The Project Gutenberg eBook of Martian Terror

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Title: Martian Terror

Author: Ed Earl Repp

Illustrator: Leo Morey

Release date: March 29, 2020 [eBook #61696]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at



A Novelet of Revolution Among the Venusians


Lolan, the Martian Sub-Commander, had no
choice. He sorrowed for Princess Mora's beaten,
X-ray starved subjects. But when the desperate
Venusians raised their empty fists, duty
commanded him to cut loose his force-bolts.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Spring 1940.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Lolan's pen made the only sound in the stuffy barracks room. The words took shape reluctantly beneath the official army letterhead, even as his mind had fought against framing them. He sat alone at his desk, the open window behind him crowding in the dank heat of a Venusian summer night. The collar of his ornate, iridite-crusted uniform was open, but a dark ring of perspiration stained its top.

Lolan laid the pen down and looked at what he had written. His violet-gray eyes became stony. This letter might mean demotion to the ranks, or even court-martial, but the things in him had festered there too long.

"Herewith I tender my resignation as Sub-Commander of the Martian Army of Occupation on the planet Venus," he read. "If it is the wish of the Council-Royal, I desire immediate transfer to some post on Mars. I can no longer blind my conscience to the brutal treatment Venusians are receiving at the hands of us, their conquerors.

"When I accepted this post two years ago, I understood that, under Commander Arzt, I would be endeavoring to control a savage, half-wild people scarcely more intelligent than beasts. I found them gentle, intelligent, cheerful, demanding only the treatment we accord our slaves at home. But do they receive it? No! We dole them food not fit for swine. We work them fifteen hours a day in their own iridite mines, in the sulphur holes, at whatever other work is beneath a Martian soldier. Their population has been reduced twenty percent during the twenty years since Mars conquered them. Disease is prevalent in their poorer quarters—little better than the 'improved' sections—to such an extent that few officers ever venture into these pestilential streets except to put down an occasional uprising.

"Because I feel that to continue in this post would demean—"

Lolan scowled at the unfinished sentence. He went to the window and stood staring out, his eyes not seeing the low clouds brushing the barracks roofs, nor the jagged tracery of lights a half-mile below, where Areeba sprawled in miserable squalor over the foothills. Before him was the vision of a girl's sober face—the face of a Venusian, high-caste woman. Princess Mora ... princess only in name, but beloved of her people—and of Lolan.

But for her, that letter would have been written and handed in a year ago. But somehow the young Martian could not leave Venus while she and her father, old ex-Emperor Atarkus, were still here and under continual threat of death. There could never be any more intimate relation between them than that of master and slave—yet Lolan kept a forlorn flame of hope guttering in his heart.

There were two good reasons why he was a fool to let Mora be a factor in his staying on Venus. In the first place, inter-marriage was strictly forbidden by Arzt, high commander of the army. Second—and more important to Lolan—biology entered in. Years ago, a few Martian soldiers had taken native wives, with tragic results. Although the two races were almost alike in appearance, except for the deeper coloring of the invaders, the children resulting from such unions were ugly, half-witted little monsters. Fortunately, none of them lived for more than a few years.

Lolan's lean young features hardened. Why fight it any longer? He couldn't have Mora, couldn't help her people without being a traitor to his own race. With an oath he pivoted from the window.

It was then that he saw the indicator on his tele-screen flashing angrily. Quick strides carried him there, a flip of the thumb made the silver screen a window to the outside world. The brutal face of Irak, Captain of the Secret Service, took shape.

"—repeating:" came the tail end of his announcement. "Two minutes ago the house in which Ars Lugo is hiding was entered by two persons. I am in an upstairs room across the street. I could not be sure of their identity, but I believe we are on the verge of breaking the secret of the recent revolution rumors. Haste is imperative if we are to trap them together...."

Excitement tingled through Lolan. Ars Lugo, a condemned revolutionary lately escaped from the Sulphur Holes, had contacted friends. Arzt had been right in deliberately letting him escape and tracking him to a hideout. "Rotten meat draws flies quickly," was his way of putting it. Now the flies had been drawn. But an unknown terror kept Lolan from even guessing at their identities—swiftly he hurried from the room as somewhere the officers' alarm began chiming.

A small, silent gravity-repulsion ship set eight men in the uniform of high Martian officers down a few blocks from the slum in which Captain Irak was tensely waiting for them. Lolan emerged with set face. Around him on the flat roof of the building where they had landed were grouped the others.

The voice of Arzt came harshly through the quiet. He was a short, immensely powerful man, with reddish features stamped with the cast of brutality. There was a slovenliness to him, a brutal arrogance that was betrayed by every ugly twist of his mouth as he spoke.

"Lolan, you'll give the order," he snapped. "These filthy revolutionists won't be looking for trouble if you handle it right. We'll have them before they know what's happened. I told you Ars Lugo would get in touch with his cronies as soon as he thought he wasn't being watched. Come on!"

They left the ship on the roof and groped down an outside stairway to the narrow street. A light fog hung yellowish in the streets. For a moment after their feet touched the slimy cobblestones, the eight Martians huddled together by a single impulse—revulsion at the sordidness of the lower-class quarter.

Sickly gleams kindled on their uniforms where stray beams from dingy windows found them. The stench of rotting offal insulted their nostrils, mingled with the musty, revolting odors peculiar to the south side of Areeba, principal city of Venus. A place of drunken, tottering buildings and vice and sickness that festered like a raw sore, the south side was the abode of the diseased, the degenerate, the lawless.

With a muttered curse, Lolan swung down the street. It didn't have to be like this. It was commanders like Arzt who let the Venusians suffer for their own enrichment. Inwardly, a resolution was taking possession of the young officer that this was his last duty on Venus. Tomorrow ... his letter of resignation would be handed in.

In a dark alley across the street from a crumbling, one-story hovel, he slipped into the shadows. His eyes were riveted to the yellow cracks of light opposite him, where bolted shutters guarded some furtive scene within that house. Then he was moving swiftly backwards as two forms reeled from the fog. His eyes narrowed to careful slits that raked the pair.

