We spent some time on Penshodai attempting to catalog
animals and plants in hopes of making some sense out of the strange natural
history of Dhaimira. While the great majority of animals were either Barsomian
or Terrestrial, as well as native Dhaimiran, there were also examples of
creatures from Amtor and some which simply didn't easily fit into any biology
that I knew about. On one day we saw a tribe of vagas crossing the savanna.
Unlike my dear friend Man-tan-ko, these vagas went about nearly nude and
were armed with heavy clubs. While it was possible that they might have
been able to give us valuable information, they also looked dangerous enough
that approaching them would have been imprudent.
So far, of the intelligent life we had encountered
in Dhaimira, only the darmayoks had shown us any civility therefore we
were quite cautious no matter how much our curiosity might be piqued.
A few days before we were expecting to put out to sea
again, we saw a remarkable sight. The tribe of vagas was again on the grassland
beyond the forest, but on this occasion, they had strange creatures mounted
on their backs. It was Tamla who reached the correct conclusion before
"The vagas are slaves to those creatures." She said.
The vaga is a sentient being native to Vah-Nah which
closely resembles the centaurs of Earthly myth. When humans first encountered
them, they were barbarian tribes who survived on the nearly dead planes
of Vah-Nah by cannibalism. That was centuries ago when that world was close
to absolute death right before the Kalkar invasion of Earth. When Earth
men returned to Vah-Nah, a program of wholesale land reclamation and irrigation
along with many imported plants and animals restored that little world
to something like its former glory. Today, the vagas are a farming and
herding people who reap the rewards of the now rich soil of Vah-Nah. In
Dhaimira, they apparently played a different role.
The creatures that were mounted on the vagas were unlike
almost anything either Tamla or I had ever seen. Each one was more or less
the size of a man and in that way alone they resembled humans. The body
was a flexible cylinder that appeared to have no bony frame at all, for
it seemed to be able to bend in any direction. There were eight tentacle-like
limbs, the lower four of which served as legs while the upper four served
as arms. The limbs were arranged in pairs that worked so closely together
that they gave the appearance of having only two arms and two legs. The
legs ended in oval pads while the arms terminated with pliant, spatulate
manipulators resembling nothing so much as they did the trunk of an elephant.
Each "hand" had three jointless fingers. The head was round and rather
smaller looking than it seemed it ought to be. There was no mouth, a pair
of openings near the top which I thought must be ears and a recessed circle
in the center of the face which contained three eyes. This head was set
on a neck that could vary amazingly in length to the point that the creature
could stretch to half again its height. They had brilliant pink skin that
darkened to deep blue at the ends of the limbs and the top of the head.
They wore clothing that was in rich colors and decorated with precious
Looking upon these creatures, I realized that they
bore the same relationship to the "squid-apes" that we had seen in Keltrolna,
as do Earth men to the great apes of Africa.
As they coursed along the moss covered plain, they
were accompanied by a mob of smaller creatures which dashed between the
legs of the vagas. They were eight legged and had a behavior similar to
that of hunting hounds. Loud honking calls issued from them, perhaps to
help them find their way about with echoes like a bat, for they had no
eyes. In my mind I named them "horn-dogs."
Although we took pains to remain hidden, the "horn-dogs"
became aware of our presence and alerted the riders by pointing in the
same manner as a dog from my home world might. The creatures turned their
vaga mounts and galloped toward our hiding place. We turned to run only
to find one of the hound-like horrors behind us. It blared a loudly raucous
note and we were soon flushed into the open and surrounded by the riders.
Tamla drew her sword, but I signaled her to put it
away. She understood. We were greatly outnumbered and she was not John
Carter. Between us there was but a single sword. The mounted beings had
what looked enough like weapons to warrant caution. They had not the sheen
of steel, but swords still hung at their belts, as did peculiar triple
barreled pistols. They appeared to be fabricated from some sort of stone.
Without protest we allowed one of the riderless vagas
to lift us to his back with the knowledge that any other action could well
cost us dearly.
One of the riders gave a curt order in a language I
had never heard before and the entire party was in motion amidst the blaring
and hooting of the horn-dogs. We were underway for most of an hour (as
nearly as I could tell) when we reached a grouping of buildings which resembled
in shape, but not size, a number of different sized kegs standing on end.
The buildings were made from the same glossy material
as the weapons. We were carried into one of the smaller buildings and deposited
in a room where another of the tentacled creatures awaited us.
It looked us over speculatively, making a rather personal
examination of the two of us. At one point, Tamla decided that the exam
had become far too intrusive and drew her sword. A tentacle flashed almost
faster than the eye could see to snatch the weapon from her hand.
"Steel," it said in clear Barsoomian. Its voice sounded
like it was spoken by a hive full of bees.
Tamla gave a low, animalistic growl and made as if
to leap at the creature. I held her back.
The creature continued. "This is enough steel to buy
this city. You would do better for yourself in Dhaimira to sell it rather
than fight with it."
"The value of good Heliumite steel," said Tamla, "is
beyond any number of tanpi."
The creature made a strange sound, almost like a mechanical
meshing of gears. Apparently this was its equivalent of a chuckle. "You
should know that you are the guests of the Yan of Kotab."
"Kotab? Is that the name of your people?"
