thirstily.

The officers moved their feet, embarrassed. Kortha looked at them
across Ilse's platinum hair, and laughed.

"You'll forgive me a moment's humanity," he said. "There are no terms
to give you. I am returning to the council. From here on out, Mars will
take her place beside Earth and Venus. _This_ time they won't back out
of their agreements."

       *       *       *       *       *

The officers grinned at each other, wanting to yell their delight. They
had known Kortha in the old days. One of them stepped ahead, hesitantly.

"We--ah--we are very curious, Kortha. The way in which you beat us,
that is. There were no guns in Ruuzol. There was no way to beat us. You
could not defeat us. Yet you did. When the explosions began, Guantra
went a little mad. He called you 'brood of Zut.' Frankly, a lot of us
thought there was something supernatural about it, too. As a matter of
fact I still do, and so do the rest of us."

Kortha grinned at them, saying, "As a matter of fact, you have the same
weapon I used aboard the flagship. Aboard every ship in the fleet, for
that matter."

They looked at him, and their eyes bulged.

Kortha walked hand in hand with Ilse toward a cabinet inset in the
tower wall. The officers came to stand around him in a semi-circle,
watching him bring forth a small box fitted with a row of electronic
tubes and cables fitted to two plates.

"It looks like a radio set," said one of the officers.

"It is," replied Kortha. "Except that it sends a stream of high
frequency waves back and forth between those plates, instead of a voice
into space. It internally induces heat into an object placed between
the plates."

Kortha took an iron bar and set it on the lower plate. He turned
switches, looking down. Almost instantly the bar glowed faintly red,
then waxed brighter and brighter. From brilliant crimson, it turned
white with heat. Kortha flipped the current off.

"The electronic tubes shoot a flow of high frequency waves between the
plates."

"But that's ancient," protested an officer. "We cook that way on
board--"

He broke off, eyes widening. He managed a sickly grin.

Kortha said, "I know it. I ate a meal cooked that way on the flagship.
Housewives cook this way all over the three planets. You see, I am no
magician after all. That's what I did to your ships. My two plates were
charged cliffsides and the mesa. From the batteries of giant electronic
tubes in Ruuzol, I spread those waves back and forth, caught your ships
in their flow as food is caught, or as the iron bar. The high heat
that was produced internally exploded every powder magazine and bit
of gunpowder on your vessels. It literally blew them up from inside.
That's why it was so swift and sudden, so silent."

One of the officers shuddered spasmodically, whispering, "If you'd left
the power on still longer, you'd have cooked every one of us alive."

Kortha looked at him. One of the younger men looked sick. He turned
away.

"You were generous," exclaimed an older officer. "In your place--"

"You men are part of Mars. My quarrel was not with you. I need you,
to build Mars up again, to make her one with Earth, one with Venus.
We must unite the clans, make the Confederacy strong as ever. Then we
shall send deputies to Earth and Venus.

"I rather think that this time they shall listen to us."

He said again, "Go to your ships. Have them refitted and repaired. Then
return for me, two weeks from today."

The officers bowed and departed.

Ilse stirred in Kortha's arm, looking up at him.

"Two weeks?" she whispered.

"You and I are returning to the Blue Grotto. After I get my real
personality back--minus my red-hot temper--we will return to Ruuzol."

His hands drew her to him.

"Two weeks is a short honeymoon, but for an old hermit like me it will
be an eternity of happiness!"

Their lips met avidly, as the shadows of the departing fliers flickered
one by one across their bodies, and disappeared over the horizon.

Across the empty red plains of Ruuzol rolled a tumblie. Xax was going
home.





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