Peril In The Colossal Cave
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Should you get stuck, type "help" for some general hints. This program was originally developed by Willie Crowther. Contact Don if you have any questions, comments, etc. You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully. At this point the program paused, waiting for a command from the player.
If the player typed the command. You are inside a building, a well house for a large spring. There are some keys on the ground here.
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There is a shiny brass lamp nearby. There is food here. There is a bottle of water here. The keys, lamp, food and water were objects which could be picked up and carried to other places. You're in front of building. You are currently holding the following:. Set of keys. Brass lantern. You are in a valley in the forest beside a stream tumbling along a rocky bed. At your feet, all the water splashes into a 2-inch slit in the rock. Downstream the streambed is bare rock.
You are in a foot depression floored with bare dirt. Set into the dirt is a strong steel grate mounted in concrete. A dry streambed leads into the depression. The grate is locked. You can't go through a locked steel grate! You're outside grate. The locked grate was an obstacle that prevented the player from getting beyond it. The player was confronted with a puzzle here. There was a way of getting past the locked grate by performing some particular action, sometimes using a particular object.
The problem was to figure out which action, and which object. The player might try. It is beyond your power to do that. Sorry, I don't know the word "PRY".
Asking for help, as suggested in the game's initial instructions, defined the rules of this guessing game a little bit better. I know of places, actions, and things. Most of my vocabulary describes places and is used to move you there. To move, try words like forest, building, downstream, enter, east, west, north, south, up or down. I know about a few special objects, like a black rod hidden in the cave. These objects can be manipulated using some of the action words that I know. Some objects have unexpected effects; the effects are not always desirable!
Usually people having trouble moving just need to try a few more words. Usually people trying unsuccessfully to manipulate an object are attempting something beyond their or my! One point which is often confusing to beginners is that, when there are several ways to go in a certain direction e. Also, to speed the game you can sometimes move long distances with a single word.
For example, "building" usually gets you to the building from anywhere above ground except when lost in the forest. Also, note that cave passages and forest paths turn a lot, so leaving one place heading north doesn't guarantee entering the next from the south. Good luck! The nature of an obstacle usually provided a clue to the means of getting past it. For example, faced with a locked grate, the player often tried.
You have no keys! This response suggests that it might be worthwhile to go back and get the set of keys dropped outside the building. The grate is now unlocked. You are in a small chamber beneath a 3x3 steel grate to the surface. A low crawl over cobbles leads inward to the west.
The grate is open. The non-treasure objects in the game all functioned as tools to get past obstacles. Some of the treasures, too, served as tools. Going further into the cave turned up some interesting objects. You are crawling over cobbles in a low passage. There is a dim light at the east end of the passage. There is a small wicker cage discarded nearby. It is now pitch dark. They were on the border of a small inland lake, the water of which was as clear as crystal.
Ferns, mosses and fungi grew all about its borders in luxurious profusion, but what aroused Grandon's interest and curiosity most was the appearance of the bottom of the lake, which was plainly visible. It was covered with hundreds of odd, grotesque growths—upright fluted columns with thick branches of the same pattern curving upward from the trunks like the arms of candelabra. On the tips of the branches were great clusters of brilliantly-hued fruitlike globes in an endless variety of form and color.
The effect of the entire lake bottom was like that of a thousand rainbows fused into one. I have heard some of our hardiest mariners tell of these gardens and the horrible creatures who guard them. A clear, cold spring, bubbling from the rock wall satisfied their thirst, after which Grandon cut some spore-pods from a nearby fern and split them with his knife.
They were in prime condition, and made a most pleasing meal for the famished wayfarers. He laughed at her fears, and stripped down to his loincloth. Then, taking his long knife between his teeth, he plunged into the clear water. Swimming from cluster to cluster he found one that suited his fancy, and cut the thick stem. As he did so, he saw a black shadow move swiftly across the surface of the lake above him. It puzzled him not a little, for he had seen no living creature other than his companion when he entered the water. He reached the surface with a few powerful strokes, and made for the point where he had left the girl, but the spot was deserted.