They had not seen him, nor, apparently, the other hidden Martians they had just passed. Their bellies were so full of cheap Martian gyla that all they could see was the heaving stones under their feet. Lolan's slim, dark fingers fell from the sadon pistol at his side. The fog swallowed the derelicts.

Ragged nerves leaping, Lolan strode across the street, knocked softly at the door. Frightened gasps found their way through the portal. Someone gruffed:

"Who is it? What do you want?"

Lolan pressed his lips against a crack in the door. "Lugo—you've got to get out! They know you're here! I heard two of them talking. Let me in, will you! I can't stand here shouting."

A bolt scraped in its bed and the door inched back the width of a man's black eye. From both sides of Lolan, burly, powerful shapes lunged at the door. The man behind it cried out a single shrill warning as he was hurled to the floor.

Six Martian officers clanked inside. Arzt loomed up with Captain Irak, gripped Lolan's arm. "Good work!" he grunted. "Now we'll have these dirty Venusian rebels where we want them, eh?"

Hard-jawed, Lolan made no answer but strode in. One glimpse of the room's interior sent shock through his vitals like a sword. A single, whispered word parted his bloodless lips: "Mora!"

The girl across the room glanced at him in hurt surprise. Quickly she looked away. She stood erect and pale under the soldiers' eager glances. She was tall, for a Venusian, with slim, strong limbs and golden hair lying soft about her shoulders. Her garments were of the roughest cloth, but dignity and courage were in the flash of her eyes and the spots of color in her cheeks.

During those first moments Lolan was conscious only of a growing ache in his throat. He wanted to ask Mora and her father, standing there beside her, why they had come here, since they knew it meant death to consort with revolutionists. But he sensed that their kind of courage would laugh at the question. In Lolan's breast, a cold, dead thing had taken the place of his heart.

The ex-emperor stood fierce and tall, a shaggy-headed man of sixty-five. He was a living skeleton dressed in hanging garments. Most of the life in him seemed to be concentrated in his blazing eyes. There was force in his countenance, but his voice came in the cracked accents of an old man.

"What's the meaning of this? Can't a man and his daughter call on their friends without being watched like criminals?"

Arzt swaggered close, his stubby legs moving stiffly. "Not when they'd like to see a revolution as much as you two!" he taunted. "You admit conspiracy with this rebel?"

Ars Lugo stood between two hulking officers, scowling at the Commander. "Conspiracy!" he spat. "Don't hang that crime on them. I was out of food and money and knew they could help me a little. I sent for them."

Arzt smashed a thick palm across the man's face. Contempt twisted his ill-formed features. He jerked a thumb at the well-like hole, guarded by a low rim, in a far corner, where refuse was thrown in such cheap hovels as this. "Another of your filthy lies and you'll go down the sewer. In the underground rivers you'll have plenty of time to think up better ones. Now, you two—" He grinned wickedly at Mora and Atarkus. "There's a little matter of a map I've heard rumors of. Who's got it—one of you, or Lugo?"

"You talk like a fool!" raged Atarkus. "We've got no map, you vile butcher."

Arzt's struggle for self-control was evident in the working of his jaw muscles. Presently he relaxed. He drew on his feeble powers of sarcasm. "The matter has been brought to my attention," he purred gutturally, "that one of your esteemed countrymen, a garbage-boy in the barracks, has been making a map of the buildings. I had the extremely painful duty—painful to him—of cutting his body here and there and pouring in burning sulphur; but the lad would not talk. But since he carried no papers, I judge he passed them on earlier. Now, you bag of bones—" he roared suddenly, "where is that map?"

"You are screaming into the wrong hole to get an echo," Mora replied coldly. "We know nothing."

"Nothing, eh?" A small knife flashed into Arzt's fingers. He caught Atarkus in a vicious hug and placed the blade just under his ear. "Then remember it, before your father strangles on his own blood!"

Lolan stiffened, his hand dropping to the sadon pistol. The weapon was halfway out of its holster when a new voice intruded obsequiously. "Commander—I wouldn't do that!"


It was scrawny little Captain Irak who had spoken. An apologetic smile bracketed his lips and he was shaking his head slowly. Lolan knew a warm rush of gratitude toward him. Ugly as he was, he was intelligent and less sadistic than many of the officers. He said little—which made the Sub-Commander suspect he knew much.

Arzt grunted, puzzled, "You wouldn't—? Why not, you grinning, ugly little ape?"

Irak kept on smiling blandly. "Look outside," he advised.

Arzt did, but still kept his hold on the old man. There were a score of shabby Venusians peering in from the dark street like wolves around a fire on the high Martian steppes. They fell back under the impact of so many eyes.

Irak closed the door. "Kill Atarkus tonight and by morning we'll have a first-class revolution on our hands," he said. "These people worship Atarkus and his daughter. If he is to die, it must be otherwise ... secretly, perhaps, in the dungeons where no one will ever learn."

Arzt's hands fell to his side. "There's wisdom in what you say," he begrudged. "Especially ... the last part. But if I find the proof I need of their guilt tonight, there'll be no waiting. We can try, and execute them, publicly. Search the woman, Lolan. I'll search this ancient blasphemer myself."

Lolan hesitantly fell to the task. "I'm sorry!" he whispered. She gave no sign that she had heard, no indication that it meant any more or less to her that he must perform the job than anyone else; nor had Lolan ever known if she returned his feelings. Their meetings had been few, when they had come to Arzt's court-martial occasionally to plead for their countrymen on some matter. With his pulses racing, he searched her gown thoroughly and found no suspicious articles. He was red-faced and perspiring when Arzt barked:

"Then that devil's got it! Search Lugo, men!"

That order was the cue for the lanky Venusian to hurl himself from the arms of his captors. "The sewer!" Lolan gasped. Lugo was heading for the black-mouthed hole to hurl himself into the underground river two hundred feet below ... himself and anything he carried!

The young Martian did not stop to reason that Ars Lugo might be carrying the evidence that would send Mora and her father to their deaths. He acted purely by instinct, flinging himself upon the revolutionary and dragging him to the floor. But Lugo was up again, like a released spring. Lolan crawled frantically after him. He grabbed a heel, brought the Venusian spinning about while he lurched to his feet. A jabbing fist sent him reeling back. In the next moment Ars Lugo was diving feet first down the hole!

