On the advice of the Sanjong, which took a deep interest in both this new venture into aeronautics and the, to them, new science of astronomy, I divided my time between the two.
My time was fully occupied, and I worked far more than the usual four hours a day. But I enjoyed the work, especially the building of a plane; and engrossing were the day dreams in which I indulged of exploring Venus in a ship of my own.
The necessity for relaxation and entertainment is stressed by the people of Havatoo, and Ero Shan was constantly dragging me away from my drawing board or my conferences with the corps of assistants that had been placed at my disposal by Mohar to take me to this thing or that.
There were theaters, art exhibits, lectures, musicales, concerts, and games of various descriptions in gymnasiums and the great stadium. Many of their games are extremely dangerous, and injury and death often accompany them. In the great stadium at least once a month men fight with wild beasts or with one another to the death, and once a year the great war game is played. Ero Shan, Gara Lo, Ero Shan’s friend, Nalte, and I attended this year’s game together. To Nalte and I it was all new; we did not know what to expect.
“Probably we shall witness an exhibition of such scientific wonders as only the men of Havatoo are capable,” I suggested to her.
“I haven’t the faintest conception of what it will be,” she replied. “No one will tell me anything about it. They say, ‘Wait and see. You will be thrilled as you have never been before.’”
“The game doubtless hinges on the use of the most modern, scientific instruments of war and stratgey,” I ventured.
“Well,” she remarked, “we shall soon know. It is about time for the games to begin.”
The great stadium, seating two hundred thousand people, was crammed to capacity. It was gorgeous with the costumes and the jewels of the women and the handsome trappings of the men, for the intelligence of Havatoo concedes their full value to beauty and to art. But of all that went to make up this splendid spectacle there was nothing more oustanding than the divine beauty of the people themselves.
Suddenly a cry arose, a roar of welcome. “They come! The warriors!”
Onto the field at each end marched two hundred men; a hundred men naked but for white gee-strings at one end of the field, a hundred men with red gee-strings at the other end of the field.
They carried short swords and shields. For a while they stood inactive, waiting; then two small cars were driven onto the field. Each contained a driver and a young woman.
One of the cars was red, the other white. The red car attached itself to the contingent wearing the red gee-strings, the white cars to the whites.
When they were in position the two factions paraded entirely around the field clockwise. As they passed the stands the people cheered and shouted words of encouragement and praise, and when the warriors had completed the circuit they took their places again.
Presently a trumpet sounded, and the reds and the whites approached each other. Now their formations were changed. There was an advance party and a rear guard, there were flankers on either side. The cars remained in the rear, just in front of the rear guard. On running-boards that encircled the cars were a number of warriors.
I leaned toward Ero Shan. “Tell us something of the idea of the game,” I begged, “so that we may understand and enjoy it better.”
“It is simple,” he replied. “They contend for fifteen vir (the equivalent of sixty minutes of earth time), and the side that captures the opponent’s queen oftenest is the winner.”
I do not know what I expected, but certainly not that which followed. The reds formed a wedge with its apex toward the whites, then charged. In the melee that ensued I saw three men killed and more than a dozen wounded, but the whites held their queen.
When a queen was pressed too closely her car turned and fled, the rear guard coming up to repel the enemy. The tide of battle moved up and down the field. Sometimes the whites seemed about to capture the red queen, again their own was in danger. There were many individual duels and a display of marvelous swordsmanship throughout.
But the whole thing seemed so out of harmony with all that I had heretofore seen in Havatoo that I could find no explanation for it. Here was the highest type of culture and civilization that man might imagine suddenly reverting to barbarism. It was inexplicable. And the strangest part of all of it to me was the almost savage enjoyment with which the people viewed the bloody spectacle.
I must admit that I found it thrilling, but I was glad when it was over. Only one queen was captured during the entire game. At the very last the white queen fell into the hands of the reds, but only after the last of her defenders had fallen.
Of the two hundred men who took part in the game, not one came through unwounded; fifty were killed on the field, and I afterward learned that ten more died of their wounds later.
As we drove from the stadium toward our house I asked Ero Shan how such a savage and brutal exhibition could be tolerated, much less enjoyed, by the refined and cultured inhabitants of Havatoo.
“We have few wars,” he replied. “For ages war was man’s natural state. It gave expression to the spirit of adventure, which is a part of his inheritance. Our psychologists discovered that man must have some outlet for this age-old urge. If it be not given him by wars or dangerous games he will seek it in the commission of crimes or in quarrels with his fellows. It is better that it is so. Without it man would stagnate, he would die of ennui.”
I was now working on my plane with the keenest enthusiasm, for I now saw rapidly taking form such a ship as, I truly believe, might be built nowhere in the universe other than in Havatoo. Here I had at my disposal materials that only the chemists of Havatoo might produce, synthetic wood and steel and fabric that offered incalculable strength and durability combined with negligible weight.
I had also the element, vik-ro, undiscovered on earth, and the substance, lor, to furnish fuel for my engine. The action of the element, vik-ro, upon the element, yor-san, which is contained in the substance, lor, results in absolute annihilation of the lor. Some conception of the amount of energy thus released may be obtained by considering the fact that there is eighteen thousand million times as much energy liberated by the annihilation of a ton of coal as by its combustion. Fuel for the life of my ship could be held in the palm of my hand, and with the materials that entered into its construction the probable life of the ship was computed by the physicists working on it to be in the neighborhood of fifty years. Can you wonder that I looked forward with impatience to the completion of such a marvel ship! With it I would be sure to find Duare.