Vernia had disappeared as completely and mysteriously as if the earth had opened and swallowed her. Cursing the foolhardiness that led him to leave the girl unguarded, Grandon hurled the fatal cluster of fruit far out into the lake. He found his clothing and weapons intact and dressed rapidly.
He had no sooner buckled on his sword and tork than a creature that surpassed in hideousness anything he had ever seen, swooped down on him. Elevating the muzzle of his tork, he sent a stream of bullets at his assailant, and had the satisfaction of seeing it fall to the ground, where it fluttered feebly for a moment, then lay still.
He examined it minutely and shuddered as he thought of the beautiful Vernia in the clutches of so loathsome a thing. The specimen he had brought down was about eight feet long from head to toe, and covered with a soft, mouse-colored fur. Its head was shaped like that of a gorilla, but the ears were set high and were pointed like those of a fox.
The nose was nothing more than a pair of flat, broad nostrils, set almost on a level with the eyes, and the mouth at the apex of the projecting muzzle resembled the mouth of a leech, being merely a round, puckered hole, whose sucker lips were furnished with tiny, razor— sharp protuberances. The arms were fully as long as the body, and formed the framework for the membranous wings, the web of which stretched to the center of the back above and the rear of the legs below, ending just above the heels. The trunk and lower limbs were shaped much like those of a man, the feet being most manlike in form, except that the five toes on each foot were armed with strong, up-curling claws.
Drawing his knife, he bent to cut the furry throat. Then something landed on his back with considerable force, two long, bony arms wound tightly about him, and he felt a sharp pain at the back of his neck as a sucker mouth gripped and lacerated his flesh. He could not, in this position, use his sword or tork, but he gripped his knife firmly and plunged it again and again into the thing on his back, though with no apparent effect, for it hung on like the fabled old man of the sea.
At last he found a vital spot, and the iron grip of the arms relaxed. As the creature fell away from him the lips tore loose with a pop like that of a champagne cork. For a moment he imagined the attack was over, but five of the monsters now came hurtling at him from all directions. He fired his tork as they approached, and one fell in the lake, where it floated, looking at a distance much like an old, broken umbrella. The foremost grampite did not alight on him as the other had done; it swooped straight toward him, head on, then rose slightly and raked him with its sharp upcurved claws.
His shoulder was bleeding profusely from the onslaught when the second attacker arrived, but this time Grandon was prepared. Leaping lightly to one side he plunged his sword into the furry body. The last two, wheeled and joined the leader, now circling high above Grandon. Evidently they decided to go for reinforcements, for they turned suddenly and flew straight across the lake in the' direction from which they had come. Grandon marked their course, and noted that they flew straight toward a distant mountain peak from which a wisp of smoke lazily ascended.
If Vernia had been carried off by grampites, this was the direction in which they must have taken her. He walked around the rim of the lake, cut through the surrounding tree ferns and emerged on a broad, rolling plain that was covered with a carpet of resilient moss. Several hours were consumed in crossing the plain, then he came to another fern forest.
A short walk brought him abruptly to the edge of a small, crystalline lake, similar to the one he had just left. Instantly he leaped back in the shadow of the trees, for the place was literally alive with grampites. They were apparently engaged in harvesting the underwater fruit, and he watched the process with interest. Skirting the lake with great care, he again pressed forward toward his smoking guide post. He dodged and circled several more grampite-infested lakes. Then he came to a chain of low-lying, rocky hills that were without vegetation of any kind.
As he clambered over the jagged rocks, he noted a pungent odor in the air like that of sulphur, or perhaps some sulphurous compound. The atmosphere grew warmer and warmer until the heat was almost unbearable, and the acrid odor stung his nostrils and smarted his lungs. The rocks over which he scrambled now took on a uniform greenish-yellow hue.
Several times Grandon had wondered why these flying monsters had not been exterminated by the soldiers of the princess. He learned the reason as he brought up at the edge of a body of boiling water more than half a mile in width, and stretching in a broad, sweeping curve to his right and left.