Lolan's muscles had been leaned to spring-steel tautness in rigorous Martian military exercises. It was only that whiplash power of them that enabled him to grasp one of Ars Lugo's hands as he vaulted the low rim. In a flash he knew his error. The Venusian's weight was hauling him across the smooth floor and into the pit of death!

There was a moment of un-thinking panic, of hearing the distant roar of tumbling black water and the savage grunts of the man dangling below him. Someone grabbed his feet and his headlong plunge was arrested. Arzt was shouting: "Hold him! Don't let him get away with that paper!"

Lolan fought the burning numbness of his forearm. Ars Lugo had ripped off a belt-buckle and was slashing at his knuckles with it. The men above kept shouting encouragement while they fought for leverage. Every sinew in the Martian's body stood out in ridges and knots. Sweat bathed his flesh, and he knew that moisture was causing Lugo to slip still further. "Hurry!" he groaned. "I can't—"

With startling abruptness he was flying out of the hole, while Ars Lugo, with strips of skin under his fingernails that he had ripped from Lolan's hand, went spinning down into black nothingness. Pain had beaten determination. Ars Lugo had won—death!

Horror held the officers around the hole like statues, staring down. It was during that interval that Lolan felt a hard, slippery object in his hand. He opened it to see the bracelet Ars Lugo had worn, which he had somehow torn loose. A curious, heavy ornament of iridite crystals and onyx, and on the inside of it strange scratchings, like—

Like a map! Some impulse caused Lolan's fingers to clamp on the bracelet. Arzt was staring.

"And there goes our chance for a quick disposal of these other two," he grunted sourly. "If you could have ... well, it's done now." Briskly he gave an order. "Take them home. But remember this, Venusians—your consorting with revolutionaries has marked you for death! At any day, any hour, I may have you seized and brought back."

Atarkus paused scornfully on the threshold. Mora had already gone, her head high and eyes straight ahead. "We don't frighten easily," the old ruler flung back. "When you live in hell as we do, one more pit of damnation merely serves to bore us. May you boil in your own lard, Martian pig!"

Arzt swore at him and half-drew his pistol. Sneering, then, he relaxed and turned to fix Lolan with a burning glance. "Your failure tonight intrigues me," he offered suggestively. "You never seemed to be hindered by pain to that extent before."

Lolan showed him his bleeding fingers, from which great drops of blood were falling. "It was the shock," he murmured. "You don't think I let him escape on purpose—!"

"I hardly imagine you could be so foolish. At any rate, you'll be given a chance to redeem yourself. Sometime in the next three or four days I want those two killed, very quietly and—very thoroughly. The honor is to be yours."

Lolan's shocked eyes flashed to a pair of burning, amused ones. Arzt's broad lips were smiling fixedly. The young officer tried to mask his horror. "Let someone else do it," he countered. "Killing women is out of my line."

"Killing that woman, you mean!" the Commander pounced on him. "I've known what was in your mind all these months. I hoped you'd see the foolishness of it. You're too good a man to lose inside the execution chamber. What's the matter with you, Lolan? Are you deceiving yourself that these damned Venusian dogs are good enough for a Martian officer?"

Hatred swept Lolan suddenly like a flame. With difficulty he held his voice to a flat, deadly hiss. "Good enough! Too good, if you ask me! I'm sick of driving sick men into mines reeking of sulphur fumes, to dig iridite for us to decorate our uniforms with. Tired of seeing them live like animals, in filthy shacks ready to fall in on them or in tenements crawling with vermin. If cracking a bloody whip is what being a Martian officer means, I'm ashamed of being one. I'd change my Sub-Commander's rank here for that of a private back on Mars!"

Arzt's face grew hot and red with a dark suffusion of blood. "The only transfer I'll give you is to Rock Island, on the Fluorine Sea," he grated. "Would that suit you better?"

Lolan's spine crawled. Rock Island was a tiny hump of land in the middle of a sea perpetually blanketed in fogs—fogs laden with deadly fluorine. But someone had to keep the light on that island to guide incoming space-ships. The keepers usually lasted about six weeks. "In other words, I stay here or I die!" he stated flatly.

"Exactly. So let's hear the last of this. If you complain again I'll take it as treason. Remember my orders: In four days I want to see their bodies in the dead-house. If I don't—it will be yours I'll see there!"

Lolan's first chance to examine the bracelet was in the solitude of his room an hour later. He drew all the shades, while a feeling of tension built stiflingly within him. Under the soft glow of a lamp he studied it.

Plainly he traced the outlines of all the buildings in the rambling system of barracks that sprawled over the hill. Rooms had been marked in by someone who knew the set-up. The Martian received a stiff jolt at seeing his room, and Arzt's, marked with X's. Marked for death, he knew!

Lolan's fist closed on the bauble. He let his glance go to the curtained window, seeming to see through and beyond it. A tumult of jarring thoughts rang harsh discordance in his mind. But clear and sharp sounded one note, that his hands must slay Mora and her father or he himself would die. No night-long brain-wracking was needed for him to know that he preferred death to carrying out Arzt's orders. But perhaps ... there was another way!

Lolan stood rigid, letting the idea revolve in his mind. Abruptly, he swung from the window, jamming the bracelet onto his own wrist. He left his room silently, and through the dim corridors he found his way to the commissionary. His private keys unlocked the dark vaults. Carefully shutting the door, he switched on the lights.

Piles of goods were everywhere, looming in long rows before him and filling great bins. The Martian's nerves set up a raw tingling as he found a box and hurried to a bin. Five nervous minutes passed, with Lolan piling preserved foods of all kinds into the box. As a last item, he buried a pair of sadon pistols in the mass of foodstuffs.

Grim resolution was in the hard set of his jaw when he switched off the lights, re-locked the place, and left by a back entrance. He was able to reach a pursuit ship in the hangar and load his stuff in without being observed. Panic struck at him, then ... a sentry's running feet sounded outside!

Lolan sprang to the door. He eased through it, to be speared by the man's torch. Casually, he nodded to him.