"We are called doyaks. Kotab is the only remaining
doyak nation since the coming of Savjoda. We exist only as a small population
now, but once, Dhaimira was our world."
I saw an oportunity to get more information about Savjoda.
"Did he wipe out your people?"
"My people were almost extinct when Savjoda came. It
was we who he first contacted in Dhaimira. He arrived in this world alone
and naked and became its ruler and brought a nearly dead world back to
life! The price has been that we have had to endure all of these alien
creatures. They were necessary though, because so many of the Dhaimiran
species had died out that life no longer had balance in Dhaimira, our world
was in its last days. Savjoda now speaks of restoring the world which he
says is above ours."
"Have you met this Savjoda?" I asked.
"It was at this very hive that he first appeared."
The creature continued to examine us and in the course
of this examination, we discovered that its name was Fomas-67. "Fomas"
apparently signified physician. He spoke several languages, a discipline
which would have been unheard of on Barsoom. Barsoom has no linguists for
the language of the surface world is universal and has been for thousands
upon thousands of years. Fomas-67 spoke his native tongue as well as Barsoomian
and to my surprise, the modern language of Earth as well as several dead
languages such as French, English and a number of more obscure tongues
from Asia (Chinese, Japanese and Malay) and Africa (Mande, Ibo, Bantu,
Waziri). He also had some Amtorian as well as Kalkar and Vaga. How he knew
these languages was mystery enough, but the question of why was even more
so. Apparently this Savjoda was well traveled in the solar system and had
shared much knowledge with the doyaks.
Fomas-67 proved to be rather cordial. He had no axe
to grind with us, he merely was under orders to examine any unusual life
that his people came in contact with. Savjoda insisted that the doyaks
do this because of their scientific turn of mind. They were in fact, a
good deal more intelligent than human beings. There was a reason for this,
the doyaks had a brain that grew for their entire life and that lifetime
was usually several thousand years. Fomas-67 was relatively young at fifteen
I was curious as to how they kept track of time without
any astronomical references.
"We created an artificial unit of time and built the
Master Clock. It does more than merely keep track of passing time. It also
can alter the relationship between time and space. A copy of the Master
Clock is at the heart of Savjoda s mechanism for opening the roads between
Tamla asked, How can a clock do that?
Fomas-67 answered patiently. The sun of our world is
sort of a hole in space and time. Our scientists have found that any body
of mass that is heavy enough will engender a doorway in space at its center
of mass. The Moon of Earth is about the smallest a body can be to have
this effect take place. The opening leads to the center of the greatest
mass within a particular grouping of bodies such as our solar system. In
ours, that body is the Sun. As the worlds condensed from the primordial
nebula they developed extra-dimensional openings into the center of what
would become the Sun. When the Sun ignited there was a sudden flash of
energy into those dimensional doorways. The primordial planets first melted
from the heat and then swelled like balloons from expanding gasses until
the interior of the bubbles had retreated far enough from the source of
heat to cool back to a solid shell. This is how the worlds we know today
were born. In the fullness of time, life was germinated on one or both
surfaces of the bubble planets.
I freely admit that my mouth hung open upon hearing
this. For centuries, the greatest minds of Earth, Barsoom and Amtor had
devised theory upon theory to explain the entirety of the observed solar
system, but all had seemingly insuperable flaws. When Pellucidar was discovered,
Albert Einstein declared the existence of the internal sun flatly impossible
and the internal world violated the predicted behavior of gravity in the
light of his studies, thus he was obliged to start from scratch. He never
arrived at a satisfactory theory to account for Pellucidar. By the time
Vah-Nah was discovered Einstein was long dead, but the questions raised
by the internal worlds were more alive than ever. For almost a thousand
years it had remained one of the greatest mysteries of science, but the
doyaks had known all along.
Savjoda was in the world called Pellucidar when he
discovered that the direction of the doorways could be turned. We had known
about it for quite some time and had used that fact to the advantage of
our world. Our first experiment was to bring the Jasoomian, John Carter
to the surface of Barsoom. We knew that he was the person who would ultimately
save that world from total environmental collapse. We needed a similar
person in Dhaimira and would have brought one here, but because the roads
let us see through time and space, we knew that he was going to find his
way here on his own. That person was Savjoda.
Tamla now asked, How did you even know about other
worlds if your race never saw the stars?
Again, Fomas-67 made the strange grinding gears sound.
My race is not native to Dhaimira, although we have been here for many
millions of years. We are descended from a colony from the world that was
once known as Otala. Their civilization occupied both the inner and the
outer surface of their world. It was the Otalans who first discovered how
to redirect the space/time road at the center of the world. We believe
that shortly after the colony was placed here, Otalan scientists started
to experiment with varying the size of the road. Apparently, they succeeded
to a greater degree than planned and the sun was suddenly greatly expanded
in power. In less than a second, a civilization millions of years old was
wiped out when the entire planet simply exploded. The remnants of Otala
are the asteroids which orbit between Barsoom and Eurobus.
We could have asked Fomas-67 questions for hours, nay,
days hed we been allowed to, but it was not to be, at least for the moment.
Two other doyaks appeared at the door to inform Fomas-67 that Savjoda had
been informed of our presence and wanted us conveyed to him at once.