“You mean I am not in the United States?” I said, knowing all the time the sad answer. “Where am I, and where is the nearest city? I need to see a doctor at once!”
“Loco en la Cabasa,” said one of the men with a sneer.
“You are a stupid Gringo,” jeered the bespectacled man. “This is the Del Norte Jungle. We are many Kilometers from Cormeda, to the south.”
“Loco, es Verdad!” cried one of the men as he cocked his weapon.
I began to feel that San Mateo was not known for its hospitality. I kept my hands raised as a sign I meant no harm.
“Are you hunters?” I asked.
“Si,” replied one of the men. “We hunt El Presidente's soldiers and dog Americanos who help the despot.”
I did not know who this El Presidente fellow was but he had certainly made enemies of this group of men.
“I have done you no harm,” I protested. “I am a stranger seeking a doctor, that is all.”
“You take me, Lorenzo de Gaspar to be a fool?” screamed the man in glasses. “Gringo, if you have a sin on your soul confess it now for you are a dead man!”
I have faced many foe men in my short life; wild tribesmen, cannibals, thags, sagoths and monsters of all description but never had I felt more ill prepared for defense. The many dangers of Pellucidar had trained me to react quickly. I guess they never thought I would run towards them. One leap took me to their leader. I struck him hard and sent him flying. I knew they would not shoot out of fear they might hit their man. I rolled behind a tree and used a skill known to all in the inner world-- I quickly climbed a tree.
Bullets started to clatter all around me as the men below cried out in their fast language. My heavy pack slipped from by back as I sought safety in the upper limbs of the huge tree. Fire ants burned my skin but I paid them no attention in my mad flight. The bullets zipped all around me, causing leaves and twigs to rain down on me. The strange men were terrible shots. As marksmen they were deplorable but their small guns fired a hail of lead and I knew it would not be long before I would be struck by sheer accident. I drew my heavy revolver. I detested having to kill them but I had no choice but to return their fire. Unlike them, what I aim at, I can hit.
I saw one of the men, directly below shooting up at me. I aimed and fired once and he dropped to the ground. I saw another and fired again. He too fell. Now they were taking cover
I now detected more bullets were being fired. At first I believed my boorish acquaintances had been joined by other members of their tribe, but as I watched I saw that the newcomers were firing at the men below. I could see a dozen of them armed with longer rifles and wore odd metal pots on their heads. I found that I was in the middle of a battle by two groups of men. I stopped firing as few shots were directed my way.
The unfriendly men I had met quickly retreated into the jungle, led by their bespectacled leader. I seated myself on a limb and waited for the firing to stop so I could introduce myself to the newcomers.
I hoped they would prove to be more hospitable. Finally a shot was fired at me from one of them.
“Hey,” I yelled down to them. “Don't shoot. I'm on your side.” I holstered my revolver and put up my hands. “I'm an American, Don't Shoot!”
More of their rapid language was spoken as the uniformed men surrounded my tree. A large fat man, who didn't wear pot on his head but a cloth cap, seemed to take charge. His uniform was more elaborate and he wore odd dark tinted glasses. He carried a large square shaped pistol.
“Come down, Senior,” he said. “ Drop your pistol first. Surrender to me, Captain Ortega of the Army of San Mateo.”
I unholstered by pistol and let it fall to the ground where it was recovered by one of the men. They seemed fascinated by the weapon. I started to come down as a half dozen guns were pointed at me. Once I made my way to the ground I recovered my heavy pack. One of the soldiers took it from me and examined the contents with surprise and great emotion. He slowly withdrew one of the gleaming bars and said one word: “Oro”.
The fellow in charge, captain Ortega, took it from his man.
“What is this in the bag?” he asked me.
“It is my property,” I told him. “Give it back to me. It is for medicines.”
The man turned it upside down and let the gold spill onto the moss covered earth. The men were stunned my the metal.
“So you are an Americano!” yelled the Captain. “I believe you are a dirty gringo rebel sympathizer delivering this gold to the rebels. You are under arrest!” The men seized me and tied my hands behind me roughly as I protested. They took my gold and pulled me down a trail without listening to a word I said. Not far from the battlefield was a clearing where large olive colored vehicles were waiting. I knew what they were from Abner Perry's talks. It was a gas buggy called a 'truck'. He had tried, and failed to make one in Sari. It was an ugly thing but far larger than I had imagined. I now saw that there were four of them in a row with men in the cabs. The men with rifles opened a canvas flap and forced me into the back of one of them.
I was surprised to see there was another prisoner in the thing, a woman. Even in the dim truck I was struck by her beauty. Her long raven hair flowed about her shoulders. A low cut blouse of bright yellow cloth and a green skirt made up her attire. It reminded me of the dress of the Korsairs in the inner world. I could see fear on her face, and a red welt on her cheek where she had been viciously struck, recently. She seemed so very young but had the look of one who had seem much pain and hardship in her short life. My heart went out to this poor girl. She seemed so small when compared to the large men.
“Hi,” I said, using the form of greeting I was told was common on the outer world. “My name is Jason Innes. Who might I ask are you?”
She turned away from me and for a moment I thought she didn't understand English. Then she turned her face to me and spoke.
“Maria,” she answered. “Maria de Gaspar.”
“Do you know a Lorenzo?” I asked remembering the leader of the first group I encountered.