From this cauldron rose greenish-yellow vapor, which would have asphyxiated anyone attempting to cross in a boat. The huge mountain was in plain view now, its peak less than a mile away. Myriads of grampites swarmed about the summit. Some of the incoming messengers were laden with fruit, others with the bodies of animals; and one, which flew over Grandon's head, carried the limp form of a sailor, its talons hooked through his belt. Grandon aimed his tork and was about to press the button, when the thought came that perhaps the man still lived, and a shot would precipitate both victim and captor into the bubbling, hissing sulphur lake.
As it was evident that he could not possibly cross the fuming barrier before him, he decided to follow the margin in the hope that he might find some means of ingress. Accordingly, he turned to the right, keeping just out of reach of the deadly vapors, and traveled as swiftly as the rugged character of the rocky formation would permit. He had covered a distance of more than six miles before he brought up at the point from which he had started. The mountain was completely surrounded by boiling, fuming sulphurous water! Disheartened by his discovery, and at the point of exhaustion, Grandon sat down on a boulder to plan his next move.
Obviously he could not hope to rescue the girl now. No doubt she was already dead, or would be, soon. As he rose to carry out his purpose, his attention was attracted by an airship, similar in shape to Vorn Vangal's, but considerably larger, flying low over the rocky hills. While he watched, it made a landing less than a quarter of a mile from him, and two men stepped from the cab. Without a moment's hesitation, Grandon ran toward them.
One of the men raised a cylindrical object to his eyes, evidently a telescope, and pointed it toward the mountain. He gazed for some time, then handed it to his companion. Both were so engrossed by the strange sight before them that they did not see two menacing forms swooping down on them from behind. Grandon saw, and shouted a warning, but too late.
The curved talons hooked their quarry with unerring precision, and both men were carried struggling, out over the boiling water. The man with the telescope turned and beat his assailant with the instrument, gripping the furry belly with one hand as he swung his weapon with the other. Apparently he succeeded in breaking a wing, for captor and captive plunged to death a moment later. The other Olban, still struggling, was carried out of sight.
Saddened and infuriated, Grandon walked to the airship just as he reached the side of the craft, darkness descended. Grandon groped his way to the Olban airship in the pitchy darkness. While it was yet light, he had noticed that the side door of the domelike cab stood open. A brilliant flash from the volcano, reflected by the clouds, the boiling water, and the crystal dome, showed him his objective. He entered the cab and closed the door. Moving his hands carefully about the interior, he felt two cushioned seats and a number of handles, levers and buttons.
At random, he pressed a small button, whereupon a tiny light cast its radiance down on him from the top of the dome. For a moment he was bewildered by the imposing array of levers, handles and buttons. Then, to his delight, he saw that each was marked in the simple phonetic characters of the universal language which had been taught him by Vorn Vangal. He seized a lever marked "Cab Control" and moved it to the left. Immediately the cab revolved to the right, sliding smoothly and noiselessly. He pressed downward on the lever and the cab slanted backward.
Being in the form of a perfect sphere it could not only be turned from side to side, but could be tilted forward or backward in its socket.
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Upon his straightening the lever, the cab resumed its original position. The advantage of such an arrangement was obvious. From the front of the craft, to right and left, projected two guns labeled "Mattork. Another projected through the keel. By a touch of the cab control lever these mattorks could be trained on an enemy in any position.
Grandon loaded one mattork with explosive metal bullets and the other with deadly glass bullets; the keel-mattork was already loaded with explosive metal bullets. What a battle he would give the accursed grampites in the morning! Constant thoughts of Vernia dominated his mind. His reason told him that she must be dead, but despite this, hope persisted.
As he hoped, he wished intensely—earnestly. Then suddenly his wish bore fruit, for the airship began slowly to rise from the ground. He had once listened, with scant attention, to a lecture by a noted parapsychologist.
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He recalled dimly the assertion that every living human being is endowed at birth with all the power of telekinesis after a fashion, but needed practice to develop and perfect it. Before making for the mountain he sailed about in the air for a considerable time, practicing the turning, elevating, and lowering of his craft by purely mental control.