"Oh! Sorry, sir, I didn't realize it was an officer," the sentry apologized. "Taking your ship out this late?"

Lolan said crisply, "Official business down below. Go back to your post. I can manage it alone."

The sentry clicked his heels, saluted, and departed. Lolan's knees shook a little. He rolled the battered pursuit ship out and hurriedly entered it. Hope that the guard didn't realize he wasn't taking his private ship tonight kept him glancing around at the dim form of the sentry. On that fact hinged his life.

Then he was slamming the accelerator on full. The ship screamed upward, borne aloft on the green mushroom of flame. Almost immediately he had crossed the city and gained the plains beyond. In a broken expanse of rock and sand just outside the lower quarter, he set the craft down gently.

No one saw him enter the city. He threaded the tortuous alleys of the squalid section with his heart hammering in his ears. At last he was stopping across from a large, five-story building. It was a ponderous, gabled affair full of reminiscences of former glory—elaborate cornices crumbling away, great, metal doors green with age, once white walls now streaked with black and gray. In carved Venusian characters, a plaque over the door lamented: "Hall of Justice."

Lolan was thinking of that sad commentary as he ascended to the top floor. Justice—when the man who once ruled this entire planet now lived on crusts in a tiny room in the tower!

It was Princess Mora whose hand opened the door at his knock. In the dim light of the room, her face showed sad and accusing. "What?" she asked bitterly. "Haven't you done with persecuting us for one night?"

Atarkus looked up from a table where he had been poring over old Venusian books, a pair of spectacles perched on his beak-nose. "Well, speak!" he shrilled finally. "What miserable errand brings you here?"

Lolan's face was hard. He kept his glance on Mora's widening eyes as he took off Ars Lugo's bracelet and extended it to her. "Ars Lugo died trying to hide this," he growled. "I thought you might like to save it. But as a favor—would you mind taking the black cross off my quarters?"


Atarkus was on his feet, shaking. Mora let the Martian place the bracelet in her hand before she gasped: "You—you knew! And didn't tell! Why?"

Lolan lowered himself into a chair. He sighed despondently: "I don't know. If I'd valued my own life I'd have turned it over to Arzt. But I've had my fill of watching you Venusians tortured."

The girl's eyes glowed. She said softly: "That was your only reason?"

Lolan's heart thumped. His face flamed, and he tried to hide his embarrassment by springing to his feet and pacing to a window. "It's reason enough," he muttered. He swung suddenly to face them across the room. "But that isn't why I came here tonight. It's something more important than that. You've got to leave Areeba immediately!"

Atarkus' face folded into grim lines. "You mean Arzt has decreed our death?"

"That's it. You might have expected something like this for being seen with men like Ars Lugo."

Mora looked up into the officer's face. "I can't understand you, Lolan. You're supposed to be second in command of the race that oppresses us. Yet you risked death to hide that bracelet, and undoubtedly you've taken the same risk to come here."

"Don't try to understand me. Simply do as I say. Arzt has appointed me to execute you within four days. I—I can't do it, that's all. So I'm going to try to dodge the issue by letting you escape. Beyond the city there's a pursuit ship loaded with food and a pair of pistols. With that outfit you can make it to Lyna or some other settlement where you won't be known. But you've got to do it tonight!"

Atarkus snorted. "Leave our people when they need us most? Never!"

Lolan's eyes narrowed. "When they need us most," the ex-emperor had said. Why were they needed especially now—because of a coming revolution? He drove the question from his mind. "Don't quibble!" he snapped. "I can't promise you more than a few hours' leeway. You've got to leave within the hour."

"It's no use," Mora smiled wearily. "Our people look up to us for the answer to every problem that arises. What would they think of us if we ran out now?"

"What good will you be to them dead?" Lolan argued desperately. "Arzt means to have you out of the way once and for all. You're dangerous and he knows it. Get your things together and let's go!" The flush of repressed fear colored the flat angles of his jaws. His mind was a whirlpool of hope and regret—regret at losing Mora forever, though he could never own her; a deep soul-sickness at the idea of sending a force-charge into her lovely body....

But Mora was shaking her head and Atarkus had smashed his fist on the table. "Arzt can't scare us!" the aged monarch scorned. "They say we Venusians are weak, that we don't know how to fight. Some day soon the butcher will learn differently." His eyes grew softer. He laid his bony hand on Lolan's hard forearm. "I know your position, young man. You have taken a liking to us for some reason—I think I know what it is—and the thought of killing us disturbs you. Perhaps you won't have to perform that duty—"

Suspicion and wonder blended into the creases of Lolan's forehead. "Then you won't go?" he breathed.

"We can't," Mora told him. "But you have our gratitude for all you've done."

Lolan straightened. He tried to keep his voice clipped and emotionless. "You are foolish—and brave. Good night!"

When he reached the boulder-hidden rocket ship it was still safely masked in its hiding place. The fog had torn apart for a few hours, and through the ragged holes in it he could see stars blinking solemnly down at him. The young Martian's heart leaped at the thought of leaving for one of those far-off worlds; no one would miss him before morning and he could stock up on supplies and leave right away. But a leaden despondency kept that idea from gaining much headway. Gloomily he climbed into the ship.

It was when his fingers had sent the rocket car tearing up into the low clouds that Arzt's voice, just behind him, made his blood turn to water and his lips go dry.

"You're heading the right way, Sub-Commander. Over the hill to the Sulphur Holes. Tonight's warning was my last."

In the gleaming black disk of one of the space-ports Lolan could see Arzt's reflection, then, looming squat and dangerous three feet in back of him. He had quietly removed Lolan's pistol and held it on the back of his head.

"Planning a trip, were you?" the taunting voice went on. "I found quite a store of food here. The only trip you'll be making now is into the bottom dungeon of the Holes. By the gods, Lolan, you're a fool!"

"Am I? It might as well be now as four days from now. You know I couldn't kill them."

"I knew this: That if you couldn't, you weren't fit to be a Martian officer. Now I'll have to do the job myself. Because you're going to die tomorrow!"