“Si, yes,” she replied, her eyes flashing in anger now. “Lorenzo de Gaspar is my brother!”
“I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him not long ago,” I said. “He said he wanted to kill me.”
“That is my brother,” she said.
“Are you a Korsar?” I asked looking at her colorful clothing, that reminded me of their clothing.
“I am not a pirate,” she answered as she gave me a strange look. “I was with a folkloric dancing group when I was arrested. This was my costume. I had a gold necklace and bracelets but the solders took them from me.”
“These men do seem to like gold,” I agreed with her.
“El Presidente will try to use me to force my brother and his band out of the jungles and end their rebellion. Why do they hold you, an American?”
“They seem to think I was helping your brother,” I told her. “It isn't true, in fact you brother was going to kill me and rob me of my gold.”
“Why? Why Senior Innes are you here in San Mateo?” she seemed concerned and a bit confused.
“I am seeking a doctor, I need to purchase the drugs needed to heal my mother, who is very ill. I have a list of what I need. I am afraid that if I can not secure them in time she will die.”
“How did you get here?” she inquired. “Did you come by airplane?”
“That would be a bit hard to explain. I am afraid you might not believe me if I told you. Needless to say, I didn't come by airplane or ship.”
Just then the motor started on the truck, making the whole thing vibrate, then it started to move, bouncing all over as it traversed the dirt road. I looked toward the back and saw, though a crack in the canvas flaps that the other trucks were following us.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Cormeda, the capital of San Mateo. There we will be cast into El Moro, the prison where El Presidente holds his enemies. Perhaps you can get word to the American Ambassador and seek release. I fear I will be held until my brother surrenders or captures the capital and frees the nation from the tyrant.”
“Are there doctors in this city?” I said.
“Yes, there are many doctors, and a fine hospital as well.”
“Good, let me know when we are there so I can escape.”
Maria just gave me a funny look.
“You are a crazy Americano,” she said. “I should like to see you try to escape Captain Ortega.”
“Would you like to come with me?” I inquired.
“Why not? I have little chance of leaving El Moro alive.”
“Good, I need a guide. Maybe if I save you, your brother will not want to shoot me anymore.”
“It is a good thing the guard doesn't speak English,” she commented nodding towards the large man in the steel pot who was looking at them. He smiled at Maria. The man had a rifle and was seated in the truck, watching us like a hungry thag.
“Just let me know when we are in the city, that's all.” I had escaped from many foes in the past from savage warriors to ape like Sagoths. The fellow who was watching us didn't appear too formidable. What Maria didn't know was I was busy undoing the cords that tied my wrists. These men of San Mateo didn't seem to be very good with knot's. Before long I had managed to free myself at the expense of the skin on my wrists. I kept them behind me so the guard would not notice anything amiss. Most of his attention was on Maria and for that I was thankful. If they had been Korsars I never would have managed it -- the Korsars are not all that bright but they can do magic with ropes.
We bumped along for what seemed a long time then the ride became smoother, and I noticed that we were now on a paved road. Only the few stone roads in Sari are paved and I believe they are the only ones in all Pellucidar. These roads were remarkably smooth. Not long after that I saw big square buildings, some four or five stories tall. I even saw a few people walking about and globes of bright illumination, brighter than any oil lamp I had ever seen. I knew these must be electric lights that Abner Perry told me about. They were amazing to me. They dispelled the darkness better than any burning torch. Now I could understand why Old Perry was impressed with them. But, in the land of eternal sunlight they had no value in the inner world.
“We are in the city, Loco Americano,” Maria said to me in a low mocking tone.
“Sorry, I was just looking at the lights,” I answered her.
“You can try to escape any time now,” she taunted me.
“Well, then, how about NOW!” I leaped up jumping on the guard, pulling his pot down over his eyes and pulling him down to the metal floor of the truck. The surprise was complete. He struggled until a fist caught his jaw and he stopped resisting, stunned. He proved to be more fat than muscle, I pulled a knife from a scabbard on his belt and cut Maria's bonds. Then I took his weapon and bullets, he had them in small boxes of green painted metal. Maria was going though the man's pockets and took a leather folded thing and other things he had in his pockets.
“Money,” she said. “We may need it. Now how do you plan to escape the convoy?
“Watch, and when I say, jump and roll, we will try for a dark alley. Then we run as fast as we can.”
The truck turned a corner, slowing at a spot that was darker than the rest of the road. I took her hand.
“Now Jump!” I said loudly, rolling to one side. She fell not far from me as the following truck passed us by inches. We only narrowly avoided the things wheels. I had leaped from moving creatures before and this was easy, except the roadway was a lot harder than a jungle floor. I jumped up and saw that Maria was still down as I heard a squeal like a wounded animal - one of the trucks was stopping. Our escape had been noticed -- not that I expected it wouldn't be. I took her hand.
“Run like the wind,” I instructed her. She was limping but we both went down the dark alleyway and turned into another. The smells were strange to me, foods and unknown spices. My stomach reminded me that I had not eaten for some time. I could smell cooking food. Behind us I heard shouting in their strange language. Now Maria was leading the way. She seemed to know where she was going. The men following us were shooting now, we turned a corner and Maria ducked into a dark doorway. I followed her as unseen hands closed the door behind us.
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