At length, feeling that he was master of the airship, he made for the mountain peak. Very cautiously he made a landing on the outer rim of the crater, then crept to the top to reconnoiter. As he peered over the brink, it was as if the most terrible dreams of Milton and Dante had been fused into one to form the fearful reality before him.
There in the blood-red glow of the molten lava swarmed thousands of the demoniac inhabitants of this planetary inferno, croaking hoarsely to each other as they moved about on the ledges or fluttered from place to place. Mingled in the bedlam of sounds that came up to him, were the bleating and cries of countless animals in the pits.
Directly beneath him, a huge grampite emerged from a cave and heaved a human body far out into the fiery lake. Grandon recognized the uniform of the Olban officer who had been captured at the side of the airship, a few hours before. Grandon walked stealthily around the edge of the pit, hoping to find some path by which he might make his way, unnoticed, to the ledges beneath. He had gone perhaps a third of the way around the mountain top when he heard a scream of terror.
It was the voice of Vernia. Startled to instant action, Grandon scrambled and slid precipitately down to the top ledge, leaped the ten feet to the second and a like distance to the third, and ran directly to the pit from which the sounds emanated. Twelve feet down he saw Vernia struggling with her captor, while two terrified little animals hugged the wall.
In an instant he was at her side. A stroke of his blade severed the arm that gripped her; another sent the head of the monster rolling. I'm afraid escape from this pit is impossible. If we could fly Her words were cut short by an onslaught from above. Grandon had been seen and a general alarm had been sounded. With his back to the wall and the girl crouching at his side, Grandon fought desperately with sword and knife. The pile of carcasses before him grew breast high before he realized that they were likely to be smothered beneath them. Calling to the girl to follow, he leaped atop the pile, and fought from that position.
After that he constantly shifted from side to side, while the pit continued to fill with slain assailants, who came on in increasing numbers. Torn and bleeding from many wounds, he at length stood with head and shoulders above the edge of the pit. This left him open to attack from the rear, and forced him to adopt new tactics. Bringing his tork into play, he sent a spray of bullets about him in a circle, temporarily demoralizing the attackers. The slight respite gave him time to assist Vernia from the pit, and together they ran into the cave.
They found a narrow passageway at the back of the cave, and groped their way in the blackness for some distance before they cane to another narrow gallery crossing it at right angles. Soon they were in a veritable labyrinth of caves and galleries, leading farther into the mountain. They had wandered for more than an hour in the subterranean maze when a narrow-lighted opening appeared ahead. Very cautiously Grandon led the way toward this opening, hoping it would offer an avenue of escape.
When they were within a short distance of it, he went ahead alone to reconnoiter. A moment later he returned, enjoining the utmost silence to his companion, and together they tiptoed forward. They were at the rear door of a cave similar to the one through which they had entered the mountain, but considerably larger.
Within was a grampite family in repose. There were twelve individuals in the family group, the huge male, his mate, six tiny specimens on which the down had just begun to appear, and four about half grown, all hanging upside down by their sharp, curved toenails, which were hooked in crevices in the wall. The father of the family hung near the cave mouth, the mother depended from one side with the six members of her latest litter beside her, and the half grown offsprings occupied positions on the opposite wall. If they waken I will use the tork.
Very quietly, they made their way toward the cave mouth. When they reached the center of the floor the male grampite stirred uneasily, and Grandon held his weapon in readiness, but the creature merely stretched one wing a bit, then folded it and resumed his slumber. A moment later they stood on the topmost ledge with fifteen feet of steep crater wall to negotiate before they could reach the rim.
They succeeded in clambering to the top, unobserved, and to his inestimable relief, Grandon sighted the glistening dome of the Olban airship only a hundred yards from where they emerged.
Vernia's eyes were wide with amazement as he opened the door of the cab and seated her on the cushions. Why, I thought only trained Olban officers could run them. While she spoke, they were mounting high in the air. She turned and looked him squarely in the eyes.