At last it was finished! I spent the final afternoon checking it over carefully with my large corps of assistants. On the morrow it was to be wheeled out for my trial flight I knew that it would be successful. All my assistants knew that it would be; it was a scientific certainty that it must fly.
That evening I determined to indulge in a little relaxation; and I called Nalte on the wireless, transmitterless, receiverless communicating system that is one of the wonders of Havatoo. I asked her if she would take dinner with me, and she accepted with an alacrity and display of pleasure that warmed my heart.
We dined in a little public garden on the roof of a building at the corner of Yorgan Lat and Havatoo Lat, just inside the river wall.
“It seems good to see you again,” said Nalte. “It has been a long time—not since the war games. I thought you had forgotten me.”
“Far from it,” I assured her, “but I have been working day and night on my airship.”
“I have heard some mention of it,” she said, “but no one that I have talked with seemed to understand very much about it. Just what is it and what will it do?”
“It is a ship that flies through the air faster than a bird can wing,” I replied.
“But what good will that be?” she demanded.
“It will carry people quickly and safely from one place to another,” I explained.
“You don’t mean to say that people will ride in it!” she exclaimed.
“Why, certainly; why else should I build it?”
“But what will keep it in the air? Will it flap its wings like a bird?”
“No; it will soar like a bird on stationary wings.”
“But how will you get through the forests where the trees grow close together?”
“I shall fly over the forests.”
“So high? Oh, it will be dangerous,” she cried. “Please do not go up in it, Carson.”
“It will be very safe,” I assured her, “much safer than incurring the dangers of the forest on foot. No savage beasts or men can harm the voyager in an airship.”
“But think of being way up above the trees!” she said with a little shudder.
“I shall fly even higher than that,” I told her. “I shall fly over the loftiest mountains.”
“But you will never fly over the great trees of Amtor; I know that.”
She referred to the gigantic trees that raise their tips five thousand feet above the surface of Amtor to drink the moisture from the inner cloud envelope.
“Yes; possibly I shall fly even above those,” I replied, “though I will admit that flying blind in that solid bank of clouds does not appeal to me.”
She shook her head. “I shall be afraid every time I know that you are up in the thing.”
“Oh, no you won’t, not after you are familiar with it. Some day soon I am going to take you up with me.”
“We could fly to Andoo,” I said. “I have been thinking of that ever since I started to build the ship.”
“To Andoo!” she exclaimed. “Home! Oh, Carson, if we only could!”
“But we can—that is if we can find Andoo. This ship will take us anywhere. If we could carry enough food and water we could stay in the air for fifty years, and it certainly wouldn’t take that long to find Andoo.”
“I love it here in Havatoo,” she said, musingly, “but after all, home is home. I want to see my own people, but I would like to come back to Havatoo again. That is, if—”
“If what?” I asked.
“If you are going to be here.”
I reached across the table and pressed her hand. “We have been pretty good friends, haven’t we, Nalte? I should miss you terribly if I thought that I were not to see you again.”
“I think that you are the best friend I ever had,” she said, and then she looked up at me quickly and laughed. “Do you know,” she continued; but stopped suddenly and looked down, as a slight flush suffused her cheeks.
“Do I know what?” I asked.
“Well, I might as well confess. There was a long time that I thought that I loved you.”
“That would have been a great honor, Nalte.”
“I tried to hide it because I knew that you loved Duare; and now recently Ero Shan has been coming to see me, and I know that I did not know before what love was.”
“You love Ero Shan?”
“I am glad. He is a splendid fellow. I know you will both be happy.”
“That might be true but for one thing,” she said.
“And what is that?”
“Ero Shan does not love me.”
“How do you know that he doesn’t? I don’t see how he could help it. If I had never known Duare—”
“If he loved me he would tell me,” she interrupted. “Sometimes I think that he believes that I belong to you. We came here together, you know, and we have been much together since. But what’s the good in speculating! If he loved me he would not be able to hide it.”
We had finished our dinner, and I suggested that we drive about the city for a while and then go to a concert.
“Let’s take a little walk instead of driving,” suggested Nalte, and as we rose from our table, “How beautiful the view is from here!”
In the strange glow of the Amtorian night the expanse of the great river stretched into the vanishing visibility above and below the city, while on the opposite shore gloomy Kormor was but a darker blotch against the darkness of the night, with here and there a few dim lights showing feebly in contrast to brilliant Havatoo lying at our feet.
We followed the walkway along Havatoo Lat to a narrow side street that extended away from the river.
“Let’s turn here,” said Nalte. “I feel like quiet and dim lights to-night, not the brilliance and the crowds of Havatoo Lat.”
The street that we turned into was in the yorgan section of the city; it was but dimly lighted, and the walkway was deserted. It was a quiet and restful street even by comparison with the far from noisy main avenues of Havatoo, where raucous noises are unknown.
We had proceeded but a short distance from Havatoo Lat when I heard a door open behind us and footsteps on the walkway. I gave the matter no thought; in fact I scarcely had time to give it thought when some one seized me roughly from behind and as I wheeled about I saw another man grab Nalte, clap a hand over her mouth and drag her into the doorway from which the two had come.