Silence piled up between them. Too soon the gaping slash on the planet's surface known as the Sulphur Holes was pivoting beneath them as they circled to a landing. Here, where subterranean forces had carved a series of natural dungeons and rock-bound gases still seeped through the holes in a stifling mist, the least fortunate of Arzt's prisoners were imprisoned.

Burly guards came running up to take charge of Lolan. Arzt stood back with fists on hips. "Take him to the bottom level," his guttural command came. "Watch him closely. The devil's been conspiring with Venusians for a revolution!"

He watched coldly while they jostled his former chief officer into the little rock house that housed the elevator. He stood there stolidly until a deep-pitched sigh emanated from the structure, denoting that one more soul had been carried down ... to hell. A fierce grin twisted his lax features. He was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he did not hear the closing of the storage-hatch on the pursuit ship they had come in, nor did he see the spidery form that slid from it to the shelter of some rocks. Deeply and sadistically satisfied, Commander Arzt turned and departed.

For the first ten minutes after his captors had left him, Lolan sat on the edge of a hard, filthy cot with his head buried in his hands. The cell was low-ceilinged, with eroded sandstone walls studded with sharp metal crystals. Through the barred door drifted stringy tendrils of gas—sulphur smoke, belching up from the planet's bowels. From nearby cells came horrible moans, a ragged scream, the rattling of a door as some hapless prisoner shook it and shouted for food. The soft plod-plod of someone pacing the floor like a caged beast reached the Martian's ears.

Lolan's lungs seemed filled with acid. He coughed until tears streamed from his eyes. Finally he fell back in despair on the cot. But even in his desperate physical pain he was far more conscious of acute despair over the failure of his plans to save Mora and Atarkus. He felt that no torture could be worse than imagining what devilish end Arzt would find for them.

The grating of a key in the lock brought Lolan to a sitting posture. Then he had sprung to the door as Captain Irak, spindly, grinning little imp that he was, flung the door open and dodged in.

"Irak—what the devil are you doing here?" Lolan coughed.

The other pressed something hard and cold into his hand—a gun. "No questions now!" he rapped. "Follow me and use this if you need it—which you will!"

"But the keys—how did you get them?"

Irak closed one shoe-button eye in a sly wink, and gestured with his gun. "Come on!" he jerked his head. Roughly he shoved the younger man into the tunnel.

Not understanding what it all meant, Lolan fled through the corridors beside him. Hope was kindling like a fire in his breast. Once the captain paused before a cell and through the bars tossed the bunch of keys. "Use them yourself and pass them on!" he laughed at the astonished prisoner.

Up ahead the elevator loomed out of the wisps of gas. Irak plunged into it and Lolan followed. There was silence until they had almost reached the top.

"Be on your guard," Irak snapped. "I killed the turnkey to get the keys. If they've found his body—" The automatic door flew open, light from the guard-house flooded their figures and they stiffened. The shouting of angry men reached their ears from outside.

Irak looked at him in somber decision. "We'll try a run for it out the back. There's a rocket car in the field. It's our one chance."

Lolan grinned boyishly, ready for anything. "Lead the way!" he offered. "I'm with you!"

But they had not gone forty feet when a harsh shout arrested them. "There they go—get them!" Five men sprang up from where they had knelt about the body of a dead Martian.

Captain Irak stuck a skinny leg between Lolan's running feet and sent him sprawling in the dirt. Lolan was puzzled, until he felt the searing impact of force bolts inches over his head. The movement had saved his life. Instantly he had twisted about to sight down the chrome-steel shaft of his pistol. It roared, jarred heavily against his hand. And one of the men staggered back with his head and shoulders half torn off.

Irak chuckled fiendishly. His own gun blasted twice, destroying a man at each shot. The remaining pair spread out and came at a low run for them, with guns crackling blue lightning over the terrain. Lolan's eyes were hard and narrow, his jaw was firm. The impact of deadly charges exploded all around him, making his ears ring with the terrific concussion. He cuffed at his coat-sleeve as blobs of molten earth splattered on it. Some of the fiery stuff bit through to his skin.

The Martian's hate-twisted countenances were plain now, thirty feet away. With a simultaneous impulse they flung themselves prone and leveled their guns. Lolan squeezed the trigger of his weapon. He kept it pulled back until the gun grew hot and smoking and the last bolt had been launched. Irak had done the same.

A grisly silence came down over the field. Horror gripped Lolan as the smoke drifted away and showed two shapeless masses of burning flesh on the ground before them. Doggedly he turned away, getting to his feet.

From nearby came the clamor of hurrying guards. "Quick!" Irak's voice crackled. "Into the ship."

They made it none too soon. Force charges were exploding under their soaring ship like blue balloons that swelled to magnificent proportions and then exploded. Not until they had gained thirty thousand feet altitude did Lolan relax from the controls.

His face was sweaty and grinning. "Am I crazy or are you, Irak? I thought you were Captain of the Secret Service, sworn to track down rebels like me—not help them escape!"

Irak was lighting a Martian cigarette. He paused with the lighter held to the cylinder's tip. "Quite true," he smiled. "That is my job. But when the rebel is a fellow-Venusian, I am tempted to reverse the usual order of things!"


Lolan's mouth hung open. Had he heard aright? "You said—a fellow Venusian? Didn't you mean...."

"I mean Venusian. And by the way—congratulations on your escape, Prince Lolan!"

Somewhere in him a pulse began throbbing, as Lolan fumbled to put the controls on automatic. Then he twisted about on the seat and gripped his knees with his hands. "Let's get this straight," he suggested impatiently. "I'm Sub-Commander Lolan—ex-Sub-Commander, I should say. You're Captain Irak—also 'ex', I'm afraid. We're both Martians and neither of us has so much as a drop of royal blood of any race coloring his veins. Starting from that basis, would you mind explaining your remarks?"

Irak leaned back in his chair. "Not at all. You are Prince Lolan, of the House of Sarn. Twenty years ago, when you were two years old, all of your people were killed in the Martian invasion. Among fifty other Venusian children, you were taken back to Mars. The war chiefs wanted to experiment, to find out what difference the Martian atmosphere had on the development of a child of Venus. All of those other children were killed due to lack of care on the return voyage. You alone lived ... to become a high-ranking Martian officer!"