Are you of Olba? He related how he had acquired the airship, and she shuddered as he told of the death of the two officers who had brought it thither. He thrilled at her touch and words, but did not turn his head. The craft was now poised far above the glowing crater. They descended swiftly until the airship was on a level with the topmost ledge. Grandon pulled the cab control lever, until both mattorks were trained over the side, then circled the crater and poured a deadly fusillade among the bewildered grampites.
Soon the air was black with the creatures, dozens of whom attacked the craft, but without success. A number of them swarmed on the deck and endeavored to get at the inmates of the cab. He unbuckled his belt and handed her the weapon. She opened the door a little way and soon cleared the deck of enemies. Then, while Grandon raked ledge after ledge, she shot down those of the flying attackers who came within range.
Most of them fell into the fiery lake, and soon the air was filled with the stench of scorched flesh and hair. For more than an hour they circled the crater, at the end of which time not a living grampite was in sight. The ledges were strewn with carcasses, and the lake of lava was sending up black clouds of smoke as it consumed those brought down by the tork.
Grandon estimated that at least two-thirds of the population of that crater had been exterminated; the others had been driven to cover. If you will steer due north, we should be able to arrive on ground that will be familiar to me, and we can then easily make our way to the capital. Grandon examined the Olban compass, which hung suspended by a tiny wire in the front of the cab.
Grandon set his course accordingly, traveling swiftly at a height of approximately two thousand feet. The ship was amply stored with provisions and water, and they ate their first food in nearly twenty-four hours while hurtling through space at a terrific rate of speed. Then we can continue our war. Since you will not accept the second highest office in Zarovia, I have decided to free Uxpo.
We shall be neighbors and, I hope, friends. He was interrupted by a series of rude shocks and a rending crash as they came to a complete standstill. Both were thrown violently against the front of the cab. Grandon struck his head on the butt of a mattork and lost consciousness. Vernia was more fortunate, as she fell feet foremost, although her ankle received a bad wrench. When she saw Grandon's face, pale as death, and the blood flowing from an ugly cut on his forehead, she flung herself down beside him and took his head on her lap. To her relief, she heard the beating of his heart when she placed her ear to his breast.
Opening one of the provision drawers, she extracted a flask of water and bathed his face. Then we will investigate. Grandon protested that the jagged wound in his forehead was a mere scratch, but Vernia insisted on binding it for him, and did so with adroitness. When she had finished, he rose dizzily and opened the door of the cab. A pungent odor assailed their nostrils, an odor similar to that produced by pouring sulphuric acid on copper. He switched on the forward searchlight, which revealed the shattered front of their craft jammed against an enormous tree- trunk.
The keel rested in a forked branch, which kept them from falling. A thin column of vapor curled upward from the shattered hull, emitting the stifling odor that had greeted them when he opened the door. An Olban once told me that a phial of acid was placed within each mechanism in such a fashion that it would instantly destroy it if tampered with. Evidently the shock of our encounter with the tree trunk broke the phial, for the fumes are unmistakably those of acid on metal.
Grandon flashed the searchlight about them in an effort to ascertain where they were, but above, below and around them on every side they could see only branches and leaves. And such leaves! They were spatulate in shape, and a dark glossy green in color, varying between fifteen and twenty feet in length, while the stems were from eight to twelve inches thick.
Each twig would have made a good sized fern tree, while the trunk against which their craft had jammed was a full fifty feet in thickness. In what part of Reabon do these trees grow, and what do you call them? Are you positive that we have been traveling due north? Grandon glanced at the compass. Now it points at right angles to the keel. Something must have been broken by the grampites. I'm afraid well have to wait until the sun rises to get our bearings.
That we are not in Reabon, and that we are in some unexplored part of Zarovia. At dawn, Grandon made his way down the tree trunk, clinging to the rough, curling bark with fingers and toes. It was a long, perilous descent, a matter of at least a thousand feet, and he guessed half an hour must have elapsed before he stood on the ground. The forest giant under which he stood was more than a hundred feet in diameter at the base. All about him, as far as he could see, were many more like it. He noticed that all of the trees were connected by broad surface roots, and this fact, together with the total absence of spores or seeds, apprised him of the reason why these trees were, in all probability, confined to a single locality.
They must have begun and evolved on this part of the planet without developing other means of propagation than that of sending out surface roots to form new plants at some distance from the parent trees. Consequently their spread would be regulated, not only by the number of new trees they could produce in this manner, but by the character of the surrounding country as well, for any barrier such as a body of water or a stretch of barren, rocky land would effectually check their progress.
He felt like a pygmy, as he walked beneath those mighty spires of wood, treading matted, molding leaves that were nearly as long as the airship, and climbing over surface roots so thick that often he could not see over them. After he had traveled thus for more than half an hour he saw a number of tall, conical mounds ahead of him, and judged from the regularity of their construction, that they housed human beings.
As he approached more closely he observed that they were all dotted here and there with round holes about four feet in diameter. He arrived within fifty feet of the nearest mound without noting any signs of animate life, and, concluding that it must be deserted, stepped boldly forward.
Then, without the slightest hint of warning, something darted out suddenly and ran toward him on its six horny legs with incredible swiftness. The creature was about the size of a small Shetland pony, with eyes as big as dinner plates set in a head more than two feet across and surmounted by two long, jointed antennae, its jaws armed with sharp mandibles and a pair of forceps large enough to encircle two men. The entire body was covered with glistening ivory-white armor. It came at him with forceps outspread. In a moment, Grandon found that his tork had no effect; a moment later, he found his sword equally useless.
The forceps encircled him, and he was dragged into the dark hole. Vernia stepped out of the airship and climbed the projecting bark of the tree; it had been over two hours since Grandon left, and she was worried. From a height of several hundred feet above the airship, she peered through the thick curtain of leaves and saw that this tree stood in a narrow valley.
The encircling mountains were bare, but the valley itself was filled with giant trees. She looked down to see a white, six-legged monster scuttling up the trunk, carrying a smaller, bright green creature in its forceps. It turned out on a limb just below her, to deposit its burden on one of the large leaves. The green thing had six legs, but its plump body was oval- shaped, with the head set at the narrow end and two sharp horns protruding just above the posterior extremity.
As soon as it was put down, it uncoiled a long, slender sucking tube which it inserted in the leaf. Vernia was both mystified and frightened. She flattened out on the limb, and peered cautiously over the edge. To her infinite terror she saw many more mounting the tree and depositing their burdens here and there until it literally swarmed with the white things and their green charges.
Glancing across to the next tree, she saw that it was similarly infested, and shuddered at the thought that the monsters might soon climb to where she was concealed. Then, she saw a number of naked, hairy men ascending the tree. Each man carried a sack slung over his shoulder and fastened in place by a strap. She noticed that there appeared to be no animosity between the men and the monsters, and concluded that the great antlike creatures must have been domesticated by these cavemen. Her supposition was strengthened by the sight of one of the men obtaining a white, sticky substance from one of the green things, with the aid of a white one, which titillated the posterior horns of its smaller green charge, causing it to exude the material into the sack which the man carried.
All the other men were engaged in the same task, going from leaf to leaf until their sacks were filled, then carrying them down the tree. A man who moved more slowly than his fellows was nipped sharply by one of the white creatures. He gave a cry of pain and hurried his steps. Then it dawned on her that the men were the slaves and the monsters their masters! She was reflecting on this paradox when one of the white things, which had mounted on the opposite side of the tree unobserved by her, took a notion to carry its green charge out on the limb she occupied.
She rose hurriedly and ran toward the swaying tip, but the creature deposited its burden on a leaf and darted after her with amazing speed. She had only gone a few steps when the powerful forceps encircled her. Her captor appeared able to travel on the rough tree trunk upside down or right side up with equal facility, and carried her down to the ground at a terrific rate of speed. When it reached the ground it made off under the giant trees, climbing over the thick surface roots with great ease, and at length brought up at the entrance of a conical dwelling about a hundred feet in height.