The blood had drained from Lolan's face, leaving it a sickly color. His hands shook a little. It was too much to grasp at once. "Irak, you're telling the truth?" he gasped. "But you can't be. Look at me: I'm dark, like a Martian ... so are you, as far as that goes. And why would they let me hold such a responsible position?"

"Of course you're dark!" Irak laughed. "Who wouldn't be, after eighteen years of blistering Martian suns? As far as their letting you gain position is concerned, they had two reasons for doing it. In the first place, they found that you were developing into a brilliant, scholarly youth who could go far if allowed to. You had something no other Venusian before you had: initiative and the ability to fight like a bulldog on any problem you attempted. Perhaps the ultraviolet rays so strong on Mars and so feeble here have something to do with that. At any rate, you are strong and determined where the rest of our race is vacillating, good-natured, and pliable. Their other reason for letting you fight your way to the top in their own army was that, to their cruel minds, it seemed a good joke to let a Venusian have partial charge of his own down-trodden people. But the joke may backlash...."

"And you?" Lolan murmured. "Where do you come in?"

"I went back on the same ship that took you, but as a stowaway. I hid in the upper part of the ship where the constant, harsh light of the sun soon blackened my fair skin as dark as theirs. I killed a soldier one night and took his uniform. It wasn't hard to take his place. They were a motley crew from all over Mars, a sort of foreign legion, and few knew each other. By the time we reached Mars I was able to mingle safely with the men. And as years went on I completed my Martian education, vied with others for honors. I gained those honors for one purpose—to fight again in a Venusian army, to wipe the scourge from the face of our planet. Now we are ready!"

Lolan sank back. He felt like a man who has had too strong a dose of some powerful drug. "Now I can explain a lot of things," he murmured. "I've had the feeling so many times that I've been a certain place before, yet I never understood why." He got up, began pacing the tiny cabin with restless tread. When he spoke again, at last, he seemed to be talking to himself. "Then it must be true. I'm not one of Arzt's bloodthirsty race, I'm a Venusian—one of Mora's race!" Abruptly, he whirled on the little intelligence officer. "Well, what now? Where are we going?"

Irak let a thin smile curve his lips. "To the old palace. There we'll meet Mora and Atarkus and many others. You will see things you haven't dreamed existed on this planet. Areeba is ready to strike for freedom!"

Lolan's eyes sparkled. But it was not entirely the revolution he was thinking of. "They knew about me?" he jerked.

Irak nodded, made an adjustment in the flight. "But none of us ever dared tell you of our plans until we knew exactly how you stood. If you had become a true Martian, we wanted you always to remain ignorant."

Silence came into the rocket ship. They were soaring along above a thick blanket of yellowish clouds. Irak's hand sent them plummeting down into the clear air beneath. Directly below them a cluster of crumbling buildings topped a hill in the north section of the city. Ruin had laid its bony hand over all, tumbling towers and cornices back into the dust from which they had sprung. Squarely in the midst of it the ship settled to a landing. Memory troubled Lolan at sight of the old palace.

Irak sprang out. "Follow me!" he shot at Lolan. They hurried into a roofless room of magnificent size, passing through it into a small room still partially covered. The captain found a ring in the floor, beneath a litter of rubbish. It yielded to insistent tugging, to reveal a flight of stairs sliding away into dim obscurity. Irak flashed a light into the depths and descended. Wondering strangely, Lolan followed.

A half hour passed, while steps blended into winding corridors and corridors changed back into stairs. Lolan's head was spinning by the time they reached a heavy bronze door. Irak flashed a smile. "Now—watch!" he breathed. His thumb flattened on a button.

Seconds dragged out. Nothing happened. But ... was the door moving? A crack of light split down the middle of the portal. It widened, and suddenly the two parts drew wide and light and sound flooded through them. Lolan started. Dumbly he moved ahead. What he saw made his legs wobbly with astonishment.

Below them, in a spacious, high-vaulted hall, thousands of men were at work with various machines. At one end of the room a continual stream of Venusians filed through one door, past a long table where workers were doling out some kind of apparatus, and back through another door. The clank of stamp machines, the scream of drill-presses, the whine of lathes, blended into a confused wail. And over all was the roar of the underground river, that flowed between black banks squarely through the middle of the cavern.

Questions sprang to Lolan's lips, but Irak stifled them. "Come along," he ordered. "Others can explain better than I."

A winding path led down the wall of the place. At the bottom they turned left and found their way to where a large crowd of men were in noisy conference with two persons in their midst. Irak raised his voice in a triumphant shout. Instantly the babble broke. Irak bowed low as Atarkus emerged from the crowd.

"It is done, Emperor! I bring you—Prince Lolan!"

Unnameable feelings swept over Lolan as a great cry went up. Before he could move, he was surrounded by a laughing, shouting crowd that grew steadily larger. Their words were only a confused sound in his ears, but he knew what they meant: That he was whole-heartedly welcomed back into the race from which he had been stolen so long ago!

Mora came to his side, then, flushed and happy. "We sent for you," she said, "as soon as we learned you had been imprisoned. We have wanted so long to tell you of our plans. We—we need you."

"But we were afraid," Atarkus frowned. "It is with joy that we receive you, Prince, but ... sadness has awaited your coming."

The exuberance that had buoyed Lolan up fled from beneath him and left him on the rock-bottom of unpleasant reality. "For what part I've had in your misery, I humbly beg forgiveness," he apologized. "But—this cavern ... the machines: what do they mean?"

Atarkus' thin form drew up stiffly. His eyes swept the length of the vast room. "They mean the revolution is here! Tomorrow—at high noon!"

Through the crowd ran a tremor of excitement. Faces that wore graven looks of hopelessness flamed eagerly. Tired eyes sparkled.

"Revolution!" Lolan's word was a harsh, incredulous gasp. "But you have no weapons! No—no chance, against Arzt's legions of trained murderers!"