It paused there for a moment, touched its antennae to those of a similar creature which Appeared to be guarding the doorway, then carried her through a maze of dark runways to a dimly- lighted underground chamber. It laid her on the floor at the feet of an individual, apparently of the same species. This new monster had a white body and similar brown forceps and mandibles, and, in addition, a large pair of transparent wings. Its abdomen was distended to more than ten times the size of that of her captor.
Vernia rose to her feet and faced the thing before her, expecting to be seized and devoured. It looked at her searchingly for a moment, then vibrated its antennae noiselessly. Another white creature, similar to her captor in shape, but smaller, and lacking the huge forceps, appeared as if in answer to a summons. Each vibrated its antennae in turn, then the newcomer pushed Vernia toward one of the runways.
She could not mistake the meaning of this movement. Stooping to avoid the low ceiling, she entered and walked forward in the darkness. When she had traveled a short distance her conductor pushed her into a cross-runway that ended in a large, round chamber with a domelike roof. This room was lighted by a great central opening, and contained more than a hundred girls and women, who were busily engaged in separating round white balls about an inch in diameter, which cohered in glutinous masses, and placing them in small holes that honeycombed the walls on all sides.
Her guide turned her over to a woman who seemed to be a sort of superintendent or overseer, and departed. The woman looked at her curiously and, to her surprise, addressed her in patoa. Judging from those representatives of the human race which she had seen so far in the valley, Vernia could well believe this statement, for neither the men she had seen in the tree nor the women who now surrounded her were clothed. The women, like the men, were quite hairy they were also big-boned, low-browed and coarse-featured. I have not the slightest idea where I am.
When but a young girl I was captured by a slaving party and brought hither, even as you were captured and brought just now, to spend the rest of your life serving the masters of men. Enough of this talk for the present. There are no idlers here, and you must work with the others. Here, Rotha," calling a young girl who toiled near by, "a new slave who calls herself Vernia of Reabon. Acquaint her with the nature of our work.
The girl flashed a friendly smile at Vernia, and showed her how to separate the white balls, which she explained were sabit eggs, and stow them in their cells. She was much better-looking than those around her, appearing more like the women of the civilized races. Vernia shuddered at the feel of the sticky, plasmic mass of eggs that was handed her, but nevertheless went to work with a will, and soon became nearly as adept as those about her. Rotha was communicative, and talked incessantly as she worked. She had been born in captivity, so knew of the ways of her ancestors, the marsh people, only through the lips of others.
She was, however, the granddaughter of a soldier of Mernerum who had married a marsh woman, which accounted for her superior intelligence and beauty. The sabits, she said, were divided into many communities, and the inhabitants of any given community might be recognized by their markings. Those of their own community were known by their brown forceps and mandibles, there were others with black forceps and mandibles, others with green, red, et cetera.
The largest and greatest community of all was that of the sabits who were pure white. In each community there were four kinds of individuals. The greatest and most powerful was the single queen sabit, or female ruler, who had ordered Vernia sent hither. She was winged, and, when fertile, swelled to many times the size of the others.
Next to her in importance was the king sabit, her mate. He was the only male permitted to live in the community, and was winged like the queen, but much smaller. The other two kinds were known as the workers and soldiers. The former were comparatively diminutive in size and inefficient in battle, while the soldier sabits were large, powerful, and armed with huge forceps.
Both workers and soldiers were wingless and sexless. The queen sabit did little else than eat, sleep and lay thousands of these white, sticky eggs. Her mate was active in administering the affairs of the community, subject always to her approval and consent. Why, my soldiers kill and drive off creatures a thousand times more terrible than these.
True, they all think in the same way, along the same lines, and all the sabits will react to any situation in the same way, but this only makes them the more formidable, for they thus act in perfect unison in case of emergencies. A sabit community may be likened to a single animal, with the queen as the head, directing all operations, the king as the eyes looking here and there and everywhere to see that the directions are properly carried out, and the soldiers and workers, as the arms and legs, supplying, every want of the body and protecting it from all dangers.
Spears, scarbos, knives and clubs they have, but these avail them little against the armored sabits. I have heard that a very powerful man may subdue a sabit by striking him between the eyes with a heavy club, but this is a most difficult feat, as they move with exceeding swiftness, and blows on any other spot are to no effect. It is said that these creatures have three brains, one in the head, one in the thorax and one in the abdomen, so that even if one is destroyed the other two may function for days afterward. But tell me now of yourself, and of the marsh people. The sabits carried pouches from which they distributed a sticky mixture composed of a white, mucilaginous substance in which small edible fungi had been stirred.
The girls and women instantly ceased work at their approach, and eagerly devoured their portions of the proffered food. Although Vernia was exceedingly hungry, she could not bring herself to touch the sticky mess, but divided it among those about her. When they had finished, Rotha said: "I must leave you now, Vernia of Reabon, for tonight is my mating night, and there comes the soldier sabit who will take me away.
Tomorrow night I will be with you, and from then on for some time, but for a full day and a night I will be absent. Rotha sighed. There is no law but the will of our masters, and it is their purpose to produce a stronger and more beautiful race of slaves. Having just come of age, I have been selected to do my part. Do you willingly submit to the treatment usually accorded domestic animals? But I know it will not—it cannot be Oro, as the king sabit will not choose him for the mating pens. A slight blemish, a birthmark on his left shoulder, disqualifies him.
Because of his great strength, however, he has been chosen chief keeper, or guard, of the pens, to maintain peace among the others and see that things are conducted in an orderly fashion. Oro, my beloved, will perhaps be the one to receive me at the gate, the one to take me to that awful room; but even he, with all his mighty strength, will be unable to save me.
Grandon fought unavailingly with his sword as he was dragged into the dark burrow. He found a crevice in the armor of his captor, whereupon it stopped and shook him until his head reeled and the weapon dropped from his hand. Then the sabit carried him to the great central room, in which were the king and queen sabits of the white community. As soon as he was dropped to the floor, the king sabit leaped on him and, cutting his belt with sharp mandibles, removed his tork and knife.
Grandon sat up weakly.
After looking at him fixedly for some time the queen sabit summoned two workers by vibrating her antennae, and he was conducted through a series of runways and tunnels to a great, light chamber, where hundreds of naked, hairy men were engaged in the task of receiving sacks filled with a sticky white mixture from green who brought them to the doorway. They then fed the contents to thousands of fat, white, grublike creatures that varied in size from two to eight feet in length. He saw one of the larger grubs near him bite a mouthful of flesh from the shoulder of its tender; a little farther away two men held a huge grub while a third endeavored to reach its swaying head with a sackful of sticky food.
His, conductors piloted him among the swaying wriggling grubs and scurrying men to where a single individual taller than his fellows stood with folded arms, apparently supervising the work. One of the sabits vibrated its antennae, this time creating a series of musical tones. The man turned, replied with three musical notes, and took Grandon by the arm, whereupon the two sabits left him.
You have eyes to see the nature of the task before you. Begin it quickly, before you have painful cause to regret your slowness. Grandon cooly surveyed the great brute before him. His low forehead was crossed by a livid scar just above the beetling brows, from beneath which his small, beady eyes glared. His right ear had been completely torn away, and with it a portion of the surrounding scalp. The overseer's thick lips drew back; with lightninglike quickness he directed a blow at Grandon's head.
By ducking swiftly the Earthman avoided the full force of the blow which, glancing though it was, sent him reeling to the floor a full twenty feet away. Miserable, misbegotten offspring of misguided parents, then shall your torn body feed them, and that speedily. He sprang and lifted his heavy foot for a kick; Grandon executed a quick scissors movement with his legs, and his assailant fell sprawling. Both men leaped to their feet in an instant. Please contact Customer Services and request "Return Authorisation" before you send your item back to us. Unauthorised returns will not be accepted.
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