"We have weapons," Atarkus grunted. "But I wanted more time. Now, word has come that since your escape that butcher is running wild. Men and women are being shot down in their homes while soldiers search for you. The slightest word of reproach is sufficient to condemn a man to the Holes, or to instant death. We can wait no longer. In a few days my people will be so cowed even I cannot lead them to the battle."

"But your weapons?" Lolan inquired eagerly.

Atarkus led the way to where the line of hurrying Venusians were being given small, copper-colored articles like tiny drum-majors' batons. He picked one up and handed it to Lolan. "Try it!" he offered.

The prince regarded it curiously. He found a small trigger on one side. Training it on the wall twenty feet away, he fired. After a moment a round spot of phosphorescence appeared, that gradually turned red, then crumbled away. Slowly he handed the gun back to Atarkus.

"Well?" the Emperor inquired eagerly. "Do you think we're unarmed now, with four out of five Venusians owning one of these?"

Lolan drew his own weapon and directed it on the wall. He fired, the charge instantly crashing against the wall and tearing a ragged hole in it. He was white-lipped when he turned back. "There is your answer. Against these—these toys of yours, the Martian guns will be like long-range cannons. No, my friends. If this is the best you have to offer, the revolution is doomed before it starts!"


The shocked hush seemed to reach to all parts of the room. Lolan's thoughts were bitter ones. They concerned the thing that had cursed his people for centuries. Their childish inability to think a problem through, their pathetic attempts to fight back against their aggressors. Now those qualities had doomed them again to misery.

Atarkus was muttering to himself. "We—we thought they would work if we could get within ten or fifteen feet of them."

"But how are you going to approach that close when their guns are effective at two hundred feet?" Lolan countered. Idly he glanced at the piles and piles of ray pistols still being doled out. "How do they operate? Draw on the Martian power station, I suppose?"

Mora pointed at a massive apparatus at the upper end of the hall. "Electronic power," she told him. "We generate our own power. As long as the turbines are running, the guns will operate."

Lolan's eyes went a little wide at that. He scratched his head, scowled, then walked off a little. He whirled about and came back to them. "That gives me a clue! The Martian guns also draw from a central station. Only it's a radioactive type of power. Underneath the barracks there's a huge mass of radite. If that stuff were carried off, they'd have guns no more effective than water pistols!"

Irak snorted. "Who's going to carry it off? It weighs tons. I've seen it. It's like a great lump of radium. If you get too close, even, you'll be poisoned."

"We couldn't carry it off—in its present form! But there is a large, unused sewer hole in a room near it. If we could break it up, using workmen's lead suits, it might be possible to drop it into the underground river. Contact with the water would result in an explosion that would destroy its radioactivity."

Atarkus licked his lips. "Would this be possible? Could anyone get that close to it without being caught?"

"We could try!" Lolan gave back. "If the plan succeeded—well, we number twenty thousand in Areeba to the Martians' two. Once their weapons were destroyed, the city would be ours!"

"Then it must be attempted!" Atarkus raised his fist high. "Irak—call the leaders. We must lay our plans tonight, for the struggle tomorrow!"

They met in a little alcove off the main room, ten men whose grim countenances stamped them as men ready to die for the cause. Lolan sensed immediately, as they took places around a long table, that he was being looked to as their leader. And old Atarkus willingly fell away to make room for younger, more dynamic blood.

When all were quiet, Prince Lolan stood up. It came to him strongly, the feeling that everything, the fate of every soul on Venus, hinged on what happened in this little room tonight. His voice came gravely, freighted with importance.

"I won't try to deceive you for one instant that our battle is going to be easy," he told them sternly. "It isn't. The odds are a hundred to one against us. But I will tell you this: The game is worth it! If we win Areeba, all Venus is ours. With improved weapons, the Martians' own, we'll be able to descend on the smaller settlements and conquer them before they know what has happened here. Then there will be the task of building up a space fleet. We can do it. If Mars sends a new army out to re-capture us, they'll find us ready, trained in their own modes of warfare and as brutal as they themselves. I have a theory that once we have won our independence, progress on Venus will be different. My experience has proved that all the Venusian lacks for a complete, balanced fighting personality is an abundance of ultraviolet light. We can provide that artificially, in street-lights, in the nursery, everywhere. It will be the beginning of the greater Venus. Yes, the game is worth the risk. We have all to win ... nothing to lose!"

Vesh-Tu, a squat, hairy little man, leaned forward. "But how are we to do it, Prince? The radite is guarded, is it not?"

"I have a plan—" Lolan murmured thoughtfully. "We can enter, I believe, by the sewers, following the river upstream to the holes and climbing them by their ladders. They will probably know immediately what we are doing, when their machines and guns begin to lose power. But by that time I hope to have the army mostly concentrated on the south side."

"How?" Irak demanded flatly.

"By starting fires, riots, dynamiting buildings—everything we can think of. Then, when the soldiers have been decoyed into the midst of our people, we will have destroyed the last of the radite and the revolution will begin in earnest!"

Atarkus rubbed his hands. "Suppose we set a zero hour—say twelve o'clock, for the time for fighting to begin. It would make for a concerted, simultaneous outbreak all over the city."

Lolan nodded grimly. "Twelve o'clock. I will need three men to help me. Irak, Vesh-Tu, and you, Atarkus. The rest of you had better go back, now, to pass the word. We strike at high noon—and we strike hard!"

Dawn came, but only by their watches did those four who fought their way up the treacherous, slippery banks of the subterranean river realize it. They stumbled along in darkness complete except for the feeble glow of hand torches. At ten o'clock they reached a spot where refuse of all kinds had collected on the bank. They sent light spraying the roof of the cavern. A honeycomb of holes broke its rough expanse.

Lolan read the labels crudely painted beside each. His heart gave a bound as he found the one he sought. Nimbly he ran up the iron rungs in the wall, then swung hand over hand to the hole and paused in its entrance, over the roaring torrent below. The others were following more slowly. Atarkus came haltingly, handicapped by his years. At length all were ascending the inky tunnel.

Four times they were forced to stop and rest. It was gruelling work. Their hands were rubbed raw by the pitted surface of the iron ladder. Over an hour had elapsed when they reached a flat iron plate that covered the hole. Eleven o'clock! An hour left. Lolan trembled with impatience.

Wedging himself securely on the ladder, he forced upward on the plate. Dim light flowed into the tunnel. With his nerves crying for caution, he shoved the plate aside and crawled forth. Gun in fist, he shot his glance about the small room.

The others emerged with bloody hands and dirty clothes, tired to the bone, but eager for whatever lay ahead. Prince Lolan paced to the door. "We're in luck!" he hissed. "No guards around. Now to find protective armor and go to work!"

They found the heavy suits used by workmen in a room near the ramp leading down to the radite deposit. When they had crawled into them, they could hardly walk. Constructed of heavy rubber and slabs of lead, each one weighed over two hundred pounds. Helmets provided poor vision through thick, murky glass. But the outfits would be all that stood between them and death in the radite pit.

Now they were staggering down the ramp and through a wide door. All four recoiled from the sight that struck their eyes. On gigantic insulators, a huge lump of blazing diamond seemed to repose. Even through colored glass it pained the eyes to look at it. The walls and floor all about it glowed with the same supernal brilliance. Tiny white flame ran ceaselessly over the jagged surface of the stone.

Lolan squinted at his watch. "Eleven-fifteen!" he blurted. "Can we do it in forty-five minutes?"

"We can if we've got to!" Vesh-Tu grunted. "How do we move the blessed thing?"

The prince drew his gun. "Stand back," he snapped. "This should break it down into convenient sizes!" He levelled the gun, squeezed the trigger twice.

A convulsive roar shook the very walls. For an entire minute, every man in the room was blinded. When they could see again, it was to regard the crumbled remains that strewed the floor. No pieces larger than a good-sized book remained. But when they tried to lift them, they discovered the chunks weighed as much as corresponding pieces of gold! Staggering under their burdens, they ascended the ramp with their small loads and hurried to the sewer opening.

One after the other, four pieces tumbled in. Tensely they waited for the detonation. It came, a rumbling roar that drove a blast of air into their faces. Lolan grinned bleakly. "Their guns are just that much less powerful!" he promised. "Now if we can just clear up all that stuff in time—"

At a wabbling run they staggered back to the job. It went like that for a half hour, while the litter of shattered radite grew smaller and smaller. Lolan's watch showed a quarter to twelve. He thought of the thousands of Venusians out on the streets, waiting to act ... thought of Mora, ready to lead her little group. Then there came the sound that drove all other thoughts from his mind. The tramp of running feet!

Lolan acted instinctively. "Keep it up!" he shouted through his mask. "Irak and I have guns. We'll stand them off somehow!"

Fear shot through the pit like an electric charge. Lolan and Irak struggled for speed as they ran up the incline. The sound of voices and footfalls was louder. They made it past the room where the radite was being disposed of. That door must be kept available, or Arzt's victory was certain. On down the hall they plunged, around a turn, into another.... Their running steps locked in a halt. Arzt and his crew were racing toward them a hundred feet ahead!

The shooting broke out simultaneously. Rock dust filled the tunnel from the battering of force-bolts. Arzt's voice struck through the sounds, bellowing orders. Lolan and Irak were back of the corner, now, waiting—

Two Martians raced up, prodded by their leader's hoarse screams. They never fired their guns, for the Venusians chopped them down in full stride. Lolan tore his mask off. "Won't need these any more," he grunted. "The job's up to them now. If I go out, it's not going to be in that smelly thing."

In back of them he could hear Atarkus and Vesh-Tu's labored breathing. From time to time there came the deep, thunderous explosions that meant the work was going on. Lolan darted a glance at his watch. Five minutes to twelve!

Now they pressed back against the wall in wait for another pair who raced up. The Martians plunged into their sights. Triggers were squeezed, guns steadied. But the shots, when they came, were feeble. Beside Lolan the wall shuddered slightly and a trickle of rocks slid down it. He watched the man he had hit stagger back, screaming. It took another shot to finish him.

A new tenseness came into the tunnel. Every man present, Martian or Venusian, knew what was happening. The last of the radite was being disposed of. In another five minutes Arzt's hordes would be no more than a handful among an army of vengeance-driven natives.

The seconds slogged slowly through Prince Lolan. He was waiting, hoping—then his hopes were dashed as twenty-five Martians raced concertedly for the pair of them. Arzt was sacrificing everything to stop them.

Irak began to swear excitedly. "This gun—the thing won't work fast enough, Lolan! Can't stop them with these."

"Then we'll use the new guns!" The idea took him so swiftly he fumbled through two seconds getting his little copper disintegrator into position. A long blue serpent of flame licked out at the Martians. Where it touched, men withered and went down without a sound. Arzt roared his anger. He flung his useless weapon with all his might at his former subordinate.

"Damn your Venusian heart!" he screamed. "You can't stop us! Can't—"

The words choked off. Irak had cut him down with a single shot. Silence dwelt in the tunnel, and through it came a hoarse cry:

"Lolan! It's done! The last of it's gone. Were—were we in time?"

Lolan sank back against the wall. He let his eyes fill with the ghastly remains of his former underlings. "Yes," he muttered to himself. "Yes! They're—finished!"

There was jubilation throughout all Areeba that day. The scene in the tunnel had been duplicated everywhere. Martians, one minute brutal and ruthless, became craven cowards the next. There was not a man of them alive by night.

At sundown, Lolan stood with Mora, Atarkus, and the others high in command at the ruins of the palace. The sun had broken through the perpetual clouds to cast a golden fog over everything. The beauty of it seemed to hold them all.

"It's symbolic," Lolan told the Emperor. "Symbolic of the grandeur to come for Venus. I see a future for you as the greatest emperor our world has ever known."

Atarkus shook his head. "Not for me, my boy. For you! I am old, ready to leave the struggle to the young. Irak, who could be a more fitting ruler for Venus than the prince we lost and gained again?"

Irak's ugly face grinned. "No one. But an Emperor must have an Empress! Could that not be arranged too?"

Atarkus saw the flush on his daughter's face, the corresponding color in Prince Lolan's cheeks. "Arranged!" he grunted. "That's been done a long time. It was arranged the day Lolan came back from Mars!"